Sannyāsīns who follow the philosophical path of ācārya Śrīpāda Śaṅkara are now generally known as Vedāntists. Those who follow the philosophical paths of Vaiṣṇava ācāryas such as ācārya Śrīpāda Rāmānujācārya, Śrīpāda Madhvācārya, Śrīpāda Viṣṇu-svāmī etc. are known as the Bhāgavatas. The so-called Vedāntists designate the followers of Vaiṣṇava ācāryas as Bhāgavatas whereas for themselves they think that Vedānta philosophy is the monopoly subject matter for the studies of the Śaṅkarites only. Following this principle, some other classes of sannyāsīns who are not recognised either by the Śaṅkarites or by the Vaiṣṇavites also designate themselves as Vedāntists. This latter class of Vedāntists is now known all over the world as the preachers of Vedānta philosophy while they know nothing of the transcendental science. Vedānta philosophy is not a combination of several Sanskrit alphabets so that anyone and everyone can understand it simply by the A.B.C.D. knowledge of the Sanskrit language. Each and every letter of the Vedānta philosophy is a symbolic representation of transcendental sound, represented by the symbol of oṁkāra and as such Vedānta philosophy has to be learnt from an authority like Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Godhead. In the Bhagavād-gītā the Personality of Godhead has emphatically asserted that He is the original compiler of Vedānta philosophy and therefore He is the only Supreme Master of it. The exact wordings from the utterances of Śrī Kṛṣṇa are as follows:
sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca
vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham
“I am the Person who lives as the Super Soul (Paramātmā) in the hearts of all living beings. It is from Me only that one recollects his past deeds and it is also from Me only that one forgets the same. I am not only the all-pervasive impersonal Brahman, but also I am living individually as the Paramātmā within every living entity. I am the awarding authority of everyone’s fruitive actions. I do not exist simply as impersonal Brahman or the localised Paramātmā but also I do appear as incarnations to instruct all the fallen souls for their deliverance. I am therefore the instructor of the Vedānta philosophy and the Vedic knowledge is meant for knowing Me only. As I am the Vedānta compiler and instructor, nobody knows Vedānta philosophy better than Me. I am the supreme Vedāntist and I can deliver the fallen souls by disseminating the transcendental knowledge of Impersonal Brahman, the localised Paramātmā and Myself as the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead.” (Gītā 15.15)
The Personality of Godhead is the Supreme Brahman. This has been recognised by Arjuna himself and in pursuance of authorities like the Seven Ṛṣis, Nārada, Vyāsa, Devala, Asita, etc. Now how does the Supreme Authority of Vedānta philosophy teach us this great transcendental science in a nutshell? He says like this:
dvav imau puruṣau loke kṣaraś cakṣara eva ca
kṣaraḥ sarvāṇi bhūtāni kūṭa-stho’kṣara ucyate
“There are two classes of beings, the fallible and the infallible. In the material world every entity is fallible, and in the spiritual world every entity is called infallible.” (Gītā 15.16)
The Supreme Vedāntist utters in the beginning of His Vedānta teachings the word dvau, or dualism. In the universe (loke) that contains lakhs and crores of different earths and planets, there are two classes of living entities. One is called kṣara or the fallible entity, and the other is called akṣara or the infallible entity. The fallible entities are the ordinary living entities or the jīvas, whereas the infallible entities are the expansions of Viṣṇu such as Rāma, Nṛsiṅgha, Varāha, Kūrma, Vāmana, Baladeva, Kalki etc. The ordinary living beings are susceptible to the influence of material nature, but the infallible incarnations, or viṣṇu-tattvas, are non-susceptible by the laws of nature. In the Varāha Purāṇam it is said that the Supreme Lord expands Himself by multi-forms of living entities. Some of them are called aṁśa or He Himself, whereas the others are called the vibhinaṁśa or He in His one of the potencies. The jīvas or the living entities are therefore different potencies of the Supreme Lord whereas the Viṣṇu incarnations as above mentioned are non-different from Him with all His potencies. That is the difference between the kṣara or the fallibles and the akṣaras or the infallibles. The kṣara living entities are undoubtedly parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord and as such they are qualitatively non-different from the Supreme Lord, but so far as the quantity is concerned, there is a gulf of difference.
The Vedāntist, therefore, who proclaims that the ordinary living entities are both qualitatively and quantitatively equal with the Supreme Lord is certainly misguided for his not having consulted the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the original compiler of Vedānta. If Vedānta is an authority, one must accept its original compiler as the Supreme authority of Vedānta.
