The Bhagabat: Its Philosophy, its Ethics and its Theology PDF Print E-mail

The Bhagabat: Its Philosophy, its Ethics and its Theology.

[ A lecture by Thakur Bhaktivinode in 1869 ]

The voluminous Bhagabat is nothing more than a full illustration of this principle of continual development and progress of the soul from gross matter to the All-perfect Universal Spirit who is distinguished as personal, eternal, absolutely free, all powerful and all intelligent. There is nothing gross or material in it. The whole affair is spiritual. In order to impress this spiritual picture upon the student who attempts to learn it, comparisons have been made with the material world, which cannot but convince the ignorant and the impractical. Material examples are absolutely necessary for the explanation of spiritual ideas. The Bhagabat believes that the spirit of nature is the truth in nature and is the only practical part of it.

The phenomenal appearance of nature is truly theoretical, although it has had the greatest claim upon our belief from the days of our infancy. The outward appearance of nature is nothing more than a sure index of its spiritual face. Comparisons are therefore necessary. Nature as it is before our eyes, must explain the spirit, or else the truth will ever remain concealed, and man will never rise from his boyhood though his whiskers and beard grow white as the snows of the Himalayas. The whole intellectual and moral philosophy is explained by matter itself. Emerson beautifully shows how all the words in moral philosophy originally came from the names of material objects. The words heart, head, spirit, courage, bravery, were originally the common names of some corresponding objects in the material world. All spiritual ideas are similarly pictures from the material world, because matter is the dictionary of spirit, and material pictures are but the shadows of the spiritual affairs, which our material eye carries back to our spiritual perception. God in his infinite goodness and kindness has established this unfailing connection between the truth and the shadow in order to impress upon us the eternal truth which he has reserved for us. The clock explains the time, the alphabet points to the gathered store of knowledge, the beautiful song of a harmonium gives the idea of eternal harmony in the spirit world, to-day and to-morrow and day-after-tomorrow thrust into us the ungrasped idea of eternity and similarly material pictures impress upon our spiritual nature the truly spiritual idea of religion. It is on these reasonable grounds that Vyasa adapted the mode of explaining our spiritual worship with some sorts of material phenomena, which correspond with the spiritual truth. Our object is not to go into details, so we are unable to quote some of the illustrations within this short compass.

We have also the practical part of the question in the 11th book of Bhagabat. All the modes by which a man can train himself up to Prem Bhakti, as explained above, have been described at great length. We have been advised first of all, to convert ourselves into most grateful servants of God as regards our relation to our fellow brethren. Our nature has been described as bearing three different phases in all our bearings in the world. Those phases are named Sattwa, Raja, Tama. Sattwa Guna is that property in our nature, which is purely good as far as it can be pure in our present state. Raja Guna is neither good nor bad. Tama is evil. Our Probrittis or tendencies and affections are described as the main spring of all our actions, and it is our object to train up those affections and tendencies to the standard of Sattwa Guna, as decided by the moral principle. This is not easily done. All the springs of our actions should be carefully protected from Tama Guna, the evil principle, by adopting the Raja Guna at first, and when that is effected, man should subdue his Raja Guna by means of the natural Sattwa Guna which is the most powerful of them when cultivated. Lust, idleness, wicked deeds and degradation of human nature by intoxicating principles are described as exclusively belonging to Tama Guna, the evil phase of nature. These are to be checked by marriage, useful work and abstinence from intoxication and trouble to our neighbours and inferior animals. Thus when Raja Guna has obtained supremacy in the heart, it is our duty to convert that Raja Guna into Sattwa Guna which is pre-eminently good. That married love, which is first cultivated, must now be sublimated into holy good and spiritual love, i.e. love between soul and soul. Useful work will now be converted into work of love and not of disgust or obligation. Abstinence from wicked work will be made to lose its negative appearance and converted into positive good work. Then we are to look to all living beings in the same light in which we look to ourselves, i.e., we must convert our selfishness into all possible disinterested activity towards all around us. Love, charity, well-doing and devotion to God will be our only work. We then became the servants of God by obeying His High and Holy wishes. Here we begin to be Bhaktas and we are susceptible of further improvement in our spiritual nature, as we have described above. All this is covered by the term Abhideya, the second cardinal point in the supreme religious work, the Bhagabat. We have now before us, the first two cardinal points in our religion, explained somehow or other in the terms and thoughts expressed by our saviour who lived only four centuries ago in the beautiful village of Nadia, situated on the banks of the Bhagirathi. We must now proceed to the last cardinal point termed by that great Reestablisher or prospects.

