Extinguishing the Flames of Material Existence
koṭi-janme brahma-jñāne yei 'mukti' naya
ei kahe—"nāmābhāse sei 'mukti' haya"
After many millions upon millions of births, when one is complete in absolute knowledge, one still may not attain liberation, yet this man says that one may attain it simply by the awakening of a glimpse of the holy name. (Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 3.194)
Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī's father and uncle—Hiraṇya Majumdara and Govardhana Majumdara, respectively—were big landowners of the ancient village of Cāndapura at Saptagrāma. One of their employees, a brāhmaṇa by birth named Gopāla Cakravartī, locked the great Vaiṣṇava saint Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura in a debate on the scriptures. The brāhmaṇa was a sheer empiricist, and the Vaiṣṇava saint was an absolute authority on the chanting of the holy names of God, Kṛṣṇa. The brāhmaṇa asked Śrīla Haridāsa at what stage of realization liberation is attained. Citing many appropriate verses from the scriptures, Śrīla Haridāsa explained that just as fear of nocturnal creatures like thieves, ghosts, and hobgoblins evaporates at dawn's first light, so all sins and offences are erased and liberation is attained in the clearing stage of chanting the holy name, called nāma-ābhāsa, which comes long before pure chanting. Only a liberated, highly evolved soul can utter the Lord's name purely and thus achieve the highest realization, untainted love of Godhead. The speculative philosopher brāhmaṇa, who was very much addicted to sophism, could not fathom the saint's instructions and so ended up offending him. The foolish brāhmaṇa tried to impose his own interpretations on the excellences of the holy name and concluded that Śrīla Haridāsa Ṭhākura was a mere sentimentalist. He insolently rebuked the saint in public and tried to ridicule his explanations and character.
Argumentative impersonalists fail to grasp that without first properly understanding the science of the Absolute Truth, one cannot possibly develop firm devotion to the Supreme Lord. Hence when a person is seen to be situated on the platform of pure devotional service, it is to be understood that his ignorance has been destroyed. We have discussed this point in some detail in the previous essay, "The Science of Devotion." The empirical philosophers generally put forward the idea that human life is meant for achieving perfect knowledge. To them, knowledge means the ability to discern reality from illusion. By eradicating illusion and establishing that truth and reality are nondifferent from Brahman, they want to merge into the existence of Brahman. This, then, is their definition of perfect knowledge, which they aspire to attain birth after birth. They declare that the highest stage of knowledge is reached when the knower, the knowledge, and the object of knowledge become one entity, which then finally merges into Brahman, attaining liberation. Lord Caitanya has described this state of liberation as bhava-mahādāvāgni-nirvāpanam, "extinguishing the flames of material existence." He cited many verses from the revealed scriptures proving that a pure devotee easily attains this state of liberation by chanting the holy names of God.
Unfortunately, the stubborn impersonalists cannot comprehend that the final spiritual destination, beyond even the four Vedic goals (religiosity, economic development, sense gratification, and liberation) is absolutely pure and transcendental love of Godhead. They mistake the devotees of the Lord for sentimentalists and consider them their philosophical opponents. Besides these out-and-out impersonalists, there is a certain group of devotees that has deviated from the path of pure devotion and fallen prey to pretension. These cheaters actually end up following the impersonalists' path of trying to merge with the Supreme Lord. Such materialistic sentimentalists are not counted among the devotees of the Lord. Like their impersonalist counterparts, they cannot understand the true position of the Supreme Lord's name, form, qualities, pastimes, associates, or paraphernalia, for they wrongly consider these transcendental subjects illusory. They act capriciously and confuse the mass of people.
These materialistic sentimentalists reject the spiritual conclusions of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī and try and take shelter of impersonalism. Yet they miserably lack the scholarship and discipline of the impersonalists. They divorce themselves from the impersonalists' scriptural studies and philosophical discussions, regarding discussions on the scripture as dry speculation and their ignorant, sentimental outbursts as spontaneous devotional fervour.
Some of these pretenders very closely follow in the impersonalists' footsteps and so may be accepted as a deranged offshoot of the impersonalist line. But they are certainly not part of the Vaiṣṇava discipline followed by those in the line of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. These pretenders diligently cultivate and exhibit certain mannerisms of devotees, and so the impersonalists reject them from their fold. Thus ostracized by both impersonalists and Vaiṣṇavas, they form a cult of demented sentimentalists. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī declares that such pretenders create an outrage in spiritual society. As the Brāhma-yamāla says,
aikāntikī harer bhaktir
Devotional service of the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures like the Upaniṣads, Purāṇas, and the Nārada Pañcarātra is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society.
To show mercy to such pretenders, impersonalists, empiricists, and fruitive workers, the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa, has in the Bhagavad-gītā discussed jñāna-yoga, or yoga through knowledge. I therefore embark upon the same subject in this essay.
Real knowledge means to discriminate between truth and illusion. Jñāna-yoga is the process by which one becomes eternally fixed on the path of transcendental devotional service to the Supreme Lord, who is the source of the Supersoul and Brahman. Jñāna-yoga should never be interpreted to mean the ascending process of enquiry, the inductive method, through which one aims only at separating reality from illusion by gradually rejecting the unreal. It is impossible to attain perfect knowledge without serving the Supreme Lord, who is full with all opulences and potencies, whose bodily luster is the Brahman effulgence, and whose partial expansion is the Supersoul. The brāhmaṇa Gopāla Cakravartī believed that jñāna, perfect knowledge, is far superior to devotional service of the Lord. But as recorded in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Antya 3.201):
balāi-purohita tāre karilā bhartsana
"ghaṭa-paṭiyā mūrkha tumi bhakti kāṅhā jāna?"
