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Explanation of the Ātmārāma Verse in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam

Lord Caitanya next explained a very famous verse known as the Ātmārāma verse, which appears in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as follows: id1

ātmārāmāś ca munayo
nirgranthā apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukīṁ bhaktim
ittham-bhūta-guno hariḥ

This verse indicates that those who are liberated souls and are fully self-satisfied will eventually become devotees of the Lord. This injunction is especially meant for the impersonalists, for the impersonalists have no information of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They try to remain satisfied with the impersonal Brahman, but Kṛṣṇa is so attractive and so strong that He attracts their minds. This is the purport of this verse. id2

This verse had been previously explained to a great Vedāntist known as Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. After taking lessons from Lord Caitanya, Sanātana Gosvāmī referred to this incident and prayed to the Lord to again explain the Ātmārāma verse. Kavirāja Gosvāmī, the author of Caitanya-caritāmṛta, appreciating the Lord's explanation of the Ātmārāma verse, has also glorified Lord Caitanya in his prayers. Falling flat at the feet of Lord Caitanya, Sanātana Gosvāmī requested Him to explain the verse as He had formerly explained it to Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya. Sanātana explained his eagerness to hear the same explanation in order that he might be enlightened. Being thus requested by Sanātana, the Lord replied: “I do not understand why Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya so much appreciated My explanation. As far as I am concerned, I don't even remember what I said to him. But because you are asking this of Me, I shall, with the help of your association, try to explain whatever I can remember.” Thus the speaker and the audience are very intimately connected; the speaker is enlightened by the presence of the audience. The speaker, or master, can speak very nicely on transcendental subject matters before an understanding audience; therefore Lord Caitanya said that He did not know how to explain the Sanskrit verse but that since He was in the association of Sanātana He would try to explain it. id3

The Lord then went on to point out that there are eleven items in the Ātmārāma verse: (1) ātmārāmāḥ, (2) ca, (3) munayaḥ, (4) nirgranthāḥ, (5) api, (6) urukrame, (7) kurvanti, (8) ahaitukīm, (9) bhaktim, (10) ittham-bhūta-guṇaḥ, (11) hariḥ. The Lord then began to explain each and every one of these items. As far as the word ātmārāma is concerned, the Lord explained that the word ātmā is used to indicate: (1) the Supreme Absolute Truth, (2) the body, (3) the mind, (4) endeavor, (5) conviction, (6) intelligence, and (7) nature. The word ārāma means enjoyer; therefore anyone who takes pleasure in the cultivation of the knowledge of these seven items is known as ātmārāma. The Lord then explained about the different kinds of ātmārāmas, or transcendentalists. As for the word munayaḥ, or muni, those who are great thinkers are called munis. Sometimes the word muni is also applied to a person who is very grave. Great sages, great austere persons, great mystics and learned scholars are also called munisid4

The next word, nirgrantha, indicates freedom from the bondage of illusion. Nirgrantha also means “One who has no connection with spiritual injunctions.” Grantha means revealed scriptures, and nir is an affix which is used to mean “no connection,” “constructing,” and also “prohibiting.” There are many instructions for spiritual realization, but persons who have no connection with such scriptural injunctions are also known as nirgrantha. There are many people who are foolish, low-born and misbehaved and who have no entrance into the revealed scriptures and injunctions, and therefore they are called nirgrantha. Because grantha is also used for the purpose of collecting riches, the word nirgrantha also indicates a poor man, bereft of all riches, who is attempting to collect riches. id5

The word urukrama is used to indicate a highly powerful person. The word krama is used to indicate the act of stepping, and the word urukrama indicates one who can step forward very far. The greatest step forward was taken by Lord Vāmanadeva, who covered the whole universe in two steps. Thus the word urukrama indicates the Supreme Lord Vāmanadeva. This extraordinary feature of Lord Vāmanadeva is thus explained in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.7.40). id6

viṣṇor nu vīrya-gaṇanāṁ katamo 'rhatīha
yaḥ pārthivāny api kavir vimame rajāṁsi
caskambha yaḥ sva-raṁhasāskhalatā tri-prṣṭhaṁ
yasmāt tri-sāmya-sadanād uru-kampayānam

“No one can estimate the inconceivable potencies of Lord Viṣṇu. Even if one can count the number of atomic combinations in this material world, he still cannot count the different energies of the Supreme Lord. As Vāmanadeva, the Lord was so powerful that simply by stepping forward He covered the whole universe from Brahmaloka down to Pātālaloka.” id7

