Personal and Impersonal Realization
The Purāṇas are supplementary Vedic literatures. Because sometimes in the original Vedas the subject matter is too difficult for the common man to understand, the Purāṇas explain matters by the use of stories and historical incidents. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.32) it is stated, “Mahārāja Nanda and the cowherd men and the other inhabitants of Vṛndāvana are very fortunate because the Supreme Brahman, the Personality of Godhead, full of bliss, is now engaged there in His eternal pastimes as their friend.”
According to the verse beginning apāṇi-pādo javano grahītā (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 3.19), although Brahman has no material hands and legs, He nonetheless walks in a very stately way and accepts everything that is offered to Him. This suggests that He has transcendental limbs and is therefore not impersonal. One who does not understand the Vedic principles simply stresses the impersonal, material features of the Supreme Absolute Truth and thus unceremoniously calls the Absolute Truth impersonal. The impersonalist, Māyāvādī philosophers want to establish the Absolute Truth as impersonal, but this contradicts the Vedic literature. Although the Vedic literature confirms the fact that the Supreme Absolute Truth has multiple energies, the Māyāvādī impersonalists still try to establish that the Absolute Truth has no energy. The fact remains, however, that the Absolute Truth is full of energy and is a person as well. It is not possible to establish Him as impersonal.
According to the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (6.7.61–3), the living entities are considered kṣetra-jña energy. Although the living entity is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and is fully cognizant, he still becomes entrapped by material contamination and thus suffers all the miseries of material life. Such living entities live in different ways according to the degree of their entanglement in material nature. The original energy of the Supreme Lord is spiritual and nondifferent from the Supreme Absolute Personality of Godhead. The living entity is called the marginal energy of the Supreme Lord, and the material energy is called the inferior energy. On account of his inert, material inebriety, the living entity in the marginal position becomes entangled with the inferior energy, matter. At that time he forgets his spiritual significance, identifies himself with the material energy and thereby becomes subjected to the threefold miseries. Only when he is free from such material contamination can he be situated in his proper position.
According to Vedic instructions, one should understand the constitutional position of the living entity, the position of the Lord, the position of material energy, and their interrelations. First of all, one should try to understand the constitutional position of the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead. The Supreme Personality of Godhead has an eternal, cognizant, blissful body, and His spiritual energy is distributed as eternity, knowledge and bliss. In His blissful identity can be found His pleasure potency, in His eternal identity He is the cause of everything, and in His cognizant identity He is the supreme knowledge. Indeed, the word kṛṣṇa indicates that supreme knowledge. In other words, the Supreme Personality, Kṛṣṇa, is the reservoir of all knowledge, all pleasure and all eternity. The supreme knowledge of Kṛṣṇa is exhibited in three different energies – internal, marginal and external. By virtue of His internal energy He exists in Himself with His spiritual paraphernalia, by means of His marginal energy He exhibits Himself as the living entities, and by means of His external energy He exhibits Himself as the material world. Behind each and every exhibition of energy there is the background of eternity, His pleasure potency and His cognizance potency.
The conditioned soul is the marginal potency overpowered by the external potency. However, when the marginal potency comes under the influence of the spiritual potency, it becomes eligible for love of Godhead. The Supreme Lord enjoys six kinds of opulences, and no one can establish that He is formless or that He is without energy. If someone claims so, his contention is completely opposed to the Vedic instructions. Actually, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the master of all energies. The living entity, however, being His infinitesimal part and parcel, can be overpowered by the material energy.
In the Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad it is stated that two birds are sitting on the same tree. One of them is eating the fruit of the tree, while the other is not eating but simply witnessing the activities of the first bird. Only when the bird eating the fruit looks toward the other bird does he become free from all anxieties. This is the position of the infinitesimal living entity. As long as he is forgetful of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is subjected to the threefold miseries. But when he looks toward the Supreme Lord and becomes the Lord’s devotee, he becomes free from all anxieties and miseries of material existence. The living entity is eternally subordinate to the Supreme Lord: the Supreme Lord is always the master of all energies, whereas the living entity is always under the control of the Lord’s energies. Being qualitatively one with the Supreme Lord, the living entity has the tendency to try to lord it over the material nature; however, being infinitesimal, he is then controlled by the material nature. Thus the living entity is called the marginal potency of the Lord.
Because the living entity can be controlled by the material nature, he cannot at any stage become one with the Supreme Lord. If the living entity were equal to the Supreme Lord, there would be no possibility of his being controlled by the material energy. In the Bhagavad-gītā (7.5) the living entity is described as one of the energies of the Supreme Lord. Although inseparable from the energetic, energy is still energy, and it cannot be equal with the energetic. In other words, the living entity is simultaneously one with and different from the Supreme Lord. The Bhagavad-gītā (7.4–5) clearly states that earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego are the eight elementary energies of the Supreme Lord and are of inferior quality, whereas the living entity is an energy of superior quality.
The Vedic instructions confirm that the transcendental form of the Supreme Lord is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. The impersonalists’ conception of the Lord’s form, however, is just the opposite, for they say that it is a transformation of the material modes of nature. Actually, the form of the Supreme Lord is beyond the modes of material nature and thus is not like the forms of this material world. His form is fully spiritual and cannot be compared with any material form. Anyone who does not accept the spiritual form of the Supreme Lord is counted among the atheists. Because Lord Buddha did not accept these Vedic principles, the Vedic teachers consider him an atheist. Although Māyāvādī philosophers pretend to accept the Vedic principles, because they do not accept the Supreme Personality of Godhead they indirectly preach Buddhist philosophy, or atheistic philosophy. Māyāvādī philosophy is inferior to Buddhist philosophy, which directly denies Vedic authority. Because Māyāvāda philosophy is disguised as Vedānta philosophy, it is more dangerous than Buddhism or atheism.
