“Properties of Matter” (SB 10.13.34)
Thompson examines a prominent philosophical tenet of Caitanya Gaudiya Vaisnavism: acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, simultaneous oneness and difference. This principle sharply contrasts with contemporary reductionism, which tends to define phenomena as discrete material units understood through the “limited apparatus” of ordinary sense perception.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 10, Chapter 13, Text 34. “Properties of Matter.” n-d / (527)
We're reading from Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto 10, chapter 13, text 34:
Thereafter the elderly cowherd men, having obtained great feeling from embracing their sons, gradually and with great difficulty and reluctance ceased embracing them and returned to the forest. But as the men remembered their sons, tears began to roll down from their eyes. Because of an increase of affection, the cows had constant attachment even to those calves that were grown up and had stopped sucking milk from their mothers. When Baladeva saw this attachment, He was unable to understand the reason for it and thus he began to consider as follows.
The cows had younger calves who had started sucking milk from their mothers and some of the cows had newly given birth, but now, because of love, the cows enthusiastically showed their affection for the older calves, which had left off milking. These calves were grown up, but still the mothers wanted to feed them. Therefore Balarama was a little surprised, and He wanted to inquire from Krsna about the reason for their behavior. The mothers were actually more anxious to feed the older calves, although the new calves were present, because the older calves were expansions of Krsna. These surprising events were taking place by the manipulation of yogamaya. There are two mayas working under the direction of Krsna – mahamaya, the energy of the material world and yogamaya, the energy of the spiritual world. These uncommon events were taking place because of the influence of yogamaya. From the very day on which Brahma stole the calves and boys, yogamaya acted in such a way that the residents of Vrindavana, including even Lord Balarama, could not understand how yogamaya was working and causing such uncommon things to happen. But as yogamaya gradually acted, Balarama in particular was able to understand what was happening, and therefore He inquired from Krsna.
What is this wonderful phenomenon? The affection of all the inhabitants of Vraja, including Me, toward these boys and calves is increasing as never before, just like our affection for Lord Krsna, the Supersoul of all living entities.
This increase of affection was not maya; rather because Krsna had expanded Himself as everything and because the whole life of everyone in Vrindavana was meant for Krsna, the cows, because of affection for Krsna, had more affection for the older calves than for the new calves, and the men increased in their affection for their sons. Balarama was astonished to see all the residents of Vrindavana so, affectionate toward their own children, exactly as they had been for Krsna. Similarly, the cows had grown affectionate toward their calves – as much as toward Krsna. Balarama was surprised to see the acts of yogamaya. Therefore He inquired from Krsna, “What is happening here? What is this mystery?”
I'm going to continue until we get to the answer.
Who is this mystic power, and where has she come from? Is she a demigod or a demoness? She must be the illusory energy of my master, Lord Krsna, for who else can bewilder Me?
Balarama was surprised. This extraordinary show of affection, He thought, was something mystical, performed either by the demigods or some wonderful man. Otherwise, how could this wonderful change take place? “This maya might be some raksasi-maya,” He thought, “but how can raksasi-maya have any influence upon Me? This is not possible. Therefore, it must be the maya of Krsna.” He thus concluded that the mystical change must have been caused by Krsna, whom Balarama considered His worshipable Personality of Godhead. He thought, “It was arranged by Krsna, and even I could not check its mystic power.” Thus Balarama understood that all these boys and cows were only expansions of Krsna.
By the way, it's interesting here that one definite possibility to account for this astonishing display of affection that was taking place was that some mundane mystic power was being exercised. So, of course we wouldn't tend to take that into account, because we don't have much experience with such mystic power. But of course in the Bhagavatam we've seen many examples of it. So, in particular there's the possibility that there might be what is called raksasi-maya, that is an illusion generated by a Raksasa or Raksasi.