What is the object of our spiritual development, our prayer, our devotion and our union with God? The Bhagabat tells that the object is not enjoyment or sorrow, but continual progress in spiritual holiness and symmetry.*(1)

In the common-place books of the Hindu religion in which the Raja and Tama Gunas have been described as the ways of religion, we have descriptions of a local heaven and a local hell; the Heaven as beautiful as anything on earth and the Hell as ghastly as any picture of evil. Besides this Heaven we have many more place, where good souls are sent up in the way of promotion! There are 84 divisions of the hell itself, some more dreadful than the one which Milton has described in his Paradise Lost. These are certainly poetical and were originally created by the rulers of the country in order to check evil deeds of the ignorant people, who are not able to understand the conclusions of philosophy. The religion of the Bhagabat is free from such a poetry. Indeed, in some of the chapters we meet with descriptions of these hells and heavens, and accounts of curious tales, but we have been warned somewhere in the book, not to accept them as real facts, but as inventions to overawe the wicked and to improve the simple and the ignorant. The Bhagabat, certainly tells us of a state of reward and punishment in future according to deeds in our present situation. All poetic inventions, besides this spiritual fact, have been described as statements borrowed from other works in the way of preservation of old traditions in the book which superceded them and put an end to the necessity of their storage. If the whole stock of Hindu Theological works which preceded the Bhagabat were burnt like the Alexandrian Library and the sacred Bhagabat preserved as it is, not a part of the philosophy of the Hindus except that of the atheistic sects, would be lost. The Bhagabat therefore, may be styled both as a religious work and a compendium of all Hindu history and philosophy.

The Bhagabat does not allow its followers to ask anything from God except eternal love towards Him.*(2) The Kingdom of the world, the beauties of the local heavens and the sovereignty over the material world are never the subjects of Vaishnab prayer. The Vaishnab meekly and humbly says, “Father, Master, God, Friend and Husband of my soul! Hallowed be Thy name! I do not approach You for anything which You have already given me. I have sinned against You and I now repent and solicit Your pardon. Let Thy Holiness touch my soul and make me free from grossness. Let my spirit be devoted meekly to Your Holy service in absolute love towards Thee. I have called You my God, and let my soul be wrapped up in admiration at Your greatness! I have addressed You as my master and let my soul be strongly devoted to Your service. I have called You my friend, and let my soul be in reverential love towards You and not in dread or fear! I have called You my husband and let my spiritual nature be in eternal union with You, for ever loving and never dreading, or feeling disgust. Father! Let me have strength enough to go up to You as the consort of my soul, so that we may be one in eternal love! Peace to the world.”!!!

Of such a nature is the prayer of the Bhagabat. One who can read the book will find the highest form of prayer in the expressions of Prahlad towards the universal and omnipresent Soul with powers to convert all unholy strength into meek submission or entire annihilation. This prayer will show what is the end and object of Vaishnab’s Life. He does not expect to be the king of a certain part of the universe after his death, nor does he dread a local, fiery and turbulent hell, the ideas of which would make the hairs of young Hamlet stand erect like the forks of a porcupine! His idea of salvation is not total annihilation of personal existence as the Buddhists and the 24 Gods of the Jains procured for themselves! The Vaishnab is the meekest of all creatures devoid of all ambition. He wants to serve God spiritually after death as he has served Him both in spirit and matter while in life. His constitution is a spirit and his highest object of life is divine and holy love.

