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Srimad Bhagavatam

SB 1.2 - The three aspects of the one Absolute Truth

This Absolute Truth is called by the learned men as Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān. It is one, non dual substance comprising the totality of existence. The same substance is realized as impersonal Brahman by the students of Upaniṣads, as localized Paramātmā by the yogīs, and as Bhagavān by the devotees. Bhagavān is the last word of the Absolute Truth. Paramātmā is the partial representation of the Personality of Godhead, and impersonal Brahman is the glowing effulgence of the Lord, as the sun rays are to the sun god. The perfect seers know well that the three features of the one Absolute Truth are different perspective views seen from different angles of vision.

The highest truth is advaya-jñānam. What the jñānīs call Brahman is jñānam. According to them it is without form, without distinction of knower and known, a condition of consciousness alone. This jñānam is called Paramātmā by the yogīs. This jñānam is advayam because of oneness between him and his śaktis – jīva and prakṛti – because as cause he pervades the effect, this universe, and because Paramātmā is non-different from his form and abodes thru particularization of his consciousness aspect. According to the yogīs the form of Paramātmā is still pure jñāna because his form is also the same knowledge. Even though he is pure jñāna, he is also the shelter of particularization of jñāna, because he performs functions such as acting as the witness. Paramātmā is like the sun, who though is the very form of light, also is the possessor of luminosity.

This jñānam is called Bhagavān by the devotees. He is called advayam because material energy is the śakti, which is one with the śaktimān. Advayam also means unique and thus indicates the Lord who is completely different from the jīvas in illusion. He is advayam also because the jīvas are distinct parts or parts of the whole (identity of part and whole), and also because no one is in the same position as the Lord (advayam meaning having no equal). Though Bhagavān is pure jñāna, He has a form possessing the six qualities described by the word bhaga, which is non material, because the form is pure consciousness. Bhaga is defined as: complete control, complete influence, complete excellent qualities of body, mind and words, complete beauty or wealth, complete knowledge and complete detachment.

SB 1.2 - Bhagavān, the original and ultimate aspect of the Absolute Truth

The word bhagavān may be understood by defining its syllables. Bha means ‘bhartā’, the maintainer and nourisher of devotees. Ga means gamayayitā, the leader of the devotees, or the original creator of the devotees’ good qualities. Va stands for the verb vas, to reside – all material elements and living beings reside in the Lord, and He resides in the hearts of all conditioned souls. Bhaga also means the six opulences. Thus Kṛṣṇa is known as Bhagavān because He possesses all opulences in full as well as the qualities bha, ga and va.

Bhagavān is the Lord’s original, primal nature. The great sages who seek the truth with thorough philosophical analysis have concluded that the Supreme truth is Lord Nārāyaṇa. Rāmānuja confirms that the one Supreme Lord is Nārāyaṇa. He is transcendental, self manifest and sinless. The earth, the soul, the unmanifest pradhāna, and the imperishable Brahman are all His body. He is the Supersoul present in all creatures. Thus the Bhagavān feature is the ultimate aspect of the Absolute truth.

The Supreme Truth is self-sufficient, cognizant and free from the illusion of relativity. In the relative world the knower, the living spirit, is different from the known, inert matter. Therefore there is a duality of inferior and superior energy. But in the Absolute Truth both the knower and the known are one and the same thing, both spirit, and thus there is no duality. There is no difference between the energy and energetic, but there is a difference of quality of energies. The absolute realm and the living entity are of the same superior energy, but the material world is inferior energy. The sense of relativity in the material world is because the living being in contact with the inferior energy is illusioned, thinking he belongs to the inferior energy. In the Absolute there is no such difference between the knower and the known.

Though the Lord is situated within and without in various forms of pure consciousness with two or four hands, and though there is eternally a difference between Himself and the jīva as the served and servant, He is still advaya or one. The word advayam negates any conception of difference since one must consider non difference between the Lord and His energies, spiritual actions and abodes.

The jñānī who selects the general form of the Lord is qualified for Brahman. The yogī who accepts the Lord as the soul within all beings, who possesses qualities, and who is different from the jīva, is qualified for realizing Paramātmā. The devotee who accepts the Lord – who possesses an inconceivable and infinite form of knowledge and bliss with infinite qualities and pastimes – is qualified for realizing Bhagavān. Actually He alone exists. Kṛṣṇa is the basis of Brahman (BG 14.27) and He pervades the universe by His one portion, Paramātmā (BG 10.42).

