Mayavadi (Advaita) Philosophy: Roots, Analysis and refutation




2.1 Flaws in Pratibimba-vada and Pariccheda-vada

2.2 Further Refutations of Pratibimba-vada and Pariccheda-vada

2.3 Inconsistencies in Advaita Monism

2.4 Shrila Vyasadeva’s Experience Does Not Support Advaita Monism

2.5 The Meaning of Monistic Statements

2.6 Monistic Statements Need Interpretation



1. Roots of Mayavada

The Personality of Godhead Govinda ordered Lord Shiva to take birth as Shankara to propagate impersonalism. Then from the Mayavada viewpoint Shankaracarya wrote commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra, eleven of the principal Upanishads, the Bhagavad-gita, and Shri Vishnu-sahasra-nama. He did not interpret Shrimad-Bhagavatam, however, because he considered it very dear to the Lord and His devotees, and also nondifferent from the Lord. There can be no doubt about Lord Shiva’s appreciation of the Bhagavatam, since in the Twelfth Canto Shiva is described as the greatest Vaishnava. As such, he must be fully aware that it is the supreme pramana, and so out of respect he did not interpret it.

From the Padma Purana (Uttara-khanda 71.107) we learn how Lord Vishnu ordered Shiva to propagate monism:

svagamaih kalpitais tvam ca janan mad-vimukhan kuru

mam ca gopaya yena syat shrishöir eshottarottara

“[Lord Vishnu said:] O Shiva, make people averse to Me by writing speculative scriptures and thus hiding My glories. In this way the world’s population will increase.”

The import of this order is as follows: When Lord Buddha’s teachings were predominant in India, people grew contemptuous of the Vedas and Vedic rituals. They became shunyavadis, or voidists, and Vedic religious practices decreased almost to nil. In this condition the people were not prepared to hear seriously about the personality of the Supreme Lord, His transcendental, eternal, blissful form, or His variegated abode. They would have simply blasphemed these teachings, and then they would have been left with no way to purify their hearts. So the first task in bridging the wide gap between voidism and personalism was to reawaken people’s faith in the Vedas. It was for this purpose that Shankaracarya introduced his Advaita version of monism, a philosophy intermediate between voidism and personalism. Going from the Buddhist nasti to the Mayavada neti, neti—from “The Absolute is nothing” to “The Absolute is something but contains nothing”—is a simple, incremental move, for the difference between these two ideas is hardly noticeable. Still, because Shankara based his philosophy on the Upanishads, Vedanta-sutra, and other Vedic works, that one step was critical in bringing the populace back to accepting the authority of the Vedas.

Later in the Uttara-khanda of Padma Purana (236.7) Lord Shiva himself describes Advaita monism as veiled Buddhism: maya-vadam asac-chastram pracchanam bauddham ucyate. “Mayavada philosophy is an improper explanation of the scriptures; indeed, it is veiled Buddhism.” Shankaracarya’s propagation of Mayavada philosophy was planned by his Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who recognized that until conditioned souls regained access to the Vedas’ spiritual knowledge they could only speculate about transcendent reality and would have no hope of being delivered from the material world.

Once Advaita Vedanta had replaced Buddhism and faith in the Vedas had been re-established, people could be brought further along the path of knowledge to an appreciation for the glories of the Personality of Godhead. This would be accomplished by counteracting the appeal of impersonalism with true Vaishnava philosophy. Thus stalwart Vaishnava acaryas like Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, and Shridhara Svami came one after another to drive out impersonalism. In its place they re-established the principles of pure devotional service as the true spirit and intent of the Vedas and its corollary scriptures. For his part, Shridhara Svami helped the impersonalists get a taste for Shrimad-Bhagavatam by writing a commentary that also appealed to them.

Still later, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself came in the garb of a devotee, as Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and went even further. He taught that even more advanced than vaidhi-bhakti, the path of regulated devotional service, is raga-bhakti, the path of spontaneous loving devotion to Krishna, which one can traverse by following in the footsteps of Vrindavana’s residents. He also taught that this raga-bhakti, which is elaborately explained in the Tenth Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, is the ultimate expression of prema, love of God. Since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who can contest His siddhanta? Rather, the gradual progression from voidism to monism to personalism to raga-bhakti was all the Lord’s plan for mercifully saving the conditioned souls, an arrangement by which they could end the otherwise endless cycle of birth and death. Without a doubt, therefore, the Lord was not acting cruelly or capriciously when He instructed Lord Shiva to appear as Shankara and spread the false doctrine of the individual soul’s absolute oneness with the Supreme. To the contrary, He did so out of His limitless mercy.

2. Analysis and Refutation of Mayavada

⇒ Before we go further, i recommend everyone to sit back properly and study the following, as it is going to be a long journey to go through the theories and principles of Mayavada and their authenticity.

∴ Parichheda vada

According to the pariccheda-vada, the one indivisible Brahman appears divided into many embodied jivas because of various upadhis, just as the one great sky (mahakasha) appears divided by being contained in various pots (ghatakasha).

This theory proposes that no real difference exists between the sky inside a pot and the sky outside. The distinction is assumed only for practical purposes. Once the pot is broken and the apparent distinction removed, the sky inside the pot and the great sky are understood to be one. Similarly, the proponents of pariccheda-vada say, there is so difference between the embodied jiva and Brahman. The jiva’s limiting adjunct, his subtle body, is actually a false covering superimposed on the jiva after he comes into contact with Maya’s avidya potency, and it is this false covering alone that makes him appear to be separate from Brahman. Thus when Brahman is limited by subtle bodies it becomes the jivas. But when it is limited by vidya it is called the ishvara. This doctrine of separation was formulated by Vacaspati Mishra, the ninth-century author of the Bhamati commentary on Shankara’s Vedanta-sutra-bhashya.

∴ Pratibimba vada

According to pratibimba-vada, when the formless, undivided Brahman is reflected in the various subtle bodies made of avidya, it appears to be many, just as the one sun reflected in various receptacles of water appears to be many. In this analogy, the sun remains uninfluenced by the agitation of the water in which it is reflected, even while the reflection is influenced. Similarly, Brahman is never influenced by the changes that its reflections, the jivas, undergo. Indeed, the happiness and distress the jivas experience are only illusions resulting from their conditioned, or reflected, state. When the jiva frees himself from illusion and achieves liberation, he reverts to his original Brahman consciousness. This is one Mayavada version of how the jivas come into being.

According to the proponents of pratibimba-vada, the same Brahman that becomes the jivas when reflected in Maya’s avidya potency becomes the ishvara, the creator Godhead, when reflected in her vidya potency. By virtue of this contact with Maya, Brahman assumes a personal but temporary form that, unlike the jiva, is immune to Maya’s influence. Nonetheless, Brahman’s manifestation in the personal feature of the ishvara is the work of Maya and is inferior to the all-pervading Brahman. The pratibimba-vadis say that all the incarnations of God described in the Vedic literature are manifestations of the ishvara—the results of Brahman’s combining with Maya’s vidya potency. Like the jivas, such personal manifestations of God have subtle and gross bodies, but unlike the jivas They neither accept Their bodies because of past karma nor are bound by the reactions of Their activities. Thus the jiva and the ishvara are distinct.

