Category Archives: Philosophy

Concepts of God in Christianity and Vaishnavism

Question: I’ve undertaken a discussion with Christian theologians. Their understanding of a Personal God, specifically their resistance to a God with form, which is cogent and well-argued by their scholars based on their śāstra, has forced me to think carefully about our own theological claims. Please share your thoughts on a few points.

We say Bhagavān and everything in Goloka is made of sat-cit-ānanda. They would say these are qualities, not the substance of God. From these three, sat is just a temporal statement—present active participle—that God’s Being is eternal. Ānanda also seems to be an experience rather than a substance. We are left with cit as the actual composition of Bhagavān’s form. I seem to recall Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī saying that Bhagavān’s form is constituted of ghana cetana. What do you think he intends by this? How can consciousness be condensed or densified?

The Christians do not understand how consciousness can be a substance from which form is composed; they see it as a state. But this seems to be our position—Bhagavān’s rupa is “made” of cetana, yes? If this is so and consciousness can somehow densify into form, does it have a viśeṣa that contains it, such that it does not melt or dissolve, as Nyāya would hold?

This would seem like a limitation, although we would say that this delimited form is an act of God’s will, and He can manifest any form and infinite forms. But if we say this, we start to sound like those who say form is secondary to the will of a Brahman higher than form, which then takes a form secondarily for līlā or as an avatāra.

What we call manuṣya-rūpa in prakṛti is really a set of instruments, indriyas, allowing the ātman to experience prakṛti in delimited ways of seeing, smelling, etc., bound by karma. We also say that rāgātmikā bhaktas likewise need instruments in Goloka to experience and serve Bhagavān. Bhagavān’s form also consists of senses. It is hard to argue that senses are not limitations—why would an omnipotent Being need any sort of instrument at all? Needing instruments suggests being incomplete in one’s own resources.

Perhaps we might say that for Brahman not to be static, impersonal, or undifferentiated, but ecstatic and infinite variegatedness, there must be a way for consciousness to experience different aspects of variegatedness. If there was just consciousness without differentiated instrumentation, wouldn’t this be a monistic Advaita experience?

Additionally, Bhagavān’s senses are all interchangeable—any one sense can perform the function of any other. What then is the use of five senses if they can all do the work of each other?

These are the types of questions raised when dialoguing with other theists; do you have any thoughts to share?

Answer: First of all, I would like to say that according to modern science, matter is nothing but energy. That means energy can have form. We know from quantum mechanics that the solid matter which we see with our eyes is really a bunch of space with quantum particles moving around in it. In fact, it is even wrong to say that they are particles. They may be called “waves.” I read that if all the matter in a human body is compressed, leaving no space between particles, then it would be reduced to a dot on the end of a needle. Yet, from our experience, we see a solid body several feet tall with a certain amount of weight. Indeed, science proposes that the whole universe came from the big bang, which started from a concentrated point of energy. At least we know that the sun is nothing but energy and that the earth formed from the sun. If it is possible that material energy can have a material form, it is surely possible that consciousness can have an immaterial form. It may be difficult to understand how consciousness can be a substance, but everything you see around you is a product of consciousness.

Yes, Bhagavān’s form is made of consciousness, but this consciousness is not what you think or have experience of. This consciousness is a substance. This duality of substance, and its quality of being different from other substances, exists only at the material level. At the spiritual level, there is no such duality. That is why it is called bheda and abheda, one and different simultaneously. At the spiritual level, even emotions have form.

We do not accept the principle of viśeṣa, either of the Nyāya or Madhva school.

There is no difference between God’s form and His will. It is not that God wills and then a form is manifest. His forms are eternal. That is the meaning of sat.

Similarly, the senses which are instruments of God are not like our senses which are distinct from us. He is one composite unit, Akhaṇḍa Tattva. Any part of His body is complete in itself. It is not that His one sense can perform the function of any other sense, but any part of His body can perform any function. Why does He have these parts? That is how He is. The question “why” comes from assuming that He became like this one day. Why does this not apply to Absolute Reality? Absolute Reality has to be studied the way it is. He has a human form and associates who are humans; He walks on His feet, although He can fly also. That is His human līlā. He has mādhurya-līlā and aiśvaryalīlā. In mādhurya-līlā, He acts as a human being, although He has all aiśvarya.

The real answer is that if you want to understand who God is, which means His form, qualities, activities, and nature, then logic is an imperfect means. He is beyond logic. Therefore, mere logic can never give you a proper understanding of God. The only process to know God as He is, when He speaks about Himself, is through śāstra. The human mind and senses have no ability to know Him by their own effort. And the proof is that science has not and will never figure Him out.