The worshipers of Brahman and Paramātmā do not attain prema, and thus it can be seen that Bhagavān is the root of the other forms, though Bhagavān is both Brahman and Paramātmā. The yogī is superior to the jñānī, but the worshiper of Bhagavān is superior to the yogī as confirmed in Bhagavad gītā (6.46-47).

SB 1.2 - The means to realize the Absolute Truth

Having described the Absolute Truth, next the method to realize Him is described. The seriously inquisitive student, well equipped with knowledge and detachment (resulting from bhakti), realizes that Absolute Truth by rendering devotional service in terms of what he has heard from the Vedānta śruti. The Absolute Truth is realized in full as Bhagavān by the process of bhakti to Vāsudeva. Of the four different types of human beings – karmīs, jñānīs, yogīs and devotees – the karmīs are materialistic, whereas the other three are transcendental. The first class transcendentalists are the devotees who have realized the Supreme Person. The second class are those who have partially realized the plenary portion of the absolute person. And the third class transcendentalists are those who have barely realized the spiritual focus of the absolute person. As Brahman and Paramātmā realization are imperfect realizations of the Absolute Truth, so the means of realizing them – jñāna and yoga – are also imperfect means of realizing the Absolute Truth. Devotional service based on full knowledge and detachment from material association, and which is fixed by the aural reception of the Vedānta śruti, is the only perfect method by which the serious student can realize the Absolute Truth. Thus bhakti is not meant for the less intelligent class of transcendentalist as the foolish claim.

SB 1.2 - Bhakti needed to realize all the forms of the Lord

The jñānīs, yogīs and the devotees see the jñāna of three forms by bhakti. Those who conceive of jñāna as Brahman realize the jīva as the Lord. Those who conceive of the Lord as Paramātmā see thru meditation the Lord in the heart in their heart. Those who conceive of Bhagavān see Bhagavān in the mind and also directly in front of them and taste the sweetness of the Lord with their very eyes. All sages – jñānīs, yogīs or devotees – realize their form of the Lord by bhakti, which is first heard from the guru and then practiced. The worshipers of Brahman and Paramātmā must also perform bhakti directed to Bhagavān in order to perfect their own sādhanas. Jñāna and vairāgya are the two sādhanas for the jñānīs and yogīs only. For the devotee these two arise from bhakti and shows the loving nature of bhakti (because he loves the Lord he strives to know the Lord and shows distaste for everything else). Some who have that particular faith develop the desire to realize all the three forms, and by bhakti they can see all the three forms.

None of the three aspects of the Absolute Truth can be realized without practicing bhakti. The knowers of the Absolute Truth say that wealth is not for sense enjoyment but to preserve one’s life. Thus the purpose of life is not to attain wealth or the heavenly planets but to know the Absolute truth. Jīva Gosvāmī says that the ultimate result of attraction to kṛṣṇa-kathā is devotion to Kṛṣṇa. By that devotion, we will see Kṛṣṇa Himself. This devotion is rare, invaluable and obtained by practices performed solely to please Kṛṣṇa. Devotion to Kṛṣṇa is the true effect of religion.

There are three classes of devotees. The third class devotees have no knowledge and are not detached from material association but are simply attracted to worship the Deity. Such devotees are called material devotees. In the second class position, the devotee sees the Personality of Godhead, His devotees, the ignorant and the envious. One has to raise himself at least to this stage of second class devotee and thus become eligible to know the Absolute Truth. The number one Bhāgavata is the established personality of devotee, and the other Bhāgavatam is the message of Godhead. The third class devotee has to take instructions of devotional service from the first class devotee. The first class devotee must be a representative of Śuka and must preach bhakti for the benefit of the masses. A neophyte devotee has very little taste for hearing from the authorities. The messages of Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad gītā are transcendental subject matters but such messages should not be received from professional men, who spoil them as the serpent spoils milk by the touch of its tongue.

Without hearing and following the instructions of the scriptures, the show of bhakti is worthless. By assimilating the messages of the Vedic literatures, one can see the all pervading Lord within himself constantly. This is called samādhi.

SB 1.2 - The perfection of one's dharma

The highest perfection one can achieve by discharging one’s duties in varṇāśrama is to please the Personality of Godhead, Hari. The four castes of human society are the intelligent caste, the martial caste, the productive caste and the laborer caste. These are classified in terms of one’s work and qualification and not by birth. There are also four orders of life, namely the student life, the householder’s life, the retired and the devotional life. In order for society to grow in a healthy state, there must be such divisions of life. And in each and every division of life, the aim must be to please the Supreme Lord. The varṇāśrama institution is constructed to enable one to realize the Absolute Truth. When this aim is missed, the institution collapses and is used by selfish men to dominate over the weaker section. In Kali yuga this has already happened but the real purpose of varṇāśrama is for smooth social intercourse and high thinking self realization.

