Readings in Vedic Literature
A book by Satsvarupa das Goswami
1977, 1998 current edition
My plan to write this book grew out of encouragement from professors in whose classes I taught while touring as a lecturer for the Los Angeles Center for Vedic Studies. In November, 1973, Dr. Alton Becker invited me to speak before the faculty and students of the Center for South and Southeastern Studies, at the University of Michigan. My paper proposed a fresh attitude toward Vedic studies: an attempt to appreciate the Vedic knowledge on its own merits, as it exists apart from the interpretations of empirical Western scholarship. Dr. Becker found the viewpoint enlivening and advised me to develop it further. From conversations with college students who knew only the current Vedic textbooks, I became convinced that students of Vedic literature would be more enthusiastic if they could believe that the literature they were studying was not merely a hodgepodge of myths, but could actually give them a new and coherent view of life. My travels led me to meet with Vedic scholars such as Dr. Edward Dimock (University of Chicago), Dr. Thomas Hopkins (Franklin and Marshall College), and Dr. Joseph O’Connell (University of Toronto). All of these gentlemen saw my outline, and they confirmed that this book would be useful as a foundation for Vedic studies.
My own interest in the Vedic tradition began in 1966. In that year I met His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupäda, who in the previous year had arrived in the United States to teach Vedic culture. I had received a B.A. in English literature from Brooklyn College, and I was doing graduate work toward a career as a writer. But I decided instead to devote my life to studying the Vedas, and in September, 1966, Çréla Prabhupäda accepted me as his çiñya (disciple). I have been a personal secretary to Çréla Prabhupäda since 1970, and in 1972 I received the sannyäsa order of life (awarded for scholarship and renunciation). Overall, for the last ten years I have been studying the Vedic literature, writing articles about it, and lecturing in United States colleges on behalf of the Center for Vedic Studies.
The attempt herein is to present a Vedic textbook and anthology for undergraduates that allows them to hear a great tradition speak for itself. Satsvarupa das Goswami
RVL 1: What Are the Vedas ?
1. What Are the Vedas ?
Madhva, one of the principal teachers of Vedic philosophy, commenting on the Vedänta-sütra (2.1.6), quotes the Bhaviñya Puräëa as follows:
veda ity eva çabditaù
puräëäni ca yänéha
vaiñëaväni vido viduù
“The Åg Veda, Yajur Veda, Säma Veda, Atharva Veda, Mahäbhärata [which includes the Bhagavad-gétä], Païcarätra, and the original Rämäyaëa are all considered Vedic literature.… The Vaiñëava supplements, the Puräëas, are also Vedic literature.” We may also include corollary literatures like the Saàhitäs, as well as the commentaries of the great teachers who have guided the course of Vedic thought for centuries
Some scholars say that only the original four Vedas—Åg, Atharva, Yajur, and Säma—are genuine Vedic literatures.1 The Vedas themselves, however, do not support this view, nor do the most prominent Vedic teachers, including Çaìkara, Rämänuja, and Madhva. The Chandogya Upaniñad (7.1.4) mentions the Puräëas and Itihäsas, which are generally known as histories, as the fifth Veda: itihäsa-puräëaù païcamaù vedänäà vedaù. And Bhägavata Puräëa (1.4.20) confirms, “The historical facts and authentic stories mentioned in the Puräëas are called the fifth Veda
In any case, to be accepted as Vedic, a literature must maintain the same purpose as the original Vedic texts. The Vedic scriptures (çästras) comprise a harmonious whole with a harmonious conclusion (siddhänta). Consequently, we may accept as a bona fide Vedic writing any work that expands on the Vedic siddhänta without changing its meaning, even if the work is not one of the original scriptures. In fact, the Vedic tradition necessitates further authoritative works that convey the Vedic message according to time and place. However, to be genuine, these extensions of Vedic literature must strictly conform to the doctrines of the Vedas, the Puräëas, and the Vedänta-sütra.
Vedic literature is neither dead nor archaic. Nevertheless, any literature—be it ancient or modern—must be considered non-Vedic if it deviates from the Vedic siddhänta Thus Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, though definitely outgrowths of Vedic literature, are not considered Vedic. Even the conception of Hinduism is alien to the Vedic conclusion, as we shall see later.
The Vedic scriptures are vast in scope. The Åg Veda alone contains 1,017 hymns, the Mahäbhärata consists of 110,000 couplets, and the eighteen chief Puräëas contain hundreds of thousands of verses. We may ask, “Why do these writings exist? Where did they come from? Who wrote them?” The present book searches out the answers to our questions in the Vedic çästras themselves.
RVL 1.1: The Purpose of the Vedic Literature
The Purpose of the Vedic Literature
As its main purpose, the Vedic literature imparts knowledge of self-realization and, therefore, liberation (mokña) from suffering. Generally, scholars agree that the goal of Indian thought is to attain the truth, “the recognition of which leads to freedom.”3 “Every Indian system seeks truth, not as academic, ‘knowledge for its own sake,’ but to learn the truth which shall make all men free.”4 Indeed, Indian thought strives not for information but for transformation.5 Bhagavad-gétä describes knowledge as “accepting the importance of self-realization, and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth.”6 Yet if people think they are progressing on the path of material happiness, they will not seek to transform themselves. Hence, another important realization—janma-måtyu-jarä-vyädhi-duùkha-doñänudarçanam: “perception of the evil of birth, death, old age, and disease” (Bhagavad-gétä 13.9). Uncompromisingly, the Vedic literature asserts that despite its apparent joys, material life means suffering. Vedic knowledge purports to free the sincere inquirer from that suffering.
According to Bhagavad-gétä (Bg. 8.16), “From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place.” Apart from the repeated miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death, the Vedic writings describe another threefold set of miseries: miseries arising from the body itself, miseries inflicted by other living entities, and miseries arising from natural disturbances (such as severe cold, heat, flood, earthquake, or drought). Vedic teachers argue that even if these latter miseries were absent, no one could find happiness in the material world—the forces of time and death force everyone to leave his position. Indeed, the Sanskrit description of the earth is Måtyuloka, place of death. It is also duùkhälayam (a place of miseries) and açäçvatam (temporary) (Bg. 8.15).
On hearing this sweeping analysis of life in the material world, Albert Schweitzer termed the Vedic philosophy “world- and life-negation.”7 Others have stated that the Vedas teach pessimism and fatalistic resignation. But when we view the Vedas closely, we can discern that they teach quite the opposite; they propose that the purpose of human life is not to resign oneself to a temporary and miserable world, but to strive for permanent happiness. For people who follow the Vedic formula, life means an opportunity to attain victory over death. In the Vedic conception, a person negates life precisely when he identifies the illusory body with the self and considers the temporary world to be all-in-all. Such a person misses the opportunity afforded a human being—the opportunity to inquire about the Supreme.
The first verse of the Vedänta-sütra (athäto brahma-jijïäsä) is both a declaration and an invitation to everyone: “Now, therefore, let us inquire into the Absolute Truth.”8 The Vedas urge that people take to the path of liberation. In one Bengali devotional song we find, “Lord Gauräìga is calling, ‘Wake up, sleeping souls! How long will you sleep on the lap of the witch called Mäyä [material illusion]?’ ”9
The Vedas describe liberation as a special prerogative granted to human beings and not to the lower species. For this reason the human body is compared to a boat by which one can cross the ocean of transmigration. A good Vedic instructor who has learned the Vedas is like a competent captain, and the Vedic hymns are like favorable breezes. If a person doesn’t cross the ocean and attain eternal liberation, he is considered unintelligent, for Vedic philosophy denies the importance of any knowledge that does not lead to the cessation of sufferingThe Garga Upaniñad advises, “He is a miserly man who does not solve the problems of life as a human and who quits the world like a cat or a dog, not understanding the science of self-realization.”10
RVL 1.2: The Origin of the Vedas
The Origin of the Vedas
The Båhad-äraëyaka Upaniñad (2.4.10) informs us, “The Åg Veda, Yajur Veda, Säma Veda, Atharva Veda, and Itihäsas [histories like the Mahäbhärata and Puräëas] are all breathed out by the Absolute Truth. Just as one’s breath comes easily, these arise from the Supreme Brahman without any effort on His part.”11 According to the Vedic tradition, the Vedas are absolute and self-authoritative. They depend on nothing but themselves for explanation. This very principle comes from the mouth of Çré Kåñëa in Bhagavad-gétä (3.15): brahmäkñara-samudbhavam. “The Vedas are directly manifested from the infallible Supreme Personality of Godhead.” The commentator Çrédhara Svämé (Bhävärthadépikä 6.1.40) points out that the Vedas are supremely authoritative because they arise from Näräyaëa Himself. Jéva Gosvämé notes that the Vedic scripture Madhyandina-çruti attributes all the Vedas (Säma, Atharva, Åg and Yajur), as well as the Puräëas and Itihäsas, to the breathing of the Supreme Being. Finally, the Atharva Veda states that Kåñëa, who in the beginning instructed Brahmä, disseminated Vedic knowledge in the past.
Thus, as we have seen, the Vedic scriptures delineate their own origin. The scriptures describe themselves as apauruñeya, meaning that they do not come from any materially conditioned person but from the Supreme (a source transcendental to mundane duality). Vedic knowledge was imparted to Brahmä at the dawn of creation. Brahmä then instructed Närada, whose realizations appear throughout Vedic literature.
Vedic knowledge is considered eternal, but because the material cosmos is constantly in flux, Vedic teachings constantly need reassertion. Although the material cosmos is also considered eternal, it goes through stages of creation, maintenance, and annihilation. Formerly the Vedas came down by word of mouth, but later the sage Vyäsadeva compiled all the Vedic çästras in written form. In a separate chapter we shall examine Çréla Vyäsadeva’s role and the history of the compilation of the Vedas. We shall also consider how scholars try to understand the origins and history of the Vedic literature through the empiric method.
RVL 1.3: The Vedic Process of Learning
The Vedic Process of Learning
We can see in the Vedic verses an inexorable link between the substance of Vedic knowledge and the means for receiving it (between the Vedic message, we could say, and the Vedic medium)In contrast with Western conceptions, Vedic epistemology favors the process called çabda (hearing from Vedic literature), out of three possible knowledge-gaining processes.
The first process, pratyakña (empiric sensual perception), depends on correction from outside sources. For example, to our eyes the sun may seem no larger than a coin, but from scientific calculation we learn that our senses mislead us—the sun is many times larger than the earth.
The second knowledge-gaining process, anumäna (theories based on evidence), cannot give knowledge of what is beyond the range of proof. Charles Darwin’s theories and much of archaeology and anthropology rely upon such inductive conjecture (“It may have been like this, or perhaps it was like this”). According to the Vedas, anumäna cannot independently lead to perfect knowledge. The Vedas assert that objects beyond material nature cannot be known experimentally. These objects are therefore called acintya. That which is acintya cannot be known by speculation or by argument but only by çabda, the process of hearing from Vedic literature.
Indeed, çabda, the third knowledge-acquiring process, is considered the most reliable and important. For, since human beings are limited and imperfect, their perception, theories, and speculations cannot be perfect. With the exclusion of çabda, the Vedas estimate all knowledge to be defective in four ways. First, regardless how bright or precise a person may be, the Vedas affirm that he cannot escape mistakes—“to err is human.” Second, a human being is subject to illusion. For instance, the çästras mention that every materially conditioned being is under the illusion that the body is the self. Whatever his position in the world, a person is under illusion if he thinks of himself in terms of nationality, religion, race, or family. (A person’s first step in transcendental knowledge, according to the Vedas, is realizing that his identity is beyond the temporary material body.) Third, every person has limited or imperfect senses. For instance, in a darkened room he cannot see his hand before his face. Finally, the Vedas maintain, everyone has a tendency to cheat. For example, a man who presumes to instruct others although defective himself is actually cheating, because his knowledge is imperfect.
Vedic knowledge is çabda, knowledge through hearing from higher authority, and it is therefore considered perfect. The Indian scholar Mysore Hiriyanna writes, “The Vedänta never dispenses with reason, and the Upaniñads are themselves full of arguments. All that is questioned is the final validity of reason in matters which do not come within its purview.”12 To cite a traditional example, if a child wants to know who his father is, he should ask his mother. He may make a survey of the male population, but much more simply, he can ask his mother, the natural authority. In other words, if a person can accept information given by an authority, he does not have to take the trouble to research independently. The çabda method, by which we accept authority, is imperative when we inquire about subject matter beyond the purview of the senses and reason. We may note that in the Vedic conception authority has no Western-styled negative connotations. The term refers not to a dictator but to a deliverer of primary knowledge. For instance, Shakespeare himself is naturally the authority par excellence on the works of William Shakespeare.
Aural reception of transcendental knowledge from authority is the Vedic standard. Whereas material knowledge pertains to things within the material universe, transcendental knowledge pertains to things beyond this universe. The Vedas point to a supreme original truth unknowable either by direct perception (pratyakña) or by the inductive method (anumäna). When, by aural reception from authority, a person gains transcendental information, he becomes completely fulfilled and happy. He transcends the dualities of the material world. On the other hand, when he follows the empiric tradition, he comes to regard anything outside sensual perception or induction as faith, dogma, intuition, or belief. He concludes, as does A. B. Keith, “Such knowledge as is not empirical is meaningless and should not be described as knowledge.”13
The Vedic philosophers claim that çabda (hearing from an authority) opens up a realm of knowledge beyond scientific methodology. They hold çabda to be the only process by which we can know what is unknowable in our present conditioned state. To know his father, a child has no other recourse than to ask his mother. This is a matter not of faith, dogma, or feeling, but simply of hearing from one who knows. If a person can learn from someone who has received perfect knowledge, he can get free from all misery. “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master,” the Gétä (4.34) enjoins. “Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” In the Vedic tradition, only the person who has “seen the truth” can be the ideal teacher, the guru. In addition, the Muëòaka Upaniñad (1.2.12) enjoins that a sincere student has to approach the ideal guru to receive transcendental knowledge and enlightenment.
RVL 1.4: The Guru and Paramparä
The Guru and Paramparä
To learn more about çabda, we should examine the Vedic conception of the teacher (guru) and the student (çiñya). Not only must the student turn to Vedic literature for perfect knowledge, but also he must receive knowledge personally from a qualified teacher with whom he has a special relationship. Technically the word guru means “heavy,” and the qualified guru must be heavy, or grave, with knowledge. Anyone who is bewildered by the problems of existence must approach a spiritual master for knowledge. Thus Bhagavad-gétä presents the ideal teacher-student relationship. Faced with doing battle against his friends and relatives, Arjuna breaks down. A noted psychologist has commented that Arjuna experiences “ontological anxiety,” that he loses sight of his identity and his duty. Therefore, he approaches his guru, Kåñëa (who is accepted throughout the Vedas as the Supreme Person, the knower and compiler of the Vedas). “I have lost all composure,” Arjuna says. “Please instruct me” (Bg. 2.7). Later, Lord Kåñëa tells Arjuna that everyone should accept a bona fide spiritual master.
In the Muëòaka Upaniñad (1.2.12) we find tad-vijïänärthaà sa gurum eväbhigacchet samit-päëiù çrotriyaà brahma-niñöham:
In order to learn the transcendental science, one must submissively approach a bona fide spiritual master, who is coming in disciplic succession and is fixed in the Absolute Truth. 14
Hiriyanna writes that this Vedic view is not difficult to appreciate. “For self-effort, however valuable in itself, is not an adequate means of grasping a truth so profound.… The living voice of a teacher who firmly believes in what he teaches has certainly a better chance of producing conviction than the written word.”15
Thus, the message of the Vedas descends through the spiritual master. As we have mentioned, the Vedas maintain that knowledge gained by sense perception or speculation can never enable the student to reach the highest goal. Vedic truth reaches the student by the descending process, from the Vedas and through the guru. This chain of transmission is called guru-paramparä, the disciplic succession. In Bhagavad-gétä (4.2) Kåñëa tells Arjuna, evaà paramparä-präptam: “This supreme science [bhakti-yoga, knowledge through devotional service] was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession.” Thus, the student’s relationship is not just with his own spiritual master but also with the spiritual master of his spiritual master and the spiritual master of that master and so on, in an unbroken chain of masters. The chain of masters in which a particular guru hears and speaks the truth is called his sampradäya. For instance, in the Brahma-sampradäya, Vedic knowledge descends from Brahmä, and in the Kumära-sampradäya it descends from the Kumära Åñis (sages). In the Vedic conception, these sampradäyas began at the creation of the universe and endure to the present moment in the person of the student’s own guru. Thanks to the consistency of the transmission, all the previous gurus are present in the teachings of the present spiritual master. The student receives the pure Vedic message in the same way he might receive a mango from a number of men sitting on the branches of a mango tree. The man at the top of the tree picks the fruit and hands it down carefully to the man below. Thus, it comes down from man to man and reaches the man on the ground, undamaged and unchanged.
One may question whether a line of teachers can accurately pass the message from one to another without change or addition. But not anyone can presume to speak Vedic knowledge in succession from the past teachers—only a perfect guru. The Vedic process assures that the transmission remains pure by assuring the qualifications of the transmitter.
RVL 1.5: The Qualifications of the Guru
The Qualifications of the Guru
Since the guru must transmit the truths of Vedic knowledge perfectly, he plays a crucial role. Consequently, the Vedas admonish the prospective disciple to acquaint himself with the qualifications of a bona fide guru. Regrettably, in recent years many Indian and Western teachers at variance with the Vedic version have undermined the guru’s credibility. Now we have professional gurus who charge fees for secret mantras and allow their students to disregard all the Vedic regulative austerities, who teach yoga as gymnastic exertion and maintain that the purpose of yoga is material well-being, and who defy the Vedas by declaring themselves or everyone to be God, and so on. It is little wonder that when we hear the word guru, we are skeptical.
Nevertheless, according to the Vedic version, the guru-çiñya relationship is an eternal verity that a person can realize only if he sincerely approaches a bona fide guru. It is therefore necessary to first understand the symptoms of a bona fide guru—that is, of a spiritual master who has received and can impart pure knowledge. Rüpa Gosvämé, a sixteenth-century Vedic philosopher and disciple of Kåñëa Caitanya, lists in his Upadeçämåta six symptoms of a guru: “Any sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the reactions of anger, and the urges of the tongue, belly, and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world.”16
The spiritual master is also an äcärya, one who teaches by personal example. Intellectual brilliance notwithstanding, a man of dubious personal character, who is attached to selfish gratification and self-interest, cannot be a spiritual master. Çré Kåñëa Caitanya stated, äpani äcari’ bhakti karila pracära: “First become perfect, and then you can teach.”17 In other words, the guru must be a svämé, or master of the senses, and not a slave to their dictates. No one should assume the titles of guru, svämé, and sannyäsé (renounced monk) whimsically. The candidate must actually demonstrate the qualities of guru, svämé, and sannyäsé.
By definition, the guru imparts instructions consonant with the teachings of Vedic literature. He does not deviate from Vedic teachings through mental speculation, nor is he an atheist, a mundane politician or a humanitarian. He maintains that spiritual knowledge is the ultimate welfare for humanity; therefore he himself lives a life that demonstrates detachment from material pleasure. In other words, he must be blissfully united with the Supreme. Vedic literature admits that such a person is sudurlabha, very rarely found (Bg. 7.19).
For his part the guru himself has to be a çiñya (student) of a genuine spiritual master in the disciplic succession. There is also a checks-and-balance system called guru-çästra-sädhu.18 The teachings of guru must correspond with the teachings of sädhu (the previous spiritual masters in the disciplic succession), which, in turn, must all correspond with the direct meanings of çästra (the scripture).
RVL 1.6: The Qualifications of the Disciple
The Qualifications of the Disciple
A student must also be qualified, and his basic requirements come to light in Bhagavad-gétä. The disciple must “inquire from the guru submissively and render service unto him” (Bg. 4.34). Faith in the guru is of utmost importance and qualifies one for initiation. The Çvetäçvatara Upaniñad (6.23)19 states:
yasya deve parä bhaktir
yathä deve tathä gurau
tasyaite kathitä hy arthäù
“Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in the Supreme and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.”
Faith in the guru is the subject matter in a narration about Çré Kåñëa from the Bhägavata Puräëa (10.80). When recalling His boyhood pastimes, Kåñëa recollects that when He once went to collect fuel for His guru, He and His friend were lost in the forest during a great rainstorm and spent all night wandering about. In the morning, when the guru and other disciples finally found Kåñëa, the guru was very pleased, and he blessed Kåñëa:
It is very wonderful that You have suffered so much trouble for me. Everyone likes to take care of his body as the first consideration, but You are so good and faithful to Your guru, that without caring for bodily comforts You have taken so much trouble for the satisfaction of the spiritual master. It is the duty of the disciple to dedicate his life to the service of the spiritual master. My dear best of the twice born, I am greatly pleased by Your action, and I bless You: may all Your desires and ambitions be fulfilled. May the understanding of the Vedas which You have learned from me always continue to remain in Your memory, so that at every moment You can remember the teachings of the Vedas and quote their instructions without difficulty. Thus You will never be disappointed in this life or in the next.20
Kåñëa recalled the incident in this way:
Without the blessings of the spiritual master, no one can be happy. By the mercy of the spiritual master, and by his blessings, one can achieve peace and prosperity and be able to fulfill the mission of human life.21
Obviously, the faith described herein is not simply intellectual agreement on some theological matter. Rather, the disciple must completely surrender himself bodily and mentally as the servant of the guru and take up the guru’s instructions as his life’s mission. It is, then, no overstatement that “selection of a guru is more significant than the selection of a spouse.” 22
The Vedas stress the need for such complete commitment. After all, the guru acts as the disciple’s savior. He alone can impart Vedic knowledge and thus liberation. The disciple therefore owes a debt to his guru, who has personally lifted him out of conditioned ignorance and blessed him with the perfection of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. In his turn, the guru must execute his duties humbly as a servitor of the Supreme and of his own guru in the disciplic succession.
If one satisfies his guru by sincere service and actually understands the Vedic conclusion, he receives initiation as a brähmaëa. A brähmaëa is a learned person who is responsible enough to enlighten others. In India there are many smärta-brähmaëas, or caste-conscious brähmaëas, who insist that one cannot be elevated to brahminical status unless he is born in a brähmaëa family. This brähmaëa-by-birth conception is decidedly non-Vedic. One scholar writes, “In the Çrémad Bhagavad-gétä-parvädhyäyäù of the Mahäbhärata, Väsudeva-Kåñëa says in very clear terms that the classification of the people into four varëas (castes) is based on guëa-karma, i.e. spiritual quality and conduct.”23
There is a popular story in the Chändogya Upaniñad about a boy named Satyakäma who approached a guru for enlightenment. “Are you the son of a brähmaëa?” the guru asked. The boy said that he didn’t know who his father was. The guru then asked him to inquire from his mother, but the boy’s mother frankly told him that since she had known many men, she wasn’t sure who his father was. The boy then returned to the guru and said, “My mother doesn’t know.” Pleased with the boy’s honesty, the spiritual master concluded, “You are a brähmaëa.”24
According to the Vedic standard, anyone can be elevated by training. In the Hari-bhakti-viläsa of Sanätana Gosvämé, it is stated that one who is properly initiated certainly becomes a brähmaëa, just as bell metal can be turned into gold when mixed with mercury. In the Seventh Canto of the Bhägavata Puräëa (7.11.35), Närada tells King Yudhiñöhira that if one has the qualities of a brähmaëa, he must be accepted as a brähmaëa. Thus, birth in a particular family, race, or religion is not an essential qualification for a çiñya.
Most important among a disciple’s qualifications are faith, service, and submissive inquiry. Yet the disciple should not follow his guru blindly. In Bhagavad-gétä Arjuna asks a series of probing questions, and Çré Kåñëa replies with philosophical reasoning and references to çästra and sädhu.
In the Vedic tradition the importance of the guru-çiñya relationship cannot be exaggerated. Indeed, the Padma Puräëa stresses that it is impossible to gain spiritual knowledge without a guru: “Unless one is initiated by a bona fide spiritual master in the disciplic succession, the mantra that one has received is without any effectContinually the çästras accentuate the inestimable value of association with a saintly person. A moment’s association is said to be more valuable than thousands of lifetimes without that association. A çiñya’s eagerness to hear from the guru is itself a great qualification. After hearing, if he obediently carries out the instructions of the spiritual master, the disciple automatically advances beyond liberation, to the ultimate stage of love of God.
It is necessary that the çiñya, like his guru, live according to the high moral standards set forth in the çästras. Çaìkara states that a student of philosophy must meet the following essential conditions: the student must have the strong will to inquire into the difference between matter and spirit, he must renounce all personal demands and self-interest, and he must restrain his mind and sensesUnless he can give up all material pleasure and be detached from sorrow as well, he cannot qualify for transcendental life. As Kåñëa confirms in Bhagavad-gétä (2.41), “Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one.…The intelligence of those who are irresolute is many branched.” Traditionally, a disciple must give up the “four pillars of sin”: meat-eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication.26
RVL 1.7: Summary
We have described the purpose, the origin, and the process of Vedic knowledge according to the statements of the Vedas themselves. The Vedic follower accepts the çästras as the words of the supreme person (éçvara, Näräyaëa), hence as axiomatic truths. In other words, there is no need to verify those truths that the Vedas have already set forth. Further, the follower should understand the cause of all causes not by material knowledge or independent mental conjecture but by hearing faithfully from an authorized spiritual master. The sublime secrets of spiritual life passed on from guru to çiñya are open to everyone, regardless of social caste or birth. To become a candidate for spiritual knowledge, the follower must observe the regulations for purification set forth by the guruThese are the basic precepts of the Vedas regarding the acquisition of transcendental knowledge.
RVL 2: The Empirical Approach to Vedic Literature
2. The Empirical Approach to Vedic Literature
In Chapter One we have discussed some of the principles of Vedic learning handed down by the disciplic succession of Vedic teachers. We should also note that in the last two hundred years virtually all Western universities have taken a critical-historical, or empirical, approach. Hinduism and Indian philosophy have become popular subjects in many colleges, and there has arisen a community of established Sanskritists and Indologists. However, if we compare the empirical version of Vedic knowledge with the version of the Vedas themselves, we often find the two at opposite poles. Empiric scholars rarely discuss this conflict. They assume, usually correctly, that readers will accept the empiric version because of the scholar’s reputation for probing research and analysis. When discrepancies become obvious, the empiric scholars usually represent their own views as the objective picture of Vedic civilization.
Yet these conflicts raise a number of questions. Why do some scholars reject the explanations of the Vedic literature’s origin, purpose, and transcendental nature as received from both the texts themselves and the traditional Vedic scholars? Why is the Vedic literature’s description of itself necessarily unacceptable? Is it simply that the empiric scholars doubt that the Vedas or the äcäryas are what they say they are? The Vedas claim divine origin, and the scholars deem their origin mythological. The Vedas propose to elevate man from suffering and grant him liberation, but the scholars suppose that studying the Vedas for spiritual purposes is unscholarly. Although the Vedas warn that the Vedic teachings are transcendental to material investigation, scholars reject such injunctions as esoteric taboos and proceed to analyze the Vedas in an empirical spirit. They frankly regard the Vedas as mythology and assign themselves to the task of demythologizing.
The Vedas affirm that Vedic knowledge must be heard from a spiritual master in the disciplic succession, but the scholar who writes books about the Vedas is not a guru, nor does his scholarly conscience allow him to accept such an approach. Moreover, the scholar surveys the guru from what he considers a superior, more objective and academic vantage point. The Vedas maintain that one must observe strict moral standards and perform austerities before understanding Vedic literature, but scholars consider such things to be unnecessary.
What is the best way to study the Vedas? Should we give credence, after all, to what the Vedas say about themselves? Before deciding, we should know something about the substantiality of empiric Vedic scholarship.
RVL 2.1: Empirical Tools
The tools used by empiric Indologists are the scientific standards of history, anthropology, archaeology, philology, and related disciplines. Since Indological studies began, in the eighteenth century, the research in every field has become increasingly sophisticated. However, the scholars agree that their critical reconstruction of the origin and nature of Vedic culture is highly uncertain.
RVL 2.2: History
Empiricists generally place great importance on understanding historical development, but for the Vedic period there is no history aside from the çästras. For thousands of years the early Indians kept no such histories, and as O. L. Chavarria-Aguilar writes in his book Traditional India, “A more unhistorical people would be difficult to find.”1 A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy informs us, “A historical treatment of Indian philosophy has not been taken up by the great Indian thinkers themselves.”2 Ancient Rome had its Livy and ancient Greece its Herodotus, but India had no great historian to record the Vedic period. According to modern Indologists, the Indian’s lack of interest in history was not due to a primitive inability to keep records; rather, he accepted the historical version of the çästras as sufficient.
Scientific historians choose not to accept the historical validity of the çästras; their alternative is to begin the official history of India with the death of Buddha, in 483 BIn any case, this is the earliest date empirically settled. Scholars concede that the Vedic period began thousands of years before Christ, but as for the dating of even approximate periods, “everywhere we are on unsafe ground.”3 Nevertheless, scholars have reconstructed various historical periods which they theoretically assign to the thousands of unaccounted years. Pioneer Indologist Max Muller devised a system of classifying the Vedic civilization into periods called “Chandas, Mantra, Brähmaëa, and Sütra,” and a number of scholars have concurred.4 Others have also given their own divisions. Radhakrishnan, for instance, looks upon the broad divisions of Indian history as Vedic, Epic, Sütra, and Scholastic.5 Handbooks on Vedic history differ on specific dates by as much as one or two thousand years. Indeed, Moriz Winternitz, one of the most respected chronologists, argues that any attempt to reconstruct the Vedic period is unscientific. He writes, “The chronology of the history of Indian literature is shrouded in truly terrifying darkness.”6 Winternitz somewhat pointedly notes that it would be pleasant and convenient, especially when preparing a handbook on Vedic literature, to divide the literature into three or four periods and assign dates and categories. “But every attempt of such a kind is bound to fail in the present state of knowledge, and the use of hypothetical dates would only be a delusion, which would do more harm than good.”7 He states that it is even better not to assign dates to the oldest period of Indian literary history. Using discoveries by related field workers and conducting further research into the texts, successive generations of historians continue to develop new pictures of the Vedic past. However, Winternitz quotes a pioneer American Sanskritist who years ago said, “All dates given in Indian literary history are pins set up to be bowled down again.”8 Winternitz remarks, “For the most part this is still the case today.”9 We may thus conclude that there is simply no history of the original Vedic civilization in India, at least none that is acceptable in the strict sense of empiric history.
RVL 2.3: Archaeology
Archaeology, of course, is especially suitable for finding out about ancient cultures. But what was true for Vedic historical records is also true for archaeological finds, which to date give us no clear picture of Vedic civilization. Of course, many of the geographical sites mentioned in the scriptures are still known, and according to tradition many of the temples in India have been maintained for thousands of years, but these sites have not yielded solid archaeological evidence.
Archaeologists and anthropologists cannot accept the çästric version that Vedic civilization flourished in India long before fifty thousand years ago—the date which scientists assign as the earliest possible appearance of homo sapiens on earth. Consistently the çästras mention that Vedic literature was written down at the beginning of the age of Kali some five thousand years ago, and that philosophers, yogés, and åñis lived many millions of years ago. Although empiricists most often discount such sophistication in ancient humanity, they do admit that “the history of the human race is being rewritten with new dating processes and with exciting discoveries around the world.”10 The general trend in the rewriting of human history is to push the theoretical date from the beginning of advanced human civilization further and further back into what has become known as prehistory. As far as the archaeology of India is concerned, the excavations of cities and temples have produced no conclusive empirical data about the Vedic culture’s first appearance.
Western archaeology got its start in India early in the nineteenth century, when the surveyors of the East India Company found many temples, shrines, old coins, and inscriptions written in dead scripts. In the 1830’s the edicts of Emperor Açoka were deciphered, and thus Indian civilization was dated at 300 B.C In the twentieth century, work began on a large scale. The most famous archaeological discoveries relating to the prehistoric period took place under the supervision of archaeologist Sir John Marshall, who in the 1920’s uncovered the cities of Harappa and Mohenjaro, located in what is now Pakistan. These were the cities of an efficient, urban social community, now called the Indus civilization, which has been dated at 3,000 B.C.11 Though a fabulous find for archaeology, Harappa has contributed but little to our understanding of the ancient Vedic period. If it was hoped that the discoveries at Harappa and Mohenjaro might throw some light on the Vedas, this hope was not fulfilled. Among the artifacts found at Harappa was a small figure of a seated man who might be Çiva, but this is not definite.
Linguistic research and interpretation of the Åg Veda have given rise to a hypothesis linking the Indus civilization with the origin of the Vedas. As the story has it, the peaceful Dravidians (the name of the original people of Harappa) were invaded by the Aryan barbarians, who brought with them their tales of Indra (Åg Veda). This account enjoys wide currency in books, but it is by no means a scientific conclusion.12 Rather, it is a hypothetical creation set forth to explain what would otherwise be inexplicable. About the Indus civilization, one Indologist comments, “We do not know for certain who the authors of the remarkable civilization were; it is another of those mysteries that make the scholar’s life at once interesting and somewhat frustrating.”13 As for the theory that the Dravidians met their demise under Indra’s hordes of plundering Aryans, H. P. Rowlinson writes, “A number of scholars have pointed the finger of accusation at the Aryans…but the guilt of those immigrants is far from established.”14 Thus, although scholars favor various theories, archaeological finds like those of the Indus civilization have to date given evidence insufficient for reconstructing the period in which the Vedic scriptures were composed.
Archaeology gains considerable scientific veracity by allying with other disciplines, such as atomic physics (which produced the carbon 14 dating process). Will archaeologists one day find something that will actually solve the Vedic riddles once and for all? Anthropologist Julian H. Steward writes, “Facts exist only as they are related to theories, and theories are not destroyed by facts—they are replaced by new theories which better explain the facts.”15 In other words, we might say, although archaeologists intend to find out much more, they may never know for sure.
Whatever facts and theories the future may hold, archaeology, the empiricist’s main hope, has thus far failed to penetrate the darkness that shrouds the Vedic period; the prime record of Vedic culture is, of course, oral tradition. Hence, in the very area where archaeology alone can give the empiricist knowledge, we can seriously question whether archaeology is even relevant. “Religion is a mental or spiritual phenomenon in which the sacred or supernatural word plays an important part. Obviously this essential expression of religion cannot be investigated archaeologically—the remains are wordless.”16
RVL 2.4: Linguistic Research
As we would expect, research has spread to still other disciplines. In fact, among the most important tools in Indological research is the study of linguistics. In the late eighteenth century, linguists in India made a comparative study of Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin and concluded that the languages were so similar in vocabulary and grammar that they must have come from a common ancestral tongue. In 1786, Sir William Jones theorized that Sanskrit and other languages had “sprung from some common source which perhaps no longer exists.”17 This language received the name proto-Indo-European. Although there is no clear evidence that this language was ever spoken, linguists reconstructed a proto-Indo-European language with the help of archaeologists, who contributed evidence on who might have spoken it and where. Stuart Piggot writes: “The location of a possible Indo-European homeland and the identification of the culture implied by the linguistic evidence with a comparable archaeological phenomenon, has been a matter of debate since the idea was first formulated in the last century.”18 >From a hypothetical language, a hypothetical human community emerged, its members called Indo-Europeans. Because words like “horse” and “father” were prominent in the vocabulary of proto-lndo-Europeans, the scholars constructed a community of farmers who had domesticated the horse and in whose society the father was dominant.19 Also, the scholars ascribed to them a religion and rites, although no one can say for certain where these people lived. In a recent history of India we find this assessment:
The aboriginal home of the Aryans [the Indo-Europeans are supposed to be the predecessors of the Aryans who invaded India] is again a controversial point, and in the face of the hopeless chaos of conflicting views, it seems impossible to come to any definite conclusion. The most probable theory seems to be that the Aryans migrated into India from outside, the exact region from where they came being still a point of discussion.20
Professor of linguistics Ward Goddenaugh pointed out that chauvinism and racism definitely entered into historical European interpretations of Indo-European origins. Thus, scholars arbitrarily compiled data to prove that the Aryan forefathers came from Europe.21
Despite limited information, linguists tend to construct hypotheses. The prominent Sanskritist A. B. Keith once remarked that by taking the linguistic method too literally, one could conclude that the original Indo-Europeans knew about butter but not milk, snow and feet but not rain and hands.22
Already, it appears, the discipline known as linguistic paleontology has fallen out of favor with scholars. In 1971, the eminent linguist Winifred Lehmann asserted, “Clearly, the linguistic paleontologists had overextended themselves to the point of elimination.”23 Dr. Lehmann insists that language cannot be used as a primary source for reconstructing an earlier culture. Still, linguistic theories about the origin and cultural background of the Vedas continue to figure prominently in academic accounts of the Vedic period.
In order to date ancient languages, in recent decades Morris Swadesh has devised a linguistic method known as glottochronology. This method arose from the theory that over the millennia, changes in the vocabulary of a language tend to occur at a regular, measurable rate. Scholars have used this method to date the oral tradition of the Vedas as well as the appearance of specific literatures. However, linguists themselves report that “no matter how much the technique is refined, the only dating that it can yield will be of the likelihood variety.”24 Glottochronologists have worked out graphs indicating areas in which there is a ninety-percent likelihood that a particular specimen of language can be assigned a correct date. The greater the time period in which the literature might have appeared (thousands of years for Vedic literature), the greater the variance in ascribing the approximate date. The variance grows so great as to be no more than an educated guess. Linguistic critic Charles Hockett writes, “Obviously it is not helpful to find that, though the most likely date of an event is forty thousand years ago, the nine-tenths confidence level defines a span running from ninety thousand years ago to a date ten thousand years in our own future.”25 Although regarded as highly imperfect, glottochronology is the best working tool available today for dating ancient languages. It has not, however, revealed anything definite about the origin and real purport of the Vedic literature.