The inconceivable energies of the Lord are spread throughout the creation. He is all-pervading, and by His energy He sustains all planetary systems, yet through His pleasure potency He remains situated in His personal abode known as Goloka. By the expansion of His opulence, He is present in all the Vaikuṇṭha planets as Nārāyaṇa. By expanding His material energy, He creates innumerable universes with innumerable planets within them. Thus no one can estimate the wonderful activities of the Supreme Lord, and therefore the Supreme Lord is known as urukrama, the wonderful actor. In the Viśvaprakāśa dictionary, the word krama is defined as “an expert display of energies,” as well as “stepping forward very quickly.” id8

The word kurvanti is used to mean “working for others.” There is another word similar to this which is used when one's activities are done for one's own personal sense gratification, but the word kurvanti is used when activities are performed for the satisfaction of the Supreme. Thus in this verse the word can only indicate the rendering of transcendental service to the Lord. id9

The word hetu is used to indicate the reason or cause. Generally people are engaged in transcendental activities for three reasons: some want material happiness, some want mystic perfection and some want liberation from material bondage. As far as material enjoyment is concerned, there are so many varieties that no one can enumerate them. As far as perfections in mystic power are concerned, there are eighteen, and as far as types of liberation from material bondage are concerned, there are five. The state of being where all these varieties of enjoyment are conspicuous by their absence is called ahaitukī. The ahaitukī qualification is especially mentioned because by the ahaitukī service of the Lord, one can achieve the favor of the Lord. id10

The word bhakti can be used in ten different ways. Out of these ten, there is sādhana-bhakti, or occupational devotional service. The other nine are called prema-bhakti, love of Godhead. Those who are situated in the neutral position attain perfection up to love of Godhead. Similarly, those who are situated in the relationship of master and servant attain love of Godhead to the stage of attachment. Those who are related in friendship attain love of God to the point of fraternity. Those who are in love with God as His parents are elevated to the point of transcendental emotion. But only those who are related with the Supreme in conjugal love can experience the highest of ecstasies. Thus there are different meanings for the word bhaktiid11

The Lord next explained the different meanings of ittham-bhūta-guṇa. Ittham bhūta indicates fully transcendental pleasure before which the transcendental pleasure known as brahmānanda becomes like straw. In the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (14.36), a devotee says: id12

tvat-sākṣāt-karaṇāhlāda-
viśuddhābdhisthitasya me
sukhāni goṣpadāyante
brāhmāṇy api jagad guro

“My Lord, O Supreme, simply by understanding You or seeing You, the pleasure which we derive is so great that the pleasure of brahmānanda becomes insignificant.” In other words, the pleasure derived by understanding Kṛṣṇa as He is-as the all-attractive reservoir of all pleasures and the reservoir of all pleasure-giving tastes with all transcendental qualifications-attracts one to become His devotee. By virtue of such attraction, one can give up fruitive activities and all endeavors for liberation and can even abandon the intense desire to achieve success in yoga mystic power. The attraction of Kṛṣṇa is so intense that one can lose respect for all other means of self-realization and simply surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead. id13

The Lord also explained the word guṇa in all its different meanings. Guṇa indicates the unlimited transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa, primarily His sac-cid-ānanda form. In His transcendental blissful knowledge and eternity, He is fully perfect, and His perfection is increased when He is controlled by the attention of His devotee. God is so kind and merciful that He can give Himself in exchange for the devotional service of the devotee. His transcendental qualities are such that the perfection of His beauty, His perfect reciprocation of love between Himself and His devotees, and the flavor of His transcendental qualities attract different kinds of transcendentalists and liberated souls. For example, He attracted the mind of Sanaka Kumāra simply by the aroma emanating from the flowers offered to Him. The mind of Śukadeva Gosvāmī was attracted by the transcendental pastimes of Lord Kṛṣṇa, and the minds of the damsels of Vṛndāvana were attracted by His personal beauty. Rukmiṇī's attention was attracted by His bodily features and transcendental qualities, and the mind of the goddess of fortune was attracted by His flute playing and other transcendental features. Lord Kṛṣṇa attracts the minds of all young girls and elderly ladies by His childlike activities. He also attracts the minds of His friends by His friendly activities. When He appeared in Vṛndāvana, He even attracted the birds, beasts, trees and plants. Indeed, everyone became attracted in love and affection for Kṛṣṇa. id14