The priest named Balarāma Ācārya chastised Gopāla Cakravartī. "You are a foolish logician," he said. "What do you know about the devotional service of the Lord?"
If one pretends to be a devotee of the Lord but does not understand the difference between dry speculative knowledge and knowledge of the Supreme Absolute Truth, then such a person's devotion borders on impersonalism and is rank with cheap sentimentalism, which is totally against the spiritual teachings of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī. Therefore jñāna-yoga is not speculation or empirical research; nor is it the sudden emotional outbursts of upstarts pretending to be devotees. By practicing genuine jñāna-yoga, even an empirical philosopher will develop a taste for hearing purely spiritual topics from the scriptures. Eventually he will come to understand the Supreme Lord's transcendental position and potency, and ultimately he will relish the Lord's form, which is eternal and full of knowledge and bliss. He will perceive the Lord as the embodiment of all transcendental mellows. And if the pretentious nondevotee sentimentalists, who like to imitate the empiricists, practice genuine jñāna-yoga, then they too will gain an accurate perspective on the Absolute Truth. They will become firmly established in the understanding that the Supreme Lord's form is spiritual and transcendental, and then they will begin to render unflinching devotional service.
In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi 2.117), Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja advises,
siddhānta baliyā citte nā kara alasa
ihā ha-ite kṛṣṇe lāge sudṛḍha mānasa
A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such [scriptural] conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one's mind becomes attached to Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
Through such discussion and inquiry, we become aware that we are jīvas, individual souls, upon which our bodies and minds are temporary and illusory impositions. The scriptures refer to the jīva, a product of the Lord's superior, spiritual energy, as the kṣetra-jña, or "knower of the field," while they refer to the temporary, material body and mind as the kṣetra, or "field." Just as the jīva is the kṣetra-jña in relation to his individual body and mind, so the Lord is the kṣetra-jña in relation to His vast universal form. As Lord Kṛṣṇa informs us in the Bhagavad-gītā (13.3), kṣetra-jñaṁ cāpi māṁ viddhi sarva-kṣetreṣu bhārata: "O scion of Bharata, you should understand that I am also the knower in all bodies."
Therefore the jīva and and the Supreme Lord are nondifferent in the sense that both are kṣetra-jña, "knowers of the field." But when we look at which kṣetra each of them is knowing, the difference between the jīva and the Supreme Lord is seen to be incalculably wide. The Supreme Lord is infinite, while the jīva is infinitesimal. As consciousness, the jīva pervades his body and mind, which he has acquired due to his karma, or fruitive activities. Similarly, the Supreme Lord pervades the entire creation—His universal body—with His consciousness. Though the jīva permeates his body as impersonal consciousness, he is always a person. Similarly, although in His impersonal, all-pervasive feature the Supreme Lord saturates the cosmic manifestation with His consciousness, in His personal feature He remains eternally in Goloka Vṛndāvana performing pastimes. This point is substantiated by the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.37): goloka eva nivasaty akhilātma-bhūto. "Although residing always in His abode called Goloka, the Lord is the all-pervading Brahman and the localized Paramātmā as well." And in the Bhagavad-gītā the Lord Himself explains the functions of the field and the knower of the field, and He says that He is present throughout the creation as the knower.
The dry speculators describe the field and its knower according to their own lopsided logic. They say that the body is like a container and that Brahman enters this container like the all-pervasive sky. Once this container is broken—that is, at the time of liberation—the jīva merges back into Brahman, symbolized by the sky. There are many loopholes in this argument. First of all, the jīva is spiritual energy, while the sky is matter. It is wrong to compare a spiritual subject to a material object. This is a typical example of how the impersonal speculators waste their time trying to equate spiritual substance with mundane things. Such empirical exercises can never be termed jñāna-yoga, the path of perfect knowledge. According to the impersonalists, the infinitesimal jīva merges into the infinite Brahman at the time of liberation. But such merging does not affect the infinite in any way. Unfortunately, the impersonalists are oblivious of the tremendous damage such liberation causes to the infinitesimal living entity.
Devotion Resides in Perfect Knowledge of the Supreme
If the infinitesimal soul merges his individuality, or inherent personality, with the infinite being, then that individuality is rendered worthless. Those who want to commit spiritual suicide by sacrificing their individuality are a breed by themselves. Such self-destroyers are known as pure monists. On the other hand, those who desire to maintain their individuality are dualists, or personalists.
Once the jīva manifests his original transcendental nature, he is easily liberated from material conditioning, yet even in such an elevated state he does not lose his individual identity as a spirit soul. In fact, in that pure state he engages in the eternal service of the Supreme Lord and relishes the immortal nectar of sublime bliss.
For eons, all over the world, research on the subject of kṣetra and kṣetra-jña has been going on. In India the
The process of jñāna-yoga has been delineated in the Vedānta-sūtra, the philosophical essence of the Vedas. The Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa, accepts the authority of the Vedānta-sūtra and considers the philosophical presentation proper. Up till the present day, every spiritual line, even in the impersonalist school, has based its philosophical authority on the Vedānta-sūtra. And the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the natural and faultless commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra. This is Lord Caitanya's opinion.