The Mayavadis try to support their ideas by citing scripture. For example, from the Shuka-rahasya Upanishad (2.12) they quote the statement karyopadhir ayam jivah karanopadhir ishvarah: “The jiva is a reflection [of Brahman] in the antah-karana, or heart, and the ishvara is a reflection in Maya.

Also: yatha hy ayam jyotir atma vivasvan apo bhittva bahudhaiko ’nugacchan upadhina kriyate bheda-rupo devah kshetreshv evam ajo ’yam atma. “Just as the one effulgent sun appears to be many when reflected in many pots of water, so the one unborn atma, Brahman, appears to be many beings when reflected in many bodies.” (This text is quoted by Baladeva Vidyabhushana in his Tattva-sandarbha commentary.)

Some Advaita monists also cite Shrimad-Bhagavatam in support of their pratibimba-vada and pariccheda-vada:

na hi satyasya nanatvam avidvan yadi manyate

nanatvam chidrayor yadvaj jyotishor vatayor iva

“This is certain: there is no variety in the Absolute Truth. If an ignorant person thinks there is, his understanding is just like thinking there is a difference between the sky above and the sky in a pot, or between the sun and its reflection in water, or between the air outside the body and the air inside” (Bhag. 12.4.30).

Shrila Jiva Gosvami, following in Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s footsteps, contends that Shri Vyasadeva’s experience in trance contradicts both of these Mayavada doctrines—namely, pratibimba-vada and pariccheda-vada. This contradiction is evident from the analysis Jiva Gosvami has already presented (in previous texts of Sri Tattva Sandarbha), but in the upcoming Texts he will demonstrate it further by pointing out the specific defects in these doctrines.




tatra yady upadher anavidyakatvena vastavatvam tarhy avishayasya tasya pariccheda-vishayatvasambhavah. nirdharmakasya vyapakasya niravayavasya ca pratibimbatvayogo ’pi upadhi-sambandhabhavad bimba-pratibimba-bhedabhavad drishyatvabhavac ca. upadhi-parichinnakasha-stha-jyotir-amshasyaiva pratibimbo drishyate na tu akashasya drishyatvabhavad eva.

“If we assume that these upadhis are empirically real and not illusory, still, because Brahman is not affected by anything, it cannot be delimited by them. Moreover, Brahman can cast no reflection because it is devoid of attributes, all-pervading, and indivisible. Since Brahman has no attributes, it can have no relation with upadhis; since it is all-pervading, it cannot be divided into a reflected object and its reflection; and since it is indivisible and uniform, it cannot be seen. In these respects Brahman resembles the sky: Because the sky is invisible, reflections are cast not by the sky itself but by limited luminous parts of the sky, namely the heavenly bodies.”


2.1 Flaws in Pratibimba-vada and Pariccheda-vada

In Advaita monism, existence (satta) is understood on three different levels—pratibhasika (merely apparent reality), vyavaharika (ordinary, empirical reality), and paramarthika (absolute reality). Pratibhasika existence is perceived in such states as dreams and illusions but ceases when normal consciousness returns. One may, for example, mistake a rope for a snake in semidarkness, but this perception ceases as soon as light is shed on the rope. Therefore, the snake perceived in the rope was a merely apparent reality, or pratibhasika-satta. It cannot be considered an empirical reality because it is private and temporary.

According to the Mayavadis, empirical reality, vyavaharika-satta, refers to our perception of the material world in ordinary waking consciousness. Ultimate reality, paramarthika-satta, is present in all objects of the material world, pervading them as the blissful source of all manifest varieties. In his Drig-drishya-viveka (20) Shripada Shankaracarya writes:

asti bhati priyam rupam nama cety amsha-pancakam

adya-trayam brahma-rupam jagad-rupam tato dvayam

“Objects in the material world have five characteristics—existence, perceivability, attractiveness, form, and name. Of these, the first three belong to Brahman and the others to the world.” The last two items, form and name, are products of Maya and thus constitute only the empirical reality; they do not exist on the absolute level. They are manifest only as long as one has not realized Brahman. The other three are Brahman itself as perceived in empirical reality.

The Mayavadis claim that the paramathika-satta, or absolute reality, is impersonal Brahman, which, unlike the other two realities, cannot be negated by experience and scriptural authority. Just as dreams cease when one wakes, the material world will cease to exist when one becomes Brahman realized. There is no higher reality than absolute Brahman, no higher existence that can negate the real existence of Brahman in the past, present, or future. On the level of Brahman existence, there is no distinction between knowledge, the knower, and the object of knowledge. All three fuse into one absolute reality. The two lower realities, pratibhasika and vyavaharika, are not perceived on this level of consciousness.

Shrila Jiva Gosvami refutes both the pariccheda-vada (the theory of division) and the pratibimba-vada (the theory of reflection) by considering the Shankarites’ explanation of the upadhis covering Brahman as features of the two lower realities: These upadhis can never be real aspects of the absolute reality, since that would introduce duality on the nondual plane. In the case of pariccheda-vada, the upadhis can be either empirical reality (anavidyaka) or apparent reality (avidyaka). Shrila Jiva Gosvami shows the fault in both of these alternatives.

If the upadhis are empirically real, Brahman still cannot be limited by them because pure Brahman is unconditioned by anything else, empirical or otherwise. In the Bhagavad-gita (13.13) Lord Shri Krishna confirms this:

jneyam yat tat pravakshyami yaj jnatvamritam ashnute

anadi mat-param brahma na sat tan nasad ucyate

“I shall now explain the knowable, knowing which you will taste the eternal. Brahman, the supreme spirit, beginningless and subordinate to Me, lies beyond the cause and effect of this material world.” Thus no upadhis can limit Brahman.

But in the opinion of Shankaracarya, this Gita verse says, “I shall tell you that which has to be known, knowing which one attains immortality; it is the beginningless, supreme Brahman, which is said to be neither being nor nonbeing.” In commenting on this verse Shankara writes:

idam tu jneyam atindriyatvena shabdaika-pramana-gamyatvan na ghaöadi-vad ubhaya-buddhy-anugata-pratyaya-vishayam ity ato na san na asad ity ucyate. yat tv uktam viruddham ucyate jneyam tan na sat tan na asad ucyate iti. na viruddham. “anyad eva tad viditad atho aviditad adhi” iti shrute.

“But this knowable Brahman, being beyond the reach of the senses, can be understood only by means of hearing revealed knowledge from scripture. Therefore, unlike the clay pot, etc., it can never be said to exist or not exist, and thus it can never be called sat or asat.