The word hari has different meanings, of which two are foremost. Hari means that He takes away all inauspicious things from the devotee's life and that He attracts the mind of the devotee by awarding him transcendental love of Godhead. Kṛṣṇa is so attractive that anyone who can remember Him in some way or another becomes freed from the four kinds of material miseries. The Lord gives special attention to His devotee and banishes the devotee's various sinful activities, which are stumbling blocks for the advancement of devotional service. This is called routing the influence of ignorance. Simply by hearing about Him, one develops love for Him. That is the gift of the Lord. On one side He takes away inauspicious things, and on the other side He awards the most auspicious things. That is the meaning of hari. When a person is developed in love of Godhead, his body, mind and everything else are attracted by the transcendental qualities of the Lord. Such is the power of Kṛṣṇa's merciful activities and transcendental qualities. He is so attractive that out of transcendental attachment, a devotee will abandon all four principles of spiritual life-religiosity, economic development, regulation of sense gratification and salvation. id15

The words api and ca are adverbs and can be used for virtually any purpose. The word ca, or “and,” can render seven different readings to the whole construction. id16

The Lord thus established the import of the eleven words in the Ātmārāma verse, and then He began to explain the import of each item as follows. The word brahman indicates the greatest in all respects. The Lord is the greatest in all opulences. No one can excel Him in wealth, strength, fame, beauty, knowledge and renunciation. Thus the word brahman indicates the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. In the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (1.12.57) the word brahman is given to indicate the greatest of all; the Supreme Lord is the greatest, and there is no limit to His expanding as the greatest. One may conceive of Brahman's greatness, yet this greatness grows in such a way that no one can estimate how great He actually is. id17

The Supreme Personality of Godhead is realized in three aspects, but they are all one and the same. The Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality, Kṛṣṇa, is everlasting. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.9.33) it is said that He exists before the manifestation of this cosmic world, that He exists during its continuance, and that He continues to exist after its annihilation. Therefore He is the soul of everything great. He is all-pervading and all-witnessing, and He is the supreme form of everything. id18

There are three different kinds of transcendental processes mentioned in Vedic literature by which one can understand and achieve that supreme perfection of the Absolute Truth. They are called the process of knowledge, the process of mystic yoga, and the process of devotional service. The followers of these three processes realize the Absolute Truth in three different aspects. Those who follow the process of knowledge realize Him as impersonal Brahman; those who follow the process of yoga realize Him as the localized Supersoul; and those who follow the process of devotional service realize Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In other words, although the word Brahman indicates Kṛṣṇa and nothing else, still, according to the process that is followed, the Lord is realized in three different aspects. id19

As far as devotional service is concerned, there are two divisions. In the beginning there is vidhi-bhakti, or devotional service with regulative principles. In the higher stage there is rāga-bhakti, or devotional service in pure love. id20

The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the Absolute Truth, but He is manifested by the expansions of His different energies also. Those who follow the regulative principles of devotional service ultimately attain the Vaikuṇṭha planets in the spiritual world, but one who follows the principles of love in devotional service attains to the supreme abode, the highest planet in the spiritual world known as Kṛṣṇaloka or Goloka Vṛndāvana. id21

Transcendentalists can also be divided into three categories. The word akāma refers to one who does not have any material desires. Mokṣa-kāma refers to one who seeks liberation from material miseries, and sarva-kāma refers to one who has the material desire to enjoy. The most intelligent transcendentalist gives up all other processes and engages himself in the devotional service of the Lord, even though he may have many desires. It is not by any kind of transcendental activity-neither fruitive action, nor the cultivation of knowledge, nor cultivation of mystic yoga-that a person can achieve the highest perfection without adding a tinge of devotional service. But for devotional service, all other transcendental processes are just like nipples on the neck of a goat. The nipples on a goat's neck may be squeezed, but they do not supply milk. If one is to derive actual perfection from his process, he must take to the devotional service of Kṛṣṇa. In Bhagavad-gītā it is stated:. id22

catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino 'rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha

“O best among the Bhāratas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me-the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Bg. 7.16) id23

When these four types of people amass righteous activities, they come to the devotional service of the Lord. Out of these four, those who are distressed and those who desire wealth are called devotees with desires, whereas the other two, the inquisitive and the searcher for wisdom, are seekers of liberation. Because they worship Kṛṣṇa, they are all considered to be very fortunate. In due course of time, if they give up all desires and become pure devotees of the Supreme Lord, they can be considered most fortunate. Such fortunate beginners can develop only in the association of pure devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa. When one associates with pure devotees, he becomes a pure devotee himself. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.10.11): id24

sat-saṅgān mukta-duḥsaṅgo
hātuṁ notsahate budhaḥ
kīrtyamānaṁ yaśo yasya
sakṛd ākarṇya rocanam

“A person who is actually intelligent is able-by association of pure devotees-to hear about Lord Kṛṣṇa and His activities.” These activities are so attractive that when one hears of them, he does not give up his association with the Lord. id25

