Changing Form according to Bhāva
QUESTION: In Chāndogya Upaniṣad, it is mentioned that a mukta jīva can expand into many bodies. How is this possible for the atomic (aṇu) jīva?
ANSWER: Just as a tiny bulb can spread its light in a big room, an atomic jīva can spread consciousness in a big body. The yogīs can spread that consciousness into many bodies. Similarly, a mukta jīva can expand into many forms.
QUESTION: Is it due to the infinite expansion of dharmabhūta jñāna as explained by the Rāmānujites?
QUESTION: Also, how is this compatible with the sthāyi-bhāva concept? For example, can a sādhana-siddha jīva, who has got the body of a manjari due to her sthāyi-bhāva, change simultaneously into different other forms?
ANSWER: Yes, some devotees have more than one bhāva. One is a prominent or dominant bhāva and others are secondary bhāvas. The body is a manifestation of bhāva. As such, a devotee has a body corresponding to the dominant bhāva, but can also expand into more than one body to fulfill the secondary bhāvas.
The essence of any bhāva is dāsya bhāva regardless of the type of bhāva (mañjariī or any other bhāva). A siddha jīva can expand into more than one form if that is needed to perform service. This is why a sādhana-siddha bhakta can be simultaneously in Caitanya-līlā and in Kṛṣṇa–līlā in a male and female form respectively.
QUESTION: Also, in Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, it is seen that the Vaikuṇṭha associates transform into many forms. This transformation seems to support the Rāmānujite concept that a mukta jīva can experience all kinds of emotions corresponding to the emotions of the Lord’s associates. How can one reconcile this apparent contradiction?
ANSWER: Which contradiction? Also please give the exact reference.
QUESTION: In Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, a particular siddha deha is revealed by Kṛṣṇa through the guru via the siddha-praṇālī or directly through Hari-nāma. During līlā smaraṇa, one meditates on Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa only in one particular deha. This appears to contradict the description of the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta. There the associates in Vaikuntha change their forms at will, almost like “shape shifters”. Maybe this is what Śrī Vaiṣṇavas mean when they say a mukta jīva can experience all emotions. The reference is BB 2.4.36:
kecid vicitra rūpāṇi dhrtvā dhrtvā muhur muhur
vicitra bhusaṇākāra vihārāḍhya mano haraḥ
“Some moment by moment manifested different wonderful and charming forms, each opulent with different and wonderful ornaments, features, and pastimes.”
ANSWER: You have to broaden your vision. God is unlimited. There are unlimited powers in him. There is so much variety in the spiritual world. When Śrī Vaiṣṇavas say one thing, it does not follow that Gauḍīyas are wrong for saying something else; and vice-versa. Some statements are absolute and some are contextual. I suggest that you first try to understand one school and then try comparative studies. Do not try to study everything simultaneously. It will confuse you.
The associates of Bhagavān are as powerful as Bhagavān. So what is the problem if they change their form? They can do anything for serving Bhagavān.
Even asuras can change forms for fulfilling their desires. An asura took the form of Ugrasena to unite with Padmāvati, Ugrasena’s wife. That is how Kaṁsa was born. Mārīca became a deer to allure Rāma. Yogīs can also change forms.
Devotees change forms if it is required to do service. Still, the devotees have their one siddha form according to their sthāyi-bhāva. They will always come back to that form even if incidentally they take some other form.
This is seen even with the asuras – when Mārīca was shot, he came back to his original form. It was the same with Putanā.
Please first try to understand those parts of theology and philosophy that have a direct bearing on your spiritual practice so that you can experience these things yourself.
We should try to understand what the author is trying to convey. The intention of Sanātana Gosvāmī in Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta is not to talk about a nitya siddha changing forms but to explain uttama-bhakti and the process to attain it. Otherwise we mistake the forest for the trees.
I have seen that many devotees get into this kind of research but do not understand the intent of the author. In Hindi there is a saying – ām khāne se matalab he ki peḍ ginane se – “is the goal to eat mangoes or to count the mango trees?” A man goes to the mango garden but does not eat the mangoes. Instead, he counts the trees, studies their types and measures their age and so on. But he does not taste the mangoes. Then his time is up and he leaves the garden. Later, he gives a big lecture about mango trees. People clap and he collects some donations. But the person does not know the taste of the mango. This is the modern scholar. Let us taste the mango even if we do not know about the variety and number of trees in the garden.
Levels of Uttama-bhakti
QUESTION: You stated that Rūpa Gosvāmī’s definition of uttama-bhakti applies to all 3 levels of bhakti – sādhana-, bhāva-, and prema-bhakti. But I still don’t understand how uttama-bhakti includes sādhana-bhakti.
The very nature (svarūpa–lakṣaṇa) of uttama-bhakti is a 24/7 continuous endeavor to please Bhagavān (the term ‘Bhagavān’ includes one’s guru and the devotees). This endeavor does not stop even during sleep. But how can such continuous endeavor exist in sādhana-bhakti? After all, one is still afflicted with anarthas.
ANSWER: Sleep is of two types: dreamless and with dreams. It is not possible to remember Kṛṣṇa in either of these states at the stage of sādhana-bhakti. In sādhana-bhakti, one resolves to engage in uttama-bhakti; such conscious effort is only possible in the wakeful state. But conscious effort is not possible in dreams and so the sādhaka cannot remember Kṛṣṇa then. Despite this, sādhana-bhakti includes sleep. While sleeping, the sādhaka rejuvenates the body and then utilizes it in uttama-bhakti in the wakeful state. Thus both wakefulness and sleep are also part of uttama-bhakti, although sleep is not directly engaged in bhakti. Even though collecting firewood does not involve offering oblations into the fire, it is also part of yajña. Just as it is not possible to pour oblations into the fire without collecting firewood, it is not possible to execute uttama-bhakti in the wakeful state without sleep. As it is a continuous endeavor (24/7) in this way, sādhana-bhakti is correctly included under uttama-bhakti.
One remembers Kṛṣṇa during sleep only in the stage of sādhya-bhakti, i.e. bhāva- or prema bhakti. If one were able to remember Kṛṣṇa during sleep in sādhana-bhakti, then there was no reason to divide uttama-bhakti into sādhanā and sādhya.
QUESTION: If uttama-bhakti is considered inclusive of sādhana-bhakti, then anarthas and uttama-bhakti exist simultaneously in a person. This contradicts the fact that at the stage of uttama-bhakti, one is free of anarthas.
ANSWER: The confusion is that you are interpreting uttama-bhakti to exclusively mean sādhya-bhakti. But sādhya-uttama-bhakti is different from sādhana-uttama-bhakti.
The word bhakti itself indicates different things depending on the context. The word uttama is used to further indicate a specific type of bhakti. But uttama-bhakti is of three more sub-types. These sub-types are quite distinct although they are referred by one name. Confusion arises when the speaker or the author means a particular sub-type of uttama-bhakti and the listener or reader misunderstands it as a different sub-type.
Many people think that all uttama-bhaktas or all liberated persons have the same characteristics, but this is far from the truth. We try to understand the scriptures or teachings through our stereotypical concepts about these words, but then our understanding may not match the scriptures. This type of confusion occurs often and causes much unnecessary argument and debate.
Whatever material object or action we consider as ours, we have a natural liking for them. This liking is called attachment, and it is the cause of bondage.
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