These novel Vedāntists, who generally follow the path of Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya, were formerly called the ‘māyāvādīns of Kāśī’ (Benares). Benares was, and perhaps still is, the breeding and nursing place of these māyāvādī Vedāntists. The reason is that Benares is the holy place resided by Viśvanātha Śiva. Ācārya Śaṅkara was the incarnation of Śiva. By the order of the Lord, he preached māyāvāda philosophy in this age of Kali in the form of a brāhmaṇa sannyāsī. This statement is confirmed in the Padma Purāṇa as follows:
māyāvādam asac-chāstraṁ pracchannaṁ bauddham ucyate
mayaiva kalpitam devi kalau brāhmaṇa mūrtinā
“O Goddess, in the age of Kali, I will appear in the form of a brāhmaṇa to preach the false doctrine of māyāvāda, which is simply covered Buddhism.” (Padma Purāṇa 6.236.7)
Therefore, the followers of Śaṅkara were known as the māyāvādīns of the Benares school. They were counterparts of the māyāvādīns of Sāranātha. This Sāranātha is adjacent to Benares and in the older days the māyāvādīns of Bodh-Gāya, or that of Sāranātha, were always in debate with the māyāvādīns of Kāśī.
The māyāvādīns of Sāranātha, or the Buddhists, did not recognise the existence of spirit soul and they preached matter as all in all. Whereas the māyāvādīns of Kāśī preached that spirit soul is the basic principle of existence and matter is a superfluous false representation of the Real Spirit. So the fight was there between the two sections of māyāvādīns. As a result of this, the māyāvādīns of Bodh-Gāya or Sāranātha were gradually driven out of India and the māyāvādīns of Kāśī became predominant in India. Gradually these Māyāvādīns took up Vedānta philosophy after they had come out victorious in the fight with the Buddhist māyāvādīns and as such the māyāvādīns of Kāśī began to be known as Vedāntists.
These Vedāntists interpreted Vedānta in the impersonal feature in order to take the then converted Buddhist philosophers into their own fold. Lord Buddha preached nothing of the spirit and He stressed on the principles of ahiṁsa only as the preliminary and basic qualification for spiritual culture. We have already discussed this point in our article Lord Buddha in Back to Godhead. Śrīpāda Śaṅkarācārya gave a further push to spiritual realisation with the conception of Brahman, the first vision of the Supreme Lord. (1) ‘Brahman’ (2) Paramātmā and (3) Bhagavān – all these three are one and the same Absolute Truth, but they appear to be different by the different stages of realisation only. How these different stages are realised is explained by the Supreme Vedāntist Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who alone only knows Vedānta in its reality.
Thus, He first explains the realisation of Brahman in the kṣara and the akṣara aspects. The kṣara, or the fallen souls as we are, have to learn Vedānta for knowing the akṣara or the infallible Brahman. Akṣara means Brahman – akṣara paramam-brahman. The kṣara are also undoubtedly Brahman in quality, but they are not Paramam-Brahman because they are fallible to the influence of māyā (nescience).
The māyāvādī’s statement of the two categories of Brahman being equal in all respects is mistaken. It is a sort of class-argument, but it is not the de facto truth. In order to make the matter more distinct, the Supreme Vedāntist Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that sarvāṇi-bhūtani, i.e. all the living common entities beginning from Brahmā the original grandfather of the living being down to the insignificant ant, are all fallible creatures, whereas the Supreme Brahman is kūṭastha, or one who never changes his place or position. In the Amāra-kośa the word kūṭastha is explained as follows: “That which remains in perfect order for all the time is called kūṭastha.” The kūṭastha–puruṣa, or the akṣara-puruṣa, or the viṣṇu-tattva is different from the kṣara-puruṣa, or the ordinary living being subjected to the conditions of material nature. This distinction between the ordinary living being and the Supreme Lord is explained in the Bhāgavata (11.16.11) as follows:
aparimitā dhruvās tanu-bhṛto yadi sarva-gatās
tarhi na śāsyateti niyamo dhruva netarathā
ajani ca yan-mayaṁ tad avimucya niyantṛ bhavet
samam anujānatāṁ yad amataṁ mata-duṣṭatayā
“O my infallible Lord, had it been so that the innumerable living beings are by themselves all in all without anything Supreme, then they would not have been put under Your subjection. Even though it is accepted that the living entities are parts and parcels of the Eternal Being, still they are under Your subjection. Their qualitatively being one with You is never to be given up because that will alone make them one with the Absolute. It is being so, persons who consider that the ordinary living being and the Supreme Lord are equal in all respects are suffering from a malady of a wrong thesis, polluted with a poor fund of knowledge.”
