Tag Archives: Bhagavan

Does Bhagavan Feel the Suffering of the Jivas?

Question: In Paramātma Sandarbha 93.5, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains in detail how Bhagavān has no experience of material misery. I still have some doubts on this concept, based on the following passages from the Bhāgavata.

When Duryodhana was lying on the battlefield, Kṛṣṇa was not happy to see that scene. This is explained in SB 3.3.13. Does it mean that Kṛṣṇa empathized with the material misery of Duryodhana?

When Hiraṇyākṣa spoke harsh words, it is described in SB 3.18.6 that Varāhadeva was pained at heart. Does it mean that Lord Varāha’s heart was pained by the materially abusive words of Hiraṇyākṣa?

In the prayers of Gajendra from the Eighth Canto, Srila Prabhupada seemed to say in his purport to SB 8.3.17 that even before a jīva offers prayers to the Lord, the Lord tries to deliver him. Does it mean that Bhagavān empathizes with the material misery of the jīva even before the jīva performs bhakti?

In the prayers of the Pracetās, Śrīla Prabhupāda writes in his purport to SB 4.30.24 that the Lord is affected by the material miseries of conditioned souls and that He makes plans to deliver them.

Is it possible to explain the siddhānta presented by Jīva Gosvāmī in Paramātma Sandarbha 93.5 in light of the above verses?

Answer: Very good observation. The main contradiction to the principle described by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, as I understand from the verses and commentary cited by you, is that Bhagavān feels empathy by seeing a jīva suffering. Moreover, He is always making an effort to liberate the jīvas. Therefore, He must feel the pain and suffering of the jīvas; otherwise, He would not be concerned.

My reply is that knowledge is acquired in different ways. Primarily, it can happen by direct experience (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), or by śabda pramāṇa. Your doubt is based on the assumption that we know only through our sensory experience, pratyakṣa. In the case of knowledge coming through anumāna or śabda, there is no direct experience.

Your first question is about Kṛṣṇa empathizing with the suffering of Duryodhana. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” From this definition, one can conclude that when Krṣṇa empathized with Duryodhana, he felt some pain in His mind. Accepting such an understanding still does not prove that Kṛṣṇa felt material misery. He felt suffering in His mind but that suffering was not material. It was trans-material suffering because His mind, senses, and body are all trans-material. When Jiva Gosvāmī writes that Bhagavān does not experience material misery, it does not mean that He does not have feelings or emotions. He has a transcendental mind and senses and feels transcendental emotions.

Moreover, empathy is of three types: cognitive, emotional, and empathic or compassionate. Cognitive means “simply knowing how the other person feels and what they might be thinking. Sometimes called perspective-taking.” Emotional means “when you feel physically along with the other person, as though their emotions were contagious.” Compassionate means “with this kind of empathy we not only understand a person’s predicament and feel with them but are spontaneously moved to help if needed.” Only in the last two types of empathies does the empathizer feel the feelings of the sufferer. In cognitive empathy, one understands that the other person is in pain but does not feel it oneself. So Bhagavān empathized cognitively with Duryodhana’s suffering but did not feel it Himself.

A good example is a doctor in the emergency ward of a hospital. Such a doctor has to deal with extreme cases, such as patients who have suffered horrible accidents. He knows that the patients are in pain, and he does his best to comfort them but he does not suffer himself. If the doctor becomes emotional or empathic, then he will not be able to do his job properly. He will not last more than one day in this job.

The second point to be considered is that Bhagavan does feel the pain of His devotees because He is linked to them through bhakti. But that is not material pain. That pain is a transformation of His antaraṅgā-śakti. Therefore, while commenting on verse 3.18.6, which seemingly states that Varāhadeva was troubled by the abusive words of Hiraṇyākṣa, Śrī Viṣvanātha Cakravartī writes that Varāhadeva was troubled because devotees like Brahmā felt pained by hearing Hiraṇyākaṣa’s harsh words. Varāhadeva felt compassionate on them—harir durukti-tomarair eva nimitta bhūtais tudyamānaḥ yathā śrutārtha-grāhiṇāṁ brahmādināṁ vyathāṁ dṛṣṭvā anukampayā pīḍyamāna ityarthaḥ.