You write that your Christian friends base their concept of God on their śāstra. Do they test it with logic? Our concept of God is based on śāstra, not logic. You may think their arguments against a God with form are cogent, but I find holes in their concept of God. What they are doing to our concept, I can easily do to their concept. This does not make them better than us. Why do you think our concept is weaker than theirs? As far as logic is concerned, they have the same problems as we have, possibly more. Their Bible says that God made man in His own image. How does God have an image if He doesn’t have a form? Either we speak on the basis of logic or on the basis of śāstra. It is not that you speak on the basis of your śāstra and then you attack on the basis of logic. As far as logic is concerned, I have shown you how, according to modern science, energy can have a form, so why God cannot have a form, even if He is just consciousness?

In fact, our concept of God is superior to theirs because it is inclusive of their concept. No matter what concept they have, our God has that and much more. Their God is limited because He cannot walk, talk, or have fun. Our God can do anything. He can appear limited and remain unlimited.

Question: What do you think Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī intends by describing Bhagavān’s form as ghana cetana?

Answer: Ghana simply means form.

Question: In its normal usage, ghana means the compacting of something (√han). So, if its semantics extend to form, then surely this would be because “form” in its normal usage is a compacting of matter. I assumed Śrī Jīva had chosen that specific word to indicate this quality of form as some sort of compacting of consciousness. I see no reason why cetana cannot be “compacted,” especially since Bhagavān’s natures of cit and ānanda are infinitely more than that of other entities, and this reading of Śrī Jīva would be śabda pramāṇa for that.

Answer: Yes, you are right; ghana carries the sense of compactness even when used for form.

Question: I accept that we cannot understand all this with logic and philosophy, but we need to push logic as far as we can in support of śāstra in those areas beyond other pramāṇas, as this is the Vedanta position in the beginning of Vedanta Sūtra. Such logic is especially required if we wish to commune with other traditions rather than take a position that one tradition’s śāstra says “xyz” and bas.

Answer: Yes, logic is very important—that is why I wrote from a logical point of view in the first part of my reply.

Your Christian friends must accept that God is the creator of the world. A creator must have knowledge, will, and the ability to create. You can make a logical argument that knowledge, will, and the ability to create do not exist in anything formless, and can exist only in a person having form. So, God must have a form; otherwise, He cannot create. Next, by logic you can prove that His form cannot be material. In this way, we can logically argue our case.

Question: Yes. A straightforward anumāna for an Īśvara as creator would be: 

Īśvara has a form. 

Because He has intelligence and will.

Wherever intelligence and will are found, they are found in a form.

Īśvara has intelligence and will.

Therefore, Īśvara has a form.

Answer: Yes, this is the five-step syllogism. You need to add an example.

Question: But wouldn’t this also apply to the individual jīva by the same logic? Yet no one other than Vaiṣṇavas accept a svarūpa of the ātman with a form in moḳsa. 

Answer: But in the case of Advaitavāda moḳsa, the ātman is not a creator. In case of Vaiṣṇava moḳsa, the ātman has a body.

Question: What is surprising is that the Vaiṣṇavas never seem to argue for a form as a bhaga of Bhagavān. Why are we not able to find any substantial arguments in Rāmānuja, Madhva, or Śrī Jīva defending the logic of God’s form? Why was that not seen as a necessary siddhānta to defend—given no one in their time accepted this principal aspect of their siddhānta?

Answer: We miss the basic premise of Rāmānuja, Madhva, Śrī Jīva, et al. They work hard to establish śabda as pramāṇa. Once they have done that, they do not need to argue for form.

Question: What do you think of this argument: For God to be infinite, active, and nonstatic, He must be infinitely variegated. If God were just infinite consciousness, albeit Personal and distinct from souls, then He would experience one infinite, omniscient state of consciousness of everything at once, hence static. Variegatedness of experience requires senses, each one suited for appreciating and experiencing one aspect of variegatedness. Hence God has senses, to experience the infinitely expanding nature of His own Being and svarūpa-śakti. These are not limitations, but attributes to enhance the variegatedness of bliss. Would something like that work?

Answer: Yes, you can use such a line of argument. Only thing is that it is stronger when you formulate the five-step syllogism used by Nyāya—proposition, reason, principle with an example, application, and conclusion. Once you do that, the opponent must work hard to refute your argument. When you state your position in a descriptive form, then the opponent can pick up some tangential point and drag the argument in the wrong direction.



