Thursday, April 28, 2011

Brahman’s Diverse Nomenclature


Some may quote several passages of the scriptures to identify the Supreme Brahman as someone other than Lord Viṣṇu, or to prove that the creation can have a cause different from Him. Here are some examples:

kṣaraṁ pradhānam amṛtākṣaraḥ haraḥ

(Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, 1.10; Govinda-bhāṣya, 1.4)

 “Material nature is changeable, while Hara is eternal and immutable.”

eko hi rudro na dvitīyāya tasthuḥ

(Ibid., 3.2)

 “Rudra is the only Supreme. Others cannot stand on an equal footing.”

yo devānāṁ prabhavaś codbhavaś ca viśvādhiko rudraḥ śivo maharṣiḥ

(Ibid., 3.4)

 “The omniscient Śiva or Rudra is the source and prowess of the demigods. He is beyond this universe.”

yadā tamas tan na divā na rātrir na san na cāsac chiva eva kevalaḥ

(Ibid., 4.18)

 “When darkness covers the universe, there is no more day or night, nor embodied beings or non-embodied beings. There is only Śiva.”

 The scriptures also state :

pradhānād idam utpannam pradhānam adhigacchati

pradhāne layam abhyeti na hy anyat kāraṇaṁ matam

 “This universe has arisen from pradhāna, returns to pradhāna, and merges into pradhāna. No cause is considered to exist other than pradhāna.”

jīvād bhavanti bhūtāni jīve tiṣṭhanty acañcalāḥ

jīve ca layam icchanti na jīvāt kāraṇaṁ param

 “The material elements arise from the jīva, remain steady on the jīva, and merge into the jīva. The wise do not acknowledge any cause other than the jīva.”

From the immediate literal meaning of these verses, it seems that the Vaiṣṇava conclusions are contradicted. Vidyābhūṣaṇa replies to this by quoting the Bhāllaveya-śruti:

nāmāni viśvāni na santi loke yad āvirāsīt puruṣasya sarvam

nāmāni sarvāṇi yam āviśanti taṁ vai viṣṇuṁ paramam udāharanti

“All existent names do not primarily belong to those in this world. They all emanate from the Supreme Person and belong to Him, Whom the wise call the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu.”

The mentioned names should be understood to be names of the Supreme Brahman because all names are originally names of the Supreme Brahman.

Vaiśampāyana Muni explains that all these names are names of Lord Kṛṣṇa. The Skanda Purāṇa also explains :

śrī-nārāyaṇādīni nāmāni vinānyāni rudrādibhyo harir dattavān

 “Except for names such as Nārāyaṇa, Lord Hari gave other of His names to Rudra and others.”

 This is the rule that should be followed: When the ordinary sense of these names does not contradict the essential teaching of the Vedas, the ordinary meaning should be accepted. When the ordinary sense of these names does contradict the teaching of the Vedas, these names should be understood to be names of Lord Viṣṇu.

 It may also be argued that the Supreme Brahman, being the cause of all moving and non-moving entities and the soul of all souls, can be called by any name denoting any of those entities, but in fact, we see that this usage is not current. For example, when we speak of the ocean, we literally mean the sea and not God. It could only figuratively or poetically refer to Him. The fact, however, is that God as the source of everything is also the source of the power of words and their capacity to convey meaning. Therefore, all words are primarily denotations of God, for neither they nor the objects they denote can possibly exist independently of Him. Indeed, the purpose of all the words of the scriptures is exactly to lead one to understand that Lord Kṛṣṇa is behind everything. As He declares:

raso ‘ham apsu kaunteya prabhāsmi śaśi-sūryayoḥ

praṇavaḥ sarva-vedeṣu śabdaḥ khe pauruṣaṁ nṛṣu

(Bhagavad-gītā, 7.8)

“O son of Kuntī, I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable oṁ in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.”

In the tenth chapter of Bhagavad-gītā, called ‘vibhuti-yoga,’ the Lord extensively describes how He is to be seen as the all in all. In this light, we should understand the statements such as:

tā āpa aikṣanta bahvyaḥ syāma prajāyemahīti tā annam asṛjanta

(Chāndogya Upaniṣad, 6.2.3-4; Govinda-bhāṣya, 2.3.Adhikaraṇa 6)

 “Water thought, “I shall become many. I shall procreate.” Water then created food (earth).”

Here the meaning of the word ‘āpa’ is God, not water as one could literally expect. The śruti confirms the non-difference from the Lord:

tato viśuddham vimalaṁ viśokaṁ aśeṣa-lobhādi-nirasta-saṅgam

yat tat padaṁ pañca-padaṁ tad eva sa vāsudevo na yato’nyad asti

(Gopāla-tāpanī upaniṣad, 1.37)

“That abode is unalloyed, free from the illusory energy, and totally devoid of faults such as greed. It is the five-word mantra itself and Vāsudeva Himself, for there is nothing apart from Him.”

In the smṛti it is said:

kaṭaka-mukuṭa-karṇikādi-bhedaiḥ kanakam abhedam apīṣyate yathaikam

sura-paśu-manujādi-kalpanābhir harir akhilābhir udīryate tathaikaḥ

(Viṣṇu Purāṇa, 3.7.16; Govinda-bhāṣya, 2.3.15)

 “Although gold is accepted as a single, undifferentiated element, it is distinct as bracelets, crowns, earrings, and other golden objects. Similarly, although Lord Hari is only one, He is said to be manifest in the form of demigods, men, animals, and all beings.”

The meaning is that whatever exists is manifested through the potencies of Kṛṣṇa, and therefore any word denoting energy or attributes naturally refers to Him, Who is the supreme possessor of all of them.