Originally an English lecture on the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, delivered in Dinajpur in 1869. The Bhagavat - It's Philosophy, It's Ethics and It's Theology - explains the flaws of orthodox Hinduism as well as the philosophy of the newly formed Brahmo Samaj.
We love to read a book which we never read before. We are anxious to gather whatever information is contained in it and with such acquirement our curiosity stops. This mode of study prevails amongst a great number of readers, who are great men in their own estimation as well as in the estimation of those who are of their own stamp. In fact, most readers are mere repositories of facts and statements made by other people. But this is not study. The student is to read the facts with a view to create, and not with the object of fruitless retention. Students like satellites should reflect whatever light they receive from authors and not imprison the facts and thoughts just as the Magistrates imprison the convicts in the jail! Thought is progressive. The author’s thought must have progress in the reader in the shape of correction or development. He is the best critic, who can show the further development of an old thought; but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of Nature. “Begin anew,” says the critic, because the old masonry does not answer at present. Let the old author be buried because his time is gone. These are shallow expressions. Progress certainly is the law of nature and there must be corrections and developments with the progress of time. Bur progress means going further or rising higher. Now, if we are to follow our foolish critic, we are to go back to our former terminus and make a new race, and when we have run half the race another critic of his stamp will cry out: “Begin anew, because the wrong road has been taken!” In this way our stupid critics will never allow us to go over the whole road and see what is in the other terminus. Thus the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two greatest enemies of progress. We must shun them.
The true critic, on the other hand, advises us to preserve what we have already obtained, and to adjust our race from that point where we have arrived in the heat of our progress. He will never advise us to go back to the point whence we started, as he fully knows that in that case there will be a fruitless loss of our valuable time and labour. He will direct the adjustment of the angle of the race at the point where we are. This is also the characteristic of the useful student. He will read an old author and will find out his exact position in the progress of thought. He will never propose to burn the book on the ground that it contains thoughts which are useless. No thought is useless. Thoughts are means by which, we attain our objects. The reader who denounces a bad thought, does not know that a bad road is even capable of improvement and conversion into a good one. One thought is a road leading to another. Thus the reader will find that one thought which is the object today will be the means of a further object tomorrow. Thoughts will necessarily continue to be an endless series of means and objects in the, progress of humanity. The great reformers will always assert that they have come out not to destroy the old law but to fulfil it. Valmiki, Vyasa, Plato, Jesus, Mahomed, Confucius and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu assert the fact either expressly or by their conduct.
The Bhagavata like all religious works and philosophical performances and writings of great men has suffered from the imprudent conduct of useless readers and stupid critics. The former have done so much injury to the work that they have surpassed the later in their evil consequence. Men of brilliant thoughts have passed by the work in quest of truth and philosophy, but the prejudice which. they imbibed from its useless readers and their conduct prevented them from making a candid investigation. Not to say of other people, the great genius of Raja Ram Mohan Roy the founder of the sect of Brahmoism, did not think it worth his while to study this ornament of the religious library. He crossed the gate of the Vedanta, as set up by the mayavada construction of the designing Shankaracharya, the chosen enemy of the Jains, and chalked his way out to the unitarian form, of the Christian faith, converted into an Indian appearance. Ram Mohan Roy was an able man. He could not be satisfied with the theory of illusion contained in the mayavada philosophy of Shankar. His heart was full of love for Nature. He saw through the eye of his that he could not believe in his identity with God. He ran furiously from the bounds of Shankar to those of the Koran. There even he was not satisfied. He then studied the preeminently beautiful precepts and history of Jesus, first in the English translations and at last in the original Greek, and took shelter under the holy banners of the Jewish Reformer. But Ram Mohan Roy was also a patriot. He wanted to reform his country in the same way as he reformed himself. He knew it fully that truth does not belong exclusively to any individual man or to any nation or particular race. It belongs to God, and man, whether in the Poles or on the Equator, has a right to claim it as the property of his Father. On these grounds he claimed the truths inculcated by the Western Saviour as also the property of himself and his countrymen and thus he established the Samaja of the Brahmos independently of what was in his own country in the beautiful Bhagavat. His noble deeds will certainly procure him a high position in the history of reformers. But then, to speak the truth, he would have done more if he had commenced his work of reformation from the point where the last reformer in India left it. It is not our business to go further, on this subject. Suffice it to say, that the Bhagavat did not attract the genius of Ram Mohan Roy. His thought, mighty though it was unfortunately branched like the Ranigunj line of the Railway, from the barren station of Shankaracharya, and did not attempt to be an extension from the Delhi Terminus of the great Bhagavat expounder of Nadia. We do not doubt that the progress of time will correct the error, and by a further extension the branch line will lose itself somewhere in the main line of progress. We expect these attempts in abler reformers of the followers of Ram Mohan Roy.
