Category Archives: 1.02 Answers to the Sages

Spiritual Godhead in the Material World

Previously, the sages asked Suta why he suggests so strongly that Krishna and other expansions of Vishnu are of the highest benefit to humanity. Suta replied that the Vishnu is the category of divinity in charge of the mode of clarity – the most beneficial of the three energies of existence. Now the sages will ask follow-up questions.

They begin by wanting to know, “If Vishnu is the deity of the energy of clarity, how can you say that he is above and beyond all material energies?” In our previous comments we noted that Suta already answered this question by using the words, “absolutely pure clarity” (viśuddha-sattva) to describe the energy of Vishnu. But now the sages ask Suta to elaborate on it more clearly.

[30]

“Indeed,” Suta answers, “before manifesting this world, the energies and qualities of cause and effect sprang forth from the supra-qualified power of the inner energies of the All-Attractive.

[31]

“He functions through those energies and qualities, so it looks like the All-Aware, All-Enlightened One is within and defined by them.”

The sages were highly experienced and thorough researchers of sophisticated psychological and spiritual subjects. Therefore Suta could speak to them with such intense philosophical density. Most of us, however, need to take our time carefully with these passages to grasp what he is trying to communicate.

Suta explains that Vishnu is not “in” the energy of clarity, nor “created” or “manifest” by it. Rather, Vishnu existed alone before the energy of clarity or any energy at all ever existed. All the energies and things that exist now are results of his energy. He creates things which create other things, and thus all things spring from him. Since the energy of clarity is an extension of his inner being, he is not “within” or “confined” or “created by” it – but rather it is within and created by him, and he works through it.

The Vishnu category of divinity exists beyond and before the energies which compose our present universe. Thus he is not a product of this universe, unlike the powerful gods, humans, and creatures which spring from him. Although he is not confined or produced by his creation, he works within it through the energy of clarity, without staining his transcendent nature.

[32]

“Thus that Person, the one womb of all creation, shines forth in many forms as the soul within every soul; just like fire shines forth from every type of wood.”

Vishnu is the original womb of everything; the singularity – the singular absolute point – from which all rays forever emanate. He emanates infinite quintillions of endless rays and thus illuminates everything, generates all the souls, and becomes the soul within every soul.

To help us envision this abstract concept in a more concrete way, Suta suggests we visualize wood and flame. Flame exists within all wood, hidden. Similarly God exists within everything, though “hidden” from the eye afflicted with cataracts of willful ignorance. When fire leaps forth from wood, it is pure. It does not matter what type of wood the fire comes from – the fire becomes fire; pure, bright and hot. This imagery helps us more tangibly understand that Vishnu is within everyone and everything – but always retains his own identity and purity, just as fire and wood remain distinct entities and the wood cannot change the essential identity of fire.

Next, the sages would like to know, “Why does Vishnu enter all beings? What purpose does it serve?”

[33]

“The many living entities, by nature infatuated with various things, have only the subtle potential for senses. That is why Vishnu enters into his own creations, to allow them to enjoy the things they desire.”

What an extremely interesting statement!

The sages want to know why Vishnu enters all beings. Suta explains that all beings, on their own, do not possess actual senses (faculties of sight, taste, touch, etc), they only possess the “subtle form” of such senses. (sūkṣma-indriya) “Subtle” means potential as opposed to kinetic.

I envision it that the soul possesses plugs into which sensory instruments can be wired. The soul is pure conscious awareness, but of itself it does not have sensory equipment through which to extend its conscious awareness to things outside itself. Thus the soul in isolation is directly aware of existence and can only dream of anything else.

The soul dreams. By its very nature (bhāva), is infatuated with its source, Godhead. The soul awakens to individuality when it develops a dream about Godhead – like homogenous waves of light suddenly appearing as discrete photons. The soul dreams of knowing the qualities and forms of Godhead (guṇamaya). Some few souls dream of enjoying those qualities (bhunkte tad-guṇān). For their sake Vishnu sets aside a portion of his energies to be enjoyed. That portion is our universe. However, the souls on their own cannot enjoy God’s qualities expanded in this universe, because they do not inherently possess real senses, only the capacity and subtle potential for them. That is why Vishnu expands all throughout his creation (sva-nirmiteṣu nirviṣṭo) and becomes the soul within all souls. This “Supersoul” form of Vishnu is the “wire” which connects the soul’s capacity for sensual awareness to actual tangible senses capable of experiencing and interacting with the world.

Thus Vishnu becomes the Supersoul for the sake of connecting souls to bodies.