There may be a philosophical doubt. How the human soul could have a distinct existence from the universal soul when the gross part of the human constitution will be no more? The Vaishnab can’t answer it, nor can any man on earth explain it. The Vaishnab meekly answers, he feels the truth but he cannot understand it. The Bhagabat merely affirms that the Vaishnab soul when free from gross matter will distinctly exist not in time and space but spiritually in the eternal spiritual kingdom of God where love is life, and hope and charity and continual ecstasy without change are its various exhibitions.

In considering about the true essence of the Deity, two great errors stare before us and frighten us back to ignorance and its satisfaction. On of them is the idea that God is above all attributes both material and spiritual and is consequently above all conception. This is a noble idea but useless. If God is above conception and without any sympathy with the world, how is then this creation? This Universe composed of properties? The distinctions and phases of existence? The differences of value? Man, women, beast, trees, magnetism, animal magnetism, electricity, landscape, water and fire? In that case Shankaracharyya Mayavad theory would be absolute philosophy.

The other error is that God is all attribute, i.e. intelligence, truth, goodness and power. This is also a ludicrous idea. Scattered properties can never constitute a Being. It is more impossible in the case of belligerent principles, such as Justice and Mercy and Fulness and Creative Power. Both sides are imperfect. The truth, as stated in the Bhagabat is that properties, though many of them belligerent, are united in a spiritual Being where they have full sympathy and harmony. Certainly this is beyond our comprehension. It is so owing to our nature, being finite and God being infinite. Our ideas are constrained by the idea of space and time, but God is above that constraint. This is a glimpse of Truth and we must regard it as Truth itself: often, says Emerson, a glimpse of truth is better than an arranged system and he is right.

The Bhagabat has, therefore, a personal, all-intelligent, active, absolutely free, holy, good, all-powerful, omnipresent, just and merciful and supremely Spiritual Deity without a second, creating, preserving all that is in the Universe. The highest object of the Vaishnab is to serve that Infinite Being for ever spiritually in the activity of Absolute Love.

These are the main principles of the religion inculcated by the work, called the Bhagabat, and Vyasa, in his great wisdom, tried his best to explain all these principles with the aid of pictures in the material world. The shallow critic summarily rejects this great philosopher as a man-worshipper. He would go so far as to scandalise him as a teacher of material love and lust and the injurious principles of exclusive ascetism. The critic should first read deeply the pages of the Bhagabat and train his mind up to the best eclectic philosophy which the world has ever obtained, and then we are sure he will pour panegyrics upon the principal of the College of Theology at Badrikasram which existed about 4,000 years ago. The shallow critic’s mind will undoubtedly be changed, if he but reflects upon one great point, i.e. how is it possible that a spiritualist of the school of Vyasa teaching the best principles of Theism in the whole of the Bhagabat and making the four texts quoted in the beginning as the foundation of his mighty work, could have forced upon the belief of men that the sensual connection between a man with certain females is the highest object of worship! This is impossible, dear Critic! Vyasa could not have taught the common Vyragi to set up an Akhra (a place of worship) with a number of females! Vyasa, who could teach us repeatedly in the whole of Bhagabat that sensual pleasures are momentary like the pleasures of rubbing the itching hand and that man’s highest duty is to have spiritual love with God, could never have prescribed the worship of sensual pleasures. His descriptions are spiritual and you must not connect matter with it. With this advice, dear critic, go through the Bhagabat and I doubt not you will, in three months, weep and repent to God for despising this Revelation through the heart and brain of the great Badarayan.