Learned circles consider a disciplic line bereft of a commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra to be unauthorized and useless. Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya's Vedānta commentary, entitled Śārīraka-bhāṣya, is the main commentary of the impersonal, monistic school. Among the Vaiṣṇavas, besides Śrīpāda Rāmānujācārya's commentary, Śrīla Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa's Govinda-bhāṣya is the main commentary in the line of Lord Caitanya, known as the Mādhva-Gauḍīya-sampradāya.
Those who are keen to engage in deep discussions on the esoteric conclusions of the scriptures should certainly delve into the philosophy of the Vedānta-sūtra. The point to be emphasized is that a well-versed Vedānta philosopher is not a philosopher in the line of Śaṅkarācārya but is actually a Vaiṣṇava spiritual preceptor, a liberated soul.
According to the Vedas and the sages, the five gross elements are earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Material nature is produced from a combination of false ego (ahaṅkāra), the ingredients of the material energy (mahat-tattva), and the cause of the mahat-tattva (prakṛti). There are five knowledge-gathering senses and five working senses. The mind is the internal sense, the sixth knowledge-gathering sense. Form, taste, smell, touch, and sound are the five sense objects.
We have already enumerated these material ingredients in our description of the Sāṅkhya philosophy of the atheist Kapila. The kṣetra, or "field," is the combination of the twenty-four ingredients mentioned above. When these twenty-four ingredients interact the result is the transformation of material nature, which gives rise to the gross material body composed of five gross elements (pañca-mahābhūta), as a result of material desires, hate, enjoyment, lamentation, and so on. The shadow of consciousness in the form of mind and will are transformations of that field.
What will soon be discussed is that the kṣetra-jña is completely different from the kṣetra and its transformations. But to properly understand the knowledge concerning the kṣetra and the kṣetra-jña, one must first cultivate at least twenty good qualities listed in the Bhagavad-gītā (13.8-12):
Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona fide spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratification; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age, and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth—all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.
Persons bereft of these qualities are not eligible to discuss spiritual topics. The false logicians mistake the above-mentioned qualities, which are meant to lead the conditioned soul to liberation, for mundane qualities acquired as a result of transformations of the mind, such as lust, anger, and hate. But factually, the above-mentioned qualities represent spiritual knowledge. Even if one accepts the false logicians' argument that the qualities Lord Kṛṣṇa enumerates in the Gītā as prerequisites for absolute knowledge are mental transformations, still we cannot agree that these transformations are equivalent to such qualities as lust, greed, anger, and illusion, which result from gross ignorance. One kind of mental transformation drags the soul down to depravity, whereas the other redeems the soul from doom. Both disease and medicine are products of material nature, yet one pushes a man toward the jaws of death, while the other saves him from destruction. So one must avoid becoming the laughing-stock of society by accepting the foolish theory of yatA mata, tata path—"All ways lead to the Truth"—and on this basis professing that the medicine and the disease are one and the same.
There is one quality among the twenty qualities Kṛṣṇa lists that is especially noteworthy, and that is mayi cānanya-yogena bhaktir avyabhicāriṇī: "Constant and unalloyed devotion to Me [Kṛṣṇa]." The other qualities are required to cleanse the consciousness. Once the mirror of the mind is purified and the blazing fire of material existence extinguished, constant and unalloyed devotion to Lord Kṛṣṇa begins to appear on the horizon of the heart. The great saintly spiritual master Śrīla Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura has sung, "When will my mind become purified and detached from matter? Oh, when in that purified state will I be able to see the transcendental realm of Vṛndāvana?"
It is interesting to note that once constant and unalloyed devotion to Lord Kṛṣṇa blossoms in the heart of a person, the other nineteen qualities automatically manifest in him. As mentioned in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.18.12), yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ:
All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vāsudeva.
By patiently collecting ten, twenty, thirty rupees daily, one will someday have a million rupees. But if one comes upon a million rupees all at once, one does not have to endeavor separately to collect ten, twenty, or thirty rupees and waste valuable time. Similarly, when one develops unalloyed devotion to Lord Kṛṣṇa, all the other above-mentioned qualities automatically adorn that person without extra effort. On the other hand, one who leaves aside unalloyed devotion to Lord Kṛṣṇa and tries to cultivate the other nineteen qualities separately may temporarily receive wealth and honor, but he will become unqualified for achieving the highest goal. In the same verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam mentioned above (5.8.12), Prahlāda Mahārāja says, harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā manorathenāsati dhāvato bahiḥ:
On the other hand, a person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the lord's external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man?
It is futile to make an external show of good qualities like humility and nonviolence while disrespecting the Lord's lotus feet and denouncing the process of devotional service. Such so-called good qualities may be of some material value, but ultimately they are useless and temporary. In fact, the nineteen other qualities combine to make a throne from which unalloyed devotion may rule. These qualities are various limbs of the Absolute Truth, and everything outside this absolute knowledge is nescience.
By cultivating these limbs of knowledge, one attains self-realization. In other words, one is elevated from mundane knowledge of the kṣetra to spiritual knowledge of the kṣetra-jña. We have previously established that the word kṣetra-jña implies both the living entity and the Supreme Brahman. Sometimes material nature, or prakṛti, is referred to as Brahman, the reason being that Brahman is the cause of the material nature. In one sense a cause and its effect are identical. But Lord Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate source of Brahman. The Lord impregnates Brahman in the form of the material nature with the seed of Brahman known as the jīva. As Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gītā (14.3),
mama yonir mahad brahma
tasmin garbhaṁ dadhāmy aham
tato bhavati bhārata
The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O scion of Bharata.