The duties of varṇāśrama are wasted endeavor, and even jñāna and yoga, devoid of bhakti are wasted endeavor. There is no worry in giving up jñāna and yoga, nor is there any calamity of great sin in omission of action or giving up the nitya-karmas. Though jñāna and yoga have some attraction they depend on bhakti for getting their results. But bhakti gives results without the assistance of jñāna and yoga at all. Therefore if one pleases the Lord by bhakti only, that is the perfection of dharma. The person who does not get perfection by performing all the rules and regulations of karma attains perfection directly thru bhakti even though he does not perform the karmas. The Lord confirms that everything that can be achieved by karma, tapa, jñāna, yoga etc can be easily achieved by His devotee thru bhakti yoga (SB 11.20.32-33). Thus the idea that the devotee incurs sin by not performing karmas is discarded.

If one performs dharma which is perfected by bhakti, he will attain the results of dharma even if he performed dharma with material desires. But if one performs dharma without material desires, one will not attain material results. Since all dharmas are perfected by bhakti, the necessity of the devotees performing dharma is rejected. As pouring water on the root of a tree energizes all parts of the tree, worshiping the Supreme Lord thru devotional service automatically satisfies the demigods.

Kṛṣṇa says as long as one is not satiated by karma and not awakened his taste for bhakti, one has to act according to the Vedic injunctions (SB 11.20.9). In SB 11.11.32, He says having taken complete shelter at His lotus feet, however, a saintly person ultimately renounces such ordinary religious duties and worships Him alone. When the Lord is satisfied with one’s worship, the goal of performing one’s duties including worship of devatās is achieved. When the pure devotees perform a few karmas out of obligation because of pressure from family traditions, this is actually not performance of karmas, and does not give karmic results, because they do not have faith in the worship of the demigods. In BG 17.28, the Lord says that whatever is offered in fire, whatever is given in charity, whatever is undertaken as austerity, but which is done without faith, is called asat since it bears no result now or in the next life.

SB 1.2 - Glorifying the real object

Therefore with one pointed attention, with mind dedicated only to bhakti, devoid of karma and jñāna, one should constantly hear about, glorify, remember and worship the Lord, who is the protector of the devotees. Without the principles of hearing, glorifying, remembering and worshiping, no one can exist. Religion without devotion is toil. Jīva Gosvāmī says bhakti is the desire to regularly hear the name and glories of the Lord. In modern society all activities are more or less dependent on hearing and glorifying. By propaganda any insignificant man can become and important man. But such false glorification of unqualified men can bring no good either for the man or for the society. The actual object of glorification is the Supreme Lord, who is the creator of everything. The tendency to glorify others must be turned to the real object of glorification – the Supreme Being. And that will bring happiness.

SB 1.2 - Getting free from the bondage of the world

How to remove the karmic reactions that bind us to the world? Intelligent men cut thru the binding knots of karma by remembering the Personality of Godhead. Our karma as well as our tendencies that spring from that karma is born of actions performed in this and previous lives. Karma is like a tangle of knots that bind us to this world. The contact of the spiritual spark with material elements creates a knot which must be cut if one wants to be liberated from karma. Since the activities of the Lord are transcendental to the material modes, remembering them will sever the knot of material bondage. Thus liberation is a by-product of bhakti. Just as people become attracted to objects and activities by hearing about their capacities to give enjoyment, hearing about Kṛṣṇa can similarly attract us to Him.

Knowledge with bhakti is essential for mukti. Even karma with bhakti can lead one to liberation. Karma over coated with bhakti is called karma-yoga. Empirical knowledge over coated with bhakti is called jñāna-yoga. But pure bhakti is independent of such karma and jñāna because it alone can not only give liberation but also award one the loving service of the Lord. The Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana constantly engaged in devotional service of the Lord and made immense literatures of transcendental science for our benefit.