I would like to note that most souls do not dream of enjoying God’s energy. They dream of being involved in God’s enjoyment of his energy. They never require the Supersoul to connect them to sense-enjoyment. But they do require help because they have no senses of their own, only the potential for senses. Godhead extends his energy to permeate them, but this energy is not the Paramatma. It is the divine śuddha-sattva encapsulated hlādinī-śakti (devotional energy encapsulated in pure clarity) which enters their being and connects them to senses capable of directly interacting with Godhead.

I wish to awake to this dream soon.

English: Vishnu and Lakshmi on Shesha Nāga, c....

Image via Wikipedia


On God and Gods

 Thus far, Suta has explained to the sages that:

  • Devotion to the Supreme Entity is the most beneficial human goal
  • It completely liberates a person from all troubles and fates, and delivers complete satisfaction and joy.
  • It revolves around the service of loving discussion about the divine beloved
  • Such loving discussion destroys all troubles and delivers supreme bliss in progressive stages beginning with interest in the topic and culminating in direct personal relationship with the divine beloved.

Suta concludes this section by saying:

[22] “That is why wise people always want to busy themselves in the extraordinarily delightful and soul-satisfying affairs of devotion to the all-attractive son of Vasudeva, Krishna.”

Now some of the sages listening to Suta pose a question, “Why is all this only about Krishna and other incarnations of Vishnu? Why don’t you mention devotion to other divinities?”

[23] Suta answers with a quote: “The Supreme Person, though beyond the world and singular, takes three forms that operate within the three energies of the world – clarity, ambition, and rest – and perform tasks like creation. They are known as Hari, Viriñci, and Hara. Humanity derives the highest benefit, as expected, from the form operating in the energy of clarity.”

There is one supreme deity just beyond the world, overseeing its existence. That one deity does not directly touch the world and become involved in its complications. But he creates expansions of himself to do so, for it is necessary. These expansions are “the gods” and similar powerful creatures. Primary among all of them are three gods, who take charge of the three fundamental natural energies for the sake of performing three tasks crucial to the unfolding of the universe.

  • Creation is one such task. It is accomplished through the energy of ambition (rajo-guṇa) by the deity who is the embodiment of that creative energy, Brahmā (“Viriñci”).
  • Destruction is another essential task. This is accomplished via the energy of rest (tamo-guṇa) by the deity who embodies that energy, Śiva (“Hara”).
  • Maintenance of things between their creation and destruction is the third essential task. It is accomplished through the energy of clarity (sattva-guṇa) by the deity of clarity, Viṣṇu (“Hari”).

In quoting this, Suta recognizes and affirms a plurality of deities and gods worthy of respect and all linked to the Original Person. But in the final line of the quote he explains why devotion to these many gods does not have the same significance and effect as devotion to Krishna and the forms of Vishnu. The logic in this line is that since the mode of clarity is the most beneficial form of nature, it makes perfect sense that Vishnu, who is the embodiment of that clarity, is the most beneficial form of divinity. The divine loving devotion Suta speaks of in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam is directed towards Krishna and the forms of Vishnu, and not to other less beneficial divinities.

Suta proceeds to explain why the energy of clarity is supremely beneficial:

[24] “From earth grows wood, which creates smoke and fire. But it is only fire which is most beneficial to humanity. Similarly there is rest, ambition and clarity but only clarity grants direct spiritual perception.”

Here Suta references a very sophisticated analogy. The earth is similar to the One Great Person. The earth is the root source of wood (trees), smoke and fire – just as the One Great Person is the root source of the three main gods. But this does not indicate that all three gods are of equal importance and relevance to humanity’s ultimate good. Fire is the most important thing for humanity, more important than wood or smoke. Wood is analogous to the solidifying and strengthening mode of rest (tamas), smoke to the dust-raising mode of creative ambition (rajas), and fire to the illuminating mode of clarity (sattva). The mode of clarity alone has the power to illuminate the human mind and grant it direct spiritual perception and joyful self-realization. Thus, sensibly, the deity of clarity – Vishnu – is more beneficial to humanity than any other form of divinity, because Vishnu most powerfully possess the powers of clarity (sattva) and therefore can deliver the most important, joyful, and real benedictions.

[25] “That is why,” Suta continues, “sages have always engaged themselves in devotions for the all-attractive one beyond contamination of the material energies. Thus they attained absolutely undistorted spiritual clarity, as will any of you who follow them.”