“Objection: But what you said about Brahman, the object of knowledge—that it is neither existent nor nonexistent—is contradictory.

“Answer: No, it is not, because the shruti states: ‘That [Brahman] is different from the known and from the unknown, for it is beyond both’ [Kena Up. 1.3.”

So according to the Mayavadis’ own version, Brahman is beyond sense perception, beyond empirical existence and nonexistence. Such being the case, if the upadhis of Brahman are empirically real they can never limit the undivided and indivisible Brahman and produce the jivas. Therefore the Vedas say, agrihyo na grihyate: “The untouchable [Brahman] cannot be perceived” (Brihad-aranyaka Up. 9.26). Brahman being neither pierceable nor divisible, it cannot be broken or delimited into jivas the way one might break a large stone into pebbles.

If we hypothetically grant that the upadhis can divide Brahman into jivas, then in that case neither the jivas nor Brahman itself should be called eternal. But the Bhagavad-gita, which the Mayavadis accept as authoritative, describes both the jiva and Brahman as eternal. In Chapter Thirteen, text 20, Lord Krishna says that the jiva is anadi, beginningless. The same is stated in texts 20–24 of the Second Chapter.

Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana states that even if the above point is overlooked, other inconsistencies abound in the Mayavada conception: The jivas and the ishvara move from one place to another, but Brahman is all-pervading. Somehow portions of Brahman become limited by upadhis to manifest as the jivas. When a given jiva moves from one place to another, either Brahman also moves along with him or it does not. But Brahman’s moving from place to place is impossible, because when something moves it leaves one location and then occupies another, where it was absent before. It is absurd to propose this situation for Brahman, since Brahman is always present everywhere.

On the other hand, if Brahman does not move with the jivas, we must assume that when a jiva is moving from place to place his upadhi constantly delimits new portions of Brahman, simultaneously releasing the previously delimited portions. This reduces Brahman, the absolute reality, to a toy in the hands of its upadhis, a proposal that is also absurd.

If it is instead proposed that all of Brahman is grasped by its upadhis, the problem of movement can be solved, but then there remains no Brahman free from upadhis, meaning that there is no chance for the jivas’ liberation or for useful discussion of philosophy; all of existence would consist of the deluded Brahman, and there would be no liberated domain to aspire for.

If it is countered that Brahman is not the basis for its upadhis and thus they can move independently of Brahman, this means that even at the liberated level these independent upadhis will continue to exist.

Shrila Jiva Gosvami thus [concludes that the interpretation of pariccheda-vada in terms of Brahman’s upadhis being empirically real is invalid.

He then goes on to refute pratibimba-vada, the theory of reflection. Brahman, Shrila Jiva states, can cast no reflection in its upadhis, or subtle bodies of material existence, because Brahman is devoid of all attributes. Only an object possessing attributes like form and color can cast a reflection. If an object is invisible, how can it be reflected in anything?

If it is countered that the sky, although invisible, casts a reflection in water, Jiva Gosvami replies that it is in fact the stars and planets in the sky that cast reflections in water, not the sky itself. If the sky could cast a reflection, then the wind would also be able to cast one, because air is a grosser material element than sky. According to modern science, the bluish background seen behind the visible bodies in the firmament is an optical illusion created by the refracted sunlight passing through the atmosphere. No concrete, underlying object is there to cast a reflection, only the invisible firmament. Hence the analogy comparing Brahman to the sky being reflected in water is inappropriate here.

Furthermore, we have already shown that, according to the Mayavadis, Brahman is beyond empirical existence and nonexistence and thus also beyond sensory perception. Thus it is foolish for the Mayavadis to propose that Brahman reflects as the jivas. But Shrila Jiva Gosvami is willing to grant the opposition a respite and hypothetically accept their premise that Brahman can reflect in upadhis; in this case all-pervading Brahman must also exist in the upadhis, in which it supposedly reflects. But if the reflected object, Brahman, is already present in the reflecting medium, the upadhis, how will it reflect there? As a mirror cannot reflect in itself, so Brahman cannot reflect in itself. Even if somehow it manages to reflect in itself, how will it be possible to distinguish the reflected Brahman from the original Brahman already present in the upadhis? The two will be coincident, allowing no basis for distinguishing one from the other. How can the reflected Brahman be singled out to be termed jiva and made to suffer? What was His offense? Why is it that the reflected Brahman becomes affected by upadhis and not the original Brahman, although the reflection is no different from the original?

The Mayavadis have also told us that Brahman has no internal parts: nishkalam nishkriyam shantam. “Brahman contains no limbs or parts. It is inactive and peaceful” (Shvetashvatara Up. 6.79). But a formless, indivisible object cannot have a relation with any upadhi, real or imaginary, and thus it cannot reflect in any medium.

In response to this contention, the Advaita monists cite the analogy of a clear crystal that appears red when placed in front of a red flower. Just as the red color, which is formless and partless, casts its reflection on the crystal, so it is possible for Brahman to be reflected in its upadhis. But this is a faulty argument. The red color in this analogy belongs to the flower, which projects its image through the crystal, although in the crystal we perceive only the flower’s color. The color exists simply as the flower’s attribute and cannot sustain itself independently. A flower, moreover, has shape, parts, and attributes. In sum, neither the color nor the flower compares adequately to Brahman. Therefore, like the analogy of the reflected sky, this analogy has also been applied incongruously by the Mayavadis.

The shruti says, asango hy ayam purushah: “Brahman is free from any relation or association” (Brihad-aranyaka Up. 4.3.15). Therefore Brahman cannot engage in any relationship with a reflecting medium. The Mayavadis interpret the word asanga here as meaning “devoid of real relations.” This implies that Brahman can have nonreal relations or associations, created by Maya, but we have already shown that a formless Brahman has no ability to manifest a reflection in an empirically real medium or have any other relation with such a medium, and this impossibility is even more definite with respect to unreal relations with unreal mediums. The Prashnopanishad (4.10) confirms this when it states, tad acchayam ashariram alohitam: “That Brahman casts no shadow, has no body, and is colorless.” We can thus conclude that upadhis—whether real or unreal—can never impose themselves on pure Brahman. They affect only the deluded jivas.

In the next Text Shrila Jiva Gosvami presents more arguments against the Mayavada doctrine, hypothetically considering Brahman’s upadhis as real.


upadher avidyakatve tu tatra tat-paricchinnatvader apy aghaöamanatvad avidyakatvam eveti ghaöakashadishu vastavopadhi-maya-tad-darshanaya na tesham avastava-svapna-drishöantopajivinam siddhantah sidhyati ghaöamanaghaöamanayoh sangateh kartum ashakyatvat. tatash ca tesham tat tat sarvam avidya-vilasitam eveti svarupam apraptena tena tena tad tad vyavasthapayitum ashakyam.

