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This line in bold, to me, looks like dropping a hint of Advaita. However I know Sri Vaishnavas and Gaudiya Vaishnavas differ on their views of unreality. Forgive me for using the Advaita lens, but could anyone please explain the Sri Vaishnav and/or the Gaudiya Vaishnav interpretation of Srimad Bhagavatam 1.1.1:

जन्माद्यस्य यथोऽन्वयाद् इतरतश्चार्थेषु अभिज्ञः स्वराट्
तेने ब्रह्म हृदा य आदिकवये मुह्यन्ति यत्सूरय: ॥
तेजोवारिमृदां यथा विनिमयो यत्र त्रिसर्गोऽमृषा
धाम्ना स्वेन सदा निरस्तकुहकं सत्यं परम् धीमहि ॥

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 there be the salutation of the original appearance of Him, Vāsudeva, the Fortunate One, from whom, being present here and in the beyond, for the purpose of recollection and full independence, the Vedic knowledge was imparted in the heart of the first created being [Lord Brahmā]. About Him the enlightened [as surely also the ordinary] souls are, like with a mirage of water to the [fire of the] sun, in a state of illusion wherein, through the action and reaction of the modes of material nature, there is the [apparent] certainty of the factual. I meditate upon Him who is always self-sufficient, the transcendental [supreme and absolute] truth and the negation free from illusion.

  • It seems, in ur Q u hv copied Gaudiya Vaishnav interpretation only.. the more details are given here – YDS Jul 8 '18 at 9:18
  • I also wanted to know Sri Vaishnavas and interpret that line in bold based on Ramanuja's conception of unreality and Maya in contrast to Adi Shankara. – user9072 Jul 8 '18 at 11:07
  • @YDS okay I edited that translation to a more neutral one. – user9072 Jul 8 '18 at 11:10
  • Dasgupta in his "History of Indian Philosophy" vol. 4, p 12 (archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.208813), points out that there are several verses which has Advaita overtones. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 9 '18 at 5:51
  • I think Vishishtadvaita considers Maya to be a real whereas it is unreal according to Advaita – Paṇḍyā Jul 9 '18 at 6:57
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The line of the verse is translated at the vedabase translation of the Srimad Bhagavatam like this:

Only because of Him do the material universes, temporarily manifested by the reactions of the three modes of nature, appear factual, although they are unreal.

The line of the verse is explained in the vedabase purport below the verse:

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the narration of the svarūpa of the Lord manifested by His internal potency, and this potency is distinguished from the external potency which has manifested the cosmic world, which is within our experience. Śrīla Vyāsadeva makes a clear distinction between the two in this śloka. Śrī Vyāsadeva says herein that the manifested internal potency is real, whereas the external manifested energy in the form of material existence is only temporary and illusory like the mirage in the desert. In the desert mirage there is no actual water. There is only the appearance of water. Real water is somewhere else. The manifested cosmic creation appears as reality. But reality, of which this is but a shadow, is in the spiritual world. Absolute Truth is in the spiritual sky, not the material sky. In the material sky everything is relative truth. That is to say, one truth depends on something else. This cosmic creation results from interaction of the three modes of nature, and the temporary manifestations are so created as to present an illusion of reality to the bewildered mind of the conditioned soul, who appears in so many species of life, including the higher demigods, like Brahmā, Indra, Candra, and so on. In actuality, there is no reality in the manifested world. There appears to be reality, however, because of the true reality which exists in the spiritual world, where the Personality of Godhead eternally exists with His transcendental paraphernalia.

If you read carefully the explanation given in the purport you'll see that Gaudiya Vaishnavas distinguish between the real and the unreal things in the sense that one is a reality, whereas the other is illusory like the mirage in the desert. However although this material existence is called as unreal, illusory like the mirage in the desert, still it is not completely unreal because it is based on the Lord Krishna who is stated in that Bhagavatam verse to be the Absolute Truth or ultimate reality. When something is based on Lord Krishna who is the Absolute Truth or ultimate reality, also known as Brahman, then it cannot be completely unreal. That is to say when something is based on the ultimate reality or Brahman, then it cannot be completely unreal. That's why this material existence is in some sense said to be unreal or illusory, but it's not completely unreal because it is dependent on the Lord. That is clearly stated above in the sentence "Only because of Him do the material universes, ... appear factual, although they are unreal." Here words "Only because of Him" if you wish you can take to mean something like "because they (the material universes) are dependent or based on Him, Lord Krishna". This is also seen from the above purport where it is said "In the material sky everything is relative truth. That is to say, one truth depends on something else.", namely this material manifestation is not completely unreal or completely untruth because it is a relative truth which depends on supreme truth (Absolute Truth), ie Supreme Brahman - Lord Krishna! Notice that in the quoted Bhagavatam verse 1.1.1 Lord Krishna is explicitly stated to be satyaṁ paraṁ (satyam — truth; param — absolute) or the Absolute Truth!

oṁ namo bhagavate vāsudevāya ...
... satyaṁ paraṁ dhīmahi

O my Lord, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, son of Vasudeva, O all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You. ...
... I meditate upon Him, for He is the Absolute Truth.