The word adhokṣaja (“beyond contamination of material energies”), deserves at least a short comment. If Vishnu is the deity of the material energy of clarity, how can he be worthy of this name, Adhokṣaja? The word sattvaṁ viśuddhaṁ (“absolutely undistorted clarity of existence”) answers. It says that the mode of clarity, unmixed with the other two: ambition or rest, is the state of being in the pure reality which exists transcendentally to the material creation. Within the material creation we experience clarity as a material phenomenon because it is always mixed with some amounts of the need to create or destroy some condition, and is therefore never experienced in its pure state, unadulterated by the energies of ambition and rest. But in the transcendental manifestation pure clarity exists as the underlying foundation of transcendent reality. Vishnu is pure clarity, and is therefore a transcendent divinity: Adhokṣaja. Thus, other divinities – though certainly worthy of deep respect – are categorically inferior to Vishnu and his expansions.

At this point, some of the sages presented Suta with another question, “Why then do many people worship non-transcendent gods?”

[26] “Those who want a permanent solution to their troubles seek liberation. They are always respectful and never spiteful of anyone, much less any powerful divinity, but they certainly reject the often horrific forms of such material gods and are exclusively devoted to the peaceful and pleasant expansions of the Supreme Personality.”

Because material nature, with constant creation and destruction, is often horrific and ghastly, the deities of this world are often grotesque and frightening beings. Transcendence, however, is joyful and peaceful. Transcendental deities, the expansions of the Original Person Nārāyaṇa, are thus always blissful and pleasant to see.

[27] “Others have more base desires, requiring creation or destruction of various practical goal or obstacles. Naturally they are devoted to deities connected to creation and destruction, and thus worship their ancestors, powerful spirits, and superhuman universal forefathers due to their hunger for power and wealth.”

Suta has explained the reasonable cause for worshiping inferior powers. But now wants to make a powerful statement dissuading such:

[28-29]

Krishna is paramount education

Krishna is paramount ritualism

Krishna is paramount mysticism

Krishna is paramount duty

Krishna is paramount knowledge

Krishna is paramount sacrifice

Krishna is paramount religion

Krishna is the paramount objective

This resoundingly powerful statement surely set the hairs of the sages bristling with joy and excitement. In it, Suta mentioned the main components of human culture, the main paths through which human beings try to obtain their objectives: education, rituals, mystic power, dutiful righteousness, comprehension and knowledge, self-sacrifice, & religious morality. For each he says that the son of Vasudeva, Krishna is the paramount finish line.

What Suta says here is that the ultimate aim of every human desire is joy, satisfaction, & happiness. Such cannot be had in the constantly shifting environment of creation and destruction. It can only be had in the beginningless and endless transcendence. Thus the ultimate goal of any person – be he spiritually minded or not – can only be satisfied perfectly by Vishnu and Vishnu’s expansions, the deity of transcendent clarity.

Therefore everyone, regardless of their immediate proclivities or interests, should turn their devotions towards topics of Śrī Krishna – the topics we are about to enjoy in this Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

 


How to Acquire Divine Love

We pick up the story just after Suta explained why devotion to the Supreme Person, which is developed through hearing about and discussing him, is the most beneficial thing for humanity and brings complete joy to the soul. Suta’s conclusion [1.2.14] was, “one should therefore always hear about, glorify, remember and worship that Supreme Person.”

Some sages, who follow much more arduous and difficult paths for purification, must have felt incredulous towards Suta’s declaration that the supreme welfare can be achieved simply by loving discussion of the Supreme Person. “How could emotion and discussion alone liberate a person from the complex clutches of miserable karmic action and reaction?” They might have asked.

Suta replies [15]: “The meditation which arises spontaneously with a person who hears and discusses Godhead in a loving manner becomes like a sword, with which that wise soul slices to pieces all the hard knots of karmic bondage.”

Some of the sages expected some sort of difficult meditation and yoga and austerity to be required for liberation. Suta explained that by loving devotion, powerful meditation, intimate connection, and willingness to forego anything and everything for the sake of the beloved naturally and automatically arises. Therefore one need not cultivate such things individually. Merely by cultivating love of Godhead through hearing and chanting, such things automatically manifest in an uncommonly powerful form.

The vast majority of Suta’s audience is now back on board and ready to pursue the concept further. They are all agreeable that devotion to Godhead is the most beneficial and valuable thing for a human being. Now they would like to know how to do it; How does one acquire the yoga of devotion?

Suta begins with a rhetorical question: “So who would not be attracted and interested in such discussions about the Supreme?”

This is a reference to the first stage of developing devotion, bhakti-yoga. Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī divides the progress of a bhakti-yogi into nine stages. The first is śraddhā – which means that your heart naturally becomes interested in the topic. Suta enumerates this stage here in the 15th verse, with the words tasya ko na kuryāt kathā-ratim, “[Since the process of devotion, encapsulated succinctly in hearing and chanting about the beloved, is so delightful and efficacious] who in their right mind would not develop some interest in it?”