“Conversely, if the upadhis are only apparently real, then Brahman’s delimitation (pariccheda-vada) and reflection (pratibimba-vada) are also apparently real, since these processes would not in fact occur. Because in this case the Mayavadis’ doctrine would be based on the analogy of an unreal dream state, such analogies as that of the pot and the sky, which involve real upadhis, cannot serve to establish it. No proper analogy can be drawn between something that exists and something that does not exist. Therefore the Mayavadis’ theories of division and reflection are nothing but the play of illusion, unprovable by their faulty application of analogies.”


2.2 Further Refutations of Pratibimba-vada and Pariccheda-vada

In previous Texts, Shrila Jiva Gosvami has shown that if Brahman’s upadhis are empirically real one cannot satisfactorily explain the existence of either the jivas or the ishvara. Now he will consider the Shankarites’ second option, that Brahman’s upadhis are only apparent. In this Text the upadhis are called avidyaka, or “illusory,” a specific reference to pratibhasika reality as defined in Mayavada theory. In this context the Shankarites do not intend “illusory” to mean altogether nonexistent, for nonexistence can never give rise to either the jiva or the ishvara. Rather, they say, Brahman’s upadhis are “illusory” in the sense that they exist on neither the empirical nor the absolute level. They are an intangible, apparent reality, akin to dreams, misperceptions, and hallucinations.

The objects one sees in dreams, misperceptions, or hallucinations are intangible. In a dream one may eat a big feast, for example, but upon waking up one will still feel hungry; the feast appears real only while dreaming. Similarly intangible are misperceived or imagined objects, such as a “snake” that is in fact a rope; fear of the snake will persist only as long as the misperception or hallucination continues. This kind of illusory reality (pratibhasika-satta) is inferior to the empirical world and to absolute reality. Nonetheless, the Mayavadis posit that such apparent upadhis can cause Brahman to take on the characteristics of jivas and the ishvara.

The first step in refuting this erroneous theory is to point out that an effect is always dependent on its cause and that specific effects arise from specific causes. For example, one cannot make water taste sweet by adding salt. It follows, therefore, that if the upadhis imposed on Brahman are only apparent realities they cannot produce empirical reality. A daydream may be a pleasant reverie, but no one gains any real benefit by imagining he has been crowned emperor of the world. Instead, as he whiles away the time the daydreamer may lose an opportunity for gaining some practical benefit in the real world. However much he dreams, his apparent reality will never become empirically real.

In the context of discussing real upadhis, Shrila Jiva Gosvami has already refuted the two analogies the Mayavadis use to explain pariccheda-vada and pratibimba-vada—the analogy of the sun reflecting in many waterpots and that of the sky becoming delimited by a pot. These analogies are also inappropriate here. The Mayavadis may justifiably presume the sky to be empirically real and thus delimitable by such an upadhi as a pot. But Brahman is neither empirical nor divisible, and therefore it is impossible for empirical upadhis to delimit it. If any delimitation of Brahman can be reconciled with Brahman’s transcendental nature, such delimitation can occur only on the level of mere appearance, not in empirical reality. Such a pratibhasika delimitation, unreal in the empirical sense, will not help explain how the jivas and the ishvara come into being on the empirical plane. This leaves no consistent explanation of how indivisible, formless Brahman can be divided into the jivas and the ishvara by either empirical or merely apparent upadhis.

A good analogy must be as similar as possible to what it illustrates. The greater the similarity, the stronger the analogy. But the analogy of the sky and the pot is not similar enough to the situation the Mayavadis try to apply it to: while the sky and Brahman are similar, the sky’s upadhi, the pot, is empirical, while Brahman’s upadhis must be merely apparent.

The impersonalists compare this world to a dream to show its illusory nature—to show that it does not really exist. But it is unjustifiable to equate the dream world (apparent reality) with the external world (empirical reality) in order to reach this conclusion. If a person commits murder in a dream he is not punished for it, but in the phenomenal world he risks punishment for such an act. So it is improper to say that the world is just a dream. Sin and piety, which pollute or purify the heart of an actor, are not applicable to acts done in dreams; they give their bitter and sweet fruits only in the phenomenal world. The analogy of a dream, therefore, is not adequate for explaining the appearance of the material world from Brahman. The Vedic scriptures present the dream analogy only to illustrate the temporary nature of this world, with a view toward inspiring a sense of detachment from materialism in those desiring to walk the path of transcendence.

The Mayavadis’ only other alternative is to assign Brahman to empirical (vyavaharika) reality by placing it in the same class as the sky, to which the Vedas compare it. But that leaves us with no absolute reality, in which case the whole idea becomes absurd because, logically, absolute reality must exist, and the Vedas and numerous saintly persons confirm this.

Thus all these arguments fail to establish the doctrines of pariccheda and pratibimba, which are thus left as nothing more than mental exercises for impersonal speculators. They provide no sound explanation of how pure Brahman, by adulteration with upadhis, manifests as many, namely as the ishvara and the jivas.

Shrila Jiva Gosvami offers still more refutations of impersonalism in the next Text.


iti brahmavidyayoh paryavasane sati yad eva brahma cin-matratvenavidya-yogasyatyantabhavaspadatatvac chuddham tad eva tad-yogad ashuddhya jivah punas tad eva jivavidya-kalpita-mayashrayatvad ishvaras tad eva ca tan-maya-vishayatvaj jiva iti virodhas tad-avastha eva syat. tatra ca shuddhayam city avidya tad-avidya-kalpitopadhau tasyam ishvarakhyayam vidyeti tatha vidya-vatte ’pi mayikatvam ity asamanjasa ca kalpana syad ity-ady anusandheyam.

“In this way, by basing their ideas on Brahman and avidya alone, the Mayavadis contradict themselves when they say that the one undivided Brahman, pure by virtue of being unadulterated consciousness and thus altogether free from contact with avidya, is nonetheless polluted by contacting avidya and thus becomes the jiva. Then again, say the Mayavadis, that same Brahman becomes the personal Godhead when He serves as the basis of Maya, the illusion concocted from the jiva’s avidya. And under the influence of Maya, Brahman supposedly once more becomes the jiva. Here we have avidya within the pure spiritual being (Brahman), vidya within the upadhi called God, who is concocted by that avidya, and an illusory status of that same Godhead, who is the proprietor of vidya. We should carefully study how these and other similarly manufactured ideas are simply incoherent.”


2.3 Inconsistencies in Advaita Monism

In the previous Texts Shrila Jiva Gosvami has refuted the two main theories of Advaita monism, pariccheda-vada and pratibimba-vada. He showed that neither of these consistently explains the empirical world and the presence of the jivas and God within it. Now Shrila Jiva Gosvami points out in more detail the fallacies in these theories. He argues that even if we accept either the pariccheda-vada or the pratibimba-vada as a description of how Brahman becomes divided into the many jivas, still the contradiction between Brahman’s perfection and the superimposition of avidya will remain unresolved.

