कति तत्त्वानि विश्वेश सङ्ख्यातान्यृषिभि: प्रभो ।
नवैकादश पञ्च त्रीण्यात्थ त्वमिह शुश्रुम ॥ १ ॥
केचित् षड्विंशतिं प्राहुरपरे पञ्चविंशतिम् ।
सप्तैके नव षट् केचिच्चत्वार्येकादशापरे ।
केचित् सप्तदश प्राहु: षोडशैके त्रयोदश ॥ २ ॥
एतावत्त्वं हि सङ्ख्यानामृषयो यद्विवक्षया ।
गायन्ति पृथगायुष्मन्निदं नो वक्तुमर्हसि ॥ ३ ॥
kati tattvāni viśveśa
saṅkhyātāny ṛṣibhiḥ prabho
navaikādaśa pañca trīṇy
āttha tvam iha śuśruma
saptaike nava ṣaṭ kecic
etāvattvaṁ hi saṅkhyānām
gāyanti pṛthag āyuṣmann
idaṁ no vaktum arhasi
śrī-uddhavaḥ uvāca — Śrī Uddhava said; kati — how many; tattvāni — basic elements of creation; viśva-īśa — O Lord of the universe; saṅkhyātāni — have been enumerated; ṛṣibhiḥ — by great authorities; prabho — O my master; nava — nine (God, the individual soul, the mahat-tattva, false ego and the five gross elements); ekādaśa — plus eleven (the ten knowledge-acquiring and working senses together with the mind); pañca — plus five (the subtle forms of the sense objects); trīṇi — plus three (the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance, making altogether a total of twenty-eight); āttha — have stated; tvam — You; iha — during Your appearance in this world; śuśruma — so I have heard; kecit — some; ṣaṭ-viṁśatim — twenty-six; prāhuḥ — they say; apare — others; pañca-viṁśatim — twenty-five; sapta — seven; eke — some; nava — nine; ṣaṭ — six; kecit — some; catvāri — four; ekādaśa — eleven; apare — still others; kecit — some; saptadaśa — seventeen; prāhuḥ — say; ṣoḍaśa — sixteen; eke — some; trayodaśa — thirteen; etāvattvam — such calculations; hi — indeed; saṅkhyānām — of the different ways of counting the elements; ṛṣayaḥ — the sages; yat-vivakṣayā — with the intention of expressing what ideas; gāyanti — they have declared; pṛthak — in various manners; āyuḥ-man — O supreme eternal; idam — this; naḥ — to us; vaktum — to explain; arhasi — You should please.
Uddhava inquired: My dear Lord, O master of the universe, how many different elements of creation have been enumerated by the great sages? I have heard You personally describe a total of twenty-eight — God, the jīva soul, the mahat-tattva, false ego, the five gross elements, the ten senses, the mind, the five subtle objects of perception and the three modes of nature. But some authorities say that there are twenty-six elements, while others cite twenty-five or else seven, nine, six, four or eleven, and even others say that there are seventeen, sixteen or thirteen. What did each of these sages have in mind when he calculated the creative elements in such different ways? O supreme eternal, kindly explain this to me.
Lord Kṛṣṇa thoroughly explained in the previous chapter that Vedic knowledge is not meant for sense gratification but for liberation from material bondage. Now Uddhava presents some intermediate questions that must be answered so the path of liberation will be clear. Different philosophers have historically disagreed over the exact number of material elements, about the existence and nonexistence of particular external objects and about the existence of the soul itself. The jñāna-kāṇḍa section of the Vedas aims at liberation through analytic understanding of the material world and of the spirit soul as a transcendental element beyond matter. Ultimately the Supreme Lord Himself stands above all elements and maintains them by His personal potency. Uddhava mentions in numerical terms different methodologies of various sages, citing first the Lord’s own opinion. The word āyuṣman, or “possessing eternal form,” is significant in this regard. Since Lord Kṛṣṇa is eternal, He possesses all knowledge of past, present and future and is thus the original and supreme philosopher.
According to Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, the different analytic approaches mentioned by Śrī Uddhava are actually not contradictory, since they are different methods of categorizing the same reality. Atheistic speculation on reality does not recognize the existence of God; consequently it is a worthless attempt to explain the truth. The Lord Himself empowers different living entities to speculate and speak on reality in different ways. The actual reality, however, is the Lord Himself, who will now speak to Śrī Uddhava.