Etymological breakdown of the Mahamantra

Question: I am following a Śrīmad Bhāgavata class with Professor Edwin Bryant, and after last night’s class, I asked him a question about the meaning of “Hare” and “Rāma” in the mahāmantra. Though my professor had a few insightful answers for us, he didn’t have a definite opinion on the etymological basis for their meaning and inclusion in our mahāmantra. Therefore, he directed me to ask you this question and relay your answer to him and our class.

And so I humbly ask you, Babaji: What is the meaning of “Hare” and “Rāma” in the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra? Understanding each part of this mantra would help me understand why I chant it and support my bhakti.

Answer: Prof. Bryant must have already explained the etymological meanings of the words “Hare” and “Rāma” and must have explained that they are derived from the sanskrit roots hṛ (to take away) and ramu (to play) by applying the suffixes in and ghañ respectively. They both are names of Kṛṣṇa in the vocative case. There are different understandings of their inclusion in the mahāmantra.

There is a verse regarding the name “Hari”:

hariḥ harati pāpāni duṣṭa-cittair api smṛtaḥ
anicchayāpi saṁspṛṣṭo dahatyeva pāvakaḥ

“Even if remembered by people of impure hearts, Hari takes away the sins of such a person. Even if one touches fire unintentionally, it certainly burns.” (Nārada Purāṇa 1.11.100)

A sādhaka has difficulty concentrating on the mantra, yet the name “Hari” will purify such a sādhaka. This is understood from the above statement of Nārada Purāṇa. Therefore, the word “Hari” is included and appears eight times in the mahāmantra.

About “Rāma” it is said:

ramante yogino anante nityānande cidātmani
iti rāma-padenāsau para-brahmābhidhīyate

“The great yogis take pleasure in meditating on the unlimited, eternally blissful, and conscious Self (ātmani). Therefore the Supreme Brahman (para-brahman) is called by the word “Rāma.” (CC 2.9.29)

Yogīs here refers to those whose hearts are clean. Hari cleans the heart; then, one can fix it on Rāma, the abode of pleasure. That is the significance.

The etymological meaning of the word Kṛṣṇa is given as:

kṛṣir bhū-vācakaḥ śabdo ṇaś ca nirvṛtti-vācakaḥ
viṣṇus tad-bhāva-yogāc ca kṛṣṇo bhavati sātvataḥ

“The root √ kṛṣ means “existence” and the word ṇa means bliss. Because of being endowed with these two meanings, Viṣṇu who has appeared in the Sātvata dynasty is called Kṛṣṇa.” (Mahābhārata, Udyoga Parva 70.5)

The three names used in the mahāmantra are in the vocative case. The usage of invocatory names is to draw Bhagavān’s attention, as is said:

sarveṣām apy aghavatām idam eva suniṣkṛtam
nāma-vyāharaṇaṁ viṣṇor yatas tad-viṣayā matiḥ 

“Indeed, this alone is the atonement prescribed for all wrongdoers—that one chants the name of Viṣṇu because it draws His attention to the chanter or the chanter’s attention is drawn to Him.” (SB. 6.2.10) 

For a sādhaka, the chanting is meant to turn his awareness toward Bhagavān. According to Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī (Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 1), the root cause of all problems of a living being is his vaimukhyatā—or his regard being turned away from Bhagavān. Therefore the solution is to turn it towards Bhagavān (sāmukhyatā). The direct means for doing so is to chant the name, as stated in the verse above. Therefore, all the names in the mahāmantra are in the vocative case.

For perfected bhaktas, the chanting is a call to their beloved. So the mahāmantra applies to both practicing as well as perfected bhaktas.

This is the most basic explanation of the mahāmantra. There can be other explanations of it based upon one’s devotional mood. According to Śrī Madhvācārya, there are 100 meanings of each name listed in the “Thousand Names of Viṣṇu”, Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma. Based on this, there can be thousands of meanings of the mahāmantra because all the three names are found in the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma.


Temporary or Eternal Hell for Asuras?

Question: In BG 16.20, Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa presents a concept of “eternal hell” for some jīvas, with no possibility of deliverance. Even after many births, Bhagavān does not deliver them. He explains how Bhagavān only kills a specific type of asura who is not internally opposed to the Vedas. Even in Govinda-bhāṣya, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa quotes a verse from Mahābhārata which mentions the names of temporary as well as permanent hells.

How is this to be reconciled with Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura’s comments on BG 16.20, where he explains that Svayaṁ Bhagavān delivers such jīvas?