This verse explains the famous saying sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma from the Upaniṣads, meaning "Everything is Brahman." In other words, the Supreme Brahman, Lord Kṛṣṇa, is identical with both the jīva and prakṛti in that they are all Brahman. Thus in one sense the Vaiṣṇavas are pure monists. Previously we deliberated upon another verse from the Bhagavad-gītā (9.10):
This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under my direction, O son of Kuntī, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.
The Gītā verse under discussion (14.3) gives a clearer understanding of the other verse (9.10).
The Mind Is Purified of Its Attachment to Matter
To shed more light on the meaning of the Upaniṣadic aphorism sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma, we cite a verse from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.22.56):
jyotsnā vistārinī yathā
parasya brahmaṇaḥ śaktis
tathedam akhilaṁ jagat
A fire radiates light all around although remaining in one spot. Similarly, the Supreme Brahman radiates energy everywhere, which is manifested as this material world.
In their philosophical discussions the Māyāvādīs deny the existence of the Supreme Lord's multifarious energies. Such sub-standard debates are indeed on the kindergarten level. According to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, the Māyāvādīs have a poor fund of knowledge and are thus prevented from understanding that the Supreme Brahman is full with six opulences. To save these poor Māyāvādī impersonalists from philosophical impoverishment, Lord Kṛṣṇa has mercifully instructed them in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.19),
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.
As the saying goes, "A tethered cow goes as far as the rope." Similarly, one who uses the inductive method to search for ultimate knowledge will fail. His attempt is futile because one cannot know the supramundane with a mundane mind. Complete comprehension of the Absolute Truth is impossible with an unholy, demoniac mind. When one is possessed of a demoniac mentality that tries to reduce the supremely omnipotent Personality of Godhead to impersonal Brahman, all so-called philosophical debates will fail to discover the realm of absolute knowledge or the truth about the nondual substance. Vaiṣṇavas alone are eligible to cultivate such knowledge.
Of course, not all impersonalists are demoniac. As soon as an impersonalist realizes that the Absolute Truth is a person endowed with all transcendental qualities, he immediately begins to serve Him. This is confirmed in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.7.10) which states,
ātmārāmāś ca munayo
nirgranthā apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukīṁ bhaktim
All different varieties of ātmārāmas [those who take pleasure in the ātmā, or spirit self], especially those established on the path of self-realization, though freed from all kinds of material bondage, desire to render unalloyed devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead. This means that the Lord possesses transcendental qualities and therefore can attract everyone, including liberated souls.
It is rare to find that great soul who is attracted by the Lord's transcendental qualities and thus surrenders to Him. The only person who can surrender to the Supreme Lord is one who does not attempt to rob Him of His personality but who views the material nature as a transformation of His multifarious energies. Thus the Māyāvādīs can never be called mahātmās, or "great souls." Only when they realize that the nondual Absolute Truth is none other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead, full with six opulences, can they be called mahātmās.
Vaiṣṇava mahātmās have explained the aphorism sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma in this manner: The philosophical school known as Viśiṣṭādvaita propounds the idea that the Supreme Lord eternally exists with His two principal potencies: the cit-śakti, or spiritual potency, and the acit-śakti, or material potency. Though the Lord is one nondual entity, He exists dynamically, manifesting His multifarious energies under the main headings of the cit and acit potencies, which He absolutely controls. Although He is the source of unlimited potencies, He eternally exists in His transcendental, personal form. This form manifests in three aspects, namely, as He sees Himself, as a loving devotee sees Him, and as He is seen by His competitors and enemies. The Śrī Vaiṣṇava disciplic succession, headed by Śrī Rāmānujācārya, cites the same text we have cited above to explain the situation of the Lord and His energies:
A fire radiates light all around although remaining in one spot. Similarly, the Supreme Brahman radiates energy everywhere, which is manifested as this material world.
Thus the entire creation is proof of the existence of the Lord. One who is in complete knowledge understands that the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who exists eternally as the source and controller of all energies. The mahātmās fully realize this knowledge, and having taken shelter of the Lord's transcendental energy (cit-śakti), they eternally render loving devotional service to Him. Lord Kṛṣṇa confirms this in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.13-14):
mahātmānas tu māṁ pārtha
daivīṁ prakṛtim āśritāḥ
jñātvā bhūtādim avyayam
satataṁ kīrtayanto māṁ
yatantaś ca dṛḍha-vratāḥ
namasyantaś ca māṁ bhaktyā
O son of Pṛthā, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible. Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.
The mental speculators and logicians, as well as the Māyāvādīs—who are neophytes depending on the empirical, inductive process—should properly understand the position of the pure devotees of the Lord, who have realized the Absolute truth. In the Bhagavad-gītā (4.23) Lord Kṛṣṇa gives this explanation of the activities of the devotees:
The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge merges entirely into transcendence.
The activities of performed as sacrifices are all devotional service. The Sanskrit word yajña means "sacrifice," but it can also mean Lord Viṣṇu Himself. To perform one's activities as transcendental devotional service is possible only for those advanced souls who are fully situated in the Absolute Truth. Again, Kṛṣṇa describes His devotees in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.17):
teṣāṁ jñānī nitya-yukta
priyo hi jñānino 'tyartham
ahaṁ sa ca mama priyaḥ
Of these, the one who is in full knowledge and is always engaged in pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.