The Bhagavat has suffered alike from shallow critics both Indian and outlandish. That book has been accursed and denounced by a great number of our young countrymen, who have scarcely read its contents and pondered over the philosophy on which it is founded. It is owing mostly to their imbibing an unfounded prejudice against it when they were in school. The Bhagavat, as a matter of course, has been held in derision by those teachers, who are generally of an inferior mind and intellect. This prejudice is not easily shaken when the student grows up unless he candidly studies the book and ruminates on the doctrines of Vaishnavism. We are ourselves aware of the fact. When we were in the college, reading the philosophical works of the West and exchanging thought with the thinkers of the day, we had a real hatred towards the Bhagavat. That great work looked like a repository of wicked and stupid ideas, scarcely adapted to the nineteenth century, and we hated to hear any arguments in its favour. With us then a volume of Channing, Parker, Emerson or Newman had more weight than the whole lot of the Vaishnav works. Greedily we poured over the various commentations of the Holy Bible and of the labors of the Tattva Bodhini Sabha, containing extracts from the Upanishads and the Vedanta, but no work of the Vaishnavs had any favour with us. But when we advanced in age and our religious sentiment received development, we turned out in a manner Unitarian in our belief and prayed as Jesus prayed in the Garden. Accidentally, we fell in with a work about the great Chaitanya, and on reading it with some attention in order to settle the historical position of that Mighty Genius of Nadia, we had the opportunity of gathering His explanations of Bhagavat, given to the wrangling Vedantist of the Benares School. The accidental study created in us a love for all the works which we find about our Eastern Saviour. We gathered with difficulties the famous kurchas in Sanskrit, written by the disciples of Chaitanya. The explanations that we got of the Bhagavat from these sources, were of such a charming character that we procured a copy of the Bhagavat complete and studied its texts (difficult of course to those who are not trained up in philosophical thoughts) with the assistance of the famous commentaries of Shreedhar Swami. From such study it is that we have at least gathered the real doctrines of the Vaishnavs. Oh! What a trouble to get rid of prejudices gathered in unripe years!
As far as we can understand, no enemy of Vaishnavism will find any beauty in the Bhagavat. The true critic is a generous judge, void of prejudices and party spirit. One who is at heart the follower of Mohamad will certainly find the doctrines of the New Testament to be a forgery by the fallen angel. A Trinitarian Christian, on the other hand, will denounce the precepts of Mohamad as those of an ambitious reformer. The reason simply is, that the critic should be of. the same disposition of mind as that of the author, whose merits he is required judge. Thoughts have different ways. One, who is trained up in the thoughts of the Unitarian Society or of the Vedanta of the Benares School, will scarcely find piety in the faith of Vaishnavs. An ignorant Vaishnav, on the other hand whose business it is to beg from door to door in the name of Nityananda will find no piety in the Christian. This is because, the Vaishnav does not think in the way in which the Christian thinks of his own religion. It may be, that both the Christian and the Vaishnav will utter the same sentiment, but they will never stop their fight with each other only because they have arrived at their common conclusion by different’ ways of though. Thus it is, that a great deal of ungenerousness enters, into the arguments of the pious Christians when they, pass their imperfect opinion on the religion of the Vaishnavs.
Subjects of philosophy and theology are like the peaks of large towering and inaccessible mountains standing in the midst of our planet inviting attention and investigation. Thinkers and men of deep speculation take their observations through the instruments of reason and consciousness. But they take different points when they carry on their work. These points are positions chalked out by the circumstances of their social and philosophical life, different as they are in the different parts of the world. Plato looked at the peak of the Spiritual question from the West and Vyasa made the observation from the East; so Confucius did it from further East, and Schlegel, Spinoza, Kant and Goethe from further West. These observations were made at different times and by different means, but the conclusion is all the same in as much as the object of observation was one and the same. They all hunted after the Great Spirit, the unconditioned Soul of the Universe. They could not but get an insight into it. Their words and expressions are different but their import is the same. They tried to find out the absolute religion and their labours were crowned with success, for God gives all that He has to His children if they want to have it. It requires a candid, generous, pious, and holy heart to feel the beauties of their conclusions. Party-spirit – that great enemy of’ truth – will always baffle the attempt of the inquirer who tries to gather truth from religious work of their nations, and will make him believe that absolute truth is nowhere except in his old religious book. What better example could be adduced than the fact that the great philosopher of Benares will find no truth in the universal brother-hood of man and the common father-hood of God? The philosopher, thinking in his own way of thought, can never see the beauty of the Christian faith. The way, in which Christ thought of his own father, was love absolute and so long as the philosopher will not adopt that way of thinking he will ever remain deprived of the absolute faith preached by the western Saviour. In a similar manner the Christian needs adopt the way of thought which the Vedantist pursued before he can love the conclusions of the philosopher. The critic, therefore, should have a comprehensive, good, generous, candid, impartial and a sympathetic soul.
What sort of a thing is the Bhagavat, asks the European gentleman newly arrived in India. His companion tells him with a serene look, that the Bhagavat is a book, which his Oriya bearer daily reads in the evening to a number of hearers. It contains a jargon of unintelligible and savage literature of those men who paint their noses with some sort of earth or sandal, and wear beads all over their bodies in order to procure salvation for themselves. Another of his companions, who has travelled a little in the interior, would immediately contradict him and say that the Bhagavat is a Sanskrit work claimed by a sect of men, the Goswamis, who give Mantras, like the Popes of Italy, to the common people of Bengal, and pardon their sins on payment of gold enough to defray their social expenses. A third gentleman will repeat a third explanation. Young Bengalis, chained up in English thoughts and ideas, and wholly ignorant of the Pre-Mohamedan history of his own country, will add one more explanation by saying that the Bhagavat is a book containing an account of. the life of Krishna, who was an ambitious and an immoral man! This is all that he could gather from his grandmother while yet he did not go to school. Thus the Great Bhagavata ever remains unknown to the foreigners, like the elephant of the six blind men who caught hold of the several parts of the body of the beast! But Truth is eternal and is never injured but for a while by ignorance.