So, the Raksasas and other similar living entities, and also of course the demigods, are capable of generating remarkable illusions – they're endowed with this particular power. So, we can see that they can take on different bodily forms; for example, they can actually generate physical bodies. And we also see that once one of these demons has generated a physical body, he tends to be stuck in it, because if Krsna kills that body then that kills the demon. For example, Aghasura was presumably a person in human form who was an associate of Kamsa. So, he manifested this form as a gigantic serpent and then Krsna killed the serpent, but that killed Aghasura. So, it's not that he could go back to his human form at that point. So, these mystical powers are there.
The demigods also are capable of manifesting whole scenes by their potency. For example, there's the story of how Maharaja Yudhisthira returned to the heavenly planets after leaving this world. It seems that Maharaja Yudhisthira, after hearing of the departure of Krsna had, along with his brothers, renounced the kingdom. And they all headed for the Himalaya Mountains and just kept walking. Their idea was that they were just going to walk until they died and then would return back to whatever condition was appropriate for them, based on their circumstances of life. In other words, they totally renounced all material connections. So, in the course of this, Maharaja Yudhisthira at a certain point was the last of the Pandavas who was still walking. And finally, Lord Indra came and took him up to the celestial realm, Svargaloka. But there, he seemed to not exactly come into the heavenly realm, but to come into a hellish planet, in which he was... well it’s described that the air there was polluted with all kinds of smoke, and there were... the plant life consisted of very twisted shrubs and plants with sharp spines on them, and so forth. And he could hear this groaning sound of agony. And so, he realized that he'd actually come to a hellish place. Actually, it sounds like southern California, ...but if you consider the different symptoms…
But actually, this entire hellish realm had been manifested by the potency of the demigods. It was simply projected by Indra. It didn't really exist in one sense. Of course, if Indra kept projecting it, it would continue to exist for the persons situated in it. But... so there are mundane powers of this kind. But let's go on to see what is happening here, just have two more verses and we’ll look at the full explanation.
So, text 38:
iti sañcintya dāśārho
vatsān sa-vayasān api
sarvān ācaṣṭa vaikuṇṭhaṁ
cakṣuṣā vayunena saḥ
Thinking in this way, Lord Balarama was able to see, with the eye of transcendental knowledge, that all these calves and Krsna’s friends were expansions of the form of Sri Krsna.
Every individual is different. There are even differences between twin brothers. Yet when Krsna expanded Himself as the boys and calves, each boy and each calf appeared in its own original feature, with the same individual way of acting, the same tendencies, the same color, the same dress, and so on, for Krsna manifested Himself with all these differences. This was Krsna’s opulence.
Of course, the point is He did this with such verisimilitude that even Balarama wasn't able to see the difference. Whereas if some Raksasa had manifested these forms, which would be possible, then Balarama could of course have seen that this was just a counterfeit form. So Krsna actually duplicated the boys and calves exactly in every detail.
So, text 39:
Lord Baladeva said, “O supreme controller! These boys are not great demigods, as I previously thought. Nor are these calves great sages like Narada. Now I can see that You alone are manifesting Yourself in all varieties of difference. Although one, You were existing in the different forms of the calves and boys. Please briefly explain this to Me.” Having thus been requested by Lord Baladeva, Krsna explained the whole situation, and Baladeva understood it.
Inquiring from Kṛṣṇa about the actual situation, Lord Balarāma said, “My dear Kṛṣṇa, in the beginning I thought that all these cows, calves and cowherd boys were either great sages and saintly persons or demigods, but at the present it appears that they are actually Your expansions. They are all You; You Yourself are playing as the calves and cows and boys. What is the mystery of this situation? Where have those other calves and cows and boys gone? And why are You expanding Yourself as the cows, calves and boys? Will You kindly tell Me what is the cause?” At the request of Balarāma, Kṛṣṇa briefly explained the whole situation: how the calves and boys were stolen by Brahmā and how He was concealing the incident by expanding Himself so that people would not know that the original cows, calves and boys were missing. Balarāma understood, therefore, that this was not māyā but Kṛṣṇa’s opulence. Kṛṣṇa has all opulences, and this was but another opulence of Kṛṣṇa.
