Explanation of the Ātmārāma Verse in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam
Lord Caitanya next explained to Sanātana Gosvāmī a very famous verse known as the ātmārāma verse (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.7.10):
nirgranthā apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukīṁ bhaktim
The general meaning of this verse is that those who are liberated souls and are fully satisfied within themselves will eventually become devotees of the Lord. This especially describes the impersonalists, who have no information of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They try to remain satisfied with the impersonal Brahman, but Kṛṣṇa is so attractive and so strong that He attracts their minds. This is the purport of this verse.
Lord Caitanya had previously explained this verse to the great Vedāntist Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. Sanātana Gosvāmī, after taking lessons from Lord Caitanya, referred to this incident and prayed to the Lord to again explain the ātmārāma verse. Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, the author of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, appreciating the Lord’s explanation of the ātmārāma verse, has glorified Lord Caitanya in a prayer.
Sanātana Gosvāmī fell flat at the feet of Lord Caitanya and requested Him to explain the verse as He had formerly explained it to Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. Sanātana expressed his eagerness to hear the same explanation in order that he might be enlightened. When the Lord was thus requested by Sanātana, He replied: “I do not understand why Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya so much appreciated My explanation. As far as I am concerned, I don’t even remember what I said to him. But because you are asking this of Me, with the help of your association I shall try to explain whatever I can remember.” Thus the speaker and the audience are very intimately connected: the speaker is enlightened by the presence of the audience. The speaker, or master, can speak very nicely on transcendental subject matters before an understanding audience; therefore Lord Caitanya said that He did not know how to explain the Sanskrit verse but that since He was in the association of Sanātana He would try to explain it.
The Lord then went on to point out that there are eleven words in the ātmārāma verse: (1) ātmārāmāḥ, (2) ca, (3) munayaḥ, (4) nirgranthāḥ, (5) api, (6) urukrame, (7) kurvanti, (8) ahaitukīm, (9) bhaktim, (10) ittham-bhūta-guṇaḥ and (11) hariḥ. The Lord then began to explain each and every one of these words. As far as the word ātmārāma is concerned, the Lord explained that the word ātmā means (1) the Supreme Absolute Truth, (2) the body, (3) the mind, (4) endeavor, (5) intelligence, (6) conviction and (7) nature. The word ārāma means enjoyer; therefore anyone who takes pleasure in the cultivation of the knowledge of these seven items is known as an ātmārāma. (Later the Lord would describe the different kinds of ātmārāmas, or transcendentalists.) As for the word munayaḥ, or muni, those who are great thinkers are called munis. Sometimes the word muni is also applied to a person who is very grave. Great sages, great austere persons, great mystics and learned scholars are also called munis.
The next word, nirgrantha, indicates freedom from the bondage of illusion. Nirgrantha also means “one who has no connection with scriptural injunctions.” Grantha means revealed scriptures, and nir is an affix which is used to mean “no connection,” “constructing,” and also “prohibiting.” There are many instructions for spiritual realization, and persons who have no connection with such scriptural injunctions are known as nirgrantha. There are many people who are foolish, low-born and misbehaved and who have no entrance into the revealed scriptures and injunctions, and therefore they are called nirgrantha. Because the word grantha can also mean “collected riches,” the word nirgrantha also indicates a poor man, bereft of all riches, who is attempting to collect riches.
The word urukrama is used to indicate a highly powerful person. Since the word krama is used to indicate the act of stepping, the word urukrama also indicates one who can step forward very far. The greatest step forward was taken by Lord Vāmanadeva, who covered the whole universe in two steps. Thus the Supreme Lord Vāmanadeva is also known as Lord Urukrama. This extraordinary feature of Lord Vāmanadeva is explained in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.7.40):
yaḥ pārthivāny api kavir vimame rajāṁsi
caskambha yaḥ sva-raṁhasāskhalatā tri-pṛṣṭhaṁ
yasmāt tri-sāmya-sadanād uru-kampayānam
“No one can estimate the inconceivable potencies of Lord Viṣṇu. Even if one could count the number of atomic combinations in this material world, he still could not count the different energies of the Supreme Lord. As Vāmanadeva, the Lord was so powerful that simply by stepping forward He covered the whole universe from Brahmaloka down to Pātāla-loka.”