How can Brahman, which is indivisible, pure consciousness, have portions that fall under the rule of Maya and think themselves jivas? Knowledge and delusion cannot share the same location, just as light and darkness cannot both be present in exactly the same place. Being indivisible, Brahman cannot become fragmented to manifest the jivas. Moreover, the absolute existence cannot include Maya (avidya), but only Brahman alone. For Maya to be involved with Brahman, either Brahman would have to degrade itself to Maya’s empirical level so it could be adulterated by upadhis, or else Maya would have to elevate herself to the absolute plane of Brahman so that she could influence it. The first of these alternatives is impossible because Brahman is without attributes and cannot change. The second alternative amounts to dualism, because then Maya and Brahman would have equal status on the plane of absolute reality. This, of course, contradicts the first principles of Advaita monism.

Under the pressure of these arguments, the impersonalists may try to placate us with the claim that the vital issue at hand is not precisely how the jiva came under the influence of Maya but simply that he is now suffering in illusion. The house of material existence is now on fire; we do not have time to search out Maya’s origin but should try to escape the fire quickly before it devours us, before we lose the opportunity of human life.

Even if we grant this point, the Mayavadis still must convince us that the end they want us to seek, impersonal liberation, is in our best interest. This they cannot do. Our house may be on fire, but it does not follow that we should panic and jump out the first available window to our certain death.

As Shrila Jiva Gosvami indicates here, the Mayavadis say that after Brahman comes under the influence of avidya He is called the jiva. Then this jiva creates Maya by his imagination. A portion of Brahman next gives shelter to Maya and becomes known as the ishvara, or the Supreme Lord. From that point on Maya follows the ishvara’s dictates and controls the jiva, who is Brahman covered by Maya. So the ishvara is the basis of Maya, and the jiva is her vishaya, or object of action.

This is self-contradictory. This explanation is plagued with the logical fault called anyonyashraya-dosha, or “the defect of mutual dependence”: Maya’s existence supposedly originates from the jiva, and the jiva’s existence also originates from Maya. This means that without Maya there is no jiva and without the jiva there is no Maya. In addition, a part of Brahman supposedly becomes the ishvara by contacting Maya, but then Maya becomes subordinate to this ishvara. In this view even God cannot come into existence without the involvement of the finite living beings, who are themselves dependent manifestations of Maya. So ultimately the ishvara is dependent on Maya for His existence.

Another absurdity in the pariccheda-vada and pratibimba-vada presentations is the claim that Maya has two features—vidya and avidya. The upadhi delimiting Brahman as the ishvara is supposedly Maya’s vidya portion, which is predominantly in the mode of goodness, while the upadhis limiting Brahman as the jivas constitute her avidya portion. In this way, the ishvara is the basis of the jivas’ illusion despite His being the embodiment of perfect knowledge, but the Mayavadis cannot explain how such a division of Maya into vidya and avidya comes into existence. Certainly Brahman, being devoid of qualities, cannot create this division.

Shrila Jiva Gosvami advises us to study other inconsistencies like these in Mayavada philosophy. For example, we should consider the following questions: If originally only featureless Brahman and nothing else exists, where does avidya come from? Or, if avidya can bind Brahman, isn’t it more powerful than Brahman? The Mayavadis compare Brahman to a spider that weaves its own web and somehow gets bound by it, but this analogy presents Brahman as possessing attributes and potencies, revealing a tacit acceptance of the Vaishnava dualistic understanding.

We should also consider the following conundrums: (1) Since Brahman is unlimited and devoid of parts, it cannot possibly cast a reflection. (2) Brahman is described as pure awareness, but in order to function, awareness needs an object apart from itself. There is no meaning to knowledge without a known object. And when there is an object, there is the multiplicity of knower, knowledge, and known. (3) The very fact of Brahman’s existence proves that it is potent, because anything that exists necessarily has some kind of energy or attribute. Thus there is duality between Brahman and its potencies or attributes.

From Sankhya philosophy we understand that the primeval pradhana generates the mahat-tattva, which then gives rise to false ego. Now, suppose we grant that, as the Mayavadis say, a jiva can dissolve his false ego by cultivating spiritual knowledge. But even if one does this, the other two basic elements of material nature—mahat-tattva and pradhana—will remain undissolved. How will the egoless jiva transcend the mahat-tattva and pradhana to realize Brahman? Egolessness is not equivalent to liberation, since at the time of universal annihilation, when the conditioned jivas merge into the body of Maha-Vishnu, they are devoid of false ego but still bound by their karma.

An analysis of the word “Brahman” reveals still further problems for the Mayavadis. Every word has an inherent relationship with its meaning. According to Shrila Jiva Gosvami in his Hari-namamrita-vyakarana (2.1), a word that refers to something denotes either an object, a quality, a class, or an activity. Certainly the word “Brahman” represents neither a class nor an activity. If Brahman were a quality, there would have to be another object possessing that quality, since no quality can exist without belonging to some object. If, as the last alternative, Brahman is an object, then it must possess qualities because an eternal object cannot exist without qualities. In either case, Brahman enters into a duality.

Mayavadis explain this material world on the basis of Maya, which is neither sat (real) nor asat (unreal). They say that Maya is thus inexplicable (anirvacaniya). But in the Bhagavad-gita (2.16) Lord Shri Krishna recognizes only two categories, sat and asat:

nasato vidyate bhavo nabhavo vidyate satah

ubhayor api drishöo ’ntas tv anayos tattva-darshibhih

“Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that the unreal (asat) has no existence and that the real (sat) has no nonexistence.” There is no mention here or in any other bona fide scripture of an inexplicable third mode. Thus there is no foundation for the Mayavadis’ concept that Maya and the material world generated from her belong to some inexplicable third category.

To prove their contention that the material world is inexplicable (anirvacaniya or mithya), neither real nor unreal, the Shankarites cite the well-known example of the rope and the snake. If snakes were completely nonexistent (asat), they say, no one would ever mistake a rope for one in semidarkness, because a nonexistent thing can never be perceived. So the “snake” is not nonexistent, but still it cannot be considered real (sat) either, because in sufficient light no snake will be seen. Thus there must be a third category, separate from both sat and asat. This third category is anirvacaniya, inexplicable, and to it the Shankarites assign Maya.

The truth, however, is that one need not resort to the Mayavada philosophy to explain the rope mistaken for a snake. The snake and the rope are both real. A person who mistakes a rope for a snake must have previously experienced a real snake, and the conditions must be insufficient for correct perception. His experience of snakes, therefore, will cause his mind to superimpose the impression of a snake on the rope in semidarkness. By contrast, someone who has no experience of snakes will never mistake a rope for one. An infant, for example, will never mistake a rope for snake. Thus there is no inexplicable third category in material existence, as the Mayavadis claim.