Answer: It is not easy to reconcile their explanation, yet I give it a try. To reconcile, we need to deliberate on the meaning of the words “certainly not having attained Me”, mām aprāpyaiva, given by the two commentators. Śrī Viśvanātha takes it to mean that such asuras also get liberated if they get the opportunity to meet Kṛṣṇa and get killed by Him when He is manifest on earth. Such a meaning is easy to understand. Śrī Rāmānujācārya gives a similar explanation. Śrī Baladeva, however, interprets it differently. He makes two divisions of asuras. The first division of asuras are atheists, or non-believers in Vedas and Vedic literature. The second division of asuras are those who became asuras by the curse of some sage. These asuras are against Viṣṇu but they believe in God. They are not non-believers. An example of such an asuras is Hiraṇyalaśipu, who did austerities to please Brahmā. If he had no faith in God, he engaged in austerity, like the modern-day non-believers. According to Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa, in verse 16.20, Kṛṣṇa is referring to the first type of asuras. Such people have no hope unless they change their views by the grace of a sadhu like Nārada. They will continue to suffer because of their evil deeds. This is the sense of being thrown into hell. It is not that Kṛṣṇa is throwing them into hell but their own evil deeds. This does not contradict the explanation of Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī.


Hindu Textbook

Question: Most religions have directives or commandments that they follow. These are objective and in written form, and anyone can read them. The problem I have being a Hindu is that it doesn’t have a proper rulebook. Whether someone follows them or not is a different topic, but religion needs rules. Do Hindus or Vaiṣṇavas, in particular, have a rule book? Please suggest, or if possible, write a rulebook for Hindus based on the available scriptures.

Answer: I am amazed at your observation that Hindus have no rulebook. There are plenty of books on Hindu rules. They are called smṛtis, such as Manu-smṛti, Yājñavalkya-smṛti, etc. At least 20 smṛtis are available in print form. There are also significant works based on the smṛtis, such as Caturvarga Cintāmaṇi. Smṛtis have rules for everything beginning from when to wake up, how to get out of bed, which foot to first put on the ground, what mantra to chant, and so on. There are rules on how to brush your teeth, which twigs to use, how to pass stool, how to bathe, how many times, and which mantra to chant.  There are rules related to the time of the day, the day of the week, and the month in a year. There are rules related to birth, one’s stage in life, and death. Actually, your question should have been that Hindus have too many books and it is difficult to decide which one to follow.

The difficulty is that at present, India has adopted secularism (read “atheism”), and thus there is no education in the smṛtis. They would also need to be interpreted in a modern context. In the past, it was the king’s duty to see that people knew the smṛtis and followed them. Now there is no such authority. So even if I were to write such a book, why should people follow it? 


Rāma-tāpanīya Upaniṣad 

Question: We have the Rāma-tāpanīya Upaniṣad, which is in the same format as the Nṛsiṁha-tāpanīya Upaniṣad (considered the oldest of the Tāpanīya Upaniṣads). Rāma-tāpanīya is quoted first by our ācāryas like Sanātana Gosvāmī. After this, Vijayīndra Tīrtha from the Madhva- sampradāya quoted this in his work, Śaiva-sarvasva-khaṇḍanam. But none of the commentators on the Vālmiki Rāmāyaṇa has referred to this Upaniṣad. The format of this Upaniṣad suggests it is mainly in the Purāṇic and Pāñcarātra style. My question is: was this Upaniṣad a later human composition? If it was in the oral tradition for a long time, then why was it not quoted by any of the earlier ācāryas before Gauḍīyas?

Answer: It is difficult to say how old is the Rāma-tāpanīya Upaniṣad. It is a subject to be researched. Furthermore, if commentators do not cite it, then there are two possibilities: 

1. It did not exist and is a later creation, or 

2. It existed but was not available to the commentator, or the commentator did not feel the need to cite it.

Fall Down for Whom and from Where?

There were some questions in the comment section of Babaji’s interview with Namarasa Prabhu posted on YouTube. Below is Babaji’s reply to some of them.

Question: If even a kaniṣṭha-adhikarī cannot fall down, then why do the stages like viṣaya-saṅgara, etc., as explained in the Madhurya Kaḍambinī, happen between bhajana-kriyā and anartha-nivṛtti? In these stages, one may fall down and rise again.

Answer: The stage of viṣaya-saṅgara as part of anartha-nivṛtti does not mean “fall down.” It means battling with the sense objects. Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti says that sometimes the devotee wins and sometimes loses the battle. But he does not say that devotee falls down from bhakti and rises again, as you seem to understand. Falling down means leaving the path of bhakti and becoming a materialist. If you are driving on a road and are not a good driver, sometimes you may drive improperly. You continue your journey if you do not leave the road. But if you leave the road and get absorbed in something else, your journey will stop. That would be called a fall down.

