As we have examined elsewhere, the Purāṇas differentiate between material or prākṛt sattva and viśuddha sattva. The distinction between these two is important to understand, because it helps us understand why Bhagavān is not perceivable to us, and how He can be perceived.
The definition of viśuddha sattva. In Anuchheda 99 from the Bhagavat Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva begins by quoting a famous verse from the Viṣnu Purāṇa:
hlādinī sandhinī samvit tvayy ekā sarva-saṁsthitau hlāda-tāpa-karī miśrā tvayi no guṇa-varjite
The one energy, having the three divisions of hlādinī (bliss), sandhinī (eternal existence) and samvit (knowing), exists in you, the support of everything. But the energy that yields material happiness, misery and their mixture, does not abide in you, because You are free from the gunas. (VP 1.12.69).
The idea is that Bhagavān, who is one, has only one intrinsic energy or svarūpa śakti, but this energy is divided into three because He has three aspects to Him: sat, cit and ānanda (एकस्यैव तत्त्वस्य सच्चिदानन्दत्वाच्छक्तिरप्येका त्रिधा भिद्यते). Śrī Jīva identifies this one svarūpa śakti as viśuddha sattva. The viśuddha sattva is divided into hlādinī (bliss), sandhinī (eternal existence) and samvit (knowing) energies, which have distinct functions.
Śrī Jīva defines viśuddha sattva as follows:
तस्या मूलशक्तेस्त्र्यात्मकत्वेन सिद्धे येन स्वप्रकाशतालक्षणेन तद्वृत्तिविशेषेण स्वरूपं वा स्वयं स्वरूपशक्तिर्वा विशिष्टं वाविर्भवति तद्विशुद्धसत्त्वम्
That is viśuddha sattva,
1. which is a specific function of the original energy or mūla śakti (here Śrī Jīva is referring to the “one energy” bolded in the translation above),
2. which has the characteristic of being self-revealing,
3. by which Bhagavān’s svarūpa [Brahman], or Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti, or Bhagavān’s form become manifest,
4. which is untouched by māyā [and is therefore called viśuddha].
The reason Bhagavān is not perceivable to us is that we lack viśuddha sattva, in which He exists, and which reveals Him. When it is bestowed on us (this happens at the stage of bhāva), we can perceive Him. Because Bhagavān can only be revealed by Himself, it is futile to try to perceive Him by any other means, such as the methods of science and so forth.
The meaning of hlādinī (bliss), sandhinī (eternal existence) and samvit (knowing). Śrī Jīva next explains how, depending on which aspect of viśuddha sattva dominates, different functions are performed and different goals attained. According to the predominance of specific aspects, there are different names for the one viśuddha sattva.
To understand the functions of viśuddha sattva, we have to understand what hlādinī, sandhinī, and samvit are. Here are the definitions Śrī Jīva gives of these three terms:
यया [भगवान] सत्तां दधाति धारयति च सा सर्वदेशकालद्रव्यादिप्राप्तिकरी सन्धिनी: That śakti, by which Bhagavān sustains His own existence and bestows existence upon others, and which pervades space, time, objects and so on, is called sandhinī.
तथा संविद्रूपोSपि यया संवेत्ति संवेदयति च सा संवित्: Similarly, though He is the embodiment of samvit, that śakti by which He knows and induces others to know is called samvit.
तथा ह्लादरूपोशपि यया संविदुत्कटरुपया तं ह्लादं संवेत्ति संवेदयति च सा ह्लादिनी: In the same way, although He is the embodiment of hlāda (delight), which is the highest form of samvit, the śakti by which He experiences this delight and causes others to experience it is called hlādinī.
The different functions of viśuddha sattva.
Because viśuddha sattva has the nature of being self-revealing, it can be analyzed based on what it reveals or manifests. Based on its different self-revealing functions, viśuddha sattva also takes on different names.
- When the viśuddha sattva is dominated by its sandhinī aspect, it is called ādhāra śakti, or the śakti of support. Śrī Jīva explains that the ādhāra śakti is what manifests or reveals the abode of the Lord to a worshipper. It is also the śakti by which His abode exists and is sustained.
- When dominated by samvit, viśuddha sattva is called ātma-vidyā. ātma-vidyā reveals self-knowledge to a worshipper.
- When dominated by hlādinī, viśuddha sattva is called guhya-vidyā. guhya-vidyā means uttamā bhakti which exists in His abode, and which also functions to reveal itself to the worshipper.
- When all three aspects are prominent at the same time, viśuddha sattva is called mūrti, or the form of Bhagavān. Bhagavān’s form exists through its function and it also reveals the form of Bhagavān to another.
- The function of viśuddha sattva of revealing the form of Bhagavān is also called Vasudeva. Bhagavān is called Vāsudeva, which means He manifests in or is perceived in the state of Vasudeva, and also that He dwells in or exists in the state of Vasudeva. This state is one of pure being (viśuddha), devoid of any tinge of māyā.
In this way, everything related with Bhagavān – whether His own form, His own abode, His knowing and His experience of bliss, or the manifestation/perception of these to another – are functions of the three aspects of Bhagavān’s viśuddha sattva.