SB 1.2 - Faith in the topics of the Lord

The qualification for bhakti is faith in the topics of the Lord. Kṛṣṇa confirms saying that having developed faith in topics about the Lord and being disgusted with all karmas, a devotee knows that all enjoyments are filled with misery. But he is unable to give them up. Still, with affection for the Lord, with faith and determination, the devotee will continue to worship Kṛṣṇa at the same time (SB 11.20.27-28). Faith in the Lord arises by remembering the Lord. The sword of remembering the Lord cuts the knot of prārabdha-karma. Even before having faith attraction for topics about the Lord arises suddenly in all people. This shows a person who has faith will be even more attracted.

But we are so unfortunate that we do not have a taste to hear and chant about Kṛṣṇa. Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura lists four causes of this misfortune: tattva-brahma – philosophical misunderstandings based on illusion about our identity, illusion about the Lord, illusion about sādhana and prema bhakti, and illusion about subjects unfavorable to Kṛṣṇa consciousness; aparādha – offenses towards the Lord’s name, form, devotees and other living entities; asat-tṛṣṇā – ‘thirst for the temporary’, or desires for material objects, heavenly comforts, mystic powers, and impersonal liberation; hṛdaya-daurbalyam – ‘weakness of heart’, or deceit, faultfinding, envy, desire for fame and attachment to objects unrelated to Kṛṣṇa.

SB 1.2 - Serving devotees enables one to get faith in topics of the Lord

If one sincerely repents that one has not acquired the taste for chanting and hearing kṛṣṇa-kathā, Sūta helps with another suggestion. Great service is done by serving the devotees who are free from all vice. By such service one gains affinity for hearing the messages of Vāsudeva. The demons are put into lower states of ignorance life after life and so have no information of the Absolute Truth. They can be rectified by the mercy of the Lord’s servitors. By visiting holy places, and serving the mahātmās residing there, one would gain a desire to know about the Lord. Such devotees of God are very confidential associates of the Lord and they are known as the powerful incarnations of the Lord, as the sons of the Lord, as servants of the Lord or as associates of the Lord. But none of them claim to be God themselves. These servants of the Lord are to be respected as God by the devotees who want to go back to Godhead. They preach according to time and place. Lord Caitanya played the part of a devotee and He strongly protested when someone addressed Him as God. One can please God more by serving His devotees. By such service one gradually gets the quality of such devotees, and thus becomes qualified to hear the glories of God.

Those who worship the Supreme Lord are all gurus in the sense that they are great, as are the holy places where such saints are found. Such persons no longer worship their homes that steal the essential qualities of discrimination, steadfastness, tolerance and peacefulness. Nor do they pay any regard to the contemptible happiness found in such homes. Those who even once give their minds to Kṛṣṇa are no longer attached to home and son, what to speak of those who possess pure devotion. Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad gītā that there are people who, though not conversant in spiritual knowledge begin to worship the Lord upon hearing about Him from others. They also transcend the path of birth and death. Thus for a good soul there is a chance for advancement by hearing. Kṛṣṇa is pleased with the preachers, His dear most devotees. By serving the great souls who reside in holy places, one develops faith in them. Then one would naturally wonder about the great taste these great souls experience when they speak about the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and this will encourage one to hear about Him to understand Him. Thus by hearing from great souls, one attains the goal of life.

SB 1.2 - What happens when we desire to hear about Kṛṣṇa?

Kṛṣṇa, the Paramātmā in everyone’s heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of a devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted. Wherever there is glorification of the Lord it is to be understood that Kṛṣṇa is present there in the form of transcendental sound, which is as powerful as the Lord personally. The holy name of the Lord has all the potencies of the Lord. There is no rigid fixture of time, and anyone can chant the holy name with attention and reverence at his convenience. Unfortunately we have no taste for hearing and glorifying the Lord’s name and activities even though the Lord is present personally before us in the form of transcendental sound.

When the Lord sees that a devotee is eager to hear about Him, He acts from within the devotee so that the devotee may easily go back to Him. The Lord is more anxious to take us back than we can desire. One cannot enter into the kingdom of God unless one is purified of all sins. Women and wealth are very difficult problems for the devotee making progress on the path back to Godhead. But when one is helped by the Lord Himself, the whole process becomes very easy. By hearing the glories of the Lord one can gradually realize his real position. By the grace of the Lord such a devotee gets sufficient strength to defend himself from the state of disturbances, and gradually all disturbing elements are eliminated from his mind.

The fifth stage bhajaneṣu-spṛhā is also indicated in verse 17 by the lines śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathā kṛṣṇaḥ puṇya-śravaṇa-kīrtanaḥ. From the desire to hear follows the practices of hearing, chanting, and then remembering.