Question: As far as the fall down of Junior Haridāsa, did he engage in sense gratification? Did he give up the path of bhakti and become a materialist?

Answer: Caitanya Caritāmṛta  describes the fall down of Junior Haridāsa. Our ācāryas comment that Śrī Caitanya used His eternal associate to warn sannyasis on the path of bhakti not to associate with women intimately. Junior Haridāsa is an eternal associate of Śrī Caitanya and cannot fall down.

Question: Kṛṣṇa says that even if My devotee commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination (Gītā 9.30). This means that while falling down is temporary, it is still a fall down. So how can you say there is no fall down in bhakti?

Answer: I said that a devotee never falls down unless he commits an offense. Even a neophyte devotee does not fall down. In this regard, one should study the instruction of Śrī Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna (Gītā 9.30, 31):

api cet su-durācāro   bhajate mām ananya-bhāk

sādhur eva sa mantavyaḥ   samyag vyavasito hi saḥ

“Even if a very ill-behaved person worships Me with exclusive devotion, he should indeed be regarded as holy, for he has made the right resolution.”

kṣipraṁ bhavati dharmātmā   śaśvac-chāntiṁ nigacchati

kaunteya pratijānīhi   na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati

“Very quickly, he becomes righteous-minded and attains eternal peace. O son of Kuntī, proclaim it boldly that My devotee never perishes.”

Here Kṛṣṇa does not consider even a sudurācāra (ill-behaved or immoral) person as fallen if he is engaged in “exclusive devotion” (ananya-bhāk) and is resolved to remain on the path of devotion (samyag vyavasita). Rather, He emphatically forbids one to think of such a person as fallen. The indeclinable eva (only) in verse 9.30 also forbids us to think of such a person as “fallen” and a “devotee” simultaneously. The word eva here is used in the sense of anya-yoga-vyavaccheda or “excluding any other possibility.”

If this was not clear enough, Śri Kṛṣṇa asks Arjuna to proclaim that His devotee never falls. The devotee He is referring to is not some siddha bhakta but the one described in the previous verse.

Further, in the Bhāgavata, it is said that not even a beginning devotee is overwhelmed by sense objects, even though sometimes his attention is diverted from Bhagavān:

bādhyamāno ’pi mad-bhakto viṣayair ajitendriyaḥ

prāyaḥ pragalbhayā bhaktyā viṣayair nābhibhūyate

“Although still attracted to the sense objects, a devotee of Mine who has not yet attained mastery over the senses is generally not overwhelmed by them because of bhakti’s inherently powerful capability.” (SB 11.14.18)

This verse demonstrates the power of bhakti.

I did not say anything different in my interview. However, I added that a devotee can only fall due to offenses. If even a neophyte cannot fall down from the path of bhakti, then how did Bharata Maharāja fall down from the level of bhāva because of his affection for a baby deer? This comes from the Bhagāvatam, which Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says is the king of all evidence. The fall down may be the līlā of Bhagavān, but the point remains. Through this līlā, Bhagavān instructs practitioners on the path of bhakti that fall down can take place even from the level of bhava. The so-called fall down of King Bharata is explained, therefore, as the outcome of some offense from his previous life by Jīva Gosvāmī in Bhakti Sandarbha (Anuccheda 157). Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti, however, explains that it was a special grace of Kṛṣṇa to make the king more eager to attain Kṛṣṇa.

Question: In Śikṣāṣṭaka 5, it is said: patitaṁ māṁ viṣame bhavāmbudhau—“I have fallen into the ocean of birth and death.” Why didn’t Mahāprabhu say that we’ve always been in the cycle of birth and death for all of eternity by no fault of our own, if that was the case? You claim that the soul didn’t fall into the material world from Vaikuṇṭha, but Mahāprabhu is saying the soul fell.

Answer: The defect in this argument is the assumption that the fallen condition follows a non-fallen state.  Conditioned souls are anādi-patita, fallen without any beginning.  The adjective anādi is not always used but it is assumed.  Sometimes the jīva is called nitya-baddha or anādi-baddha and sometimes only baddha  or patita.  When called baddha, it is understood he is nitya or anādi-baddha.  Similarly patita means nitya or anādi-patita.  If one’s fall-down has no beginning (anādi), for this is the version of the śāstra, then that person also has to be called patita, fallen, as there is no other word to describe his condition.  