“At first,” Lord Balarāma said, “I thought that these boys and calves were a display of the power of great sages like Nārada, but now I see that all these boys and calves are You.” After inquiring from Kṛṣṇa, Lord Balarāma understood that Kṛṣṇa Himself had become many. That the Lord can do this is stated in the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.33). Advaitam acyutam anādim ananta-rūpam: although He is one, He can expand Himself in so many forms. According to the Vedic version, ekaṁ bahu syām: He can expand Himself into many thousands and millions but still remain one. In that sense, everything is spiritual because everything is an expansion of Kṛṣṇa; that is, everything is an expansion either of Kṛṣṇa Himself or of His potency. Because the potency is nondifferent from the potent, the potency and the potent are one (śakti-śaktimatayor abhedaḥ). The Māyāvādīs, however, say, cid-acit-samanvayaḥ: spirit and matter are one. This is a wrong conception. Spirit (cit) is different from matter (acit), as explained by Kṛṣṇa Himself in Bhagavad-gītā (7.4-5):
bhūmir āpo ’nalo vāyuḥ
khaṁ mano buddhir eva ca
ahaṅkāra itīyaṁ me
bhinnā prakṛtir aṣṭadhā
apareyam itas tv anyāṁ
prakṛtiṁ viddhi me parām
yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego — all together these eight comprise My separated material energies. But besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which consists of all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” Spirit and matter cannot be made one, for actually they are superior and inferior energies, yet the Māyāvādīs, or Advaita-vādīs, try to make them one. This is wrong. Although spirit and matter ultimately come from the same one source, they cannot be made one. For example, there are many things that come from our bodies, but although they come from the same source, they cannot be made one. We should be careful to note that although the supreme source is one, the emanations from this source should be separately regarded as inferior and superior. The difference between the Māyāvāda and Vaiṣṇava philosophies is that the Vaiṣṇava philosophy recognizes this fact. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s philosophy, therefore, is called acintya-bhedābheda — simultaneous oneness and difference. For example, fire and heat cannot be separated, for where there is fire there is heat and where there is heat there is fire. Nonetheless, although we cannot touch fire, heat we can tolerate. Therefore, although they are one, they are different.
So, I went all the way up to this point because the philosophical conclusions here are quite interesting. So, Srila Prabhupada is pointing out here that Krsna is one but simultaneously He can expand Himself in many forms. So, this question of oneness and variegatedness is one that has a long history in the whole area of philosophy and religion. And on the material platform, it is very hard to properly understand the proper resolution of this problem of oneness and difference.
So, there is the idea that God is one. Actually people seem to have a sort of intuitive appreciation of this, and also there are different philosophical traditions which present this idea of the oneness of God. So, even in our present culture, these... this idea of oneness is still there. So, from a material platform, it is very hard to understand how you can have oneness and duality simultaneously. So, the actual situation though, is that the nature of spirit, which is ultimately Krsna, since Krsna is the ultimate source of all things, has properties of simultaneous oneness and variety. So, it is described that Krsna has variegated form, but at the same time, all the different parts of Krsna are identical with Krsna. So, materially speaking this is quite hard to understand, but the examples given for... that Krsna has arms and legs and a head and eyes and so on, but every single part of Krsna is identical with the totality of Krsna. So, Krsna’s finger is completely Krsna, in every respect.
So, that's different from the situation in the material world, where a material variegated form is made up of separated parts. So, my finger for example is just a separated piece of matter that is stuck on to the rest of the body. It's actually not stuck on very solidly, because you can, you know, stop from 60 miles an hour say to zero in an automobile and you'll see that the body completely comes apart into various bits and pieces. So, by applying a fairly small amount of force, you can see how these material forms are made up of many separated parts. But spirit is not like that – actually the spirit soul also has the property of being indivisible. That's one of the main characteristics of the soul, that you cannot divide the soul into parts. And yet the soul has variegated properties. So, the variegated characteristics of Krsna constitute the sum total of all variegatedness in reality. So Krsna is the source of all manifestations, and one should not think of Krsna as being situated in ordinary 3-dimensional space – this is a point that I’ve occasionally discussed.