The Bhagavat itself tells us what it is:
Nigama-kalpataror galitam phalam
Sukamukhad amrita drava samyutam
Pibata bhagavatam rasam alayam
Muhur aho rasika bhuvi bhavukah
“It is the fruit of the tree of thought (Vedas) mixed with the nectar of the speech of Shookdeva. It is the Temple of spiritual love! O men of piety! Drink deep this nectar of Bhagavat repeatedly till you are taken from this mortal frame.”
The Garooda Puran says again:
saram Samud dhritam
Sarva vedanta saram hi, Sri
Tadrasamritatrptasya Nanyatrasyad ratikvachit.
“The Bhagavat is composed of 18,000 Slokas. It contains the best parts of the Vedas and the Vedanta. Whoever has tasted its sweet nectar will never like to read any other religious book.”
Every thoughtful reader will certainly repeat this eulogy. The Bhagavat is pre-eminently the Book in India. Once you enter into it, you are transplanted, as it were, into the spiritual world where gross matter has no existence. The true follower of the Bhagavat is a spiritual man who has already cut his temporary connection with phenomenal nature and has made himself the inhabitant of that region where God eternally exists and loves. This mighty work is founded upon inspiration, and its superstructure is based upon reflection. To the common reader, it has no charm and is full of difficulty. We are, therefore, obliged to study it deeply through the assistance of such great commentators as Shreedhar Swami and the Divine Chaitanya and His contemporary followers.
Now the great preacher of Nadia, who has been Deified by His talented followers, tells us that the Bhagavat is founded upon the four slokas which Vyasa received from Narad, the most learned of the created beings. He tells us further that Brahma pierced through the whole universe of matter for years and years in quest of the final cause of the world, but when he failed to find it abroad, he looked into the construction of his own spiritual nature, and there he heard the Universal Spirit speaking unto him the following words –
Jnanam me parama-guhyam, me yadvijnana Samanvitam
Sarahasyam tadangamcha grihana gaditam maya
Yavanaham yathabhavo yadrupa gunakarmakah
Tathaiva tatva Vijnanamastu te madanugrahat
Ahameva samevagre, nanyat yat sadasatparam
Paschadaham yadetachcha yovashishyeta Sosmyaham
Ritertham yat pratiyeta, napratiye ta chatmani
Tadvidat Atmano mayam yathabhaso yatha tamah
“Take, O Brahma! I am giving you the knowledge of My own self and of My relations and phases which is in itself difficult of access. You are a created being, so it is not easy for you to accept what I give you, but then I kindly give you the power to accept, so you are at liberty to understand My essence, My ideas, My form, My property, and My action together with their various relations with imperfect knowledge. I was in the beginning before all spiritual and temporal things were created, and after they have been created, I am in them all in the shape of their existence and truthfulness, and when they will be all gone, I shall remain full as I was and as I am. Whatever appears to be true without being a real fact itself, and whatever is not perceived though it is true in itself are subjects of My illusory energy of creation, such as, light and darkness in the material world.”
It is difficult to explain the above in a short compass. You must read the whole Bhagavat for its explanation. When the great Vyasa had effected the arrangements of the Vedas and the Upanishads, the completion of the eighteen Puranas with facts gathered from the recorded and unrecorded tradition of ages, and the composition of the Vedanta and the large Mahabharata, an epic poem of great celebrity, he began to ruminate over his own theories and precepts and found like Fauste of Goethe that he had up to that time gathered no real truth. He fell back into his own self and reached his own spiritual nature, and then it was that the above truth was communicated to him for his own good and the good of the world.
The sage immediately perceived that his former works required supercession in as much as they did not contain the whole truth and rather nothing but obscuration of the truth. In his new idea he got the development of his former idea of religion. He commenced revelation of the Bhagavat in pursuance of this change. From this fact our readers are expected to find out the position which the Bhagavat enjoys in the library of Hindu theological works.
The whole of this incomparable work teaches us, according to our great Chaitanya, the three great truths which compose the absolute religion of man. Our Nuddea preacher has styled them as: (a) Sambandha, Avidheya and Prayojana i.e. the relation between the Creator and the created, the duty of man to God, and the prospects of humanity. In these three words is summed up the whole ocean of human knowledge as far as it has been explored up to this era of human progress. These are the cardinal points of religion, and the whole Bhagavat is, as we are taught by Chaitanya, an explanation both by precepts and examples, of these three great points.
The first cardinal point deals with establishment of the knowledge of the relation that exists between the Creator and His creation, which is not perceived by the conditioned souls as they are under the grasp of maya, the enveloping energy of the Creator.
In all of its twelve Skandhas or divisions, the Bhagavat teaches us that there is only one God without a second, who was full in Himself and is and will remain the same. Time and space, which prescribe conditions to created objects, are much below His supreme spiritual nature, which is unconditioned and absolute. Created objects are subject to the influence of time and space, which form the chief ingredients of that principle in creation which passes by the name of maya.