Being fallen was and is the conditioned jīva’s perpetual condition until achieving perfection in devotional service, and this fallen state does not in any way imply a previously elevated state such as being in Vaikuṇṭha prior to the fall. A good example of how it is possible to be fallen without being previously elevated is that of hell, which is a fallen place.  No one thinks hell was elevated and then became fallen.  Being fallen is the perpetual condition of hell; it is fallen, was always fallen, and always will be fallen. 

So hell is nitya-patita.  Similarly, being fallen is the perpetual status of conditioned beings, whose fallen, conditioned state is described in the śāstras as anādi, beginningless.

Expansion of the Siddha-svarupa

Question: We hear repeatedly that our goal is to become eternal servants of Śrī Rādhā Kṛṣṇa  in Goloka Vrindavan. So when one reaches that position, for example as gopī or gopa, and is engaged in one’s eternal service, then at that time what about Gaura-līlā?

Answer: I am sure you know that our ācāryas like Srī Rūpa Gosvāmī have their mañjarī svarūpas. They are also part of Gaura-līlā. This implies that a Gaudīya Vaiṣṇava can have two siddha-svarūpas, one in Gaura-līlā and one in Kṛṣṇa-līlā.

Question: So it means one can have a double existence in the spiritual world, serving in Gaura-līlā and Kṛṣṇa-līlā at the same time? Does the consciousness split into two? 

Answer: Exactly. However, the consciousness does not split into two but expands. Just as Kṛṣṇa can expand into many forms, so also a devotee can expand to render service. When Kṛṣṇa married 16,000 princesses simultaneously in 16,000 different palaces, it is not that only He expanded into 16,000 forms but also His brother, parents, and other relatives. A marriage in Vedic culture requires all these relatives to be present. Similarly, a devotee can be in both Gaura-līlā and Kṛṣṇa-līlā. 


Svarūpa-siddhā bhakti

Question: Is the offering of prasādam considered āropa-siddhā bhakti or svarūpa-siddhā bhakti? By nature, food items are material and yet they become prasāda after being offered to Kṛṣṇa. In the same sense, the faculties of speech and hearing are material but are also connected to Kṛṣṇa. It seems difficult to differentiate between svarūpa-siddhā bhakti and āropa-siddhā bhakti.

Answer: Any activity that is directly related to Bhagavān is svarūpa-siddhā bhakti, such as cleaning the temple, deity seva (which includes the offering of bhoga), nāma-japa, kīrtan, reciting stotras, etc.

Question: In general understanding, a pure devotee has offered himself through his mind, words, and actions to his guru or iṣṭa-devatā and hence all his actions are nirguṇa, including going to Loi Bazaar.

Answer: Yes, in the case of a devotee who has surrendered in the true sense of the word, all his acts are devotion. The mind, body, and senses of such a devotee are used only in service. He goes to Loi Bazar only for service and not for loafing around. That is the meaning of surrender.  


From Brahma-sayujya to Vaikuntha

Question: What is your opinion on Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta 2.2.207 and Sanātana Gosvāmī’s commentary in relation to the possibility that some jīvas may go from brahma-sāyujya to Vaikuṇṭha? I also heard that Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa wrote something similar but I cannot remember the exact quotation.

Answer: It is possible for liberated jīvas to move out of brahma-sāyujya. This is what Sanātana Gosvāmī says in this verse. He does not mention anything more but explains the possibility. The basic point that he is making is that a jīva has a distinct identity even in brahma-sāyujya. The jīva does not become absolutely one with Brahman.

The words tayā śaktyā in the verse refer to the power of bhakti. From this, I conjecture that if a jñānī who was performing sādhanā for brahma-sāyujya develops an attraction for bhakti by bhakta-saṅga, then as per his former wish, he will enter into Brahman and then into Vaikuṇṭha. It is like the example of Dhruva who performed tapasyā for obtaining a kingdom but after seeing Viṣṇu, he lost interest in it. So, he did not ask for a kingdom but because this was his wish to begin with, he had to accept the kingdom and later enter into Vaikuṇṭha. This is how I understand the verse. 

The Meaning of the word Anādi

Question: I have a query regarding the use of the word anādi and the conditioning of the jīva as described in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Someone recently raised the following argument to me: “All Sanskrit words in śāstra that indicate an unlimited time span—anādi, śāśvata, nitya, etc.—are used nonliterally when referring to events in the material world, and literally when referring to eternal objects such as God, the soul, or the spiritual world.” Dr. Gopal Gupta makes similar arguments in his book, Māyā in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa: Human Suffering and Divine Play. [Editor’s note: There is no such quote in Dr. Gupta’s book. It may be that the questioner was merely paraphrasing the argument.]

