Advaita Vedanta

The Advaitin understanding requires one to import foreign ideas into the sastra, notions brought to the text that are not found anywhere in the scripture itself. The foremost example of this is Sankara’s notion of saguna Brahman as a provisional manifestation of the Absolute that he inserts in his commentary on Vedanta-sutra (1.1.17) and unceremoniously identifies Krsna with in his Gita Bhasya.

Contrary to the Advaitan position, Vedanta-sutra (1.1.10) states, gati-samanyat: “Saguna Brahman is not taught anywhere in the Vedas, which consistently describe only nirguna Brahman.”

Sankara’s argument is the lens through which he looks at all the scriptural references glorifying the form of God and devotion to it. It appears first in his highly interpretive explanation of Vedanta-sutra 1.1.17. This sutra appears in a section in which Brahman is described as having qualities. It begins with the statement anandamayo ’bhyasat, “Brahman is joyful” (Vs. 1.1.12). Sutra 1.1.13 states that Brahman is not made of joy (a creation), but rather possessed of an abundance of joy. Evidence for this is offered in 1.1.14, which states that since Brahman is designated elsewhere as the cause of joy (Taittiriya Upanisad 2.7) he must be full of joy. Sutra 1.1.15 states that the scripture of joy (Taittiriya Upanisad) also celebrates Brahman as being joyful. Following this sutra in 1.1.16, that which is Brahman and joyful is distinguished from the individual soul. The Brahman who is joyful is also described in the scripture as being the creator. Thus it is Brahman who is described as joyful and not the individual soul, for only Brahman is described as possessing the ability to create the world. Sutra 1.1.17 then states that the individual soul and Brahman are declared to be different, bheda-vyapadesac ca. Even Sankara himself admits that sutras 1.1.16–17 concern the difference between Brahman and the individual soul. However, Sankara adds his own comment, declaring that the difference only exists on a lower level of reality (vyavaharic), whereas in ultimate reality (paramarthic) this illusion of difference ceases to exist. However, nowhere in Vedanta-sutra is there any reference to Sankara’s two levels of reality and thus two levels of Brahman—a provisional manifestation of the Absolute (Krsna, the avatara, isvara, etc.) and an ultimate reality (unmanifest, indeterminate Brahman).

Thus Sankara has attached his own doctrine to the sutras. In this doctrine he calls his provisional manifestation of Brahman “saguna Brahman,” Brahman with material adjuncts. The form of Krsna as saguna Brahman is thus considered a manifestation of Brahman constituted of the material quality of sattva that serves the purpose of helping individual souls realize the illusion of their individuality, at which time the form and person of the avatara is dispensed with as the enlightened realizes himself to be Brahman. This idea has no basis in the sutras and thus nowhere in the Upanisads.

The svarupa of the jiva is described in the Visnu Purana thus:

“The atma is not inert matter, it is immutable, and not simply awareness. It is self aware and self luminous. It is uniform and thus delimited, dwells in its own nature, it is conscious, all pervading within the body, it is knowledge and bliss, it is possessed of the sense of ‘I am,’ it is individual in that each atma is different from the atma in another body, it is indivisible, and eternally pure. Furthermore, it is an apprehender, agent, and experiencer, and its nature is to be eternally related with the Paramatma.”

The jivatma is not Brahman and cannot become Brahman, but it can identify with Brahman in Brahma sayujya if it so desires and if it is blessed by bhakti. But it is better to identify with Krsna in prema and enter his eternal lila, where the jivatma will attain a spiritual body, as described in the 4th Adhyaya of Vedanta-sutra. And the jivas are not many through the power of maya-sakti. The sutras explain that the One becomes many out of lila: lokavat tu lila kaivalyam. This is not the function of maya-sakti. It is the will of the Purusa who stands above maya.

As you can see, we Vaisnvavas have our own understanding of sastra. Thus we do not subscribe to the Advaitin understanding. Here we follow Sri Caitanya. We are bhaktas.

Krsna is not influenced by maya-sakti. His lila is the influence of his own svarupa-sakti. It is a drama of his own invention for sport that includes an appearance of death.

The Bhagavatam in Modern Times

The Gaudiya’s primary text is the Bhagavatam, the Vedic new testament. Although ancient Gaudiya commentators found the need, in their times, to connect it with the sruti and so on, and did so to the satisfaction of others in their times, Gaudiya’s today do not have the same academic necessity. Our necessity is different. We need to make credible the essence of the Bhagavata‘s theology and philosophy in light of the thinking in our times. And our Deity is the historical and spiritual Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It is in him and his life and ecstasy that we find all the evidence necessary to support the divinity of Krsna.

The Puranas in general are considered future revelation. That is their purpose. Among them the Bhagavatam stands out in every possible way, philosophy, theology, language, aesthetics, and so on. There is truly no comparison, and many of the other Puranas glorify the Bhagavatam in their own time. And today among all the Puranas the Bhagavata is by far the most popular in India and abroad. Most of the other Puranas are unknown by comparison and have no commentaries and those that do have one or two. There are more than 88 Sanskrit commentaries on the Bhagavatam and it has been translated into every Indian dialect and many foreign languages.

The Gaudiya position is that the other Puranas deal with the different modes of nature and thus appeal theistically to different psychologies. Whereas the Bhagavatam is the amala Purana, dealing as it does only with the nirguna.

The Bhagavatam is our Bible, Bhagavatam and Bhagavad Gita. That is sufficient. Gaura Krsna is our God, the Easter Savior. We take our stand there and go forward sharing the Gaudiya good tidings.