The Bhāgavatam’s Advaitavāda

We continue our discussion of Śrī Jīva Goswami’s commentary on the catuḥśloki in Anuchheda 96 of the Bhagavat Sandarbha. As discussed in a previous article, the four topics of the catuḥśloki are jñāna, vijñāna, bhakti and prema. The first of the catuḥśloki gives jñāna:

aham evāsam evāgre nānyad yat sad-asat param
paścād ahaṁ yad etac ca yo ’vaśiṣyeta so ’smy aham
In the beginning, I alone certainly did exist, and no other, whether sat, asat or beyond both. Afterwards, I am, for both this cosmos and what remains are also I (SB 2.9.32).

The catuḥśloki is not about Brahman. Brahman has no attributes, and therefore it cannot be denoted by a personal pronoun “I”. Therefore, Śrī Jīva notes that the word “aham” or “I” in the verse indicates that the speaker is not Brahman but Bhagavān. If the verse were to refer to Brahman and the word jñāna in the verse was interpreted as ātma-jñāna, knowledge of the identity of one’s self with Brahman, it would have been more appropriate to say to Brahmā, “You alone did exist” instead of “I alone did exist”.

In this verse, Bhagavān says that He existed when this world did not exist. Prakṛti, the very cause of everything material, was not manifest, and yet Bhagavān says “I existed”, which means that He is not material. The verse further says that sat and asat, cause and effect, did not exist at that time, which means that there is no material cause for Bhagavān. Further, param which is beyond sat and sat, also did not exist; here param means Brahman (see Gītā 13.13). “Brahman did not exist” means that Brahman is not different from Bhagavān but included in Him, and that only when some sādhakas aspire for Brahman because some scriptures describe Brahman, does Bhagavān become manifest to them as attributeless Brahman. Such aspiring is of course not possible in the absence of the world itself.

Bhagavān is the phenomenal world (non-difference or abheda). The verse says that after creation, the material world which comes into existence is also Bhagavān. But we see objects in the material world like pots and cloths. Pots and cloths are not Bhagavān, and if we accept them to be Bhagavān, then Bhagavān is limited because these items are material.

The answer is that in Indian logic, an object is considered non-different from another object if it is not independent of that object. The material world is dependent on Bhagavān for its existence because it is His śakti, and therefore it is non-different from Bhagavān.

Thus everything perceived in our existence is Bhagavān, and this one truth is explained in all scriptures. The natural outcome of this understanding is that one sees Bhagavān in everyone, and therefore becomes devoid of envy for anyone.

Bhagavān is different from the phenomenal world (difference or bheda). The verse further says that when the world is annihilated, Bhagavān alone continues to exist, which is to say that He exists in His form and in His Vaikuṇṭha lokas. Bhagavān is not material, and therefore He is also different from the material world.

The catuḥśloki explains the Bhāgavata’s Advaitavāda. The above analysis shows that the catuḥśloki describes the Bhāgavatam’s Advaitavāda, because it indicates that everything is a manifestation of one Reality, Bhagavān. In conventional Advaitavāda, there is no variety because attributeless Brahman is the one reality, while in the Bhāgavatam’s Advaitavāda, there is variety. Bhagavān exists along with His śaktis which serve Him. The meaning of “tat tvam asi” or “you are that” is also this: that everyone belongs to Bhagavān, being His śakti. In this sense, there is non-difference from Bhagavān.

Summary. Overall, the above catuḥśloki verse shows that Bhagavān is self-contained and independent, and nothing is outside Him. He brings out the universe from within Himself, and inconceivably also enters it, and appears in it like a human being. In the next verse, Bhagavān defines Māyā, to show what He is not. This is the process of vyatireka or negation, which we will examine in an upcoming article.

Categories: Bhagavān, Brahman, concepts

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