If an impersonalist philosopher, due to some piety, engages in devotional service to the Supreme Lord, then only does he become dear to the Lord. But as long as the impersonalists try to rob the Supreme Lord of His divine potencies, they can never be dear to Him, nor can they be called mahātmās. They will continue to be counted among the demoniac atheists deluded by the Lord's illusory potency. These atheists are not wise men: they are simply ordinary mortals who are offenders against the Lord.
Wherever the word jñāna appears in the Vedic literature, it should be understood to mean sambandha-jñāna, knowledge of the relationship between the Lord and His energies. It does not refer to the impersonalist concept of the Supreme. After a person understands sambandha-jñāna, he comes to the stage of abhidheya-jñāna, knowledge of how to act in his relationship with the Supreme Lord. This is devotional service, practiced by liberated souls. The mature stage of abhidheya-jñāna leads one to love of Godhead, the ultimate goal of all living entities.
It is the general opinion that among modern-day spiritualists who have tried to know the Supreme through their own puny efforts, Śrī Aurobindo has attained some degree of realization. The reason for his success, it is claimed, is that the object of his search was not material knowledge. The Māyāvādīs attempt to know the oneness of everything, but their search takes them only up to realization of the impersonal, nondual Brahman. They do not know that becoming free from disease is not perfection, that after the diseased material condition comes the healthy state of spiritual existence, wherein a liberated soul is still an individual with personality. This fact is incomprehensible to them.
Śrī Aurobindo rose beyond this limited sphere of thinking and talked about "supramental consciousness" in such books as Life Divine. We consider this book a hazy attempt to present the Supreme Lord's transcendental potencies. He accepted that the Supreme Lord is endowed with transcendental potency, and therefore we have some appreciation for him, but we feel that many persons cannot understand Śrī Aurobindo's explanation of transcendence in his books. Although he uses fairly simple English, the reader remains puzzled. Those who are unacquainted with such Vaiṣṇava philosophies as Viśiṣṭādvaita, Śuddhādvaita, Dvaitādvaita, and finally Lord Caitanya's acintya-bhedābheda-tattva, cannot understand Śrī Aurobindo. And those who are learned only in impersonal philosophy, who are searching for the nondual Brahman, have even less access to Śrī Aurobindo's works.
Much of Śrī Aurobindo's stream of thinking has been borrowed from Vaiṣṇava philosophy. In Light on Yoga and in an essay entitled "The Goal," we find the following passages:
In order to get dynamic realization, it is not enough to rescue the Puruṣa from the subjugation of Prakṛti. One must transfer the allegiance of the Puruṣa from the lower Prakṛti, with its play of ignorant forces, to the supreme Divine Śakti—the Mother.
It is a mistake to identify the Mother with the lower Prakṛti and its mechanism of forces. Prakṛti here is a mechanism only, which has been formed for the evolution of ignorance. As the ignorant mental, vital, or physical being is not itself the Divine, although it comes from the Divine, so the mechanism of Prakṛti is not the Divine Mother. No doubt something of her is there in and behind this mechanism, maintaining it for the evolutionary purpose, but she in herself is not the Śakti of Avidya but the Divine consciousness, the Power, Light, and Para-prakṛti, to whom we turn for release and divine fulflllment...
If the supermind could not give us a greater and more complete truth than any of the lower planes, it would not be worthwhile trying to reach it. Each plane has its own truth. Some of these truths are no longer needed as we rise to higher planes. For example, desire and ego are truths of the mental, vital, and physical plane, as a man on that plane without ego or desire would be a mere automaton. As we rise higher, ego and desire appear no longer as truths: they are falsehoods disfiguring the true person and the true will. The struggle between the powers of light and the powers of darkness is a truth here, but it becomes less and less of a truth as one rises higher, and in the supermind it has no truth at all. Other truths remain, but change their character, importance, and place in the whole. The contrast between the Personal and the Impersonal is a truth of the overmind; there is no separate truth of them in the supermind: they are inseparably one. But one who has not mastered the lower planes cannot reach the supramental truth. The incompetent pride of man's mind makes a sharp distinction and wants to call all else untruth and leap at once to the highest truth, whatever it may be. But that is an ambitious and arrogant error. One has to climb the stairs and rest ones feet firmly on each step in order to reach the summit.
If one is serious about the real meaning of life, then simple endeavoring to escape the crippling clutches of māyā is not the only undertaking. The ultimate goal is to liberate ourselves from the enthrallment of the illusory energy and become wholly subservient to the transcendental, spiritual energy.
In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 20.108-09, 111, 117-8, 120, and 122), Lord Caitanya gives some illuminating advice to Sanātana Gosvāmī:
It is the living entity's constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa because he is the marginal energy of Kṛṣṇa and a manifestation simultaneously one with and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire.
Lord Kṛṣṇa naturally has three energetic transformations, and these are known as the spiritual potency, the living entity potency, and the illusory potency... Forgetting Kṛṣṇa, the living entity has been attracted by the external feature from time immemorial. Therefore the illusory energy (māyā) gives him all kinds of misery in his material existence. In the material condition, the living entity is sometimes raised to higher planetary systems and material prosperity and sometimes drowned in a hellish situation. His state is exactly that of a criminal whom a king punishes by submerging him in water and then raising him again from the water.... If the conditioned soul becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious by the mercy of saintly persons who voluntarily preach scriptural injunctions and help him to become Kṛṣṇa conscious, the conditioned soul is liberated from the clutches of māyā, who gives him up. The conditioned soul cannot revive his Kṛṣṇa consciousness by his own effort. But out of causeless mercy, Lord Kṛṣṇa compiled the Vedic literature and its supplements, the Purāṇas.