As we have marked, empirical evidence for the Vedic period seems scanty and fragmentary; the scholars have few hard facts on which to base mature or reliable conclusionsAccordingly, their full and elaborate picture of Vedic history seems hypothetical and conjectural. Of course, drawn as it is from arduous historical, archaeological, and linguistic research, the hypothetical picture surely merits consideration. At the same time, it appears, Indologists would do well to remember that an offlcial photograph is one thing, a hypothetical picture quite another.
Actually, Western scholars have never assessed the Vedic çästras on their own merit. The first studies of the Vedas, for example, were clouded by less than objective motivations. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, pioneer Indologists such as Sir William Jones, Horace H. Wilson, Theodore Goldstuker, and Sir M. Monier-Williams approached the Vedic culture with a view to replacing it with Christian culture.26 This naturally tainted their investigation of Vedic literature. While the missionary motive declined, an effort was made by the American transcendentalist school (Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc.) to appreciate the Vedas as they are. It would be fair to say, however, that the empirical-historical method eclipsed this endeavor before it could shine forth. And because the Vedic system is intrinsically beyond the range of empirical investigation, modern Indologists have also been unable to study the Vedas on the literature’s own terms. Thus, it may be appropriate to hear what the Vedas say about themselves. As opposed to the fragmented, highly theoretical, or at best partial appreciations of the Vedas by Western scholars, this approach will aid us in understanding the wide range of Vedic literatures as a sublime and cohesive whole.
RVL 3: Essential Elements of Vedic Thought
3. Essential Elements of Vedic Thought
Although he may be unacquainted with Sanskrit, a new student of Vedic literature needs to understand many Sanskrit terms. Simply memorizing words in a glossary cannot fill that need; the Vedas themselves prescribe that to understand the meanings of such terms as Bhagavän, Paramätmä, and Brahman, the student must become transcendentally situated, or realized. He must know from personal experience the distinction between matter (jaòa) and spirit (Brahman), and the nature both of illusion (mäyä) and of the supreme controller (éçvara). Since some words, such as dharma and rasa, have no real English equivalents, the student’s need for personal experience and realization becomes so much greater.
To get a clear understanding, the student should first learn the simple, literal meaning of the Sanskrit terms. By avoiding allegorical interpretations and speculation, he will avoid needless confusion. In other words, the student makes easier advancement if he accepts the direct meaning given in the çästras rather than the indirect meanings set forth by imperfect commentators. Vedic literature is not difficult to understand if the student learns the terms of the çästras in their original meanings.
RVL 3.1: The Three Aspects of the Absolute
The Three Aspects of the Absolute
The Vedic literatures discuss three aspects of the Absolute Truth: Brahman, Paramätmä, and Bhagavän. The Upaniñads focus upon Brahman; the yoga systems, upon Paramätmä; Bhagavad-gétä and the Puräëas, upon Bhagavän. Bhägavata Puräëa (1.2.11) states that all three aspects are actually one, seen from different angles of vision: “Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramätmä or Bhagavän.”1
Brahman refers to the impersonal, all-pervasive aspect of the Absolute Truth. The multifarious manifestations of the cosmos—moving and nonmoving matter, atoms, bodies, planets, space—are not ultimate causes in themselves, nor are they eternalof them come from the eternal Brahman. The Vedänta-sütra (1.1.2) clearly states, janmädy asya yataù: “The Supreme Brahman is the origin of everything.”2 The Muëòaka Upaniñad (2.2.10–12) offers elucidation:
Brilliant is It, the light of lights—
That which knowers of the soul do know!
The sun shines not there, nor the moon and stars;
These lightnings shine not, much less this (earthly) fire!
After Him, as He shines, doth everything shine.
This whole world is illumined with His light.
… before,… behind, to right and left,
Stretched forth below and above.3
Radhakrishnan writes that Brahman “cannot be defined by logical categories or linguistic symbols. It is the incomprehensible nirguëa [“qualityless”] Brahman, the pure Absolute.”4
The Båhad-äraëyaka Upaniñad (3.9.26) describes the Brahman philosophers as searching for the root of existence in the components of matter but finding only neti neti: “That self is not this, not that.”5 When one realizes Brahman, he knows the impersonal spirit in all things.
Ätmä means “self.” Thomas Hopkins writes, “Ätman was distinguished from the gross physical body; it was the inner self, the principle or energy that gave man his essential nature.”6 Vedic philosophy regards the self as eternal and individual; it is not destroyed when the body is destroyed. On the battlefield of Kurukñetra, Kåñëa has only encouragement for Arjuna:
Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be… For the soul [ätmä] there is never birth nor death. Nor having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.7
The ätmä, individual soul, is distinct from the Paramätmä (the Supersoul or oversoul, an identity beyond the ätmä). The word parama means “supreme and transcendental,” and, as the Kaöha Upaniñad (1.2.20) has it, the Paramätmä and the ätmä are like two birds sitting on a tree:
Both the Supersoul [Paramätmä] and the individual atomic soul [jéva-ätmä] are situated on the same tree of the body within the same heart of the living being; only one who has become free from all material desires as well as lamentations can, by the grace of the Supreme, understand the glories of the soul.8
Awareness of one’s eternal relation with the Paramätmä is the goal of the mystic añöäìga-yoga taught by Pataïjali (the author of the Yoga-sütra). According to Bhagavad-gétä, “That Supersoul [Paramätmä] is perceived by some through meditation.…”9 Perfection in meditation results in the yogic trance called samädhi:
The stage of perfection is called trance, or samädhi, when one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.10
This realization occurs when the mystic sees the transcendental form of God within his heart. Although only genuine mystics can see the Supersoul, He is seated in the hearts of all living beings, whether they realize or not. “I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness.”11 The Paramätmä guides the embodied soul, witnesses his activities, and awards him the results of his actions. “The Supersoul enters into the bodies of the created beings who are influenced by the modes of material nature and causes them to enjoy the effects of these by the subtle mind.” [SB 1.2.33]
Knowing that the Supersoul is present with each soul in each and every material body, the Paramätmä-realized yogé sees all beings equally. “The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brähmaëa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” [Bg. 5.18] Indeed, the unified vision of the Paramätmä-realized yogé extends to all aspects of existence. “Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything—whether it be pebbles, stones or gold—as the same.… He is a perfect yogé who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, both in their happiness and distress, O Arjuna.” 14
Bhagavän realization is the theistic vision of the Absolute Truth as the Supreme Person possessed of inconceivable attributes.15 Paräçara Muni defines Bhagavän as the Supreme Person possessing infinite beauty, knowledge, strength, fame, wealth, and renunciation. Although the concept of creation suggests many great personalities (or demigods), in the fullest sense the word bhagavän applies only to the Supreme Being, the Godead Himself.
Bhagavän is the highest feature of the Absolute. He is the Supreme Brahman (Parabrahman) and the source of the Paramätmä. As we have noted previously, the Vedänta-sütra (1.1.2) states that the Absolute Truth is the source of all emanations (janmädy asya yataù). Further, the Vedänta and the Puräëas state that, as the source of everything, the Absolute must possess intelligence and consciousness. These latter attributes imply personality, and the supreme personal feature of the Absolute Truth is termed Bhagavän. Whereas Brahman is devoid of material qualities or attributes, Bhagavän possesses transcendental qualities. All beings rest in Brahman, and Brahman itself rests in the Supreme Person. The Vedas regard Brahman as the effulgence (brahmajyoti) of the transcendental body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Brahma-saàhitä (5.1) postulates that Bhagavän is sac-cid-ananda-vigrahaù, the personal form of eternity, full knowledge, and full bliss.16
Impersonal Brahman manifests only the sat (eternity) feature of the Absolute. Brahman is to Bhagavän as the sunshine is to the sun. The sunshine is the sun’s effulgence, and has no independent existence apart from the sun. Paramätmä manifests the sat and cit (knowledge) aspects of the Absolute, but Bhagavän alone fully manifests the sat, cit, and änanda (bliss) aspects. Thus, Bhagavän is the full embodiment (vigraha) of sac-cid-änanda.
Prefacing each of Lord Kåñëa’s statements in Bhagavad-gétä is the phrase çré-bhagavän uväca—“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said.” Further, the Gétä establishes that Bhagavän, Kåñëa, is the ultimate truth: “There is no truth superior to Me.” [Bg. 7.7] Brahma-saàhitä makes a similar confirmation, Éçvaraù paramaù kåñëaù sac-cid-änanda-vigrahaù: “The supreme controller is Kåñëa, who has a transcendental form of eternity, bliss, and knowledge.”18 And the Bhägavata Puräëa (1.3.28) indicates that all avatäras proceed from the Supreme Bhagavän (Kåñëa).19
In one sense God, or Bhagavän, has no name; yet His activities garner Him many names. The name Kåñëa, meaning “all-attractive,” is fundamental because, by Paräçara Muni’s definition, the Supreme Person must be all-attractive or all-opulent. To enact various pastimes (lélä) for His pleasure and to create and maintain, Bhagavän Kåñëa expands into forms such as Näräyaëa, Väsudeva, and Mahä-Viñëu. The name Kåñëa (the all-attractive) also implies Viñëu (the all-pervasive). The name Bhagavän (the all-opulent) implies the names éçvara (supreme controller) and puruña (supreme enjoyer). Rüpa Gosvämé’s Laghu-bhägavatämåta has this to say about the names given the Absolute:
According to the intimate relationships between Çré Kåñëa, the primeval Lord, and His devotees, the Puräëas describe Him by various names. Sometimes He is called Näräyaëa; sometimes Upendra [Vämana], the younger brother of Indra, the King of Heaven [upa-indra]; and sometimes Kñérodakaçäyé Viñëu. Sometimes he is called the thousand-headed Çeña Näga and sometimes the Lord of Vaikuëöha.20
When the inquirer realizes Bhagavän, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he simultaneously realizes Brahman and Paramätmä. For we have seen that, far from being separate one from another, the three aspects of the Absolute are all present within Bhagavän
Cit-çakti is the spiritual energy of the Absolute Truth. Bhagavän, the Supreme Person, is the energetic source, and through His internal cit potency He manifests the eternal kingdom of God and His eternal liberated associates. “Just as mäyä builds this mundane universe with the five material elements, so the spiritual (cit) potency has built the spiritual world.”21 The spiritual universe is known as Vaikuëöha, “the place without anxiety.” Bhagavad-gétä describes this separate universe as that eternal nature which remains even after the annihilation of the material universe.
Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme, and it is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is. That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode. [Bg. 8.20-21]
The spiritual universe, Vaikuëöha, is eternal; that is to say, it is exempt from the strict laws of the material world, wherein all living entities suffer birth, old age, disease and death. When Bhagavän enters the material universe as an incarnation (avatära), He is never subjected to the material laws, but remains situated in His internal spiritual potency (cit).
The verbal root jév means “to live, be, or remain alive,” and the noun jéva refers to the individual living being, or soul. According to the Vedic analysis, the living being (jéva) is separate from the body, yet, within each and every body (including those of men, beasts, birds and plants), an individual soul (jéva) resides. Individual consciousness is the symptom of the jéva’s presence.
Although the body is perishable, the jéva is eternal. “Know that which pervades the entire body to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.”23 The Bhägavata Puräëa describes the size of the jéva: “There are innumerable particles of spiritual atoms, which are measured as one ten-thousandth of the upper portion of the hair.”24 Clearly, the jéva defies perception by the material senses.
According to the Vedic conception, consciousness does not arise from a material combination; it is the symptom of the jéva’s presence within the body. When the jéva leaves the body, consciousness also leaves, and the body perishes. It is the jéva that is the real self, but in contact with matter, it becomes conditioned. “The empirical individual, the jéva, is self-limited by the body and senses.”25 Originally the jéva is a spiritual part of the Supreme Bhagavän and shares His qualities of sac-cid-änanda in minute portions. The jéva’s constitutional position is subordinate to that of the Supreme Bhagavän. Although the Supreme Bhagavän never falls within the control of the material energy, the jéva, out of delusion and a misuse of his free will, falls under the control of the material energy and forgets his relationship with the Supreme Bhagavän. Desiring to be an independent enjoyer, the jéva enters the material world. The jéva’s fall from his constitutional position provides the gist, of course, for Western narratives such as Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Although the jéva in the material world suffers in many ways, he remains under the spell of material nature (mäyä). Actually the jéva soul has nothing to do with the material world, but because of mäyä (illusion) he acts to satisfy himself through the material senses. If he has not attained liberation from his material bodily confinement by the time of universal annihilation, he returns to the body of the Supreme Viñëu and takes birth again, in the next creation, to act out his desires (karma). When the jéva attains liberation, he goes to the brahmajyoti or even to Vaikuëöha, the spiritual planets where the Supreme resides in His complete, personal form. Real liberation for the jéva is to attain his original spiritual identity (svarüpa), for in his eternal form the jéva can associate with Bhagavän, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Material illusion is called mäyä. Mäyä means “unreality, deception, forgetfulness”—“that which is not.” Under the influence of mäyä, a man thinks that he can be happy within the temporary material world. As the deluding energy of the Supreme, mäyä acts not independently but under His direction. “It is by illusion (mäyä) the other (jéva) is confined. One should know that Nature is illusion (mäyä) and that the mighty Lord is the illusion-maker.”26
Mäyä’s power is such that although a man may be suffering manifold miseries, he will think himself happy. “The cause of man’s suffering and impotence is mäyä, under whose influence he forgets his divine nature.”27 When the jéva identifies with the body, he develops thousands of desires and then attempts to fulfill them. It is the nature of the material world that the more the jéva tries to exploit the material situation, the more he is bound by maya’s complexities. Acting under the influence of mäyä, the jéva subjects himself to the law of karma (cause and effect).
As for the origin of mäyä, Bhagavän Kåñëa states, “This divine energy of Mine [mäyä], consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome.” [Bg. 7.14] The Vedas further enjoin: “Although mäyä [illusion] is false or temporary, the background of mäyä is the supreme magician, the Personality of Godhead, who is Maheçvara, the supreme controller.”29
In sum, mäyä is a delusion, a trick, a mirage that bewilders a person into thinking that eternality and happiness abide in the activities of the material world (which in actuality is temporary and miserable). Even a highly educated or intelligent man may be under the spell of mäyä; Bhagavad-gétä designates such a person as mäyayäpahåta-jïäna, “one whose knowledge is stolen by mäyä.”30 Vedic literature purports to free all beings from the clutches of mäyä. “To be delivered from this illusion which has somehow come to dominate the race of man is the end of all endeavor.”31 According to Bhagavad-gétä, it is very difficult for the jéva to break free from the bondage of mäyä: “This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” [Bg. 7.14]
RVL 3.3: Karma
Western science and philosophy commonly hold that the law of causality governs all action and events in the universe, that there can be no actions or events without corresponding causes, at least on the material platform. The Vedic literature calls this law of cause and effect the law of karma. From time immemorial, the jéva has been acting in the material world and enjoying or suffering the reactions of his actions. His actions bring about his transmigration from one material body to another. In other words, the jéva takes off and puts on bodies just as one takes off old and useless garments and puts on new ones. As the jéva transmigrates, he suffers or enjoys the results of his past activities (karma).
In one sense, all karma is bondage. Even pious activities, or “good karma,” bind a person to the wheel of transmigration. One has to be freed from all karma if he is to transcend saàsära, repeated birth and death. The jéva creates his own karma out of his particular desires to enjoy this world in different ways. Thus, neither Bhagavän nor material nature is responsible for the karma of the jéva; he makes his own destiny. According to the jéva’s activities (and under the supervision of the Supreme), material nature simply awards the jéva his next body to carry out his desires. Freedom from the great chain of karma comes through knowledge. “As the blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions [sarva-karmäëi] to material activities.” [Bg. 4.37] This “fire of knowledge” refers to the jiva’s awareness of his constitutional position as the eternal servant of the Supreme. When one surrenders to Bhagavän, he transcends all past, present, and future karma.
The jéva cannot become free from karma merely by refraining from action. The Vedas portray the soul as eternally and irrevocably active. “It is indeed impossible for an embodied being to give up all activities. Therefore, it is said that he who renounces the fruits of action [karma-phala-tyägé] is he who has truly renounced.” [Bg. 18.11] In other words, one has to learn the art of working without accruing karma.
In Bhagavad-gétä, Bhagavän Kåñëa explains this art of karma-yoga in detail. Briefly, one who performs his activities as a sacrifice to the Supreme Bhagavän avoids karma, bondage within the material world. Such refined, sacrificial activity is called akarma, that is, action without reaction. The Närada-païcarätra explains that the art of karma-yoga is håñékeëa håñékeça-sevanam: “serving the Lord of the senses with one’s senses.” It is the function of the guru to teach his students this elusive art of akarma, action without reaction.
RVL 3.4: Saàsära
Saàsära means repeated birth and death, or transmigration. As a result of karma, a person may take his birth in a family of wealthy merchants or in a family of insects. The Padma Puräëa delineates that there are 8,400,000 species, and that the fallen jéva has to undergo birth in every one of them. After evolving through many thousands of births, the jéva at last reaches the human form, a chance to cultivate self-realization for his ultimate liberation from the cycle of saàsära.
RVL 3.5: Guëas
Literally, the word guëa means “rope.” There are three guëas (modes of material nature)—goodness (sattva), passion (rajas), and ignorance (tamas)—which bind one to nature like three strong ropes. Consequently, the material world of mäyä is sometimes called tri-guëa-mayé.
The jéva attains different bodies according to the guëas in which he has acted in the past, and each body in turn induces him to act according to its predominant guëa. Let us consider a man influenced by the mode of goodness (as, for example, a philosopher, a physician, or a poet). This man lives with a sense of knowledge and, therefore, happiness. By cultivating knowledge of the material world, he makes his life pleasant; bound to that pleasant feeling by the rope of mundane goodness, he does not attempt spiritual elevation. As long as a person is attached to an advanced state of material happiness and works simply to improve material conditions, he cannot attain liberation (though he may continue to attain bodies in the mode of goodness). Whatever his material opulence, he nonetheless faces the inevitable fourfold miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death
Bhagavad-gétä describes the mode of passion (rajo-guëa) as being “born of unlimited desires and longings.” [Bg. 14.7] Typifying this guëa are sexual attraction and enjoyment. The jéva hankers for sex, and on achieving his desires he forms a hard knot of attachment to material life. Gradually, his gross desires expand into subtler longings for honor, family enjoyment, money, and so forth. The jéva has to work hard constantly to acquire and maintain these things. According to the Vedic analysis, the achievements of great materialistic civilizations spring from rajo-guëa.
Lastly, tamo-guëa, the mode of ignorance, conditions the jéva to laziness and excessive sleep and, generally, to dejection and dependence on intoxicants. “The result of this mode is madness.” [Bg. 14.8]
At any given time, not one mode alone but some combination of the modes influences the jéva’s actions. At one time, rajas may dominate over tamas; at another, sattva over rajas; at still another, tamas over rajas; and so forth. At the moment of death, a jéva in the mode of goodness transmigrates to a body in the higher planets, a jéva in the mode of passion transmigrates to a body in a middle planet like the earth, and a jéva in the mode of ignorance transmigrates to a body in the animal species. [Bg. 14.14]
Everything in the material world arises from interacting mixtures of the modes of nature. “The guëas are the primal elements which combine in different proportions to constitute all objects of the world.”38 Like a puppet, the jéva seems to dance but in fact dangles on these three ropes, tri-guëa-mayé. The çästras explain everything in terms of the guëas—including types of faiths, determination, the kind of food one eats, and the kind of charity one performs. The transcendentalist is one who can rise above the modes. An important difference between Bhagavän, the supreme soul, and the jéva soul, the infinitesimal soul, is that Bhagavän is never under the influence of the guëas. At all times He is their master, whereas the jéva falls under their influence. By following the Vedic injunctions, the jéva can gradually transcend the three material modes and attain his pure transcendental consciousness. Hence, Kåñëa exhorts Arjuna in Bhagavad-gétä to “rise above these modes” by turning to the Supreme. [Bg. 2.45]
RVL 3.6: Puruña and Prakåti
Puruña and Prakåti
Puruña (referring to Bhagavän, the Supreme Lord) means the supreme predominator and enjoyer. Prakåti means the predominated nature. The living beings (jévas) and the material energy (mäyä) are, respectively, higher and lower forms of prakåti. Puruña corresponds to the male (the enjoyer); and prakåti corresponds to the female (the enjoyed). Both, of course, enjoy the relationship.
The Çvetäçvatara Upaniñad (6.7) describes the puruña aspect of the Absolute Truth in this way: “We know Him who is the Supreme Lord of lords, the Ruler of rulers.”40 Bhagavän Kåñëa affirms, “Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” [Bg. 7.6] The puruña is the cause of all causes, the energetic source of all energies. Even when the jéva attains liberation, he cannot assume the position of the whole, of the puruña, because the jéva is an eternally fragmental part of the puruñaBhägavata Puräëa (S.B. 10.87.30) sums up the situation:
O Supreme Eternal! If the embodied living entities were eternal and all-pervading like You, they would not be under Your control. But if the living entities are accepted as minute energies of Your Lordship, they are at once subject to Your supreme control. Therefore real liberation entails surrender by the living entities to Your control, and that surrender will make them happy. In that constitutional position only can they be controllers. Therefore, men with limited knowledge who advocate the monistic theory that the Supreme and the living entities are equal in all respects are actually misleading themselves and others.42
Since the supreme puruña alone is all-predominant, the independent controller and enjoyer, He is called asamaurdhva, “the greatest of all.” By learning to meditate on the puruña or Puruñottama (supreme living being) in His various manifestations as Näräyaëa, Kåñëa, Väsudeva, and Viñëu, the conditioned jéva will attain purification and the supreme liberation from transmigration.
RVL 3.7: Parä prakåti and Aparä prakåti
Parä prakåti and Aparä prakåti
There are two types of prakåti: parä prakåti and aparä prakåti. The jéva is called parä, or superior, prakåti: the jéva is above the inferior energy, dead matter, which is called aparä prakåti. The jéva is also called the marginal energy, because, although purely spiritual, he comes sometimes under the influence of aparä prakåti (mäyä) and sometimes under the influence of the spiritual energy.
Bhagavän Kåñëa describes the energies of the Supreme in this way:
Earth, water, fire, air, space, mind, intelligence, and false ego—altogether these eight comprise my separated material energies [prakåti]. Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.43
The jivas “sustain the universe,” for they are the superior energy (parä prakåti) working within matter (aparä prakåti). The jévas can manipulate matter for their enjoyment. Of itself, aparä prakåti (earth, water, fire and so on) has no potency to generate the innumerable manifestations within the universe. The activities of the universe result from the active jévas moving inert matter. Thus, the Vedic version opposes the conception of a universe operating mechanistically, without any spiritual touch. Because they are the superior spiritual energy, the jévas can create many things; but in no case are they the supreme puruña. Thus, they cannot create matter out of nothing; nor can they create life from matter. They can only manipulate what they have received.
The jéva simply imitates the real puruña, who is Bhagavän, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Because in reality the jéva is not the puruña, by imitating the puruña he brings endless trouble on himself. In material life, every jéva thinks, “I am t=e puruña, the lord, the enjoyer.” This is called illusion (mäyä). The jéva does have a certain degree of controlling power, but in all cases this is limitedThe Vedic literatures advocate that the jéva abandon his futile attempt to become God by manipulating aparä prakåti.
RVL 3.8: Brahmä—Çiva—Viñëu
There are many misconceptions current about the “Hindu trinity” of Brahmä, Çiva, and Viñëu. Generally, dictionaries define Brahmä as “the chief member of the Hindu trinity,”44 and other sources describe a triumvirate Godhead with all gods being equal. The very term “trinity” suggests an attempt to apply Christian theology to Vedic literature in the manner of the early Christian missionaries. The pioneer Indologist Sir William Jones once made this comment:
Very respectable natives have assured me that one or two missionaries have been absurd enough, in their zeal for the conversion of the Gentiles, to urge that the Hindus were even now almost Christians because their Brahmä, Viñëu, and Maheça [Çiva] were no other than the Christian trinity; a sentence in which we can only wonder whether folly, ignorance, or impiety predominates. 45
In any case, the Vedas do not support these widespread theories. All three personalities are classified as guëa-avatäras, controllers of the modes of nature. Brahmä creates the material universe and controls the mode of passion. Viñëu maintains the universe and controls the mode of goodness, and Çiva destroys the universe and controls the mode of ignorance.
Brahmä, a very powerful jéva, is the first living being born in the universe. His life endures for the entire life-span of the universe, and when the universe is annihilated, he dies. Compared to humans, his life span is long indeed:
By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahmä’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night. When Brahmä’s day is manifest, this multitude of living entities come into being, and at the arrival of Brahmä’s night they are all annihilated. [Bg. 8.17]
Yet Brahma-saàhitä compares Brahmä to a jewel whose brilliance merely reflects the light of the sun.47 Brahmä creates the cosmos under the direction and inspiration of Bhagavän, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Çiva is in charge of the destruction of the universe at the time of annihilation. He is also in charge of the tamo-guëa (the mode of ignorance), although we should not conclude that he is ignorant. One of his names is Äçutoña, which indicates that he is easily pleased. Çiva accepts worshipers among the most fallen beings, including ghosts and demons, who worship him for material benedictions (which are easy to obtain). Bhägavata Puräëa (S.B. 12.13.16) states, vaiñëavänäà yathä çambhuù: Çiva is the greatest Vaiñëava [devotee of Viñëu].” In Padma Puräëa, Çiva makes this remark to his wife:
My dear Parvaté, there are different methods of worship, and, out of all, the worship of the Supreme Person [Bhagavän] is considered the highest. But even higher than the worship of the Supreme Bhagavän is the worship of His devotees. 48
Viñëu is an expansion of Bhagavän Kåñëa, the source of all incarnations. There are many expansions of Viñnu, and all are the one Supreme Person, Bhagavän. One Viñëu expansion maintains the universe and controls sattva-guëa, the mode of goodness. Of the three guëa-avatäras, Viñëu is the only one who can award liberation from saàsära (harià vinä naiva såtià taranti). It is therefore imprecise to regard devotion to Brahmä or Çiva as providing commensurate benefit; for from the platform of tamas and rajas one can hardly realize the Absolute Truth. The mode of goodness serves as a springboard from which one can transcend all the modes and realize his pure relationship with the supreme transcendental Bhagavän. Since Brahmä and Çiva are expansions of Viñëu, we can appreciate Louis Renou’s observation, “In fact, as a religion in the strict sense of the term, Hinduism can almost be summarized as Viñëuism.”49
RVL 3.9:Çruti and Småti
Çruti and Småti
Vedic authorities accept three sources of Vedic knowledge, called prasthäna-traya. Çruti-prasthäna refers to the four Vedas and the Upaniñads. Nyäya-prasthäna refers to the Vedänta-sütra, and småti-prasthäna refers to the Puräëas, Bhagavad-gétä, and Mahäbhärata. Some empiric scholars argue that whereas çruti is acceptable, småti is not. They contend that the Vedas (çruti) constitute original knowledge and that the Puräëas are recent collections of imaginary stories. Others say that Vedänta (nyäya or logical argument) can be accepted, but not the Puräëas (småti). Indeed, they even question whether småti—which includes Bhagavad-gétä—can be acceptable as Vedic authority.
We have already pointed out that the äcärya Madhva deems that the Vedas, Vedänta, Puräëas, and Mahäbhärata are Vedic çästra and that whatever these literatures enunciate is valid evidence. The äcärya Çaìkara also accepts Bhagavad-gétä and compares the Gétä to a cow that delivers the essence of the Vedas and the UpaniñadsGosvämé, in his Kåñëa-sandarbha, quotes from çruti that aitihäsya-puräëa (historical Puräëas) must be accepted especially for this age. Rüpa Gosvämé, in his Bhakti-rasämåta-sindhu (1.2.101), postulates that by adhering to the çrutis alone one is simply mouthing the words of the scriptures and not understanding or practicing them.
It is the empiric scholars, not the äcäryas, who contest the authority of småti. The four original Vedas are çruti—they came down orally. (Çruti means “hearing”; småti means “remembering” [what was originally spoken].) Whereas çruti is compared to the mother, småti is compared to the sister; after a child hears from his mother, he again learns from the descriptions given by his sister. One cannot deny the authority of Bhagavad-gétä or Bhägavata Puräëa simply because they are småti. The Vedic teacher Väcaspati Miçra states in the Bhämaté that this would be çruti-småti-virodhaù: in conflict with both the çruti and the småti. Çaìkara, Rämänuja, and Madhva presented småti as valid evidence and wrote commentaries on Bhagavad-gétä. As we shall see in the next chapter, Vedic literature stands as a single, comprehensive whole meant for transcendental understanding. When we reject major portions, the Vedic literatures appear incomplete, incoherent, and inconclusive. Consequently, the Vedic tradition prompts the student of these literatures to hear the çästra from a fully realized äcärya (guru).
RVL 4: Vedic Literature—Siddhanta and History
4. Vedic Literature—Siddhanta and History
The word siddhänta means “conclusion.” We might ask whether the Vedic literature actually has a siddhänta. Does a comprehensive theme unite the many books? If the purpose is ultimately one, why do the çästras appear to present many different philosophies? Why do they stress so many different forms of worship and meditation? Do the çästras themselves give a plausible history of the Vedic literature?
Generally, scholars base their answers to these questions upon the historical order in which they believe the books appeared. Thus, there has arisen the theory that the Åg Veda appeared before the Upaniñads and the Puräëas. As hundreds and thousands of years passed and people’s attitudes changed, different philosophies and sects are supposed to have developed. Many scholars conclude that around 200 B.C. monotheism arose. From this view it appears that Vedic literature comes from=no single master plan.
Vedic literature, h=wever, has its own version of the Vedic siddhänta and history. To understand the Vedic version, we have simply to let the writings speak for themselves.
RVL 4.1: The Vedic Siddhänta
The Vedic Siddhänta
Where should we look for the Vedic siddhänta? Is there any one work epitomizing and clarifying the different thematic strains, their relative positions and conclusions? Clearly, such a compendium of the Vedas would have to be authoritative and acceptable to all schools of thought. And clearly, of all works, Bhagavad-gétä best meets these qualifications. For this reason alone the Gétä has become the best known and most frequently translated of all Vedic writings. Here, indeed, is an instance in which the academic scholars and Vedic äcäryas agree. Çaìkara described the Gétä as “an epitome of the essentials of the whole Vedic teachings.” Rämänuja put the keystone of his entire philosophy in his Gétä-bhäñya (commentary on Bhagavad-gétä). Çrédhara Svämé declared, “The Gétä, which issued from the lotuslike lips of Padmanäbha Himself [Bhagavän Kåñëa] must be well assimilated; what is the use of the multiplicity of other scriptures?”1 Thomas Hopkins observed, “The greatness and continuing importance of the Gétä lies in its success in achieving a complex and multipurpose synthesis.”2 The prominent Gétä commentator His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupäda writes that the Gétä is “the essence of Vedic knowledge. Because Bhagavad-gétä is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one need not read any other Vedic literature.”3 He adds that if one is so fortunate as to read the Gétä without motivated interpretation, he surpasses all studies of Vedic wisdom and all scriptures.
It is also of this great work that Louis Renou writes, “For almost everyone the Bhagavad-gétä is the book par excellence.”4 Ananda K. Coomerswamy describes the Gétä as “a compendium of the whole Vedic doctrine to be found in the earlier Vedas, Brähmaëas and Upaniñads, and being therefore the basis of all later developments, it can be regarded as the focus of all Indian religion.”5 About two hundred years ago, translations began appearing in the West, and, among others, Immanuel Kant, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Aldous Huxley have accepted the Gétä as their introduction to Vedic wisdom.
Within its seven hundred verses, Bhagavad-gétä contains the main issues of Vedic philosophy. If one reads the Gétä in the proper spirit, he can gain Vedic knowledge through the natural process of çabda. In the Gétä the crisis-ridden disciple Arjuna accepts Kåñëa as his spiritual master. Arjuna is a warrior, and his dialogue with Kåñëa takes place just before a huge battle is to begin on the field of Kurukñetra. Seeing his friends and relatives on the other side, Arjuna suddenly loses his desire to fight and becomes confused about his duty. Bhagavän Kåñëa then begins to give His instructions, which are consonant with the totality of Vedic knowledge. Indeed, Kåñëa often alludes to and even quotes çästras such as the Vedänta-sütra.
If we use Bhagavad-gétä as a guide to the siddhänta of all the çästras—if it is, as Çaìkara says, “the epitome of essentials”—we may next ask, “What is the essence of Bhagavad-gétä?” Not a difficult question, really. For Kåñëa repeatedly declares the highest yogé to be he who is exclusively devoted in love to Bhagavän, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Kåñëa affirms that this doctrine of devotion to and love for the Supreme is “the most confidential part of the Vedic scriptures.” [Bg. 15.19] In the final verses Kåñëa concludes that Arjuna should abandon all other dharmas and simply surrender unto Him. “I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” [Bg. 18.66]
The student should not confuse the Kåñëa of Bhagavad-gétä with the “rural, sectarian god” envisioned by many scholars. Of the Gétä’s Bhagavän Kåñëa, Hopkins writes, “Kåñëa has been revealed as the Supreme Lord [in the Bhagavad-gétä], identified with the Vedic Brahman and Puruña and with the universal form of Viñëu. He is the culmination of all the religious forms of the Vedas.”8 Ainslee Embree comments, “Throughout the Gétä is the assumption that transcending and completing the disciplines of work and knowledge is the way of devotion to Kåñëa as the Supreme Lordsurrender to Him, men find the final end they seek—the realization of their true self. It is this emphasis on devotion that has made the Gétä the scripture that appeals most directly to the heart of the Indian people.”9
When we turn to the history of the compilation of the çästras, we can see how the great themes of Bhagavad-gétä resound harmoniously throughout the entirety of Vedic literature.
RVL 4.2: Vedic History
We have already pointed out that there is no accurate empirical reckoning of Vedic literature’s oral tradition. Moriz Winternitz concludes, “Vedic literature extends from an unknown past (say x) to 500 B.C.’’10 However, it is generally admitted that the teachings are indeed very ancient and were committed to writing centuries after their actual composition. Dr. Radhakrishnan writes, “An historical treatment of Indian philosophy has not been taken up by the great Indian thinkers themselves.”11 This was because the Vedic äcäryas themselves saw no need for further investigation, since the scriptures substantiate the basic history of their origin as follows: (1) The oral tradition began simultaneous to the cosmic creation, when the Supreme Being spoke Vedic knowledge to the first living being, Brahmä.12 (2) Vyäsadeva, a powerful literary incarnation of Bhagavän, recorded the Vedas at the beginning of the Kali millennium, some five thousand years ago.
Bhägavata Puräëa (S.B. 1.4.17–25) describes the sage Vyäsadeva in this way:
The great sage, who was fully equipped in knowledge, could see through his transcendental vision the deterioration of everything material due to the influence of the age [Kali-yuga]. He could see also that the faithless people in general would be reduced in duration of life and would be impatient due to lack of goodness.… He saw that the sacrifices mentioned in the Vedas were means by which the people’s occupations could be purified. And to simplify the process he divided the one Veda into four in order to expand them among men.… The historical facts and authentic stories mentioned in the Puräëas are called the fifth Veda. After the Vedas were divided into four divisions, Paila Åñi became the professor of the Åg Veda, Jaimini the professor of the Säma Veda, and Vaiçampäyana alone became glorified by the Yajur Veda. The Sumantu Muni Äìgirasa … was entrusted with the Atharva Veda … and Romaharñana was entrusted with the Puräëas and historical records. All these learned scholars, in their turn, rendered their entrusted Vedas unto their many disciples, grand-disciples, and great-grand-disciples, and thus the respective branches of the followers of the Vedas came into being. Thus, the great sage Vyäsadeva … edited the Vedas so they might be assimilated by less intellectual men. Out of compassion, the great sage thought it wise that this would enable men to achieve the ultimate goal of life. Thus, he compiled the great historical narration called the Mahäbhärata for women, laborers, and friends of the twiceborn [unqualified relatives of brähmaëas].13
According to this version, the çästras are not the works of many hands over thousands of years. Of course, scholars disagree with this account because it contradicts our present conception of ancient civilizations, but the followers of the Vedas accept the çästric statements as correct. Whatever version one accepts, a significant question remains. If the çästras are harmonious, why do they appear to highlight different aspects of the Absolute Truth? Bearing this question in mind, we now look at different parts of the Vedas themselves.
The Four Vedas
The word veda means “know” and denotes divine knowledge. The Vedas are mainly hymns, chanted by priests, in praise of the gods. For many centuries these hymns were not written down. The Åg Veda, “the Veda of praise,” consists of 1,017 hymns arranged in ten books. Most of the verses are in praise of Agni, the god of fire, and Indra, the god of rain and the heavens. Their use is confined to those trained in the disciplines of spiritual life. Known as the “sacrificial Veda,” the Yajur Veda contains instructions for performing sacrifices. The Säma Veda is the “Veda of chants” and consists of 1,549 verses, many of which also appear, in different contexts, within the Åg Veda. In particular, the Säma Veda praises the heavenly beverage, soma. The Atharva Veda contains chants and rites, often for healing sickness. Although the Vedic rituals are challengingly intricate, many scholars pass them off as savage incantations. Seeking to correct this view, Ainslee Embree writes, “Vedas means ‘hymns.’ They are not, then, the spiritual outpourings of the heart of primitive men at the dawn of history, as has sometimes been suggested; they are the achievement of a highly developed religious system.”14
Generally, people are attracted to the karma-käëòa portion, which deals mainly with fruitive activity for elevation to heavenly planets. It is stated that if one wants such material opulence one must perform the Vedic sacrifices. Ignorant of the actual Vedic siddhänta, many people have thought the karma-käëòa portions to be the ultimate.