Regarding the comments by Śrila Prabhupāda on verses 8.3.17 and 4.30.24, I assume that by jīva, he does not mean any jīva but a devotee jīva. This is certainly true in the case of Gajendra, referred to in SB 8.3.17, who was a devotee, as is known from his past life as king Indradyumna as well as the prayers of Gajendra. Verse 4.30.24 is part of the Pracetas’ prayers. So I would think that Prabhupāda refers to a devotee jīva. Otherwise, the simple question arises that why Bhagavān, who is omnipotent, does not liberate every conditioned jīva, because every conditioned jīva is suffering. In Bhagavad Gītā (12.7), Kṛṣṇa clearly says that He delivers His devotees from material conditioning.  Therefore, I do not see any contradiction.

The Nature of Absolute Nondual Reality

Question: In Bhagavat Sandarbha, Anuccheda 3, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī cites Viṣṇu Purāṇa (6.5.66–69):

That which is unmanifest, free from aging, inconceivable, unborn, never decaying, indefinable and formless, which is thus devoid of hands, legs and other such bodily limbs; which is supreme, all-pervading, eternal, the cause of all beings, yet without any cause; which is all-encompassing, but not itself encompassed, the source of everything, and known to the wise is called Brahman. It is the ultimate basis of everything and the Reality disclosed through meditation for the seekers of liberation. It is the subtle truth described in the words of the Vedas, the supreme seat of Śrī Viṣṇu. This Brahman is the essential nature of Paramātmā and is denoted by the word Bhagavān. The word Bhagavān expresses that original imperishable Lord directly.

This series of verses can be interpreted in two ways, according to Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī. We can take the first part of the series to describe viśeṣya Brahman (unqualified substantive), with subsequent verses (aiśvaryasya, etc.) describing the viśeśaṇas (qualifiers), culminating in a description of Bhagavān as the viśiṣṭa (qualified substantive.) In another interpretation, this entire selection of verses refers to Bhagavān, because all words are His attributes. 

However, I’m confused by the sentence: “This Brahman is the essential nature of Paramātmā and is denoted by the word Bhagavān.” 

If we take that Brahman refers to viśeṣya Brahman, how can we say that Brahman is denoted by the word Bhagavān? Bhagavān is qualified Reality, and Brahman is not. When we use the word Bhagavān, we don’t mean viśeṣya Brahman at all. 

Answer: A qualified reality has two parts to it—the unqualified substantive and the qualifier.  The qualified Reality denotes both. So, if Bhagavān is the qualified Reality, it also must have two parts.  It must denote both Brahman, the substantive, viśeṣya, and the qualifiers, viśeśaṇas. The substantive is the essential nature of the qualified Reality. So, Brahman is the essential nature of Paramātmā.

Question: The second sentence is also not clear: “The word Bhagavān expresses that original imperishable Lord directly.” As Bhagavān has been called the vācaka (direct expression) of Brahman in the previous sentence, how is it now a vācaka of an imperishable Lord? 

Answer: Bhagavān is vācaka of both because it is the qualified reality. If you say, “red rose,” then the phrase “red rose” is vācaka of both, the red color and the rose.  

Question: If Bhagavān is the vācaka of the viśiṣṭa Supreme Reality, then why call it Brahman?

Answer: As said above, the viśiṣṭa or qualified has two part, the viseysa or substantive and the visesana, or qualifier. For example, red rose is a viśiṣṭa object, with rose as the substantive and red as its qualifier. Red rose can also be just be referred to as rose because it is a specific type of rose. Similary, Bhagavan has Brahman as its substantive, so it can also be referred to as Brahman. Moreover. although the words Brahman, Paramātmā, and Bhagavān have their special meanings, they are also used interchangeably.

Bṛṁhati bṛṁḥayati ca iti brahman—”that which expands and which makes others expand, or that which is great and makes others great—that is Brahman.,” Here the word Brahman actually refers to Bhagavān. Even in Vedānta-sūtra—athāto brahma jijñāsā, the word Brahman refers to Bhagavān and not to Brahman. You will see the word brahman used many times for Bhagavān, especially in Upaniṣads and even in the Purāṇas. 

Question: Frequently it said that Bhagavān’s svarūpa is His śaktishlādinī, saṁvit, and sandhinī. That is, the svarūpa of the red rose is its redness. In the above verse, however, the svarūpa would be defined as the rose. Please clarify this. 