Of course, one tends to think that way because we tend to always think of things as being situated in space. But in fact, space is situated in Krsna. This is stated in the Brahma-samhita, where it's pointed out that all of the universes are contained within Krsna. So, of course, we've seen in the course of these pastimes, various hints of this. It's very interesting that Krsna, in carrying out His pastimes in which He appears to be a human being in Vrindavana and He's relating with the gopis and gopas and so on, on apparently a human platform – and they themselves are taking Him to be a human child – still at the same time, He occasionally gives hints as to His true nature. And so, for example, He will open His mouth and mother Yasoda can see within His mouth all the different universes, including mother Yasoda looking into His mouth. So, and of course mother Yasoda was bewildered by that; she wondered just how it could be, but Krsna was revealing the actual situation. So Krsna contains within Himself unlimited variety. In fact, all the variety of all the universes is contained within Krsna, and also all the variety of the spiritual world.
So, in response to this, some people who are acquainted with what we call the Mayavadi philosophy will say, “Well, then you're saying that the ultimate truth is duality.” This word ‘duality’ is sometimes used as a sort of bad word in certain schools of thought. The idea is that duality is material, and spiritual things are beyond duality. So, in fact, what is happening here is that a limited conception is being applied, that duality means the variegatedness we see in this world in which there are various different things, spirit must be different from matter, so spirit must not have any variegated form. If it does have variegated form then how is it different from matter? It's also made of separate parts just like matter is. So, it's just also material. So, this reasoning is followed. So, by a process of elimination, one says, “Well, that which is spiritual must be devoid of all variegated characteristics.”
So, in the context of the Vedic system of thought, the next step then is to identify spiritual reality with Brahman. And this is done because in the description of the supreme absolute truth in the Vedic literature, the thing which seems to have the smallest number of variegated qualities is Brahman. Visnu or Krsna, has many variegated features, but Brahman at least is a kind of uniform light. So, one then picks out Brahman and says, “Well, this is the actual non-dual state.” But of course, if you say that Brahman is light, then automatically you bring in the idea of duality, because light is the opposite of darkness. So, you have to think of something in which you don't bring in the concept of light. And if you think of knowledge of any given thing, then since the opposite of that which we can conceive of would be ignorance of that thing. then in discussing this idea of Brahman you have to leave out the concept of knowledge, because that also embodies duality. So, ultimately it seems you're not left with very much. And the final conclusion that one will hear is that, “Well, this is all beyond words; it's inconceivable. And so, then one leaves it at that, which is a rather frustrating conclusion ultimately.
So, the Vedic version, however, is that actually in the Supreme Absolute Truth all the varieties are there, and oneness is an additional factor, which is also there. So, instead of eliminating all the qualities of the material world, you retain all those qualities, but you add something extra, which is this oneness which ties it all together. So, this being the case, one still arrives at something which is acutyam... acintyam I mean, that is inconceivable; because it is hard for us to materially conceive how it can be, you can have variety and at the same time have oneness. But at the same time, the picture that one arrives at is still intelligible, because if you try to deny the existence of variety, you can hardly do that – as soon as you speak you're admitting variety because you're using different words. So, you're admitting that variety exists. And the absolute truth by definition is the source from which everything emanates, so variety must then emanate from the absolute truth. So how could it be that there's no variety in the absolute truth? How could the manifestation which is mundane have more to it than the absolute truth? So, one can then ultimately say, “Well it's simply inconceivable,” but actually one can do better than that. The Vedic philosophy shows that this is in a sense conceivable, because one can understand how the Supreme Absolute Truth has all variety and yet has perfect oneness.
So, Srila Prabhupada points out here that matter is different from spirit. And in particular, Krsna speaks of his separated energies; he discusses eight different separated energies. So, the quality of separateness is obtained by eliminating the oneness, which is there on the spiritual level. So, one can understand then that this material phenomena can be generated by starting with the spiritual reality in which there is simultaneous oneness and difference and applying a limitation on that, so that you just have difference and you don't have the oneness anymore. So, in this sense, matter is something less than the Supreme Source from which it emanates, whereas according to the Mayavadi conception you have to say that matter somehow is more than the Supreme Source from which it emanates, which doesn't really make sense.
