सूत्रं महानहमिति प्रवदन्ति जीवम् ।
ब्रह्मैव भाति सदसच्च तयो: परं यत् ॥ ३७ ॥
sūtraṁ mahān aham iti pravadanti jīvam
brahmaiva bhāti sad asac ca tayoḥ paraṁ yat
sattvam — goodness; rajaḥ — passion; tamaḥ — and ignorance; iti — thus known; tri-vṛt — threefold; ekam — one; ādau — in the beginning, before creation; sūtram — the power to act; mahān — the power of consciousness; aham — and the false ego; iti — thus; pravadanti — is called; jīvam — (false ego, which covers) the living entity; jñāna — the demigods as the embodiment of knowledge; kriyā — the senses; artha — sense objects; phala — and fruitive results such as happiness and distress; rūpatayā — assuming the forms; uru-śakti — possessing great varieties of energy; brahma eva — the Supreme alone; bhāti — is manifest; sat asat ca — as both gross objects and their subtle causes; tayoḥ — both; param — beyond; yat — which is.
Originally one, the Absolute, Brahman, comes to be known as threefold, manifesting itself as the three modes of material nature — goodness, passion and ignorance. Brahman further expands its potency, and thus the power to act and the power of consciousness become manifest, along with the false ego, which covers the identity of the conditioned living being. Thus, by the expansion of the multipotencies of the Absolute, the demigods, as the embodiment of knowledge, become manifest, along with the material senses, their objects, and the results of material activity, namely happiness and distress. In this way the manifestation of the material world takes place as the subtle cause and as the material effect visible in the appearance of gross material objects. Brahman, which is the source of all subtle and gross manifestations, is simultaneously transcendental to them, being absolute.
In the previous verse the sage Pippalāyana described the Absolute, Brahman, as being beyond the range of material sense perception and mental speculation. At the same time, it was stated, ātma-mūlam arthoktam āha yad-ṛte na niṣedha-siddhiḥ: the negative injunctions of the Vedas indirectly indicate the existence of the Absolute Truth. This Absolute Truth can be approached by correct means. Now, in the present verse, it is clearly described that the Absolute Truth possesses innumerable potencies (uru-śakti brahmaiva bhāti). Thus by the expansion of the Absolute Truth the gross and subtle features of the material world become manifest. As stated by Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī, kāryaṁ kāraṇād bhinnaṁ na bhavati: “The result is not different from its cause.” Therefore, since the Absolute is eternal existence, this material world, being the potency of the Absolute, must also be accepted as real, although the various manifestations of the material world are temporary and thus illusory. The material world should be understood to consist of the bewildering interactions of real elements. The material world is not false in the imaginary sense of the Buddhists and Māyāvādīs, who state that in fact the material world does not exist outside the mind of the observer. The material world, as the potency of the Absolute, has real existence. But the living entity becomes bewildered by the temporary manifestations, foolishly taking them to be permanent. Thus the material world functions as an illusory potency, causing the living entity to forget the spiritual world, wherein life is eternal, full of bliss and knowledge. Because the material world thus bewilders the conditioned soul, it is called illusory. When a magician performs his tricks onstage, that which the audience apparently sees is an illusion. But the magician actually exists, and the hat and rabbit exist, although the appearance of a rabbit coming out of a hat is an illusion. Similarly, when the living entity identifies himself as part and parcel of the material world, thinking, “I am American,” “I am Indian,” “I am Russian,” “I am black,” “I am white,” he is bewildered by the magic of the Lord’s illusory potency. The conditioned soul must come to understand, “I am a pure spirit soul, part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa. Now let me stop my useless activities and serve Kṛṣṇa, since I am part of Him.” Then he is free from the illusion of māyā. If one artificially tries to escape the clutches of the illusory energy by declaring that there is no illusory potency and that this world is false, he merely falls into another illusion created by māyā to keep him in ignorance. Kṛṣṇa states in Bhagavad-gītā (7.14):
mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante
māyām etāṁ taranti te
Unless one surrenders at the lotus feet of Māyeśa, the Lord of the illusory potency, there is no possibility of escaping from illusion. Childishly declaring that there is no illusory potency is useless, since māyā is duratyayā, or insurpassable for the tiny living entity. But Lord Kṛṣṇa, the omnipotent Personality of Godhead, can immediately call off the illusory potency.