Yes, you nobly tell us that such philosophical comparisons produced injury in the ignorant and the thoughtless. You nobly point to the immoral deeds of the common Vyragis, who call themselves “The followers of the Bhagabat and the great Chaitanya”. You nobly tell us that Vyasa unless purely explained, may lead thousands of men into great trouble in time to come. But dear critic! Study the history of ages and countries! Where have you found the philosopher and the reformer fully understood by the people? The popular religion is fear of God and not the pure spiritual love which Plato, Vyasa, Jesus, and Chaitanya taught to their respective peoples! Whether you give the absolute religion in figures or simple expressions, or teach them by means of books or oral speeches, the ignorant and the thoughtless must degrade it. It is indeed very easy to tell and swift to hear that absolute truth has such an affinity with the human soul that it comes through it as if intuitively. No exertion is necessary to teach the precepts of true religion. This is a deceptive idea. It may be true of ethics and of the alphabet of religion, but not of the highest form of faith which requires an exalted soul to understand. It certainly requires previous training of the soul in the elements of religion just as the student of the fractions must have a previous attainment in the elemental numbers and figures in Arithmetic and Geometry. Truth is good, is an elemental truth, which is easily grasped by the common people. But, if you tell a common patient, that God is infinitely intelligent and powerful in His spiritual nature, he will conceive a different idea from what you entertain of the expression. All higher Truths, though intuitive, require previous education in the simpler ones. That religion is the purest, which gives you the purest idea of God, and the absolute religion requires an absolute conception by man of his own spiritual nature. How then is it possible that the ignorant will ever obtain the absolute religion as long as they are ignorant? When thought awakens, the thinker is no more ignorant and is capable of obtaining an absolute idea of religion. This is a truth and God has made it such in His infinite goodness, impartiality and mercy. Labour has its wages and the idle must never be rewarded. Higher is the work, greater is the reward is an useful truth. The thoughtless must be satisfied with superstition till he wakes and opens his eyes to the God of love. The reformers, out of their universal love and anxiety for good work endeavour by some means or other to make the thoughtless drink the cup of salvation , but the latter drink it with wine and fall into the ground under the influence of intoxication for the imagination has also the power of making a thing what it never was. Thus, it is that the evils of nunneries and the corruptions of the Akhras proceeded. No, we are not to scandalise the Saviour of Jerusalem or the Saviour of Nadia for these subsequent evils. Luthers, instead of critics, are what we want for the correction of those evils by the true interpretation of the original precepts.

Two more principles characterise the Bhagabat, viz, liberty and progress of the soul through-out eternity. The Bhagabat teaches us that God gives us truth and he gave it to Vyasa, when we earnestly seek for it. Truth is eternal and unexhausted. The soul receives a revelation when it is anxious for it. The souls of the great thinkers of the by-gone ages, who now live spiritually, often approach our enquiring spirit and assist it in its development. Thus Vyasa was assisted by Narada and Brahma. Our Shastras, or in other words, books of thought do not contain all that we could get from the infinite Father. No book is without errors. God’s revelation is absolute truth, but it is scarcely received and preserved in its natural purity. We have been advised in the 14th Chapter of the 11th Skandha of the Bhagabat to believe that truth when revealed, is absolute, but it gets the tincture of the nature of the receiver in course of time and is converted into error by continual exchange of hands from age to age. New revelations, therefore, are continually necessary in order to keep truth in its original purity. We are thus warned to be careful in our studies of old authors, however wise they are reputed to be. Here we have full liberty to reject the wrong idea, which is not sanctioned by the peace of conscience. Vyasa was not satisfied with what he collected in the Vedas, arranged in the Puranas and composed in the Mahabharata. The peace of his conscience did not sanction his labours. It told him from inside “No, Vyasa! You can’t rest contented with the erroneous picture of truth which was necessarily presented to you by the sages of bygone days! You must yourself knock at the door of the inexhaustible store of truth from which the former ages drew their wealth. Go, go up to the fountain-head of truth where no pilgrim meets with disappointment of any kind.” Vyasa did it and obtained what he wanted. We have been all advised to do so. Liberty then is the principle, which we must consider as the most valuable gift of God. We must not allow ourselves to be led by those who lived and thought before us. We must think for ourselves and try to get further truths which are still undiscovered. In the 23rd text, 21st Chapter 11th Skandha of the Bhagabat we have been advised to take the spirit of the Shastras and not the words. The Bhagabat is therefore a religion of liberty, unmixed truth and absolute love.

The other characteristic is progress. Liberty certainly is the father of all progress. Holy liberty is the cause of progress upwards and upwards in eternity and endless activity of love. Liberty abused causes degradation and the Vaishnab must always carefully use this high and beautiful gift of God. The progress of the Bhagabat is described as the rise of the soul from Nature up to Nature’s God, from Maya, the absolute and the infinite. Hence the Bhagabat says of itself:—

“It is the fruit of the tree of thought, mixed with the nectar of the speech of Sukhdeva. It is the temple of spiritual love! O! Men of piety! Drink deep this nectar of Bhagabat repeatedly till you are taken from this mortal frame!”