Thus, the quantitative difference between the living being is ever to be maintained, even after the attainment of mukti, because after mukti only, the nitya-yukta or the eternal upāsana service begins.
As far as the impersonalists are concerned, they can know this much distinction between the kṣara and the akṣara-puruṣas. Above the Impersonalists and empiric philosophers, there is the yogī who meditates upon the Paramātmā feature. For them it is said like this:
uttamaḥ puruṣas tv anyaḥ paramātmety udāḥṛtaḥ
yo loka-trayam āviśya bibharty avyaya īśvaraḥ
“Besides these two, there is the greatest living personality, the Lord Himself, who has entered into these worlds and is maintaining them.” (Gītā 15.17)
Paramātmā is clearly mentioned here as anya, or different from ātmā and His realisation by the yogīns is still a more perfect vision of the Supreme Truth than that of the Impersonal Brahman. The yogīns are a better class of spiritualists than the impersonalists or the māyāvādīs of Kāśī. The māyāvādīs of Kāśī are higher than the māyāvādīns of Bodh-Gāya or Sāranātha, and the yogīns of Prayāga like Bharadvāja Muni etc. are still higher spiritualists than the māyāvādīns of Kāśī. The Bhagavad-gītā accepts this fact in the following cloak, namely:
tapasvibhyo ‘dhiko yogī jñānibhyo’pi mato’dhikaḥ
karmibhyaś cādhiko yogī tasmād yogī bhavārjuna
“The yogīs are a better class of spiritualists than the ascetics and the empiric philosophers. The yogīs are undoubtedly better than the ordinary fruitive worker and therefore O Arjuna, you just try to become a yogī”. (Gītā 6.46)
The ordinary yogīs in the state of trance experience the presence of the localised aspect of Paramātmā. This Paramātmā is Iśvara, or the Supreme Lord, but not the jīvas or the controlled being. Paramātmā is the Super Soul. The thesis that the Paramātmā and the ātmā are equal and the same is a wrong theory. Had it been so, then there would be no need of adding the word param or ‘the superior’ to the word ātmā. That makes the difference clearer. Paramātmā is avyaya i.e. akṣara or kūṭastha, without any change. He does not become subjected to the conditions of material nature. This is the truth in all Upaniṣads. Both the Paramātmā and the ātmā have been compared with two birds sitting on the tree of this material body, but one is observing the activities of the other as a witness and not taking part in the action. The neutral observer is therefore Paramātmā and the stage actor is the ātmā. When the ātmā stops his material activities in the state of nirvikalpa-samādhi, he is called a perfect yogī. So this yogī is a better spiritualist than the jñānī who will, after many births of speculation, become a mahātmā to observe the lotus feet of Vāsudeva.
Next to this are the devotees who directly render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord. This realisation of the Absolute Truth is the highest realisation of spiritual value and this is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā as follows:
yoginām api sarveṣāṁ mad-gatenāntarātmanā
śraddhāvān bhajate yo māṁ sa me yuktatamo mataḥ
“Amongst all the yogīns the topmost yogī is he who has always within him the feature of Me (Śrī Kṛṣṇa) and thus he has the required devotion and performs devotional activities (bhajate). He is the highest yogī in My opinion.” (Gītā 6.47)
These bhakta-yogīns are better than the ordinary yogīns and their feature of spiritual realisation is still more greater. The bhakta-yogīns accept Śrī Kṛṣṇa as the Puruṣottama, which is clearer than Paramātmā realisation. The Absolute Truth is realised by the jñānīs as impersonal Brahman, by the yogīns as the localised Paramātmā and by the devotees as Bhagavān, Who is full with all the potencies of Brahman and Paramātmā as confirmed in all the scriptures including Bhagavad-gītā.
Thus, transcendental realisation of Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the highest realisation of Vedānta. Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the highest realisation of viṣṇu-tattva because all other incarnations are, though equal in potency, either plenary parts or parts of the plenary parts of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. But Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Primeval Lord and the cause of all causes. That is the verdict of Brahma-saṁhitā, Bhāgavata and Mahābhārata etc. But we should always remember that there is no difference of potencies between the different aṁśa incarnations of Godhead.