The inconceivable energies of the Lord are spread throughout the creation. He is all-pervading, and by His energy He sustains all planetary systems, yet through His pleasure potency He remains situated in His personal abode, known as Goloka. By the expansion of His opulence, He is present in all the Vaikuṇṭha planets as Nārāyaṇa. By expanding His material energy, He creates innumerable universes with innumerable planets within them. Thus no one can estimate the wonderful activities of the Supreme Lord, and therefore the Supreme Lord is known as Urukrama, the wonderful actor. In the Viśva-prakāśa dictionary, the word krama is defined as “an expert display of energies,” as well as “stepping forward very quickly.”
The word kurvanti means “working for others.” There is another word, similar to this, which is used when one’s activities are done for one’s personal sense gratification, but the word kurvanti is used when activities are performed for the satisfaction of the Supreme. Thus in this verse the word can only indicate the rendering of transcendental service to the Lord.
The word hetu means “reason” or “cause.” Generally people are engaged in transcendental activities for three reasons: some want material happiness, some want mystic perfection, and some want liberation from material bondage. As far as material enjoyment is concerned, there are so many varieties that no one can enumerate them. As far as perfections in mystic power are concerned, there are eighteen, and as far as types of liberation from material bondage are concerned, there are five. The state of being where all these varieties of enjoyment are conspicuous by their absence is called ahaitukī. The ahaitukī qualification is especially mentioned because by the ahaitukī service of the Lord, one can achieve the favor of the Lord.
The word bhakti can be used in ten different ways. One of these is sādhana-bhakti, or occupational devotional service. The other nine are varieties of prema-bhakti, love of Godhead. Those who are situated in the neutral position attain perfection up to love of Godhead. Similarly, those who are situated in the relationship of master and servant attain love of Godhead to the stage of attachment. Those who are related in friendship attain love of God to the point of fraternity. Those who are in love with God as His parents are elevated to the point of transcendental emotion. But only those who are related with the Supreme in conjugal love can experience the highest of ecstasies. These are some of the different meanings for the word bhakti.
The Lord next explained the different meanings of ittham-bhūta-guṇa. Ittham-bhūta indicates full transcendental pleasure, before which even the transcendental pleasure known as brahmānanda becomes like straw. In the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (14.36), a devotee says:
brāhmāṇy api jagad-guro
“My Lord, O Supreme, simply by understanding You or seeing You, we derive a pleasure so great that the pleasure of brahmānanda becomes insignificant.” In other words, the pleasure derived by understanding Kṛṣṇa as He is – as the all-attractive reservoir of all pleasures and the reservoir of all pleasure-giving tastes with all transcendental qualifications – attracts one to become His devotee. By virtue of such attraction, one can give up fruitive activities and all endeavors for liberation and can even abandon the intense desire to achieve mystic power through success in yoga. The attractive power of Kṛṣṇa is so intense that one loses respect for all other means of self-realization and simply surrenders unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Next the Lord explained the word guṇa. In the ātmārāma verse guṇa indicates the unlimited transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa, primarily those pertaining to His sac-cid-ānanda form. In His transcendental blissful knowledge and eternity, He is fully perfect, and His perfection is increased when He is controlled by the attention of His devotee. God is so kind and merciful that He gives Himself in exchange for the devotional service of the devotee. His transcendental qualities are such that His perfect beauty, His perfect reciprocation of love between Himself and His devotees, and the fragrance of His transcendental qualities attract different kinds of transcendentalists and liberated souls. For example, Kṛṣṇa attracted the mind of Sanaka and the other Kumāras simply by the aroma emanating from the flowers offered to Him, and He attracted the mind of Śukadeva Gosvāmī by His transcendental pastimes. The minds of the damsels of Vṛndāvana were attracted by His personal beauty, Rukmiṇī’s attention was attracted by His bodily features and transcendental qualities, and the mind of the goddess of fortune was attracted by His flute-playing and other transcendental features. In this way Lord Kṛṣṇa attracts the minds of all young girls. He also attracts the minds of elderly ladies by His childlike activities, and the minds of His friends by His friendly activities. When He appeared in Vṛndāvana, He even attracted the birds, beasts, trees and plants. Indeed, everyone became attracted in love and affection for Kṛṣṇa.
The word hari has different meanings, of which two are principal. The name Hari indicates that Kṛṣṇa takes away all inauspicious things from the devotee’s life and that He attracts the mind of the devotee by awarding him transcendental love of Godhead. Kṛṣṇa is so attractive that anyone who can somehow or other remember Him becomes freed from the four kinds of material miseries. The Lord gives special attention to His devotee and banishes the devotee’s various sinful activities, which are stumbling blocks for the advancement of devotional service. This is called routing the influence of ignorance. Simply by hearing about Him, one develops love for Him. That is the gift of the Lord. On one side He takes away inauspicious things, and on the other side He awards the most auspicious things. That is the meaning of hari. When a person is developed in love of Godhead, his body, mind and everything else are attracted by the transcendental qualities of the Lord. Such is the power of Kṛṣṇa’s merciful activities and transcendental qualities. He is so attractive that out of transcendental attachment to Him a devotee will give up all four principles of material success – religiosity, economic development, regulated sense gratification and salvation.