But for the association of pure devotees, all other association is kaitava, or cheating. This is confirmed in the First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam wherein it is stated that all cheating processes which obstruct transcendental realization are to be thrown off. By Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam one can understand reality as it is, and such understanding helps one transcend the three kinds of material miseries. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is compiled by the greatest sage, Vyāsadeva, and it is a work coming out of his mature experience. By understanding Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and rendering devotional service, one can immediately capture the Supreme Lord within his heart. id26

Lord Caitanya then explained that the word projjhita means“desire for liberation.” One great commentator explained that desire for liberation is the most obstructive stumbling block on the path of God realization. Somehow or other, if one comes to Kṛṣṇa and begins to hear about Him, Kṛṣṇa is so kind that He awards him His lotus feet as a center. Having such a focal point, a devotee or transcendentalist forgets everything and engages himself in the devotional service of the Lord. When one comes to the Lord in devotional service, or in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the reward is the Supreme Himself. Once engaged for the Supreme, one no longer asks for anything, as do the distressed man and he who desires material possessions. The method of devotional service, the service itself, association of pure devotees and the causeless mercy of the Lord all act so wonderfully that one can give up all activities and become absorbed in Kṛṣṇa, even if he is distressed, in want of material possessions, inquisitive or is actually a wise man cultivating knowledge. id27

In summary, Kṛṣṇa is the meaning behind all the words in the Ātmārāma verse. Up to this point Lord Caitanya spoke only of the introduction to the Ātmārāma verse. Next He explains its real position. id28

In the cultivation of knowledge there are two kinds of transcendentalists. One of them worships the impersonal Brahman, and the other desires liberation. Since monists worship the impersonal feature of Brahman, they are therefore called worshipers of Brahman. These Brahman worshipers are further divided into three categories: the neophyte, one who is absorbed in Brahman realization, and one who has actually realized himself as Brahman. If devotional service is added, the knower of Brahman can then become liberated; otherwise there is no possibility of liberation. Anyone who is fully engaged in devotional service in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is understood to be already realized in Brahman. Devotional service is so strong that one is attracted to Kṛṣṇa even from the platform of Brahman worship. The Lord awards the devotee the perfection of a spiritual body, and he eternally engages in the transcendental service of Kṛṣṇa. It is when the devotee understands and becomes attracted by Kṛṣṇa's transcendental qualities that he wholeheartedly engages in devotional service. For instance, the four Kumāras and Śukadeva Gosvāmī were liberated from the beginning, yet in their later life they became attracted to the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa and became devotees. Sanaka Kumāra was attracted by the aroma of the flowers offered to Kṛṣṇa, and the other Kumāras were attracted by the transcendental qualities of the Lord and thus engaged in His devotional service. The nine mystics mentioned in the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam are understood to have been transcendentalists from birth by virtue of hearing of the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa from Brahmā, Lord Śiva and Nārada. id29

Sometimes one becomes attracted to Kṛṣṇa and His transcendental qualities simply by looking upon the beautiful features of His transcendental body, in which case one abandons the desire for liberation and engages in His devotional service. The devotee regrets his loss of time in the so-called cultivation of knowledge and becomes a pure devotee of the Lord. id30

There are two kinds of liberated souls having material bodies: the soul liberated by devotional service and the soul liberated by the cultivation of knowledge. The liberated soul in devotional service, attracted by the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa, becomes more and more elevated, whereas those who engage in dry speculation and simply cultivate knowledge without devotion fall due to their many offenses. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.2.32) where it is stated: id31

ye 'nye 'ravindākṣa vimukta-māninas
tvayy asta-bhāvād aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ
āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ
patanty adho 'nādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ

“O Lord, the intelligence of those who think themselves liberated but who have no devotion is not pure. Even though they rise to the highest point of liberation by dint of severe penances and austerity, they are sure to fall down again into this material existence, for they do not take shelter at Your lotus feet.” This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā: id32

brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām

“One who is transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state, he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Bg. 18.54) id33

Thus one who is actually situated in Brahman realization has no reason to lament or desire. He is equal to everyone and is thus eligible for devotional service. This was also accepted by Bilvamaṅgala Ṭhākura, who, in his later life, lamented: “I was situated as a monist in order to become one with the Supreme, but somehow or other I contacted a naughty boy and became His eternal servitor.” In other words, those who attain self-realization by the execution of devotional service attain a transcendental body, and, being attracted to the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa, engage fully in pure devotional service. id34

Anyone who is not attracted to Kṛṣṇa is understood to be still under the spell of the illusory energy (māyā), but one who is attempting to be liberated by the process of devotional service is actually liberated from the spell of māyā. In the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there are many instances recorded of devotees who became liberated in this life simply by engaging in devotional service. id35

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