That is generally a Vaishnava understanding of those "real" and "unreal" things.

Now, all this may seem to be similar to the Advaita understanding of "real" and "unreal", but this is not actually true because Advaitins have much different understanding of those things. They believe that this material existence, the universe and all their phenomena of life, Gods, jivatmas, etc, has no real basis in Brahman. Thus they say all this is a manifestation of delusion, maya, or illusory misconception. They even don't say that all this delusion is a delusion of the Absolute or Brahman, but it's just a kind of delusion. And when you ask them a question: "Whose delusion is all this, then? Who is in the illusion?", they have no answer to that question because if they say that this what we see is Brahman's illusion then such an answer would violate many statements in the Upanishads and other scriptures which say that Brahman cannot be influenced by the delusion, illusion, maya, gunas, etc. Actually, they don't even say that it is anybody's illusion because by saying that it is somebody's illusion they would break the basic tenets of their own philosophy, namely they would admit the existence of individuality in Brahman, which they do not admit.

Needless to say that Vaishnavas do not agree with their explanation. As I tried to briefly explain above, the Vaishnava understanding of those things is much different.

  • I added another answer based on commentary by VCT – user16618 Oct 26 '18 at 16:15
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Gaudiya Acharya, Vishwanath Chakravarthy Thakur's commentary on the first verse. As such, he explains the same verse in 5 ways, I am just giving one of the them.

In the beginning of the work, the author, Çré-kåñna-dvaipäyana - the crown jewel among äcäryas - invokes auspiciousness with meditation on his cherished deity.

Param means “to the highest limit.” Satyam means “that Supreme Lord who exists in all time and space.” Dhémahi means “let us worship or meditate on.” The plural indicates all the jévas continuing in time and space as part of one’s own group and thus indicates teaching them meditation by these instructions. The meaning of the sütra, athäto brahma jijïäsä (Vedänta-sütra 1.1.1) is indicated from this since meditation alone is the result of inquiry.

The Lord’s supreme power is indicated in this verse with janmädy asya yataù. (Vedänta-sütra 1.1.2) (Let us meditate on the Supreme Lord) from whom (yataù) arises creation, maintenance and destruction (janmädi) of the universe (asya). Should they meditate on time, which causes all this?

No. The Lord is the cause because he is the material and efficient cause (anvyäd itarataç ca). Anvayäd itarataù (anvaya and its opposite) can mean anvaya-vyatireka, which, in talking about causality, can refer to cause and effect. The Lord in relation to the universe is like the earth which, as a material cause, is inherent in the pot, and the pot which, as an effect, is inherent in its material cause, the earth. Thus this phrase means that the Lord is the material cause (upädäna-käraëa). The word ca indicates the efficient cause (nimitta-käraëa) which is time, because the Lord takes the form of time to influence prakåti. Thus the Lord is the cause (janma) by being the material (anvayäd itarataù) and the efficient cause (ca).

Or the word anvaya (meaning inclusion or entrance into) can also indicate that the Lord is the cause and destruction (janmädi) because everything enters the Lord. The universes enter into the Lord at destruction (and issues from him at the time of creation). Itarataù then indicates divisions of matter taking place at the level of secondary creation outside the Lord. That means that the Lord is the basis (adhisthätå-käraëa) of the whole universe, just as water is the basis of earth, and fire is the basis of water. Thus the Lord is that person from whom creation, maintenance and destruction takes place because everything is contained within him (anvayät) and everything in the secondary creation is outside him, but based on him (itarataù).