Maya is a thing which is not easily understood by us who are subject to it, but God explains, as much as we can understand in our present constitution, this principle through our spiritual perception. The hasty critic starts like an unbroken horse at the name of maya and denounces it as a theory identical with that of Bishop Berkeley. “Be patient in your inquiry” is our immediate reply to him. In the mind of God there were ideas of all that we perceive in eternal existence with Him, or else God loses the epithet of omniscient so learnedly applied to Him. The imperfect part of nature implying want or non-existence of substance proceeded also from certain of those ideas, and what else, excepting a principle of maya eternally existing in God subject to His omnipotence, could have a hand in the creation of the world as it is? This is styled the Maya Shakti of the omnipresent God. Cavil as much as you can. This is a truth in relation to the created universe.
This Maya intervenes between us and God as long as we are not spiritual, and when we are able to break off her bonds, we, even in this mortal frame, learn to commune in our spiritual nature with the unconditioned and Absolute. No, Maya does not mean a false thing only, but it means concealment of eternal truth as well. The creation is not Maya itself but is subject to that principle. Certainly the theory is idealistic, but it has been degraded into foolishness by wrong explanations. The materialist laughs at the ideal theory saying how could this body, water, air, and earth be mere ideas without entity, and he laughs rightly when he takes Shankaracharya’s book in his hand as the butt end of his ridicule.
The true idealist must be a dualist also. He must believe all that he perceives as nature is created by God full of spiritual essence and relations, but he must not believe that the outward appearance is the truth.
The Bhagavat teaches that all that we healthily perceive is true, but its material appearance is transient and illusory. The scandal of the ideal theory consists in its tendency to falsify nature, but the theory, as explained in the Bhagavat, makes nature true, if not eternally true as God and His ideas. What harm can there be if man believes in nature as spiritually true and that the physical relations and phases of society are purely spiritual?
No, it is not merely changing a name, but it is a change in nature also. Nature is eternally spiritual, but the intervention of Maya makes her gross and material. Man in his progress in religion attempts to shake off this gross idea as childish and foolish in its nature, and by means of subduing the intervening principle of Maya, lives in continual union with God in his spiritual nature. The success attained in shaking off this bond is salvation of the human nature. The man who has got salvation will freely tell his brother that, “If you want to see God, see me, and if you want to be one with God, you must follow me.”
The Bhagavat teaches us this relation between man and God, and we must all attain this knowledge. This sublime truth is the point where the materialist and the idealist must meet like brothers of the same school, and this is the point to which all philosophy tends.
This is called Sambandha Jnana of the Bhagavat or, in other words, the knowledge of relations between the conditioned and the Absolute. We must now attempt to explain the second great principle inculcated by the Bhagavat, i.e., the principle of duty. Man must spiritually worship his God. There are three ways in which the Creator is worshipped by the created.
Vadanti tat tattvavida stattvam yat jnanamadvayam
All theologians agree in maintaining that there is only one God without a second, but they disagree in giving a name to that God owing to the different modes of worship which they adopt according to the constitution of their mind. Some call Him by the name of Brahma, some by the name of Paramatma, and others by the name of Bhagawan. Those who worship God as infinitely great in the principle of admiration call him by the name of Brahma. This mode is called jnana or knowledge. Those who worship God as the Universal Soul in the principle of spiritual union with Him give Him the name of Paramatma. This is yog. Those who worship God as all-in-all with all their heart, body, and strength style Him as Bhagawan. This last principle is Bhakti. The book that prescribes the relation and worship of Bhagawan procures for itself the name of Bhagavat, and the worshipper is also called by the same name.
Such is the Bhagavat which is decidedly the book for all classes of theists. If we worship God spiritually as all-in-all with our heart, mind, body, and strength, we are called Bhagavatas, and we lead a life of spiritualism, which neither the worshipper of Brahma nor the Yogi uniting his soul with (Paramatma) the Universal Soul, can obtain. The superiority of the Bhagavat consists in the uniting of all sorts of theistic worship into one excellent principle in human nature, which passes by the name of Bhakti. This word has no equivalent in the English language. Piety, devotion, resignation, and spiritual love, unalloyed with any sort of petition except in the way of repentance, compose the highest principle of Bhakti. The Bhagavat tells us to worship God in that great and invaluable principle, which is infinitely superior to human knowledge and the principle of Yog.
Our short compass will not admit of an explanation of the principle of Bhakti beautifully rising from its first stage of application in the form of Brahmic worship in the shape of admiration which is styled the Shanta Rasa, to the fifth or the highest stage of absolute union in love with God, sweetly styled the Madhura Rasa of Prem Bhakti. A full explanation will take a big volume which is not our object here to compose. Suffice it to say that the principle of Bhakti passes five distinct stages in the course of its development into its highest and purest form. Then again when it reaches the last form, it is susceptible of further progress from the stage of Prema (love) to that of Mahabhava, which is in fact a complete transition into the spiritual universe where God alone is the bridegroom of our souls in the purest state.
The voluminous Bhagavat is nothing more than a full illustration of this principle of continual development and progress of the soul from gross matter to the all-perfect Universal Spirit who is distinguished as personal, eternal, absolutely free, all-powerful, and all-intelligent. There is nothing gross or material in this process. The whole affair is spiritual. In order to impress this spiritual picture upon the student who attempts to learn it, comparisons have been made with the material world, which cannot but convince the ignorant and the novice or unpracticed in this process. Material examples are absolutely necessary for the explanation of spiritual ideas. The Bhagavat believes that the spirit of nature is the truth in nature and is the only practical part of it.