In this verse the expansion of the material world from Brahman, the Absolute, is described. Since Brahman is one of the subordinate features of the Supreme Personality of Godhead (brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti śabdyate), one who understands this material world to be Brahman is freed from the tendency to exploit the material energy through sense gratification and mental speculation aimed at one’s own satisfaction.
The question may be raised, Since Brahman is stated to be ekam, or one, how does it become manifest in the innumerable varieties of the material world? Therefore this verse uses the word uru-śakti. The Absolute contains multipotencies, as stated in the Vedas (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad): parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate. The Absolute Truth is not śakti, or energy, but śaktimān, the possessor of innumerable potencies. According to Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī, one should submissively hear these authorized descriptions of the Absolute Truth. As stated in the previous verse, yathānalam arciṣaḥ svāḥ: the insignificant sparks of a fire have no power to illuminate the blazing fire, which is itself the source of illumination. Similarly, the tiny living entity, who is like a spark of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, cannot illuminate the Personality of Godhead by his insignificant intellectual power. One may argue that the sun expands its potency in the form of its rays and it is through the illumination of those rays that we are able to see the sun. In the same way, we should be able to perceive the Absolute Truth by the expansion of its potency. In answer to this it may be stated that if the sun creates a cloud covering the sky, then despite the presence of sun rays the sun cannot be seen. Therefore, ultimately the power to see the sun depends not only on the sun’s rays but on the presence of a clear sky, which is also an arrangement by the sun. Similarly, as stated in this verse, one can understand the existence of the Absolute Truth by the expansion of its potencies.
Although in the previous verse the power of the material senses and mind was rejected, the authorized descriptions given here inform us that one can directly perceive everything that exists to be the potency of the Personality of Godhead. In this regard, Nārada Muni advised King Prācīnabarhi as follows:
bhaja sarvātmanā harim
paśyaṁs tad-ātmakaṁ viśvaṁ
“You should always know that this cosmic manifestation is created, maintained and annihilated by the will of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently, everything within this cosmic manifestation is under the control of the Lord. To be enlightened by this perfect knowledge, one should always engage himself in the devotional service of the Lord.” (Bhāg. 4.29.79) As stated here, bhaja sarvātmanā harim: one must worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead so that one’s consciousness will become clean and pure, just like the clear blue sky in which the potent sun is fully manifest. When one sees the sun, he immediately sees the sun’s rays in full potency. Similarly, if one engages in the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa, one’s mind becomes cleansed of material dirt, and thus he can see not only the Lord but the Lord’s expansions as the spiritual world, as the pure devotees, as the Paramātmā, as the impersonal Brahman effulgence and as the subsequent creation of the material world, the shadow of the kingdom of God (chāyeva), in which so many material varieties become manifest.
According to Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī, the word phalam can also be understood to mean puruṣārtha-svarūpam, or the actual form of the goal of life, or, in other words, the transcendental form of the Lord Himself. The living entity in his original pure state is not different from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Similarly, the infinite multicolored opulence of the kingdom of God, called Vaikuṇṭha, is nondifferent in quality from the Lord. Thus when the Supreme Personality of Godhead is personally present with His unparalleled opulence and His pure spiritual servitors, the living entities, a very happy situation is created. The mundane concept of family is a perverted reflection of the happy situation created when the Lord is united in full spiritual opulence with His pure devotees. Every living entity has the option to join the Lord in His opulent eternal kingdom. Thus one should understand from this verse that everything within the gross and subtle cosmic manifestations is the potency of the Lord and is therefore meant to be used in the Lord’s service. Īśāvāsyam idaṁ sarvam.
Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has given an elaborate explanation proving that the entire cosmic situation is the natural potency of the Absolute Truth. Sometimes superstitious people, without knowledge of the Personality of Godhead, say that material activities are controlled by an independent devil and that God is struggling with such a devil. Such gross ignorance of the omnipotent status of the Personality of Godhead can be removed by understanding the purport of this verse. Just as a spark is a tiny emanation from a blazing fire, everything that exists is but an insignificant spark of the potency of the Personality of Godhead. The Lord therefore says in Bhagavad-gītā (10.42):
kiṁ jñātena tavārjuna
viṣṭabhyāham idaṁ kṛtsnam
ekāṁśena sthito jagat
“But what need is there, Arjuna, for all this detailed knowledge? With a single fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire universe.” The omnipotent Personality of Godhead is actually the well-wishing friend of every living entity (suhṛdaṁ sarva-bhūtānām). Therefore, if one becomes sane and understands that one’s well-wishing friend Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate source and controller of everything that exists, one attains immediate peace (jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati). Fear and illusion arise when one foolishly thinks that even one atom of the creation is not the controlled potency of the Personality of Godhead. Bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt. Denying the existence of the material world also creates a very dangerous situation of illusion. Both types of atheism — namely, seeing the material world as belonging to oneself (and therefore being meant for one’s sense gratification) and declaring the nonexistence of the material world — are futile attempts to avoid one’s eternal subordination to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the actual owner and enjoyer of everything. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has quoted the following question stated by Śrī Maitreya to Śrī Parāśara in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.3.1):
“How are we to understand that Brahman, the Supreme Soul, is the executor of the creation, maintenance and destruction of the material world, even though it is devoid of qualities, immeasurable, unembodied and free from any fault?” In reply, Śrī Parāśara stated:
yato ’to brahmaṇas tās tu
bhavanti tapatāṁ śreṣṭha
“Mere logic cannot explain how even material objects expand their potency. These things can be understood by mature observation. The Absolute Truth expands His potency in the creation, maintenance and annihilation of the material world just as fire expands its potency of heat.” (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 1.3.2) Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī explains that one can understand the power of a valuable gem not by logical statements but by observing the effect of the gem. Similarly, one can understand the potency of a mantra by observing its power to achieve a particular effect. Such potency doesn’t depend on so-called logic. There is no logical necessity for a seed’s growing into a tree and giving fruits that nourish the human body. One may argue that the genetic code for the entire tree is contained within the seed. But there is no logical necessity for the existence of the seed, nor for the seed’s expanding itself into a gigantic tree. Ex post facto, or after the manifestation of the wonderful material nature, the foolish material scientist traces out the expansion of a seed’s potency in an apparently logical sequence of events. But there is nothing within the realm of so-called pure logic that dictates that a seed should expand into a tree. Rather, such expansion should be understood to be the potency of the tree. Similarly, the potency of a jewel is its mystic power, and various mantras also contain innate potencies. Ultimately the mahā-mantra — Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare — has the potency to transfer one to the spiritual world of bliss and knowledge. In the same way, the Absolute Truth has the natural quality of expanding itself into innumerable varieties of material and spiritual worlds. We may logically describe this expansion after the fact, but we cannot deny the expansion of the Absolute Truth. The conditioned soul who purifies his consciousness through the process of devotional service can scientifically observe the expansion of the Absolute Truth as described here, just as one who is not blind can observe the expansion of a seed into a huge tree. One can understand the potency of a seed not by speculation but rather by practical observation. Similarly, one must purify his vision so that he can practically observe the expansion of the Absolute Truth. Such observation can take place either by the ears or by the eyes. Vedic knowledge is śabda-brahma, or transcendental potency in the form of sound vibration. Therefore, one can observe the functions of the Absolute Truth through submissive hearing of transcendental sound. śāstra-cakṣus. When one’s consciousness becomes fully purified one can perceive the Absolute Truth with all of one’s spiritualized senses.
The Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, is devoid of material qualities such as mundane goodness, passion and ignorance because He is an ocean of transcendental qualities and therefore has no need for the inferior qualities of the material world. As stated in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (4.10), māyāṁ tu prakṛtiṁ vidyān māyinaṁ tu maheśvaram: “Understand that māyā is the material energy whereas the Supreme Lord is the Supreme Lord of māyā.” Similarly, it is stated in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, māyāṁ ca tad-apāśrayām: māyā is always under the control of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Just as it is understood from the above discussion that the material world is an emanation from the impersonal Brahman potency of the Lord, Brahman itself is an expansion of the potency of Kṛṣṇa, as stated in Bhagavad-gītā (brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham).
kotiṣv aśeṣa-vasudhādi vibhūti-bhinnam
tad brahma niṣkalam anantam aśeṣa-bhūtaṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has pointed out that in the impersonal Brahman there is neither transcendental activity nor the supreme pum-artha, or benefit of human life, namely prema, love of Godhead. Therefore, if one is prematurely dazzled by the expansion of the Lord’s bodily effulgence, known as Brahman, and therefore does not actually come to know the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is no possibility of actually understanding one’s eternal identity as an eternal blissful expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The subject matter is summarized in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi 1.3):
ya ātmāntaryāmī puruṣa iti so ’syāṁśa-vibhavaḥ
ṣaḍ-aiśvaryaiḥ pūrṇo ya iha bhagavān sa svayam ayaṁ
na caitanyāt kṛṣṇāj jagati para-tattvaṁ param iha