Since Mayavadis accept only Brahman as the ultimate reality, they say that even scriptures that teach such statements as tat tvam asi (“You are that”) are true only empirically. Although such declarations have the power to uplift those who hear them, they are not absolutely true. In this way the Shankarites expose yet another inconsistency in their system. If the scriptures are only empirically real, how can they elevate anyone beyond Maya? By this logic even the enlightened writings of such liberated souls as Yajnavalkya and Shankara are unable to liberate their readers, for, not being absolute, they must be full of relative imperfections.

In truth the jiva is not merely an adulterated version of Brahman, as the Mayavadis say. As the Supreme Lord states in the Bhagavad-gita (15.7), mamaivamsho jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah: “The jiva is My eternal fragment.” Thus the jiva can never lose his identity by merging back into the Brahman it supposedly really is. When wheat berries and rice grains are mixed, they do not merge into one another and lose their separate identities. We can easily distinguish the wheat from the rice. If, however, we mix papaya seeds with some similar-looking black peppercorns, we may have difficulty distinguishing between them. Still, this does not mean they have lost their distinct identities.

Likewise, when water and ink are mixed, each substance retains its separate identity. Only because it is difficult for us to distinguish between them do the two liquids appear to have merged. The water molecules and the ink molecules have not merged to become all ink, all water, or something else. One indication that the substances do not merge is that when a glass of ink is poured into a pail of water, the total volume of liquid increases by one glass, and the same happens when a glass of water is poured into a pail of ink. In neither case do the substances merge.

Similarly, the jivas cannot merge into Brahman and lose their identity. Of course, if a jiva wants to feel that he has merged with Brahman and performs the appropriate spiritual practices, the all-merciful Supreme Lord will help that jiva imagine he has attained literal oneness with Him. In reality, God and the jivas are always distinct, and both the Lord and His pure devotees are always aware of this distinction.

Having established that the Mayavadis’ philosophy is opposed to the truths revealed in Vyasadeva’s meditative experience, and having highlighted some of the prominent defects in their logic, Shrila Jiva Gosvami next argues that the monistic conclusion also contradicts the experience of Shukadeva Gosvami, the principal speaker of Shrimad-Bhagavatam.


kim ca yady atrabheda-vada eva tatparyam abhavishyat tarhy ekam eva brahmajnanena bhinnam jnanena tu tasya bheda-mayam duhkham viliyata ity apashyad ity evavakshyat. tatha shri-bhagaval-liladinam vastavatvabhave sati shri-shuka-hridaya-virodhash ca jayate.

“Furthermore, if the jivas’ absolute oneness with Brahman were the actual purport of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Suta Gosvami would have said that Shrila Vyasadeva saw in His trance how the one Brahman becomes divided because of ignorance, and how knowledge dispels the suffering caused by this duality. And if the Supreme Lord’s pastimes and qualities were unreal, what Shri Shukadeva experienced in his heart would be invalidated.”


2.4 Shrila Vyasadeva’s Experience Does Not Support Advaita Monism

Having presented his logical refutations of Advaita monism, Shrila Jiva Gosvami now proceeds to disprove it by reference to shabda-pramana, scriptural evidence. This is the Vedic system. Logic by itself cannot give us an understanding of the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. In transcendental matters such as this, the final authority is always scripture. Scriptural evidence is so decisive that even if a certain claim defies logic but is supported by shabda-pramana, it should be accepted as conclusively true. Any standard of truth lower than this would be inconsistent with Vedantic epistemology, which is based on the axiom that the Vedas emanate from the Absolute and are thus infallible.

Earlier, in the pramana portion of Shri Tattva-sandarbha, Shrila Jiva Gosvami showed that Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the supreme authority among all types of pramanas. Now he puts Advaita monism to Shrimad-Bhagavatam’s test. The essential message of the Bhagavatam is found in the verses narrating what Shrila Vyasa saw in trance—the Supreme Personality of Godhead along with His internal potencies, His marginal potency (the jivas), and His external potency (Maya). Vyasa did not see a nondifferentiated Brahman being overpowered by Maya and turning into many jivas. Rather, He saw that the jivas are distinct from the Supreme Lord and are captivated by Maya because they think themselves independent of the Lord. Vyasadeva thus saw that the cause of the jivas’ suffering is their sense of false independence. At the same time, He saw that the solution to the jivas’ predicament is rendering devotional service to the Supreme Person (bhakti-yogam adhokshaje), not imagining a state of oneness with Him.

In Suta Gosvami’s prayers to Shukadeva Gosvami, his spiritual master, Suta confirms that merging with impersonal Brahman is an inferior goal. While speaking Shrimad-Bhagavatam to the sages at Naimisharanya, Suta Gosvami specifically mentions that originally Shukadeva was absorbed in the bliss of Brahman. Later his heart was captivated when he heard a few Shrimad-Bhagavatam verses describing the pastimes and attributes of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Shukadeva was so entranced that he thoroughly studied the description of the Lord’s pastimes in Shrimad-Bhagavatam, and later he excelled in narrating the Bhagavatam.

Therefore it is said that the Bhagavatam, which is the ripened fruit of the tree of Vedic literature, became even more relishable when it emanated from the mouth of Shukadeva. Shuka means “parrot,” and Shukadeva’s name alludes to the well-known fact that fruits become sweeter after being pecked by parrots. When the fruit of the Bhagavatam was touched by Shukadeva Gosvami’s lips and then tasted by Parikshit Maharaja, it became sweeter than ever.

Shrila Shukadeva Gosvami’s attraction to the Bhagavatam indicates that the pastimes and attributes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are both real and completely transcendental; otherwise a liberated soul like Shukadeva, who was beyond all mundane desires, would have never taken an interest in them. Shukadeva Gosvami, the most eminent of all Brahman-realized transcendentalists, demonstrated by his own behavior the falsity of the idea of absolute oneness between the Lord and the jivas.

Thus we can conclude that the keys to the Advaita doctrine of monism—namely, pariccheda-vada and pratibimba-vada—are supported neither by logic nor by the scriptures, especially not by the supreme scriptural pramana, Shrimad-Bhagavatam. The Mayavadis derive their opinions only from word jugglery and the distortion of scriptural truths, with the result that the innocent who hear their explanations become confused.

Next Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains the purpose of the monistic statements found in the Vedic scriptures.


tasmat pariccheda-pratibimbatvadi-pratipadaka-shastrany api kathancit tad-sadrishyena gaunyaiva vrittya pravarteran. ambu-vad-agrahanat tu na tathatvam, vriddhi-hrasa-bhaktatvam antar-bhavad ubhaya-samanjasyad evam iti purvottara-paksha-maya-nyayabhyam.

“Therefore scriptural passages that appear to favor such doctrines as pariccheda-vada and pratibimba-vada must be understood in a secondary sense—that is, as expressing some sort of similarity between the Supreme’s relation to the manifest world and the ordinary processes of division and reflection.” The Vedanta-sutra confirms this idea: “The water in a pond covers the land underneath and thus delimits it from the rest of the earth, but Brahman cannot be delimited in this way to become a jiva” (Vs. 3.2.19).

