paśyanto vyacaran mahīm
According to Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī, it is clearly demonstrated in this and the following verse that the nine saintly sons of Ṛṣabhadeva known as the nava-yogendras were situated in the highest stage of spiritual perfection, called pāramahaṁsya-caritam, or “having fully developed the character of paramahaṁsas.” In other words, they were pure devotees of the Lord. According to Śrīdhara Svāmī and Jīva Gosvāmī, the words ātmano ’vyatirekeṇa indicate that the nine sages saw the universe as being nondifferent from themselves as well as nondifferent from the Supreme Soul, Lord Kṛṣṇa. Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura has additionally commented, ātmanaḥ paramātmanaḥ sakāśād avyatirekeṇa, viśvasya tac-chakti-mayatvād iti bhāvaḥ: “Ātmanaḥ indicates the Supersoul. This universe is not different from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Paramātmā, since the entire universe is composed of His energy.”
Although it is stated here that the cosmic manifestation is nondifferent from both the living entity and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one should not think that either the living entity or the Supreme Lord is material. A Vedic aphorism states, asaṅgo hy ayaṁ puruṣaḥ: “The living entity and the Supreme Personality of Godhead have nothing to do with the material world.” Furthermore, Bhagavad-gītā says that the entire universe, consisting of eight gross and subtle elements, constitutes the bhinnā prakṛti, or aparā prakṛti — the separated, inferior energy — of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Kṛṣṇa clearly states in Bhagavad-gītā that He has eternally established His own abode in the kingdom of God, where life is eternal, full of bliss and knowledge, and that the living entity, being part and parcel of God, is also eternal (mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ). Furthermore, once having gone to that eternal abode of the Lord the living entity never returns to this temporary manifestation (yaṁ prāpya na nivartante tad dhāma paramaṁ mama).
One may therefore ask why the living entity and the Supreme Lord are stated to be nondifferent from the material universe. The question is very nicely answered by Śrīla Nārada Muni in the First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.5.20). Idaṁ hi viśvaṁ bhagavān ivetaro yato jagat-sthāna-nirodha-sambhavāḥ: “The Supreme Lord Personality of Godhead is Himself this cosmos, and still He is aloof from it. From Him only has this cosmic manifestation emanated, in Him it rests, and unto Him it enters after annihilation.” Commenting on Nārada’s statement, Śrīla Prabhupāda has very nicely explained this delicate philosophical point: “For a pure devotee, the conception of Mukunda, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is both personal and impersonal. The impersonal cosmic situation is also Mukunda because it is the emanation of the energy of Mukunda. For example, a tree is a complete unit, whereas the leaves and branches of the tree are emanated parts and parcels of the tree. The leaves and branches of the tree are also the tree, but the tree itself is neither the leaves nor the branches. The Vedic version that the whole cosmic creation is nothing but Brahman means that since everything is emanating from the Supreme Brahman, nothing is apart from Him. Similarly, the part-and-parcel hands and legs are called the body, but the body as the whole unit is neither the hands nor the legs. The Lord is the transcendental form of eternity, cognition and beauty. And thus the creation of the energy of the Lord appears to be partially eternal, full of knowledge and beautiful also.…
“According to the Vedic version, the Lord is naturally fully powerful, and thus His supreme energies are always perfect and identical with Him. Both the spiritual and the material skies and their paraphernalia are emanations of the internal and external energies of the Lord. External energy is comparatively inferior, whereas the internal potency is superior. The superior energy is living force, and therefore she is completely identical [with the Lord], but the external energy, being inert, is partially identical. But both the energies are neither equal to nor greater than the Lord, who is the generator of all energies; such energies are always under His control, exactly as electrical energy, however powerful it may be, is always under the control of the engineer.
