Śrī Jīva discusses absolute reality or tattva with an analysis of the famous verse from the Śrīmad Bhagavatām below (Tattva Sandarbha Anuccheda 51 and 52 and Bhagavat Sandarbha Anuccheda 1):
vadanti tat tattva-vidas tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti śabdyate: All those who have realized Absolute reality refer to that Reality as non dual consciousness. This reality is named as Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān.
This verse indicates that Bhagavān is the supreme absolute reality, and is advaya – which means “one without a second”. As Śrī Jīva explains in Anuccheda 51 of the Tattva Sandarbha and Śrī Babaji explains in his commentary on it, the word non-dual does not, however, imply that nothing other than Bhagavān exists. Rather, everything other than Bhagavān is dependent on Bhagavān for its existence.
Bhagavān is perceived in accordance with the bhāva of the perceiver. A crucially important fundamental principle enunciated by Śrī Jīva in Anuchheda 94 of the Bhagavat Sandarbha is that Bhagavān is perceived differently by different individuals in accordance with their bhāva. A person who has the concept that Bhagavān is Rāma will perceive Him as Rāma. Such a person will have a difficult time accepting Bhagavān as Kṛṣṇa, a cowherd boy who stole butter from milk-pots. If a worshipper has a non-personal concept of Bhagavān, he/she will eventually perceive Bhagavān as Brahman. If the worshipper has a personal concept, he/she perceives Bhagavān as Paramātmā or Bhagavān. Even an atheist perceives Bhagavān only because there is only one reality. The atheist will perceive material nature and its laws and nothing else, because his/her bhāva is of that type; material nature is just another śakti of Bhagavān.
Śrī Jīva quotes a key verse at the conclusion of Anuccheda 94 to support this principle (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.43.17). When Kṛṣṇa entered Kaṁsa’s arena in Mathura, He was perceived differently by different people:
mallānām aśanir nṛṇāṁ nara-varaḥ strīṇāṁ smaro mūrtimān
gopānāṁ sva-jano ’satāṁ kṣiti-bhujāṁ śāstā sva-pitroḥ śiśuḥ
mṛtyur bhoja-pater virāḍ aviduṣāṁ tattvaṁ paraṁ yogināṁ
vṛṣṇīnāṁ para-devateti vidito raṅgaṁ gataḥ sāgrajaḥ
As Kṛṣṇa entered the arena with His elder brother Balarāma, He was recognized differently by each observer: the wrestlers saw Him as a bolt of lightning, the ordinary menfolk saw Him as the best of men, while the women saw Him as Cupid personified. The cowherds thought of Him as a relative, while the evil kings saw Him as their punisher, and His parents, as their child. King Kaṁsa recognized Him as his death, while the ignorant thought of Him as something great. The yogīs perceived Him as the Absolute Truth, and the Vṛṣṇis, as their worshippable deity. (SB 10.43.17)
This principle is also evident in the famous verse from the Bhagavad Gītā (4.11):
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
mama vartmānuvartante manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ
I reveal Myself to all who approach me in precise correspondence with the core disposition of their surrender, for all human beings follow My path in all respects, O Arjuna.
It is not possible to perceive all aspects of Bhagavān simultaneously.
Bhagavān is perceived differently by different people only because His different aspects exist. Some fanatics may insist that Bhagavān is only one or the other, but in reality, Bhagavān is the complete reality, which is inclusive of everything.
While these different aspects are simultaneously present in Him, they are not simultaneously visible to the perceiver. It is not that some aspects become unmanifest, and others become manifest, rather they are all present but only one or the other is perceived, depending on the mood of the perceiver. This is evident in the above verse in which the same Bhagavān was perceived by different individuals differently.
This is also evident in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gītā, in which Kṛṣṇa had to give Arjuna ‘special vision’ so that he could see Kṛṣṇa’s universal form. It was not that the form became ‘manifest’ to Arjuna, but rather Arjuna’s love for Kṛṣṇa meant that he could not perceive it even though it was present.
There can be exceptions to this rule sometimes. For example, the Bhāgavatam describes the vision of Vyāsa in which he saw Bhagavān as the complete person, with all his aspects including His avatāras, His māyā, the jīvas and so on. But the purpose of Vyāsa was to describe Bhagavān, and not relish a relationship with these different aspects. Therefore he was granted such a vision.
By analogy, one cannot watch two channels on the TV at once. The channels are available, but one can watch only that channel that one has tuned to. It follows, therefore, that Bhagavān is not somewhere ‘out there’ in a spiritual world ‘far away’. He is right here, and can be perceived by those who are tuned to Him.