Bhagavān and Brahman are related as dharmī and dharma

In the Bhagavat Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Goswami does an extensive and relentless analysis of the relationship between Brahman and Bhagavān. The advaitavādis claim that Bhagavān is nothing but Brahman delimited by māyā. Bhagavān according them is vyavahārika reality, and not pāramārthika reality. That is, the ultimate and only reality is quality-less, formless Brahman. The Śrī Vaiṣṇavas, on the other hand, reject any existence of a quality-less entity such as Brahman. Śrī Jīva Goswami’s analysis neither rejects Brahman nor Bhagavān but seeks samanvaya or reconciliation of these two entities. His approach, of course, is based on the Bhāgavatam’s mahā-vākya: reality is one non-dual consciousness, which the knowers of tattva call differently as Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān. As the Bhāgavatam accepts the existence of both Brahman and Bhagavān, Śrī Jīva sets out to discover the relation between them.

The concept of dharmī and dharma

Dharma refers to that which is contained or subsumed in another, while dharmī refers to that which contains or subsumes the other. In the case of water in a glass, the glass is the dharmī and the water is the dharma. Śrī Jīva establishes that the relation between Brahman and Bhagavān is of dharma-dharmī in a series of Anucchedas culminating in Anuchheda 93 of the Bhagavat Sandarbha. The dharma-dharmī relation can be in any of the following senses, which Śrī Jīva demonstrates in his analysis.

  1. Bhagavān subsumes Brahman
  2. Brahman is but a part of Him,
  3. Brahman is one type of His energy
  4. Brahman is a quality of Bhagavān
  5. Brahman is an opulence of Bhagavān

He notes several verses from the Bhāgavatam to establish these relations, some of which we reproduce below.

Brahman is a part or an energy of Bhagavān

In Anuchheda 88, Śrī Jīva Goswami quotes the following verse from the Bhāgavatam

ahaṁ vai sarva-bhūtāni  bhūtātmā bhūta-bhāvanaḥ

śabda-brahma paraṁ brahma mamobhe śāśvatī tanū 

I expand as all living beings, I am the immanent Self dwelling in all beings and I am the cause of all living beings. Both śabda- brahma and paraṁ brahma are My eternal forms. (SB 6.16.51)

The word tanū here means ‘form’, but as both śabda- brahma i.e. the Vedas and paraṁ brahma have no form, it should be interpreted to mean energy. Śrī Jīva notes that because Brahman has been mentioned as one item along with the Vedas, by sāhacarya nyāya, or togetherness of similar objects, one can conclude that Brahman is an aṁśa or part of Bhagavān just as the Vedas are a part of Him (they are born from His breathing).

Brahman is a quality of Bhagavān

He next cites the following verse:

madīyaṁ mahimānaṁ ca parabrahmeti śabditam |

vetsyasy anugṛhītaṁ me sampraśnair vivṛtaṁ hṛdi ||

You will know My glory, which is celebrated as Parabrahman, for it will be thoroughly revealed to you within your heart, both as a result of your own profound inquiry and My mercy. (sb 8.24.38)

Here, Bhagavān refers to Brahman as His glory, which suggests that Brahman is a quality of Bhagavān. This is similar to how sweetness is a quality of sugar. A quality does not further possess qualities; only objects (vastu) have qualities. This is why Brahman does not have qualities, as it is a quality of Bhagavān!

Śrī Jīva then cites a famous verse from the Brahma Saṁhitā:

yasya prabhā prabhavato jagad-aṇḍa-koṭi- koṭiṣv aśeṣa-vasudhādi-vibhūti-bhinnam tad brahma niṣkalam anantam aśeṣa-bhūtaṁ govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi 

I worship Govinda, the Original Person, whose effulgence is the nondifferentiated, unlimited, all-pervading Brahman, distinct from the infinity of glories of the mundane universe, containing planets such as the Earth. (Brahma-saṁhitā 5.40)

Here, Brahman is called the glow or luminosity that streams out of Bhagavān’s body. Again, this shows that Brahman is His quality.

He also cites a verse from Yamunācārya’s Strotra-ratna:

yad aṇḍam aṇḍāntara-gocaraṁ ca yad daśottarāṇy avaraṇāni yāni ca

guṇāḥ pradhānaṁ puruṣaḥ paraṁ padaṁparātparaṁ brahma ca te vibhūtayaḥ

O Lord, the universal egg, everything inside it, its ten coverings, the three guṇas, the unmanifest primordial nature (pradhāna), the conscious beings (puruṣa), the supreme destination (paraṁ padam) and Parabrahman, which lies behind the beyond, are all Your opulences.

This shows that Brahman is but one type of vibhūti or opulence of Bhagavān.

Bhagavān subsumes Brahman

Śrī Jīva’s analysis is too extensive to reproduce here, but I will close with a verse he quotes in Anuchheda 92 to show that Bhagavān subsumes Brahman.

yaḥ paraṁ rahasaḥ sākṣāt triguṇāj jīva-saṁjñitāt

bhagavantaṁ vāsudevaṁprapannaḥ sa priyo hi me 

A person who is surrendered directly to Bhagavān Vāsudeva, who is transcendental to the living entity, to the three guṇas and even to the Mystery [i.e., Brahman], is very dear to me. (sb 4.24.28)

Śrī Jīva cites several such verses in Anuchheda 92 and the following Anuchhedas. His analysis is very exhaustive and is difficult to refute. The scriptures, particularly the Bhāgavatam, underscore the point that Bhagavān is beyond Brahman. Thus the thesis of the advaitavādis mentioned at the beginning of this article can be safely dismissed.

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