So, the Vedic philosophy then, as it should actually be understood, actually makes sense. The material phenomena is emanating from a source which is superior to the material phenomenon, but that source has both variety and oneness. So, because of Krsna’s oneness, He is capable of many remarkable actions. And it seems that this phenomenon of oneness and separateness occurs on many different levels. For example, Krsna is everywhere at one time. So, that's an example of simultaneous oneness and difference, because Krsna is at many different places, but it's the one Krsna that is at many different places. If we try to be at many different places at one time, we can't really do it. Actually, in the cartoons that you see on TV, you'll sometimes see a sort of representation of being in many places at once. You'll see the cartoon figure moving from one place to another, and he starts moving so fast that he just becomes a blur practically. And so, in this way, he sort of manages to be in several places at once. Actually, you can sort of share your time between two different places if you can dart back and forth fast enough. But actually, it doesn't work – you're still in just one place at a given time. But Krsna is simultaneously in all places at one time, without darting back and forth. So, this is the property of spirit.
So, Krsna expanded Himself as all of the different calves and cowherd boys. So, each one of them was identically Krsna. So, each one of those individuals was Krsna experiencing that particular situation. And so, all the different... they were all individuals. So, Krsna can do this because of this capacity of simultaneous oneness and difference. It's the one Krsna but He was in many different forms simultaneously. And of course, in the rasa dance in which Krsna was dancing with the gopis, Krsna expanded Himself individually with each gopi. So, each gopi thought that she was alone with Krsna. Actually, each one... each gopi could see one Krsna who was with her, but Krsna was with each one of the gopis. And some of the demigods who were looking down from the higher planets could see that actually there were many Krsnas, but actually they were all one. Krsna did the same thing on a regular basis in Dvaraka, when He was married to the 16,108 queens and maintaining them in distinct palaces. So, Krsna would go home to each palace each night and live with His wife in that family situation. And then when Krsna went to the assembly house in the morning, to carry out His royal duties as the king, all of the Krsnas who were from the 16,108 palaces would merge into one and He would walk out and enter the assembly house. But actually, He was always one.
So, this is the situation. The Mayavadi conception is that, “Well if we look at matter, you see these varied forms; spirit must be something different. So, ultimately spirit must be different from matter.” This concept of oneness is there – there's a fundamental conviction that there must be oneness in spirit. And it's interesting, you might ask why do people think that way anyway? Yes, why should there be oneness is spirit? But practically everyone will agree to that point. So, it's interesting, one suspects that there's an ultimate spiritual intuition there, coming from our actual spiritual nature, which gives us the hint that there must be oneness in spirit. But in any case one tries to understand that oneness within a framework of material thinking, and so one denies variegatedness altogether. But ultimately one is pursuing something that is simply a contradiction in terms. So, then finally one admits that and says, “Well it's all inconceivable anyway,” which is the ultimate defeat of one's whole process of philosophical analysis, because you know, okay, so everything we've said up to now is self-contradictory and it's all inconceivable. So, we may as well not even have started the discussion.
So, this is what happens with the Mayavadi analysis based on that misconception. Personality involves duality. That's the basis of personality, because the very basis of personality involves interchange between persons. You couldn't have just one person. You have to have at least two, because personality means an exchange. And we can see that the very essence of the concept of Krsna involves the idea of personal exchange. Krsna is exchanging with his devotees in so many different remarkable ways. So, personal reciprocation, to even conceive of that, you have to bring in the idea of at least two, not just one.
So, the Mayavadis or in general, this is... Mayavadi of course is the word we use. But in general, the philosophers who try to analyze spirit by starting with material conceptions, they target this idea of duality as being material. So, they want to throw that out as material or put it on a subordinate platform. So, that means, they have to say personality is material. So, then God must be something beyond personality. So, they wind up with an impersonal concept of God. They will say, “Well, personality is limited. So, God is unlimited; therefore God cannot have personality.” But of course, the moment you say “God cannot have personality,” you're putting a limitation on God. So, you still haven't succeeded in saying that God is unlimited, which was what you were trying to do. So, they wind up with contradictions at every stage.