“No, the reference to delimitation is appropriate not in its primary sense but in its secondary sense, that of the water delimiting larger and smaller areas of land. This interpretation fulfills the purpose of the scriptural passages, and thus it is appropriate to compare Brahman to land” (Vs. 3.2.20).

The first of these sutras gives an opponent’s objection, and the second replies to that objection.


2.5 The Meaning of Monistic Statements

The Mayavadis accept the Vedas as the supreme authority and cite them profusely in support of their opinions. Indeed, many of the Vedic references they quote may seem to support their theories, but here Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains how to correctly interpret the apparently monistic statements in the Vedas.

In Sanskrit, words have two kinds of meanings—primary, called mukhya-vritti, and secondary, called gauni-vritti. Vedic philosophers say that by the will of the Supreme Lord each word has some particular potency, which creates a specific relationship between the word and its meaning. For example, the word “cow” has a potency by which it refers to a particular entity having four legs, a tail, two eyes, a dewlap, an udder, and other features. Sometimes, however, in a particular context a word’s primary meaning fails to convey a relevant sense. In such cases we should conclude that the expression is figurative and accept some appropriate secondary meaning. Whenever the primary meaning of a scriptural statement is inappropriate there must be a secondary meaning intended, because scriptural statements, being apaurusheya and thus free of defects, cannot be meaningless. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna addresses Arjuna as purusha-vyaghra, “tiger among men.” In its primary sense the word “tiger” refers to a ferocious animal with claws and fangs. Arjuna was certainly not such an animal, but since Lord Krishna’s words cannot be meaningless, the need arises for a figurative interpretation of purusha-vyaghra. Here the phrase is a metaphor, in which the Lord is calling Arjuna a tiger only to indicate his courage and prowess as a warrior. The word “tiger” in this phrase applies to these two characteristics that the tiger and Arjuna have in common, not to the primary sense of a tiger’s shape, habits, and so forth.

In the same way, Vedic texts that appear to support monistic ideas should not be abandoned as ambiguous babblings just because their primary meaning contradicts the conclusion of Shrila Vyasa’s trance. Rather, we should interpret these statements in a way consistent with the underlying purport of the Vedas. Accepting them literally will lead to confusion, and rejecting them outright may lead to contempt for the apaurusheya-shabda. In the opinion of Shrila Jiva Gosvami, one must search for secondary meanings that agree with Shrila Vyasa’s experience.

To support this judgment, Shrila Jiva Gosvami refers us to Sutras 3.2.19 and 20 of the Vedanta. The Vedanta-sutra is divided into four chapters (adhyayas), each having four sections (padas). These are further divided into adhikaranas. Each adhikarana includes a topic statement from the Upanishads followed by a doubt concerning that statement, then an opponent’s position (purva-paksha), then the right conclusion (siddhanta), and finally sangati, a demonstration of how the adhikarana relates to other adhikaranas. Some sutras are simply antitheses that represent the opinions of various sages and philosophers. These are always followed by siddhanta-sutras.

Sutra 3.2.18 establishes that the purpose behind mentioning the jiva as a reflection of the Paramatma is not to show that the Paramatma becomes the jiva by reflection but to show that the Paramatma is different from the jiva in the same way that any real object is different from its reflection. If an object and its reflection were absolutely nondifferent, they could not be distinguished from each other. Thus the metaphor of the sun and its reflection in water is presented to establish not the oneness of the Paramatma and the jivatma but just the opposite. Sutra 3.2.18 states, ata eva copama suryakadi-vat: “Therefore, the analogy of the sun and its reflection shows the difference between the Supersoul and the soul.”

A doubt is then raised: “This very analogy proves that the Paramatma reflects in avidya and appears to become the jiva. What’s wrong with this interpretation?”

The next sutra (3.2.19) answers this doubt. It proves that the jiva is not a reflection of Brahman by pointing out that an upadhi cannot delimit Brahman in the same way that water can delimit land. While commenting on this sutra in his Govinda-bhashya, Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana explains that since Brahman is all-pervading, no object can possibly be distant from Him. Therefore, while the sun can cast a reflection in water because it is some distance from the water, Brahman can cast no reflection in anything because it is all-pervading. Therefore the jiva cannot be a reflection of Brahman.

Although the claim of this sutra is valid, it does not agree with those scriptural statements that seem to indicate the jiva is a reflection of Brahman. It is in this sense that Shrila Jiva Gosvami calls this sutra a purva-paksha. But if Brahman does not reflect as the jiva in the same way that the sun reflects on water, what do the shruti statements to that effect actually mean? They must have some reasonable purpose. Vyasadeva responds with the siddhanta, or conclusion, in Sutra 3.2.20. Although the comparison of the sun and its reflection to Brahman and the jiva is not valid when interpreted literally, it is valid when we consider the secondary characteristics of the analogy: The sun is great like Brahman, and its reflection is small like the jiva. Why do we give this secondary interpretation? To uphold the scripture’s conclusions, which constitute the overarching, consistent message of the Vedas and their corollary literature. Other valid interpretations of this analogy are as follows: (1) The jivas’ pains and pleasures do not affect Brahman, just as disturbances in a reflection of the sun do not affect the sun itself. (2) As a reflection of the sun is dependent on the sun, so the jivas are dependent on Brahman. (3) The jivas are localized like the sun’s reflections, while Brahman extends everywhere, as the sun does through its heat and light.

If we were to similarly analyze the remaining Brahma-sutras, as well as the Vedas and Puranas, we would discover that all the scriptural statements indicating nondifference between God and the living entity, when understood in such a secondary sense, prove to be based not on absolute oneness but on some common attributes between the analogy and its subject, and thus they are faithful to the conclusion of the Vedas. The Vedic texts never propose complete oneness between Brahman and the jiva. Such a proposal would make the whole body of Vedic scripture self-contradictory; it would reduce the Vedas to babble, a waste of time for anyone wanting to study them for spiritual enlightenment. One may here raise the objection, “Instead of rejecting the primary sense of the monistic statements found in shastra, why not accept them and instead reinterpret those statements that teach dualism?” The answer is that the understanding derived from such an approach would contradict Shri Vyasa’s experience, which is the nucleus of the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the topmost pramana.

Next, Shrila Jiva Gosvami explains the nondifference between the Supreme Lord and the jiva from the Vaishnava point of view.


tata evabheda-shastrany ubhayosh cid-rupatvena jiva-samuhasya tad-ekatve ’pi durghaöa-ghaöana-paöiyasya svabhavika-tad-acintya-shaktya svabhavata eva tad-rashmi-paramanu-gana-sthaniyatvat tad-vyatirekenavyatirekena ca virodham parihrityagre muhur api tad-etad-vyasa-samadhi-labdha-siddhanta-yojanaya yojaniyani.

