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Talks with Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya

When Lord Caitanya met Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya at Jagannātha Purī, Bhaṭṭācārya, being the greatest logician of the day, also wanted to teach the Lord Vedānta. Since Bhaṭṭācārya was an elderly man, the age of Lord Caitanya’s father, He took compassion on the young sannyāsī and requested Him to learn Vedānta-sūtra from him. Otherwise, Bhaṭṭācārya maintained, it would be difficult for Lord Caitanya to continue as a sannyāsī. When the Lord finally agreed, Bhaṭṭācārya began to teach Him in the temple of Jagannātha. Bhaṭṭācārya lectured on the Vedānta-sūtra continuously for seven days, and the Lord heard him without speaking a word. On the eighth day, Bhaṭṭācārya said: “You have been hearing Vedānta-sūtra from me for the past week, but You have not asked any questions, nor have You indicated that I am explaining it nicely. Therefore I cannot tell whether You are understanding me or not.” id1

“I am a fool,” the Lord replied. “I have no capacity to study Vedānta-sūtra, but since you asked Me to hear you, I am trying to listen. I am simply listening to you because you said that it is the duty of every sannyāsī to hear Vedānta-sūtra. But as far as the meaning you are conveying is concerned-I cannot understand that.” Thus the Lord indicated that in the Māyāvādī sampradāya there are many so-called sannyāsīs who, even though illiterate and unintelligent, hear Vedānta-sūtra from their spiritual master just as a matter of formality. Although they listen, they do not understand anything. As far as Lord Caitanya was concerned, He said that He did not understand the explanation of Bhaṭṭācārya not because it was too difficult for His understanding but because He did not approve of the Māyāvādī interpretation. id2

When the Lord said that He was an uneducated fool and could not follow the expositions, Bhaṭṭācārya replied: “If You do not follow what I am saying, why don’t You inquire? Why do You simply sit silently? It appears that You do have something to say about my explanations.” id3

“My dear sir,” the Lord replied. “As far as the Vedānta-sūtra or the codes of Vedānta are concerned, I can understand the meaning quite well. However, I cannot understand your explanations. There is nothing really difficult about the meaning of the original Vedānta-sūtra, but the way you explain Vedānta-sūtra appears to obscure the real meaning. You do not elucidate the direct meaning but imagine something and consequently obscure the true meaning. I think that you have a particular doctrine which you are trying to expound through the codes of Vedānta-sūtra.” id4

According to Muktika Upaniṣad, there are 108 Upaniṣads. Among these are: (1) Īśa, (2) Kena, (3) Kaṭha, (4) Praśna, (5) Muṇḍaka, (6) Māṇḍūkya, (7) Tittiri, (8) Aitareya, (9) Chāndogya, (10) Bṛhad-āraṇyaka, (11) Brahma, (12) Kaivalya, (13) Jāvāla, (14) Śvetāśva, (15) Hansa, (16) Arunih, (17) Garbha, (18) Narayana, etc. These 108 Upanisads contain all knowledge about the Absolute Truth. Sometimes people inquire abou the meaning of these 108 prayer beads, but because we think there are 108 Upanisads which contain full knowledge of the Absolute Truth, therefore 108 beads are accepted. Sometimes on the other hand, the Vaiṣṇava transcendentalists think that the 108 beads represent the 108 companions of Lord Kṛṣṇa in His rāsa dance, and therefore 108 beads are accepted. id5

Lord Caitanya protested against misinterpretations of the Upaniṣads, and He rejected any explanation which did not give the direct meaning of the Upaniṣads. The direct interpretation is called abhidhā-vṛtti, whereas the indirect interpretation is called lakṣanā-vṛtti, The indirect interpretation serves no purpose. There are four kinds of understanding, called: (1) direct understanding (pratyakṣa), (2) hypothetical understanding (anumāna), (3) historical understanding (aitihya) and (4) understanding through sound (śabda). Of these four, understanding from the Vedic scriptures (which are the sound representations of the Absolute Truth) is the best method. The traditional Vedic students accept understanding through sound to be the best. id6

The stool and bone of any living entity are considered to be impure according to Vedic literatures, yet the Vedic literatures assert that cow dung and conchshells are pure. Apparently these statements are contradictory, but because cow dung and conchshells are considered pure by the Vedas, they are accepted as pure by the followers of the Vedas. If we want to understand the statements by indirect interpretation, then we have to challenge the Vedic statements. In other words, Vedic statements cannot be accepted by our imperfect interpretations; they must be accepted as they are. If they are not accepted in this way, there is no authority in the Vedic statements. id7

According to Lord Caitanya, those who try to give personal interpretations to the Vedic statements are not at all intelligent. They mislead their followers by inventing their own interpretations. In India there is a class of men known as ārya-samāja who say that they accept the original Vedas only and reject all other Vedic literatures. The motive of these people, however, is to give their own interpretation. According to Lord Caitanya, such interpretations are not to be accepted. They are simply not Vedic. Lord Caitanya said that the Vedic statements of the Upaniṣads are like sunlight. Everything is clear and very distinct when it is seen in the sunlight; the statements of the Vedas are similarly clear and distinct. The Māyāvādī philosophers simply cover the sunlight with the cloud of misinterpretation. id8

Lord Caitanya then said that all the Vedic statements of the Upaniṣads aim at the ultimate truth known as Brahman. The word Brahman means “the greatest,” and when we speak of the greatest we immediately refer to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the source of all emanations. Unless the greatest possesses six opulences in full, he cannot be called the greatest. The greatest, who is full in six opulences, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In other words, the Supreme Brahman is the Supreme Personality of Godhead as well. In Bhagavad-gītā (10.12) Kṛṣṇa is accepted by Arjuna as the Supreme Brahman (paraṁ brahma). The conceptions of the impersonal Brahman and the localized Supersoul are contained within the understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. id9