The phenomenal appearance of nature is truly theoretical, although it has had the greatest claim upon our belief from the days of our infancy. The outward appearance of nature is nothing more than a sure index of its spiritual phase. Comparisons are therefore necessary. Nature, as it is before our eyes, must explain the spirit, or else the truth will ever remain concealed, and man will never rise from his boyhood, though his whiskers and beard grow white as the snows of the Himalayas. The whole intellectual and moral philosophy is explained by matter itself. Emerson beautifully shows how all the words in moral philosophy originally came from the names of material objects. The words heart, head, spirit, thought, courage, and bravery were originally the common names of some corresponding objects in the material world.
All spiritual ideas are similarly pictures from the material world, because matter is the dictionary of spirit, and material pictures are but the shadows of the spiritual affairs which our material eye carries back to our spiritual perception. God in His infinite goodness and kindness has established this unfailing connection between the truth and the shadow in order to impress upon us. The clock explains the time, the alphabet points to the gathered store of knowledge, the beautiful song of a harmonium gives the idea of eternal harmony in the spirit-world, today and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow thrust into us the ungrasped idea of eternity, and similarly, material pictures impress upon our spiritual nature the truly spiritual idea of religion.
It is on these reasonable grounds that Vyasa adopted the mode of explaining our spiritual worship with some sorts of material phenomena, which correspond with the spiritual truth. Our object is not to go into details. So we are unable to quote some of the illustrations within the short compass of this lecture.
We have also the practical part of the question in the eleventh book of the Bhagavat. All of the modes by which a man can train himself up to Prem Bhakti, as explained above, have been described at great length. We have been advised, first of all, to convert ourselves into most grateful servants of God as regards relation to our fellow brethren. Our nature has been described as bearing three different phases in all our bearings in the world. Those phases are named Sattwa, Raja, and Tama. Sattwa Guna is that property in our nature which is purely good as far as it can be pure in our present state. Raja Guna is neither good nor bad. Tama Guna is evil. Our Provrittis or tendencies and affections are described as the mainspring of all our actions, and it is our object in our life and conduct as well as thought to train up those affections and tendencies to the standard of Sattwa Guna as decided by the moral principle.
This is not, however, easily done. All of the springs of our actions should be carefully protected from Tama Guna, the evil principle, by adopting the Raja Guna at first, and when that is effected, man should subdue his Raja Guna by means of the natural Sattwa Guna, which is the most powerful of all three of them when cultivated. Lust, idleness, wicked deeds, and degradation of human nature by intoxicating principles are described as exclusively belonging to tama-guna, the evil phase of nature. These are to be checked by marriage, useful work, and abstinence from intoxication and trouble to our neighbors and inferior animals.
Thus, when Raja Guna has obtained supremacy in the heart, it is our duty to convert that Raja Guna into Sattwa Gunaa, which is pre-eminently good. That married love, which is first cultivated, must now be sublimated into holy, good, and spiritual love, i.e., love between soul and soul. Useful work will now be converted into work of love and not of disgust or obligation. Abstinence from wicked work will be made to lose its negative appearance and converted into positive good work. Then we are to look to all living beings in the same light in which we look to ourselves, i.e., we must convert our selfishness into all possible disinterested activity towards all around us. Love, charity, good deeds, and devotion to God will be our only aim. We then become the servants of God by obeying His high and holy wishes.
Here we begin to be Bhaktas, and we are susceptible of further improvement in our spiritual nature, as we have described above. All this is covered by the term Avidheya, the second cardinal point in the supreme religious work, the Bhagavat.
We have now before us the first two cardinal points in our religion explained somehow or other in the terms and thoughts expressed by our Saviour who lived only four and a half centuries ago in the beautiful town of Nuddea situated on the banks of the Bhagirathi. We must now proceed to the last cardinal point termed by that great re-establisher as Prayojana or prospects.
What is the object of our spiritual development, our prayer, our devotion, and our union with God? The Bhagavat tells that the object is not enjoyment or sorrow, but continual progress in perfectly attaining spiritual holiness and symmetry or harmony both within and all around in perfect bliss.
In the common place books of the Hindu religion in which the raja- and Tama Gunas have been described as the ways of religion, we have descriptions of a local heaven and a local hell; the heaven as beautiful as anything on earth, and the hell as ghastly as any picture of evil. Besides this heaven, we have many more places where good souls are sent up in the way of promotion. There are eighty-four divisions of the hell itself; some more dreadful than the one that Milton has described in his Paradise Lost. These are certainly poetical and were originally created by the rulers of the country in order to check evil deeds of the ignorant people, who are not able to understand the conclusions of philosophy.
The religion of the Bhagavat is free from such a poetic imagination. Indeed, in some of the chapters, we meet with descriptions of these hells and heavens and accounts of curious tales, but we have been warned, somewhere in the book, not to accept them as real facts but as inventions to overawe the wicked and to improve the simple and the ignorant. The Bhagavat certainly tells us of a state of reward and punishment in the future according to deeds in our present situation. All poetic inventions, besides this spiritual fact, have been described as statements borrowed from other works in the way of preservation of old traditions in the book which superseded them all and put an end to the necessity of their storage.