“Therefore the scriptural statements instructing us about the nondifference between the jivas and Brahman should be reconciled so as to agree with the conclusions Vyasa came to in His trance. This is accomplished by first removing the apparent contradiction in the jivas’ being both different and nondifferent from Brahman: From these statements teaching nondifference we should understand that the jivas are one with Brahman in the sense that both they and Brahman are pure spiritual entities, while by Brahman’s inconceivable, natural potency, which makes even the impossible possible, the jivas are also innately distinct from Brahman by virtue of their being His parts, like the infinitesimal rays of the sun’s light.”


2.6 Monistic Statements Need Interpretation

Here Shrila Jiva Gosvami gives his definitive opinion about the relation between the jivas and the Supreme Lord. Both the Lord and the jivas are naturally conscious beings, and it is primarily this common trait that the Vedic literature refers to when it speaks about their oneness. The purpose of these statements is to help us understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is beyond our experience. We know we are conscious, and so to give us some idea of His nature the Vedas employ various analogies and metaphors to illustrate that the Lord is conscious like us. In the course of these descriptions, we jivas are sometimes described as nondifferent from Him.

Thus we should never misunderstand the Vedic statements about oneness to mean that the Lord and the jiva are one in all respects. When we read “He was a tiger in battle” we do not think that a man actually turned into a tiger. Rather, we accept a secondary meaning and understand that in battle the man was as ferocious as a tiger. We must accept similar secondary meanings for the statements in the Vedic literature about the jiva’s and Brahman’s oneness, our criterion always remaining whether our interpretation is consistent with the principles derived from Shrila Vyasadeva’s trance.

Shrila Jiva Gosvami is a follower of Shrimad-Bhagavatam’s acintya-bhedabheda philosophy, which he alludes to in the last sentence of this Text. Acintya-bhedabheda means “inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and difference” between the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the living entity, or in other words between the energetic source and its energy. The energy cannot exist without the energetic and is thus in one sense identical to it. At the same time, the energy can be said to be different from the energetic source because the energy’s activities are perceived to be separate from the energetic. Logically, such a relation is ultimately inconceivable.

The jivas are like atomic rays of light in relation to the sunlike Lord. As the Shvetashvatara Upanishad (6.8) states, parasya shaktir vividhaiva shruyate: “The Supreme Lord has manifold energies.” Just as the rays of sunlight are neither completely different from nor exactly the same as the sun, so the jivas are simultaneously one with and different from the Lord. The Vedas’ descriptions of nondifference refer to the qualitative oneness of the Lord and the jivas, and the Vedas’ descriptions of difference refer to their quantitative difference.

The Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad (2.1.20) provides an analogy to help us understand: yathagneh visphulinga vyuccaranti evam eva asmad atmanah sarve pranah sarve lokah sarve devah sarvani bhutani vyuccaranti. “Just as sparks emanate from a fire, so all these vital airs, planets, demigods, and living beings come from the Personality of Godhead.” Sparks are obviously different from the fire that manifests them, but because they possess in minute quantity such fiery qualities as heat and light, they can be said to be “one with” the fire as well. In the same way, the jivas can be said to be simultaneously different from and one with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Any apparent inconsistency in this relationship is resolved by the inconceivable creative energy of the Supreme Lord, which can make the impossible possible.

One should not confuse this inconceivable nature of the Lord with the inexplicable (anirvacaniya) nature that the Mayavadis ascribe to Maya. They say that Maya is neither sat (“real”) nor asat (“unreal”) and is hence indescribable. Vaishnavas, however, do not say that the Lord and His energies are indescribable, for the scriptures describe both. Instead Vaishnavas say that because the Lord’s nature and qualities are inconceivable to our limited mind and intellect, the Lord can be understood only through shabda-pramana. Some of the Lord’s inconceivable features are mentioned in the Ishopanishad (5):

tad ejati tan naijati tad dure tad v antike

tad antarasya sarvasya tad u sarvasyasya bahyatah

“The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.”

Shrila Baladeva Vidyabhushana gives us another analogy that may help us understand acintya-bhedabheda-tattva: A fair-skinned brahmana boy and a dark-skinned brahmana boy are the same in terms of caste but are different as individuals. Similarly, the Supreme Lord and the jiva are one in that they both possess consciousness, but they are different in that the Lord is the all-pervading, all-knowing, independent controller of Maya, whereas the jiva is localized and may be the ignorant, dependent slave of Maya.

Sometimes the Vedas equate the jiva with Brahman because he is subservient to Brahman. The principle behind this idea is not unfamiliar. An ambassador, for example, is in one sense equal to the chief of state he represents, and because of this equivalence any respect or disrespect shown the ambassador redounds upon his master. The reason why people accept a rough equivalence between the two is that the ambassador has some of the master’s power, but no one would ever foolishly consider them identical in all respects. The Mayavadis err by choosing to see just one side of the situation and emphasizing only the nondifference between the jiva and Brahman.

One should not deal with the Vedas according to the logic of “ardha-kukkuti,” accepting only statements favorable to one’s viewpoint and rejecting opposing ones. The Vedas contain statements declaring both the difference and the nondifference between Brahman and the jiva. These seemingly contradictory views can most naturally be reconciled by the application of the acintya-bhedabheda philosophy. This doctrine of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s is the greatest gift of philosophy to the world. His teachings do not contradict any Vedic scripture or authentic point of view; rather, they resolve the apparent contradictions in the Vedic literature in accordance with the Vedas’ final conclusions. His teachings are the natural and direct explanation of the Vedic literature.

In summary, what follows are the ideas underlying the Vedic statements that speak of the oneness of Brahman and the jivas, employing the analogies of reflection and delimitation:

  1. The jiva, like Brahman, is by nature purely conscious.
  2. The jiva, like Brahman, is distinct from matter.
  3. The jiva is one of Brahman’s energies.
  4. The jiva is eternally dependent on Brahman.
  5. The jiva can never be absolutely one with Brahman.
  6. The jiva is constitutionally the eternal servitor of Brahman.
  7. The analogies of reflection and delimitation help us understand the purely spiritual nature of Brahman.

In the Paramatma-sandarbha Shrila Jiva Gosvami has described the living entity and his relationship with the Supreme Lord. In the next Text he summarizes the facts concerning abhidheya, the process for realizing this subject.



tad evam mayashrayatva-maya-mohitatvabhyam sthite dvayor bhede daivi hy esha ity-adi-nyayena tad-bhajanasyaivabhidheyatvam ayatam.

“Since the Supreme Lord and the jiva thus have distinct identities, the Lord being the foundation of Maya and the jiva being deluded by her, we can conclude that devotional service to the Lord is the only recommended method for self-realization. This conclusion follows logically from such scriptural statements as the following one in the Bhagavad-gita [7.14]: “This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. Only those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.”

REFERENCE for Srila Jiva Goswami’s Sri Tattva Sandarbha (with commentary by Srila Baladeva Vidyabhushana) (translation by Gopipranadhana Prabhu and BBT translators):

↑ Sri Tattva Sandarbha



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