māyā-mayo ’yaṁ guṇa-sampravāho
na vidyate te grahaṇānubandhaḥ
The great Bhāgavatam commentator Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī has masterfully explained the Sanskrit elements of this profound verse.
The Sanskrit word dhāma has several meanings: a) dwelling place, house, abode and so on; b) a favorite thing or person; delight; or pleasure; c) form or appearance; d) power, strength, majesty, glory, splendor or light.
Concerning the first set of meanings, the Vedānta-sūtra states that the Absolute Truth is the source and resting place of all existence, and in the first verse of the Bhāgavatam that Absolute Truth is said to be Kṛṣṇa. Although Lord Kṛṣṇa exists in His own dhāma, or abode, called Kṛṣṇaloka, He Himself is the abode of all existence, as Arjuna confirms in the Bhagavad-gītā, where he addresses Kṛṣṇa as paraṁ dhāma, “the supreme abode.”
The very name Kṛṣṇa indicates the all-attractive person, and thus Lord Kṛṣṇa, the source of all beauty and pleasure, is certainly “the favorite thing or person; delight; and pleasure.” Ultimately these terms can refer only to Kṛṣṇa.
Dhāma also refers to form or appearance, and as Indra offered these prayers he was in fact directly seeing the form of Kṛṣṇa before him.
As clearly explained in the Vedic literature, Lord Kṛṣṇa’s power, strength, majesty, splendor and effulgence are all contained within His transcendental body and thus attest to the infinite glories of the Lord.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī has brilliantly summarized all these meanings of the word dhāma by giving the Sanskrit term svarūpa as a synonym. The word svarūpa means “one’s own form or shape” and also “one’s own condition, character or nature.” Since Lord Kṛṣṇa, being pure spirit, is nondifferent from His body, there is absolutely no difference between the Lord and His visible form. By contrast, in this material world we conditioned souls are all distinctly different from our bodies, whether those bodies be male, female, black, white or whatever. All of us are eternal souls, different from our temporary, flimsy bodies.
When the word svarūpa is applied to us, it especially indicates our spiritual form, because our “own form” is in fact our “own condition, character or nature” eternally. Thus the liberated condition in which one’s outward form is one’s deepest spiritual nature is called svarūpa. Primarily, however, this term refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This is all indicated in this verse by the words tava dhāma, as explained by Śrīdhara Svāmī.
Śrīdhara Svāmī has explained that here the word śāntam means “always in the same form.” Śāntam can also mean “undisturbed, free from passion, or purified.” According to Vedic philosophy, all change in this world is caused by the influence of passion and ignorance. The passionate mode is creative, and the ignorant mode is destructive, whereas the mode of goodness, sattva, is serene and sustaining. In many ways this verse emphasizes that Lord Kṛṣṇa is free from the modes of nature. The words viśuddha-sattvam, śāntam, dhvasta-rajas-tamaskam and guṇa-sampravāho na vidyate te all indicate this. Unlike Kṛṣṇa, we change from one body to another because of our involvement with the modes of nature; the various transformations of material forms are impelled by the modes of nature, which are themselves set in motion by the influence of time. Therefore one who is free from the material modes of nature is changeless and eternally satisfied in blissful spiritual existence. Thus the word śāntam indicates that the Lord is undisturbed by change, since He is free from the material modes of nature.
According to this verse, the powerful flow of the material modes of nature — namely passion, stupidity and mundane piety — are based on agrahaṇa, which Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī has translated as “ignorance.” Since the Sanskrit root graḥ means “to take, accept, grasp or comprehend,” grahaṇa means “grasp” exactly in the sense of “to grasp an idea or fact.” Therefore agrahaṇa here means one’s failure to understand one’s spiritual position, and this failure causes one to fall into the violent currents of material existence.
An additional meaning of the word agrahaṇa is derived when it is divided into the compound agra-haṇa. Agra means “the first, top or best,” and hana means “killing.” The best part of our existence is the pure soul, which is eternal, in contradistinction to the temporary, material body and mind. Thus one who chooses material existence over Kṛṣṇa consciousness is in fact killing the best part of himself, the soul, which in its pure state can enjoy Kṛṣṇa consciousness unlimitedly.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī has translated tapo-mayam as “full of knowledge.” The word tapas, generally indicating “austerity,” is derived from the Sanskrit verb tap, whose meaning can be summarized as indicating the various functions of the sun. Tap means “to burn, to shine, to heat and so on.” The Supreme Lord is eternally perfect, and therefore here tapo-mayam does not indicate that His transcendental body is meant for austerities, since austerities are performed by conditioned souls to purify themselves or to acquire a particular power. An omnipotent, perfect being neither purifies Himself nor acquires power: He is eternally pure and all-powerful. Therefore Śrīdhara Svāmī has intelligently understood that in this case the word tapas refers to the illuminating function of the sun and thus indicates that the Lord’s self-effulgent body is omniscient. Light is a common symbol of knowledge. The Lord’s spiritual effulgence does not merely illuminate physically, as in the case of a candle or light bulb; more importantly, the Lord’s body illuminates our consciousness with perfect knowledge because the Lord’s effulgence is itself perfect knowledge.
We offer our respectful obeisances at the lotus feet of Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī and thank him for his enlightening comments on this verse.