Then the Sharagrahi or the progressive Vaishnab adds:—

“That fruit of the tree of thought is a composition, as a matter of course of the sweet and the opposite principles. O! Men of piety, like the bee taking honey from the flower, drink the sweet principle and reject that which is not so.”

The Bhagabat is undoubtedly a difficult work and where it does not relate to pictures description of traditional and poetical life, its’ literature is stiff and its branches are covered in the garb of an unusual form of Sanskrit poetry. Works on philosophy must necessarily be of this character. Commentations and notes are therefore required to assist us in our study of the book. The best commentator is Sreedhar Swami and the truest interpretor is our great and noble Chaitanyadeva. God bless the spirit of our noble guides.

These great souls were not like comets appearing in the firmament for a while and disappearing as soon as their mission is done. They are like so many suns shining all along to give light and heat to the succeeding generation. Long time yet when they will be succeeded by others of their mind, beauty and calibre. The texts of Vyasa are still ringing in the ears of all theists as if some great spirit is singing them from a distance! Badrikasram! What an awful name! The seat of Vyasa and the selected religion of thought! The pilgrim tells us that the land is cold! How mightily did the genius of Vyasa generate the heat of philosophy in such a cold region! Not only heated the locality but sent its ray far to the shores of the sea! Like the great Napolean in the political world, he knocked down empires and kingdoms of old and by-gone philosophy by the mighty stroke of his transcendental thoughts! This is real power! Atheist philosophy of Shankho, Charbak, the Jains and the Buddhists shuddered with fear at the approach of the spiritual sentiments and creations of the Bhagabat philosopher! The army of the atheists was composed of gross and impotent creatures like the legions that stood under the banner of the fallen Lucifer; but the pure, holy and spiritual soldiers of Vyasa, sent by his Almighty Father were invincibly fears to the enemy and destructive of the unholy and the unfounded. He that works in the light of God, sees the minutest things in creation, he that works the power of God is invincible and great, and he that works with God’s Holiness in his heart, finds no difficulty against unholy things and thoughts. God works through his agents and these agents are styled by Vyasa himself as the Incarnation of the power of God. All great souls were incarnations of this class and we have the authority of this fact in the Bhagabat itself:—

“O! Brahmins! God is the soul of the principle of goodness! The incarnations of that principle are innumerable! As thousands of watercourses come out of one in-exhaustible fountain of water, so these incarnations are but emanations of that infinitely good energy of God which is full at all times.”

The Bhagabat, therefore, allows us to call Vyasa and Narada, as Shaktyavesh Avatars of the infinite energy of God, and the spirit of this text goes far to honour all great reformers and teachers who lived and will live in other countries. The Vaishnab is ready to honour all great men without distinction of caste, because they are filled with the energy of God. See how universal is the religion of Bhagabat. It is not intended for a certain class of the Hindoos alone but it is a gift to man at large in whatever country born and whatever society bred. In short Vaishnabism is the Absolute Love binding all men together into the infinite, unconditioned and absolute God. May its peace reign for ever in the whole universe in the continual development of its purity by the exertion of the future heroes, who will be blessed according to the promise of the Bhagabat with powers from the Almighty Father the Creator, Preserver, and the Annihilator of all things in Heaven and Earth.


*(1) Roop Goswami, one of the disciples of Mahaprabhu Chaitanya, says

*(2) In the third Skandha of the Bhagabat Kapila tells his mother—God offers all sorts of happiness to his servants but they do not want to except them except His Holy Service.

* Vyasa himself apprehended these stupid critics and with a view to prevent degradation of his spiritual principles, he gave the following text to the mouth of Kapila in the third Skandha:—The company of a woman or that of a man who cultivated friendship with woman, with an immoral heart, is very injurious to the man of a religious temperament.