[16] “A person who does have significant interest in deeply hearing about Vasudeva’s Son (Krishna) is a great soul – a mahātmā. We should purify ourselves by pilgrimage to such purified persons, and should do whatever we can to care for and assist them.”

This is now a reference especially to the second stage of bhakti-yoga: Keeping the company of excellent devotees, sādhu-sanga. The summary of this stage is that, once we have some interest in divine devotion (śraddha) we would then naturally seek out those who have more experience with and accomplishment in it. Seeking such persons, who have more interest in divine love of Krishna than we do, is the second step in bhakti-yoga. How shall we associate with them? We must try to be helpful in a humble manner and assist and serve them in whatever capacity they might want or need. That will quickly make us as pure as they are.

[17] “When you yourself begin to feel the urge to hear Krishna’s words and virtues, you will become even more purified. Such words will carry Krishna, your dear friend, into the core of your heart, which will therefore become cleansed of all impurities, illusions, and inauspiciousness.”

Here Suta refers to the third and fourth stages of bhakti-yoga. The third stage is to execute devotional practices (bhajana-kriyā). The fourth is to become purified of all inauspicious undesirable impurities (anārtha-nivṛtti). The way to actually practice bhakti-yoga is to eagerly hear and discuss Krishna’s own words and words about him. Purification takes place next, on a more profound scale than before. One becomes pure from the inside out, because those words of Krishna carry him into the heart, and all inauspicious and undesirable things flee therefrom.

[18] “When almost all impurities have been cast out from your being, you will become very firmly fixed in bhāgavata-seva – hearing the messages about the all-fortunate and all-attractive Krishna, and humbly serving those who hear such messages. The beautiful poetry describing all-attractive Krishna will then cause very extreme devotion to manifest in you.”

Now Suta refers to the fifth and sixth/seventh stages of bhakti-yoga. The fifth stage is niṣṭhā, “fixation on bhāgavata-seva.” This steady engagement in hearing about Krishna and serving those discussions comes about my way of being purified via more occasional engagement in the same. Once we attain steady engagement in bhāgavata-seva we begin to experience serious glimpses of extreme bhāgavata-bhakti, devotion. These initial extreme stages of bhakti-yoga as a practice are the sixth and seventh stages according to Śrī Rūpa’s way of looking at it: ruci (taste) and āsakti (addiction).

[19] “As a result of extreme devotion to poetic descriptions of Krishna, the contaminating facets of material illusion – ignorance and ambition and their concomitant anger and greed will be unable to affect your mind. Instead only the pure facet of existence will caress your being.”

Existence has three facets: tama, rajas, and sattva – darkness of ignorance, coloration of passionate ambition, and the crystal purity of awareness. Extreme devotion to hearing and chanting about Krishna form an impenetrable shield around one’s mind and perception. One can no longer perceive a situation in a way that gives rise to anger or greedy desires, because the selflessness and understanding of pure loving devotion encapsulates and caresses him. Therefore only the sattva facet of existence continues to affect the bhakta-yogi at this level.

Here, Suta has described the eighth stage of devotional yoga: bhāva. At this stage only pure sattva affects our existence and in that crystal clarity our true nature as a spiritual individual in relationship to the all-attractive Godhead begins to become tangible and empirically real.

[20] “Your being thus caressed by this pure energy of existence manifest due to your union with pure and selfless love for the all-attractive Krishna, the next development is that you become emancipated entirely from all material bondage and directly experience, face-to-face, your divine all-attractive beloved.”

Now Suta comes to the ninth and final stage of progress in bhakti-yoga. It is called prema. The characteristic of Prema is direct tangible perception of Godhead via the delightful bond of love, which of course cannot be had without incidentally destroying all bonds to selfishness and illusion.

[21] “The knots tied around your pure heart are no now sliced to shreds and you are free from all confusions and misgiving. The chain of your destiny has come to an end, completely fulfilled as karma terminates once and for all. Your self is now directly seen with your master.”

Here glorious Suta completes his explanation of how hearing and discussing Krishna causes the most desirable and auspicious outcome and destroys the knots of inauspiciousness. He now describes what occurs after the nine stages of development in bhakti-yoga. The fulfillment of bhakti yoga occurs after it destroys all the ropes binding our inner soul, blows away the haze and thick fog of all our confusions and delusions, and terminates the cycle of destiny we have created by selfish actions and their inescapable reactions. The fulfillment of bhakti yoga is to attain direct interactive relationship with the beloved, Krishna. “The self is seen now only in terms of the beloved master. The self exists to be seen nowhere else.”