Realisation of Brahman and Paramātmā is also a transcendental mellow (rasa) which is called śānta-rasa, a transcendental stage where the transcendental activities are non-manifest. Manifestation of transcendental activities is visible from the transcendental dāsya-rasa and this rasa increases more and more in the sakhya-rasa, vatsalya-rasa and mādhurya-rasa.
The Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is full with all the twelve mellows. Out of these twelve rasas, five are direct transactions with the Supreme Lord, whereas the remaining seven are indirectly connected. Kaṁsa, Jarāsandha and many other enemies of the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa dealt with Him indirectly in the bibhatsa-rasa, or the method of fearfulness. But because that rasa, or mellow, was employed indirectly to the Supreme Being, His enemies were also awarded Brahman sāyujya-mukti i.e. becoming one with the Lord in existence. The impersonal monists aspire after this Brahman sāyujya-mukti which is obtained even by the inimical jīvas. Therefore, mukti or liberation is a by-product of devotional service. The yoga system is also mixed up devotional service. As long as the jñānīs only indulge in dry speculation, they have no chance of mukti. When they also mix up devotional service with metaphysical speculations, it is only then that mukti, or liberation, becomes possible. But for pure devotional service, neither jñāna or yoga is necessary at all. Such processes may be helpful to a certain extent, but they are not absolutely a necessary requirement. On the contrary, such processes sometimes become a great hindrance to the progress of pure devotional service. Sannyāsa is the process of the jñānīs or yogīns, but for the devotee there is no necessity of accepting the order of sannyāsa.
Devotional service can be offered from any stage of life and by devotional service only, one can obtain the result, if he at all desires, like that of jñāna, yoga, karma, tapasya or any other thing in the category of yajña.
sarvam mad-bhakti yogena mad-bhakto labhate’ñjasā
The ordinary yoga system culminates in attaining trance for experiencing the presence of Paramātmā within us. But still, the better system of yoga is the system of Puruṣottama-yoga. The Supreme Vedāntist describes this system of Puruṣottama-yoga as follows:
yasmāt kṣaram atīto’ham akṣarād api cottamaḥ
ato ‘smi loke vede ca prathitaḥ puruṣottamaḥ
“Because I am the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I am not only higher than the ordinary living being (kṣara), but I am above the akṣara Brahman and also above the uttama-puruṣa Paramātmā. As such, everywhere, either in the Vedic literature or by popular conception, I am famous as Puruṣottama or the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Gītā 15.18)
The Vedānta conclusion is therefore like this – primarily there are two classes of living entities namely the kṣara and akṣara. The kṣara are the ordinary jīvas and the akṣara is the Supreme Lord. The Supreme Lord is realised by the kṣara–jīvas in three different phases. The phases are (1) Impersonal Brahman (2) Localised Paramātmā and (3) The Supreme Lord Bhagavān. This realisation may be described with the example of seeing a mountain. The Himalayas, when they are observed from a long distance, appears like big cloudy object. When one goes nearer, they appear like a big hilly land, but when one actually enters into the region he sees the Himalayas in all its natural beauty with all the living entities residing there. Similarly, if Vedānta is studied through one’s A.B.C.D. academic qualification of speculative habits, one can know the Absolute Truth as the Impersonal Brahman or something just opposite to our sensuous knowledge. When Vedānta is studied from the angle of vision of a yogī, who has completely stopped sense indulgence, the Absolute Truth becomes visible in his own self as the Paramātmā feature. But above all these, when Vedānta is studied from the angle of Śrī Vyāsadeva (who is an empowered incarnation of Godhead) the original compiler of Vedānta-sūtras and its annotation Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, there the Absolute Truth is revealed in His substantial feature, or Param Satya. The Vedānta-sūtra begins with the sutra, janmādyasya yataḥ and with this sūtra also the genuine commendation Śrīmad Bhāgavatam also begins. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam excludes carefully the four primary principles of the common Vedas, namely the practice of religiosity, the planning of economic conditions, the fulfillment of sensual desires and at the end to get salvation by mental speculation. The Vedānta-sūtras and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam are one and the same thing and their purpose is explained in the Bhagavad-gītā in the chapter of Puruṣottama-yoga. A perfect Vedāntist is a devotee of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Impersonal Brahman is the glowing effulgence of the Supreme Person, as light is to fire. Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Puruṣottama, is fire Himself. Brahman and Paramātmā are therefore emanations of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and that is the verdict of the great philosophy of Vedānta-sūtras – so much adored all over the world along with Bhagavad-gītā.