For example, the word śāśvata, which means ‘eternal, constant, perpetual.’ 

1.     When applied to spiritual objects, śāśvata means ‘eternal’ in the literal sense. Examples: 

Gītā 2.20: ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ‘yam—“This soul is unborn, perpetual, eternal.” 

Gītā 10.12: puruṣaṃ śāśvataṃ divyam—“The eternal, divine person.” 

Gītā 18.56: śāśvatam padam avyayam—“The eternal, unperishing abode.” 

2. The same word, śāśvata, when applied to material objects, does not literally mean ‘eternal.’ An example is found in Gītā 1.42: kula-dharmāś ca śāśvatāḥ—“And eternal family duties.” Clearly, upon liberation, the soul gives up worldly family duties. 

3. This is an even more striking example. In Gītā 6.41: prāpya puṇya-kṛtāṃ lokān uṣitvā śāśvatīḥ samāḥ śucīnāṃ śrīmatāṃ gehe yoga-bhraṣṭo ’bhijāyate—Lord Kṛṣṇa here says that “On reaching the worlds of the pious-doers, and having dwelled there for ‘eternal’ years, one fallen from yoga takes birth in the home of decent and prosperous people.” Remarkably, Lord Kṛṣṇa explicitly describes here a beginning—prāpya—and an end—abhijāyate—of one’s residence in higher worlds, yet He states that one dwells there for śāśvatīḥ samāḥ, eternal or endless years. Note that śāśvatī is simply the feminine form of śāśvata, since it here modifies the feminine samāḥ, ‘years.’ We find many similar examples for the word anādi. 

Answer: To give a specific reply to the meaning of the word anādi, I would like to first explain the various meanings of words in general. The relation between a word and its meaning is very deeply discussed subject in Vyākaraṇam, Sāhitya, Nyāya, and Pūrva-mīmāmsa. In brief, there are three types of meanings, called vācya or mukhya (primary), lakṣya (indicatory), and vyaṅgya (suggested).

Naiyāyikas do not accept the third type of meaning. Generally, we accept the primary meaning of a word, and that has further three divisions: yaugika (derivational), ruḍhi (popular), and yoga-rūḍhi (derivational but popular in a specific sense). 

However, it is not always possible to use the primary sense of a word because either the primary meaning does not make sense semantically, or it does not convey the true intent of the speaker. The first is called anvaya-anupaptti and the second is called tātparya-anupapatti. The common example of the first one is gaṅgāyām ghoṣa, which literally means “a hamlet in the river Gaṅgā.” This obviously does not make sense. How can a hamlet be in the river? Therefore, the primary meaning of the word Gaṅgā is dropped, and a secondary meaning is given, i.e., the bank of Gaṅgā. Thus, gaṅgāyām ghoṣa means “a hamlet on the bank of river Gaṅgā.” There is a reason why the speaker makes such a statement. He wants to convey that the village atmosphere is clean, that the people are pious, and so on. Such a meaning is called vyaṅgya or suggested. This meaning is not derived from the words directly. 

The example of tātparya-anupapatti is given in the sentence kākebhyo dadhi rakṣyatām, “Protect the yogurt from crows.” This is an instruction given by a mother to her young son. Now the question arises, “If a cat, dog, or a parrot comes and wants to eat the curd, should the boy protect it or not?” The answer is that he should certainly protect it. But was he instructed to do that? Yes and no. He was not told so in the literal sense of the word, but such indeed was the intention, tātparya, of the mother. So, in this sentence kākebhyo dadhi rakṣyatām, there is no anvaya-anupapatti, i.e., semantically, the sentence makes sense. If, however, only the primary meaning is taken, then there is tātparya-anupapatti, i.e., the sentence does not convey the true intent of the speaker. Therefore, in such instances the primary meaning is given up and a secondary meaning is taken.

While defining the need for the secondary meaning, Ācārya Mammaṭa, author of the famous work Kāvyaprakāśa, writes:

mukhyārtha-bādhe tadyoge ruḍhito’tha prayojanāt

anyo’rtho lakṣyate yat sā lakṣanāropitā kriyā (2.9)

When the primary meaning is obstructed [either by anvaya-anupapatti or by tātparya-anupapatti], then a secondary meaning that is related to the primary meaning is indicated because of its popularity or because of the intention [of the speaker]. Such an action is called lakṣaṇā. 

A similar statement is found in Sahitya-darpaṇa (1.5).