Divine Love – The Most Important Thing in the World

[1.2.1] Suta was completely satisfied by their good questions. He offered them words of thanks and began the attempt to answer. He began by praising Sukadeva, his guru, whose teachings he decided would fully answer the questions of the sages.

[2]“He instantly ran off to wander as a saint, without even bothering with the formalities of life. Vyāsa cried out after him in the pain of separation, ‘my son!’ The only reply was the trees echoing, ‘my son!’ as if feeling the same pain. To him, who enters the hearts of all living things, I offer my deep respect.

[3] “Without formal education, he understood the unified essence of all the branches of knowledge. Compassionately wanting to eradicate the deep darkness of humanity, his words created the transcendental torchlight of the most confidential spiritual book (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam). To him, Vyāsa’s son and the guru of sages, I offer my deep respect.

[4] “Respecting the Supreme Godhead Nārāyaṇa and the sages, topmost humans, who know Nārāyaṇa; respecting the Goddess of Learning, Sarasvatī, and the great deliverer of knowledge, Vyāsa; thereafter all that we speak with their blessings will be victorious.”

Now, Suta turned his attention directly to the sages and their questions.

[5] “You sages have asked me excellent questions, about topics truly beneficial to the world. To ask meaningful questions about Krishna is the way to fully delight one’s soul!”

Suta begins to answer their questions. They asked him to tell them the essence of all scriptures regarding what is the most beneficial thing for humanity. He says:

[6] “The most important and beneficial thing for a human being,” he said, “is certainly devotion to the Supreme Entity, without ulterior motive and without satiation. This completely delights the soul.”

Among the multitude of sages, many were dedicated to painstaking scientific and philosophical study (jñāna), many others to harsh nihilistic annihilation of material desires (vairāgya), others to the path of morally responsible duty (karma). Hearing that devotion to the Supreme was more important than any of their pursuits, naturally they raised their doubts. Suta now begins to address those doubts.

[7] “Krishna, the son of Vasudeva, is the object of devotional-yoga,” he explained. “Attaining him through devotion automatically and effortlessly produces all other fruits – like philosophical knowledge and detachment for materialism – as a mere side-effect. [8] As for duties and responsibilities,” he continued, “If performance of duty does not generate interest in hearing about Godhead, it is worth only its own sweat and tears, and nothing else!”

The idea Suta presents here is that duties and responsibilities are meant to purify the heart of selfishness. Why? Because selfishness is the antithesis of love. What is the real importance of love? Without it the human soul cannot become delighted and satisfied. What is the supreme satisfaction and delight that love can deliver? That would be known by one who loves to the Supreme Delightful Entity! How does one express and cultivate such love? By talking constantly about the beloved. Thus if duties and responsibilities do not make the heart more lovingly inclined towards people and their source, the Supreme, they are worthless.

Some may argue that there are other important benefits of religiosity, morality and responsibility. Suta addresses that argument now:

[9] “Religion and dutifulness is not meant for creating a paradise or going to enjoy heavenly delights. Nor is it truly meant for making our lives and societies more prosperous. The true purpose of religion is not any such permutation of sense gratification!”

But then, some will wonder, what is the point of prosperity and common pleasures? Our undeniable needs must be met, but such must not be the goal of our endeavors.

[10] “We should not dedicate ourselves merely to pleasing our senses,” Suta said. “Instead we should simply keep them satisfied, peaceful and healthy. This life is meant for discovery the life’s true essence, not for simply acquiring external things and pleasures!”

What is life’s true essence?

[11] “Those who know the essence of life say that it is an entity of pure and undivided awareness. It is understood in three stages: as brahman, all-pervading life-force; as paramātmā, the unifying soul within all things; and as bhagavān, the Supreme Lifeform.”

How does one come to understand such things for oneself?

[12] “A sincerely inquisitive and thoughtful person,” Suta explained, “who has good measure of learning and simplicity can see these truths of life within himself by practicing the yoga of Devotion (bhakti) under good guidance.”

Now Suta concludes:

[13] “So, if the typical religions of social and moral duties are to have any serious value at all, it is only in so far as they eventually lead one towards the only truly important thing: Devotion to the pleasure of Hari (the Supreme Entity). [14] Therefore, ignore what is frivolous in religion and concentrate exclusively on loving devotion for Godhead by constantly hearing about, speaking about, contemplating, and worshipping Hari, the protector of devotees.