The four Vedas encourage satisfaction of material desires through worship of the demigods. For instance, one who desires sex should worship the heavenly king Indra, and one who desires good progeny should worship the great progenitors called the Prajäpatis. One who desires good fortune should worship Durgädevé, and one who desires power should worship Agni, the god of fire. One who aspires for money should worship the Vasus, and one who desires a strong body should worship the earth. In any case, the Vedic literature depicts the demigods not as imaginary but as authorized agents of the supreme will who administer universal affairs. The functions of nature do not go on willy-nilly; for each aspect there is a personality in charge. Indra, for instance, allots rainfall, and Varuëa presides over the oceans.
We should note, however, that none of these gods—they number some thirty-three million—are ever equated with Bhagavän, the Supreme. Sacrificial hymns offered to the demigods generally conclude with the words oà tat sat. Åg Veda (188.8.131.52) states, oà tad visnoù paramaà padaà sadä paçyanti sürayaù: “The demigods are always looking to that supreme abode of Viñëu.”15 Bhagavad-gétä gives confirmation:
oà-tat-sad iti nirdeço
brahmaëas tri-vidhaù småtaù
brähmaëas tena vedäç ca
yajïäç ca vihitäù purä
From the beginning of creation, the three syllables oà tat sat have been used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth [Brahman]. They were uttered by brähmaëas while chanting the Vedic hymns and during sacrifices, for the satisfaction of the Supreme. [Bg. 17.23]
The three words oà tat sat indicate the Absolute Truth, the Supreme, Bhagavän (Viñëu). These words are uttered to assure the perfection of the sacrifice. Some scholars are surprised to find that the Puräëas describe Lord Viñëu (or, Lord Kåñëa) as the highest aspect of the Absolute Truth when supposedly the Vedas do not stress the point. And consequently many scholars conclude that Viñëu grew in popularity over the centuries. But actually the Vedas do stress the words oà tat sat, oà tad viñëoù. Whenever someone worshiped a demigod (Indra or Varuëa or whomever) he made obeisances to Viñëu for success. In Bhagavad-gétä, Kåñëa asserts that the benefits of the demigods are in actuality “bestowed by Me alone.” [Bg. 7the four Vedas deal mainly with material elevation, and because Viñëu is the Lord of liberation from material illusion, most sacrifices are to the demigods and not to Viñëu. Yet by reciting oà and oà tad viñëoù, even t=e followers of the karma-käëòa acknowledge Viñëu as the ultimate benefactor.
In Bhagavad-gétä Kåñëa criticizes the followers of the four Vedas who do not know the ultimate purpose of sacrifice—veda-väda-ratäù pärtha nänyad astéti vädinaù:
Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this. [Bg. 2.42]
The Vedic siddhänta established in Bhagavad-gétä corresponds to that of the four Vedas, although in the Vedas it is not so thoroughly developed. Nonetheless, there are many references in the four Vedas to the supremacy of the Supreme Bhagavän. Atharva Veda makes this statement: “The Supreme Person desired to create living entities, and thus Näräyaëa created all living beings. From Näräyaëa, Brahmä was born. Näräyaëa created all the Prajäpatis [the patriarchs]. Näräyaëa created Indra.”19 Also, yo brahmäëaà vidadhäti pürvaà yo vai vedäàç ca gäpayati sma kåñëaù: “It was Kåñëa who in the beginning instructed Brahmä in the Vedic knowledge and who disseminated Vedic knowledge in the past.”20 The Vedas specify, brahmaëyo devaké-putraù: “The son of Devaké, Kåñëa, is the Supreme Personality.”21 We also find, “In the beginning of the creation there was only the Supreme Personality Näräyaëa. There was no Brahmä, no Çiva, no fire, no moon, no stars in the sky, no sun. There was only Kåñëa, who creates all and enjoys all.”22
Bhagavän Kåñëa assessed the four Vedas in this way:
The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the self. [Bg. 2.45]
Although the karma-käëòa portions of the Vedas give direction for material aggrandizement, the Vedas are actually meant for elevation to transcendental life. When the karma-käëòa activities of sense gratification are finished, the chance for spiritual realization is offered in the form of the Upaniñads.
RVL 4.4: The Upaniñads
The Upaniñads are a collection of 108 philosophical dissertations. The word upa-ni-ñat means “sit closely” and refers to the disciple sitting closely beside his guru in order to receive transcendental Vedic wisdom. Thus, the Upaniñads mark the beginning of transcendental life.
The Upaniñads’ main contribution is that they establish the Absolute as nonmaterial. The Upaniñads describe Brahman as eternal, unmanifest reality from which all manifestations issue and in which they rest. Being inconceivable to material senses, Brahman is described as nirguëa (without qualities) and rüpa (formless). In the words of Båhad-äraëyaka Upaniñad (3.9.26), Brahman “is incomprehensible, for it is not comprehended.”24 Thus, the wisdom of the Upaniñads clearly transcends the karma-käëòa portions of the four Vedas, for “the religious aim is no longer the obtaining of earthly and heavenly happiness by sacrificing correctly to the gods, but the release, as a result of true knowledge, from rebirth by absorption in the Brahman.”25 Although the Upaniñads emphasize meditation upon the impersonal Brahman, they do not contradict the siddhänta epitomized in Bhagavad-gétä; the Upaniñads do not deny that the Absolute Truth has personality. While denying that the Godhead has material personality, the Upaniñads do assert the Godhead’s spiritual personality. For instance, the Çvetäçvatara Upaniñad (3.19) clearly explains that the Absolute Truth has no material legs and hands but has spiritual hands with which He accepts everything offered to Him; and that, similarly, Bhagavän has no material eyes, but He does have spiritual eyes that see all. Further, although He has no material ears, He hears all, and, possessing all-perfect spiritual senses, He knows past, present, and future.
There are many similar Vedic hymns establishing the Supreme Absolute Truth as a person beyond the material world. For instance, the Hayaçérña Païcarätra explains that although every Upaniñad first presents the Supreme Brahman as impersonal, at the end the personal form of Bhagavän emerges. As Éça Upaniñad indicates, the Supreme Absolute Truth is eternally both impersonal and personal. The invocation of the Båhad-äraëyaka Upaniñad states, “That [Supreme Being] is the whole—this [universe] is the whole. From the whole the whole comes forth.”26 Çvetäçvatara Upaniñad (3.8) states, “I know the great Puruña, who is luminous, like the sun, and beyond darkness.”27 The Aitareya Upaniñad (1.1.2) describes the supreme controller as the energetic cause of the creation: “He created these worlds.…”28 The Praçna Upaniñad (6.3) corroborates. The Kaöha Upaniñad affirms, “The Eternal among the eternals, the Consciousness among all consciousnesses … bestows the fruits [of activities to all the] jévas.…”29
In addition to Brahman and Bhagavän realization, the Upaniñads also speak about realization of the intermediate, localized form, the Paramätmä (Supersoul). The Muëòaka, Çvetäçvatara, and Kaöha Upaniñads state that within the heart of every living entity there reside both the individual atomic jéva and the Supersoul, the Paramätmä. They are like two birds sitting in the tree of the body. One of the birds (the individual jéva) is eating the fruit of the tree (that is, enjoying the senses), and the other bird (Paramätmä) is simply witnessing. The jiva’s forgetfulness of his relationship with the Paramätmä causes him to change his position from one tree to another (the process of transmigration). Both the Kaöha and Çvetäçvatara Upaniñads give a further comment: Although the two birds are in the same tree, the bird that is eating is fully engrossed as the enjoyer of the fruits of the tree. If, in some way or other, he turns his face to his friend, who is the Lord, and recognizes His glories, he is at once delivered from all anxieties.30
Throughout the Upaniñads we see that the individual jéva and the Paramätmä, the Supersoul, retain their separate individuality, although they attain a kind of oneness when the jéva agrees to act according to the Paramätmä’s will. Whatever the case, neither the Supreme Paramätmä nor the individual jéva ever loses individuality. This is important, because as we will later see, the concept of bhakti stressed in Bhagavad-gétä is lost if the jéva becomes one with the Supreme Brahman in all respects. In bhakti, a loving relationship develops between the individual jéva and the Supreme Person, Bhagavän. In no instance should we confuse the jéva with the supreme puruña. If one confuses these or attempts to merge them into one, he loses the ultimate siddhänta of the Vedic literature.
By describing the antimaterial quality (nirguëatva) of the Absolute, the Upaniñads prepare the way for a proper understanding of the transcendental personality (Bhagavän) who possesses all spiritual opulences and is the ultimate object of all meditation and bhakti (devotion).
RVL 4.5: Vedänta-sütra
Vedänta-sütra consists of codes revealing the method of understanding Vedic knowledge, and it is the most concise form of all Vedic knowledge. According to the Väyu and Skanda Puräëas, “A sütra is a code that expresses the essence of all knowledge in a minimum of words. It must be universally applicable and faultless in its linguistic presentation.”31
Scholars know the Vedänta-sütra by a variety of names, including (1) Brahma-sütra, (2) Çäréraka, (3) Vyäsa-sütra, (4) Bädaräyaëa-sütra, (5) Uttara-mémäàsä and (6) Vedänta-darçana. There are four chapters (adhyäyas) in the Vedänta-sütra and four divisions (padas) in each chapter. Thus, Vedänta-sütra is known as çoòaça-pada because it contains sixteen divisions of codes. The theme of each division is fully described in terms of five different subject matters (adhikaraëas), which are technically called pratijïä, hetu, udäharaëa, upanaya, and nigamana. Every theme must necessarily be explained with reference to pratijïä, or a solemn declaration of the purpose of the treatise. At the beginning of the Vedänta-sütra there is the solemn declaration of purpose, athäto brahma-jijïäsä: “Now is the time to inquire about the Absolute Truth.” Reasons (hetu) must be expressed, examples (udäharaëa) must be given in terms of various facts, the theme (upanaya) must gradually be brought nearer for understanding, and finally it must be supported by authoritative quotations (nigamana) from the Vedic çästras.
According to the great lexicographer Hemacandra (also known as Koçakära), Vedänta comprises the purport of the Upaniñads, which are themselves part of the Brähmaëa portions of the Vedas.32 As Professor Apte describes in his dictionary, the Brähmaëa portion provides the rules for employing hymns at various sacrifices and gives detailed accounts of the hymns’ origins.33 (The mantra portion, on the other hand, contains the hymns themselves.) So Hemacandra said that the Vedänta-sütra forms the supplement of the Vedas. Since Veda means “knowledge,” and anta means “the end,” Vedänta provides the proper understanding of the Vedas’ ultimate purpose. We may again note that the Upaniñads, which are themselves parts of the Vedas’ Brähmaëa portion, support the knowledge given in the codes of the Vedänta-sütra.
RVL 4.6: The Histories (Itihäsas)
The Histories (Itihäsas)
The histories, or Itihäsas, are supplementary Vedic literatures. They include the Mahäbhärata and the Puräëas. Because the Vedic rituals are hard to understand and the Vedänta-sütra is compressed and highly philosophical, the histories offer Vedic knowledge in the form of stories and historical incidents. The Chändogya Upaniñad refers to the Mahäbhärata and Puräëas as the fifth Veda.34
The Vedic äcäryas consider the stories in the Puräëas to be actual histories, not just of this planet but of many planets within the universe. Undoubtedly, some of the historical data taken from other planets does not accord with life on this planet (for example, fabulously long life spans or the ability to fly without mechanical aid). But there is no reason for regarding the Puräëas as later additions. What may be incomprehensible is not necessarily inauthentic. A. Embree writes, “The Puräëas … were depicting their understanding of the universe, where the supernatural was commonplace, miraculous births were ordinary.”35 Followers of the Puräëas argue that considering the situations of different planets and differences in time and circumstance, one should not find the Puräëas difficult to understand. In other words, “It is high time that the scholars give up their prejudices and give the Puräëas a due place as a source on ancient Indian history.”36 Advocates of the Puräëas argue that the great åñi Vyäsadeva did not inject imaginary tales in his literature. Vyäsadeva and the great äcäryas contemporary to and following him—Çukadeva, Süta, Maitreya, and, more recently, Rämänuja and Madhva—accepted the Puräëas as authentic Vedic literature.
The Puräëas mainly deal with the superhuman activities of Bhagavän and His various incarnations in various ages. Also chronicled are the activities of the sages and devotees of Bhagavän. Although there is no strict historical chronology to these Puranic stories, the Vedic äcäryas do not consider them imaginary. Modern historians look in vain for a key to understanding them, and ultimately frustrated, the historians at last offer theories about their compilation.
The Mahäbhärata, the story of “the greater kingdom of Bhäratavarña,” describes the history of the ancient world empire. Comprising some 100,000 four-line stanzas, the Mahäbhärata is the longest poem in world literature, and Vedic tradition certifies it as the work of Vyäsadeva. This epic relates how the pious Päëòavas overthrew the demoniac dynasty of the Kurus. The Kurus cheated the Päëòava brothers of their right to the throne, exiled them to a forest, and on their return denied them their land. The work centers on the ensuing eighteen-day battle between the sons of Kuru and their cousins, the sons of Päëòu. Sometimes called the “Veda of Kåñëa,” the Mahäbhärata highlights Bhagavän Kåñëa—especially in its main segment, Bhagavad-gétä.
There are eighteen major Puräëas, six composed for people in the mode of ignorance, six for those in the mode of passion, and six for those in the mode of goodness. Of all the Puräëas, the Bhägavata Puräëa is foremost and most widely read. Also, the Bhägavata Puräëa (Çrémad-Bhägavatam) is considered the most direct commentary on the Vedänta-sütra, since Vyäsadeva is the author of both.
As its main subject matter, the Bhägavatam portrays Bhagavän Kåñëa and His associates and devotees. The other Puräëas also delineate different methods by which one can worship the demigods, but Bhägavatam discusses only the Supreme Bhagavän. Its opening verse (janmädy asya yataù) corresponds to the opening verse of Vedänta-sütra and indicates that Vyäsadeva is writing directly about the Absolute Truth, the source of all emanations.37 Since it centers on the worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavän Çré Kåñëa, one may say that Çrémad-Bhägavatam transcends the karma-käëòa sections of the Vedas (dealing with sacrifices for material gain), the jïäna-käëòa sections (dealing with philosophical inquiries), and the upäsanä-käëòa sections (dealing with demigod worship). Çrémad-Bhägavatam (1.2.6) itself defines the highest path in this way: “That religion is best which causes its followers to become ecstatic in love of God, which is unmotivated and free from material impediments, for this only can satisfy the self.”38
Sometimes the bhakti path indicated by this verse draws the criticism that it is intended for those who cannot pursue higher philosophy. But according to the Bhägavatam itself (S1.2.12), real bhakti must be based on a realization of all Vedic literature (in other words, bhakti must develop in pursuance of Vedänta philosophy): “The Absolute Truth is realized by the seriously inquisitive student or sage who is well-equipped with knowledge and who has become detached by rendering devotional service and hearing the Vedänta-sütra.”39
As George Hart writes, “The Bhägavata Puräëa is among the finest works of devotion ever written, being equalled in my opinion only by other works in the Indian language.”40 Nonetheless, one must understand Çrémad-Bhägavatam in the light of Vedänta philosophy. Vedänta-sütra explains the Absolute Truth through impeccable logic and argument, and Çrémad-Bhägavatam is an elaborate commentary upon the Vedänta-sütra. Generally, professional reciters of Çrémad-Bhägavatam dwell upon the räsa-lélä section, which describes Kåñëa’s famous dance with the damsels of Våndävana. Taken out of context, this section (Tenth Canto, Chapters 29-35) actually becomes an obstacle to one’s understanding of Bhagavän Kåñëa and the Vedic siddhänta.
Çrémad-Bhägavatam takes up where Bhagavad-gétä leaves off. Bhagavad-gétä affirms that if one knows about the transcendental appearance and activities of Bhagavän Kåñëa, he can be liberated from the cycle of birth and death. [Bg. 4.9] Çrémad-Bhägavatam begins with the acknowledgement of Bhagavän Kåñëa as the cause of all causes and then goes on to narrate the transcendental pastimes from Kåñëa’s appearance to His disappearance. Thus, Çrémad-Bhägavatam is sometimes called the postgraduate study of Bhagavad-gétä.
Çrémad-Bhägavatam centers on Bhagavän Kåñëa as the ultimate Vedic and Vedäntic conclusion. Since only Bhagavän Kåñëa exhibits the complete features of the Godhead, He is confirmed as the source of all incarnations, including the expansions of Viñëu. Ete cäàça-kaläù puàsaù kåñëas tu bhagavän sväyam—Bhagavän Kåñëa is the summum bonum. That is Bhägavatam’s predominant theme.42 Now let us see how this siddhänta corresponds to the teachings of the äcäryas.
RVL 5: The Teachings of the Acaryas
5. The Teachings of the Acaryas
An äcärya is a teacher of Vedic knowledge. He imparts the teachings of the çästras and himself lives by those teachings. For centuries the äcäryas have guided the destiny of the Vedic culture. Generally, people trust the instructions of the Vedic äcäryas because these teachers afford perfect examples in their own actions. In addition, the care of the Vedic paramparä (the passing down of Vedic knowledge) has always been entrusted to the äcäryas; therefore, they are the personal representatives of that knowledge. Although an äcärya speaks according to the time and circumstance in which he appears, he upholds the original conclusion, or siddhänta, of the Vedic literature.
Çaìkara (A.D. 788-820) was a Shaivite (follower of Çiva) born in an orthodox South Indian brähmaëa family. When still a young boy, he became an ascetic and, it appears, compiled his two major works (Viveka-cuòämaëi and Çäréraka-bhäñya). He traveled widely over India and died in the Himalayas at age thirty-two.
At the time Çaìkara appeared, Buddhism had received the patronage of the Indian emperor Açoka and had thus spread throughout India. Çaìkara sought to reform and purify religious life by reasserting the authority of the Vedic scriptures, which Buddha had completely rejected.
Çaìkara’s interpretation of Vedic literature is known as advaita-vedänta (nondualistic Vedänta) because he posited that the jéva is identical with God. Although there are many çästric statements describing the Absolute Truth as the Supreme Person and the jévas as His subordinate, eternal parts, Çaìkara taught that the jévas are themselves the Absolute Truth (Parabrahman) and that there is ultimately no variety, individuality, or personality in spiritual existence. He taught that the supposed individuality of both the Supreme Being and the jéva is false.
In denying the plurality of jévas, Çaìkara differed from all orthodox Vedic schools. Further, Çaìkara held that questions about the origin of the cosmos are unanswerable and that the nature of mäyä is inexplicable. To account for the Vedic verses describing éçvara, the Supreme Person, as the cause of all causes, Çaìkara developed a twofold theory of Brahman. For him, there were two aspects of Brahman—the pure impersonal Brahman and the Brahman manifest in the universe as the Lord. In order to arrive at this conclusion, Çaìkara reinterpreted or rejected most of the Vedic småti, and he pointedly contradicted Bhagavad-gétä and the Puräëas by equating jéva and Bhagavän. Ostensibly, Çaìkara accepted the authority of Bhagavad-gétä, but his interpretations of the verses opposed the clear siddhänta of the Gétä.
Thus, Çaìkara’s philosophy is sometimes considered a compromise between theism and atheism. Since it would have been impossible to restore the Vedic literature’s theistic conception just after the Buddhists’ complete atheism, Çaìkara made a logical compromise to fit the time and circumstance. His interpretations resemble Buddhism, but he rested his case on the authority of Vedic literature. Çaìkara lived only thirty-two years, but wherever in India he traveled, his philosophy prevailed and Buddhism bowed.
Over a long Period, Çaìkara’s Säréraka-bhäñya was for many the definitive rendition of Vedänta, and for some scholars (notably Radhakrishnan and Moore in A Source Book in lndian Philosophy) it remains so. Troy Organ expresses another viewpoint:
This line of thought has unfortunately been given support by many philosophers of the West who have been advised that nondual Vedänta is a true picture and the supreme development of Hinduism. This must be written off as a form of special pleading of a noble and brash form of living Hinduism.1
RVL 5.2: Rämänuja
Rämänuja (A.D. 1017-1137) was a South Indian brähmaëa who taught and traveled widely. For a time he was the chief priest of the Vaiñëava temple of Çré Raìga, in southern India. This temple is located on an island at the confluence of the Käveré and Kolirana rivers, near Tricinapallé, in the district of Taïjora. Rämänuja wrote three major commentaries: Vedärtha-saìgraha (on the Vedas), Çré-bhäñya (on Vedänta-sütra), and Bhagavad-gétä-bhäñya (on the Bhagavad-gétä). He is best known for his robust presentation of Vaiñëavism (worship of Viñëu, or Bhagavän) and for his opposition to the impersonal monism of Çaìkara.
Rämänuja expounded viçiñöädvaita, or qualified nondualism. He taught that there is a difference between Parabrahman (Supreme Brahman) and the jévas (eternally fragmentary souls). Not accepting Çaìkara’s elimination of the loving relationship (bhakti) between the Supreme and the jévas, Rämänuja sought to expose Çaìkara’s philosophical contradictions and his defiance of the Vedic siddhänta. On the other hand, Rämänuja accepted the Vedic statements concerning the qualitative oneness of the Supreme and the jévas. He thus presented his philosophy of qualified oneness by giving logical reasons to show that the Absolute includes both what is changing (the material world and the jévas caught up in saàsära) and what is changeless (the transcendental Lord).
By way of analogy, Rämänuja discussed the relation between the body and the soul: just as the jéva controls his body, God controls the material world and the jévas within it; just as the body is an instrument for the jéva, the material cosmos is an instrument for God. After liberation, the self exists eternally in a spiritual body; whereas the soul experiences events, the material body simply determines the kind of experiences the soul goes through. Rämänuja also described that the body and soul cannot be separated; either materially every living body has a self (ätmä), or by his karma every self has a certain type of body. After liberation, the self also exists eternally in a spiritual body. The soul experiences, but the body doesn’t, although the body determines the kind of experiences the soul goes through. By the analogy of inseparable body and soul, the Supreme Lord is understood to be both Supreme Soul and the cosmos. In this way, adhering to Vedic principles, Rämänuja explained the variegated material world as part of the Absolute Truth. The eternal, unchanging nature of the Absolute (that is, of the Supreme Lord) does not contradict His maintaining the changing material world. Rämänuja taught that through God’s grace the jéva can transcend the material world and attain the eternal abode of Viñëu.
RVL 5.3: Madhva
Like Rämänuja, Madhva (A.D. 1239–1319) belonged to the Vaiñëava tradition and devoted himsel= to combating Çaìkara’s impersonal philosophy. Madhväcärya’s Pürëaprajïa-bhäñya establishes a type of Vedänta philosophy called çuddha-dvaita (pure dualism). In his teachings Madhva describes three entities—the Supreme Lord, the jéva, and the material world. Even more emphatically than Rämänuja, Madhva maintained that God and the jévas are eternally distinct. Whereas Çaìkara had described the Lord as the material cause of the cosmos, Madhva accepted the direct meaning of the småti-çästras and held that the Lord is transcendental to the material world, which is the product of His inferior energy (aparä prakåti). In other words, God is distinct from His material creation. At the same time, the jévas are also distinct from matter, for they are the superior, spiritual energy of the Lord.
Madhva maintained that although the jévas are superior to matter, they are distinct from the Lord and are His servitors. Whereas the Lord is independent, the jévas are totally dependent on Him. Madhva taught that the Lord creates, maintains, and annihilates the cosmos, and at the same time, in His original eternal form as Bhagavän Kåñëa, the Lord remains superior to manifest and unmanifest matter. In addition, Madhva explained that each person molds his own karma, and that through bhakti one can eliminate all his karma and return to his original position of serving the Lord in the eternal spiritual world.
In the late sixteenth century, with the advent of Kåñëa Caitanya, in Bengal, Rämänuja’s and Madhva’s theistic philosophy of Vaiñëavism (worship of Viñëu, or Bhagavän) reached its climax. Caitanya’s philosophy of acintya-bhedäbheda-tattva completed the progression to devotional theism. Rämänuja had agreed with Çaìkara that the Absolute is one only, but he had disagreed by affirming individual variety within that oneness. Madhva had underscored the eternal duality of the Supreme and the jéva: he had maintained that this duality endures even after liberation. Caitanya, in turn, specified that the Supreme and the jévas are “inconceivably, simultaneously one and different” (acintya-bheda-abheda). He strongly opposed Çaìkara’s philosophy for its defiance of Vyäsadeva’s siddhänta.
In rejecting impersonalism, Caitanya said that it clouds the Vedic literature’s meaningexplained the direct meaning of the çästras as devotion (bhakti) to Bhagavän Kåñëa. Thus, Caitanya made an unprecedented contribution. Here was the possibility of a devotional relationship between God and man. Rüpa Gosvämé, an early disciple, described Caitanya’s unique gift: “O most munificent incarnation! You are Kåñëa Himself appearing as Çré Kåñëa Caitanya Mahäprabhu.… You are widely distributing pure love of Kåñëa. We offer our respectful obeisances unto you.”2
We know more about Kåñëa Caitanya than about the earlier äcäryas, thanks to such biographical sources as Çré Caitanya-caritämåta (A.D. 1616), by Kåñëadäsa Kaviräja Gosvämé. Caitanya (A.D. 1486–1534) was born in Navadvépa, Bengal. He took the renounced order (sannyäsa) at the age of twenty-four. His spiritual master, Éçvara Puré, was a disciple of Mädhavendra Puré who came in the line of Madhva. Caitanya’s immediate followers (the six Gosvämés: Rüpa, Sanätana, Jéva, Gopäla Bhaööa, Raghunätha Bhaööa and Raghunätha däsa) compiled extensive Sanskrit literatures and thus documented Caitanya’s philosophical system according to Vedic evidence. Himself, Caitanya wrote only eight verses, on the ecstasy of devotion to Kåñëa. His disciples understood Caitanya to be Bhagavän Kåñëa Himself appearing in the form of a devotee.
Some observers have charged Caitanya with introducing an erotic element into bhakti philosophy. What Caitanya actually taught was that the original and pure sex psychology exists in the person of the Absolute Truth, Bhagavän Kåñëa. The pure exchange of pleasure between the Supreme Bhagavän and His liberated servitors is characteristic of the highest spiritual relationship. This exchange is not tainted by mundane sex and cannot even be understood by a person still affected by material desire. When conditioned jévas try to understand the loving affairs of Bhagavän Kåñëa, they misconstrue Bhagavän Kåñëa as a mundane “god of love.” Himself a sannyäsé noted for strict avoidance of women and worldly affairs, Caitanya pointed out that the jéva’s relationship with Bhagavän Kåñëa is eternally pure and transcendental. His personality demonstrated conjugal longing for Kåñëa. Further, Caitanya taught that this conjugal mood is one of five original relationships between the jévas and Bhagavän. Finally, in Caitanya’s view anyone can attain transcendental devotion to Bhagavän (God) if he absorbs himself in chanting Bhagavän’s names.
RVL 6: Impersonalism Versus Theism
6. Impersonalism Versus Theism
In his Vedänta commentary Çäréraka-bhäñya, Çaìkara accepts the Vedic principle that beyond matter there is eternal, spiritual existence. Yet he insists that this existence is impersonal. So, as some have observed, Çaìkara at once accepts and rejects Vedic literature.
RVL 6.1: Basic Tenets of Çaìkara’s Vedanta Commentary:
Basic Tenets of Çaìkara’s Vedanta Commentary:
1) The Absolute Truth As Impersonal
According to the Vaiñëava äcäryas, the Absolute Truth would be incomplete without personality. Vedänta-sütra proposes, athäto brahma-jijïäsä: “Let us inquire into the Absolute Truth.” Then Vedänta-sütra defines the Absolute Truth thus: janmädy asya yataù: “The Absolute Truth is that from which everything is emanating.” So the Vaiñëava äcäryas deduce that the Absolute Truth, the source of all cosmic variety (living beings, planets, space, time, and so on) must also possess the qualities that are emanating. One such quality, of course, is personality. In other words, the Absolute Truth, or the complete whole (oà pürëam), must possess all the qualities of its parts.l The Vaiñëavas thus accept the threefold aspects of Brahman, Paramätmä, and Bhagavän (as defined in Chapter Three).
However, Çaìkara portrays the impersonal Brahman as ultimate, to the exclusion of Paramätmä and Bhagavän. He asserts that eternal existence is devoid of form, senses, activity, and individual consciousness. He disregards the Vedic account of a positive spiritual relationship between the liberated jéva and the Supreme Brahman, Parameçvara.
Some Çaìkarites maintain that a novice may think of the Absolute Truth as a person to facilitate meditation. In any case, Çaìkarites maintain that ultimately Brahman is formless. For Çaìkara and the Çaìkarites, the empirical world is an illusion, and Brahman alone is truth. Çaìkara advertised nirguëa (qualityless) Brahman as the only reality, but even the Upaniñads, which stress the impersonal Brahman, affirm the spiritual form, name, and personality of the Absolute Truth.
In Bhagavad-gétä Bhagavän Kåñëa affirms that He is the source of everything material and spiritual and that Brahman rests in Him.2 The Çaìkarites interpret the aham (“I”) of Bhagavad-gétä to refer to the impersonal Brahman, but the Vaiñëava theists contend that aham directly refers to the person Bhagavän. In other words, aham has a specific meaning and is not a vague term subject to interpretation.
Whereas the Vaiñëava followers of Vedänta embrace the philosophical method called mukhya-våtti (explanation by direct meaning), the Çaìkarite philosophers employ the method called gauna-våtti (explanation by indirect meaning). Mukhya-våtti means exact dictionary definition, whereas gauna-våtti, when misapplied, degenerates into word jugglery. The Vaiñëavas argue that if one accepts the Vedic authority on its own terms (as emanating from Näräyaëa Himself), there will be no scope for fanciful interpretation or indirect meaning. They consider the Vedic çästras to be apauruñeya, above the four defects of illusion, error, and so on; but Çaìkara boldly implies that in some of Vedänta-sütra’s codes, Vyäsadeva betrays a poor understanding of logic and grammar. On this basis, Çaìkara changes prefixes and suffixes in the original codes in order to make them consistent with the philosophy of Çäréraka-bhäñya.
The Çaìkarites try to negate material distress by merging with Brahman and extinguishing individual existence. Thus, according to the Vaiñëava theists, the Çaìkarites deny the jéva the opportunity to enjoy eternal variegated pleasure on the spiritual platform. For Çaìkara, after one becomes free from all material desires and realizes his spiritual identity he can merge with Brahman. According to the Vaiñëava theists, the jéva cannot remain merged in Brahman eternally. Äruhya kåcchreëa paraà padaà tataù patanty adho ’nädåta-yuñmad-aìghrayaù: Although by severe austerities impersonalist philosophers attain liberation from material activities and rise to Brahman, they must come down again to the material world due to having imperfect knowledge of the Absolute Truth.3 The Vaiñëavas contend that because the personal identity of the jéva is eternal, the jéva must either take up personal relationships birth after birth in material bodies or transcend material life and reestablish himself in his eternal personal relationship with the Supreme Bhagavän. In other words, the Vaiñëavas contend that eternal mokña is not possible outside one’s personal relationship with the Supreme Bhagavän.
2) Ätmä and Brahman Are One
Çaìkara gave great emphasis to the Sanskrit phrase tat tvam asi (“You are that also”), which alludes to the jéva’s qualitative oneness with the Supreme. To support his monistic interpretation, Çaìkara concluded that the living entity (ätmä or jéva) is equal in every respect to the Supreme Brahman. He therefore defined liberation (mokña) in terms of the jéva’s abandonment of his illusory sense of individuality and his subsequent merging into Brahman. Vedic literature does affirm that the jéva is not the body and that the sense of material individuality is due to mäyä’s influence. All transcendentalists proclaim ahaà brahmäsmi: “I am not the body; I am spirit soul,” as stated in the Båhad-äraëyaka Upaniñad (1.4.10). The theists, however, maintain that although the jéva is spirit, he is not identical in all ways with the all-pervading, omniscient Parabrahman. They maintain that although all jévas are Brahman, Bhagavän is the principal eternal amongst eternals (nityo nityänäm) and is beyond both the fallible and infallible.4 This is the philosophy of acintya-bhedäbheda-tattva, simultaneous oneness and difference. For the theist, the jévas are one in quality with the Supreme Brahman, but His quantity is infinite and theirs infinitesimal.
Çaìkara posited that all such distinctions are products of illusion and are false because the only truth is Brahman, the impersonal Absolute. Vaiñëava theists maintain that to substantiate this point, Çaìkara repeatedly defied the çästric siddhänta. Madhva elaborated the eternal distinction between the finite spirit soul and the Supreme Spirit and contested the theory of an impersonal Absolute in great detail. Rämänuja likened the supreme éçvara to a great fire and all the individual jévas to sparks in that fire. The theists maintain that the Vedic literature makes a clear distinction between the jévas and the Supreme, who are one in quality but not in quantity. The Vaiñëavas liken the individual jéva to a gold earring made of gold but at the same time distinct from the reservoir of gold, the gold mine. The theists maintain that Bhagavän Kåñëa proclaims eternal, spiritual individuality in Bhagavad-gétä when He tells Arjuna, “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” [Bg. 2.12]
The Vaiñëavas also maintain that bliss (änanda) cannot exist outside a relationship. The Vedänta-sütra (1.1.12) states änandamayo ’bhyäsät, which intimates that the Supreme Absolute is blissful in His loving exchanges with His parts and parcels. Richard Lannoy writes, “According to the bhakti mystics, perfect identity of ätman with Brahman in a state of pure isolation precludes the further possibility of a relation of love to God and can only lead to a condition of spiritual sterility.”6
Çaìkara also encouraged worshiping the deity form of various demigods (five in particular) for realizing the ultimate equality of the living being and the Supreme Lord. By worshiping a form composed of material energy, Çaìkara believed, one could realize the quality of Brahman behind the various forms. For Çaìkara, worship was a passing process meant to elevate one to impersonal unity. Of course, the Vaiñëava theists reject this position. They believe that one cannot equate the Supreme Bhagavän with the demigods or with one’s own self (ätmä). They distinguish between worship of the self, worship of the demigods, and worship of the Supreme Bhagavän. They cite the twelfth and thirteenth mantras of Éça Upaniñad to substantiate this position.7
The Vaiñëava theists argue that if the ätmä were actually the same as the Supreme, the ätmä could never fall into the illusion of material identity. In other words, “If I am Brahman, the greatest, why am I covered by ignorance?” Since the Vedic literatures do not admit that the Supreme is subject to such delusion, the Vaiñëava theists call the Çaìkarites Mäyävädés, indicating that they have inadvertently stated that mäyä (illusion) covers the potency of the Supreme. The theists maintain that it is impossible for the Supreme Bhagavän to be illusioned.
3) The Theory of Emanations Denied
Çaìkara denied that the Absolute Truth is the source of the material cosmos. In his refutation of Vyäsadeva’s original pariëäma-väda (the theory of the emanation of all existences from the Supreme Brahman), Çaìkara said that if the Absolute Truth expanded into the jévas, the universes, and all-pervading souls, His original nature would change. Since the Absolute Truth must be changeless, He cannot expand into different energies. In other words, if one tears a piece of paper into many pieces, the paper no longer exists as an individual entity. The Vaiñëava theists counter by citing the acintya-çakti, the inconceivable potencies of the Absolute. According to the Vedic version, the Supreme possesses inconceivable potencies by which He can distribute Himself throughout the universe as all-pervasive energy and yet remain the complete whole. In the words of Éça Upaniñad, “Because He is the complete whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.”8
The Vaiñëava äcäryas maintain that the Supreme Brahman must exist both as infinite whole and also as finite parts. If He were only infinite, He could not be perfectly complete to reciprocate with His parts in transcendental bliss. If the puruña were formless and one, He would be like a king without subjects. Thus, the Vaiñëava äcäryas hold that the Supreme Bhagavän is the energetic source of all energies (janmädy asya) and that His energies are constantly changing, or transforming. Through his indirect interpretation, Çaìkara contended that if the Absolute Truth were in any way transformed, His oneness would be no more. The Vaiñëava theists point out that Çaìkara contradicts Vyäsadeva: according to the latter’s version, it is the by-product or energy of the Supreme that is transformed, and not the Supreme; the Supreme always remains whole and complete. Thus, in the Vaiñëava view, Çaìkara’s alteration of the theory of emanations was an attempt to establish impersonalism by discrediting the Vedic conception.
4) The Theory of Illusion
Çaìkara substituted for pariëäma-väda his own vivarta-väda, or theory of illusion. Maintaining that the material world has no reality, he stated brahma satyaà jagan mithyä: “Brahman is real; the universe is false.” Çaìkarites often give the example that seeing the world as real is like mistaking a rope for a snake, but Vaiñëavas object that the nonreality of the material cosmos is not substantiated by Vedic çästra. In Bhagavad-gétä Kåñëa explicitly states that material nature is His “divine energy” and is under His control. Practically speaking, the conditioned soul has to deal with the material world; he cannot simply say that it does not exist. For the Vaiñëavas, the universe has a dual purpose. The jévas can enjoy their senses under the spell of mäyä, and eventually they can see their folly, reform, attain liberation, and finally return to their spiritual nature. The material world is a stage for this drama. It is real in that it is the energy of the Supreme, and it is illusory in that it is temporary. A mirage presupposes the existence of real water. A rope mistaken for a snake presupposes the existence of a real snake. The conditioned jévas mistakenly consider the material world their real home, but the Vaiñëavas maintain that their eternal home of friendship and love is the spiritual world of the Supreme Bhagavänhis Gétä-bhäñya, Çaìkara himself called Bhagavän Kåñëa transcendental to the material cosmos (näräyaëaù paro ’vyaktät). But rallying around the theory of illusion and virtually rejecting the supremacy of Bhagavän, the Çaìkarites (Mäyävädés) have created a subtle form of atheism garbed as Vedic knowledge.
