Reality & the Transcendental Body of a Vaiṣṇava – Part 1

By Satyanārāyana Dāsa

The 5th Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (also called Bhagavat Purāṇa ) contains a description of a meeting between the great sage Jaḍa Bharata and King Rahūgaṇa.

One day, King Rahūgaṇa went to see Sage Kapila to take spiritual instructions from him. It was customary at that time for kings to travel on chariots or elephants with many servants in tow. However, as the King was going to visit a sage, he decided to travel by palanquin without the normal fanfare.

While travelling, one of the King’s carriers became ill with fever. The remaining carriers began searching for a replacement and happened to see Jaḍa Bharata who looked stout and healthy. Taking him to be an ordinary man, they asked him to assist them. Jaḍa Bharata was wandering carefree and absorbed in thought of Kṛṣṇa and did not object. He joined the team, even though he could have easily refused.

While carrying the palanquin, the other carriers noticed that Jaḍa Bharata was not keeping pace with them. There were two reasons for this: First of all, he had not been trained to carry a palanquin and in fact had not received any training for anything in his life. He purposefully never did anything right in his life. This may seem strange, but Jaḍa Bharata, from his very childhood, could clearly remember his past two births as a deer and as the emperor Bharata, and so he avoided any material entanglements, for fear that such entanglements would lead him to take another birth. To protect himself, he behaved as if he were deaf, dumb and dull-headed when in fact he was a spiritually enlightened person.

Sage Jaḍa Bharata Begins his Instructions

His second reason for not walking in harmony with his co-carriers was that he did not want to step on ants or insects on the ground. Whenever he saw any living entity on the ground, he would evade trampling on them by jumping up or restricting his pace.

Jaḍa Bharata’s behavior caused much discomfort to King Rahūgaṇa who sternly warned the carriers to walk properly. This warning scared the other carriers but had no effect on Bharata. When the King realized that his warnings were in vain, he lost his temper and shouted at the carriers. Terrified, they informed him that it was the new person who was unable to walk with them and that it was impossible for them to function with him.

The King then directly ridiculed Jaḍa Bharata, with no success. Finally, the king was furious and threatened to punish him. At this last threat, Bharata, who had been quiet all the time, decided to respond to the King. Upon hearing the philosophical response, the king was unable to comprehend its meaning, but immediately understood that Bharata was no ordinary man. Thinking that he had committed a great offense by engaging such an elevated sage in carrying him, and desiring to ask for forgiveness, he jumped down from the palanquin and fell at the feet of sage Bharata, beseeching him to forgive him.

Noting the King’s response, Bharata assumed the role of a teacher and began instructing the King. Since the King had a materialistic view of the world, Bharata first had to prove to the King that the world is not real, although this was not exactly what Bharata truly believed. Bharata wanted to awaken and uplift the King’s awareness by instilling renunciation in him and making him understand the Absolute Reality.

 Description of the Ultimate Reality

 In verse 11 of the 12th chapter of the 5th Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Jaḍa Bharata describes this Ultimate Reality:

jñānaṁ viśuddhaṁ paramārtham ekam

anantaraṁ tv abahir brahma satyam

   pratyak praśāntaṁ bhagavac-chabda-saṁjñaṁ

yad vāsudevaṁ kavayo vadanti

The learned scholars say that the Absolute Truth is pure consciousness. It is the ultimate object of attainment, one without a second, devoid of any divisions of inside and outside. It is beyond the material guṇas, ever present and directly perceived. It is all-pervading and known as Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān.

Śrī Viśvanāth Cakravārtī Ṭhākura wrote an elaborate commentary on this verse.  What follows is a translation, with explanation blended in.

Viśvanāth Cakravārtī Ṭhākura begins his commentary with a question, as if posed by King Rahūgaṇa to Bharata after hearing his previous statement that the world is made of māyā and not real: “If the world is not real, then what indeed is reality?” Viśvanāth Cakravārtī Ṭhākura explains this verse in the following as if Bharata was replying to this question.

Three Names of the Absolute

Reality is known only through revealed scriptures and was described previously by Sūta Gosvāmī, in the famous “vadanti” verse (SB 1.2.11): “Knowers of Reality call it non-dual consciousness, naming it as Brahman, as Paramātmā, and as Bhagavān.” Bharata’s statement in the current verse elaborates on this.

Bharata describes Reality as “pure consciousness;” meaning that it is not touched by the guṇas of material nature. He says Reality is the supreme goal of life, which means that all other desirable objects or results including mokṣa emanate from  it. He explains the Truth to be “one.” This means that there is nothing equal to, superior to, or independent of it. Everything exists in and is supported by it. There is nothing which can be called inside or outside of it because it has no boundaries.  It is therefore all-pervading.  All-pervading implies that it not only pervades in space, but also in time. It exists everywhere at all times.

Sūta Gosvāmī’s previous statement adds that this non-dual conscious reality is known by three names: Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān. These terms are implicit in Bharata’s current statement, as well.

The word Brahman here refers to the indeterminate reality without any qualities or form. It is the goal of those who follow jñāna-marga, popularly known as Advaita-vādīs. They understand Brahman to be the Ultimate Reality. Brahman, although non-different from Bhagavān, does not manifest any qualities or form. The word “indeterminate” (nirvikalpaka) means that it is not a qualified object. All our perceptions are determinate. Whenever we perceive an object, we always perceive it with qualities, such as form and color. We have no experience of perceiving anything without qualities. Brahman realization however is devoid of any variety or qualities. Therefore it is called indeterminate. There is nothing which can be said about it. The jñānīs who have no interest in the material world and are completely detached, aim to achieve Brahman.

(to be continued)