Or the word anvaya (meaning sequence) can mean that the Lord is creation and destruction (janmädi), because he is the whole sequence of creation, maintenance and destruction. The Lord enters into the universe, as the final agent of causality, in the process of creation; he enters the universe as the final agent for dispensing results of action in maintenance; and he enters the universe in the form of Çiva as the final agent in the process of destruction. In this explanation, it should be understood that the cause includes within itself the effect, and the Lord as cause enters into the effect, the universe. Thus the Lord is identified as creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe. The universe itself is kept at a distance from the svarüpa of the Lord by the use of the descriptive word itarataù (different), since the creation, maintenance and destruction of the universe is different from the Lord’s svarüpa-çakti. Ca indicates it is non-different from the mäyä-çakti. Thus anvayäd itarataù ca means the Lord is the creator, maintainer and destroyer since he is non-different from the universe in its phases of creation, maintenance and destruction, but this universe is different from his svarüpa, and non-different from his mäyä-çakti. Thus in the first line the two Vedänta-sütras, janmädy asya (1.1.2) and tat tu samanvayät (1.1.3), have been spoken.

“But if the Supreme Lord is said to be the material cause of the universe, he should be devoid of change. Therefore should one not say that the Supreme Lord is the efficient and prakåti is the material cause.” No. It is not so. The çrutis say yaù sarvajïäh sarva-vit: he, who is omniscient, knows all. (Muëòaka Upaniñad 2.2.7) Sa ékñata lokän: he glanced over the worlds and then created (Aitareya Upaniñad); and tad aikñata bahusyäà prajäyeya; he glanced and said, “Let me be many, Let me create progeny.” (Chändogya Upaniñad 6.2.3) These verses indicate that only a conscious entity is the cause of the universe, and thus the Lord is both the material cause and the efficient cause of the universe. Since prakåti is a çakti of the Lord and the çakti and possessor of the çakti are non-different, the Lord is the material cause through prakåti. But the Lord remains unchanged in spite of being the material cause, because by his very nature he transcends prakåti. This is explained by the Lord:

prakåtir yasyopädänam ädhäraù puruñaù paraù | sato ’bhivyaïjakaù kälo brahma tat tritayaà tv aham ||

Prakröi is the material cause, the puruña is the foundational cause. Time, the indirect cause, is agitator of prakåti. I am all three. SB 11.24.19 Scripture does not state that prakåti is the material cause independently. The Lord, conscious of all things, is alone the cause of the universe by his independence. Unconscious prakåti is not the cause. Thus the verse says that the Lord is fully conscious (abhijïaù) concerning all matters relating to the creation and destruction of all real objects (artheñu). This statement illustrates the meaning of ékñater näçabdam: being described in the scriptures, the Lord is not beyond the description of words (though he remains beyond the material). (Vedänta-sütra 1.1.5)

The meaning of the sütra is this. The brahman which was discussed is the cause of the universe. Why? Because of seeing; because of specialized conclusions arising from seeing, or in other words, from hearing about the Lord in the statements of çruti which describe him as the cause of the universe. Therefore brahman is not indescribable. It is not that the Lord cannot be proved by authoritative words. He can be proved by the scriptures.

The çrutis state that the conscious Lord is the cause:

tad aikñata bahu syäm prajäyeya He glanced at prakåti. May I become many; let me create progeny. Chändogya Upaniñad 6.2.3

Sad eva saumyedam agra asét O gentle one! The eternal Lord existed before this universe. Chändogya Upaniñad 6.2.1

Ätmä vä idam eka evägra asét The Lord existed before this universe. Chändogya Upaniñad 1.1.1

Tasmäd vä etasmäd ätmana äkäçaù sambhüta From that Lord arose the ether. Taittiréya Upaniñad 1

Yato vä imäni bhütäni jäyante From the Lord all creatures arise. Taittiréya Brähmaëa 1

And the småti says:

yataù sarväëi bhütäni bhavanty ädi-yugägame | yasmiàç ca pralayaà yänti punar eva yuga-kñaye ||

From the Lord all creatures arise at the beginning of the first yuga and in him they merge at the time of universal destruction.

One may object that the mahat-tattva and other elements had not arisen so that he could have a body which could perform actions. Therefore the verse says that the Lord is independent (svaräö). He controls everything by himself (svayam räjate) through his spiritual svarüpa (non-different from himself). Thus the çruti says na tasya käryam käraëaà ca vidyate… sväbhäviké-jïäna-bala-kriya ca: In the Lord there is no material cause and effect; he has his own inherent knowledge, strength and action. (Çvetäçvatara Upaniñad 6.8)

One may object that in the creation of the universe, one should understand that Lord Brahmä has independent powers, for in the çruti it is said hiraëyagarbhaù samavartatägre bhütasya jätaù patir eka asét: Brahmä was born before other creatures; he alone existed. (Mahä-näräyaëa Upaniñad 6) Therefore Brahmä should be the object of worship. The verse answers this objection in the second line. It is the Lord, satyam param, who revealed (tene) the Vedas (brahma) — knowledge of himself — to Brahmä (ädi-kavaye). Thus Brahmä is dependent on the Lord. One may object that it is well known that Brahmä did not study the Vedas from anyone. That is true. He received it in his mind (hådaye). This is stated in the Bhägavatam.