Constitutionally, the Jīva is an Eternal Servant of Kṛṣṇa
The profound esoteric conclusions Lord Caitanya revealed in a few aphorisms of instruction to Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī are only partially discussed in all the works of Śrī Aurobindo. In language full of complex syntax and obscure terms, Śrī Aurobindo tries to express the knowledge that is easily available through the practice of vaidhi-bhakti, devotional service rendered according to regulations given by the authorized spiritual master and the scriptures. Because of his high-flown literary style, and for other technical reasons, Śrī Aurobindo's writings are not easily understood by the ordinary reading public, and so his literature is, in a sense, ineffectual.
Lord Caitanya discusses in detail the jva's eternal constitutional position as Lord Kṛṣṇa's servant, and how the jīva is put into illusion, or māyā, when he tries to be the supreme enjoyer. Lord Caitanya further explains that when the jīva forgets his eternal position as a servant of Lord Kṛṣṇa, he becomes eternally conditioned and illusioned. Thus māyā inflicts the miseries of material life upon the jīva. If a person artificially tries to be something he is not, then he can expect only misery. In this regard we recall a short story we read as a child in school that tells of a crow who tried to become a peacock. The creator and master of this universe is its rightful owner as well. Thus He is the sole enjoyer of everything. But if one among the creator's many servants tries to usurp His position and play the role of the Lord and enjoyer, how can he expect anything but suffering?
In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.87.30), one of the four Kumāras, Sanandana, recites to an assembly of sages in Janaloka the prayers the personified Vedas previously recited to the Supreme Lord. One of the prayers is as follows:
aparimitā dhruvās tanu-bhṛto yadi sarva-gatās
tarhi na śāsyateti niyamo dhruva netarathā
ajani ca yan-mayaṁ tad avimucya niyantṛ bhavet
samam anujānatāṁ yad amataṁ mata-duṣṭatayā
If the countless living entities were all-pervading and possessed forms that never changed, You could not possibly be their absolute ruler, O immutable one. But since they are Your localized expansions and their forms are subject to change, You do control them. Indeed, that which supplies the ingredients for the generation of something is necessarily its controller because a product never exists apart from its ingredient cause. It is simply illusion for someone to think that he knows the Supreme Lord, who is equally present in each of His expansions, since whatever knowledge one gains by material means must be imperfect.
The last word in knowledge is certainly not self-realization or Brahman realization. There is more to realize—namely, that the jīva is the eternal servant of Lord Kṛṣṇa. This realization is the awakening of supramental consciousness, and the activities a jīva performs in such consciousness are the beginning of his eternal life. When the jīva performs all his activities under the direction of the Lord's internal, spiritual energy, he enjoys eternal transcendental bliss, which is a billion times greater than the happiness of Brahman realization. The difference in transcendental joy between the two is like the difference between the vast ocean and the water collected in a calf's hoofprint. When Śrī Aurobindo wrote of "the Divine Mother," he was likely referring to this internal, spiritual energy, the predominating Deity of eternal transcendental bliss. He also pointed out that the activities of the inferior, material energy should not be mistaken for those of this spiritual potency. Once the famous impersonalist and monist sannyāsī Ramana Maharshi of Madras was asked by a foreign disciple, "What is the difference between God and man?" His cryptic reply was "God plus desire equals man, and man minus desire equals God." We say that man can never be free of desire. In his eternal conditioned existence the jīva is full of the desire to enjoy matter, while in his eternal liberated state he is full of the desire to render devotional service to the Lord. Thus the jīva can never become God. It is sheer insanity to equate man with God, or vice versa. The Māyāvādī's unnatural desire to deny the inherent characteristics of his conscious self is the very same desire that keeps him from attaining liberation. Hence the Māyāvādīs' false and arrogant claim of liberation is merely a demonstration of their perverted intelligence.
According to the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, desire can never be nullified. While conditioned, the jīva is a repository of unlimited material desires, summarized as the catur-varga, the four goals of human life enunciated in the Vedic literature (religiosity, economic development, sense gratification, and liberation). However, in the liberated state produced by acting under the direction of the Lord's internal, spiritual energy, the jīva's true, spiritual desires become manifest. Śrī Aurobindo has discussed this subject (though not in detail), and for this we appreciate him more than Ramana Maharshi. Ramana Maharshi has more or less tried to completely choke the life out of desire. This forcible elimination of desire is spiritual suicide. There is no credit in finishing off the patient without curing his disease; the doctor is qualified when he can cure the disease and save the patient. Those who pursue the four Vedic goals mentioned above, even up to impersonal liberation, find themselves imprisoned by their senses and enslaved by their desires. On the other hand, one who can teach people how to engage their daily activities in the service of the Supreme Lord is the real benefactor of humanity.
In the Bhagavad-gītā (9.4) Lord Kṛṣṇa says:
mayā tatam idaṁ sarvaṁ
na cāhaṁ teṣv avasthitaḥ
By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in Them.