Whenever we speak of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we add the word śrī, indicating that He is full with six opulences. In other words, He is eternally a person; if He were not a person, the six opulences could not be present in fullness. If we say that the Supreme Absolute Truth is impersonal, we mean that His personality is not material. Thus in order to distinguish His transcendental body from ordinary material bodies, some philosophers have explained Him as being impersonal from the material point of view. In other words, material personality is denied, and spiritual personality is established. In the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (3.19) it is clearly explained that the Absolute Truth has no material legs and hands, but in that scripture it is indicated that He has spiritual hands by which He accepts everything offered to Him. Similarly, He has no material eyes, but He does have spiritual eyes by which He can see everything and anything. Although He has no material ears, He can hear everything and anything. Having perfect senses, He knows past, future and present. Indeed, He knows everything, but no one can understand Him, for by material senses He cannot be understood. Being the origin of all emanations, He is the supreme, the greatest, the Personality of Godhead. id10

There are many similar Vedic hymns which definitely establish that the Supreme Absolute Truth is a person who is not of this material world. For instance, in the Hayaśīrṣa-pañcarātra it is explained that although in each and every Upaniṣad the Supreme Brahman is first viewed as impersonal, at the end the personal form of the Supreme Lord is accepted. A similar verse occurs in Śrī Īśopaniṣad: id11

hiraṇmayena pātreṇa
satyasyāpihitaṁ mukham
tat tvaṁ pūṣann apāvṛṇu
satya-dharmāya dṛṣṭaye

“O my Lord, sustainer of all that lives, Your real face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Please remove that covering and exhibit Yourself to Your pure devotee.” (Iśa. 15) id12

This verse indicates that everyone should engage in devotional service to the Supreme Lord, who is the maintainer of this whole universe. Everyone is sustained by His mercy; therefore devotional service unto Him constitutes the true religion. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the eternal form of sac-cid-ānanda, and His effulgence is spread throughout the creation, just as sunshine is spread throughout the solar system. And just as the sun disc is covered by the glaring effulgence of the sunshine, the transcendental form of the Lord is covered by the glaring effulgence called brahmajyoti. Indeed, in this verse it is clearly stated that the eternal, blissful, cognizant form of the Supreme Lord is to be found within the glaring effulgence of the brahmajyoti, which emanates from the body of the Supreme Lord. Thus the personal body of the Lord is the source of the brahmajyoti, as confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā (Bg. 14.27). That the impersonal Brahman is dependent on the Supreme Personality is stated in the Hayaśīrṣa-pañcarātra and in every other Upaniṣad or Vedic scripture. Indeed, whenever there is talk of the impersonal Brahman in the beginning, the Supreme Personality is finally established at the end. Just as Īśopaniṣad indicates, the Supreme Absolute Truth is both impersonal and personal eternally, but His personal aspect is more important than the impersonal one. id13

According to a mantra in Taittirīya Upaniṣad (yato vā imāni bhūtāni jāyante) this cosmic manifestation is but an emanation from the Supreme Absolute Truth, and it rests in the Supreme Absolute Truth. The Absolute Truth has been called the ablative, causative and locative performer. Thus as a performer, He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for these are symptoms of personality. As the ablative performer of this cosmic manifestation, all thinking, feeling and willing come from Him. Without thinking, feeling and willing, there is no possibility of arrangement and design in the cosmic manifestation. Then again, He is causative, for He is the original designer of the cosmos. And He is locative: that is, everything is resting in His energy. These attributes are all clearly attributes of personality. id14

In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad (5.2.3), it is said that when the Supreme Personality of Godhead desires to become many, He turns over material nature. As also confirmed in Aitareya Upaniṣad (1.1), sa aikṣata: “The Lord glanced at material nature.” The cosmic manifestation did not exist before His glance; therefore His glance is not materially contaminated. His seeing power existed before the material creation; therefore His body is not material. His thinking, feeling and acting are all transcendental. In other words, it should be concluded that the mind by which the Lord thinks, feels and wills is transcendental, and the eyes by which He glances over material nature are also transcendental. Since His transcendental body and all His senses existed before the material creation, the Lord also has a transcendental mind and transcendental thinking, feeling and willing. This is the conclusion of all Vedic literature. id15

The word Brahman is found everywhere throughout the Upaniṣads. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are all taken together as the Absolute Truth. Brahman and Paramātmā realization are considered stages toward the ultimate realization, which is realization of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the real conclusion of all Vedic literatures. id16

Thus according to the evidences afforded by various Vedic scriptures, the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa is accepted as the ultimate goal of Brahman realization. Bhagavad-gītā (Bg. 7.7) also confirms that there is nothing superior to Kṛṣṇa. Madhvācārya, one of the greatest ācāryas in Brahmā’s disciplic succession, has stated in his explanation to the Vedānta-sūtra that everything can be seen through the authorities of the scriptures. He quoted a verse from Skanda Purāṇa in which it is stated that the Ṛg Veda, Sāma Veda, Atharva Veda, Mahābhārata, Pañcarātra and the original Rāmāyaṇa are actually Vedic evidence. The Purāṇas, which are accepted by the Vaiṣṇavas, are also considered to be Vedic evidence. Indeed, whatever is contained in that literature should be taken without argument as the ultimate conclusion, and all these literatures proclaim Kṛṣṇa to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. id17

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