pracoditä yena purä sarasvaté vitanvatäjasya satéà småtià hådi sva-lakñaëä prädurabhüt kiläsyataù sa me åñéëäm åñabhaù prasédatäm

May the Lord, the best of the sages, be pleased with me! Inspired by him, at the beginning of the kalpa, Sarasvaté, whose aim is to reveal Kåñëa, appeared from the mouth of Brahmä and revealed proper memory to carry out creation in his heart. SB 2.4.22

As well sudåñöaà håòi me tadaiva: why did I not see him in my heart at that time? (SB 10.14.15) The meaning of the gäyatré mantra was revealed to him by that method. It is said in the Matsya Puräëa (53.20):

yaträdhikåtya gäyatréà varëyate dharma-vistaraù | våträsura-vadhopetaà tad bhägavatam iñyate ||

He spoke the Bhägavatam where the killing of Våträsura is described and where, after starting with gäyatré, dharma is elaborately described.

In another Puräëa it is said:

grantho ’ñöädaça-sähasro dvädaça-skandha-saàmitaù | hayagréva-brahma-vidyä yatra våtra-vadhas tathä | gäyatryä ca samärambhas tad vai bhägavataà viduù ||

The Bhägavatam is understood to be that work starting with gäyatré mantra in which there are eighteen thousand verses and twelve volumes, and in which spiritual knowledge spoken by Hayagréva and the killing of Våtra are described.

Someone may argue: “Perhaps Brahmä realized the truth of the Vedas on his own (from within the mind) just as a person sometimes gets a realization during sleep.” To answer this argument, then it is said that Brahmä, independently, does not have the power to realize this knowledge, for even the greatly learned are bewildered about this (yad sürayaù muhyanti). This explains the following sütra. Etena netaro ’nupapatteù: a jéva is not described (in the mantra "satyam jïänam anantam brahma"), because such an interpretation of the mantra is illogical. (Vedänta-sütra 1.1.16)

There is another objection. When we talk about meditation it indicates that we meditate on an object that has a form. Forms are made of the three guëas of matter, and must be therefore temporary. This objection is answered in the third line. It is like reversal; or one thing appearing as another (vinimayaù), just as light may appear to be water, or water may appear to be earth or earth in forms like glass may appear to be like water to an ignorant person. In this way one falsely (måñä) thinks that the perfect, spiritual form of the Lord to be made of the three guëas (tri-sargaù). Gopäla-täpané Upaniñad (1.33) says:

tam ekaà govindaà sac-cid-änanda-vigrahaà våndävana-sura-bhüruha- taläsénam

I saw that one form of Govinda, a form of eternity, knowledge and bliss, seated at the base of desire tree in Våndävana.

Räma-täpané Upaniñad says:

ardha-mäträtmako rämo brahmänandaika-vigrahaù

Räma is the half-syllable and form of spiritual bliss.

Nåsiàha-täpané Upaniñad says:

åtaà satyaà paraà brahma puruñaà nå-keçari-vigraham

The form of Nåsiàha is the supreme brahman, the puruña, knowledge and truth.

nirdoña-pürëa-guëa-vigraha ätma-tantro niçcetanätmaka-çaréra-guëaiç ca hénaù | änanda-mätra-kara-päda-mukhodarädiù ca |

The Lord has a form full of faultless qualities, which is independent. He is devoid of the qualities of lifeless, material bodies. All the parts of his body such as hands, feet, head and belly are bliss alone. Dhyäna-bindu Upaniñad

nanda-vraja-janänandé sac-cidänanda-vigrahaù

Kåñëa has a form of eternity, knowledge and bliss which gives joy to the people of Vraja. Brahmäëda Puräëa 2.36.25

sarve nityäù çäçvatäç ca dehäs tasya parätmanaù | hänopädäna-rahitä naiva prakåti-jäù kvacit ||

The bodies of the Lord are all eternal, unchanging, and devoid of faults. They are never the product of matter. Mahä varäha Puräëa.