The words api and ca are adverbs and can be used for virtually any purpose. The word ca, or “and,” can render seven different readings to the whole construction.
The Lord thus established the import of the eleven words in the ātmārāma verse, and then He began to further explain the verse as follows. The word brahman means “the greatest in all respects.” The Lord is the greatest in all opulences. No one can excel Him in wealth, no one can excel Him in strength, no one can excel Him in fame, no one can excel Him in beauty, no one can excel Him in knowledge, and no one can excel Him in renunciation. Thus the word brahman actually indicates the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.12.57) the word brahman is said to indicate the greatest of all, the Supreme Lord, who as the greatest expands with no limit. One may conceive of Brahman’s greatness, yet this greatness grows in such a way that no one can estimate how great He actually is.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is realized in three aspects, but they are all one and the same. The Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality, Kṛṣṇa, is everlasting. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.9.33) it is said that He exists before the manifestation of this cosmic world, that He exists during its continuance, and that He continues to exist after its annihilation. Therefore He is the great soul of everything. He is all-pervading and all-witnessing, and He is the supreme form of everything.
There are three different kinds of transcendental processes mentioned in the Vedic literature by which one can understand and achieve that supreme perfection of the Absolute Truth. They are the process of knowledge, the process of mystic yoga and the process of devotional service. The followers of these three processes realize the Absolute Truth in three different aspects. Those who follow the process of knowledge realize Him as impersonal Brahman, those who follow the process of yoga realize Him as the localized Supersoul, and those who follow the process of devotional service realize Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In other words, although the word Brahman indicates Kṛṣṇa and nothing else, still, according to the process that is followed, the Lord is realized in three different aspects.
As far as devotional service is concerned, there are two divisions. In the beginning there is vidhi-bhakti, or devotional service with regulative principles. In the higher stage there is rāga-bhakti, or devotional service in pure love.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the Absolute Truth, but He is manifested by the expansions of His different energies also. Those who follow the regulative principles of devotional service ultimately attain to the Vaikuṇṭha planets in the spiritual world, but one who follows the principles of love in devotional service attains to the supreme abode, the highest planet in the spiritual world, known as Kṛṣṇaloka or Goloka Vṛndāvana.
Transcendentalists can also be divided into three categories. The word akāma refers to one who does not have any material desires, mokṣa-kāma refers to one who seeks liberation from material miseries, and sarva-kāma refers to one who wants to enjoy by fulfilling material desires. The most intelligent transcendentalist gives up all other processes and engages in the devotional service of the Lord, even though he may have many desires. Through no kind of activity – whether fruitive action or the cultivation of knowledge or the cultivation of mystic yoga – can a person achieve the highest perfection without adding a tinge of devotional service. Except for devotional service, all transcendental processes are just like nipples on the neck of a goat. The nipples on a goat’s neck may be squeezed, but they do not supply milk. Therefore if one is to derive actual perfection from his process, he must take to the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa.
In the Bhagavad-gītā (7.16) Lord Kṛṣṇa states:
janāḥ sukṛtino ’rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“O best of the Bhāratas, four kinds of people with very righteous backgrounds take up devotional service to Me. They are the distressed, the inquisitive, the seekers of material profit, and the jñānīs, or wise men.” Out of these four, those who are distressed and those who desire wealth are called sakāma devotees, devotees with material desires, whereas the other two, the inquisitive and the searcher for wisdom, are mokṣa-kāma devotees, seekers of liberation. Because they all worship Kṛṣṇa, they are all considered to be very fortunate. In due course of time, if they give up all desires and become pure devotees of the Supreme Lord, they can be considered most fortunate. Such fortunate beginners can develop only in the association of pure devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa. When one associates with pure devotees, he becomes a pure devotee himself. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.10.11):
hātuṁ notsahate budhaḥ
kīrtyamānaṁ yaśo yasya
sakṛd ākarṇya rocanam
“A person who is actually intelligent is able, by the association of pure devotees, to hear descriptions of Lord Kṛṣṇa and His activities. These activities are so attractive that one who hears of them does not wish to give up such association with the Lord.”