If the whole stock of Hindu theological works which preceded the Bhagavat were burnt like the Alexandrian library and the sacred Bhagavat preserved as it is, not a part of the philosophy of the Hindus except that of the atheistic sects would be lost. The Bhagavat, therefore, may be styled both as a religious work and a compendium of all Hindu history, culture, and philosophy.
The Bhagavat does not allow its followers to ask anything from God except eternal love towards Him. The kingdom of the world, the beauties of the local heavens, and sovereignty over the material world are never the subjects of Vaishav prayer.
The Vaishnav meekly and humbly says, “Father, Master, God, friend, and husband of my soul! Hallowed be Thy Name! I do not approach You for anything which You have already given me. I have sinned against You, and I now repent and solicit Your pardon. Let Thy holiness touch my soul and make me free from grossness. Let my spirit in all humility be devoted completely to Your holy service in absolute love towards Thee. I have called You my God, and let my soul be inspired in admiration at Your greatness! I have addressed You as my Master, and let my soul be unflinchingly devoted to Your service. I have called You my friend, and let my soul remain overwhelmed in reverential love towards You and not in dread or fear! I have called You my husband, and let my spiritual nature be in eternal union with You, forever loving and never dreading or feeling disgust. Father, let me have strength enough to go to You as the consort of my soul, so that we may be one in eternal Love! Peace to the world!”
Of such a nature is the prayer of the Bhagavat. One who can read the book will find the highest form of prayer in the expressions of Prahlad towards the universal and omnipresent Soul with powers to convert all unholy strength into meek submission or entire annihilation. This prayer will show what is the end and object of a Vaishnav’s life. He does not entertain any ambition to be the king of a certain part of the universe in his next life after death, nor does he dread a local, fiery, and turbulent hell, the idea of which would make the hairs of young Hamlet stand erect like the forks of a porcupine! His idea of salvation is not total annihilation of personal existence as Buddhists and the 24 Gods of the Jains procured for themselves! The Vaishnav is the meekest of all creatures and completely freed from all ambition. He wants to serve God spiritually after death as he has served Him both in spirit and matter while in this life. His constitution is a pure spirit, and his highest object of life is the attainment of divine and holy love both here and hereafter.
Here may arise a philosophical doubt. How the human soul could have a distinct existence from the universal Soul when the gross part of the human constitution will be no more? The Vaishnav can’t answer it, nor can any man on earth explain it satisfactorily. The Vaishnav meekly answers. He feels the truth, but he cannot understand it. The Bhagavat merely affirms that the Vaishnav soul, when freed from gross matter, will distinctly exist not in time and space but spiritually in the eternal spiritual kingdom of God where love is life, and hope and charity and continually increasing ecstasy without change are its various manifestations.
In understanding the true essence of the Deity, two great errors confront us and frighten us back to ignorance and its satisfaction. One of them is the idea that God is above all attributes, both material and spiritual, and is consequently above all conception. This is a noble idea but useless. If God is above conception and without any sympathy with the world, how was then this creation possible? This universe composed of properties feasible? The distinctions and phases of existence evidenced? The difference of value witnessed? Man, woman, beast, trees, magnetism, animal magnetism, electricity, landscape, water, and fire distinctly seen? In that case, Shankaracharyya’s Mayavad theory would have been absolute philosophy.
The other error is that God is all attributes, i.e., intelligence, truth, goodness, and power. This is also a ludicrous idea. Scattered properties can never constitute a being. It is more impossible in the cases of co-existence of incoherent, incompatible, mutually opposed, or even belligerent principles, such as justice and mercy, and fullness and creative power, and so forth. Both ideas are imperfect.
The truth, as stated in the Bhagavat, is that properties, though many of them opposed or belligerent in nature, are united in a spiritual Being where they have full congruity, unity, sympathy, and harmony. Certainly this is beyond our comprehension. It is so owing to our nature being finite and God being infinite. Our ideas are constrained by the idea of space and time, but God is above any sort of limit or constraint. This is a glimpse of truth, and we must regard it as truth itself. Often, says Emerson, a glimpse of truth is better than an arranged system, and he is right.
The Bhagavat has, therefore, a transcendental personal, all-intelligent, active, absolutely free, holy, good, all-powerful, omnipresent, just and merciful, and supremely spiritual Deity without a second, creating and preserving all that is in the universe. The highest object of the Vaishnav is to serve that infinite being forever spiritually in the activity of Absolute Love.
These are the main principles of the philosophy and religion inculcated by the work called the Bhagavat, and Vyasa, in his great wisdom, tried his best to explain all these principles with the aid of pictures perceivable in the material world. The shallow critic will no doubt hastily and summarily reject this great philosopher as a man-worshipper. He would go so far as to scandalise him as a teacher of material love and the injurious principles of exclusive asceticism.
The critic should first read deeply the pages of the Bhagavat and train his mind up to the best eclectic philosophy which the world has ever obtained, and then we are sure he will pour panegyrics upon the great principal of the college of theology at Badrikashram which existed not less than 4,000 years ago.