Although the Çaìkarites do not accept the original Vedänta-sütra without Çaìkara’s commentaries, there are a number of other major commentaries to Vedänta, including those of Rämänuja and Madhva and the acintya-bhedäbheda-tattva of Caitanya. Apart from these, as the Vaiñëavas point out, the most direct commentary on Vedänta-sütra comes from its author, Vyäsadeva. That is the Bhägavata Puräëa. Supportive evidence is found in the Garuòa Puräëa: sarva-vedänta-säraà hi çré-bhägavatam iñyate.
RVL 6.2: The Real Çaìkara
The Real Çaìkara
The Padma Puräëa discloses that Çaìkara is an incarnation of Lord Çiva. In that work, Lord Çiva makes this intimation to his wife Pärvaté:
My dear wife, hear my explanations of how I have spread ignorance through Mäyäväda philosophy. Simply by hearing it, even an advanced scholar will fall down. In this philosophy, which is certainly very inauspicious for people in general, I have misrepresented the real meaning of the Vedas and recommended that one give up all activities in order to achieve freedom from karma. In this Mäyäväda philosophy I have described the jévätmä and Paramätmä to be one and the same. The Mäyäväda philosophy is impious. It is covered Buddhism. My dear Pärvaté, in the form of a brähmaëa in Kali-yuga I teach this imagined Mäyäväda philosophy. In order to cheat the atheists, I describe the Supreme Personality of Godhead to be without form and without qualities. Similarly, in explaining Vedänta I describe the same Mäyäväda philosophy in order to mislead the entire population toward atheism by denying the personal form of the Lord.9
Naturally, the question arises, “Why would Lord Çiva do such a thing?” According to the çästras, he was simply following orders. In the Çiva Puräëa, the Supreme Bhagavän told Lord Çiva, “In Kali-yuga, mislead the people in general by propounding imaginary meanings from the Vedas to bewilder them.”10
Thus, the Vedas indicate, Çaìkara took up the impersonalist guise so that he could discharge the duty given him by the Supreme Lord: to discredit the Buddhists and to reassert Vedic authority. Within his lifetime, Çaìkara revealed a number of times that he was actually a highly advanced devotee of the Supreme Bhagavän. He never denied the spiritual form known as sac-cid-änanda-vigraha, the eternal, all-blissful form of knowledge existing before the material creation. Indeed, in the very first verse of his Gétä-bhäñya, he asserts that Näräyaëa, the Supreme Bhagavän, is transcendental to the material creation. In his Meditation on the Bhagavad-gétä, he writes, namo ’stu te vyäsa: “Salutations to thee, O Vyäsa. Thou art of mighty intellect, and thine eyes are as large as the petals of the full-blown lotus. It was thou who brightened this lamp of wisdom, filling it with the oil of the Mahäbhärata.”11 He describes Bhagavän Kåñëa as the guru of the universe and teacher of all the worlds and offers his obeisances, kåñëäya gitämåta-duhe namaù: “Salutations to thee, O Supreme Lord, for Thou art the milker of the ambrosia of the Gétä.’’12 As Çaìkara also points out, vedaiù säìga-pada-kramopaniñädaiù: it is Bhagavän Kåñëa “whose glories are sung by the verses of the Vedas, of whom the singers of the Säma sing, and of whose glories the Upaniñads proclaim in full choir.”13
There are also a number of works, such as Prayers for Kåñëa, in which Çaìkara discloses his knowledge of bhakti-yoga in relation to Bhagavän. One of his last statements has become famous:
bhaja govindaà bhaja govindaà
bhaja govindaà müòha-mate
sampräpte sannihite käle na hi
na hi rakñati òukåì-karaëe
He is saying, “You intellectual fools, just worship Govinda, just worship Govinda, just worship Govinda. Your grammatical knowledge and word jugglery will not save you at the time of death.” This was Çaìkara’s last advice; it was for all those who would become confused by intellectual wrangling and miss the actual Vedic siddhänta.
7. The Vedic Social Philosophy
RVL 7.1: Hinduism
As Ainslee T. Embree has noted, the words “Hindu” and “Hinduism” are not found in the Vedic literature:
The physical setting is the land known to the Western world since ancient times as India, a word borrowed by the Greeks from the Persians, who, because of the difficulty they had with the initial “s” called the great Sindhu River (the modern Indus) the “Hindu.” It was this word that came to be applied by foreigners to the religion and culture of the people who lived in the land watered by the two rivers, the Indus and the Ganges, although the people themselves did not use the term.1
Of course, “Hindu” and “Hinduism” have come into very wide use, and every dictionary defines Viñëu as “the Hindu god,” although no äcärya or scripture ever used the word. “Hindu religion” is also the name applied to describe all kinds of social, cultural, nationalistic, and religious activities, many of which are non-Vedic. To denote genuine Vedic society, the çästras use the word “Aryan.” For the followers of the Vedas, human advancement meant advancing toward spiritual realization, and a community with spiritual goals was known as an Aryan community. The Aryan social institution became known as varëäçrama-dharma, which arranges society in eight groupings. We shall now examine Vedic social philosophy in the practical terms of varëäçrama-dharma.
The God-centered Society
Sociologist Pitirim Sorokin might describe varëäçrama society in his own terminology as an “ideational culture,” that is, a culture whose world view is primarily metaphysical instead of sensate or sensual. The first mantra of Iça Upaniñad provides this ideational culture’s basic idea:
Everything animate or inanimate within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.2
This is the motto of the éçäväsya, God-centered, society. Éça refers to the Supreme Absolute Person, Bhagavän.
According to this view, the jévas do not own anything. Nor can the community or state assume ownership. As Éça Upaniñad explains, nature has designated for each species an allotment ample both for survival and for peace and happiness. By instinct, animals adhere to these natural regulations in their eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, but human beings have the unique propensity to enjoy and possess things beyond their natural allotment. The Vedas direct man to follow the natural regulations. Varëäçrama-dharma upholds that by divine arrangement everyone will receive his necessities, and that there will be no scarcity, provided that humanity lives in its natural, sane condition.
Houston Smith points out that religions have to become socially active if they are to remain relevant, but that they must not break away from “religion’s earlier concerns” if they are to remain religious.3 According to the conception of éçäväsya, found in Éça Upaniñad, both material needs and transcendental aspirations find fulfillment in a God-centered society. There was no problem of hunger or unemployment under the rule of the Vedic räjarñis (saintly kings), nor was there heavy industrialization that created artificial needs. The goal of the éçäväsya society was not merely peaceful material life but full opportunity for all to attain liberation from saàsära.
RVL 7.3: Dharma—Artha—Käma—Mokña
Vedic literature prescribes religion (dharma), economic development (artha), sense gratification (käma), and liberation (mokña). A society is not considered civilized if it does not pursue these goals in a regulated fashion. The Bhägavata Puräëa (S.B. 4.22.34) clarifies:
Those who strongly desire to cross the ocean of nescience must not associate with the modes of ignorance [tamas] because hedonistic activities are the greatest obstructions to realization of religious principles, economic development, regulated sense gratification and, at last, liberation. The Vedic literature describes eating, sleeping, mating, and defending as being common to the human being and the animal. Dharma, however, is the human being’s special prerogative. 4
Those who desire material gain execute pious activities and perform religious functions recommended in the Vedas. Petitioning God for material benefit may not be pure bhakti, but it is a common phenomenon. The Vedas encourage recognition of Bhagavän’s proprietorship, and artha, economic development, as the goal of religion in the material context. Economic gain is necessary for increased sense gratification (käma), and liberation from material life (mokña) becomes attractive when one is disillusioned with the temporary happiness of sense gratification. Of the four activities, liberation is considered most important. “Out of the four principles—namely, religion, economic development, sense gratification, and liberation—liberation has to be taken very seriously. The other three are subject to destruction by the stringent law of nature—death.”5
RVL 7.4: Varëäçrama-dharma
The Vedic literature confirms that varëäçrama-dharma has been existing since time immemorial. It proceeds not from man but from Bhagavän Kåñëa Himself, who states in Bhagavad-gétä, cätur-varëyam mayä såñöaà guëa-karma-vibhägaçaù: “According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me.” [Bg. 4.13] In other words, the varëäçrama system has existed from the dawn of civilization. The Viñëu Puräëa explains further:
puruñeëa paraù pumän
viñëur ärädhyate panthä
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Viñëu, is worshiped by the proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varëa and äçrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One must be situated in the institution of the four varëas and äçramas” (Viñëu Puräëa 3.8.9).7
The four varëas (social orders) include (1) the brähmaëas, teachers and spiritual advisors; (2) the kñatriyas, administrators and warriors; (3) the vaisyas, farmers and businessmen; and (4) the çüdras, laborers and craftsmen. These varëas are not political or social factions; they are natural categories to be found in every human civilization.
According to the Vedic conception, in every community throughout the world there are intellectuals (those motivated by goodness, or sattva-guëa), militarists and politicians (those motivated by passion, or rajo-guëa), farmers and businessmen (those motivated by both passion and ignorance), and common laborers (those motivated by ignorance, or tamo-guëa). The advocates of varëäçrama-dharma maintain that although the system may deteriorate into hereditary casteism, its original form emanates from the Supreme Bhagavän and is therefore sound and congenial. In fact, society becomes successful only when these natural orders cooperate for spiritual realization. The Bhägavata Puräëa (S.B. 1.2.13) says this: “it is therefore concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve, by discharging his prescribed duties [dharma] according to caste divisions and order of life, is to please the Lord Hari [the Supreme Bhagavän].”8
In addition to the four varëas, there are four äçramas, or spiritual orders. These are (1) brahmacarya (celibate student life), (2) gåhastha (married householder life), (3) vänaprastha (retired life), and (4) sannyäsa (renounced life).
The Aryans regarded the varëäçrama institution as the ideal material instrument by which mankind could rise to the spiritual platform. If everyone pleased God by his occupational service, there would be peace and prosperity in society, and the individual could finally attain mokña. As varëäçrama-dharma exists in its present corrupt form in India, people claim to be brähmaëas and kñatriyas by birth alone, even though they may not personally possess the qualities of brähmaëas or kñatriyas In Bhagavad-gétä Kåñëa specifically states that He created the four orders according to guëa and karma, not according to birth. By these criteria, it is safe to say that in the present age of Kali a pure varëäçrama-dharma society has not yet existed.
According to the Vedic literature, in ages past the varëäçrama-dharma was not simply a token conception but a worldwide system. Its most important ingredient for success was a strong, pious king who accepted advice from the brähmaëas. The Vedic histories relate that kings such as Påthu, Prahläda, Dhruva, Rämacandra, Yudhiñöhira and Parékñit ruled ideally for thousands of years. But, as foretold in the çästras, the present age of Kali has corrupted the pure varëäçrama-dharma outlined in the Vedic literature.
RVL 7.5: Duties in the Four Social Orders
Duties in the Four Social Orders
In the Vedic conception, the social body is analogous to the human body, or to the body of éçvara (Bhagavän). Accordingly, the brähmaëas are the head, the kñatriyas the arms, the vaiçyas the waist, and the çüdras the legs. In the social body, as in any other body, all parts are important, and no one neglects any part, yet the brain is especially important because it delivers information to the other parts.
Among the brahminical qualities, the çästras mention control of the mind and the senses, tolerance, simplicity, cleanliness, knowledge, truthfulness, devotion, and faith in the Vedic wisdom. The brähmaëas were teachers of all departments of Vedic knowledge, priests of Vedic functions, and recipients of charity. There is nothing in these descriptions to support Max Weber’s view that the brähmaëa was “similar … to the ancient sorcerer.”9 Weber creates an occult, primitive aura around the brähmaëa, whom he consistently described as using “magic” and “charisma.”10
According to varëäçrama philosophy, the brähmaëa was not a strange, spell-casting wizard but a gentleman of perfect behavior and genuine spiritual knowledge. Lannoy has this to say:
The spiritually perfected individual, however, is probably as widely idealized in India today as he ever was, even if few live up to the model. Nothing of comparable mass appeal has replaced him as the symbolic hub of the social wheel.11
Bhagavad-gétä also outlines the duties of the kñatriya (warrior and administrator): “Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership.…” [Bg. 18.43] The kñatriyas protected the helpless and gave gifts in charity. Although they were learned in the çästras, they never assumed the position of teachers. Their duty was to fight for a righteous cause. In Bhagavad-gétä, for instance, Arjuna did not want to fight, but Kåñëa urged him to fight because it was his duty as a kñatriya.
The çästra also describes the duties of the vaiçyas and çüdras: “Farming, protection of cows, and business are the qualities of work for the vaiçyas, and for the çüdras, there is labor and service to others.” [Bg. 18.44] According to Vedic çästra, the cow is associated with Bhagavän Kåñëa and His pastimes and is also one of man’s seven mothers. Therefore, by Aryan standards cow-killing is barbaric. As a king protects his human subjects, the vaiçyas protect the cows. The vaiçya is primarily an agriculturalist who raises grains and vegetables in village farms and tends cow herds. Vedic society was not advanced in industry and urbanization. According to the Vedic conception, one can live happily with a little land for growing his grains and grazing his cows. In this way, one’s economic problems are solved. For the vaiçyas, wealth meant not money but cows, grain, butter, and milk. Apparently these people were accustomed to jewelry, fine clothing, and even gold, and they often exchanged these things for agricultural products.
The çüdras rendered service to the other three classes. Çüdras were men without propensities for intellectual, military, or mercantile life. Nonetheless, in Bhagavad-gétä Kåñëa assures that every social order can attain the supreme goal: “Those who take shelter in Me, although they may be of lower birth—women, vaiçyas [merchants] as well as çüdras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.’’ [Bg. 9.32]
According to his karma, the jéva attains a body situated in the modes of nature. Spiritually, the caste distinctions—as well as all other material distinctions—do not exist. At the same time, such material distinctions enable everyone in society to engage fully in serving and satisfying the Supreme Bhagavän.
RVL 7.6: Duties in the Four Spiritual Orders
Duties in the Four Spiritual Orders
The first order one enters is brahmacarya, celibate student life. According to the Vedic teacher Yäjïavalkya, “The vow of brahmacarya helps one to abstain from sex indulgence in works, words, and mind—at all times, under all circumstances, and in all places.” Therefore, one observes brahmacarya from childhood, when he has no knowledge of sex. At age five, children go to gurukula, the residence of the spiritual master, and the master trains them in the strict discipline of brahmacarya.
Brahmacäré training forms one’s character for his whole life. During these early years, the spiritual master takes note of the student’s propensities and determines the varëa for which he is best suited. When a boy reaches twenty-five, he may leave brahmacäré life and the protection of the spiritual master in order to get married and take up household life. The idea is that, having undergone brahmacäré training, he will in no circumstance become the victim of unrestricted sex.
The Vedic moralist Cäëakya Paëòita says that the educated man sees every woman except his own wife as his mother, he sees others’ property as garbage in the street, and he treats everyone as he would like to be treated himself.
In the Vedic conception, restriction of sex is vital, because the sex drive is the most binding material desire. Because of sex attachment, one returns to the material world and undergoes material miseries in lifetime after lifetime. To be sure, the varëäçrama system does accommodate the jéva’s deep-rooted desire for sense gratification. In essence, the varëäçrama system provides a life pattern in which one can satisfy his desires and in which also, through regulation, one can gradually detach himself from material bondage.
The gåhastha (householder) has some license for sense pleasure not allowed in the other three äçramas, but everything is regulated so that he can fulfill his desires and yet become spiritually purified. In a gåhastha marriage, sex is allowed only for producing good children. Although the gåhastha-äçrama provides license for sex pleasure, the Vedas enjoin that one should not become a mother or father unless one can free his dependents from death. Purification of the child’s existence begins at the time of conception in the mother’s womb. In the garbhädhäna-saàskära ritual, the parents express their intention to beget a child, and they perform a ceremony to purify their consciousness prior to conception.
The third äçrama is called vänaprastha, or retired life. Even if one is ideally situated in the gåhastha-äçrama, one is advised to free oneself from all family connection at the age of fifty in order to prepare for the next life. Vänaprastha is an intermediate stage between gåhastha life and complete renunciation. In the vänaprastha-äçrama, the husband and wife discontinue sexual relations, but the wife may remain with the husband as his assistant. Ideally, they travel together to holy places of pilgrimage such as Hardwar, Håñékeça, Våndävana, and Puré. By traveling to these sanctified places, the vänaprasthas become detached from their home, family, and business affairs. Finally, the man breaks all family connections and takes up sannyäsa, the renounced order.
The sannyäsé is the spiritual master of all the varëas and äçramas, and one who follows the Vedic injunctions is duty-bound to show him respect. Because he is the embodiment of renunciation, the sannyäsé is held in the highest esteem. If one is prepared to take sannyäsa, he approaches a sannyäsé and asks to receive the renounced order by Vedic ceremony. After he formally takes sannyäsa, he shaves his head, wears simple saffron robes, and carries a sannyäsé’s staff (daëòa). He is considered civilly dead, and his wife, left in the charge of her older children, officially becomes a widow.
However, family ties are so strong that the new sannyäsé is first allowed to live in a cottage some distance from his home and accept food sent by his family. Hence, kuöécaka is the first of the four progressive stages of sannyäsa (kuöécaka means “one who lives in a cottage”). In the second stage (bahüdaka) one no longer accepts food from home, but goes to another village to preach Vedic knowledge. At this time he secures his meals by begging from door to door. In the third stage (parivräjakäcärya) the sannyäsé places himself completely at the mercy of the Supreme Bhagavän and travels extensively to give spiritual instruction to whomever he meets. In the final stage (paramahaàsa, or “swanlike man”) one has completely realized himself as the eternal servant of the Supreme Bhagavän and is able to instruct others in the art of bhakti-yoga, love of God.
The sannyäsé who remains alone and constantly meditates on the Supreme Bhagavän is called bhajanänandé. The sannyäsé who accepts disciples is called goñöhy-änandé. Of the goñöhy-änandé sannyäsé, Bhagavän Kåñëa makes this appraisal: “For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” [Bg. 18.68-69]
Taking into account people’s various positions in the modes of material nature, varëäçrama-dharma provides a scientific arrangement to elevate everyone. The ultimate goal of Vedic culture is surrender to the Supreme Bhagavän, and this surrender is the siddhänta governing Vedic literature and tradition.
RVL 8: Readings: ÇRÉ ÉÇA UPANIÑAD
8. ÇRÉ ÉÇA UPANIÑAD
INVOCATION. The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the complete whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the complete whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.
1. Everything animate or inanimate that is within the universe is controlled and owned by the Lord. One should therefore accept only those things necessary for himself, which are set aside as his quota, and one should not accept other things, knowing well to whom they belong.
2. One may aspire to live for hundreds of years if he continuously goes on working in that way, for that sort of work will not bind him to the law of karma. There is no alternative to this way for man.
3. The killer of the soul, whoever he may be, must enter into the planets known as the worlds of the faithless, full of darkness and ignorance.
4. Although fixed in His abode, the Personality of Godhead is swifter than the mind and can overcome all others running. The powerful demigods cannot approach Him. Although in one place, He controls those who supply the air and rain. He surpasses all in excellence.
5. The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.
6. He who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, who sees all entities as His parts and parcels and who sees the Supreme Lord within everything, never hates any thing nor any being.
7. One who always sees all living entities as spiritual sparks, in quality one with the Lord, becomes a true knower of things. What, then, can be illusion or anxiety for him?
8. Such a person must factually know the greatest of all, who is unembodied, omniscient, beyond reproach, without veins, pure and uncontaminated, the self-sufficient philosopher who has been fulfilling everyone’s desire since time immemorial.
9. Those who engage in the culture of nescient activities shall enter into the darkest region of ignorance. Worse still are those engaged in the culture of so-called knowledge.
10. The wise have explained that one result is derived from the culture of knowledge and that a different result is obtained from the culture of nescience.
11. Only one who can learn the process of nescience and that of transcendental knowledge side by side can transcend the influence of repeated birth and death and enjoy the full blessing of immortality.
12. Those who are engaged in the worship of demigods enter into the darkest region of ignorance, and still more so do the worshipers of the impersonal Absolute.
13. It is said that one result is obtained by worshiping the supreme cause of all causes and that another result is obtained by worshiping that which is not supreme. All this is heard from the undisturbed authorities who clearly explained it.
14. One should know perfectly the Personality of Godhead and His transcendental name, as well as the temporary material creation with its temporary demigods, men and animalsWhen one knows these, he surpasses death and the ephemeral cosmic manifestation with it, and in the eternal kingdom of God he enjoys his eternal life of bliss and knowledge.
15. O my Lord, sustainer of all that lives, Your face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Please remove that covering and exhibit Yourself to Your pure devotee.
16. O my Lord, O primeval philosopher, maintainer of the universe, O regulating principle, destination of the pure devotees, well-wisher of the progenitors of mankind—please remove the effulgence of Your transcendental rays so that I can see Your form of bliss. You are the eternal Supreme Personality of Godhead, like unto the sun, as am I.
17. Let this temporary body be burnt to ashes, and let the air of life be merged with the totality of air. Now, O my Lord, please remember all my sacrifices, and, because You are the ultimate beneficiary, please remember all that I have done for You.
18. O my Lord, powerful as fire, omnipotent one, now I offer You all obeisances and fall on the ground at Your feet. O my Lord, please lead me on the right path to reach You, and, since You know all that I have done in the past, please free me from the reactions to my past sins so that there will be no hindrance to my progress.
RVL 9: Readings: BHAGAVAD-GÉTÄ
RVL 9.1: Observing the Armies on the Battlefield of Kurukñetra
1/ Observing the Armies on the Battlefield of Kurukñetra
Comparing the opposing armies.
1. Dhåtaräñöra said: O Saïjaya, after my sons and the sons of Pandu assembled in the place of pilgrimage at Kurukñetra, desiring to fight, what did they do?
2. Saïjaya said: O King, after looking over the army arranged in military formation by the sons of Päëòu, King Duryodhana went to his teacher and spoke the following words.
3. O my teacher, behold the great army of the sons of Päëòu, so expertly arranged by your intelligent disciple the son of Drupada.
4. Here in this army are many heroic bowmen equal in fighting to Bhéma and Arjuna: great fighters like Yuyudhäna, Viräöa and Drupada.
5. There are also great heroic, powerful fighters like Dhåñöaketu, Cekitäna, Käçiräja, Purujit, Kuntébhoja and Çaibya.
6. There are the mighty Yudhämanyu, the very powerful Uttamaujä, the son of Subhadrä and the sons of Draupadé. All these warriors are great chariot fighters.
7. But for your information, O best of the brähmaëas, let me tell you about the captains who are especially qualified to lead my military force.
8. There are personalities like you, Bhéñma, Karëa, Kåpa, Açvatthämä, Vikarëa and the son of Somadatta called Bhüriçravä, who are always victorious in battle.
9. There are many other heroes who are prepared to lay down their lives for my sake. All of them are well equipped with different kinds of weapons, and all are experienced in military science.
10. Our strength is immeasurable, and we are perfectly protected by Grandfather Bhéñma, whereas the strength of the Päëòavas, carefully protected by Bhéma, is limited.
11. All of you must now give full support to Grandfather Bhéñma, as you stand at your respective strategic points of entrance into the phalanx of the army.
12. Then Bhéñma, the great valiant grandsire of the Kuru dynasty, the grandfather of the fighters, blew his conchshell very loudly, making a sound like the roar of a lion, giving Duryodhana joy.
13. After that, the conchshells, drums, bugles, trumpets and horns were all suddenly sounded, and the combined sound was tumultuous.
14. On the other side, both Lord Kåñëa and Arjuna, stationed on a great chariot drawn by white horses, sounded their transcendental conchshells .
15. Lord Kåñëa blew His conchshell, called Päïcajanya; Arjuna blew his, the Devadatta; and Bhéma, the voracious eater and performer of herculean tasks, blew his terrific conchshell, called Pauëòra.
16–18. King Yudhiñöhira, the son of Kunté, blew his conchshell, the Anantavijaya, and Nakula and Sahadeva blew the Sughoña and Maëipuñpaka. That great archer the King of Käçé, the great fighter Çikhandé, Dhrñöadyumna, Viräöa, the unconquerable Sätyaki, Drupada, the sons of Draupadé, and the others, O King, such as the mighty-armed son of Subhadrä, all blew their respective conchshells.
19. The blowing of these different conchshells became uproarious. Vibrating both in the sky and on the earth, it shattered the hearts of the sons of Dhåtaräñöra.
20. At that time Arjuna, the son of Päëòu, seated in the chariot bearing the flag marked with Hanumän, took up his bow and prepared to shoot his arrows. O King, after looking at the sons of Dhåtaräñöra drawn in military array, Arjuna then spoke to Lord Kåñëa these words.
Arjuna overwhelmed, refuses to fight, and gives his reasons.
21–22. Arjuna said: O infallible one, please draw my chariot between the two armies so that I may see those present here who desire to fight and with whom I must contend in this great trial of arms.
23. Let me see those who have come here to fight, wishing to please the evil-minded son of Dhåtaräñöra.
24. Saïjaya said: O descendant of Bharata, having thus been addressed by Arjuna, Lord Kåñëa drew up the fine chariot in the midst of the armies of both parties.
25. In the presence of Bhéñma, Droëa and all the other chieftains of the world, the Lord said: Just behold, Pärtha, all the Kurus assembled here.
26. There Arjuna could see, within the midst of the armies of both parties, his fathers, grandfathers, teachers, maternal uncles, brothers, sons, grandsons, friends, and also his fathers-in-law and well-wishers.
27. When the son of Kunté, Arjuna, saw all these different grades of friends and relatives, he became overwhelmed with compassion and spoke thus.
28. Arjuna said: My dear Kåñëa, seeing my friends and relatives present before me in such a fighting spirit, I feel the limbs of my body quivering and my mouth drying up.
29. My whole body is trembling, my hair is standing on end, my bow Gäëòéva is slipping from my hand, and my skin is burning.
30. I am now unable to stand here any longer. I am forgetting myself, and my mind is reeling. I see only causes of misfortune, O Kåñëa, killer of the Keçi demon.
31. I do not see how any good can come from killing my own kinsmen in this battle, nor can I, my dear Kåñëa, desire any subsequent victory, kingdom, or happiness.
32–35. O Govinda, of what avail to us are a kingdom, happiness or even life itself when all those for whom we may desire them are now arrayed on this battlefield? O Madhusüdana, when teachers, fathers, sons, grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law and other relatives are ready to give up their lives and properties and are standing before me, why should I wish to kill them, even though they might otherwise kill me? O maintainer of all living entities, I am not prepared to fight with them even in exchange for the three worlds, let alone this earth. What pleasure will we derive from killing the sons of Dhåtaräñöra?
36. Sin will overcome us if we slay such aggressors. Therefore it is not proper for us to kill the sons of Dhåtaräñöra and our friends. What should we gain, O Kåñëa, husband of the goddess of fortune, and how could we be happy by killing our own kinsmen?
37–38. O Janärdana, although these men, their hearts overtaken by greed, see no fault in killing one’s family or quarreling with friends, why should we, who can see the crime in destroying a family, engage in these acts of sin?
39. With the destruction of dynasty, the eternal family tradition is vanquished, and thus the rest of the family becomes involved in irreligion.
40. When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Kåñëa, the women of the family become polluted, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Våñëi, comes unwanted progeny.
41. An increase of unwanted population certainly causes hellish life both for the family and for those who destroy the family tradition. The ancestors of such corrupt families fall down, because the performances for offering them food and water are entirely stopped.
42. By the evil deeds of those who destroy the family tradition and thus give rise to unwanted children, all kinds of community projects and family welfare activities are devastated
43. O Kåñëa, maintainer of the people, I have heard by disciplic succession that those who destroy family traditions dwell always in hell.
44. Alas, how strange it is that we are preparing to commit greatly sinful acts; driven by the desire to enjoy royal happiness, we are intent on killing our own kinsmen.
45. Better for me if the sons of Dhåtaräñöra, weapons in hand, were to kill me unarmed and unresisting on the battlefield.
46. Saïjaya said: Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief.
2/ Contents of the Gétä Summarized
Arjuna surrenders to Kåñëa for instruction.
1. Saïjaya said: Seeing Arjuna full of compassion, his mind depressed, his eyes full of tears, Madhusüdana, Kåñëa, spoke the following words.
2. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, how have these impurities come upon you? They are not at all befitting a man who knows the value of life. They lead not to higher planets but to infamy.
3. O son of Påthä, do not yield to this degrading impotence. It does not become you. Give up such petty weakness of heart and arise, O chastiser of the enemy.
4. Arjuna said: O killer of enemies, O killer of Madhu, how can I counterattack with arrows in battle men like Bhéñma and Droëa, who are worthy of my worship?
5. It would be better to live in this world by begging than to live at the cost of the lives of great souls who are my teachers. Even though desiring worldly gain, they are superiors. If they are killed, everything we enjoy will be tainted with blood.
6. Nor do we know which is better—conquering them or being conquered by them. The sons of Dhåtaräñöra, whom if we killed we should not care to live, are now standing before us on this battlefield.
7. Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.
8. I can find no means to drive away this grief which is drying up my senses. I will not be able to dispel it even if I win a prosperous, unrivaled kingdom on earth with sovereignty like the demigods in heaven.
9. Saïjaya said: Having spoken thus, Arjuna, chastiser of enemies, told Kåñëa, “Govinda, I shall not fight,” and fell silent.
Kåñëa instructs: one should not grieve for the real self which is eternal.
10. O descendant of Bharata, at that time Kåñëa, smiling, in the midst of both the armies, spoke the following words to the grief-stricken Arjuna.
11. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead.
12. Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.
13. As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.
14. O son of Kunté, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.
15. O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.
16. Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent [the material body] there is no endurance and of the eternal [the soul] there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both.
17. That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.
18. The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata.
19. Neither he who thinks the living entity is the slayer nor he who thinks it slain is in knowledge, for the self slays not nor is slain.
20. For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.
21. O Pärthä, how can a person who knows that the soul is indestructible, eternal, unborn and immutable kill anyone or cause anyone to kill?
22. As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
23. The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.
24. This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, present everywhere, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.
25. It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable and immutable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.
26. If, however, you think that the soul [or the symptoms of life] is always born and dies forever, you still have no reason to lament, O mighty-armed.
27. One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.
28. All created beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim state, and unmanifest again when annihilated. So what need is there for lamentation?
29. Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.
30. O descendant of Bharata, he who dwells in the body can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any living being.
Why Arjuna must fight.
31. Considering your specific duty as a kñatriya, you should know that there is no better engagement for you than fighting on religious principles; and so there is no need for hesitation.
32. O Pärtha, happy are the kñatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.
33. If, however, you do not perform your religious duty of fighting, then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter.
34. People will always speak of your infamy, and for a respectable person, dishonor is worse than death.
35. The great generals who have highly esteemed your name and fame will think that you have left the battlefield out of fear only, and thus they will consider you insignificant.
36. Your enemies will describe you in many unkind words and scorn your ability. What could be more painful for you?
37. O son of Kunté, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore, get up with determination and fight.
38. Do thou fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat—and by so doing you shall never incur sin.
How to act without reaction.
39. Thus far I have described this knowledge to you through analytical study. Now listen as I explain it in terms of working without fruitive results. O son of Påthä, when you act in such knowledge you can free yourself from the bondage of works.
40. In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect =ne from the most dangerous type of fear.
41. Those who are on this path are resolute in purpose, and their aim is one. O beloved child of the Kurus, the intelligence of those who are irresolute is many-branched.
42–43. Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this.
44. In the minds of those who are too attached to sense enjoyment and material opulence, and who are bewildered by such things, the resolute determination for devotional service to the Supreme Lord does not take place.
45. The Vedas deal mainly with the subject of the three modes of material nature. O Arjuna, become transcendental to these three modes. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the self.
46. All purposes served by a small well can at once be served by a great reservoir of water. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them.
47. You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the result of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.
48. Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga.
49. O Dhanaïjaya, keep all abominable activities far distant by devotional service, and in that consciousness surrender unto the Lord. Those who want to enjoy the fruits of their work are misers.
50. A man engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad actions even in this life. Therefore strive for yoga, which is the art of all work.
51. By thus engaging in devotional service to the Lord, great sages or devotees free themselves from the results of work in the material world. In this way they become free from the cycle of birth and death and attain the state beyond all miseries [by going back to Godhead].
52. When your intelligence has passed out of the dense forest of delusion, you shall become indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard.
53. When your mind is no longer disturbed by the flowery language of the Vedas, and when it remains fixed in the trance of self-realization, then you will have attained the divine consciousness.
The symptoms of one in transcendental consciousness.
54. Arjuna said: O Kåñëa, what are the symptoms of one whose consciousness is thus merged in transcendence? How does he speak, and what is his language? How does he sit, and how does he walk?
55. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O Pärtha, when a man gives up all varieties of desire for sense gratification, which arise from mental concoction, and when his mind, thus purified, finds satisfaction in the self alone, then he is said to be in pure transcendental consciousness.
56. One who is not disturbed in mind even amidst the threefold miseries or elated when there is happiness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind.
57. In the material world, one who is unaffected by whatever good or evil he may obtain, neither praising it nor despising it, is firmly fixed in perfect knowledge.
58. One who is able to withdraw his senses from sense objects, as the tortoise draws its limbs within the shell, is firmly fixed in perfect consciousness.
59. The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But, ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.
60. The senses are so strong and impetuous, O Arjuna, that they forcibly carry away the mind even of a man of discrimination who is endeavoring to control them.
61. One who restrains his senses, keeping them under full control, and fixes his consciousness upon Me, is known as a man of steady intelligence.
62. While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.
63. From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool.
64. But a person free from all attachment and aversion and able to control his senses through regulative principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord.
65. For one who is thus satisfied [in Kåñëa consciousness], the threefold miseries of material existence exist no longer; in such satisfied consciousness, one’s intelligence is soon well established.
66. One who is not connected with the Supreme [in Kåñëa consciousness] can have neither transcendental intelligence nor a steady mind, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?
67. As a boat on the water is swept away by a strong wind, even one of the roaming senses on which the mind focuses can carry away a man’s intelligence.
68. Therefore, O mighty-armed, one whose senses are restrained from their objects is certainly of steady intelligence.
69. What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.
70. A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.
71. A person who has given up all desires for sense gratification, who lives free from desires, who has given up all sense of proprietorship and is devoid of false ego—he alone can attain real peace.
72. That is the way of the spiritual and godly life, after attaining which a man is not bewildered. If one is thus situated even at the hour of death, one can enter into the kingdom of God.
RVL 9.3: Karma-yoga
Not renunciation alone, but action in devotion brings freedom
1. Arjuna said: O Janärdana, O Keçava, why do You want to engage me in this ghastly warfare, if You think that intelligence is better than fruitive work?
2. My intelligence is bewildered by Your equivocal instructions. Therefore, please tell me decisively which will be most beneficial for me.
3. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O sinless Arjuna, I have already explained that there are two classes of men who try to realize the self. Some are inclined to understand it by empirical, philosophical speculation, and others by devotional service.
4. Not by merely abstaining from work can one achieve freedom from reaction, nor by renunciation alone can one attain perfection.
5. Everyone is forced to act helplessly according to the qualities he has acquired from the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment.
6. One who restrains the senses of action but whose mind dwells on sense objects certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.
7. On the other hand, if a sincere person tries to control the active senses by the mind and begins karma-yoga [in Kåñëa consciousness] without attachment, he is by far superior.
8. Perform your prescribed duty, for doing so is better than not working. One cannot even maintain one’s physical body without work.
Sacrifice for Viñëu.
9. Work done as a sacrifice for Viñëu has to be performed, otherwise work causes bondage in this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunté, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain free from bondage.
10. In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Viñëu, and blessed them by saying, “Be thou happy by this yajïa [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you everything desirable for living happily and achieving liberation.”
11. The demigods, being pleased by sacrifices, will also please you, and thus, by cooperation between men and demigods, prosperity will reign for all.
12. In charge of the various necessities of life, the demigods, being satisfied by the performance of yajïa [sacrifice], will supply all necessities to you. But he who enjoys such gifts without offering them to the demigods in return is certainly a thief.
13. The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.
14. All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rains. Rains are produced by performance of Yajïa [sacrifice], and yajïa is born of prescribed duties.
15. Regulated activities are prescribed in the Vedas, and the Vedas are directly manifested from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Consequently the all-pervading Transcendence is eternally situated in acts of sacrifice.
16. My dear Arjuna, one who in human life does not follow the prescribed cycle of sacrifice thus established by the Vedas certainly leads a life full of sin. Living only for the satisfaction of the senses, such a person lives in vain.
17. But for one who takes pleasure in the self, whose human life is one of self-realization, and who is satisfied in the self only, fully satiated—for him there is no duty.
18. A self-realized man has no purpose to fulfill in the discharge of his prescribed duties, nor has he any reason not to perform such work. Nor has he any need to depend on any other living being.
19. Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty, for by working without attachment one attains the Supreme.