This is a vast topic but in brief this explains the need for secondary meaning. I have not come across the rule cited by you, “All Sanskrit words in śāstra that indicate an unlimited time span—anādi, śāśvata, nitya, etc.—are used nonliterally when referring to events in the material world, and literally when referring to eternal objects such as God, the soul, or the spiritual world.” I am curious to know the source of this rule. Perhaps such an understanding may be derived from the above explanation of the different meaning of words.

As far as the word anādi is concerned, it means that which has no beginning, na ādir yasya iti. This is its primary meaning. It will take a secondary meaning only if the primary meaning is unsuitable. When it is used to define the conditioning of a jīva in the material world, I see no reason why its primary meaning should be dropped. There is neither anvaya-anupapatti nor tātparya-anupapatti to obstruct its primary meaning.

In Bhagavad Gītā 13.19, Kṛṣṇa says: 

prakṛtiṁ puruṣaṁ caiva   viddhy anādī ubhāv api

vikārāṁś ca guṇāṁś caiva   viddhi prakṛti-sambhavān

Know that both material nature and living beings are anādi, beginningless. And know that all modifications as well as the objects consisting of the material guṇas are born of material nature.

Using the principle mentioned in Dr. Gopal Gupta’s book, as quoted by you, shall we give two different meanings to the word anādi in relation to prakṛti and puruṣa? I have not seen any traditional commentator of the Gītā doing so. There is no reason to give a secondary meaning to the word anādi in relation to prakṛti. Moreover, it would not make any sense. Śri Viṣvanatha Cakravarti as well as Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhuṣaṇa while commenting on this verse write that the union of prakrti and puruṣa is also anādi. Their comment makes it clear that anādi must be taken in its primary sense.


Spiritual Bodies and the Internal Potency

Question: Would you please explain about spiritual body of the jīva? When the jīva enters spiritual realm of Kṛṣṇa, does the soul get a beautiful spiritual body? Or does the soul already possess such an eternal body, which is with us right now?

Answer: The soul does not possess any body. It is formless. It is granted a body when it enters into the spiritual world. An example of this is seen in the life of Śṛī Nārada as described in Śrīmad Bhāgavata

Question: What exactly does it mean that the spiritual world is cinmaya? Is everything cetanā there? Does this mean that the stones, rivers, etc. in the spiritual world also have consciousness?

Answer: Yes, everything there has consciousness. There is nothing inert there, although objects like stones or a table and chairs may appear like inert objects. Everything in the spiritual world is constituted of antaraṅgā-śakti.


Question: In Paramātma Sandarbha, it is stated: “The living entities devoted to the Lord are blessed by His internal potency. They are not of the internal potency themselves. Still, they get to serve the Lord and associate with Him directly.”

Nitya siddhas are residents of Vaikuṇṭha and have transcendental bodies constituted of sat, cit, and ānanda. These are the qualities of the Lord’s internal potency. How is it they are not the internal potency of the Lord?

Answer: Just as in the material world, you have material body, but you are not material, i.e., bahiraṅgā-śakti. Similarly, in the spiritual world, you have a body of antaraṅgā-śakti, but you remain taṭasthā. The difference, however, is that in the spiritual world, there is no duality because both the ātmā and antaraṅgā-śakti are conscious.


Question: In 36th verse of Rāsa-līlā chapter of SB, it says, “The Lord accepts a human form.” Who is the one who accepts that form? My understanding was that Kṛṣṇa’s body is eternal bliss and the essence of all rāsas. If God has to accept a human form for the pleasure of His devotees, then who is God? Does He have a body?

I went through the ṭīkās of Viśvanātha, Sanātana Gosvāmī, and Jīva Gosvāmī but only Jīva tries to defend the point of Kṛṣṇa being the shelter of Brahman. Viśvanātha and Sanātana just echo the verse—“The Lord takes the human form.”  So we can also conclude that Nārāyaṇa is the Bhagavān who takes the human form. 

Answer: The problem with such type of questions is that the questioner disregards everything else and gets hung up only on one verse and becomes disturbed. This verse is part of a chapter, which is part of an entire book. Therefore, this verse cannot go against so many other verses which repeatedly explain that His body is eternal, transcendental, and non-material. I am not giving any references for this because I am sure you know them. So, my reply is that you should not see a single verse independently but in the light of what has been said earlier about Kṛṣṇa’s form.

The meaning of the word āśritaḥ or āsthitaḥ (whichever reading you take, verse 10.33.37 in the Gita Press edition) is “manifesting.” All it means is that Kṛṣṇa performed these līlās, manifesting His human form in this world. He has a transcendental body that is invisible to mortal eyes. When He descends on earth, He makes His body visible to the people of this world. This is the meaning of “taking a human form.” It means making Himself visible.