The shallow critic’s mind will undoubtedly be changed if he but reflects upon only one great and fundamental point, i.e., how it could at all be possible that a spiritualist of the rank and school of Vyasa, teaching the best principles of theism throughout the whole of the Bhagavat, and composing the four texts quoted in the beginning as the foundation of his mighty work, could have created upon the belief of men the idea that the sensual connection between a man with certain females is the highest object of worship! This is surely impossible, dear critic! Vyasa could not have taught a common Vyragi to set up an Akhara (a place of worship) with a number of females, if found anywhere! Vyasa, who could teach us repeatedly in the whole of the Bhagavat that sensual pleasures are momentary like the pleasure of rubbing the itching hand and that man’s highest duty is to have spiritual love with God, could never have prescribed the worship of, or even any indulgence in, sensual pleasures.
His descriptions are undoubtedly thoroughly spiritual, and you must not connect matter of the gross world with it. Following this advice, dear critic, go through the Bhagavat, and I doubt not you will, in three months, weep and repent to God for having despised this great and noble revelation emanating through the heart and brain of the great Badarayan.
Yes, you nobly tell us that such philosophical comparisons produced injury in the ignorant and the thoughtless. You nobly point to the immoral deeds of the common and perverted Vyragis, who shamelessly have the hardihood to call themselves “the followers of the Bhagavat and the great Chaitanya.” You nobly tell us that Vyas, unless purely explained, may lead thousands of men into great risk and trouble in time to come. But dear critic! Study the history of ages and countries. Where have you found the philosopher and the reformer fully understood by the people?
The popular religion is fear of God and not the pure spiritual love which Plato, Vyas, Jesus, and Chaitanya taught to their respective peoples. Whether you give the Absolute religion in figures or simple expressions or teach them by means of books or oral speeches, the ignorant and the thoughtless must degrade it. It is indeed very easy to tell and sweet to hear that Absolute Truth has such an affinity with the human soul that He comes through it as if intuitively. No exertion is necessary to teach the precepts of true religion. This is a deceptive idea.
It may be true of ethics and of the mere alphabet of religion but not of the highest form of faith which requires an exalted soul to understand. It certainly requires previous training of the soul in the elements of religion; just as the student of the fractions must have a previous attainment in the elemental numbers and figures in Arithmetic and Geometry. “Truth is good” is an elemental truth which is easily grasped by the common people. But if you tell a common uneducated man that God is infinitely intelligent and powerful in His spiritual nature, he will conceive a different idea from what you yourself entertain of the expression.
All higher truths, though intuitive, are realisable only through education beginning from the simple and elementary principles of religion. That religion is the purest which gives you the purest idea of God, and the absolute religion requires an absolute conception by man of his own spiritual nature. How, then, is it possible that the ignorant will ever be able to obtain the absolute religion as long they are ignorant of the basic teachings and philosophy of religion? It is only when thought awakens that the thinker no longer remains ignorant and becomes naturally capable of obtaining an absolute idea of religion.
This is a truth, and God has made it such in His infinite goodness, impartiality, and mercy. Labour has its wages, and the idle must never be rewarded. “Higher the work, greater is the reward” is a useful maxim of truth. The thoughtless must necessarily remain satisfied with mere superstition till he wakes and opens his eyes to the God of love.
The reformers, out of their universal love and solicitude for rendering good to all, sincerely endeavor by some means or other to make the thoughtless drink the cup of salvation, but the latter drink it with wine and fall to the ground benumbed under the influence of intoxication because the imagination has also the power of making a thing what it never was. It is in this way that the evils of nunneries and the corruption of the Akharas commenced. No, we must not minimise or scandalise the Saviour of Jerusalem or the Saviour of Nadia for these subsequent evils of some perverted followers. Luthers, in spite of such cheap critics, are just what we want for the correction of those evils by means of true interpretation of the original precepts.
Two more principles characterise the Bhagavat, viz., liberty and progress of the soul throughout eternity. The Bhagavat teaches us that God gives us truth as He gave it to Vyasa, and for us all, when we earnestly seek for it. Truth is eternal and inexhaustible. The soul receives a revelation of truth only when he is really anxious for it. The souls of the great thinkers of the by-gone ages, who now live spiritually, often approach our inquiring spirit and assist it in its proper and gradual development. Thus Vyasa was assisted by Narada and Brahma. Our many Shastras, or in other words, books of thought, do not contain all that we could get from the infinite Father. No book is without its errors. God’s revelation is no doubt absolute truth, but it is scarcely received and preserved in its natural and pristine purity.
We have been advised in the 14th Chapter of the 11th Skandha of the Bhagavat to believe that truth, when revealed, is absolute, but the same is liable to be imbued with the tincture of the nature of the receiver in course of time and is thus completely changed and converted into error through continual exchange of hands from age to age. Consequently sincere revelations from authentic sources are continually necessary in order to keep up truth in its original purity. We are thus warned to be careful in our studies of old authors, however wise they are reputed to be. Here we have full liberty to reject any wrong idea which is not sanctioned by the peace of conscience.
Vyasa was not satisfied with what he collected in the Vedas, arranged in the Puranas, and composed in the Mahabharata. The peace of his conscience did not sanction his labors. It dictated him from inside, “No, Vyasa! You cannot rest contented with the erroneous picture of truth which was necessarily presented to you by the sages of by-gone days! You must yourself knock at the door of the inexhaustible store of truth from which the former sages drew their wealth. Go, go up to the fountainhead of truth, where no pilgrim meets with disappointment of any kind.” Vyasa did it and obtained what he wanted. We have been all advised to do so.
