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Continuing the explanation of the second chapter of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam with verse eleven:
vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
bhagavān iti śabdyate
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
bhagavān iti śabdyate
“Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramātmā, or Bhagavān.”
The Supreme is never actually impersonal. Brahman, the so-called impersonal Supreme, is Bhagavān Himself, but viewed incompletely. Whether we look at Him as Brahman, the Supersoul, or the Supreme Person, He is the same. He is not a material object, which can be known but is not alive and does not know anything. He is not an impersonal abstraction – knowledge without anyone knowing or anything known. Nor is He a mysterious God who knows but can never be known. No, the Absolute Truth knows everything and can be known personally. He is both subject and object.
The apparent difference of subject and object is the basis of relative misunderstanding. When the finite living soul forgets how to see himself and the Supreme Self, he is in illusion, his scope of reality limited to temporary dualities. He could be in the nondual awareness of himself and everything in perfect relationship with the Absolute Truth, but he chooses illusory life instead.
Recovery from material illusion may be achieved by gradual phases, through which phases the Vedic scriptures guide various levels of endeavoring souls. On the level of karma-kāṇḍa understanding, the search for higher truth, tattva-jijñāsā, is identified with the ideal of dharma, dutiful observance of sacred rituals. To distinguish the Bhāgavatam’s aim of realization from that of ritual dharma, Śrī Sūta in this verse specifies tattvam advayam, a truth beyond duality. Everything one can achieve by karma-kāṇḍa sacrifice is limited and temporary; even the enjoyment of heaven, which lasts millions of years, is just an extended form of flickering sensation. It leaves one still mortal and deluded.
But there are liberated souls who factually know the Supreme Truth, and their views, although differently expressed, do not contradict one another. They refer to the same Absolute Truth by different names – the students of the Upaniṣads call Him Brahman; the followers of Hiraṇyagarbha, or Brahmā, the first teacher of meditational yoga, call Him Paramātmā, and the devotees of Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s Nārāyaṇa expansions call Him Bhagavān. As realized in all three ways, He is perfectly conscious with no tinge of ignorance; apart from Him nothing else exists, either like or unlike Him; and He takes help only from His own energies – energies with no existence separate from Him, the supreme shelter. As the Absolute Truth He is the ultimate goal of life, and not only abstract awareness but the reservoir of all pleasure. To be all this He must certainly be eternal. And since He is one without a second but we see this world as full of variety, He must possess His own energies.
According to Śrī Sūta, sages in true knowledge call the Supreme by the names Brahman, Paramātmā, and Bhagavān, but he does not add that they also call Him the jīva. As Sūta will later say in his description of Vyāsadeva’s meditation, the finite jīvas are different from the Absolute Truth.
Those who are serious about tattva-jijñāsā may renounce all kinds of material happiness up to that enjoyed by the great demigods and practice spiritual disciplines so expertly that they achieve qualitative oneness with the Supreme. But as long as their minds cannot comprehend personal variety in the Supreme, their conception of Him remains generic, with no recognition of the distinctions of energy and the possessor of energy. What they realize is called Brahman.
Meditative yogīs, on the other hand, realize the same nondual consciousness as the Supersoul in the heart, and they recognize in Him not only pure awareness but also specific objects of that awareness. The Paramātmā witnesses the lives of all the souls He accompanies, impartially sharing each soul’s viewpoint of duality and helping the souls orient themselves in their confusing existence. Thus the Supreme as the Paramātmā reveals something of His own subjectivity, but without either succumbing to the bondage of matter or displaying the full play of spiritual freedom.
The most competent seekers of the Absolute Truth discover His personality, individualized by His personal energies. These energies of Bhagavān expand into the infinite energies of all spiritual and material beings. His devotees realize Him with all His variety in both their hearts and their external senses by the one most effective means of pure devotion, which is a special function of His personal pleasure potency. They experience a happiness in devotion to Him which includes and eclipses all the ecstasies of Brahman and Paramātmā realization.
Bhagavān is the possessor in full of six kinds of assets, including complete awareness, and He becomes the object of His devotees’ awareness in many different forms – with two, four, or more arms, and varied features. But even with all variety of form, various abodes, and various associates, everything about Him is eternally nondifferent, pure consciousness, jñānam advayam.