20. Kings such as Janaka attained perfection solely by performance of prescribed duties. Therefore, just for the sake of educating the people in general, you should perform your work.
The leader must act as an example.
21. Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.
22. O son of Påthä, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I a need to obtain anything—and yet I am engaged in prescribed duties.
23. For if I ever failed to engage in carefully performing prescribed duties, O Pärtha, certainly all men would follow My path.
24. If I did not perform prescribed duties, all these worlds would be put to ruination. I would be the cause of creating unwanted population, and I would thereby destroy the peace of all living beings.
25. As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, the learned may similarly act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.
26. So as not to disrupt the minds of ignorant men attached to the fruitive results of prescribed duties, a learned person should not induce them to stop work. Rather, by working in the spirit of devotion, he should engage them in all sorts of activities [for the gradual development of Kåñëa consciousness].
27. The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature.
28. One who is in knowledge of the Absolute Truth, O mighty-armed, does not engage himself in the senses and sense gratification, knowing well the differences between work in devotion and work for fruitive results.
29. Bewildered by the modes of material nature, the ignorant fully engage themselves in material activities and become attached. But the wise should not unsettle them, although these duties are inferior due to the performers’ lack of knowledge.
30. Therefore, O Arjuna, surrendering all your works unto Me, with full knowledge of Me, without desires for profit, with no claims to proprietorship, and free from lethargy, fight.
31. Those persons who execute their duties according to My injunctions and who follow this teaching faithfully, without envy, become free from the bondage of fruitive actions.
32. But those who, out of envy, do not regularly follow these teachings are to be considered bereft of all knowledge, befooled, and ruined in their endeavors for perfection.
33. Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish?
34. There are principles to regulate attachment and aversion pertaining to the senses and their objects. One should not come under the control of such attachment and aversion, because they are stumbling blocks on the path of self-realization.
35. It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.
Lust, the great enemy of the world.
36. Arjuna said: O descendant of Våñëi, by what is one impelled to sinful acts, even unwillingly, as if engaged by force?
37. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material mode of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of this world.
38. As fire is covered by smoke, as a mirror is covered by dust, or as the embryo is covered by the womb, the living entity is similarly covered by different degrees of this lust.
39. Thus the wise living entity’s pure consciousness becomes covered by his eternal enemy in the form of lust, which is never satisfied and which burns like fire.
40. The senses, the mind and the intelligence are the sitting places of this lust. Through them lust covers the real knowledge of the living entity and bewilders him.
41. Therefore, O Arjuna, best of the Bharatas, in the very beginning curb this great symbol of sin [lust] by regulating the senses, and slay this destroyer of knowledge and self-realization.
42. The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is even higher than the intelligence
43. Thus knowing oneself to be transcendental to the material senses, mind and intelligence, O mighty-armed Arjuna, one should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence [Kåñëa consciousness] and thus—by spiritual strength—conquer this insatiable enemy known as lust.
RVL 9.4: Transcendental Knowledge
4/ Transcendental Knowledge
The disciplic succession.
1. The Personality of Godhead, Lord Çré Kåñëa, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvän, and Vivasvän instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikñväku.
2. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.
3. That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science.
Kåñëa speaks of His transcendental nature and His mission.
4. Arjuna said: The sun-god Vivasvän is senior by birth to You. How am I to understand that in the beginning You instructed this science to him?
5. The Personality of Godhead said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!
6. Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all living entities, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.
7. Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I descend Myself.
8. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.
9. One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.
10. Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of Me—and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me.
11. As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Påthä.
12. Men in this world desire success in fruitive activities, and therefore they worship the demigods. Quickly, of course, men get results from fruitive work in this world.
13. According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.
14. There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.
15. All the liberated souls in ancient times acted with this understanding of My transcendental nature. Therefore you should perform your duty, following in their footsteps
The intricacies of action.
16. Even the intelligent are bewildered in determining what is action and what is inaction. Now I shall explain to you what action is, knowing which you shall be liberated from all misfortune.
17. The intricacies of action are very hard to understand. Therefore one should know properly what action is, what forbidden action is, and what inaction is.
18. One who sees inaction in action, and action in inaction, is intelligent among men, and he is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities.
19. One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every endeavor is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker for whom the reactions of work have been burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge.
20. Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings.
21. Such a man of understanding acts with mind and intelligence perfectly controlled, gives up all sense of proprietorship over his possessions and acts only for the bare necessities of life. Thus working, he is not affected by sinful reactions.
22. He who is satisfied with gain which comes of its own accord, who is free from duality and does not envy, who is steady both in success and failure, is never entangled, although performing actions.
23. The work of a man who is unattached to the modes of material nature and who is fully situated in transcendental knowledge merges entirely into transcendence.
24. A person who is fully absorbed in Kåñëa consciousness is sure to attain the spiritual kingdom because of his full contribution to spiritual activities, in which the consummation is absolute and that which is offered is of the same spiritual nature.
Divisions of sacrifice.
25. Some yogés perfectly worship the demigods by offering different sacrifices to them, and some of them offer sacrifices in the fire of the Supreme Brahman.
26. Some [the unadulterated brahmacärés] sacrifice the hearing process and the senses in the fire of mental control, and others [the regulated householders] sacrifice the objects of the senses in the fire of the senses.
27. Others, who are interested in achieving self-realization through control of the mind and senses, offer the functions of all the senses, and of the life breath, as oblations into the fire of the controlled mind.
28. Having accepted strict vows, some become enlightened by sacrificing their possessions, and others by performing severe austerities, by practicing the yoga of eightfold mysticism, or by studying the Vedas to advance in transcendental knowledge.
29. Still others, who are inclined to the process of breath restraint to remain in trance, practice by offering the movement of the outgoing breath into the incoming, and the incoming breath into the outgoing, and thus at last remain in trance, stopping all breathing. Others, curtailing the eating process, offer the outgoing breath into itself as a sacrifice.
30. All these performers who know the meaning of sacrifice become cleansed of sinful reactions, and, having tasted the nectar of the results of sacrifices, they advance toward the supreme eternal atmosphere.
31. O best of the Kuru dynasty, without sacrifice one can never live happily on this planet or in this life: what then of the next?
32. All these different types of sacrifice are approved by the Vedas, and all of them are born of different types of work. Knowing them as such, you will become liberated.
33. O chastiser of the enemy, the sacrifice performed in knowledge is better than the sacrifice of material possessions. After all, O son of Påthä, all sacrifices of work culminate in transcendental knowledge.
Approach a spiritual master and learn the truth.
34. Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.
35. Having obtained real knowledge from a self-realized soul, you will never fall again into such illusion, for by this knowledge you will see that all living beings are but part of the Supreme, or, in other words, that they are Mine.
36. Even if you are considered to be the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.
37. As a blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities.
38. In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has become accomplished in the practice of devotional service enjoys this knowledge within himself in due course of time.
39. A faithful man who is dedicated to transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses is eligible to achieve such knowledge, and having achieved it he quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace.
40. But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness; they fall down. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.
41. One who acts in devotional service, renouncing the fruits of his actions, and whose doubts have been destroyed by transcendental knowledge, is situated factually in the self. Thus he is not bound by the reactions of work, O conqueror of riches.
42. Therefore the doubts which have arisen in your heart out of ignorance should be slashed by the weapon of knowledge. Armed with yoga, O Bhärata, stand and fight.
RVL 9.5: Karma-yoga—Action in Kåñëa Consciousness
5/ Karma-yoga—Action in Kåñëa Consciousness
Which is better? Renunciation or work in devotion?
1. Arjuna said: O Kåñëa, first of all You ask me to renounce work, and then again You recommend work with devotion. Now will You kindly tell me definitely which of the two is more beneficial?
2. The Personality of Godhead replied: The renunciation of work and work in devotion are both good for liberation. But, of the two, work in devotional service is better than renunciation of work.
3. One who neither hates nor desires the fruits of his activities is known to be always renounced. Such a person, free from all dualities, easily overcomes material bondage and is completely liberated, O mighty-armed Arjuna.
The goal of both is the same.
4. Only the ignorant speak of devotional service [karma-yoga] as being different from the analytical study of the material world [Säìkhya]. Those who are actually learned say that he who applies himself well to one of these paths achieves the results of both.
5. One who knows that the position reached by means of analytical study can also be attained by devotional service, and who therefore sees analytical study and devotional service to be on the same level, sees things as they are.
6. Merely renouncing all activities yet not engaging in the devotional service of the Lord cannot make one happy. But a thoughtful person engaged in devotional service can achieve the Supreme without delay.
7. One who works in devotion, who is a pure soul, and who controls his mind and senses is dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him. Though always working, such a man is never entangled.
8–9. A person in the divine consciousness, although engaged in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving about, sleeping and breathing, always knows within himself that he actually does nothing at all. Because while speaking, evacuating, receiving, or opening or closing his eyes, he always knows that only the material senses are engaged with their objects and that he is aloof from them.
10. One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.
11. The yogés, abandoning attachment, act with body, mind, intelligence and even with the senses, only for the purpose of purification.
12. The steadily devoted soul attains unadulterated peace because he offers the result of all activities to Me; whereas a person who is not in union with the Divine, who is greedy for the fruits of his labor, becomes entangled.
13. When the embodied living being controls his nature and mentally renounces all actions, he resides happily in the city of nine gates [the material body], neither working nor causing work to be done.
14. The embodied spirit, master of the city of his body, does not create activities, nor does he induce people to act, nor does he create the fruits of action. All this is enacted by the modes of material nature.
15. Nor does the Supreme Lord assume anyone’s sinful or pious activities. Embodied beings, however, are bewildered because of the ignorance which covers their real knowledge.
16. When, however, one is enlightened with the knowledge by which nescience is destroyed, then his knowledge reveals everything, as the sun lights up everything in the daytime
17. When one’s intelligence, mind, faith and refuge are all fixed in the Supreme, then one becomes fully cleansed of misgivings through complete knowledge and thus proceeds straight on the path of liberation.
The sage sees with equal vision.
18. The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brähmaëa, a cow, an elephant. a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].
19. Those whose minds are established in sameness and equanimity have already conquered the conditions of birth and death. They are flawless like Brahman, and thus they are already situated in Brahman.
20. A person who neither rejoices upon achieving something pleasant nor laments upon obtaining something unpleasant, who is self-intelligent, who is unbewildered, and who knows the science of God, is already situated in transcendence.
21. Such a liberated person is not attracted to material sense pleasure but is always in trance, enjoying the pleasure within. In this way the self-realized person enjoys unlimited happiness, for he concentrates on the Supreme.
22. An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunté, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.
23. Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is well situated and is happy in this world.
24. One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within, and whose aim is inward is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme.
25. Those who are beyond the dualities that arise from doubts, whose minds are engaged within, who are always busy working for the welfare of all living beings, and who are free from all sins achieve liberation in the Supreme.
26. Those who are free from anger and all material desires, who are self-realized, self-disciplined and constantly endeavoring for perfection, are assured of liberation in the Supreme in the very near future.
27–28. Shutting out all external sense objects, keeping the eyes and vision concentrated between the two eyebrows, suspending the inward and outward breaths within the nostrils, and thus controlling the mind, senses and intelligence, the transcendentalist aiming at liberation becomes free from desire, fear and anger. One who is always in this state is certainly liberated.
The peace formula.
29. A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries.
RVL 9.6: Dhyana-yoga
To be a yogé one must renounce sense gratification.
1. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligated is in the renounced order of life, and he is the true mystic, not he who lights no fire and performs no duty.
2. What is called renunciation you should know to be the same as yoga, or linking oneself with the Supreme, O son of Päëòu, for one can never become a yogé unless he renounces the desire for sense gratification.
3. For one who is a neophyte in the eightfold yoga system, work is said to be the means; and for one who is already elevated in yoga, cessation of all material activities is said to be the means.
4. A person is said to be elevated in yoga when, having renounced all material desires, he neither acts for sense gratification nor engages in fruitive activities.
Controlling the mind.
5. One must deliver himself with the help of his mind, and not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well.
6. For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy.
7. For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquillity. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.
8. A person is said to be established in self-realization and is called a yogé [or mystic] when he is fully satisfied by virtue of acquired knowledge and realization. Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything—whether it be pebbles, stones or gold—as the same.
9. A person is considered still further advanced when he regards honest well-wishers, affectionate benefactors, the neutral, mediators, the envious, friends and enemies, the pious and the sinners all with an equal mind.
10. A transcendentalist should always engage his body, mind and self in relationship with the Supreme; he should live alone in a secluded place and should always carefully control his mind. He should be free from desires and feelings of possessiveness.
The rules and goals of yoga practice.
11–12. To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kuça grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should be neither too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogé should then sit on it very firmly and practice yoga to purify the heart by controlling his mind, senses and activities and fixing the mind on one point.
13–14. One should hold one’s body, neck and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose. Thus, with an unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear, completely free from sex life, one should meditate upon Me within the heart and make Me the ultimate goal of life.
15. Thus practicing constant control of the body, mind and activities, the mystic transcendentalist, his mind regulated, attains to the kingdom of God [or the abode of Kåñëa] by cessation of material existence.
16. There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogé, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.
17. He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, recreation and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.
18. When the yogé, by practice of yoga, disciplines his mental activities and becomes situated in transcendence—devoid of all material desires—he is said to be well established in yoga.
19. As a lamp in a windless place does not waver, so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steady in his meditation on the transcendent self
20–23. In the stage of perfection called trance, or samädhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.
24. One should engage oneself in the practice of yoga with determination and faith and not be deviated from the path. One should abandon, without exception, all material desires born of mental speculation and thus control all the senses on all sides by the mind.
25. Gradually, step by step, one should become situated in trance by means of intelligence sustained by full conviction, and thus the mind should be fixed on the self alone and should think of nothing else.
26. From wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self.
27. The yogé whose mind is fixed on Me verily attains the highest perfection of transcendental happiness. He is beyond the mode of passion, he realizes his qualitative identity with the Supreme, and thus he is freed from all reactions to past deeds.
28. Thus the self-controlled yogé, constantly engaged in yoga practice, becomes free from all material contamination and achieves the highest stage of perfect happiness in transcendental loving service to the Lord.
A true yogé sees Kåñëa.
29. A true yogé observes Me in all beings and also sees every being in Me. Indeed, the self-realized person sees Me, the same Supreme Lord, everywhere.
30. For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.
31. Such a yogé, who engages in the worshipful service of the Supersoul, knowing that I and the Supersoul are one, remains always in Me in all circumstances.
32. He is a perfect yogé who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna!
Arjuna rejects the yoga practice.
33. Arjuna said: O Madhusüdana, the system of yoga which You have summarized appears impractical and unendurable to me, for the mind is restless and unsteady.
34. For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Kåñëa, and to subdue it, I think, is more difficult than controlling the wind.
35. Lord Çré Kåñëa said: O mighty-armed son of Kunté, it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by suitable practice and by detachment.
36. For one whose mind is unbridled, self-realization is difficult work. But he whose mind is controlled and who strives by appropriate means is assured of success. That is My opinion.
What happens to one who tries but fails in yoga?
37. Arjuna said: O Kåñëa, what is the destination of the unsuccessful transcendentalist, who in the beginning takes to the process of self-realization with faith but who later desists due to worldly-mindedness and thus does not attain perfection in mysticism?
38. O mighty-armed Kåñëa, does not such a man, who is bewildered from the path of transcendence, fall away from both spiritual and material success and perish like a riven cloud, with no position in any sphere?
39. This is my doubt, O Kåñëa, and I ask You to dispel it completely. But for You, no one is to be found who can destroy this doubt.
40. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Son of Påthä, a transcendentalist engaged in auspicious activities does not meet with destruction either in this world or in the spiritual world; one who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil
41. The unsuccessful yogé, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.
42. Or [if unsuccessful after long practice of yoga] he takes his birth in a family of transcendentalists who are surely great in wisdom. Certainly, such a birth is rare in this world.
43. On taking such a birth, he again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he again tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.
44. By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles—even without seeking them. Such an inquisitive transcendentalist stands always above the ritualistic principles of the scriptures.
45. And when the yogé engages himself with sincere endeavor in making further progress, being washed of all contaminations, then ultimately, achieving perfection after many, many births of practice, he attains the supreme goal.
46. A yogé is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances, be a yogé.
The highest of all yogés.
47. And of all yogés, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me—he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion.
RVL 9.7: Knowledge of the Absolute
7/ Knowledge of the Absolute
Hear from Me and know Me in full.
1. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Now hear, O son of Påthä, how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.
2. I shall now declare unto you in full this knowledge, both phenomenal and numinous. This being known, nothing further shall remain for you to know.
3. Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.
4. Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego—all together these eight constitute My separated material energies.
5. Besides these, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises the living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.
6. All created beings have their source in these two natures. Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both the origin and the dissolution.
Kåñëa speaks for Himself.
7. O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.
8. O son of Kunté, I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable oà in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.
9. I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics.
10. O son of Påthä, know that I am the original seed of all existences, the intelligence of the intelligent, and the prowess of all powerful men.
11. I am the strength of the strong, devoid of passion and desire. I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles, O lord of the Bhäratas [Arjuna].
12. Know that all states of being—be they of goodness, passion or ignorance—are manifested by My energy. I am, in one sense, everything, but I am independent. I am not under the modes of material nature, for they, on the contrary, are within Me.
The world is deluded by the modes of nature.
13. Deluded by the three modes [goodness, passion and ignorance], the whole world does not know Me, who am above the modes and inexhaustible.
14. This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.
Four kinds of men who approach God.
15. Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me.
16. O best among the Bhäratas, four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.
17. Of these, the one who is in full knowledge and who is always engaged in pure devotional service is the best. For I am very dear to him, and he is dear to Me.
18. All these devotees are undoubtedly magnanimous souls, but he who is situated in knowledge of Me I consider to be just like My own self. Being engaged in My transcendental service, he is sure to attain Me, the highest and most perfect goal.
19. After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.
The worship of demigods.
20. Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.
21. I am in everyone’s heart as the Supersoul. As soon as one desires to worship some demigod, I make his faith steady so that he can devote himself to that particular deity.
22. Endowed with such a faith, he endeavors to worship a particular demigod and obtains his desires. But in actuality these benefits are bestowed by Me alone.
23. Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.
Worship of the Supreme Lord.
24. Unintelligent men, who do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kåñëa, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is imperishable and supreme.
25. I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency, and therefore they do not know that I am unborn and infallible.
26. O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities; but Me no one knows.
27. O scion of Bharata, O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, bewildered by dualities arisen from desire and hate.
28. Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the dualities of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination.
29. Intelligent persons who are endeavoring for liberation from old age and death take refuge in Me in devotional service. They are actually Brahman because they entirely know everything about transcendental activities.
30. Those in full consciousness of Me, who know Me, the Supreme Lord, to be the governing principle of the material manifestation, of the demigods, and of all methods of sacrifice, can understand and know Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, even at the time of death.
RVL 9.8: Attaining the Supreme
8/ Attaining the Supreme
Arjuna inquires, Kåñëa replies.
1. Arjuna inquired: O my Lord, O Supreme Person, what is Brahman? What is the self? What are fruitive activities? What is this material manifestation? And what are the demigods? Please explain this to me.
2. Who is the Lord of sacrifice, and how does He live in the body, O Madhusüdana? And how can those engaged in devotional service know You at the time of death?
3. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called adhyätma, the self. Action pertaining to the development of the material bodies of the living entities is called karma, or fruitive activities.
4. O best of the embodied beings, the physical nature, which is constantly changing, is called adhibhüta [the material manifestation]. The universal form of the Lord, which includes all the demigods, like those of the sun and moon, is called adhidaiva. And I, the Supreme Lord, represented as the Supersoul in the heart of every embodied being, am called adhiyajïa [the Lord of sacrifice].
Remember Me at the time of death.
5. And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My natureOf this there is no doubt.
6. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunté, that state he will attain without fail.
7. Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Kåñëa and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.
8. He who meditates on Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Pärtha, is sure to reach Me.
9. One should meditate upon the Supreme Person as the one who knows everything, as He who is the oldest, who is the controller, who is smaller than the smallest, who is the maintainer of everything, who is beyond all material conception, who is inconceivable, and who is always a person. He is luminous like the sun, and He is transcendental, beyond this material nature.
10. One who, at the time of death, fixes his life air between the eyebrows and, by the strength of yoga, with an undeviating mind, engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord in full devotion, will certainly attain to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
11. Persons who are learned in the Vedas, who utter oàkära and who are great sages in the renounced order enter into Brahman. Desiring such perfection, one practices celibacy. I shall now briefly explain to you this process by which one may attain salvation.
12. The yogic situation is that of detachment from all sensual engagements. Closing all the doors of the senses and fixing the mind on the heart and the life air at the top of the head, one establishes himself in yoga.
13. After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable oà, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and quits his body, he will certainly reach the spiritual planets.
14. For one who always remembers Me without deviation, I am easy to obtain, O son of Påthä, because of his constant engagement in devotional service.
15. After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogés in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.
The material world is miserable.
16. From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunté, never takes birth again.
17. By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together form the duration of Brahmä’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.
18. At the beginning of Brahmä’s day, all living entities become manifest from the unmanifest state, and thereafter, when the night falls, they are merged into the unmanifest again.
19. Again and again, when Brahmä’s day arrives, all living entities come into being, and with the arrival of Brahmä’s night they are helplessly annihilated.
But Kåñëa’s abode is eternal
20. Yet there is another unmanifest nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.
21. That which the Vedäntists describe as unmanifest and infallible, that which is known as the supreme destination, that place from which, having attained it, one never returns—that is My supreme abode.
22. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.
23. O best of the Bhäratas, I shall now explain to you the different times at which, passing away from this world, the yogé does or does not come back.
24. Those who know the Supreme Brahman attain that Supreme by passing away from the world during the influence of the fiery god, in the light, at an auspicious moment of the day, during the fortnight of the waxing moon, or during the six months when the sun travels in the north.
25. The mystic who passes away from this world during the smoke, the night, the fortnight of the waning moon, or the six months when the sun passes to the south reaches the moon planet but again comes back.
26. According to Vedic opinion, there are two ways of passing from this world—one in light and one in darkness. When one passes in light, he does not come back; but when one passes in darkness, he returns.
27. Although the devotees know these two paths, O Arjuna, they are never bewildered. Therefore be always fixed in devotion.
28. A person who accepts the path of devotional service is not bereft of the results derived from studying the Vedas, performing austere sacrifices, giving charity or pursuing philosophical and fruitive activities. Simply by performing devotional service, he attains all these, and at the end he reaches the supreme eternal abode.
RVL 9.9: The Most Confidential Knowledge
9/ The Most Confidential Knowledge
Kåñëa will now reveal the highest knowledge.
1. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, because you are never envious of Me, I shall impart to you this most confidential knowledge and realization, knowing which you shall be relieved of the miseries of material existence.
2. This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.
3. Those who are not faithful in this devotional service cannot attain Me, O conqueror of enemiesTherefore they return to the path of birth and death in this material world.
Everything is Kåñëa, but He is still beyond everything.
4. By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.
5. And yet everything that is created does not rest in Me. Behold My mystic opulence! Although I am the maintainer of all living entities and although I am everywhere, I am not a part of this cosmic manifestation, for My Self is the very source of creation.
6. Understand that as the mighty wind, blowing everywhere, rests always in the sky, all created beings rest in Me.
7. O son of Kunté, at the end of the millennium all material manifestations enter into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency, I create them again.
8. The whole cosmic order is under Me. Under My will it is automatically manifested again and again, and under My will it is annihilated at the end.
9. O Dhanaïjaya, all this work cannot bind Me. I am ever detached from all these material activities, seated as though neutral.
10. This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kunté, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.
Fools deride Him.
11. Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.
12. Those who are thus bewildered are attracted by demonic and atheistic views. In that deluded condition, their hopes for liberation, their fruitive activities, and their culture of knowledge are all defeated.
13. O son of Påthä, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.
14. Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.
15. Others, who engage in sacrifice by the cultivation of knowledge, worship the Supreme Lord as the one without a second, as diverse in many, and in the universal form.
Everything comes from Kåñëa.
16. But it is I who am the ritual, I the sacrifice, the offering to the ancestors, the healing herb, the transcendental chant. I am the butter and the fire and the offering.
17. I am the father of this universe, the mother, the support and the grandsire. I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable oà. I am also the Åg, the Säma and the Yajur Vedas.
18. I am the goal, the sustainer, the master, the witness, the abode, the refuge and the most dear friend. I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of everything, the resting place and the eternal seed.
19. O Arjuna, I give heat, and I withhold and send forth the rain. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both spirit and matter are in Me.
20. Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice, seeking the heavenly planets, worship Me indirectly. Purified of sinful reactions, they take birth on the pious, heavenly planet of Indra, where they enjoy godly delights.
21. When they have thus enjoyed vast heavenly sense pleasure and the results of their pious activities are exhausted, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus those who seek sense enjoyment by adhering to the principles of the three Vedas achieve only repeated birth and death.
22. But those who always worship Me with exclusive devotion, meditating on My transcendental form—to them I carry what they lack, and I preserve what they have.
23. Those who are devotees of other gods and who worship them with faith actually worship only Me, O son of Kunté but they do so in a wrong way.
24. I am the only enjoyer and master of all sacrifices. Therefore, those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down.
25. Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship the ancestors go to the ancestors; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; and those who worship Me will live with Me.
Devotion to Kåñëa is the highest truth.
26. If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.
27. Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform—do that, O son of Kunté, as an offering to Me.
28. In this way you will be freed from bondage to work and its auspicious and inauspicious results. With your mind fixed on Me in this principle of renunciation, you will be liberated and come to Me.
29. I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.
30. Even if one 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.
31. He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunté, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.
32. O son of Påthä, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaiçyas [merchants] and çüdras [workers]—can attain the supreme destination.
33. How much more this is so of the righteous brähmaëas, the devotees, and the saintly kings. Therefore, having come to this temporary, miserable world, engage in loving service unto Me.
34. Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.
RVL 9.10: The Opulence of the Absolute
10/ The Opulence of the Absolute
God is the Supreme Transcendence.
1. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Listen again, O mighty-armed Arjuna. Because you are My dear friend, for your benefit I shall speak to you further, giving knowledge that is better than what I have already explained.
2. Neither the hosts of demigods nor the great sages know My origin or opulences, for, in every respect, I am the source of the demigods and sages.
3. He who knows Me as the unborn, as the beginningless, as the Supreme Lord of all the worlds—he only, undeluded among men, is freed from all sins.
4–5. Intelligence, knowledge, freedom from doubt and delusion, forgiveness, truthfulness, control of the senses, control of the mind, happiness and distress, birth, death, fear, fearlessness, nonviolence, equanimity, satisfaction, austerity, charity, fame and infamy—all these various qualities of living beings are created by Me alone.
6. The seven great sages and before them the four other great sages and the Manus [progenitors of mankind] come from Me, born from My mind, and all the living beings populating the various planets descend from them.
7. One who is factually convinced of this opulence and mystic power of Mine engages in unalloyed devotional service; of this there is no doubt.
The four summary verses of the Gétä.
8. I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.
9. The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.
10. To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.
11. To show them special mercy, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.
Kåñëa is the essence of all manifestations.
12–13. Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Närada, Asita, Devala and Vyäsa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me.
14. O Kåñëa, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me. Neither the demigods nor the demons, O Lord, can understand Your personality.
15. Indeed, You alone know Yourself by Your own internal potency, O Supreme Person, origin of all, Lord of all beings, God of gods, Lord of the universe!
16. Please tell me in detail of Your divine opulences by which You pervade all these worlds.
17. O Kåñëa, O supreme mystic, how shall I constantly think of You, and how shall I know You? In what various forms are You to be remembered, O Supreme Personality of Godhead?
18. O Janärdana, again please describe in detail the mystic power of Your opulences. I am never satiated in hearing about You, for the more I hear the more I want to taste the nectar of Your words.
19. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Yes, I will tell you of My splendorous manifestations, but only of those which are prominent, O Arjuna, for My opulence is limitless.
20. I am the Supersoul, O Arjuna, seated in the hearts of all living entities. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings.
21. Of the Ädityas I am Viñëu, of lights I am the radiant sun, of the Maruts I am Maréci, and among the stars I am the moon.
22. Of the Vedas I am the Säma Veda; of the demigods I am Indra, the king of heaven; of the senses I am the mind; and in living beings I am the living force [consciousness].
23. Of all the Rudras I am Lord Çiva, of the Yakñas and Räkäasas I am the Lord of wealth [Kuvera], of the Vasus I am fire [Agni], and of mountains I am Meru.
24. Of priests, O Arjuna, know Me to be the chief, Båhaspati. Of generals I am Kärtikeya, and of bodies of water I am the ocean.
25. Of the great sages I am Bhågu; of vibrations I am the transcendental oà. Of sacrifices I am the chanting of the holy names [japa], and of immovable things I am the Himälayas.
26. Of all trees I am the banyan tree, and of the sages among the demigods I am Närada. Of the Gandharvas I am Citraratha, and among perfected beings I am the sage Kapila.
27. Of horses know Me to be Uccaiùçravä, produced during the churning of the ocean for nectar. Of lordly elephants I am Airävata, and among men I am the monarch.
28. Of weapons I am the thunderbolt; among cows I am the surabhi. Of causes for procreation I am Kandarpa, the god of love, and of serpents I am Väsuki.
29. Of the many-hooded Nägas I am Ananta, and among the aquatics I am the demigod Varuëa. Of departed ancestors I am Aryamä, and among the dispensers of law I am Yama, the lord of death.
30. Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahläda, among subduers I am time, among beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuòa.
31. Of purifiers I am the wind, of the wielders of weapons I am Räma, of fishes I am the shark, and of flowing rivers I am the Ganges.
32. Of all creations I am the beginning and the end and also the middle, O Arjuna. Of all sciences I am the spiritual science of the self, and among logicians I am the conclusive truth.
33. Of letters I am the letter A, and among compound words I am the dual compound. I am also inexhaustible time, and of creators I am Brahmä.
34. I am all-devouring death, and I am the generating principle of all that is yet to be. Among women I am fame, fortune, fine speech, memory, intelligence, steadfastness and patience.
35. Of the hymns in the Säma Veda I am the Båhat-säma, and of poetry I am the Gäyatré. Of months I am Märgaçérña [November-December], and of seasons I am flower-bearing spring.
36. I am also the gambling of cheats, and of the splendid I am the splendor. I am victory, I am adventure, and I am the strength of the strong.
37. Of the descendants of Våñëi I am Väsudeva, and of the Päëòavas I am Arjuna. Of the sages I am Vyäsa, and among great thinkers I am Uçanä.
38. Among all means of suppressing lawlessness I am punishment, and of those who seek victory I am morality. Of secret things I am silence, and of the wise I am the wisdom.
39. Furthermore, O Arjuna, I am the generating seed of all existences. There is no being—moving or nonmoving—that can exist without Me.
40. O mighty conqueror of enemies, there is no end to My divine manifestations. What I have spoken to you is but a mere indication of My infinite opulences.
41. Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.
42. But what need is there, Arjuna, for all this detailed knowledge? With a single fragment of Myself I pervade and support this entire universe.
RVL 9.11: The Universal Form
11/ The Universal Form
Arjuna requests to see the Lord’s cosmic form.
1. Arjuna said: By my hearing the instructions You have kindly given me about these most confidential spiritual subjects, my illusion has now been dispelled.
2. O lotus-eyed one, I have heard from You in detail about the appearance and disappearance of every living entity and have realized Your inexhaustible glories.
3. O greatest of all personalities, O supreme form, though I see You here before me in Your actual position, as You have described Yourself, I wish to see how You have entered into this cosmic manifestation. I want to see that form of Yours.
4. If You think that I am able to behold Your cosmic form, O my Lord, O master of all mystic power, then kindly show me that unlimited universal Self.
5. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, O son of Påthä, see now My opulences, hundreds of thousands of varied divine and multicolored forms.
6. O best of the Bhäratas, see here the different manifestations of Ädityas, Vasus, Rudras, Açviné-kumäras and all the other demigods. Behold the many wonderful things which no one has ever seen or heard of before.
7. O Arjuna, whatever you wish to see, behold at once in this body of Mine! This universal form can show you whatever you now desire to see and whatever you may want to see in the future. Everything—moving and nonmoving—is here completely, in one place
8. But you cannot see Me with your present eyes. Therefore I give you divine eyes. Behold My mystic opulence!
Revelation of the universal form.
9. Saïjaya said: O King, having spoken thus, the Supreme Lord of all mystic power, the Personality of Godhead, displayed His universal form to Arjuna.
10–11. Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths, unlimited eyes, unlimited wonderful visionsThe form was decorated with many celestial ornaments and bore many divine upraised weapons. He wore celestial garlands and garments, and many divine scents were smeared over His body. All was wondrous, brilliant, unlimited, all-expanding.
12. If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky, their radiance might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form.
13. At that time Arjuna could see in the universal form of the Lord the unlimited expansions of the universe situated in one place although divided into many, many thousands.
14. Then, bewildered and astonished, his hair standing on end, Arjuna bowed his head to offer obeisances and with folded hands began to pray to the Supreme Lord.
15. Arjuna said: My dear Lord Kåñëa, I see assembled in Your body all the demigods and various other living entities. I see Brahma sitting on the lotus flower, as well as Lord Çivä and all the sages and divine serpents.
16. O Lord of the universe, O universal form, I see in Your body many, many arms, bellies, mouths and eyes, expanded everywhere, without limit. I see in You no end, no middle and no beginning.
17. Your form is difficult to see because of its glaring effulgence, spreading on all sides, like blazing fire or the immeasurable radiance of the sun. Yet I see this glowing form everywhere, adorned with various crowns, clubs and discs.
18. You are the supreme primal objective. You are the ultimate resting place of all this universe. You are inexhaustible, and You are the oldest. You are the maintainer of the eternal religion, the Personality of Godhead. This is my opinion.
19. You are without origin, middle or end. Your glory is unlimited. You have numberless arms, and the sun and moon are Your eyes. I see You with blazing fire coming forth from Your mouth, burning this entire universe by Your own radiance.
20. Although You are one, You spread throughout the sky and the planets and all space between. O great one, seeing this wondrous and terrible form, all the planetary systems are perturbed.
21. All the hosts of demigods are surrendering before You and entering into You. Some of them, very much afraid, are offering prayers with folded hands. Hosts of great sages and perfected beings, crying “AII peace!” are praying to You by singing the =edic hymns.
22. All the various manifestations of Lord Çiva, the Ädityas, the Vasus, the Sädhyas, the Viçvedevas, the two Açvins, the Maruts, the forefathers, the Gandharvas, the Yakñas, the Asuras and the perfected demigods are beholding You in wonder.
23. O mighty-armed one, all the planets with their demigods are disturbed at seeing Your great form, with its many faces, eyes, arms, thighs, legs, and bellies and Your many terrible teeth; and as they are disturbed, so am I.
24. O all-pervading Viñëu, seeing You with Your many radiant colors touching the sky, Your gaping mouths, and Your great glowing eyes, my mind is perturbed by fear. I can no longer maintain my steadiness or equilibrium of mind.
25. O Lord of lords, O refuge of the worlds, please be gracious to me. I cannot keep my balance seeing thus Your blazing deathlike faces and awful teeth. In all directions I am bewildered.
26–27. All the sons of Dhåtaräñöra, along with their allied kings, and Bhéñma, Droëa, Karëa—and our chief soldiers also—are rushing into Your fearful mouths. And some I see trapped with heads smashed between Your teeth.
28. As the many waves of the rivers flow into the ocean, so do all these great warriors enter blazing into Your mouths.
29. I see all people rushing full speed into Your mouths, as moths dash to destruction in a blazing fire.
30. O Viñëu, I see You devouring all people from all sides with Your flaming mouths. Covering all the universe with Your effulgence, You are manifest with terrible, scorching rays.
31. O Lord of lords, so fierce of form, please tell me who You are. I offer my obeisances unto You; please be gracious to me. You are the primal Lord. I want to know about You, for I do not know what Your mission is.
32. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds, and I have come here to destroy all people. With the exception of you [the Päëòavas], all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.
33. Therefore get up. Prepare to fight and win glory. Conquer your enemies and enjoy a flourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, and you, O Savyasäcé, can be but an instrument in the fight.
34. Drona, Bhéñma, Jayadratha, Karëa and the other great warriors have already been destroyed by Me. Therefore, kill them and do not be disturbed. Simply fight, and you will vanquish your enemies in battle.
35. Saïjaya said to Dhåtaräñöra: O King, after hearing these words from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the trembling Arjuna offered obeisances with folded hands again and again. He fearfully spoke to Lord Kåñëa in a faltering voice, as follows.
Arjuna offers prayers.
36. Arjuna said: O master of the senses, the world becomes joyful upon hearing Your name, and thus everyone becomes attached to You. Although the perfected beings offer You their respectful homage, the demons are afraid, and they flee here and there. All this is rightly done.
37. O great one, greater even than Brahmä, You are the original creator. Why then should they not offer their respectful obeisances unto You? O limitless one, God of gods, refuge of the universe! You are the invincible source, the cause of all causes, transcendental to this material manifestation.
38. You are the original Personality of Godhead, the oldest, the ultimate sanctuary of this manifested cosmic world. You are the knower of everything, and You are all that is knowable. You are the supreme refuge, above the material modes. O limitless form! This whole cosmic manifestation is pervaded by You!
39. You are air, and You are the supreme controller! You are fire, You are water, and You are the moon! You are Brahmä, the first living creature, and You are the great-grandfather. I therefore offer my respectful obeisances unto You a thousand times, and again and yet again!