The basic idea is that personality requires duality for its very existence. So, therefore they wind up with an impersonal concept, and of course in the Vedic literature, impersonal aspects of the Supreme Lord are described. For example, the Brahman effulgence: If you describe that as a light and you say it is filled with energy and by its potency the material manifestation is sustained and so on, that's more or less a material… well, it's an impersonal discussion of things. You're talking about impersonal energies – light, power, and so on and so forth. So, one can take those aspects and say well that must be what is really Supreme, because what is Supreme couldn't be personal. And then ultimately one winds up denying all the parts of the sastra which describe Krsna as personal. It's amazing that one can do that, but they finally wind up succeeding and doing it. You can take the viewpoint that desire itself is a matter of interaction of impersonal entities according to impersonal forces and the ultimate reality is merely some impersonal substance that operates according to certain laws. So, desires merely are programmed patterns of action and reaction in a material substrate. Just like you could program a computer to say, “I want you to do this” or “I want you to do that” – you can program that. So, you could then say, “Well, the computer has desires, it is saying I want this or that.”
So, you can take the viewpoint that desire is ultimately a manifestation of something impersonal, some substrate that is interacting according to some laws. So, you can say then, “Ultimately, to understand spiritual reality, we must go beyond desire and beyond ego and come to the ultimate realization which has nothing to do with these things.” And that's the Mayavadi philosophy, which is contrary to the facts. Anyway, traditionally the Mayavadi philosophers have accepted the personalities described in the Vedic literature as being real on the material level. Then they say, everything material is just illusory anyway. So, they will say yes Brahma and Siva and Visnu exist, also Krsna exists, but they are all material manifestations. And then they analyze the material manifestation from an impersonal point of view. So, that's the traditional view point of the Mayavadi philosophers in India.
Now at the present day and age, you have a sort of modern ersatz Mayavadi philosophy, in which one denies all these things because they have no role to play in the modern material worldview. So, you say that Rama, Siva, and Visnu and so on are illusory in the sense of being mythological. And actually, there's just this energy and ultimately you can transcend the energy to obtain the final oneness and so forth. That's the modern day Mayavadi philosophy. You see the modern day people will depend on their own intellectual prowess to establish their conclusions. So, they're not too concerned about whether the sastra is true or whether it's mythological.
The traditional Mayavadi philosophy though has accepted the statements in sastra as true, not mythological, and has tried to interpret everything so that Brahma, Siva, and Visnu are material manifestations. Then of course the actual understanding of sastra, if you really want to accept what it says directly, you have to accept that Visnu is supreme, and actually ultimately Krsna is the source of Visnu: kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam, if you actually take the sastra literally. People tend to have great confidence in their empirical ability. That's the basic flaw – the basic ultimate flaw lying behind the Mayavadi philosophy and the various similar manifestations, is that one assumes that the empirical method is the only way to attain ultimate knowledge. And so, one then proceeds to speculate and analyze and so on. And if one's vision is limited to the material world, then one ultimately comes up with the impersonal conclusion. So, the whole thing is based on a full confidence in the power of empiricism to give us what we need to know.
Another point to make here by the way, is that bhakti is a way by which one can actually understand these different aspects of ultimate oneness and variety in Krsna. Because you can say, “Okay, if you can't understand that on a material level, then can we really understand that? After all, here we are in these material bodies and so forth.” But ultimately, through bhakti one can understand, and that's by the direct communication from Krsna to the soul, that understanding. Because ultimately the soul is spiritual and the soul actually has these characteristics of inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference itself. It's only when we try to understand through the material apparatus that we're limited by matter. But the Mayavadis are trying to understand through the material apparatus and so they have that limitation. As I say, Mayavadi is the name used by the Vaisnavas. It means: one who says that everything that has variety is really maya or illusion. That's what Mayavadi means. So, they will speak of themselves as students of Vedanta. That's the typical expression. They will say they are followers of Sankaracarya, they will say they are Vedic philosophers and they're following the real Vedic conclusion and so on and so forth. That’s how they all define themselves.