Except for the association of pure devotees, all association is kaitava, or cheating. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.1.2), which states, “All cheating processes, which obstruct transcendental realization, are to be thrown off. By Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam one can understand reality as it is, and such understanding helps one transcend the three kinds of material miseries. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was compiled by the greatest sage, Vyāsadeva, and it is a work coming out of his mature experience. By understanding Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and rendering devotional service, one can immediately capture the Supreme Lord within his heart.”
Lord Caitanya then explained that the word projjhita in this Bhāgavatam verse refers to the desire for liberation. One great commentator explained that desire for liberation is the most obstructive stumbling block on the path of God realization. But if one somehow or other comes to Kṛṣṇa and begins to hear about Him, Kṛṣṇa is so kind that He awards him His lotus feet as a shelter. Then the devotee or transcendentalist forgets everything and engages in the devotional service of the Lord. When one comes to the Lord in devotional service, or in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the reward is the Supreme Himself. Once engaged for the Supreme, one no longer asks for anything, as do the distressed man and he who desires material possessions. The association of pure devotees, the causeless mercy of the Lord, and devotional service itself – these three act so wonderfully that one can give up all other activities and become absorbed in Kṛṣṇa, whether one is distressed, in want of material possessions, or inquisitive, or even if one is a wise man cultivating knowledge.
In summary, Kṛṣṇa is the meaning behind all the words in the ātmārāma verse. Up to this point Lord Caitanya spoke only of the introduction to the ātmārāma verse. Next He explained its real position.
There are two kinds of transcendentalists who cultivate knowledge. One of them worships the impersonal Brahman, and the other desires liberation. The Brahman worshipers, or monists, are further divided into three categories: the neophyte, one who is absorbed in Brahman realization, and one who has actually realized himself as Brahman. If devotional service is added, the knower of Brahman can then become liberated; otherwise there is no possibility of liberation.
Anyone who is fully engaged in devotional service in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is understood to be already realized in Brahman. Devotional service is so strong that one is attracted to Kṛṣṇa even from the platform of Brahman worship. The Lord awards the devotee the perfection of a spiritual body, and the devotee eternally engages in the transcendental service of Kṛṣṇa. It is when the devotee understands and becomes attracted by Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental qualities that he wholeheartedly engages in devotional service. For instance, the four Kumāras and Śukadeva Gosvāmī were liberated from the beginning of their lives, yet in their later life they became attracted to the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa and became devotees. Sanaka and the other Kumāras were attracted by the aroma of the flowers offered to Kṛṣṇa and by His transcendental qualities, and thus they engaged in His devotional service. Similarly, the nine mystics mentioned in the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam are understood to have been transcendentalists from birth, but they became devotees of the Lord by virtue of hearing the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa from Brahmā, Lord Śiva and Nārada.
Sometimes one becomes attracted to Kṛṣṇa and His transcendental qualities simply by looking upon the beautiful features of His transcendental body. In this case also one abandons the desire for liberation and engages in His devotional service. The devotee repents his loss of time in the so-called cultivation of knowledge and becomes a pure devotee of the Lord.
There are two kinds of souls who are liberated even while in material bodies: the soul liberated by devotional service and the soul liberated by the cultivation of knowledge. The liberated soul in devotional service, attracted by the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa, becomes more and more elevated, whereas those who engage in dry speculation and simply cultivate knowledge without devotion fall on account of their many offenses. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.2.32), where it is stated:
tvayy asta-bhāvād aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ
āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ
patanty adho ’nādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ
“O Lord, the intelligence of those who think themselves liberated but who are without even a touch of devotional service is not pure. Even though they rise to the highest point of liberation by dint of severe penances and austerity, they are sure to fall down again into this material existence, for they do not take shelter at Your lotus feet.” Lord Kṛṣṇa confirms this is in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.54):
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
“One who is actually situated in Brahman realization is fully joyful, has no reason to lament or desire anything, and is equal to everyone. Thus he is eligible for pure devotional service.” This was illustrated by Bilvamaṅgala Ṭhākura, who in his later life wrote: “I was situated as a monist in order to become one with the Supreme, but somehow or other I contacted a naughty boy and became His eternal servitor.” In other words, those who attain self-realization by the execution of devotional service attain a transcendental body, and, being attracted to the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa, engage fully in pure devotional service.
Anyone who is not attracted to Kṛṣṇa is understood to be still under the spell of māyā, but one who is attempting to be liberated by the process of devotional service is actually liberated from this spell. In the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there are many instances recorded of devotees who became liberated in this life simply by engaging in devotional service.