In His unmanifested impersonal form Lord Kṛṣṇa pervades this entire universe, which is a transformation of His external energy. Therefore all living entities in the material creation rest on His energies. Energy cannot exist by itself, without an energetic source. Thus the material energy and the Supreme Energetic, Lord Kṛṣṇa, are in principle one, though the Energetic is far removed from the workings of His energy. The jīva, being marginal, is moved by desire to serve either the manifestation of the Lord's external energy—this physical world—or the Lord Himself in spiritual world, which is an expansion of His superior, internal potency. In other words, in every situation the jīva maintains his constitutional position as a servant. Thus he cannot relieve the suffering he undergoes as a servant of this material nature by artificially giving up his desire to serve. Inherently a servant, the jīva can never forsake his desire to serve. But if he so desires, he can quit his bad service for a good one. He should abandon his service of the four Vedic goals, including impersonal liberation—which will altogether throttle the life out of his desire to serve—and carefully try to manifest his original spiritual desire to serve the Lord. Śrī Aurobindo has discussed this same point in the passage quoted above:
If the supermind could not give us a greater and more complete truth than any of the lower planes, it would not be worthwhile trying to reach it.
If a human being tries to exist without ego, desire, feelings, dislikes, and so on, he will be converted into inert matter. This is not spiritual elevation. When a person gradually progresses from materialistic perception to spiritual perception, he can clearly understand how trivial are his mundane desires, feelings, dislikes, and so on which were so long contaminated by ignorance. As this ignorance dissipates, mundane desires become insignificant. Desires remain, but they are no longer mundane. They become transcendental. In that state, one perceives Brahman, the Supersoul, and the Supreme Lord as one. Such higher perceptions are possible only when one's mind and senses are transcendental, a stage impossible to reach in one leap. Those who try the impossible are irrational and overambitious. Everyone has to proceed gradually, placing each step securely before taking the next one. In this way one will ultimately reach the goal.
In his essay entitled "Yoga," Śrī Aurobindo does not recommend destroying desire but rather changing its character. It is a perennial truth that the jīva is by nature an eternal servant of Lord Kṛṣṇa. The jīva has no other identity, whether he is conditioned or liberated. His position is similar to that of a citizen of a country: he is always subject to the government laws, whether he is in or out of jail. When he is inside the jail, all his activities are painful, but as a free citizen he feels content in everything he does. It is merely a matter of changing his character.
Similarly, even when the jīva refuses to serve the Supreme Energetic, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and instead serves His illusory energy, māyā, he remains a servant of the Lord. But in that condition he is ignorant of the bliss of devotional service to the Lord. Only when the jīva casts away his mundane characteristics can he experience transcendental joy in devotional service. Still, in no situation does the jīva ever give up his inherent nature as Kṛṣṇa's eternal servant, for he emanates from the Lord's marginal potency.
The Means to Liberation
Nowhere do the Vedic scriptures say that one has to annihilate desire in order to comprehend the Upaniṣadic statement sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma. But there are many statements recommending that the character of desire should be transformed. It is because of the force of desire that all activities in the world are carried out, and in the Bhagavad-gītā (10.4-11) Lord Kṛṣṇa discusses the multifarious ways in which desire influences these activities:
Intelligence, knowledge, freedom from doubt and delusion, forgiveness, truthfulness, control of the senses, control of the mind, happiness and distress, birth, death, fear, fearlessness, nonviolence, equanimity, satisfaction, austerity, charity, fame, and infamy—all these various qualities of living beings are created by Me alone.
The seven great sages and before them the four other great sages and the Manus (progenitors of mankind) come from Me, born from My mind, and all the living beings populating the various planets descend from them.
One who is factually convinced of this opulence and mystic power of Mine engages in unalloyed devotional service; of this there is no doubt.
I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts. The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me. To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.
Those who understand that the multifarious human desires are a reflection of the Supreme Brahman's desires are careful not to discard them but to use them in the Lord's service. Long ago, the seven great sages and the Manus all used their God-given desires in the Lord's service, and anyone today who emulates the example of these illustrious ancestors will never see desire as mundane or as an impediment to spiritual progress. If Ramana Mahārṣi advises us to negate desire, then we must conclude that he misunderstands the Vedic statement sarvaṁ khalv idaṁ brahma. Those who have realized that all desires and feelings are Brahman by nature, and who thus engage them in the Supreme Lord's service, should be considered perfected souls. They are totally free from nescience. The desires of these self-realized, elevated, blissful devotees become purified to such an extent that not an iota of ignorance can influence their consciousness, for the Lord Himself destroys the nescience in their hearts.
The Māyāvādīs are hard pressed to understand that there is a wide gulf of difference between their individual efforts to nullify nescience and the Supreme Lord's mercifully enlightening His devotees. The Māyāvādīs are always eager to deny the Supreme Energetic His potencies. They are no better than demons like Rāvaṇa, who tried to usurp the Lord's potency, and Kaṁsa, who tried to kill Him outright. This sort of behavior is expected of demons. Aspiring for evil powers, they abandon devotional service to the Lord and take to sinful activities. In this way they forfeit all knowledge. Lord Kṛṣṇa aptly describes them in the Gītā (7.15) as māyayāpahṛta-jñānā, "those whose knowledge is stolen by illusion." Many, many philosophers, scholars, and so-called invincible heroes have tried to make the Supreme Lord impotent, formless, and impersonal, but in the end they always suffered terribly.
Thus in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.4) we find this statement by Lord Brahmā:
śreyaḥ-sṛtiṁ bhaktim udasya te vibho
kliśyanti ye kevala-bodha-labdhaye
teṣām asau kleśala eva śiṣyate
nānyad yathā sthūla-tuṣāvaghātinām
My dear Lord, devotional service unto You is the best path for self-realization. If someone gives up that path and engages in the cultivation of speculative knowledge, he will simply undergo a troublesome process and will not achieve his desired result. As a person who beats an empty husk of wheat cannot get grain, one who simply speculates cannot achieve self-realization. His only gain is trouble.