The only reason Vyāsadeva compiled the Vedānta-sūtra was so that all living entities could benefit from it by understanding the philosophy of bhakti-yoga. Unfortunately, the Māyāvādī commentary, the Śārīraka-bhāṣya, has practically defeated the purpose of the Vedānta-sūtra. In the Māyāvādī commentary the spiritual, transcendental form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead has been denied and the Supreme Brahman has been dragged down to the level of the individual Brahman, the living entity. Both the Supreme Brahman and the individual Brahman have been denied spiritual form and individuality, although it is clearly stated that the Supreme Lord is the one supreme living entity and the other living entities are the many subordinate living entities. Thus reading the Māyāvādī commentaries on the Vedānta-sūtra is always dangerous. The danger is that through these commentaries one may come to falsely equate the living entity with the Supreme Lord. In this way a conditioned living entity can be falsely directed, and then he can never come to his actual position of eternal activity in bhakti-yoga. In other words, the Māyāvādī philosophers have rendered the greatest disservice to humanity by promoting the impersonal view of the Supreme Lord and thus depriving human society of the real message of the Vedānta-sūtra.
From the very beginning of the Vedānta-sūtra it is accepted that the cosmic manifestation is a display of the Supreme Lord’s energies. The aphorism janmādy asya yataḥ (Vedānta-sūtra 1.1.2) describes the Supreme Brahman as He from whom everything emanates, He by whom everything is maintained, and He into whom everything is dissolved. Thus the Absolute Truth is the cause of creation, maintenance and dissolution. The cause of a fruit is the tree, but when a tree produces a fruit one cannot say that the tree is impersonal or that it vanishes. The tree may produce hundreds and thousands of fruits, but it remains as it is. The fruit is produced, and then it develops, stays for some time, dwindles and finally vanishes. This does not mean that the tree also vanishes. Thus from the very beginning the Vedānta-sūtra explains the doctrine of by-products. The activities of production, maintenance and dissolution are carried out by the inconceivable energy of the Supreme Lord. Thus the cosmic manifestation is a transformation of the energy of the Supreme Lord, although the energy of the Supreme Lord and the Supreme Lord Himself are nondifferent and inseparable. A touchstone may produce great quantities of gold in contact with iron, but still the touchstone remains as it is. Similarly the Supreme Lord, despite His producing the huge material cosmic manifestation, always remains in His transcendental form.
The Māyāvādī philosophers have the audacity to reject the purport of what Vyāsadeva explained in the Vedānta-sūtra and to say he attempted to establish a doctrine of transformation of the Supreme, which is totally imaginary. According to the Māyāvāda philosophy, the cosmic manifestation is an illusory transformation of the Absolute Truth, which has no separate existence outside the cosmic manifestation. This is not the message of the Vedānta-sūtra. The cosmic manifestation has been explained by Māyāvādī philosophers as false, but it is not false – it is temporary. The Māyāvādī philosophers maintain that the Absolute Truth is the only truth and that this material manifestation known as the world is false. Actually, this is not so. The material manifestation is not false; it is truth, but because it is relative truth it is temporary.
Praṇava, or oṁ-kāra, is the chief sound vibration found in the Vedic hymns, and it is considered to be the sound form of the Supreme Lord. From oṁ-kāra all Vedic hymns have emanated, and the world itself has also emanated from this oṁ-kāra sound. The vibration tat tvam asi, also found in the Vedic hymns, is not the chief vibration but is an explanation of the constitutional position of the living entity. Tat tvam asi means that the living entity is a spiritual particle of the supreme spirit, but this is not the chief motif of the Vedānta-sūtra or the Vedic literature. The chief sound representation of the Supreme is oṁ-kāra.
All these faulty explanations of the Vedānta-sūtra are considered atheistic. Because the Māyāvādī philosophers do not accept the eternal transcendental form of the Supreme Lord, they are unable to engage in real devotional service. Thus the Māyāvādī philosopher is forever bereft of Kṛṣṇa consciousness and Kṛṣṇa’s devotional service. The pure devotee of the Personality of Godhead never accepts the Māyāvāda philosophy as an actual path to transcendental realization. The Māyāvādī philosophers hover in the moral and immoral material atmosphere of the cosmic world and are thus always engaged in rejecting and accepting material enjoyment. They have falsely accepted the nonspiritual as the spiritual, and as a result they have forgotten the eternal spiritual form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as well as His name, qualities and entourage. They consider the transcendental pastimes, name, form and qualities of the Supreme to be products of material nature. Because of their acceptance and rejection of material pleasure and misery, the Māyāvādī philosophers are eternally subjected to material misery.
The actual devotees of the Lord are always in disagreement with the Māyāvādī philosophers. Impersonalism cannot possibly represent eternity, bliss and knowledge. Being situated in imperfect knowledge of liberation, the Māyāvādīs decry the eternity, knowledge and bliss of the devotees as materialism. Because they reject devotional service, they are unintelligent and unable to understand the effects of devotional service. The word jugglery they use in an attempt to amalgamate knowledge, the knowable and the knower simply proves that they are unintelligent. The doctrine of by-products is the real purport of the beginning of the Vedānta-sūtra. The Lord possesses innumerable unlimited energies, and He displays the by-products of these energies in different ways. Everything is under His control. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is also the supreme controller, and He is manifested in innumerable energies and expansions.