Answer: We usually say that śaktis are part of His svarūpa. This is said by considering the viśeṣaṇa and viśeṣya as one. Remember that, in the ultimate sense, tattva is only one; otherwise you create duality by making a distinction between His svarūpa and His śaktis, which are the viśeṣaṇas.

Understanding the nature of Absolute Nondual Reality can be confusing. It is no wonder that even great scholars are confused, muhyanti yat sūrayaḥ (SB 1.1.1) If you try to understand Reality logically, you will get into trouble. Logic has its limitations. Logic is not rejected completely. However, we try to explain Reality logically, without contradicting śāstra. This explanation of viśeṣaṇa and viśeṣya is a logical explanation but it does not mean that viśeṣaṇa and viśeṣya are separate ontological entities. That is why Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī calls the relationship between Tattva and its śaktis acintya-bhedābheda, which transcends logic. This does not mean that Reality cannot be understood. It can be understood from śāstra and we make use of logic to understand śāstra. However, Reality cannot be grasped merely by logic, independent of śāstra.

Bhagavān’s Potencies

Question: In Anuccheda 16 of the Bhagavat Sandarbha, it is explained that Bhagavān’s potencies are intrinsic to Him because He alone existed before anything came into existence—aham eva asam eva agre (SB 2.9.33). The commentary mentions that this proves that the potencies are inherent in Brahman. But we also see that the māyā-śakti is not inherent in Bhagavān but is kept away. This seems to be a contradiction. 

Answer: When it is said that māyā is not inherent, it is to imply that it is not antaraṅgā. Otherwise, all potencies are inherent in Him.  

Question: Further, in the aham eva asam eva agre verse, it is not that prakṛti does not exist. It exists as pradhāna, and not in the svarūpa of Bhagavān but separate from Him. Does this not contradict the concept of aham eva asam agre?

Answer: No, it does not contradict. All potencies exist in Him, but a distinction is made between the potencies. Māyā is ultimately also His inherent potency, but Bhagavān is not affected by the transformations of māyā and thus, and only in this sense,  māyā is called external. 

The whole idea is to understand that there is only one independent Reality replete with all potencies. This brings up the difficulty of accommodating the material world within Him because then He would undergo transformation, which is not acceptable. This riddle is solved by keeping māyā as bahiraṅgāśakti. Māyā is not independent of Him. Vyāsa saw that māyā was sheltered by Bhagvān – māyāñ ca tad-apāśrayam (SB 1.7.4).


Question: What is the relationship between the jñāna-śakti, kriya-śakti, and dravya-śakti of the Lord with sattva, rajas, and tamas guṇas? 

Answer: There is a one-to-one correspondence among them, in that order. 

Question: Are the three guṇas products or manifestations of these śaktis? 

Answer: No. These are two distinct energies. 

Question: Do these energies have spiritual manifestations as well? 

Answer: Yes. The spiritual counterparts are sat, cit, and ānanda. But they are not manifestations of these śaktis.

Question: We understand that the intelligence controls the mind and the mind controls the senses. Sattvaguṇa is superior to rajo-guṇa. However, during the primary creation, why does the mind appear from sāttvika ego, and intelligence appear from the rājasika ego?

Answer: The controlling feature is a characteristic of rajas. Buddhi performs the function of controlling the mind therefore it must be from rajas. We perceive things through our mind with the help of the senses. To perceive, sattva is necessary, because knowledge is a function of sattva. The mind really does not control the senses. Control is done with the help of buddhi. Because the mind is a product of sattva, it is peaceful by nature. It appears disturbed and turbulent because we have disturbed and agitated it. A child’s mind is peaceful and therefore children often appear to be serene and attractive. However, as we grow, we create disturbances for our mind. 

Question: In Śrīmad Bhāgavata 2.5.24, it is said, “That ahaṅkāra transforms into three types: derived from sattva, rajas, and tamas, called jñāna-śakti, kriyā-śakti, and dravya-śakti.” You said that sattva corresponds to jñāna-śakti. Do you mean that jñāna-śakti acts upon ahaṅkāra and produces sattva? 

Answer: It is ahaṅkāra in sattva that gives rise to jñāna-śakti.