The first verse of a book is generally important in establishing its meaning. There are six criteria for establishing the meaning of a book, out of which upakrama or introductory statements is the first one. The first verse of the Bhāgavatam, therefore, is of prime importance to anyone who wishes to identify an underlying thread or samanvya of the book. It reads as follows:
janmādy asya yato ’nvayād itarataś cārtheṣv abhijñaḥ svarāṭ
tene brahma hṛdā ya ādi-kavaye muhyanti yat sūrayaḥ
tejo-vāri-mṛdāṁ yathā vinimayo yatra tri-sargo ’mṛṣā
dhāmnā svena sadā nirasta-kuhakaṁ satyaṁ paraṁ dhīmahi
Let us meditate on that Supreme Truth from whom this cosmos emanates, in whom it exists, and into whom it will be dissolved; who is concluded to be the foundational source through the import (arthesu) of all the various types of Vedic statements, be they affirmative (anvayat) or disaffirmative (itaratah); who is fully cognizant of everything and self-resplendent (sva-rat); who revealed the Veda, about which even great sages are perplexed, to the first seer [Brahma] by way of the heart; in whom the threefold creation is a real emergence, just as fire, water, and earth intermix with each other to produce material objects; and by whose own effulgence, all deception is utterly dispelled. (sb 1.1.1)
The first five Vedānta sūtras
Sri Jiva Goswami does an extensive analysis of how the Vedānta sūtras map onto SB 1.1.1. The first five sūtras are below. They form a logical chain of thought, which we have tried to show in the English translation.
- 1.1.1 athato brahma-jijñāsa
- 1.1.2 janmādy asya yato
- 1.1.3 śāstra yonitvāt
- 1.1.4 tat tu samanvayāt
- 1.1.5 ikṣater nāśabdam
- 1.1.1. Now therefore inquiry should be made into the Absolute Truth,
- 1.1.2. from which arise the creation and so on,
- 1.1.3 [That Brahman is source of creation and so on is concluded from scripture] because scripture [alone] is the source of valid knowledge regarding Him,
- [How is it that scripture is the only valid means to know Brahman?]
- 1.1.4 But the truth that Brahman is knowable only through the Vedas is due to the fact that the Vedas are consistently reconciled in Him alone.
- [Is pradhāna not the source of the creation as described by proponents of Sāṅkhya?]
- 1.1.5 Because of the mention of [Brahman’s] act of seeing, pradhāna [is not the source of creation].
Mapping of SB 1.1.1 onto VS 1.1.1
The first Vedānta sūtra, “Now therefore inquiry should be made into the Absolute Truth” leaves uncertainty about the word ‘inquiry’. What exactly does the sūtra intend to say by ‘inquiry’? Sri Jiva teaches the following equality between the sūtra and two words from SB 1.1.1 (present at the top of this page)
brahma = param = Supreme, and jijñāsa = dhimahi= let us meditate.
brahma-jijñāsa = paraṁ dhimahi, and
“inquiry should be made into Brahman = Let us meditate on the Supreme”
Sri Jiva futher states that param = Bhagavan, so the equality can be modified as:
brahma-jijñāsa = paraṁ dhimahi = Bhagavantaṁ dhimahi, and
inquiry should be made into Brahman = Let us meditate on the Supreme = Let us meditate on Bhagavān.
From this, it emerges that Brahman in the sūtra does not refer to the nirguna Brahman nor to Paramātmā but to Bhagavān.
Sri Jiva presents the concept that the meaning of the word ‘inquiry’ here is not study of the scriptures alone, but its purpose is ultimately meditation on Bhagavān. Without such meditation, study of scripture leads to no reward other than the labor itself. (To support this, Sri Jiva cites SB 11.11.18)
Śrī Jīva next turns his attention to the words ‘athāto’, ‘Now therefore’. He writes that
athāto –> satyam, and
Now therefore –> Truth [which Śrī Jīva further equates to] = that reality whose existence is utterly essential to all other existences.
This mapping seems quite non-intuitive, but we can trust Śrī Jīva to provide a definitive and clear explanation as always. I refer the reader to Anuchheda 105.3 and Śrī Babaji’s commentary for the full details. The gist is presented below.
The word athāto is actually two words, atha and ataḥ. Atha carries the sense of ‘after having studied the Vedas with the help of Pūrva-mīmāṁsa and having thus practiced one’s dharma, a person realizes that Pūrva-mīmāṁsa does not embody the ultimate meaning of the Vedas.’ The word ‘athāto’ then has the following sense, “Because one has studied Pūrva-mīmāṁsa and has not attained the ultimate goal of life (param satyam), one should undertake an inquiry into Brahman, brahma-jijñāsa.
Pūrva-mīmāṁsa deals with that which is not eternal, or satyam. The word ‘atha’, or ‘now’ implies the moment when the understanding dawns that there is a higher, eternal truth’ which should be studied. This is why Vyāsa says, ‘satyam param dhimahi’, “Now let us meditate on the Absolute Truth”.
Śrī Jīva further points out that the satyam in SB 1.1.1 is not devoid of śakti like the Advaitavadis posit, but rather has real śaktis. This is indicated by the words ‘tejo-vāri-mṛdāṁ yathā vinimayo yatra tri-sargo ’mṛṣā’, ‘in whom the threefold creation is a real emergence just as fire, water, and earth intermix with each other to produce material objects’, and by ‘dhāmnā svena sadā nirasta-kuhakaṁ’, ‘by whose effulgence all deception is utterly dispelled’. These words show that a) the world is real (satyam) due to eternally being situated in the Brahman, and b) this Brahman is replete with śakti in its svarūpa by which It remains free from the influence of māyā.
The following mapping exists between VS 1.1.1. and SB 1.1.1:
athāto brahma jijñāsa = satyaṁ paraṁ dhīmahi, tejo-vāri-mṛdāṁ yathā vinimayo yatra tri-sargo ’mṛṣā dhāmnā svena sadā nirasta-kuhakaṁ
In upcoming articles, we will examine the mapping of SB 1.1.1 with the rest of the Vedānta sūtras.