The Nature of Absolute Nondual Reality
Questions & Answers Sandarbhas

The Nature of Absolute Nondual Reality

Question: In Bhagavat Sandarbha, Anuccheda 3, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī cites Viṣṇu Purāṇa (6.5.66–69):

That which is unmanifest, free from aging, inconceivable, unborn, never decaying, indefinable and formless, which is thus devoid of hands, legs and other such bodily limbs; which is supreme, all-pervading, eternal, the cause of all beings, yet without any cause; which is all-encompassing, but not itself encompassed, the source of everything, and known to the wise is called Brahman. It is the ultimate basis of everything and the Reality disclosed through meditation for the seekers of liberation. It is the subtle truth described in the words of the Vedas, the supreme seat of Śrī Viṣṇu. This Brahman is the essential nature of Paramātmā and is denoted by the word Bhagavān. The word Bhagavān expresses that original imperishable Lord directly.

This series of verses can be interpreted in two ways, according to Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī. We can take the first part of the series to describe viśeṣya Brahman (unqualified substantive), with subsequent verses (aiśvaryasya, etc.) describing the viśeśaṇas (qualifiers), culminating in a description of Bhagavān as the viśiṣṭa (qualified substantive.) In another interpretation, this entire selection of verses refers to Bhagavān, because all words are His attributes. 

However, I’m confused by the sentence: “This Brahman is the essential nature of Paramātmā and is denoted by the word Bhagavān.” 

If we take that Brahman refers to viśeṣya Brahman, how can we say that Brahman is denoted by the word Bhagavān? Bhagavān is qualified Reality, and Brahman is not. When we use the word Bhagavān, we don’t mean viśeṣya Brahman at all. 

Answer: A qualified reality has two parts to it—the unqualified substantive and the qualifier.  The qualified Reality denotes both. So, if Bhagavān is the qualified Reality, it also must have two parts.  It must denote both Brahman, the substantive, viśeṣya, and the qualifiers, viśeśaṇas. The substantive is the essential nature of the qualified Reality. So, Brahman is the essential nature of Paramātmā.

Question: The second sentence is also not clear: “The word Bhagavān expresses that original imperishable Lord directly.” As Bhagavān has been called the vācaka (direct expression) of Brahman in the previous sentence, how is it now a vācaka of an imperishable Lord? 

Answer: Bhagavān is vācaka of both because it is the qualified reality. If you say, “red rose,” then the phrase “red rose” is vācaka of both, the red color and the rose.  

Question: If Bhagavān is the vācaka of the viśiṣṭa Supreme Reality, then why call it Brahman?

Answer: As said above, the viśiṣṭa or qualified has two part, the viseysa or substantive and the visesana, or qualifier. For example, red rose is a viśiṣṭa object, with rose as the substantive and red as its qualifier. Red rose can also be just be referred to as rose because it is a specific type of rose. Similary, Bhagavan has Brahman as its substantive, so it can also be referred to as Brahman. Moreover. although the words Brahman, Paramātmā, and Bhagavān have their special meanings, they are also used interchangeably.

Bṛṁhati bṛṁḥayati ca iti brahman—”that which expands and which makes others expand, or that which is great and makes others great—that is Brahman.,” Here the word Brahman actually refers to Bhagavān. Even in Vedānta-sūtra—athāto brahma jijñāsā, the word Brahman refers to Bhagavān and not to Brahman. You will see the word brahman used many times for Bhagavān, especially in Upaniṣads and even in the Purāṇas. 

Question: Frequently it said that Bhagavān’s svarūpa is His śaktishlādinī, saṁvit, and sandhinī. That is, the svarūpa of the red rose is its redness. In the above verse, however, the svarūpa would be defined as the rose. Please clarify this. 

Answer: We usually say that śaktis are part of His svarūpa. This is said by considering the viśeṣaṇa and viśeṣya as one. Remember that, in the ultimate sense, tattva is only one; otherwise you create duality by making a distinction between His svarūpa and His śaktis, which are the viśeṣaṇas.

Understanding the nature of Absolute Nondual Reality can be confusing. It is no wonder that even great scholars are confused, muhyanti yat sūrayaḥ (SB 1.1.1) If you try to understand Reality logically, you will get into trouble. Logic has its limitations. Logic is not rejected completely. However, we try to explain Reality logically, without contradicting śāstra. This explanation of viśeṣaṇa and viśeṣya is a logical explanation but it does not mean that viśeṣaṇa and viśeṣya are separate ontological entities. That is why Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī calls the relationship between Tattva and its śaktis acintya-bhedābheda, which transcends logic. This does not mean that Reality cannot be understood. It can be understood from śāstra and we make use of logic to understand śāstra. However, Reality cannot be grasped merely by logic, independent of śāstra.


  • Vraja Kishor November 23, 2021

    So the qualifier is actually an intrinsic part of the substance it qualifies?

    And this may not always be true.

    Simplistic example of duality between substance and qualifier: We can put kajjal on around our eyes. This kajal wil qualify the eyes, but is not intrinsic to the eye.

    Simplistic example of nonduality between substance and qualifier: We have eyelashes around our eyes. This qualifies the eye (gives it a border) and is intrinsic to the eye-structure itself.

    Is this basically correct?

    Bhagavan’s rupa, for example, is intrinsic to his substance. But it is not necessary that every substance (a jiva, for example) will always manifest rupa that is intrinsic. Correct?

    • Babaji November 26, 2021

      It is a problem of translation.
      In Sanskrit there are three words:
      1. Viśeṣaṇa – translated as an adjective. It is an integral part of the substance. It cannot be separated, like the shape, color, or taste of sugar.
      2. Upādhi – There is no good word to translate. It is not an integral part of the substance, like your example of kajal.
      3. Upalakṣaṇa – indicator. It is also not part of the substance it qualifies.

      The first two words can be translated as qualifiers, but they are not the same.

  • vraja November 29, 2021

    Thank you!

    When I try to come up with translations for upādhi, I usually find myself trying to find some way to use the word “append”


    1. Viśeṣaṇa : Qualifier
    2. Upādhi : Appended Qualification
    3. Upalakṣaṇa: Additional trait


Comments are closed.