Where can one see qualities such as intelligence, knowledge, freedom from doubt, joy, sorrow, fear, fearlessness, nonviolence, equanimity, contentment, austerity, charity, fame, and infamy? These qualities are indicative of consciousness, so they are present wherever consciousness is present. The Supreme Lord has declared that these qualities are His, that they have sprung from Him. And the Kaṭha Upaniṣad states, nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān: "Among all the eternal, conscious living entities, there is one supreme conscious being who supplies all others with their necessities." Therefore, to deny that these qualities are inherent in all conscious beings, and in this way to equate both the minute living entities and the Supreme Soul with dead matter, results in complete confusion and certainly demonstrates a severe lack of insight. The Māyāvādīs are confused as to whether refuting the existence of consciousness or accepting it will give them contentment. The conscious beings always control inert matter. A simple example proves this point: we see how a puny conscious being like a crow defecates fearlessly on the head of a stone statue of some hero, thus demonstrating the conquest of dynamic spirit over dead matter. Only those with stonelike intelligence will try to make the supreme conscious being into an unfeeling, formless object. Such an attempt is utter foolishness.
Śrī Aurobindo has accomplished something commendable by presenting today's learned circles with a "new" concept: instead of trying to deny the inherent qualities of consciousness, one should transform one's mundane consciousness into supramental consciousness by engaging in service of the Supreme Lord under the direction of His divine potency. Of course, those who prefer to emulate the modern philosophers rather than the realized souls of bygone ages will find Śrī Aurobindo's presentation novel. But those who follow in the footsteps of pure, loving devotees of the Lord linked to an authorized disciplic succession know that Śrī Aurobindo's words echo the annals of age—old wisdom. Indeed, they sound close to the essence of the Vedas.
The six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana excavated this extraordinary esoteric essence of the Vedas and described the workings of the internal potency of the Lord. Before the advent of Lord Caitanya, subjects of this nature had never been discussed in such detail by any spiritual authority. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, in his play Vidagdha-mādhava, glorifies Lord Caitanya's unique contribution to mankind:
anarpita-carīṁ cirāt karuṇayāvatīrṇaḥ kalau
samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasāṁ sva-bhakti-śrīyam
sadā hṛdaya-kandare sphuratu vaḥ śacī-nandanaḥ
May that Lord who is known as the son of Śrīmatī Śacīdevī be transcendentally situated in the innermost core of your heart. Resplendent with the radiance of molten gold, He has descended in the Age of Kali by His causeless mercy to bestow what no incarnation has ever offered before: the most elevated mellow of devotional service, the mellow of conjugal love.
In an essay entitled "Surrender and Opening," Śrī Aurobindo writes:
The whole principle of this yoga is to give oneself entirely to the Divine alone and to nobody and nothing else, and to bring down to ourselves, by union with the Divine Mother, all transcendent light, power, breadth, place, purity, truth, consciousness, and Ananda of the Supramental Divine.
Rādhā is the personification of absolute love for the Divine, total and integral in all parts of Her being, from the highest spiritual to the physical, bringing the absolute self-going and total consecration of all being and calling down into the body and the most material nature the supreme Ananda.
Although there are disparities in conclusions in the above statements, still on his own Śrī Aurobindo has pointed in the right direction. It is impossible to comprehend the conjugal mellow, which is the most elevated and brilliant of spiritual mellows, without the mood of surrender. The Māyāvādīs are totally bereft of this attitude of surrender; hence when they try to understand the nondual concept on their own, they end up becoming impersonalists. Let us read what Śrī Aurobindo has to say about these Māyāvādīs:
To seek after the impersonal is the way of those who want to withdraw from life. Usually such impersonalists try by their own effort and not by opening themselves to the superior power, or by the way of surrender, for the impersonal is not something that guides or helps but something to be attained, and it leaves each man to attain it according to the way and capacity of his nature. On the other hand, by opening and surrendering to the Mother, one can realize the Impersonal and every other aspect of truth also.
The Māyāvādīs are never successful in their efforts to attain liberation on their own merit. The only way to conquer illusion and achieve liberation is to surrender to the Supreme Lord, who is complete with six absolute opulences. As Lord Kṛṣṇa clearly states in the Gītā (7.14), mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etān taranti te: "Those who surrender unto Me can easily cross beyond it [the modes of material nature]."
The first step in learning the process of surrendering to the Lord is to surrender to the pure devotee of the Lord. In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 20.120 and 122), we find this statement:
sādhu-śāstra-kṛpāya yadi kṛṣṇonmukha haya
sei jīva nistare, māyā tāhāre chāḍaya
māyā-mugdha jīvera nāhi svataḥ kṛṣṇa-jñāna
jīvere kṛpāya kailā kṛṣṇa veda-purāṇa
If the conditioned soul becomes Kṛṣṇa conscious by the mercy of saintly persons who voluntarily preach scriptural injunctions, he is liberated from the clutches of Māyā, who gives him up.
The conditioned soul cannot revive his Kṛṣṇa consciousness by his own effort. But out of causeless mercy, Lord Kṛṣṇa compiled the Vedic literature and its supplements, the Purāṇas.
All the Vedas and Purāṇas deal with the subject of Lord Kṛṣṇa. In the Lord's own words in the Bhagavad-gītā (15.15), vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo: "By all the Vedas, I am to be known."