Under One Master
Yamarāja said, “My dear servants, you have accepted me as the Supreme, but factually I am not. Above me, and above all the other demigods, including Indra and Candra, is the one supreme master and controller. The partial manifestations of His personality are Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva, who are in charge of the creation, maintenance, and annihilation of this universe. He is like the two threads that form the length and breadth of a woven cloth.
“Just as the driver of a bullock cart ties ropes through the nostrils of his bulls to control them, the Supreme Personality of Godhead binds all men with the ropes of His words in the Vedas, which set forth the names and activities of the distinct orders of human society (brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya, and śūdra). In fear, the members of these orders all worship the Supreme Lord by offering Him presentations according to their respective activities.
“I, Yamarāja; Indra, the King of heaven; Nirṛti; Varuṇa, the god of the waters; Candra, the moon god; Agni, the fire god; Lord Śiva; Pavana, the god of the air; Lord Brahmā; Sūrya, the sun god; Viśvāsu; the eight Vasus; the Sādhyas; the Maruts; the Rudras; the Siddhas; and Marīci and the other great ṛṣis engaged in maintaining the departmental affairs of the universe, as well as the best of the demigods headed by Bṛhaspati and the great sages headed by Bhṛgu, are all certainly freed from the influence of the two base material modes of nature, namely passion and ignorance. Nevertheless, although we are in the mode of goodness, we cannot understand the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. What, then, is to be said of others, who under illusion merely speculate to know God?
“As the different limbs of the body cannot see the eyes, so the living entities cannot see the Supreme Lord, who is situated as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart. Not by the senses, by the mind, by the life air, by thoughts within the heart, or by the vibration of words can the living entities ascertain the real situation of the Supreme Lord.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.3.12–16)
One Supreme Controller
The Yamadūtas suspected that there was a ruler even above Yamarāja. To eradicate their doubts, Yamarāja immediately replied, “Yes, there is one supreme controller above everything.” Yamarāja is in charge of some of the moving living entities, namely the human beings, but the animals, who also move, are not under his control. Only human beings have consciousness of right and wrong, and among them only those who perform sinful activities come under the control of Yamarāja. Therefore although Yamarāja is a controller, he is only a departmental controller of a few living entities. There are other demigods who control many other departments, but above them all is one supreme controller, Kṛṣṇa. Īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ: the supreme controller is Kṛṣṇa. Others, who control their own departments in the affairs of the universe, are insignificant in comparison to Kṛṣṇa, the supreme controller. As Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.7), mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat kiñcid asti dhanañjaya: “My dear Dhanañjaya [Arjuna], no one is superior to Me.” Therefore Yamarāja immediately cleared away the doubts of his assistants, the Yamadūtas, by confirming that there is a supreme controller above all others.
In this material world, everyone is controlled by the laws of nature, regardless of who he is. Whether one is a human being, a demigod, an animal, a tree, or a plant, one is controlled by the laws of nature, and behind this natural control is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Kṛṣṇa confirms this in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.10): mayādhyakṣeṇa prakṛtiḥ sūyate sa-carācaram. “The material nature is working under My direction and producing all moving and nonmoving beings.” Thus the natural machine works under Kṛṣṇa’s control.
Under the Control of Varṇa and Āśrama
Apart from other living entities, a living being in the human form of body is meant to be controlled by the Vedic injunctions in terms of the divisions of varṇa and āśrama, the social and spiritual classes. Otherwise he cannot escape punishment by Yamarāja. The point is that every human being is expected to elevate himself to the position of a brāhmaṇa, the most intelligent man, and then one must transcend that position to become a Vaiṣṇava. This is the perfection of life. The brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas, and śūdras can elevate themselves by worshiping the Lord according to their activities (sve sve karmaṇy abhirataḥ saṁsiddhiṁ labhate naraḥ). The divisions of varṇa and āśrama are necessary to insure the proper execution of duties and peaceful existence for everyone, but everyone is directed to worship the Supreme Lord, who is all-pervading (yena sarvam idaṁ tatam). If one thus follows the Vedic injunctions by worshiping the Supreme Lord according to one’s ability, his life will be perfect. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.13) confirms this:
“O best among the twice-born, it is therefore concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging one’s prescribed duties (dharma) according to caste divisions and orders of life is to please the Personality of Godhead.” The varṇāśrama institution offers the perfect process for making one eligible to return home, back to Godhead, because the aim of every varṇa and āśrama is to please the Lord. One can please the Lord under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master, and then one’s life is perfect. The Supreme Lord is worshipable, and everyone worships Him directly or indirectly. Those who worship Him directly get the results of liberation quickly, whereas the liberation of those who serve Him indirectly is delayed.
The words nāmabhir vāci in verse 13 (nāmabhih – by different names; vāci – to the Vedic language) are very important. In the varṇāśrama institution, there are different names – brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya, śūdra, brahmacārī, gṛhastha, vānaprastha, and sannyāsī. The vāk, or Vedic injunctions, give directions for all these divisions. Everyone is expected to offer obeisances to the Supreme Lord and perform duties as indicated in the Vedas.
Controlled by Three Modes of Nature
Men and other living entities within this cosmic manifestation are controlled by the three modes of nature. For the living entities controlled by the base qualities of nature – passion and ignorance – there is no possibility of understanding God. Even those in the mode of goodness, like the many demigods and great ṛṣis described in these verses, cannot understand the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, only one who is situated in devotional service to the Lord, and who is thus transcendental to all material qualities, can understand Him (bhaktyā mām abhijānāti.)
Ordinary philosophers can never know the Lord. The great devotee Bhīṣmadeva confirms this in the following statement to Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.9.16):
pumān veda vidhitsitam
muhyanti kavayo ’pi hi
“O king, no one can know the plan of the Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Even though great philosophers inquire exhaustively, they are bewildered.” No one, therefore, can understand God by speculative knowledge. Indeed, by speculation one will be bewildered.
Directed by the Supersoul
Although the different parts of the body do not have the power to see the eyes, the eyes direct the movements of the body’s different parts. The legs move forward because the eyes see what is in front of them, and the hand touches because the eyes see touchable entities. Similarly, every living being acts according to the direction of the Supersoul, who is situated within the heart. The Lord Himself confirms this in the Bhagavad-gītā (15.15): sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca. “I am sitting in everyone’s heart and giving directions for remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness.” Elsewhere in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.61) it is stated, īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ hṛd-deśe ’rjuna tiṣṭhati: “The Supreme Lord, as the Supersoul, is situated in the heart.” The living entity cannot do anything without the sanction of the Supersoul. The Supersoul is acting at every moment, but the living entity cannot understand the form and activities of the Supersoul by manipulating his senses. The example of the eyes and the bodily limbs is very appropriate. If the limbs could see, they could walk forward without the help of the eyes; but that is impossible. Although one cannot see the Supersoul in one’s heart through sensual activities, His direction is necessary.