“The human being and all other living beings are products of His internal energies. Thus the living being is also identical with the Lord. But he is never equal or superior to the Personality of Godhead.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda has clearly explained here that both the cosmic manifestation and the living entities are emanations from the Supreme Lord, as confirmed both in Vedānta-sutra and in the opening statement of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Janmādy asya yataḥ: “The Absolute Truth is that from which everything emanates.” Similarly, the Īśopaniṣad states:
om pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṁ
pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
The Supreme Lord, the Absolute Truth, is pūrṇa, or complete in Himself. And since this cosmic world is a manifestation of His potency, it also appears to be pūrṇa. In other words, because this material world is an emanation from the Supreme Lord, it is nondifferent from Him, exactly as the sun’s rays are nondifferent from the sun globe, which is the source of their emanation. Similarly the living beings, who are expansions of the superior, or conscious, energy of the Supreme Lord, are also nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa, although this nondifference is qualitative and not quantitative. The gold found in golden ornaments such as rings and bracelets is qualitatively identical with the gold in a mine, but the gold in the mine is quantitatively far superior to the tiny quantity of gold in a bracelet or ring. Similarly, although we are qualitatively one with God, being spiritual emanations of His unlimited potency, we are quantitatively infinitesimal and eternally subordinate to His supreme power. Therefore the Lord is called vibhu, or infinitely potent, and we are aṇu, or infinitesimal and dependent. This is further confirmed in the Vedic literature by the statement nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām/ eko bahūnāṁ yo vidadhāti kāmān (Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.2.13). There are innumerable eternal living entities who are eternally and totally dependent upon the supreme singular living entity, the Supreme Lord. That dependence is not an illusion created by material existence, as stated by the impersonalist philosophers, but is an eternal relationship in which the Lord is eternally superior and we are eternally inferior. The Lord is eternally independent, and we are eternally dependent. The Lord is eternally absolute in Himself, and we are eternally relative to His supreme personality.
Although the Lord is infinitely greater than any other living being, or than all of them combined, every living being is qualitatively nondifferent from the Lord, because all living beings are parts and parcels emanating from Him (mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ). Therefore, in one sense, the living entity is also not different from the material cosmic manifestation, which is an inferior sister energy of the Lord. Both the living entity and the material nature are prakṛti, or feminine, dependent expansions of the supreme puruṣa. The difference is that the living entity is the superior energy of the Lord, because the living entity is conscious and eternal like the Lord, whereas material energy is the inferior energy of the Lord, lacking consciousness and eternal form.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has emphasized in this regard that the absolute substance is one and is called Paramātmā, or the Supersoul. When one has achieved but a partial vision of the Paramātmā, one’s understanding of life is called ātma-darśana, or self-realization. And when even this partial understanding is lacking, one’s existential condition is called anātma-darśana, or ignorance of the self. In the state of partial realization of the Supersoul, without recognition of the Paramātmā’s distinction from the individual soul, the living entity tends to become puffed up by his spiritual achievement, be carried away by mental concoction, and consider himself equal in all respects with God. On the other hand, the living entity situated in anātma-darśana, or material ignorance, feels that he is completely different from the Supreme Lord; and since everyone in this material world is interested in himself, the living entity forgets about God, thinking that God is completely different from him and that there is therefore no substantial relationship between him and God. In this way the impersonal transcendentalists emphasize only the oneness between God and the living entity, whereas the ordinary materialists overemphasize the difference between God and the living entity. But Caitanya Mahāprabhu has clearly revealed that the Ultimate Truth is simultaneous oneness and difference (acintya-bhedābheda-tattva). Actually we are eternally different from God. Because the living entity and God are eternally separate individual entities, there exists the possibility of an eternal relationship. And because every living entity is qualitatively one with the Supreme Lord, that relationship constitutes the essence of the ultimate reality for every living being. As stated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 20.108), jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya — kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa.’ The ultimate essential identity of every living entity is his relationship with the Supreme Lord as a servitor of the Lord.
If one can understand that he is an eternal servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one can correctly understand that both the living entity and the material universe are identical with Kṛṣṇa, being emanations from Him, and that they are therefore nondifferent from each other. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī has stated, “The material world is a manifestation of simultaneous difference and nondifference, and it is a form of the Supreme Lord. Thus the temporary, perishable and ever-changing material world is different from Vaikuṇṭha, the eternal world.”
It should be noted that in this verse the word sad-asad-ātmakam, or “made up of gross and subtle objects,” does not refer to material and spiritual objects. This universe is stated to be composed of sat and asat, gross and subtle material objects. According to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, “The very subtle state within the manifest world is known as ‘the unmanifest,’ and the realm beyond the manifest world is called ‘transcendental.’ Within the coverings surrounding the manifest, in the region of the time factor, is the phase of material existence experienced by the controlling deities; in this phase exist the two functions: cause (asat) and effect (sat). In the universe, which is a third tattva, or reality (apart from and containing both sat and asat), and which is a form of the Supreme Lord, it is impossible to produce any contradiction to the nondual Absolute Truth.” In other words, although ignorant, materialistic scientists may zealously carry out research to find a material principle that can negate or render unnecessary the existence of God, Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī clearly states that since the universe is an emanation from the Lord and therefore spiritually identical with Him, there cannot possibly exist anywhere within the universe a material law, principle or phenomenon that in any way contradicts the supremacy of the Personality of Godhead. In fact, the entire universe, along with the spiritual sky, exists as eternal testimony to the unlimited glory of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. With this understanding, the nine Yogendras were traveling about the earth in transcendental bliss.