40. Obeisances to You from the front, from behind and from all sides! O unbounded power, You are the master of limitless might! You are all-pervading, and thus You are everything!
41–42. Thinking of You as my friend, I have rashly addressed You “O Kåñëa,” “O Yädava,” “O my friend,” not knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love. I have dishonored You many times, jesting as we relaxed, lay on the same bed, or sat or ate together, sometimes alone and sometimes in front of many friends. O infallible one, please excuse me for all those offenses.
43. You are the father of this complete cosmic manifestation, of the moving and the nonmoving. You are its worshipable chief, the supreme spiritual master. No one is equal to You, nor can anyone be one with You. How then could there be anyone greater than You within the three worlds, O Lord of immeasurable power?
44. You are the Supreme Lord, to be worshiped by every living being. Thus I fall down to offer You my respectful obeisances and ask Your mercy. As a father tolerates the impudence of his son, or a friend tolerates the impertinence of a friend, or a wife tolerates the familiarity of her partner, please tolerate the wrongs I may have done You.
Arjuna is frightened and requests the Lord to again reveal His original form.
45. After seeing this universal form, which I have never seen before, I am gladdened, but at the same time my mind is disturbed with fear. Therefore please bestow Your grace upon me and reveal again Your form as the Personality of Godhead, O Lord of lords, O abode of the universe.
46. O universal form, O thousand-armed Lord, I wish to see You in Your four-armed form, with helmeted head and with club, wheel, conch and lotus flower in Your hands. I long to see You in that form.
47. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, happily have I shown you, by My internal potency, this supreme universal form within the material world. No one before you has ever seen this primal form, unlimited and full of glaring effulgence.
48. O best of the Kuru warriors, no one before you has ever seen this universal form of Mine, for neither by studying the Vedas, nor by performing sacrifices, nor by charity, nor by pious activities, nor by severe penances can I be seen in this form in the material world.
49. You have been perturbed and bewildered by seeing this horrible feature of Mine. Now let it be finished. My devotee, be free again from all disturbances. With a peaceful mind you can now see the form you desire.
50. Saïjaya said to Dhåtaräñöra: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kåñëa, having spoken thus to Arjuna, displayed His real four-armed form and at last showed His two-armed form, thus encouraging the fearful Arjuna.
51. When Arjuna thus saw Kåñëa in His original form, he said: O Janärdana, seeing this humanlike form, so very beautiful, I am now composed in mind, and I am restored to my original nature.
52. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, this form of Mine you are now seeing is very difficult to behold. Even the demigods are ever seeking the opportunity to see this form, which is so dear.
Only by devotional service can one know Kåñëa.
53. The form you are seeing with your transcendental eyes cannot be understood simply by studying the Vedas, nor by undergoing serious penances, nor by charity, nor by worship. It is not by these means that one can see Me as I am.
54. My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.
55. My dear Arjuna, he who engages in My pure devotional service, free from the contaminations of fruitive activities and mental speculation, he who works for Me, who makes Me the supreme goal of his life, and who is friendly to every living being—he certainly comes to Me.
12/ Devotional Service
Personal worship is better than impersonal.
1. Arjuna inquired: Which are considered to be more perfect, those who are always properly engaged in Your devotional service or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?
2. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Those who fix their minds on My personal form and are always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith are considered by Me to be most perfect.
3–4. But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, unchanging, fixed and immovable—the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth—by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.
5. For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.
Stages of devotional service.
6–7. But those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Påthä—for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.
8. Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt.
9. My dear Arjuna, O winner of wealth, if you cannot fix your mind upon Me without deviation, then follow the regulative principles of bhakti-yoga. In this way develop a desire to attain Me.
10. If you cannot practice the regulations of bhakti-yoga, then just try to work for Me, because by working for Me you will come to the perfect stage.
11. If, however, you are unable to work in this consciousness of Me, then try to act giving up all results of your work and try to be self-situated.
12. If you cannot take to this practice, then engage yourself in the cultivation of knowledge. Better than knowledge, however, is meditation, and better than meditation is renunciation of the fruits of action, for by such renunciation one can attain peace of mind.
The characteristics of a pure devotee.
13–14. One who is not envious but is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor and is free from false ego, who is equal in both happiness and distress, who is tolerant, always satisfied, self-controlled, and engaged in devotional service with determination, his mind and intelligence fixed on Me—such a devotee of Mine is very dear to Me.
15. He for whom no one is put into difficulty and who is not disturbed by anyone, who is equipoised in happiness and distress, fear and anxiety, is very dear to Me.
16. My devotee who is not dependent on the ordinary course of activities, who is pure, expert, without cares, free from all pains, and not striving for some result, is very dear to Me.
17. One who neither rejoices nor grieves, who neither laments nor desires, and who renounces both auspicious and inauspicious things—such a devotee is very dear to Me.
18–19. One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equipoised in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy, who is always free from contaminating association, always silent and satisfied with anything, who doesn’t care for any residence, who is fixed in knowledge and who is engaged in devotional service—such a person is very dear to Me.
20. Those who follow this imperishable path of devotional service and who completely engage themselves with faith, making Me the supreme goal, are very, very dear to Me.
RVL 9.13: Nature, the Enjoyer, and Consciousness
13/ Nature, the Enjoyer, and Consciousness
The field and the knower of the field.
1–2. Arjuna said: O my dear Kåñëa, I wish to know about prakåti [nature], puruña [the enjoyer], and the field and the knower of the feld, and of knowledge and the object of knowledge.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: This body, O son of Kunté, is called the field, and one who knows this body is called the knower of the field.
3. O scion of Bharata, you should understand that I am also the knower in all bodies, and to understand this body and its knower is called knowledge. That is My opinion.
4. Now please hear My brief description of this field of activity and how it is constituted, what its changes are, whence it is produced, who that knower of the field of activities is, and what his influences are.
5. That knowledge of the field of activities and of the knower of activities is described by various sages in various Vedic writings. It is especially presented in Vedänta-sütra with all reasoning as to cause and effect.
6–7. The five great elements, false ego, intelligence, the unmanifested, the ten senses and the mind, the five sense objects, desire, hatred, happiness, distress, the aggregate, the life symptoms, and convictions—all these are considered, in summary, to be the field of activities and its interactions.
The items of knowledge.
8–12. Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona fide spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratification; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; evenmindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth—all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.
The soul and the Supersoul.
13. I shall now explain the knowable, knowing which you will taste the eternal. Brahman, the spirit, beginningless and subordinate to Me, lies beyond the cause and effect of this material world.
14. Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes, heads and faces, and He has ears eyerywhere. In this way the Supersoul exists, pervading everything.
15. The Supersoul is the original source of all senses, yet He is without senses. He is unattached, although He is the maintainer of all living beings. He transcends the modes of nature, and at the same time He is the master of all the modes of material nature.
16. The Supreme Truth exists outside and inside of all living beings, the moving and the nonmovingBecause He is subtle, He is beyond the power of the material senses to see or to know. Although far, far away, He is also near to all.
17. Although the Supersoul appears to be divided among all beings, He is never divided. He is situated as one. Although He is the maintainer of every living entity, it is to be understood that He devours and develops all.
18. He is the source of light in all luminous objects. He is beyond the darkness of matter and is unmanifested. He is knowledge, He is the object of knowledge, and He is the goal of knowledge. He is situated in everyone’s heart.
19. Thus the field of activities [the body], knowledge and the knowable have been summarily described by Me. Only My devotees can understand this thoroughly and thus attain to My nature.
How the living entities transmigrate.
20. Material nature and the living entities should be understood to be beginningless. Their transformations and the modes of matter are products of material nature.
21. Nature is said to be the cause of all material causes and effects, whereas the living entity is the cause of the various sufferings and enjoyments in this world.
22. The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species.
23. Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.
24. One who understands this philosophy concerning material nature, the living entity and the interaction of the modes of nature is sure to attain liberation. He will not take birth here again, regardless of his present position.
25. Some perceive the Supersoul within themselves through meditation, others through the cultivation of knowledge, and still others through working without fruitive desires.
26. Again there are those who, although not conversant in spiritual knowledge, begin to worship the Supreme Person upon hearing about Him from others. Because of their tendency to hear from authorities, they also transcend the path of birth and death.
27. O chief of the Bhäratas, know that whatever you see in existence, both the moving and the nonmoving, is only a combination of the field of activities and the knower of the field.
28. One who sees the Supersoul accompanying the individual soul in all bodies, and who understands that neither the soul nor the Supersoul within the destructible body is ever destroyed, actually sees.
29. One who sees the Supersoul equally present everywhere, in every living being, does not degrade himself by his mind. Thus he approaches the transcendental destination.
30. One who can see that all activities are performed by the body, which is created of material nature, and sees that the self does nothing, actually sees.
31. When a sensible man ceases to see different identities due to different material bodies and he sees how beings are expanded everywhere, he attains to the Brahman conception.
32. Those with the vision of eternity can see that the imperishable soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled.
33. The sky, due to its subtle nature, does not mix with anything, although it is all-pervading. Similarly, the soul situated in Brahman vision does not mix with the body, though situated in that body.
34. O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.
35. Those who see with eyes of knowledge the difference between the body and the knower of the body, and can also understand the process of liberation from bondage in material nature, attain to the supreme goal.
RVL 9.14: The Three Modes of Material Nature
14/ The Three Modes of Material Nature
Goodness, passion and ignorance.
1. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Again I shall declare to you this supreme wisdom, the best of all knowledge, knowing which all the sages have attained the supreme perfection.
2. By becoming fixed in this knowledge, one can attain to the transcendental nature like My own. Thus established, one is not born at the time of creation or disturbed at the time of dissolution.
3. The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.
4. It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunté, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.
5. Material nature consists of three modes—goodness, passion and ignorance. When the eternal living entity comes in contact with nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, he becomes conditioned by these modes.
6. O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode become conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge.
7. The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunté, and because of this the embodied living entity is bound to material fruitive actions.
8. O son of Bharata, know that the mode of darkness, born of ignorance, is the delusion of all embodied living entities. The results of this mode are madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.
9. O son of Bharata, the mode of goodness conditions one to happiness; passion conditions one to fruitive action; and ignorance, covering one’s knowledge, binds one to madness.
10. Sometimes the mode of goodness becomes prominent, defeating the modes of passion and ignorance, O son of Bharata. Sometimes the mode of passion defeats goodness and ignorance, and at other times ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.
11. The manifestations of the mode of goodness can be experienced when all the gates of the body are illuminated by knowledge.
12. O chief of the Bhäratas, when there is an increase in the mode of passion the symptoms of great attachment, fruitive activity, intense endeavor, and uncontrollable desire and hankering develop.
13. When there is an increase in the mode of ignorance, O son of Kuru, darkness, inertia, madness and illusion are manifested.
14. When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets of the great sages.
15. When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when one dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom
16. The result of pious action is pure and is said to be in the mode of goodness. But action done in the mode of passion results in misery, and action performed in the mode of ignorance results in foolishness.
17. From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, greed develops; and from the mode of ignorance develop foolishness, madness and illusion.
18. Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the abominable mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.
19. When one properly sees that in all activities no other performer is at work than these modes of nature and he knows the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental to all these modes, he attains My spiritual nature.
20. When the embodied being is able to transcend these three modes associated with the material body, he can become free from birth, death, old age and their distresses and can enjoy nectar even in this life.
21. Arjuna inquired: O my dear Lord, by which symptoms is one known who is transcendental to these three modes? What is his behavior? And how does he transcend the modes of nature?
22–25. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: O son of Päëòu, he who does not hate illumination, attachment and delusion when they are present or long for them when they disappear; who is unwavering and undisturbed through all these reactions of the material qualities, remaining neutral and transcendental, knowing that the modes alone are active; who is situated in the self and regards alike happiness and distress; who looks upon a lump of earth, a stone and a piece of gold with an equal eye; who is equal toward the desirable and the undesirable; who is steady, situated equally well in praise and blame, honor and dishonor; who treats alike both friend and enemy; and who has renounced all material activities—such a person is said to have transcended the modes of nature.
26. One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.
The Supreme Brahman rests in Kåñëa.
27. And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is immortal, imperishable and eternal and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness.
RVL 9.15: The Yoga of the Supreme Person
15/ The Yoga of the Supreme Person
The banyan tree of the material world.
1. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: It is said that there is an imperishable banyan tree that has its roots upward and its branches down and whose leaves are the Vedic hymns. One who knows this tree is the knower of the Vedas.
2. The branches of this tree extend downward and upward, nourished by the three modes of material nature. The twigs are the objects of the senses. This tree also has roots going down, and these are bound to the fruitive actions of human society.
3–4. The real form of this tree cannot be perceived in this world. No one can understand where it ends, where it begins, or where its foundation is. But with determination one must cut down this strongly rooted tree with the weapon of detachment. Thereafter, one must seek that place from which, having gone, one never returns, and there surrender to that Supreme Personality of Godhead from whom everything began and from whom everything has extended since time immemorial.
5. Those who are free from false prestige, illusion and false association, who understand the eternal, who are done with material lust, who are freed from the dualities of happiness and distress, and who, unbewildered, know how to surrender unto the Supreme Person attain to that eternal kingdom.
6. That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world.
The struggling jévas.
7. The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.
8. The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas. Thus he takes one kind of body and again quits it to take another.
9. The living entity, thus taking another gross body, obtains a certain type of ear, eye, tongue, nose and sense of touch, which are grouped about the mind. He thus enjoys a particular set of sense objects.
10. The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.
11. The endeavoring transcendentalists, who are situated in self-realization, can see all this clearly. But those whose minds are not developed and who are not situated in self-realization cannot see what is taking place, though they may try to.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead.
12. The splendor of the sun, which dissipates the darkness of this whole world, comes from Me. And the splendor of the moon and the splendor of fire are also from Me.
13. I enter into each planet, and by My energy they stay in orbit. I become the moon and thereby supply the juice of life to all vegetables.
14. I am the fire of digestion in the bodies of all living entities, and I join with the air of life, outgoing and incoming, to digest the four kinds of foodstuff.
15. I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedänta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.
16. There are two classes of beings, the fallible and the infallible. In the material world every living entity is fallible, and in the spiritual world every living entity is called infallible.
17. Besides these two, there is the greatest living personality, the Supreme Soul, the imperishable Lord Himself, who has entered the three worlds and is maintaining them.
18. Because I am transcendental, beyond both the fallible and the infallible, and because I am the greatest, I am celebrated both in the world and in the Vedas as that Supreme Person.
19. Whoever knows Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, without doubting, is the knower of everything. He therefore engages himself in full devotional service to Me, O son of Bharata.
20. This is the most confidential part of the Vedic scriptures, O sinless one, and it is disclosed now by Me. Whoever understands this will become wise, and his endeavors will know perfection.
RVL 9.16: The Divine and Demoniac Natures
16/ The Divine and Demoniac Natures
The divine nature.
1–3. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Fearlessness; purification of one’s existence; cultivation of spiritual knowledge; charity; self-control; performance of sacrifice; study of the Vedas; austerity; simplicity; nonviolence; truthfulness; freedom from anger; renunciation; tranquility; aversion to faultfinding; compassion for all living entities; freedom from covetousness; gentleness; modesty; steady determination; vigor; forgiveness; fortitude; cleanliness; and freedom from envy and from the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.
The demoniac nature
4. Pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness and ignorance—these qualities belong to those of demoniac nature, O son of Påthä.
5. The transcendental qualities are conducive to liberation, whereas the demoniac qualities make for bondage. Do not worry, O son of Päëòu, for you are born with the divine qualities.
6. O son of Påthä, in this world there are two kinds of created beings. One is called the divine and the other demoniac. I have already explained to you at length the divine qualities. Now hear from Me of the demoniac.
7. Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Neither cleanliness nor proper behavior nor truth is found in them.
8. They say that this world is unreal, with no foundation, no God in control. They say it is produced of sex desire and has no cause other than lust.
9. Following such conclusions, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world.
10. Taking shelter of insatiable lust and absorbed in the conceit of pride and false prestige, the demoniac, thus illusioned, are always sworn to unclean work, attracted by the impermanent.
11–12. They believe that to gratify the senses is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus until the end of life their anxiety is immeasurable. Bound by a network of hundreds of thousands of desires and absorbed in lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense gratification.
13–15. The demoniac person thinks: “So much wealth do I have today, and I will gain more according to my schemes. So much is mine now, and it will increase in the future, more and more. He is my enemy, and I have killed him, and my other enemies will also be killed. I am the lord of everything. I am the enjoyer. I am perfect, powerful and happy. I am the richest man, surrounded by aristocratic relatives. There is none so powerful and happy as I am. I shall perform sacrifices, I shall give some charity, and thus I shall rejoice.” In this way, such persons are deluded by ignorance.
16. Thus perplexed by various anxieties and bound by a network of illusions, they become too strongly attached to sense enjoyment and fall down into hell.
17. Self-complacent and always impudent, deluded by wealth and false prestige, they sometimes proudly perform sacrifices in name only, without following any rules or regulations.
18. Bewildered by false ego, strength, pride, lust and anger, the demons become envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is situated in their own bodies and in the bodies of others, and blaspheme against the real religion.
19. Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, I perpetually cast into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.
Three gates to hell
20. Attaining repeated birth amongst the species of demoniac life, O son of Kunté, such persons can never approach Me. Gradually they sink down to the most abominable type of existence.
21. There are three gates leading to this hell—lust, anger and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.
22. The man who has escaped these three gates of hell, O son of Kunté, performs acts conducive to self-realization and thus gradually attains the supreme destination.
23. He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.
24. One should therefore understand what is duty and what is not duty by the regulations of the scriptures. Knowing such rules and regulations, one should act so that he may gradually be elevated.
RVL 9.17: The Divisions of Faith
17/ The Divisions of Faith
Faith according to the three modes.
1. Arjuna inquired: O Kåñëa, what is the situation of those who do not follow the principles of scripture but worship according to their own imagination? Are they in goodness, in passion or in ignorance?
2. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: According to the modes of nature acquired by the embodied soul, one’s faith can be of three kinds—in goodness, in passion or in ignorance. Now hear about this
3. O son of Bharata, according to one’s existence under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith. The living being is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.
4. Men in the mode of goodness worship the demigods; those in the mode of passion worship the demons; and those in the mode of ignorance worship ghosts and spirits.
5–6. Those who undergo severe austerities and penances not recommended in the scriptures, performing them out of pride and egoism, who are impelled by lust and attachment, who are foolish and who torture the material elements of the body as well as the Supersoul dwelling within, are to be known as demons.
7. Even the food each person prefers is of three kinds, according to the three modes of material nature. The same is true of sacrifices, austerities and charity. Now hear of the distinctions between them.
Food, sacrifice, austerity and charity in the modes.
8. Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart.
9. Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, hot, pungent, dry and burning are dear to those in the mode of passion. Such foods cause distress, misery and disease.
10. Food prepared more than three hours before being eaten, food that is tasteless, decomposed and putrid, and food consisting of remnants and untouchable things is dear to those in the mode of darkness.
11. Of sacrifices, the sacrifice performed according to the directions of scripture, as a matter of duty, by those who desire no reward, is of the nature of goodness.
12. But the sacrifice performed for some material benefit, or for the sake of pride, O chief of the Bhäratas, you should know to be in the mode of passion.
13. Any sacrifice performed without regard for the directions of scripture, without distribution of prasädam [spiritual food], without chanting of Vedic hymns and remunerations to the priests, and without faith is considered to be in the mode of ignorance.
14. Austerity of the body consists in worship of the Supreme Lord, the brähmaëas, the spiritual master, and superiors like the father and mother, and in cleanliness, simplicity, celibacy and nonviolence.
15. Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature.
16. And satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self-control and purification of one’s existence are the austerities of the mind.
17. This threefold austerity, performed with transcendental faith by men not expecting material benefits but engaged only for the sake of the Supreme, is called austerity in goodness.
18. Penance performed out of pride and for the sake of gaining respect, honor and worship is said to be in the mode of passion. It is neither stable nor permanent.
19. Penance performed out of foolishness, with self-torture or to destroy or injure others is said to be in the mode of ignorance.
20. Charity given out of duty, without expectation of return, at the proper time and place, and to a worthy person is considered to be in the mode of goodness.
21. But charity performed with the expectation of some return, or with a desire for fruitive results, or in a grudging mood, is said to be charity in the mode of passion.
22. And charity performed at an impure place, at an improper time, to unworthy persons, or without proper attention and respect is said to be in the mode of ignorance.
Oà tat sat.
23. From the beginning of creation, the three words oà tat sat were used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth. These three symbolic representations were used by brähmaëas while chanting the hymns of the Vedas and during sacrifices for the satisfaction of the Supreme.
24. Therefore, transcendentalists undertaking performances of sacrifice, charity and penance in accordance with scriptural regulations begin always with oà, to attain the Supreme.
25. Without desiring fruitive results, one should perform various kinds of sacrifice, penance and charity with the word tat. The purpose of such transcendental activities is to get free from material entanglement.
26–27. The Absolute Truth is the objective of devotional sacrifice, and it is indicated by the word sat. The performer of such sacrifice is also called sat, as are all works of sacrifice, penance and charity which, true to the absolute nature, are performed to please the Supreme Person, O son of Påthä.
28. Anything done as sacrifice, charity or penance without faith in the Supreme, O son of Påthä, is impermanent. It is called asat and is useless both in this life and in the next.
RVL 9.18: Conclusion—The Perfection of Renunciation
Conclusion—The Perfection of Renunciation
The purpose of renunciation.
1. Arjuna said: O mighty-armed one, I wish to understand the purpose of renunciation [tyäga] and of the renounced order of life [sannyäsa], O killer of the Keçi demon, master of the senses.
2. The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: The giving up of activities that are based on material desire is what great learned men call the renounced order of life [sannyäsa]. And giving up the results of all activities is what the wise call renunciation [tyäga].
3. Some learned men declare that all kinds of fruitive activities should be given up as faulty, yet other sages maintain that acts of sacrifice, charity and penance should never be abandoned.
4. O best of the Bhäratas, now hear My judgment about renunciation. O tiger among men, renunciation is declared in the scriptures to be of three kinds.
5. Acts of sacrifice, charity and penance are not to be given up; they must be performed. Indeed, sacrifice, charity and penance purify even the great souls.
6. All these activities should be performed without attachment or any expectation of result. They should be performed as a matter of duty, O son of Påthä. That is My final opinion.
Prescribed duties should not be renounced.
7. Prescribed duties should never be renounced. If one gives up his prescribed duties because of illusion, such renunciation is said to be in the mode of ignorance.
8. Anyone who gives up prescribed duties as troublesome or out of fear of bodily discomfort is said to have renounced in the mode of passion. Such action never leads to the elevation of renunciation.
9. O Arjuna, when one performs his prescribed duty only because it ought to be done, and renounces all material association and all attachment to the fruit, his renunciation is said to be in the mode of goodness.
10. The intelligent renouncer situated in the mode of goodness, neither hateful of inauspicious work nor attached to auspicious work, has no doubts about work.
11. It is indeed impossible for an embodied being to give up all activities. But he who renounces the fruits of action is called one who has truly renounced.
12. For one who is not renounced, the threefold fruits of action—desirable, undesirable and mixed—accrue after death. But those who are in the renounced order of life have no such results to suffer or enjoy.
The five factors of action.
13. O mighty-armed Arjuna, according to the Vedänta there are five causes for the accomplishment of all action. Now learn of these from Me.
14. The place of action [the body], the performer, the various senses, the many different kinds of endeavor, and ultimately the Supersoul—these are the five factors of action.
15. Whatever right or wrong action a man performs by body, mind or speech is caused by these five factors.
16. Therefore one who thinks himself the only doer, not considering the five factors, is certainly not very intelligent and cannot see things as they are.
17. One who is not motivated by false ego, whose intelligence is not entangled, though he kills men in this world, does not kill. Nor is he bound by his actions.
Three kinds of knowledge, actions, and workers.
18. Knowledge, the object of knowledge, and the knower are the three factors that motivate action; the senses, the work and the doer are the three constituents of action.
19. According to the three different modes of material nature, there are three kinds of knowledge, action and performer of action. Now hear of them from Me.
20. That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all living entities, though they are divided into innumerable forms, you should understand to be in the mode of goodness.
21. That knowledge by which one sees that in every different body there is a different type of living entity you should understand to be in the mode of passion.
22. And that knowledge by which one is attached to one kind of work as the all in all, without knowledge of the truth, and which is very meager, is said to be in the mode of darkness.
23. That action which is regulated and which is performed without attachment, without love or hatred, and without desire for fruitive results is said to be in the mode of goodness.
24. But action performed with great effort by one seeking to gratify his desires, and enacted from a sense of false ego, is called action in the mode of passion.
25. That action performed in illusion, in disregard of scriptural injunctions, and without concern for future bondage or for violence or distress caused to others is said to be in the mode of ignorance.
26. One who performs his duty without association with the modes of material nature, without false ego, with great determination and enthusiasm, and without wavering in success or failure is said to be a worker in the mode of goodness.
27. The worker who is attached to work and the fruits of work, desiring to enjoy those fruits, who is greedy, always envious, impure, and moved by joy and sorrow, is said to be in the mode of passion.
28. The worker who is always engaged in work against the injunctions of the scripture, who is materialistic, obstinate, cheating and expert in insulting others, and who is lazy, always morose and procrastinating is said to be a worker in the mode of ignorance.
Three kinds of understanding and determination.
29. O winner of wealth, now please listen as I tell you in detail of the different kinds of understanding and determination, according to the three modes of material nature.
30. O son of Påthä, that understanding by which one knows what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, what is to be feared and what is not to be feared, what is binding and what is liberating, is in the mode of goodness.
31. O son of Påthä, that understanding which cannot distinguish between religion and irreligion, between action that should be done and action that should not be done, is in the mode of passion.
32. That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives always in the wrong direction, O Pärtha, is in the mode of ignorance.
33. O son of Påthä, that determination which is unbreakable, which is sustained with steadfastness by yoga practice, and which thus controls the activities of the mind, life and senses is determination in the mode of goodness.
34. But that determination by which one holds fast to fruitive results in religion, economic development and sense gratification is of the nature of passion, O Arjuna.
35. And that determination which cannot go beyond dreaming, fearfulness, lamentation, moroseness and illusion—such unintelligent determination, O son of Påthä, is in the mode of darkness.
Three kinds of happiness.
36. O best of the Bhäratas, now please hear from Me about the three kinds of happiness by which the conditioned soul enjoys, and by which he sometimes comes to the end of all distress.
37. That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.
38. That happiness which is derived from contact of the senses with their objects and which appears like nectar at first but poison at the end is said to be of the nature of passion
39. And that happiness which is blind to self-realization, which is delusion from beginning to end and which arises from sleep, laziness and illusion is said to be of the nature of ignorance.
40. There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, which is freed from these three modes born of material nature.
41. Brähmaëas, kñatriyas, vaiçyas and çüdras are distinguished by the qualities born of their own natures in accordance with the material modes, O chastiser of the enemy.
Duties of the four orders of life.
42. Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brähmaëas work.
43. Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the kñatriyas.
44. Farming, cow protection and business are the natural work for the vaiçyas, and for the çüdras there is labor and service to others.
45. By following his qualities of work, every man can become perfect. Now please hear from Me how this can be done.
46. By worship of the Lord, who is the source of all beings and who is all-pervading, a man can attain perfection through performing his own work.
47. It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.
48. Every endeavor is covered by some fault, just as fire is covered by smoke. Therefore one should not give up the work born of his nature, O son of Kunté, even if such work is full of fault.
49. One who is self-controlled and unattached and who disregards all material enjoyments can obtain, by practice of renunciation, the highest perfect stage of freedom from reaction.
Attaining perfection by devotion to the Supreme Person.
50. O son of Kunté, learn from Me how one who has achieved this perfection can attain to the supreme perfectional stage, Brahman, the stage of highest knowledge, by acting in the way I shall now summarize.
51–53. Being purified by his intelligence and controlling the mind with determination, giving up the objects of sense gratification, being freed from attachment and hatred, one who lives in a secluded place, who eats little, who controls his body, mind and power of speech, who is always in trance and is detached, free from false ego, false strength, false pride, lust, anger, and acceptance of material things, who is free from false proprietorship, and who is peaceful—such a person is certainly elevated to the position of self-realization.
54. One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything. He is equally disposed toward every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.
55. One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.
56. Though engaged in all kinds of activities, My pure devotee, under My protection, reaches the eternal and imperishable abode by My grace.
57. In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me.
58. If you become conscious of Me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditioned life by My grace. If, however, you do not work in such consciousness but act through false ego, not hearing Me, you will be lost.
59. If you do not act according to My direction and do not fight, then you will be falsely directed. By your nature, you will have to be engaged in warfare.
60. Under illusion you are now declining to act according to My direction. But, compelled by the work born of your own nature, you will act all the same, O son of Kunté.
61. The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.
62. O scion of Bharata, surrender unto Him utterly. By His grace you will attain transcendental peace and the supreme and eternal abode.
63. Thus I have explained to you knowledge still more confidential. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.
64. Because you are My very dear friend, I am speaking to you My supreme instruction, the most confidential knowledge of all. Hear this from Me, for it is for your benefit
65. Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.
The conclusion of the Gétä.
66. Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.
67. This confidential knowledge may never be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.
68. For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, pure devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.
69. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.
70. And I declare that he who studies this sacred conversation of ours worships Me by his intelligence
71. And one who listens with faith and without envy becomes free from sinful reactions and attains to the auspicious planets where the pious dwell.
72. O son of Påthä, O conqueror of wealth, have you heard this with an attentive mind? And are your ignorance and illusions now dispelled?
73. Arjuna said: My dear Kåñëa, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.
74. Saïjaya said: Thus have I heard the conversation of two great souls, Kåñëa and Arjuna. And so wonderful is that message that my hair is standing on end.
75. By the mercy of Vyäsa, I have heard these most confidential talks directly from the master of all mysticism, Kåñëa, who was speaking personally to Arjuna.
76. O King, as I repeatedly recall this wondrous and holy dialogue between Kåñëa and Arjuna, I take pleasure, being thrilled at every moment.
77. O King, as I remember the wonderful form of Lord Kåñëa, I am struck with wonder more and more, and I rejoice again and again.
78. Wherever there is Kåñëa, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality. That is my opinion.
(end of Bhagavad-gita)
RVL 10: Readings: BHÄGAVATA PURÄËA
10. BHÄGAVATA PURÄËA
RVL 10.1: ADVENT OF LORD KÅÑËA
Once the world was overburdened by the unnecessary defense force of different kings, who were actually demons but were posing themselves as the royal order. At that time, the whole world became perturbed, and the predominating deity of this earth, known as Bhümi, went to see Lord Brahmä to tell of her calamities due to the demoniac kings. Bhümi assumed the shape of a cow and presented herself before Lord Brahmä with tears in her eyes. She was bereaved and was weeping just to invoke the lord’s compassion. She related the calamitous position of the earth, and after hearing this, Lord Brahmä became much aggrieved, and he at once started for the ocean of milk, where Lord Viñëu resides. Lord Brahmä was accompanied by all the demigods headed by Lord Çiva, and Bhümi also followed. Arriving on the shore of the milk ocean, Lord Brahmä began to pacify Lord Viñëu, who formerly saved the earthly planet by assuming the transcendental form of a boar.
In the Vedic mantras, there is a particular type of prayer called Puruña-sükta. Generally, the demigods offer their obeisances unto Viñëu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by chanting the Puruña-sükta. It is understood herein that the predominating deity of every planet can see the supreme lord of this universe, Brahmä, whenever there is some disturbance in his planet. And Brahmä can approach the Supreme Lord Viñëu, not by seeing Him directly, but by standing on the shore of the ocean of milk. There is a planet within this universe called Çvetadvépa, and on that planet there is an ocean of milk. It is understood from various Vedic literatures that just as there is the ocean of salt water within this planet, there are various kinds of oceans in other planets. Somewhere there is an ocean of milk, somewhere an ocean of oil, and somewhere there is an ocean of liquor and many other types of oceans. Puruña-sükta is the standard prayer which the demigods recite to appease the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kñirodakaçäyé Viñëu. Because He is Iying on the ocean of milk, He is called Kñirodakaçäyé Viñëu. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, through whom all the incarnations within this universe appear.
After all the demigods offered the Puruña-sükta prayer to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they apparently heard no response. Then Lord Brahmä personally sat in meditation, and there was a message transmission from Lord Viñëu to Brahmä. Brahmä then broadcast the message to the demigods. That is the system of receiving Vedic knowledge. The Vedic knowledge is received first by Brahmä from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, through the medium of the heart. As stated in the beginning of Çrémad-Bhägavatam, tene brahma hådä: the transcendental knowledge of the Vedas was transmitted to Lord Brahmä through the heart. Here also, in the same way, only Brahmä could understand the message transmitted by Lord Viñëu, and he broadcast it to the demigods for their immediate action. The message was: the Supreme Personality of Godhead will appear on the earth very soon along with His supreme powerful potencies, and as long as He remains on the earth planet to execute His mission of annihilating the demons and establishing the devotees, the demigods should also remain there to assist Him. They should all immediately take birth in the family of the Yadu dynasty, wherein the Lord will also appear in due course of time.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, Kåñëa, personally appeared as the son of Vasudeva. Before He appeared, all the demigods, along with their wives, appeared in different pious families in the world just to assist the Lord in executing His mission. The exact word used here is tat-priyärtham, which means the demigods should appear on the earth in order to please the Lord. In other words, any living entity who lives only to satisfy the Lord is a demigod. The demigods were further informed that the plenary portion of Lord Kåñëa, Ananta, who is maintaining the universal planets by extending His millions of hoods, would also appear on earth before Lord Kåñëa’s appearance. They were also informed that the external potency of Viñëu (Mäyä), with whom all the conditioned souls are enamored, would also appear just to execute the purpose of the Supreme Lord.
After instructing and pacifying all the demigods, as well as Bhümi, with sweet words, Lord Brahmä, the father of all Prajäpatis, or progenitors of universal population, departed for his own abode, the highest material planet, called Brahmaloka.
The leader of the Yadu dynasty, King Çürasena, was ruling over the country known as Mathurä (the district of Mathurä) as well as the district known as Çürasena. On account of the rule of King Çürasena, Mathurä became the capital city of all the kings of the Yadus. Mathurä was also made the capital of the kings of the Yadu dynasty because the Yadus were a very pious family and knew that Mathurä is the place where Lord Çré Kåñëa lives eternally, just as He also lives in Dvärakä.
The son of Çürasena was Vasudeva, and Kåñëa was to appear as the son of Vasudeva. Vasudeva married Devaké, whose father Devaka, contributed an opulent dowry. The newly married couple were being driven home in a chariot in a grand procession led by Kaàsa, Devaké’s brother. Suddenly Kaàsa heard a voice from the sky which announced to him that the eighth child born of his sister and brother-in-law would kill him. Being of demoniac mentality, Kaàsa immediately tried to kill his sister, but Vasudeva persuaded him to spare her, and promised they would surrender to him whatever children were born.
Later the sage Närada visited Kaàsa and informed him that in his past life he had been killed by Viñëu and that the prediction of the child who would kill him referred to Lord Viñëu, who was to take birth as the son of Devaké.
Kaàsa then decided to imprison both Devaké and Vasudeva. Within the prison shackled in chains, Vasudeva and Devaké gave birth to a male child year after year, and Kaàsa, thinking each of the babies to be the incarnation of Viñëu, killed them one after another.
When Devaké was pregnant for the seventh time, an expansion of Kåñëa known as Ananta appeared within her womb. Kåñëa, the Supreme Lord, then ordered His internal mystic potency, Yogamäyä, to transfer Ananta to the womb of Rohiné, another of Vasudeva’s wives who was—due to the persecutions of Kaàsa—residing in Våndävana at the house of King Nanda and Yaçodä. He then informed Yogamäyä that she would be born as the daughter of Nanda and Yaçodä.
RVL 10.2: BIRTH OF LORD KÅÑËA
BIRTH OF LORD KÅÑËA
When the time was mature for the appearance of the Lord, the constellations became very auspicious. The astrological influence of the star known as Rohiëé was also predominant because this star is considered to be very auspicious. Rohiëé is under the direct supervision of Brahmä. According to the astrological conclusion, besides the proper situation of the stars, there are auspicious and inauspicious moments due to the different situations of the different planetary systems. At the time of Kåñëa’s birth, the planetary systems were automatically adjusted so that everything became auspicious.
At that time, in all directions, east, west, south, north, everywhere, there was an atmosphere of peace and prosperity. There were auspicious stars visible in the sky, and on the surface in all towns and villages or pasturing grounds and within the mind of everyone there were signs of good fortune. The rivers were flowing full of waters, and lakes were beautifully decorated with lotus flowers. The forests were full with beautiful birds and peacocks. All the birds within the forests began to sing with sweet voices, and the peacocks began to dance along with their consorts. The wind blew very pleasantly, carrying the aroma of different flowers, and the sensation of bodily touch was very pleasing. At home, the brähmaëas, who were accustomed to offer sacrifices in the fire, found their homes very pleasant for offerings. Due to disturbances created by the demoniac kings, the sacrificial fire altar had been almost stopped in the houses of brähmaëas, but now they could find the opportunity to start the fire peacefully. Being forbidden to offer sacrifices, the brähmaëas were very distressed in mind, intelligence and activities, but just on the point of Kåñëa’s appearance, automatically their minds became full of joy because they could hear loud vibrations in the sky of transcendental sounds proclaiming the appearance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The denizens of the Gandharva and Kinnara planets began to sing, and the denizens of Siddhaloka and the planets of the Cäraëas began to offer prayers in the service of the Personality of Godhead. In the heavenly planets, the angels along with their wives, accompanied by the Apsaräs, began to dance.
