As we have seen elsewhere, the absolute truth has to be understood in terms of viśeṣya, viśeṣaṇa and viśiṣṭa. To remind the reader, these words refer to the object to be qualified, the qualifier(s) or attribute(s), and the qualified object respectively. The idea is that perception of any object occurs in two steps: in the first step, the object is perceived in an indeterminate way, that is, the object is perceived but one cannot say what it is, because its qualities are not perceived. One might say, ” this is something” in that first moment, and only in the next moment be able to say, “this is a book” or “this is a red rose”. In relation to the absolute truth, Brahman is the indeterminate perception of Bhagavān. It is possible to remain permanently in such indeterminate perception with regard to the Absolute Truth. When the qualifiers of the object or viśeṣaṇas are perceived in relation to it, then one perceives the viśiṣṭa or qualified object. Bhagavān is the complete manifestation of the Absolute Truth, and is viśiṣṭa or qualified reality.
Anuccheda 3 of the Bhagavat Sandarbha examines how Bhagavān can be described as viśiṣṭa and viśeṣya. The viśeṣaṇas or qualities of Bhagavān, Bhagavān as viśiṣṭa reality, and as viśeṣya Brahman are examined in Anuchheda 3 in the Bhagavat Sandarbha, where Śrī Jīva cites verses from the Viṣṇu Purāṇa spoken by Parāśara Muni:
यत्तदव्यक्तमजरमचिन्त्यमजमक्षयम् अनिर्देश्यमरुपं च पाणिपादाद्यसंयुतम् ||66||
विभुं सर्वगतं नित्यं भुतयोनिमकारणम्| व्याप्यंव्याप्यं यतः सर्वं तद् वै पश्यन्ति सूरयः||67||
तद्ब्रह्म परमं धाम तद्ध्येयं मोक्षकाङ्क्षिणाम् श्रुतिवाक्योदितं सूक्ष्मं तद्विष्णोः परमं पदम् ||68||
तदेतद्भगवद्वाच्यं स्वरूपं परमात्मनः वाचको भागवच्छब्दस्तस्याद्यस्याक्षरात्मनः||69||
That which is unmanifest, free from aging, inconceivable, unborn, never decaying, indefinable and formless, which is thus devoid of hands, legs and other such bodily limbs; which is supreme, all-pervading, eternal, the cause of all beings, yet without any cause; which is all-encompassing, but not itself encompassed, the source of everything, and known to the wise is called Brahman. It is the ultimate basis of everything and the Reality disclosed through meditation for the seekers of liberation. It is the subtle truth described in the words of the Vedas, the supreme seat of Śrī Viṣṇu. This Brahman is the essential nature of Paramātma and is denoted by the word Bhagavān. The word Bhagavān expresses that original imperishable Lord directly (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.5.66-69).
and Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.5.73-75 goes on to add:
सम्भर्तेति तथा भर्ता भकारोSर्थद्वयान्वितः नेता गमयिता स्रष्टा गकारार्थस्तथा मुने||73||
वसन्ति तत्र भूतानि भूतात्मन्यखिलात्मनि स च भूतेष्वषेषु वकारार्थस्ततोSव्ययः||75||
O sage, the letter bha has two meanings- nourisher and supporter. The letter ga has three meanings- leader, carrier and creator. All the living beings reside (vasanti) in Bhagavān, who is God within and the Self of all creation, and He also resides in them. This is the meaning of the letter va. Therefore He is the imperishable reality.
Above, we have not included verse 6.5.74 which describes Bhagavān’s viśeṣaṇas or qualities which we leave for another article. We focus on how Bhagavān is described as viśiṣṭa reality by listing words which describe Him as possessing a certain attribute or viśeṣaṇa (this is discussed in more detail in Śrī Babaji’s commentary on this Anuchheda):
- Bhagavān is avyakta or unmanifest to people’s senses, which means that Bhagavān can be understood only through śabda.
- As a result of being avyakta, Bhagavān is acintya or inconceivable.
- Bhagavān is ajara and aja meaning He has no birth, and there is no death for Him.
- He is akṣaya which means there is no decay or transformation in Him.
- Bhagavān is anirdeśya meaning He is beyond speech. This does not mean that Bhagavān cannot be described by words, but that He is not completely expressible by words because He is unlimited.
- Bhagavān is described as pāṇi-pāda-asaṁyuta: devoid of hands and legs. There are two ways to understand this. First, unlike our hands or legs, Bhagavān’s limbs are inherent to Him i.e. they are inseparable from Him. Second, this phrase only denies that He has material hands and legs.
- He is vibhu or endowed with all opulence.
- He is sarva-gata or without division or separation.
- Bhagavān is bhūta-yoni or the source of all beings.
- Being the source of everything in existence, He is akāraṇa or without source. As everything is eternal, the word source here means that he is not dependent on anything else for His own existence.
- Bhagavān is vyāpi, that is, He pervades or contains everything and He is also avyāpi, that means, nothing pervades or contains Him.
- He is sambhartā or nourisher of His devotees.
- He is bhartā or the supporter or maintainer of His devotees.
- He is netā or one who grants the fruit of devotion, prema, to His devotees.
- Bhagavān is gamayitā or one who carries the devotee to His abode.
- He is sraṣṭā or one who makes divine qualities manifest in His devotees. Here, it is to be noted that Bhagavān does not participate in maintenance etc. of the cosmos directly but only indirectly.
- He is the abode of the totality of living beings (vasanti tatra bhutāni).
- He is avyaya, imperishable Reality.
The etymological meaning of the word Bhagavān. Śrī Jīva adds that the words above indicate the possession of a quality. For example, when we say that Bhagavān is avyakta, we mean that He has the quality of avyakta-tva or unmanifest-ness in Him. The special feature of Bhagavān is that these qualities are inherent in Him. As the redness of a rose cannot be removed, these qualities cannot be separated from Him. In other words, these are His eternal and inseparable qualities.
With this logic in mind, the word Bhagavān is the nominative singular case of the crude form Bhagavat, which can be derived as bha+ga+va+vat. One sense of the ‘vat’ pratyaya is eternal possession (nitya-yoga) by the possessor. Bhagavān is one who eternally possesses the qualities denoted by the words bha, ga and va. In the verse, Parāśara Muni gives the etymological meaning of these words by relating them to verbal roots. Bha is related to the root bhṛñ which means “to support” or “to nourish”, ga is related to the verbal root gam which means “to go” and va is related to the verbal root vas which means to live. From relations to these verbal roots, Parāśara Muni derives the meaning of the words as possessing the attributes of sambhartā, gamayitā and so on. Bha+ga+va+vat should be Bhagavavat and not Bhagavat, but this ‘va’ is dropped for reasons of meter. And, the nominative singular case of Bhagavat is Bhagavān.