The Advaitavādīs consider Bhagavān’s body to be a product of māyā. Vidyāraṇya Swami states in his work Pañcādaśī:
māyākhyāyāḥ kāma-dhenor vatsau jīveśvarāv ubhau yathecchaṁ pibatāṁ dvaitaṁ tattvam advaitam eva hi: Both jīva and īśvara are the two calves of māyā, the cow that grants all desires. Let them drink the milk of dualism to their fill, but Reality is most certainly non dual. (Pancadasi 6.236)
Based on this concept, the Advaitavādīs consider Bhagavān’s abode, Vaikuṇṭha, also as just a place made of the guṇas which are manifestations of māyā. Therefore Jīva Goswami spends a significant amount of time in the Bhagavat Sandarbha to uproot such concepts. In Anuchheda 10, he analyzes Śrī Brahmā’s vision of Bhagavān in Vaikuṇṭha by quoting verses 2.9.9-19 from the Bhāgavatam. The first verse is as follows:
tasmai sva-lokaṁ bhagavān sabhājitaḥ sandarśayām āsa paraṁ na yat-param vyapeta-saṅkleśa-vimoha-sādhvasaṁ sva-dṛṣṭavadbhir puruṣair abhiṣṭutam: Śrī Bhagavān, being highly satisfied with the penance of Brahmā, was pleased to reveal to him His personal abode (Vaikuṇṭha), the supreme planet above all others. This transcendental abode of Bhagavān is free from all kinds of affliction, delusion and fear. It is adored by self-realized beings.
Śrī Jīva Goswami makes a minute analysis of this verse. First, he explains that the word saṅkleśa or affliction refers to the five kleśas beginning with avidyā that we examined in a recent post (avidyā, asmitā, rāga, dveśa and abhiniveśa). saṅkleśas lead to vimoha or delusion and bhaya or fear. Vaikuntha is completely free from these (vyapeta), that is, māyā has no influence there. This is further supported by the fact that Vaikuṇṭha is praised by those who have realized the self (sva-dṛṣṭavadbhir).
Sattva guṇa does not exist in Vaikuṇṭha
Another concept proposed by Advaitavādīs is that when Brahman becomes conditioned by vidyā, or sattva guṇa, it takes the form of Bhagavān (this is beginningless or anādi). Therefore, avidyā can be absent in Vaikuṇṭha because sattva guṇa (whose function is vidyā) is predominant there as it is the abode of Bhagavān. Still Vaikuṇṭha is not the highest reality, because it is in the material world. It is quality-less Brahman which is the highest reality, being beyond the guṇas.
Jīva Goswami deflates this concept by noting the words paraṁ na yat-param which means “yato vaikuṇṭhāt (yat) anyat vaikuṇṭham (param) na śreṣṭham (param na) vidyate: There is no other Vaikuṇṭha superior to that Vaikuṇṭha” or “yato vaikuṇṭhāt (yat) brahmākhyam tattvam (param) bhinnam na (param na) bhavati”: Vaikuṇṭha is not different from Parabrahman, that is, Vaikuṇṭha is a manifestation of Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti.
Śrī Jīva Goswami quotes the next verse to further establish this point:
pravartate yatra rajas tamas tayoḥ sattvaṁ ca miśraṁ na ca kāla-vikramaḥ na yatra māyā kim utāpare harer anuvratā yatra surāsurārcitāḥ: In that personal abode of Bhagavān, the material guṇas of tamas and rajas do not exist nor sattva in which there is a mixture of rajas and tamas (miśraṁ). Nor is there any influence of time, what to speak of māyā. The residents there are worshipable by both devas and asuras.
As there is no rajas and tamas in Vaikuṇṭha, it follows that there is no sattva guṇa there. To establish this point, Śrī Jīva cites verses from many different sources in quick succession which show that the guṇas are always mixed and never pure. If we accept the Advaitavādīs insistence that Vaikuṇṭha is made of sattva guṇa, then rajas and tamas must inevitably be present, which would contradict the above verses and many others like them.
Further, the verse makes it crystal clear: na yatra māyā: where there is no māyā. Brahmāji saw that there was no māyā in Vaikuṇṭha. Māyā here refers to sattva, rajo and tamo guṇa, and not some alternative meaning like ‘deceit’, because rajo and tamo guṇa have already been denied (deceit is a function of these guṇas).
Furthermore, Śrī Jīva notes that if Vaikuṇṭha was made of the material sattva guṇa and not rajas and tamas (although this is impossible), there would be no activity there of any sort because sattva guṇa is a state of utter indifference to anything. There is no possibility of action in pure material sattva guṇa. Yet, Vaikuṇṭha is full of activities involving Bhagavān and His devotees.
Vaikuṇṭha is eternal because there is no influence of time there
Because rajo guṇa is not present in Vaikuṇṭha, it is never created. Because tamo-guṇa is absent there, it is never destroyed. As sattva guṇa is also not present there, one is led to conclude that Vaikuṇṭha is comprised of transcendental bliss, pure consciousness and eternal existence. The reason these guṇas are not present in Vaikuṇṭha is because there is no influence of time there as pointed out in the above verse (na ca kāla-vikramaḥ). Time agitates the pradhāna and throws the guṇas out of their equilibrium state and this sets them into motion. As time is absent in Vaikuṇṭha, there is no possibility there of the six types of transformations that are observed in nature: jāyate, asti, vardhate, pariṇamate, apakṣiyate and naśyati.
Vaikuṇṭha is made of viśuddha sattva.
The above analysis establishes that material sattva guṇa is not present in Vaikuṇṭha. Instead, Vaikuṇṭha is comprised of viśuddha sattva. The Advaitavādīs take the word ‘viśuddha’ or pure, to mean dominant material sattva with a small amount of rajas. Śrī Jīva notes that this interpretation denies the very meaning of the word ‘viśuddha’ or pure. Thus, viśuddha sattva is not sattva with a little bit of rajas, but it is a completely different śakti – it is the svarūpa śakti of Bhagavān. It is transcendental to the guṇas, and it is conscious, unlike material sattva guṇa which is inert.
Then why is it that material sattva and viśuddha sattva have similar names? Śrī Jīva explains that the similarity of names is because of similar functions. Material sattva acts as the mediating śakti which enables understanding of material objects. Viśuddha sattva, on the other hand, is the śakti which enables direct experience of Bhagavān’s abode, and of Bhagavān Himself. Because the jīvas are under the guṇas of māyā, they cannot perceive Bhagavān. At best, someone in material sattva guṇa may infer the existence of some supreme controlling power by observing the world around him or her. But this will not reveal any positive information nor experience of Bhagavān.
It follows that the variety in Vaikuṇṭha is not a result of material guṇas, but rather, it is a manifestation of the viśuddha sattva śakti of Bhagavān. It is not true that anything devoid of material guṇas must necessarily be quality-less or nirviśeṣa. Rather, that vastu or real object can have transcendental qualities which are beyond our range of experience.