This is also understood from the Bhägavatam:

asyäpi deva vapuño mad-anugrahasya svecchä-mayasya na tu bhüta-mayasya ko ’pi neçe mahi tv avasituà manasäntareëa säkñät tavaiva kim utätma-sukhänubhüteù

My dear Lord, neither I nor anyone else can estimate the potency of this transcendental body of yours, which has shown such mercy to me and which appears just to fulfill the desires of your pure devotees. Although my mind is completely withdrawn from material affairs, I cannot understand your personal form. How, then, could I possibly understand the happiness you experience within yourself? SB 10.14.2

taà matvätmajam avyaktaà martya-liìgam adhokñajam gopikolükhale dämnä babandha präkåtaà yathä

Being absolute, beyond relativity, he is free from distinctions between cause and effect, although he is the cause and effect of everything. That unmanifested person, who is beyond the perception of the senses, had now appeared as a human child, and mother Yaçodä, considering him her own ordinary child, bound Him to the wooden mortar with a rope. SB 10.9.14

tasmäd idaà jagad açeñam asat-svarüpaà svapnäbham asta-dhiñaëaà puru-duùkha-duùkham tvayy eva nitya-sukha-bodha-tanäv anante mäyäta udyad api yat sad ivävabhäti

Therefore this entire universe, which like a dream is by nature unreal, nevertheless appears real, and thus it covers one’s consciousness and assails one with repeated miseries. This universe appears real because it is manifested by the potency of illusion emanating from you, whose unlimited transcendental forms are full of eternal happiness and knowledge. SB 10.14.22

tävat prasanno bhagavän puñkaräkñaù kåte yuge darçayäm äsa taà kñattaù çäbdaà brahma dadhad vapuù

Then, in the Satya-yuga, the lotus-eyed Supreme Personality of Godhead, being pleased, showed himself to that Kardama Muni and displayed his transcendental form, which can be understood only through the Vedas. SB 3.21.8

satya-jïänänantänanda- mätraika-rasa-mürtayaù aspåñöa-bhüri-mähätmyä api hy upaniñad-dåçäm

The viñëu-mürtis all had eternal, unlimited forms, full of knowledge and bliss and existing beyond the influence of time. Their great glory was not even to be touched by the jïänés engaged in studying the Upaniñads. SB 10.13.54

Even the devotees in Çvetadvépa and Vaikuëöha have forms. These forms are not material, since the word aténdriya is used. Näräyaëéya says:

anindriyä anähärä aniñpannäù sugandhinaù | ekäntinas te puruñäù çveta-dvépa-niväsinaù ||

The inhabitants living in Çvetadvépa, devoted completely to the Lord, are all fragrant, beyond the material senses, without any need for material food and without material movement. Mahäbhärata 12.323.26

dehendriyäsu-hénänäà vaikuëöha-pura-väsinäm deha-sambandha-sambaddham etad äkhyätum arhasi

The bodies of the inhabitants of Vaikuëöha are completely spiritual, having nothing to do with the material body, senses or life air. Therefore, kindly explain how associates of the Lord were cursed to descend in material bodies like ordinary persons. SB 7.1.35

What doubt can there be that their bodies are non-material? Some persons argue with all these conclusions. In answer to this, the following is said. Through the power of realization of the Lord fixed in the devotee’s heart by the svarüpa-çakti, or through the Lord’s form shining with power and sweetness increasing at every moment (dhämnä), which belongs only to the Lord and which is thus extraordinary (svena), throughout all three phases of time (sadä), all false arguments (kuhakam) about the Lord are negated (nirasta). This is indicated in tarko ’pratiñöhänät: argumentation is not accepted concerning the Lord, because it is insubstantial. (Vedänta-sutra 2.1.11) yam evaiña våëute tena labhyas tasyaiña ätmä vivåëute tanuà sväm: the Lord reveals his form to that person whom he chooses. (Muëòaka Upaniñad 3.2.3) The use of the word sväm to modify tanum indicates that the body of the Lord arises from his svarüpa-çakti. That his mind and eyes are not material is also understood from the statements bahu syäm (let me become many) and sa aikñata (he glanced), since these senses are employed before the agitation of prakåti, which produces material mind and senses. As well paräsya çaktir vividhaiva çrüyate sväbhäviké jïäna-bala-kriyä ca (Çvetäçvatara Upaniñad 6.8) indicates that his knowledge, strength and actions arise from his own nature (sväbhäviké), not prakåti.

acintyäù khalu ye bhävä na täàs tarkeëa yojayet | prakåtibhyaù paraà yac ca tad acintyasya lakñaëam ||

One cannot use material reasoning on those things which are inconceivable. Inconceivable refers to those things existing beyond prakåti. Mahäbhärata 6.6.11

The potential mood indicates that material arguments are forbidden to be used against the Lord. It is just as strong as the prohibition: para-därän na gacchet: one should not have sex with other men’s wives. If the demons, who eagerly take up arrows of logic aimed at the Lord, fall to hell, let them fall there. Enough of their discussions!

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