Bhagavān, Grace and Material Suffering – Part 7

Commentary on Paramātmā Sandarbha, Anuccheda 93.6 by Satyanarayana Dasa

The second objection raised by Vidura was that if the avatāras and their activities of sustaining the creation are not directly performed by Bhagavān, then they cannot be part of His svarūpa, as had been established in Bhagavat Sandarbha. This has already been answered at the end of the previous section (93.5), where Jīva Gosvāmī said that Bhagavān, personally appearing as the avatāras, acts only to give delight to His devotees and only through the agency of His intrinsic potency.

On the question of partiality, Śrī Jīva further adds that even when Bhagavān chastises or kills a wicked person, He does not do so out of a negative bias, because such actions are auspicious or beneficial to the wicked person receiving His punishment. Jīva provides an example from Ayurveda, according to which jaundice is caused by a disturbance in the bodily humor called pitta. This diseased condition alters the affected person’s perception of taste, making sweets appear as bitter.

At the same time, eating sugar candy is said to be one of the cures for jaundice and once cured, the patient will again be able to savor its sweetness. Eating sugar candy may seem like a punishment to the sick person because of its bitter taste, but the end result is beneficial. Similarly, it may appear that the Lord is punishing the wicked when He chastises them, but His actions culminate in the purification of their evil tendencies.

When Bhagavān appears on earth, it seems as if He is also under the jurisdiction of the extrinsic energy. Otherwise, how is it that asuras are able to oppose the Lord, and that His devotees are tormented by the asuras? This makes it seem as if the devotees also undergo the outcome of their karma.

Śrī Jīva responds that although Bhagavān’s intrinsic potency is beyond the jurisdiction of māyā, who can accomplish unimaginable tasks, she nonetheless behaves in a way that makes Bhagavān’s pastimes appear to be under her control. He gives an example to make it clear. Everyone is working under the influence of their past karma. When some meritorious or unmeritorious reactions are due to occur to a person as an outcome of past karmas, one may see corresponding omens. The omen itself is not the cause of the good or bad results, merely an indicator, yet one may think it is instrumental in bringing about the happy or miserable situation. A common omen is a black cat crossing one’s path. This is supposed to bring some inauspicious outcome. People usually get upset at the cat, but the cat is not instrumental in bringing the result. If the omen is true, she is only an indicator of the future event.

Similarly, Bhagavān is engaged in His līlā, and māyā follows it simultaneously like an omen. To an ignorant person, it appears as if māyā is causing His pastimes. Sometimes, however, māyā is unable to keep pace with the līlā. In such situations, the supreme independence of the līlā becomes explicit. Śrī Jīva here gives an example of an occasion when this occurred.

Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s guru was Sandīpani Muni. When Kṛṣṇa’s education was over, He approached His guru to offer him guru-dakṣiṇā, the offering made by a student to his teacher as an act of gratitude. Sandīpani requested Kṛṣṇa to bring his son back to him after he had been lost off the Arabian Sea coast at Prabhāsa and was presumably dead. Kṛṣṇa went to Prabhāsa and learned that the boy had been killed by a demon named Śaṅkhāsura. He went to Yama, the lord of death and demanded that he produce his teacher’s son. Such a thing is not possible from any conventional point of view. How could a dead person be brought back to life? The child’s body had already been devoured by the demon, so how could he be returned? Such a pastime does not fit within the jurisdiction of māyā. The cosmic matrix of materiality is unable to cope with such an anomaly or to accommodate it in any way as an operation feasible within its hierarchy of laws.

Śrī Jīva explains that pastimes that demonstrate the super-independent nature of Bhagavān are rare. In most cases, His acts do appear to correspond to the law of karma and thus there is no apparent contradiction in them, such as an action not followed by any result, or a result attained without any action undertaken to achieve it. In a similar fashion, it is seen that even great devotees seem to undergo suffering like ordinary people as if undergoing the outcome of past karma.

If someone bears malice towards Bhagavān’s devotees, then He protects them by chastising the wicked. Bhagavān’s anger in such cases is also a manifestation of the intrinsic potency and only increases His bliss. He grants such offenders brahma-kaivalya because their disease of envying the devotees is beyond any other cure. This is befitting because they do not warrant a place in Bhagavān’s abode due to their envious nature. So, Bhagavān shears them of their envy, but does not grant them bhakti. As such, the only suitable destination for them is brahma-sāyujya.

Alternatively, He may grant them a place in heaven, which is desired by materialistic people ignorant of their ultimate welfare. Devotees consider both these positions equivalent to hell. Their interest is simply in executing devotion. If they were somehow prevented from that, then heaven or hell would make no difference to them. In fact, they would prefer hell to brahma-sāyujya, even though this state is attained by advaita-vādins only after undergoing great austerities because there is absolutely no possibility of devotional service there. They consider it as nothing more than spiritual suicide.

So, Bhagavān does not punish a devotee by giving him brahma-sāyujya, even if he should become envious of or inimical to another devotee. This is because the seed of devotion, which is indestructible, has already taken root in him. As a result, no devotee could ever desire brahma-sāyujya.

Bhagavān makes such envious devotees suffer the consequences of their offensive acts and eventually, after the defect of envy has been erased, they are reinstated in their identity as devotees. The Lord’s chastisement of such envious devotees is only to rectify them, like a mother’s anger towards her ill-behaved children. Her intention is never to harm the child, but only to correct its mischievous behavior.

Thus, it is concluded that Bhagavān acts only for the welfare and pleasure of His devotees. The acts of creation, etc., are concomitant to that, occurring through the agency of the extrinsic potency. Bhagavān is like the philosopher’s stone, which is equally disposed to all objects, but turns into gold the iron that comes in contact with it.

The Lord is altogether free from bias. Because He is utterly devoid of the experience of material miseries, His awareness cannot be directly aroused to compassion at the plight of materialistic people. Additionally, He grants brahma-sāyujya or heaven to those who envy His devotees. He sometimes grants devotion even to the wicked just because they imitate the dress or mood of a devotee. And, finally, He punishes those devotees who envy other devotees, but only to rectify them.

In the last part of this anuccheda, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī refers to another episode that deals with the same topic of Bhagavān’s biased behaviour. After King Parikṣit heard that two sons of Diti were killed by Varadeva and Nṛsiṁha, he was intrigued by the behaviour of Bhagavān. He presented his doubt to his teacher, Śukadeva, and listed the qualities of Bhagavān that imply His unbiased nature.

Vidura had a similar doubt: ”How can Bhagavān, who is beyond the guṇas of prakṛti, engage in acts of creation, maintenance, and dissolution of the cosmos?” This is a prominent doubt that troubles the Lord’s devotees. In fact, it is one of the troublesome topics discussed in Vedānta. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, being an explanation of Vedānta, naturally tackles this subject elaborately.