Liberty then is the principle which we must appreciate as the most valuable gift of God. We must not allow ourselves to be led by those who lived and thought before us. We must think for ourselves and try to get further truths which are still undiscovered or unadapted in the present conditions and circumstances for purpose of our realisation of the same. In the 23rd text of the 21st Chapter of 11th Skandha of the Bhagavat, we have been advised to take the spirit of the Shastras and not the words. The Bhagavat stands therefore for a religion of liberty, of unmixed truth, and of absolute love.
The other characteristic is progress. Liberty certainly is the father of all progress. Holy liberty is the cause of progress upwards and upwards in eternity and in endless activity of love. Liberty abused causes degradation, and the Vaishnav must always carefully use this benign and beautiful gift of God. The progress of the Bhagavat is described as the rise of the soul from nature up to nature’s God, from Maya, the absolute and the infinite energy, to the transcendental absolute Person Himself. Hence the Bhagavat says about itself –
Nigama-kalpataror galitam phalam
Sukamukhad amrita drava-samyutam
Pibata Bhagavatam rasa malayam
Muhuraho rasika bhuvi bhavukah
“It is the fruit of the tree of thought, mixed with the nectar of the speech of Sukhdev. It is the Temple of spiritual love! O men of piety! Drink deep this nectar of the Bhagavat repeatedly till you are taken from this mortal frame!”
Then in the same strain the Saragrahi or the progressive Vaishnav adds:
Surasa-sarayutam phala matra yad
Virasatadi viruddha gunancha tat
Tyaja viragamito madhupayino
Rasika-sararasam piba bhavakah
“That fruit of the tree of thought is a composition, as a matter of course, of the sweet and the opposite principles. O men of piety! Like the bee taking honey from the flower, drink the sweet principle and reject that which is not so.”
The Bhagavat is undoubtedly a difficult work, and where it does not relate to picturesque descriptions of traditional and poetical life, its literature is stiff and its branches are covered in the garb of an unusual form of Sanskrit poetry. Works on philosophy must necessarily be of this character. Commentaries and notes are therefore required to assist us in our study of the book. The best commentator is Sreedhar Swami, and the truest interpreter is our great and noble Chaitanyadeva. God bless the spirit of our noble guides who impart wisdom for our eternal good.
These great souls were not like comets appearing in the firmament for a while and disappearing as soon as their mission is done. They are like so many suns shining all along to give light and heat to the succeeding generations. Long time yet to roll on, when they will be succeeded by others of their sublime mind, beauty, and caliber.
The texts of Vyasa are still ringing in the ears of all theists as if some great spirit is singing them from a distance! Badrikasram! What a powerful name! The seat of Vyasa and of the selected religion of thought! The pilgrim tells us that the land is cold! How mightily did the genius of Vyasa generate the heat of philosophy in such cold region! Not only did he heat the locality but sent its serene ray far to the shores of the sea! Like the great Napoleon in the political world, he knocked down empires and kingdoms of old and by-gone philosophy by the mighty stroke of his transcendental thoughts! This is real power!
Atheistic philosophy of Shankha, Charbak, the Jains, and the Buddhists shuddered with fear at the heroic approach of the spiritual sentiments and creations of the Bhagavat philosopher! The army of the atheists was composed of gross and impotent creatures like the legions that stood under the banner of the fallen Lucifer, but the pure, holy, and spiritual soldiers of Vyasa, sent by his almighty Father, were invincibly fierce to the enemy and destructive of the unholy and the unfounded.
He that works in the light of God sees the minutest things in creation; he that wields the power of God is invincible and great; and he that performs his destined mission with God’s holiness in his heart finds no difficulty whatsoever in the accomplishment of his duty against unholy things and thoughts. God works through His agents, and these agents are styled by Vyasa himself as the incarnation of the power of God. All great souls were incarnations of this class, and we have the authority of this fact in the Bhagavat itself:
Avatarahyasan khyeya Hares
Yatha vidasinah kulyah sarasmuh Sahasrasah.
“O! Brahmins! God is the soul of the principle of goodness! The incarnations of that principle are innumerable! As thousands of watercourses flow out of one inexhaustible fountain of water, so these incarnations are but emanations of that infinitely good energy of God which is full at all times.”
The Bhagavat, therefore, allows us to call Vyasa and Narada as Shaktya-vesh Avatars of the infinite energy of God, and the spirit of this text goes far to honor all great reformers and teachers who lived and will live in future in this or other countries. The Vaishnav is ready to honor all great men without distinction of colour or caste, because they are filled with the energy of God.
See how universal is the religion of Bhagavat. It is not intended for a certain class of the Hindus alone, but it is a gift to man at large in whatever country born, whatever society bred, and whatever culture produced. In short, Vaishnavism is the absolute love binding all men together into the infinite, unconditioned, and absolute God.
May its peace reign forever in the whole universe in the continual development of its purity through the exertions of the future heroes, who will be blessed according to the promise of the Bhagavat with powers from the almighty Father, the Creator, Preserver, and the Annihilator of all things in heaven and earth.