The great sages and the demigods, being pleased, began to shower flowers. At the seashore, there was the sound of mild waves, and above the sea there were clouds in the sky which began to thunder very pleasingly.
When things were adjusted like this, Lord Viñëu, who is residing within the heart of every living entity, appeared in the darkness of night as the Supreme Personality of Godhead before Devaké, who also appeared as one of the demigoddesses. The appearance of Lord Viñëu at that time could be compared to the full moon in the sky as it rises on the eastern horizon. The objection may be raised that, since Lord Kåñëa appeared on the eighth day of the waning moon, there could be no rising of the full moon. In answer to this it may be said that Lord Kåñëa appeared in the dynasty which is in the hierarchy of the moon; therefore, although the moon was incomplete on that night, because of the Lord’s appearance in the dynasty wherein the moon is himself the original person, the moon was in an overjoyous condition, so by the grace of Kåñëa he could appear just as a full moon.
In an astronomical treatise by the name Khamäëikya, the constellations at the time of the appearance of Lord Kåñëa are very nicely described. It is confirmed that the child born at that auspicious moment was the Supreme Brahman or the Absolute Truth.
Vasudeva saw that wonderful child born as a baby with four hands, holding conchshell, club, disc and lotus flower, decorated with the mark of Çrévatsa, wearing the jeweled necklace of kaustubha stone, dressed in yellow silk, appearing dazzling like a bright blackish cloud, wearing a helmet bedecked with the vaidürya stone, valuable bracelets, earrings and similar other ornaments all over His body and an abundance of hair on His head. Due to the extraordinary features of the child, Vasudeva was struck with wonder. How could a newly born child be so decorated? He could therefore understand that Lord Kåñëa had now appeared, and he became overpowered by the occasion. Vasudeva very humbly wondered that although he was an ordinary living entity conditioned by material nature and was externally imprisoned by Kaàsa, the all-pervading Personality of Godhead, Viñëu or Kåñëa, was appearing as a child in his home, exactly in His original position. No earthly child is born with four hands and decorated with ornaments and nice clothing, fully equipped with all the signs of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Over and over again, Vasudeva glanced at his child, and he considered how to celebrate this auspicious moment: “Generally, when a male child is born,” he thought, “people observe the occasion with jubilant celebrations, and in my home, although I am imprisoned, the Supreme Personality of Godhead has taken birth. How many millions and millions of times should I be prepared to observe this auspicious ceremony!”
When Vasudeva, who is also called Änakadundubhi, was looking at his newborn baby, he was so happy that he wanted to give many thousands of cows in charity to the brähmaëas. According to the Vedic system, whenever there is an auspicious ceremony in the kñatriya king’s palace, the king gives many things in charity. Cows decorated with golden ornaments are delivered to the brähmaëas and sages. Vasudeva wanted to perform a charitable ceremony to celebrate Kåñëa’s appearance, but because he was shackled within the walls of Kaàsa’s prison, this was not possible. Instead, within his mind he gave thousands of cows to the brähmaëas.
When Vasudeva was convinced that the newborn child was the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, he bowed down with folded hands and began to offer Him prayers. At that time Vasudeva was in the transcendental position, and he became completely free from all fear of Kaàsa. The newborn baby was also flashing His effulgence within the room in which He appeared.
Vasudeva then began to offer his prayers: “My dear Lord, I can understand who You are. You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Supersoul of all living entities and the Absolute Truth. You have appeared in Your own eternal form, which is directly perceived by us. I understand that because I am afraid of Kaàsa, You have appeared just to deliver me from that fear. You do not belong to this material world; You are the same person who brings about the cosmic manifestation simply by glancing over material nature.”
The Lord spoke to Devaké and Vasudeva: “I appeared in this Viñëu form just to convince you that I am the same Supreme Personality of Godhead again taken birth. I could have appeared just like an ordinary child, but in that way you would not believe that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, have taken birth in your womb. My dear father and mother, you have therefore raised Me many times as your child, with great affection and love, and I am therefore very pleased and obliged to you. And I assure you that this time you shall go back home, back to Godhead, on account of your perfection in your mission. I know you are very concerned about Me and afraid of Kaàsa. Therefore I order you to take Me immediately to Gokula and replace Me with the daughter who has just been born to Yaçodä.”
Having spoken thus in the presence of His father and mother, the Lord turned Himself into an ordinary child and remained silent.
Being ordered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva attempted to take his son from the delivery room, and exactly at that time, a daughter was born of Nanda and Yaçodä. She was Yogamäyä, the internal potency of the Lord. By the influence of this internal potency, Yogamäyä, all the residents of Kaàsa’s palace, especially the doorkeepers, were overwhelmed with deep sleep, and all the palace doors opened, although they were barred and shackled with iron chainsThe night was very dark, but as soon as Vasudeva took Kåñëa on his lap and went out, he could see everything just as in the sunlight.
In the Caitanya-caritämåta it is said that Kåñëa is just like sunlight, and wherever there is Kåñëa, the illusory energy, which is compared to darkness, cannot remain. When Vasudeva was carrying Kåñëa, the darkness of the night disappeared. All the prison doors automatically opened. At the same time there was thunder in the sky and severe rainfall. While Vasudeva was carrying his son Kåñëa in the falling rain, Lord Çeña in the shape of a serpent spread His hood over the head of Vasudeva so that he would not be hampered by the rainfall. Vasudeva came onto the bank of the Yamunä and saw that the water of the Yamunä was roaring with waves and that the whole span was full of foam. Still, in that furious feature, the river gave passage to Vasudeva to cross, just as the great Indian Ocean gave a path to Lord Räma when He was bridging over the gulf. In this way Vasudeva crossed the River Yamunä. On the other side, he went to the place of Nanda Mahäräja situated in Gokula, where he saw that all the cowherd men were fast asleep. He took the opportunity of silently entering into the house of Yaçodä, and without difficulty he exchanged his son for the baby girl newly born in the house of Yaçodä. Then, after entering the house very silently and exchanging the boy with the girl, he again returned to the prison of Kaàsa and silently put the girl on the lap of Devaké. He again clamped the shackles on himself so that Kaàsa could not recognize that so many things had happened.
Mother Yaçodä understood that a child was born of her, but because she was very tired from the labor of childbirth, she was fast asleep. When she awoke, she could not remember whether she had given birth to a male or female child.
RVL 10.3: KAÀSA BEGINS HIS PERSECUTIONS
KAÀSA BEGINS HIS PERSECUTIONS
After Vasudeva adjusted all the doors and gates, the gatekeepers awoke and heard the newborn child crying. Kaàsa was waiting to hear the news of the child’s birth, and the gatekeepers immediately approached him and informed him that the child was born. At that time, Kaàsa got up from his bed very quickly and exclaimed, “Now the cruel death of my life is born!” Kaàsa became perplexed now that his death was approaching, and his hair stood on end. Immediately he proceeded toward the place where the child was born.
Devaké, on seeing her brother approaching, prayed in a very meek attitude to Kaàsa: “My dear brother, please do not kill this female child. I promise that this child will be the wife of your son; therefore don’t kill her. You are not to be killed by any female child. That was the omen. You are to be killed by a male child, so please do not kill her. My dear brother, you have killed so many of my children who were just born, shining as the sun. That is not your fault. You have been advised by demoniac friends to kill my children. But now I beg you to excuse this girl. Let her live as my daughter.”
Kaàsa was so cruel that he did not listen to the beautiful prayers of his sister Devaké. He forcibly grabbed the newborn child to rebuke his sister and attempted to dash her on the stone mercilessly. This is a graphic example of a cruel brother who could sacrifice all relationships for the sake of personal gratification. But immediately the child slipped out of his hands, went up in the sky and appeared with eight arms as the younger sister of Viñëu. She was decorated with a nice dress and flower garlands and ornaments; in her eight hands she held a bow, lance, arrows, bell, conchshell, disc, club and shield.
Seeing the appearance of the child (who was actually the goddess Durgä), all the demigods from different planets like Siddhaloka, Cäraëaloka, Gandharvaloka, Apsaroloka, Kinnaraloka and Uragaloka presented her articles and began to offer their respective prayers>From above, the goddess addressed Kaàsa: “You rascal, how can you kill me? The child who will kill you is already born before me somewhere within this world. Don’t be so cruel to your poor sister.” After this appearance, the goddess Durgä became known by various names in various parts of the world.
Kaàsa became very fearful and released Vasudeva and Devaké from prison. But the next day his demoniac ministers convinced him that he should try to remove the danger to his life by killing all children who had been born within ten days and to persecute the brähmaëas and Vaiñëavas. Baby Kåñëa, however, was living incognito in Våndävana as the son of Nanda, and He thus escaped the persecutions of Kaàsa. He began to perform miraculous pastimes, even as an infant. Thus giant demons such as Pütanä and Tåëävarta, sent to kill infants, were killed by Kåñëa in displays of His supreme power. Meanwhile Vasudeva did not reveal that he was the father of Kåñëa, but he encouraged Nanda to raise the child with all care.
VISION OF THE UNIVERSAL FORM
After this incident, Vasudeva asked his family priest Gargamuni to visit the place of Nanda Mahäräja in order to astrologically calculate the future life of Kåñëa. Gargamuni was a great saintly sage who underwent many austerities and penances and was appointed priest of the Yadu dynasty. When Gargamuni arrived at the home of Nanda Mahäräja, Nanda Mahäräja was very pleased to see him and immediately stood up with folded hands and offered his respectful obeisances. He received Gargamuni with the feeling of one who is worshiping God or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He offered him a nice sitting place, and when he sat down, Nanda Mahäräja offered him a warm reception. Addressing him very politely, he said: “My dear brähmaëa, your appearance in a householder’s place is only =o enlighten. We are always engaged in household duties and are forgetting our real duty of self-realization. Your coming to our house is to give us some enlightenment about spiritual life. You have no other purpose to visit householders.” Actually a saintly person or a brähmaëa has no business visiting householders, who are always busy in the matter of dollars and cents. If it is asked, “Why don’t the householders go to a saintly person or a brähmaëa for enlightenment?” the answer is that householders are very poor-hearted. Generally householders think that their engagement in family affairs is their prime duty and that self-realization or enlightenment in spiritual knowledge is secondary. Out of compassion only, saintly persons and brähmaëas go to householders’ homes.
Nanda Mahäräja addressed Gargamuni as one of the great authorities in astrological science. The foretellings of astrological science, such as the occurrence of solar or lunar eclipses, are wonderful calculations, and by this particular science, a person can understand the future very clearly. Gargamuni was proficient in this knowledge. By this knowledge one can understand what his previous activities were, and by the result of such activities one may enjoy or suffer in this life.
Upon this request, Gargamuni replied, “Vasudeva has sent me to see to the reformatory performances of these boys, especially Kåñëa’s. I am their family priest, and incidentally, it appears to me that Kåñëa is the son of Devaké.” By his astrological calculation, Gargamuni could understand that Kåñëa was the son of Devaké but that He was being kept under the care of Nanda Mahäräja, which Nanda did not know. Indirectly he said that Kåñëa and Balaräma were both sons of Vasudeva. Balaräma was known as the son of Vasudeva because His mother, Rohiëé, was present there, but Nanda Mahäräja did not know about Kåñëa. Gargamuni indirectly disclosed the fact that Kåñëa was the son of Devaké. Gargamuni also warned Nanda Mahäräja that if he would perform the reformatory ceremony, then Kaàsa, who was naturally very sinful, would understand that Kåñëa was the son of Devaké and Vasudeva. According to astrological calculation, Devaké could not have a female child, although everyone thought that the eighth child of Devaké was female. In this way Gargamuni intimated to Nanda Mahäräja that the female child was born of Yaçodä and that Kåñëa was born of Devaké, and they were exchanged. The female child, or Durgä, also informed Kaàsa that the child who would kill him was already born somewhere else. Gargamuni stated, “If I give your child a name and if He fulfills the prophecy of the female child to Kaàsa, then it may be that the sinful demon will come and kill this child also after the name-giving ceremony. But I do not want to become responsible for all these future calamities.”
On hearing the words of Gargamuni, Nanda Mahäräja said, “If there is such danger, then it is better not to plan any gorgeous name-giving ceremony. It would be better for you to simply chant the Vedic hymns and perform the purificatory process. We belong to the twice-born caste, and I am taking this opportunity of your presence. So please perform the name-giving ceremony without external pomp.” Nanda Mahäräja wanted to keep the name-giving ceremony a secret and yet take advantage of Gargamuni’s performing the ceremony.
When Gargamuni was so eagerly requested by Nanda Mahäräja, he performed the name-giving ceremony as secretly as possible in the cowshed of Nanda Mahäräja. He informed Nanda Mahäräja that Balaräma, the son of Rohiëé would be very pleasing to His family members and relatives and therefore would be called Räma. In the future He would be extraordinarily strong and therefore would be called Balaräma. Gargamuni said further, “Because your family and the family of the Yadus are so intimately connected and attracted, His name will also be Saìkarñaëa.” This means that Gargamuni awarded three names to the son of Rohiëé—namely Balaräma, Saìkarñaëa, and Baladeva. But he carefully did not disclose the fact that Balaräma also appeared in the womb of Devaké and was subsequently transferred to the womb of Rohiëé. Kåñëa and Balaräma are real brothers, being originally sons of Devaké.
Gargamuni then informed Nanda Mahäräja, “As far as the other boy is concerned, this child has taken different bodily complexions in different yugas (millennia). First of all He assumed the color white, then He assumed the color red, then the color yellow, and now He has assumed the color black. Besides that, He was formerly the son of Vasudeva; therefore His name should be Väsudeva as well as Kåñëa. Some people will call Him Kåñëa, and some will call Him Väsudeva. But one thing you must know: This son has had many, many other names and activities due to His different pastimes.”
Gargamuni gave Nanda Mahäräja a further hint that his son would also be called Giridhäré because of His uncommon pastimes of lifting Govardhana Hill. Since he could understand everything past and future, he said, “I know everything about His activities and name, but others do not know. This child will be very pleasing to all the cowherd men and cows. Being very popular in Våndävana, He will be the cause of all good fortune for you. Because of His presence, you will overcome all kinds of material calamities, despite opposing elements.”
Gargamuni continued to say, “My dear King of Vraja, in His previous births, this child many times protected righteous persons from the hands of rogues and thieves whenever there was a political disruption. Your child is so powerful that anyone who will become a devotee of your boy will never be troubled by enemies. Just as demigods are always protected by Lord Viñëu, the devotees of your child will always be protected by Näräyaëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This child will grow in power, beauty, opulence—in everything—on the level of Näräyaëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore I would advise that you protect Him very carefully so that He may grow without disturbance.”
Gargamuni further informed Nanda Mahäräja that because he was a great devotee of Näräyaëa, Lord Näräyaëa gave a son who is equal to Him. At the same time he indicated, “Your son will be disturbed by so many demons, so be careful and protect Him.” In this way, Gargamuni convinced Nanda Mahäräja that Näräyaëa Himself had become his son. In various ways he described the transcendental qualities of his son. After giving this information, Gargamuni returned to his home. Nanda Mahäräja began to think of himself as the most fortunate person, and he was very satisfied to be benedicted in this way.
A short time after this incident, both Balaräma and Kåñëa began to crawl on Their hands and knees. When They were crawling like that, They pleased Their mothers. The bells tied to Their waist and ankles sounded fascinating, and They would move around very pleasingly. Sometimes, just like ordinary children, They would be frightened by others and would immediately hurry to Their mothers for protection. Sometimes They would fall into the clay and mud of Våndävana and would approach Their mothers smeared with clay and saffron. They were actually smeared with saffron and sandalwood pulp by Their mothers, but due to crawling over muddy clay, They would simultaneously smear Their bodies with clay. As soon as They would come crawling to Their mothers, Yaçodä and Rohiëé would take Them on their laps and, covering the lower portion of their saris, allow Them to suck their breasts. When the babies were sucking their breasts, the mothers would see small teeth coming in. Thus their joy would be intensified to see their children grow. Sometimes the naughty babies would crawl up to the cowshed, catch the tail of a calf and stand up. The calves, being disturbed, would immediately begin running here and there, and the children would be dragged over clay and cow dung. To see this fun, Yaçodä and Rohiëé would call all their neighboring friends, the gopés. Upon seeing these childhood pastimes of Lord Kåñëa, the gopés would be merged in transcendental bliss. In their enjoyment they would laugh very loudly.
Both Kåñëa and Balaräma were so restless that Their mothers Yaçodä and Rohiëé would try to protect Them from cows, bulls, monkeys, water, fire and birds while they were executing their household duties. Always being anxious to protect the children and to execute their duties, they were not very tranquil. In a very short time, both Kåñëa and Balaräma began to stand up and slightly move on Their legsKåñëa and Balaräma began to walk, other friends of the same age joined Them, and together they began to give the highest transcendental pleasure to the gopés, specifically to mother Yaçodä and Rohiëé.
All the gopé friends of Yaçodä and Rohiëé enjoyed the naughty childish activities of Kåñëa and Balaräma in Våndävana. In order to enjoy further transcendental bliss, they all assembled and went to mother Yaçodä to lodge complaints against the restless boys. When Kåñëa was sitting before mother Yaçodä, all the elderly gopés began to lodge complaints against Him so that Kåñëa could hear. They said, “Dear Yaçodä, why don’t you restrict your naughty Kåñëa. He comes to our houses along with Balaräma every morning and evening, and before the milking of the cows They let loose the calves, and the calves drink all the milk of the cows. So when we go to milk the cows, we find no milk, and we have to return with empty pots. If we warn Kåñëa and Balaräma about doing this, They simply smile charmingly. We cannot do anything. Also, your Kåñëa and Balaräma find great pleasure in stealing our stock of yogurt and butter from wherever we keep itWhen Kåñëa and Balaräma are caught stealing the yogurt and butter, They say, ‘Why do you charge Us with stealing? Do you think that butter and yogurt are in scarcity in our house?’ Sometimes They steal butter, yogurt and milk and distribute them to the monkeys. When the monkeys are well fed and do not take any more, then your boys chide, ‘This milk and butter and yogurt are useless—even the monkeys won’t take it.’ And They break the pots and throw them hither and thither. If we keep our stock of yogurt, butter and milk in a solitary dark place, your Kåñëa and Balaräma find it in the darkness by the glaring effulgence of the ornaments and jewels on Their bodies. If by chance They cannot find the hidden butter and yogurt, They go to our little babies and pinch their bodies so that they cry, and then They go away. If we keep our stock of butter and yogurt high on the ceiling, hanging on a swing, although it is beyond Their reach, They arrange to reach it by piling all kinds of wooden crates over the grinding machine. And if They cannot reach, They make a hole in the pot. We think therefore that you’d better take all the jeweled ornaments from the bodies of your children.”
On hearing this, Yaçodä would say, “All right, I will take all the jewels from Kåñëa so that He cannot see the butter hidden in the darkness.” Then the gopés would say, “No, no don’t do this. What good will you do by taking away the jewels? We do not know what kind of boys these are, but even without ornaments They spread some kind of effulgence so that even in darkness They can see everything.” Then mother Yaçodä would inform them, “All right, keep your butter and yogurt carefully so that They may not reach it.” In reply to this, the gopés said, “Yes, actually we do so, but because we are sometimes engaged in our household duties, these naughty boys enter our house somehow or other and spoil everything. Sometimes being unable to steal our butter and yogurt, out of anger They pass urine on the clean floor and sometimes spit on it. Just see your boy now—He is hearing this complaint. All day They simply make arrangements to steal our butter and yogurt, and now They are sitting just like very silent good boys. Just see His face.” When mother Yaçodä thought to chastise her boy after hearing all the complaints, she saw His pitiable face, and smiling, she did not chastise Him
Another day, when Kåñëa and Balaräma were playing with Their friends, all the boys joined Balaräma and told mother Yaçodä that Kåñëa had eaten clay. On hearing this, mother Yaçodä caught hold of Kåñëa’s hand and said, “My dear Kåñëa, why have You eaten earth in a solitary place? Just see, all Your friends, including Balaräma, are complaining about You.” Being afraid of His mother, Kåñëa replied, “My dear mother, all these boys, including My elder brother Balaräma, are speaking lies against Me. I have never eaten clay. My elder brother Balaräma, while playing with Me today, became angry, and therefore He has joined with the other boys to complain against Me. They have all combined together to complain so you will be angry and chastise Me. If you think they are truthful, then you can look within My mouth to see whether I have taken clay or not.” His mother replied, “All right, if You have actually not taken any clay, then just open Your mouth. I shall see.”
When the Supreme Personality of Godhead Kåñëa was so ordered by His mother, He immediately opened His mouth just like an ordinary boy. Then mother Yaçodä saw within that mouth the complete opulence of creation. She saw the entire outer space in all directions, mountains, islands, oceans, seas, planets, air, fire, moon and stars. Along with the moon and the stars she also saw the entire elements, water, sky, the extensive ethereal existence along with the total ego and the products of the senses and the controller of the senses, all the demigods, the objects of the senses like sound and smell, and the three qualities of material nature. She also could perceive that within His mouth were all living entities, eternal time, material nature, spiritual nature, activity, consciousness and different forms of the whole creation. Yaçodä could find within the mouth of her child everything necessary for cosmic manifestation. She also saw, within His mouth, herself taking Kåñëa on her lap and having Him sucking her breast. Upon seeing all this, she became struck with awe and began to wonder whether she were dreaming or actually seeing something extraordinary. She concluded that she was either dreaming or seeing the play of the illusory energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. She thought that she had become mad, mentally deranged, to see all those wonderful things. Then she thought, “It may be cosmic mystic power attained by my child, and therefore I am perplexed by such visions within His mouth. Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, under whose energy bodily self and bodily possessions are conceived.” She then said, “Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Him, under whose illusory energy I am thinking that Nanda Mahäräja is my husband and Kåñëa is my son, that all the properties of Nanda Mahäräja belong to me and that all the cowherd men and women are my subjects. All this misconception is due to the illusory energy of the Supreme Lord. So let me pray to Him that He may protect me always.”
While mother Yaçodä was thinking in this high philosophical way, Lord Kåñëa again expanded His internal energy just to bewilder her with maternal affection. Immediately mother Yaçodä forgot all philosophical speculation and accepted Kåñëa as her own child. She took Him on her lap and became overwhelmed with maternal affection. She thus began to think, “Kåñëa is not understandable to the masses through the gross process of knowledge, but He can be received through the Upaniñads and the Vedänta or mystic yoga system and Säìkhya philosophy.” Then she began to think of the Supreme Personality of Godhead as her own begotten child.
RVL 10.5: THE KILLING OF THE AGHÄSURA DEMON
THE KILLING OF THE AGHÄSURA DEMON
Once the Lord desired to go early in the morning with all His cowherd boy friends to the forest, where they were to assemble together and take lunch. As soon as He got up from bed= He blew a buffalo horn and called all His friends together. Keeping the calves before them, they started for the forest. In this way, Lord Kåñëa assembled thousands of His boy friends. They were each equipped with a stick, flute and horn as well as lunch bag, and each of them was taking care of thousands of calves. All the boys appeared very jolly and happy in that excursion. Each and every one of them was attentive for his personal calves. The boys were fully decorated with various kinds of golden omaments, and out of sporting propensities they began to pick up flowers, leaves, twigs, peacock feathers and red clay from different places in the forest, and they began to dress themselves in different ways. While passing through the forest, one boy stole another boy’s lunch package and passed it to a third. And when the boy whose lunch package was stolen came to know of it, he tried to take it back. But one threw it to another boy. This sportive playing went on amongst the boys as childhood pastimes.
When Lord Kåñëa went ahead to a distant place in order to see some specific scenery, the boys behind Him tried to run to catch up and be the first to touch Him. So there was a great competition. One would say, “I will go there and touch Kåñëa,” and another would say, “Oh, you cannot go. I’ll touch Kåñëa first.” Some of them played on their flutes or vibrated bugles made of buffalo horn. Some of them gladly followed the peacocks and imitated the onomatopoetic sounds of the cuckoo. While the birds were flying in the sky, the boys ran after the birds’ shadows along the ground and tried to follow their exact courses. Some of them went to the monkeys and silently sat down by them, and some of them imitated the dancing of the peacocks. Some of them caught the tails of the monkeys and played with them, and when the monkeys jumped in a tree, the boys also followed. When a monkey showed its face and teeth, a boy imitated and showed his teeth to the monkey. Some of the boys played with the frogs on the bank of the Yamunä, and when, out of fear, the frogs jumped in the water, the boys immediately dove in after them, and they would come out of the water when they saw their own shadows and stand imitating, making caricatures and laughing. They would also go to an empty well and make loud sounds, and when the echo came back, they would call it ill names and laugh.
As stated personally by the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the Bhagavad-gétä, He is realized proportionately by transcendentalists as Brahman, Paramätmä and the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Here, in confirmation of the same statement, Lord Kåñëa, who awards the impersonalist Brahman realization by His bodily effulgence, also gives pleasure to the devotees as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Those who are under the spell of external energy, mäyä, take Him only as a beautiful child. Yet He gave full transcendental pleasure to the cowherd boys who played with Him. Only afler accumulating heaps of pious activities, those boys were promoted to personally associate with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Who can estimate the transcendental fortune of the residents of Våndävana? They were personally visualizing the Supreme Personality of Godhead face to face, He whom many yogés cannot find even after undergoing severe austerities, although He is sitting within the heart. This is also confirmed in the Brahma-saàhitä. One may search for Kåñëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, through the pages of the Vedas and Upaniñads, but if one is fortunate enough to associate with a devotee, he can see the Supreme Personality of Godhead face to face. After accumulating pious activities in many, many previous lives, the cowherd boys were seeing Kåñëa face to face and playing with Him as friends. They could not understand that Kåñëa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but they were playing as intimate friends with intense love for Him.
When Lord Kåñëa was enjoying His childhood pastimes with His boy friends, one Aghäsura demon became very impatient. He was unable to see Kåñëa playing, so he appeared before the boys intending to kill them all. This Aghäsura was so dangerous that even the denizens of heaven were afraid of him. Although the denizens of heaven drank nectar daily to prolong their lives, they were afraid of this Aghäsura and were wondering, “When will the demon be killed?” The denizens used to drink nectar to become immortal, but actually they were not confident of their immortality. On the other hand, the boys who were playing with Kåñëa had no fear of the demons. They were free of fear. Any material arrangement for protecting oneself from death is always unsure, but if one is in Kåñëa consciousness, then immortality is confidently assured.
The demon Aghäsura appeared before Kåñëa and His friends. Aghäsura happened to be the younger brother of Pütanä and Bakäsura, and he thought, “Kåñëa has killed my brother and sister. Now I shall kill Him along with all His friends and calves.” Aghäsura was instigated by Kaàsa, so he had come with determination. Aghäsura also began to think that when he would offer grains and water in memory of his brother and kill Kåñëa and all the cowherd boys, then automatically all the inhabitants of Våndävana would die. Generally, for the householders, the children are the life and breath force. When all the children die, then naturally the parents also die on account of strong affection for them.
Aghäsura, thus deciding to kill all the inhabitants of Våndävana, expanded himself by the yogic siddhi called mahimä. The demons are generally expert in achieving almost all kinds of mystic powers. In the yoga system, by the perfection called mahimä-siddhi, one can expand himself as he desires. The demon Aghäsura expanded himself up to eight miles and assumed the shape of a very fat serpent. Having attained this wonderful body, he stretched his mouth open just like a mountain cave. Desiring to swallow all the boys at once, including Kåñëa and Balaräma, he sat on the path.
The demon in the shape of a big fat serpent expanded his lips from land to sky; his lower lip was touching the ground, and his upper lip was touching the clouds. His jaws appeared like a big mountain cave, without limitation, and his teeth appeared just like mountain summits. His tongue appeared to be a broad traffic way, and he was breathing just like a hurricane. The fire of his eyes was blazing. At first the boys thought that the demon was a statue, but after examining it, they saw that it was more like a big serpent lying down in the road and widening his mouth. The boys began to talk among themselves: “This figure appears to be a great animal, and he is sitting in such a posture just to swallow us all. Just see—is it not a big snake that has widened his mouth to eat all of us?”
One of them said, “Yes, what you say is true. This animal’s upper lip appears to be just like the sunshine, and its lower lip is just like the reflection of red sunshine on the ground. Dear friends, just look to the right and left hand side of the mouth of the animal. Its mouth appears to be like a big mountain cave, and its height cannot be estimated. The chin is also raised just like a mountain summit. That long highway appears to be its tongue, and inside the mouth it is as dark as a mountain cave. The hot wind that is blowing like a hurricane is his breathing, and the fishy bad smell coming out from his mouth is the smell of his intestines.”
Then they further consulted among themselves: “If we all at one time entered into the mouth of this great serpent, how could it possibly swallow all of us? And even if it were to swallow all of us at once, it could not swallow Kåñëa. Kåñëa will immediately kill him, as He did Bakäsura.” Talking in this way, all the boys looked at the beautiful lotus-like face of Kåñëa, and they began to clap and smile. And so they marched forward and entered the mouth of the gigantic serpent.
Meanwhile, Kåñëa, who is the Supersoul within everyone’s heart, could understand that the big statuesque figure was a demon. While He was planning how to stop the destruction of His intimate friends, all the boys along with their cows and calves entered the mouth of the serpent. But Kåñëa did not enter. The demon was awaiting =åñëa’s entrance, and he was thinking, “Everyone has entered except Kåñëa, who has killed my brothers and sisters.”
Kåñëa is the assurance of safety to everyone. But when He saw that His friends were already out of His hands and were lying within the belly of a great serpent, He became momentarily aggrieved. He was also struck with wonder how the external energy works so wonderfully. He then began to consider how the demon should be killed and how He could save the boys and calves. Although there was no factual concern on Kåñëa’s part, He was thinking like that. Finally, after some deliberation, He also entered the mouth of the demon. When Kåñëa entered, all the demigods, who had gathered to see the fun and who were hiding within the clouds, began to express their feelings with the words, “Alas! Alas!” At the same time, all the friends of Aghäsura, especially Kaàsa, who were all accustomed to eating flesh and blood, began to express their jubilation, understanding that Kåñëa had also entered the mouth of the demon.
While the demon was trying to smash Kåñëa and His companions, Kåñëa heard the demigods crying, “Alas, alas,” and He immediately began to expand Himself within the throat of the demon. Although he had a gigantic body, the demon choked by the expanding of Kåñëa. His big eyes moved violently, and he quickly suffocated. His life-air could not come out from any source, and ultimately it burst out of a hole in the upper part of his skull. Thus his life-air passed off. After the demon dropped dead, Kåñëa, with His transcendental glance alone, brought all the boys and calves back to consciousness and came with them out of the mouth of the demon. While Kåñëa was within the mouth of Aghäsura, the demon’s spirit soul came out like a dazzling light, illuminating all directions, and waited in the sky. As soon as Kåñëa with His calves and friends came out of the mouth of the demon, that glittering effulgent light immediately merged into the body of Kåñëa within the vision of all the demigods.
The demigods became overwhelmed with joy and began to shower flowers on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kåñëa, and thus they worshiped Him. The denizens of heaven began to dance in jubilation, and the denizens in Gandharvaloka began to offer various kinds of prayers. Drummers began to beat drums in jubilation, the brähmaëas began to recite Vedic hymns, and all the devotees of the Lord began to chant the words, “Jaya! Jaya! All glories to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.”
When Lord Brahmä heard those auspicious vibrations, which sounded throughout the higher planetary system, he immediately came down to see what had happened. He saw that the demon was killed, and he was struck with wonder at the uncommon, glorious pastimes of the Personality of Godhead. The gigantic mouth of the demon remained in an open position for many days and gradually dried up; it remained a spot of pleasure pastimes for all the cowherd boys.
The killing of Aghäsura took place when Kåñëa and all His boy friends were under five years old. Children under five years old are called kaumära. After five years up to the tenth year they are called paugaëòa, and after the tenth year up to the fifteenth year they are called kaiçora. After the fifteenth year, boys are called youths. So for one year there was no discussion of the incident of the Aghäsura demon in the village of Vraja. But when they attained their sixth year, they informed their parents of the incident with great wonder. The reason for this will be clear in the next chapter.
For Çré Kåñëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is far greater than such demigods as Lord Brahmä, it is not at all difficult to award one the opportunity of merging with His eternal body. This He awarded to Aghäsura. Aghäsura was certainly the most sinful living entity, and it is not possible for the sinful to merge into the existence of the Absolute Truth. But in this particular case, because Kåñëa entered into Aghäsura’s body, the demon became fully cleansed of all sinful reaction. Persons constantly thinking of the eternal form of the Lord in the shape of the Deity or in the shape of a mental form are awarded the transcendental goal of entering into the kingdom of God and associating with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So we can just imagine the elevated position of someone like Aghäsura, into whose body the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kåñëa, personally entered. Great sages, meditators and devotees constantly keep the form of the Lord within the heart, or they see the Deity form of the Lord in the temples; in that way, they become liberated from all material contamination and at the end of the body enter into the kingdom of God. This perfection is possible simply by keeping the form of the Lord within the mind. But in the case of Aghäsura, the Supreme Personality of Godhead personally entered. Aghäsura’s position was therefore greater than the ordinary devotee’s or the greatest yogé’s.
Mahäräja Parékñit, who was engaged in hearing the transcendental pastimes of Lord Kåñëa (who saved the life of Mahäräja Parékñit while he was in the womb of his mother), became more and more interested to hear about Him. And thus he questioned the sage Çukadeva Gosvämé, who was reciting Çrémad-Bhägavatam before the King.
King Parékñit was a bit astonished to understand that the killing of the Aghäsura demon was not discussed for one year, until after the boys attained the paugaëòa age. Mahäräja Parékñit was very inquisitive to learn about this, for he was sure that such an incident was due to the working of Kåñëa’s different energies.
Generally, the kñatriyas or the administrative class are always busy with their political affairs, and they have very little chance to hear about the transcendental pastimes of Lord Kåñëa. But while Parékñit Mahäräja was hearing these transcendental pastimes, he considered himself to be very fortunate because he was hearing from Çukadeva Gosvämé, the greatest authority on the Çrémad-Bhägavatam. Thus being requested by Mahäräja Parékñit, Çukadeva Gosvämé continued to speak about the transcendental pastimes of Lord Kåñëa in the matter of His form, quality, fame and paraphernalia.
RVL 10.6: THE STEALING OF THE BOYS AND CALVES BY BRAHMÄ
Lord Kåñëa brought His friends to the bank of Yamunä and addressed them as follows: “My dear friends, just see how this spot is very nice for taking lunch and playing on the soft sandy Yamunä bank. You can see how the lotus flowers in the water are beautifully blown and how they distribute their flavor all around. The chirping of the birds along with the cooing of the peacocks, surrounded by the whispering of the leaves in the trees, combine and present sound vibrations that echo one another. And this just enriches the beautiful scenery created by the trees here. Let us have our lunch in this spot because it is already late and we are feeling hungry. Let the calves remain near us, and let them drink water from the Yamunä. While we are engaged in our lunch-taking, the calves may engage in eating the soft grasses that are in this spot.”
On hearing this proposal from Kåñëa, all the boys became very glad and said, “Certainly let us all sit down here to take our lunch.” They then let loose the calves to eat the soft grass. Sitting down on the ground and keeping Kåñëa in the center, they began to open their different boxes brought from home. Lord Çré Kåñëa was seated in the center of the circle, and all the boys kept their faces toward Him. They ate and constantly enjoyed seeing the Lord face to face. Kåñëa appeared to be the whorl of a lotus flower, and the boys surrounding Him appeared to be its different petals. The boys collected flowers, leaves of flowers and the bark of trees and placed them under their different boxes, and thus they began to eat their lunch, keeping company with Kåñëa. While taking lunch, each boy began to manifest different kinds of relations with Kåñëa, and they enjoyed each other’s company with joking words. While Lord Kåñëa was thus enjoying lunch with His friends, His flute was pushed with.in the belt of His cloth, and His bugle and cane were pushed in on the left-hand side of His cloth. He was holding a lump of foodstuff prepared with yogurt, butter, rice and pieces of fruit salad in His left palm, which could be seen through His petallike finger joints. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who accepts the results of all great sacrifices, was laughing and joking, enjoying lunch with His friends in Våndävana. And thus the scene was being observed by the demigods in heaven. As for the boys, they were simply enjoying transcendental bliss in the company of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
At that time, the calves that were pasturing nearby entered into the deep forest, allured by new grasses, and gradually went out of sight. When the boys saw that the calves were not nearby, they became afraid for their safety, and they immediately cried out, “Kåñëa!” Kåñëa is the killer of fear personified. Everyone is afraid of fear personified, but fear personified is afraid of Kåñëa. By crying out the word “Kåñëa,” the boys at once transcended the fearful situation. Out of His great affection, Kåñëa did not want His friends to give up their pleasing lunch engagement and go searching for the calves. He therefore said, “My dear friends, you need not interrupt your lunch. Go on enjoying. I am going personally where the calves are.” Thus the Lord immediately started to search out the calves in the caves and bushes. He searched in the mountain holes and in the forests, but nowhere could He find them.
At the time when Aghäsura was killed and the demigods were looking on the incident with great surprise, Brahmä, who was born of the lotus flower growing out of the navel of Viñëu, also came to see. He was surprised how a little boy like Kåñëa could act so wonderfully. Although he was informed that the little cowherd boy was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he wanted to see more glorified pastimes of the Lord, and thus he stole all the calves and cowherd boys and took them to a different place. Lord Kåñëa, therefore, in spite of searching for the calves, could not find them, and He even lost His boy friends on the bank of the Yamunä where they had been taking their lunch. In the form of a cowherd boy, Lord Kåñëa was very little in comparison to Brahmä, but because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, He could immediately understand that all the calves and boys had been stolen by Brahmä. Kåñëa thought, “Brahmä has taken away all the boys and calves. How can I alone return to Våndävana? The mothers will be aggrieved!”
Therefore in order to satisfy the mothers of His friends as well as to convince Brahmä of the supremacy of the Personality of Godhead, He immediately expanded Himself as the cowherd boys and calves. In the Vedas it is said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead expands Himself in so many living entities by His energy. Therefore it is not very difficult for Him to expand Himself again into so many boys and calves. He expanded Himself to become exactly like the boys, who were of all different features, facial and bodily construction, and who were different in their clothing and ornaments and in their behavior and personal activities. In other words, everyone has different tastes; being an individual soul, each person has entirely different activities and behavior. Yet Kåñëa exactly expanded Himself into all the different positions of the individual boys. He also became the calves, who were also of different sizes, colors, activities, etc. This was possible because everything is an expansion of Kåñëa’s energy. In the Viñëu Puräëa it is said, parasya brahmaëaù çaktiù: Whatever we actually see in the cosmic manifestation—be it matter or the activities of the living entities—is simply an expansion of the energies of the Lord, as heat and light are the different expansions of fire.
Thus expanding Himself as the boys and calves in their individual capacities, and surrounded by such expansions of Himself, Kåñëa entered the village of Våndävana. The residents had no knowledge of what had happened. After entering the village, Våndävana, all the calves entered their respective cowsheds, and the boys also went to their respective mothers and homes.
The mothers of the boys heard the vibration of their flutes before their entrance, and to receive them, they came out of their homes and embraced them. And out of maternal affection, milk was flowing from their breasts, and they allowed the boys to drink it. However, their offering was not exactly to their boys but to the Supreme Personality of Godhead who had expanded Himself into such boys. This was another chance for all the mothers of Våndävana to feed the Supreme Personality of Godhead with their own milk. Therefore not only did Lord Kåñëa give Yaçodä the chance to feed Him, but this time He gave the chance to all the elderly gopés.
All the boys began to deal with their mothers as usual, and the mothers also, on the approach of evening, began to bathe their respective children, decorate them with tilaka and ornaments and give them necessary food after the day’s labor. The cows also, who were away in the pasturing ground, returned in the evening and began to call their respective calves. The calves immediately came to their mothers, and the mothers began to lick the bodies of the calves. These relations between the cows and the gopés with their calves and boys remained unchanged, although actually the original calves and boys were not there. Actually the cows’ affection for their calves and the elderly gopés’ affection for the boys causelessly increased. Their affection increased naturally, even though the calves and boys were not their offspring. Although the cows and elderly gopés of Våndävana had greater affection for Kåñëa than for their own offspring, after this incident their affection for their offspring increased exactly as it did for Kåñëa. For one year continually, Kåñëa Himself expanded as the calves and cowherd boys and was present in the pasturing ground.
As it is stated in the Bhagavad-gétä, Kåñëa’s expansion is situated in everyone’s heart as the Supersoul. Similarly, instead of expanding Himself as the Supersoul, He expanded Himself as a portion of calves and cowherd boys for one continuous year.
One day, when Kåñëa, along with Balaräma, was maintaining the calves in the forest, They saw some cows grazing on the top of Govardhana Hill. The cows could see down into the valley where the calves were being taken care of by the boys. Suddenly, on sighting their calves, the cows began to run towards them. They leaped downhill with joined front and rear legs. The cows were so melted with affection for their calves that they did not care about the rough path from the top of Govardhana Hill down to the pasturing ground. They began to approach the calves with their milk bags full of milk, and they raised their tails upwards. When they were coming down the hill, their milk bags were pouring milk on the ground out of intense maternal affection for the calves, although they were not their own calves. These cows had their own calves, and the calves that were grazing beneath Govardhana Hill were larger; they were not expected to drink milk directly from the milk bag but were satisfied with the grass. Yet all the cows came immediately and began to lick their bodies, and the calves also began to suck milk from the milk bags. There appeared to be a great bondage of affection between the cows and calves.
When the cows were running down from the top of Govardhana Hill, the men who were taking care of them tried to stop them. Elderly cows are taken care of by the men, and the calves are taken care of by the boys; and as far as possible, the calves are kept separate from the cows, so that the calves do not drink all the available milk. Therefore the men who were taking care of the cows on the top of Govardhana Hill tried to stop them, but they failed. Baffled by their failure, they were feeling ashamed and angry. They were very unhappy, but when they came down and saw their children taking care of the calves, they all of a sudden became very affectionate toward the children. It was very astonishing. Although the men came down disappointed, baffled and angry, as soon as they saw their own children, their hearts melted with great affection. At once their anger, dissatisfaction and unhappiness disappeared. They began to show paternal love for the children, and with great affection they lifted them in their arms and embraced them. They began to smell their children’s heads and enjoy their company with great happiness. After embracing their children, the men again took the cows back to the top of Govardhana Hill. Along the way they began to think of their children, and affectionate tears fell from their eyes.
When Balaräma saw this extraordinary exchange of affection between the cows and their calves and between the fathers and their children—when neither the calves nor the children needed so much care—He began to wonder why this extraordinary thing happened. He was astonished to see all the residents of Våndävana so affectionate for their own children, exactly as they had been for Kåñëa. Similarly, the cows had grown affectionate for their calves—as much as for Kåñëa. Balaräma therefore concluded that the extraordinary show of affection was something mystical, either performed by the demigods or by some powerful man. Otherwise, how could this wonderful change take place? He concluded that this mystical change must have been caused by Kåñëa, whom Balaräma considered His worshipable Personality of Godhead. He thought, “It was arranged by Kåñëa, and even I could not check its mystic power.” Thus Balaräma understood that all those boys and calves were only expansions of Kåñëa.
Balaräma inquired from Kåñëa about the actual situation. He said, “My dear Kåñëa, in the beginning I thought that all these cows, calves and cowherd boys were either great sages and saintly persons or demigods, but at the present it appears that they are actually Your expansions. They are all You; You Yourself are playing as the calves and cows and boys. What is the mystery of this situation? Where have those other calves and cows and boys gone? And why are You expanding Yourself as the cows, calves, and boys? Will You kindly tell Me what is the cause?” At the request of Balaräma, Kåñëa briefly explained the whole situation: how the calves and boys were stolen by Brahmä and how He was concealing the incident by expanding Himself so people would not know that the original cows, calves, and boys were missing.
While Kåñëa and Balaräma were talking, Brahmä returned after a moment’s interval (according to the duration of his life). We have information of Lord Brahmä’s duration of life from the Bhagavad-gétä: 1,000 times the duration of the four ages, or 4,300,000 X 1,000 years, comprise Brahmä’s twelve hours. Similarly, one moment of Brahmä is equal to one year of our solar calculation. After one moment of Brahmä’s calculation, Brahmä came back to see the fun caused by his stealing the boys and calves. But he was also afraid that he was playing with fire. Kåñëa was his master, and he had played mischief for fun by taking away His calves and boys. He was really anxious, so he did not stay away very long; he came back after a moment (of his calculation). He saw that all the boys, calves and cows were playing with Kåñëa in the same way as when he had come upon them, although he was confident that He had taken them and made them lie down asleep under the spell of his mystic power. Brahmä began to think, “All the boys, calves and cows were taken away by me, and I know they are still sleeping. How is it that a similar batch of cows, boys and calves is playing with Kåñëa? Is it that they are not influenced by my mystic power? Have they been playing continually for one year with Kåñëa?” Brahmä tried to understand who they were and how they were uninfluenced by his mystic power, but he could not ascertain it. In other words, he himself came under the spell of his own mystic power. The influence of his mystic power appeared like snow in darkness or the glowworm in daytime. During the night’s darkness, the glowworm can show some glittering power, and the snow piled up on the top of a hill or on the ground can shine during the daytime. But at night the snow has no silver glitter; nor does the glowworm have any illuminating power during the daytime. Similarly, when the small mystic power exhibited by Brahmä was before the mystic power of Kåñëa, it was just like snow or the glowworm. When a man of small mystic power wants to show potency in the presence of greater mystic power, he diminishes his own influence; he does not increase it. Even such a great personality as Brahmä, when he wanted to show his mystic power before Kåñëa, became ludicrouswas thus confused about his own mystic power.
In order to convince Brahmä that all those cows, calves and boys were not the original ones, the cows, calves and boys who were playing with Kåñëa transformed into Viñëu forms. Actually, the original ones were sleeping under the spell of Brahmä’s mystic power, but the present ones, seen by Brahmä, were all immediate expansions of Kåñëa, or Viñëu. Viñëu is the expansion of Kåñëa, so the Viñëu forms appeared before Brahmä. All the Viñëu forms were of bluish color and dressed in yellow garments; all of Them had four hands decorated with club, disc, lotus flower and conchshell. On Their heads were glittering golden jeweled helmets; They were bedecked with pearls and earrings, and garlanded with beautiful flowersOn Their chests was the mark of Çrévatsa; Their arms were decorated with armlets and other jewelry. Their necks were smooth just like conchshell, Their legs were decorated with bells, Their waists decorated with golden bells, and Their fingers decorated with jeweled rings. Brahmä also saw that upon the whole body of Lord Viñëu, fresh tulasé buds were thrown, beginning from His lotus feet up to the top of the head. Another significant feature of the Viñëu forms was that all of Them were looking transcendentally beautiful. Their smiling resembled the moonshine, and Their glancing resembled the early rising of the sun. Just by Their glancing They appeared as the creators and maintainers of the modes of passion and ignorance. Viñëu represents the mode of goodness, Brahmä represents the mode of passion, and Lord Çiva represents the mode of ignorance. Therefore as maintainer of everything in the cosmic manifestation, Viñëu is also creator and maintainer of Brahmä and Lord Çiva.
After this manifestation of Lord Viñëu, Brahmä saw that many other Brahmäs and Çivas and demigods and even insignificant living entities down to the ants and very small straws—movable and immovable living entities—were dancing, surrounding Lord Viñëu. Their dancing was accompanied by various kinds of music, and all of Them were worshiping Lord Viñëu. Brahmä realized that all those Viñëu forms were complete, beginning from the aëimä perfection of becoming small like an atom, up to becoming infinite like the cosmic manifestation. All the mystic powers of Brahmä, Çiva, all the demigods and the twenty-four elements of cosmic manifestation were fully represented in the person of Viñëu. By the influence of Lord Viñëu, all subordinate mystic powers were engaged in His worshipwas being worshiped by time, space, cosmic manifestation, reformation, desire, activity and the three qualities of material nature. Lord Viñëu, Brahmä also realized, is the reservoir of all truth, knowledge and bliss, and He is the object of worship by the followers of the Upaniñads. Brahmä realized that all the different forms of cows, boys and calves transformed into Viñëu forms were not transformed by a mysticism of the type that a yogé or a demigod can display by specific powers invested in him. The cows, calves and boys transformed into viñëu-mürtis, or Viñëu forms, were not displays of viñëu-mäyä or Viñëu energy, but were Viñëu Himself. The respective qualifications of Viñëu and viñëu-mäyä are just like fire and heat. In the heat there is the qualification of fire, namely warmth; and yet heat is not fire. The manifestation of the Viñëu forms of the boys, cows and calves was not like the heat, but rather the fire—they were all actually Viñëu. Factually, the qualification of Viñëu is full truth, full knowledge and full bliss. Another example can be given with material objects, which are reflected in many, many forms. For example, the sun is reflected in many waterpots, but the reflections of the sun in many pots are not actually the sun. There is no actual heat and light from the sun in the pot, although it appears as the sun. But the forms which Kåñëa assumed were each and every one full Viñëu. Satya means truth; jïäna, full knowledge; and änanda, full bliss.
Transcendental forms of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His person are so great that the impersonal followers of the Upaniñads cannot reach the platform of knowledge to understand them. Particularly, the transcendental forms of the Lord are beyond the reach of the impersonalist who can only understand, through the study of Upaniñads, that the Absolute Truth is not matter and that the Absolute Truth is not materially limited potency. Lord Brahmä understood Kåñëa and His expansion into Viñëu forms and could understand that, due to expansion of energy of the Supreme Lord, everything movable and immovable within the cosmic manifestation is existing.
When Brahmä was thus standing baffled in his limited power and conscious of his limited activities within the eleven senses, he could at least realize that he was also a creation of the material energy, just like a puppet. As a puppet has no independent power to dance but dances according to the direction of the puppet master, so the demigods and living entities are all subordinate to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As it is stated in the Caitanya-caritämåta, the only master is Kåñëa, and all others are servants. The whole world is under the waves of the material spell, and beings are floating like straws in water. So their struggle for existence is continuing. But as soon as one becomes conscious that he is the eternal servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, this mäyä, or illusory struggle for existence, is stopped.
Lord Brahmä, who has full control over the goddess of learning and who is considered to be the best authority in Vedic knowledge, was thus perplexed, being unable to understand the extraordinary power manifested in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the mundane world, even a personality like Brahmä is unable to understand the potential mystic power of the Supreme Lord Not only did Brahmä fail to understand, but he was perplexed even to see the display being manifested by Kåñëa before him.
Kåñëa took compassion upon Brahmä’s inability to see even how He was displaying the force of Viñëu in transferring Himself into cows and cowherd boys, and thus, while fully manifesting the Viñëu expansion, He suddenly pulled His curtain of yogamäyä over the scene. In the Bhagavad-gétä it is said that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is not visible due to the curtain spread by yogamäyä. That which covers the reality is mahämäyä, or the external energy, which does not allow a conditioned soul to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead beyond the cosmic manifestation. But the energy that partially manifests the Supreme Personality of Godhead and partially does not allow one to see is called yogamäyä. Brahmä is not an ordinary conditioned soul. He is far, far superior to all the demigods, and yet he could not comprehend the display of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; therefore Kåñëa willingly stopped manifesting any further potency. The conditioned soul not only becomes bewildered, but is completely unable to understand. The curtain of yogamäyä was drawn so that Brahmä would not become more and more perplexed.
When Brahmä was relieved from his perplexity, he appeared to be awakened from an almost dead state, and he began to open his eyes with great difficulty. Thus he could see the eternal cosmic manifestation with common eyes. He saw all around him the superexcellent view of Våndävana—full with trees—which is the source of life for all living entities. He could appreciate the transcendental land of Våndävana, where all the living entities are transcendental to ordinary nature. In the forest of Våndävana, even ferocious animals like tigers and others live peacefully along with the deer and human being. He could understand that, because of the presence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in Vrndavana, that place is transcendental to all other places and that there is no lust and greed thereBrahmä thus found Çré Kåñëa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, playing the part of a small cowherd boy; he saw that little child with a lump of food in His left hand, searching out His friends, cows and calves, just as He was actually doing one year before, after their disappearance.
Immediately Brahmä descended from his great swan carrier and fell down before the Lord just like a golden stick. The word used among the Vaiñëavas for offering respect is daëòavat. This word means falling down like a stick; one should offer respect to the superior Vaiñëava by falling down straight, with his body just like a stick. So Brahmä fell down before the Lord just like a stick to offer respect; and because the complexion of Brahmä is golden, he appeared to be like a golden stick Iying down before Lord Kåñëa. All the four helmets on the four heads of Brahmä touched the lotus feet of Kåñëa. Brahmä, being very joyful, began to shed tears, and he washed the lotus feet of Kåñëa with his tears. Repeatedly he fell and rose as he recalled the wonderful activities of the Lord. After repeating obeisances for a long time, Brahmä stood up and smeared his hands over his eyes. Seeing the Lord before him, he, trembling, began to offer prayers with great respect, humility and attention.
Brahmä said, “My dear Lord, You are the only worshipful Supreme Lord, Personality of Godhead; therefore I am offering my humble obeisances and prayers just to please You. Your bodily features are of the color of clouds filled with water. You are glittering with a silver electric aura emanating from Your yellow garments.
“Let me offer my respectful repeated obeisances unto the son of Mahäräja Nanda, who is standing before me with conchshell, earrings and peacock feather on His head. His face is beautiful; He is wearing a helmet, garlanded by forest flowers, and He stands with a morsel of food in His hand. He is decorated with cane and bugle, and He carries a buffalo horn and flute. He stands before me with small lotus feet.
“My dear Lord, people may say that I am the master of all Vedic knowledge, and I am supposed to be the creator of this universe, but it has been proved now that I cannot understand Your personality, even though You are present before me just like a child. You are playing with Your boy friends, calves and cows, which might imply that You do not even have sufficient education. You are appearing just like a village boy, carrying Your food in Your hand and searching for Your calves. And yet there is so much difference between Your body and mine that I cannot estimate the potency of Your body. As I have already stated in the Brahma-saàhitä, Your body is not material.”
In the Brahma-saàhitä it is stated that the body of the Lord is all spiritual; there is no difference between the Lord’s body and His self. Each limb of His body can perform the actions of all the others. The Lord can see with His hands, He can hear with His eyes, He can accept offerings with His legs and He can create with His mouth.
Brahmä continued: “Your appearance as a cowherd child is for the benefit of the devotees, and although I have committed offenses at Your lotus feet by stealing away Your cows, boys and calves, I can understand that You have mercy upon me. That is Your transcendental quality; You are very affectionate toward Your devotees. In spite of Your affection for me, I cannot estimate the potency of Your bodily activities. It is to be understood that when I, Lord Brahmä, the supreme personality of this universe, cannot estimate the childlike body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then what to speak of others? Therefore, as it is said in the Bhagavad-gétä, anyone who can understand a little of the transcendental pastimes, appearance and disappearance of the Lord becomes immediately eligible to enter into the kingdom of God after quitting this material body. This statement is confirmed in the Vedas, and it is stated simply: by understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one can overcome the chain of repeated birth and death. I therefore recommend that people should not try to understand You by their speculative knowledge.
“The best process of understanding You is to submissively give up the speculative process and try to hear about You, either from Yourself as You have given statements in the Bhagavad-gétä and many similar Vedic literatures, or from a realized devotee who has taken shelter at Your lotus feet. One has to hear from a devotee without speculation. One does not even need to change his worldly position; he simply has to hear Your message. Although You are not understandable by the material senses, simply by hearing about You, one can gradually conquer the nescience of misunderstanding. By Your grace only, You become revealed to a devotee. You are unconquerable by any other means. Speculative knowledge without any trace of devotional service is simply a useless waste of time in the search for You. Devotional service is so important that even a little attempt can raise one to the highest perfectional platform. One should not, therefore, neglect this auspicious process of devotional service and take to the speculative method. By the speculative method one may gain partial knowledge of Your cosmic manifestation, but it is not possible to understand You, the origin of everything. The attempt of persons who are interested only in speculative knowledge is simply wasted labor, like the labor of a person who attempts to gain something by beating the empty husk of a rice paddy. A little quantity of paddy can be husked by the grinding wheel, and one can gain some grains of rice, but if the skin of the paddy is already beaten by the grinding wheel, there is no further gain in beating the husk. It is simply useless labor.
“My dear Lord, there are many instances in the history of human society where a person, after failing to achieve the transcendental platform, engaged himself in devotional service with his body, mind and words and thus attained the highest perfectional stage of entering into Your abode. The processes of understanding You by speculation or mystic meditation are all useless without devotional service. One should therefore engage himself in Your devotional service even in his worldly activities, and one should always keep himself near You by the process of hearing and chanting Your transcendental glories. Simply by being attached to hearing and chanting Your glories, one can attain the highest perfectional stage and enter into Your kingdom. If a person, therefore, always keeps in touch with You by hearing and chanting Your glories and offers the results of his work for Your satisfaction only, he very easily and happily attains entrance into Your supreme abode. You are realizable by persons who have cleansed their hearts of all contamination. This cleansing of the heart is made possible by chanting and hearing the glories of Your Lordship.”
RVL: Appendixes: The First Indologists
The first Westerners to investigate the Vedic literatures were the British, in the last half of the eighteenth century. It is best to understand their work in the larger historical context1 of the British rule of India.
A Brief History of the British in India
Early invaders of India included the Persians (600 B.C.) and the Greeks under Alexander the Great (300 B.C.). India’s first great Hindu empire, the Maurya Empire founded by Candragupta (300 B.C.), expanded under Emperor Açoka to embrace the whole subcontinent, and it also fostered Buddhism. After Açoka, assorted northern tribes invaded India, until the reign of another Gupta dynasty, which united a section of the country for centuries. In the seventh century the Arab Muslims began conquering India, and various Muslim leaders developed empires up until the Mogul Empire, whose chief ruler was Akbar. During the reign of Akbar’s son Jahangir (1605–1627), the British established their first trading station in India. The Portuguese had been the first Europeans to arrive, and they competed with the French and English for commercial control of port cities. Through treaties with local rulers, the trading companies became more powerful than the Mogul Empire. The companies received official monopolies from their governments and held huge armies of mercenaries. By defeating an Indian army at the Battle of Plassey, in 1757, the British East India Company finally gained supremacy. Through the eighteenth century, the company made treaties or annexed areas by military campaigns; at last in full control of India, it ceded the country to the British government.
At first, the British government was careful not to force any change in religion upon the Indian people. This policy had always seemed most judicious for ruling the several hundred million Indian citizens without precipitating rebellion. Thus, under Lord Cornwallis (1786–1793, 1805) laissez-faire had dominated the East India Company’s attitude toward the Indian way of life.2 Through the East India Company’s regulations of 1793, the governor general had promised to “preserve the laws of the Shaster and the Koran, and to protect the natives of India in the free exercise of their religion.”3 However, a year before these regulations went into effect, Charles Grant had written, “The company manifested a laudable zeal for extending, as far as its means went, the knowledge of the Gospel to the pagan tribes among whom its factories were placed.”4 In 1808, the same author described openings of Christian schools and translations of the Bible into Indian dialects as “principal efforts made under the patronage of the British government in India, to impart to the natives a knowledge of Christianity.”5
Historian Vincent Smith describes three broad tendencies in Britain’s policy at the start of the 1800’s.6 The conservatives were interested in improving the Indian way of life, but recommended extreme caution for fear of violent reaction; they saw no easy overthrow of Indian tradition. The liberals felt the need to introduce Western ideas and values, but they hoped to integrate gradually. The rationalists, led by George Berkeley and David Hume, had a more radical approach. They trusted that reason could abolish all human ignorance. And since the West was the champion of reason, the East could only profit by the acquaintance.
To most eighteenth-century Englishmen (whether at home or abroad), religion meant Christianity. Naturally, racism played its part also. “This attitude of Europeans toward Indians was due to a sense of racial superiority—a cherished conviction which was shared by every Englishman in India, from the highest to the lowest.”7 Thus, upon arriving in India in 1813, the governor general marquis of Hastings wrote, “The Hindoo appears a being merely limited to mere animal functions, and even in them indifferent … with no higher intellect than a dog.”8
Without governmental sanction or license, the Christian evangelists came to India and proselytized to undermine the “superstitions of the country.”9 Alexander Duff (1806–1878) founded Scots College, in Calcutta, which he envisioned as a “headquarters for a great campaign against Hinduism.”10 Duff sought to convert the natives by enrolling them in English-run schools and colleges, and he placed emphasis on learning Christianity through the English language. Another leading missionary, a Baptist, William Carey (1761–1834), smuggled himself into India and propagandized against the Vedic culture so zealously that the British government in Bengal curbed him as a political danger. On confiscating a batch of Bengali-language pamphlets produced by Carey, India’s Governor General Lord Minto described them as “scurrilous invective.…Without arguments of any kind, they were filled with hell fire and still hotter fire, denounced against a whole race of men merely for believing in the religion they were taught by their fathers.”11 Duff, Carey, and other missionaries gradually gained strength and became more aggressive; finally, they gained permission to conduct their campaigns without governmental license. The missionaries actively opposed the British government’s attempt to take a neutral stand toward Indian culture and worked with optimism for the complete conversion of the natives. They did not hesitate to denounce the Vedic literatures as “absurdities” meant “for the amusement of children.’’12
Historian Arthur D. Innes writes, “The educators had hardly concealed their expectations that with Western knowledge the sacred fairy tales of the East would be dissolved and the basis of popularly cherished creeds would be swept away.”13 The suspicion of religious coercion disrupted British-lndian relations and in 1857 helped touch off the Sepoy Rebellion (of Indian mercenaries).14
The First Scholars
Such was the setting in which the first Indologists appeared. These first Vedic scholars did not form a unified political or academic party; they were variously conservative, liberal, and radical. Sir William Jones, the first Britisher to master Sanskrit and study the Vedas, drew fire from the eminent British historian James Mill for his “hypothesis of a high state of civilization.”15 Typically, Mill believed that the people of India never had been advanced and that therefore their claim to a glorious past (which some of the early Indologists supported) was historical fantasy. At any rate, by translating the Vedas for the Western reader and thus evincing the ancient Vedic genius, the scholars increased India’s prestige in the West. On the other hand, as Aubrey Menen has said, “It should be remembered that they [the English of the seventeenth century] were not the almost pagan English of today. Every man was a Christian, and it was a Christian’s duty to wash the heathen in the blood of the lamb.”16
Nonetheless, some of the early scholars rather admired the Vedic culture they were investigating, even though they initially conceived of themselves as bearers of Christian light to the sacred darkness of the heathens.
Sir William Jones (1746–1794), Charles Wilkins (1749–1836), and Thomas Colebrooke (1765–1837) are considered the fathers of Indology.17 Jones was educated at Oxford and there began his studies in Oriental and other languages; he is said to have mastered a total of sixteen. In addition, he wrote a Persian grammar, translated various Oriental literatures, and also practiced law. After his appointment as judge of the Supreme Court, Sir William went to Calcutta, in 1783. There he founded the Asiatic Society of Bengal and was its president throughout his life. He translated a number of Sanskrit works into English, and his investigations into languages mark him as one of the most brilliant minds of the eighteenth century. Sir William was not prone to invective against another’s religion, particularly the Vedic, which he admired. In his view the narratives of the East, like those of Greece and Rome, could enrich both the English tradition and the human mind. Notwithstanding, Sir William’s stance was that of “a devout and convinced Christian.”18 Thus, he described the Bhägavata Puräëa as “a motley story,”19 and he speculated that the Bhägavata came from the Christian gospels, which had been brought to India and “repeated to the Hindus, who ingrafted them on the old fable of Ce’sava [Keçava, a name for Kåñëa], the Apollo of Greece.”20 Of course, this theory has been discredited since records of Kåñëa worship predate Christ by centuries.21
H. H. Wilson ( 1786–1860), described as “the greatest Sanskrit scholar of his time,”22 received his education in London and journeyed to India in the East India Company’s medical service. He became secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1811–1833), and medical duties notwithstanding, he published a Sanskrit-English dictionary. He became Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford in 1833, librarian of the India House in 1836, and director of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1837. Titles credited to his name include Viñëu Puräëa, Lectures on the Religious and Philosophical Systems of the Hindus, and Åg Veda, among others. Also, he helped Mill’s History of India and edited several other translations of Eastern literatures. He also proposed that Britain restrain herself from forcing the Hindus to give up their religious traditions. Compared to the evangelists, he appears to have been a champion of the preservation of Vedic ideas. Yet we may be a little startled by his stated motives:
From the survey which has been submitted to you, you will perceive that the practical religion of the Hindus is by no means a concentrated and compact system, but a heterogeneous compound made up of various and not infrequently incompatible ingredients, and that to a few ancient fragments it has made large and unauthorized additions, most of which are of an exceedingly mischievous and disgraceful nature. It is, however, of little avail yet to attempt to undeceive the multitude; their superstition is based upon ignorance, and until the foundation is taken away, the superstructure, however crazy and rotten, will hold together.23
Ultimately, Wilson felt that the Christian culture should simply replace the Vedic culture, and he believed that full knowledge of the Indian tradition would help effect that conversion. In his modulated conservatism he seemed to echo the East India Company. Aware that the people of India would not easily give up their tradition, he made this shrewd commentary:
The whole tendency of brahminical education is to enforce dependence upon authority—in the first instance upon the guru, in the next upon the books. A learned brähmaëa trusts solely to his learning; he never ventures upon independent thought; he appeals to memory; he quotes texts without measure and in unquestioning trust. It will be difficult to persuade him that the Vedas are human and very ordinary writings, that the Puräëas are modern and unauthentic, or even that the tantras are not entitled to respect. As long as he opposes authority to reason, and stifles the workings of conviction by the dicta of a reputed sage, little impression can be made upon his understanding. Certain it is, therefore, that he will have recourse to his authorities, and it is therefore important to show that his authorities are worthless.24
Wilson also warned that the Vedic adherents were likely to show “tenacious obstinacy” about their “speculative tenets … particularly those regarding the nature and condition of the soul.”25 But he was hopeful that by inspired, diligent effort the “specious” system of Vedic thought would be “shown to be fallacious and false by the Ithuriel spear of Christian truth.”26 As the first holder of Oxford’s Boden Chair for Sanskrit, H. H. Wilson delivered public lectures to promote his cause. He intended that the lectures “help candidates for a prize of two hundred pounds … for the best refutation of the Hindu religious system.”27 Wilson’s writings are full of similar passages, including a detailed method for exploiting the native Vedic psychology by use of a counterfeit guru-disciple relationship. Now, in Wilson’s case, the charge of bias has become aggravated by charges of invalid scholarship. Recently, Natalie P. R. Sirkin presented documented evidence that betrays Wilson as a plagiarist: his most important publications were collected manuscripts by deceased authors whose works he credited to himself, as well as works done without research. “He wrote an analysis of the Puräëas without reading them.”28
Another renowned pioneer Indologist was F. Max Muller (1823–1900), born at Dessau and educated in Leipzig. He learned Sanskrit and translated the ancient Hitopadeça before coming to England, in 1846. Comissioned by the East India Company to translate the Åg Veda, he lived at Oxford and wrote many books on mythology and comparative religion. Muller is best known for his series Sacred Books of the East, a fifty-volume work which he devoted himself to editing in 1875.
In 1876, Muller wrote to a friend, “India is much riper for Christianity than Rome or Greece were at the time of Saint Paul.”29 He added that he would not like to go to India as a missionary, because that would make him dependent on the government. His preference was this: “I should like to live for ten years quite quietly and learn the language, try to make friends, and then see whether I was fit to take part in a work, by means of which the old mischief of Indian priestcraft could be overthrown and the way opened for the entrance of simple Christian teaching.”30 Muller regarded Vedic philosophy as “Aryan legend” and “myth,” and he believed that Aryan civilizations had simply helped bring about the evolution of Christianity. “History seems to think that the whole human race required gradual education before, in the fullness of time, it could be admitted to the truths of Christianity.”31 Muller added, “The ancient religions of the world may have but served to prepare the way of Christ by helping through its very errors.”32
H. H. Wilson’s successor in Oxford’s Boden Chair was Sir Monier Monier-Williams (1819–1899). Born in Bombay, Monier-Williams attended the East India Company’s college and late= taught there. After his appointment as a professor of Sanskrit at Oxford, in 1870, he delivered an inaugural lecture entitled “The Study of Sanskrit in Relation to Missionary Work in India.” Monier-Williams also wrote a book called Hinduism (1894), which was published and distributed by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He is best known to twentieth-century Indology students for his Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Also, he dedicated twenty-five years to founding an institution at Oxford for disseminating information about Indian literature and culture. He succeeded, and the Indian Institute formally opened in 1896. Monier-Williams disapproved of Muller’s evolution-to-Christianity view of the Vedic çästra:
There can be no doubt of a greater mistake than to force these non-Christian bibles into conformity with some scientific theory of development and then point to the Christian’s Holy Bible as the crowning product of religious evolution. So far from this, these non-Christian bibles are all developments in the wrong direction. They all begin with some flashes of true light and end in utter darkness.33
Monier-Williams further wrote, “It seems to me that our missionaries are already sufficiently convinced of the necessity of studying these works, and of making themselves conversant with the false creeds they have to fight against. How could an army of invaders have any chance of success in an enemy’s country without a knowledge of the position and strength of its fortresses, and without knowing how to turn the batteries they may capture against the foe?”34
Another early Indologist was Theodore Goldstucker (1821–1872), born at Konigsberg and educated there and at Bonn, where he studied Sanskrit, philosophy, and Oriental languages. After settling in England, in 1850, he received appointment as a professor of Sanskrit at London’s University College; he held this post until his deathwrote a number of books on Sanskrit literature and founded the Society for the Publication of Sanskrit Texts. He also participated in many writing and research projects concerning India. The Dictionary of lndian Biography describes him as an authority on ancient Hindu literature.35 Goldstucker regarded the people of India as being burdened by Vedic religion, which had only brought them worldwide “contempt and ridicule.” Thus, he proposed to reeducate them with European values. Goldstucker wrote, “The means for combating that enemy is as simple as it is irresistible: a proper instruction of the growing generation in its ancient literature.”36 In his book Inspired Writings of Hinduism, Goldstucker assailed the validity of Vedic literature. His aim was to demonstrate to the new generation of Vedic followers that he had scholastically annihilated their scripture and that they should show their appreciation by adopting European values and improving their character.=/o:p>
It is lamentable that this sectarian raison d’etre clouded the early study of Vedic literature. At any rate, when reading the theories or analyses of these early Indologists, the student would do well to bear in mind the bias behind the brilliant scholarship.
Their Influence on Modern Scholarship
Of course, college Sanskrit departments no longer award prizes for “the best refutation of Hinduism.” In fact, when one samples the current selection of books by Vedic scholars, he finds the authors describing themselves as “sympathetic outsiders,” “friends of India,” and “admirers of the tradition of tolerance in Indian religion.”
Nonetheless, some of the missionary Indologists’ main theses still crop up as time-honored facts. Simply by being the pioneers, Wilson, Monier-Williams, Muller, and others have left a lasting impression of how one should go about studying the çästras. “The foundations for the recovery of India’s past were laid by certain eminent classical scholars, including Sir William Jones, James Prinsep, H. T. Colebrooke, and H. H. Wilson.… the debt owed these men is great.”37
Modern Vedic scholars are hardly missionaries; still, largely out of academic habit, they give tacit approval to many of the first Indologists’ conclusions. For instance, the early researchers portrayed Vedic literature as a hodgepodge of disharmonious texts. Sir Monier Monier-Williams wrote, “Yes, after a lifelong study of the religious books of the Hindus, I feel compelled to publicly express my opinion of themThey begin with much promise amid scintillations of truth and light and occasional sublime thoughts from the source of all truth and light, but end in sad corruptions and lamentable impurities.”38 Like their predecessors, today’s scholars discredit the Puräëas, although the Vedic äcäryas themselves have accepted the Puräëas on a par with the other Vedic çästras. Recently, one scholar has commented that Muller attempted to change Hinduism to a “new and purer form” and failed, but that “his conception of the history of Hinduism, which presented an antithesis between its Vedic form and the so-called Puranic form … still survives in a modified version.”39 In addition, many of today’s scholars still teach that the Vedas are essentially mythological and that the Puräëas are not even consonant with the Vedic mythology. In other words, the scholars disavow what the äcäryas affirm—namely, that the Vedic literatures form a coherent whole, and that the Puräëas are the culmination. But since it is the Puräëas that substantiate monotheism, if we dismiss them we miss part of the Vedic picture of the Absolute Truth.
As we would expect, many of today’s students are coming to think of the Vedic literature as lacking clarity and conclusiveness. More often than not, as one begins his Indological studies he hears that Vedic authority is dubious, that eternal existence is simply a wish for self-perpetuation, and that God and the demigods are ipso facto myths. In fact, the Vedas’ compiler, Vyäsadeva, often receives no mention. Moriz Winternitz writes that the names of the authors of Vedic literature are unknown to us and that sometimes “a mythical seer of primitive times is named as author.”40 Yet Vedic evidence confirms Vyäsadeva as the literature’s actual compiler: “Thereafter, in the seventeenth incarnation of Godhead, Çré Vyäsadeva appeared in the womb of Satyavaté, wife of Paräçara Muni, and he divided the one Veda into several branches and subbranches.”41 Still, Winternitz makes this comment: “The orthodox … believe the same Vyäsa who compiled the Vedas and composed the Mahäbhärata, who also in the beginning of Kali-yuga, the present age of the world, was the author of the eighteen Puräëas. But this Vyäsadeva is a form of the exalted God Viñëu Himself.”42 And thus, without further word, Winternitz rejects the possibility of Vyäsadeva’s authorship and goes on to discuss other possible authors: since the Puräëas present Vyäsadeva as an avatära, he obviously could never have existed. In this way, Vedic personalities and statements become suspect, even “mythological,” simply because they are supramundane. The student of the Vedas should understand plainly that the Vedas do describe the supramundane, and that to reject their statements on this basis is really self-defeating. One should approach the Vedas with an open mind and let them speak for themselves. Otherwise, they will remain a hodgepodge of “sad corruptions and lamentable impurities.”
Today many scholars continue to minimize the existential and transcendental validity of the Vedas, often without so much as an explanation why empiric knowledge should take precedence over çabda, knowledge from authority. Thus, subtly but surely, the Indological scholars of the present day have inherited the pioneers’ bias, and though today’s bias is not “evangelist” but “empiricist,” it slants just the same. With all deference to the laudable efforts of the empiricists, we suggest that the student try to take a fresh look at Vedic literature, through the eyes of the Vedas themselves. Momentarily setting aside the legacy of the British Indological pioneers, the new student of Vedic literature will benefit by returning to the primary sources—the original çästras and the commentaries of the äcäryas. In this way, without preconceived notions, the student may better appreciate the coherent and many-faceted knowledge that the Vedas offer.
RVL: Appendixes: Bibliography
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