There are three classes of transcendentalists, according to the degree of realization of the absolute truth. One class of transcendentalists are the devotees, who have realized the Absolute Truth to be the Supreme Person, or God. A second class of transcendentalists are the yogis, who have realized the Supersoul Feature of the Absolute Truth, or all-prevading consciousness. And the third class of transcendentalists are the philosophers, who generally can only realize the impersonal feature of the Absolute.
Bhagavan, the Supreme Person, is held to be the ultimate in the Absolute Truth, according to the Vedic writings, which define and delineate the aspects of the Supreme in systematic and scientific fashion. Paramatman, the Supersoul, is a partial manifestation of the Supreme Person, and Brahman is the glowing bodily effulgence of the same Supreme Person.
Impersonal Brahman realization is often compared to knowledge of the sunshine. A higher realization is to understand that there is a localized sundisc; and the study of that feature is compared with knowledge of the Supersoul. The highest realization is to know of the sun planet and its inner workings. This compares with intimate knowledge of the pastimes of the Supreme Original Person, Sri Krishna.
These three features of the Absolute Truth are simply different perspectives of the same One Reality, according to the angle of vision of the seer. From a distance a mountain may appear to be a gray cloud, but as we get closer to it we can distinguish different features, such as villages, rivers, or wooded areas. And, when we have reached the mountain, we can distinguish individual blades of grass, rocks, and animals.
When we realize the Supreme Person, this includes realization of His partial manifestation and of His effulgence, both being emanations from Him. However, simply realizing His effulgence, or partial manifestation, does not include realization of His Personal feature. In The Brahma Samhita, one of the most important Vedic Scriptures, it is said:
I worship Govinda, the Primeval Lord, only the tip of the toe of Whose Lotus Feet is approached by the yogis who aspire after the transcendental, betaking themselves to Pranayama [breath control] by drilling the respiration: or by the jnanis [philosophers], who try to find the non-differentiated Brahman through the process of elimination of the mundane, a process extending over thousands of millions of years.
Realization of Brahman or of Paramatman is, therefore, incomplete realization, and the systems of Yoga and philosophical reasoning are also incomplete. That the only way to know the Supreme Absolute Truth perfectly is through devotion is the message of The Brahma Samhita, as it is of all the great Vedic Scriptures which have come down to us from the remotest antiquity.
The impersonalists generally cannot realize the spiritual focus of the Supreme Person. Being frustrated in one's attempts at sense gratification on the materialistic sphere, "by the process of elimination of the mundane," that is, by saying "not this, not that," (neti, neti) one may "try to find the non-differentiated Brahman." Intellectually, through reason and logic, one speculates on the absolute Truth. Due to a poor fund of knowledge, however, such a philosopher tends to misinterpret the Scriptures, and comes to deny the Personal feature of the Lord. This process can go on for "thousands of millions of years," as the soul progresses from birth to birth to birth. Finally, after achieving realization of the non-differentiated Brahman, the Absolute Nature he tries to merge with It, desiring to lose his individuality to become God. This is called spiritual suicide, because we are all eternally individual living entities. This absolute individuality is confirmed in The Bhagavad Gita, by far the most widely revered of all the Vedic Scriptural texts, in the words of the Supreme Person Himself:
In fact, there never was a time when I was not, nor when you and all these kings were not. Nor hereafter shall We cease to be.
The soul is never born, nor does it die; nor does it exist by coming into being. For it is unborn, eternal everlasting and primeval; even though the body is slain, the soul is not.
Further, in The Brahma Samhita, it is said:
The same soul is eternal and exists for all eternity, without any beginning, joined to the Supreme Lord by the tie of eternal kinship.
It is possible to "merge" with the impersonal Brahman, and to temporarily suspend our individuality. If we see an airplane fly very high into the sky, it may go out of our sight and thus seem to have merged with the sky. However, the fact is that if the airplane does not land on another planet, it must again return to earth. Similarly, if we do not reach one of the innumerable transcendental planets within the spiritual sky, we must again at some time take our birth in this material world.
It is the nature of the individual soul to be situated on a planet, be it material or spiritual. In this way he can enjoy the variegatedness of life. Spiritual variegatedness, we should understand, is far superior to its material reflection. Variety is, after all, the basis of pleasure and happiness. And the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is known as Sat-Chit-Ananda Vigraha, "eternity and bliss in the fullest perfection." When we realize the impersonal Brahman, we realize only His Eternal (Sat) quality, without approaching the Knowledge (Chit) and Bliss (Ananda) aspects of the Absolute.
The Opulence Of God
The impersonalist further thinks that he can become God by merging with the impersonal Brahman. This is a dangerous form of atheism. The thought that someone can become God should be seen as patent nonsense. Is God so insignificant that a dog can become God? God must be eternally God, and we are eternally His parts and parcels His servitors. Qualitatively we are indeed the same as God one with Him, as is frequently said but quantitatively there is a vast difference. The Vedic wisdom says that Krishna, God, possesses six opulences in full: all wealth, all fame. all beauty, all power, all knowledge and all renunciation. We also possess these six opulences, but in very minute quantities. If anyone can actually show that he possesses these qualities in full, then he must be accepted as God. If not, then he has no claim to divinity. If you claim to be God, then you must demonstrate that you are God, and not simply live like a dog.
The qualities of Krishna, the Godhead, have also been seen as sixty-four in number by great sages. And the living entity is said to possess 78% of these qualities. He can never possess all 100%.
Now, if we say we are God, but that we have temporarily forgotten, this is also insubstantial. God never forgets. If God were subject to forgetfulness or Maya, Illusion, then Maya would be more powerful than God. So what then would be the meaning of the word "god"?
Wanting to become God is the very cause of our downfall into the material existence. We must realize that we are always subservient to God. We are eternally His infinitesimal parts and parcels. It is because we are so infinitesimal that we are subject to delusion by the material energy of the Lord. He, however, is always transcendental and in full control of His illusory energy, even when He appears amongst us, as He sometimes does. This is confirmed in The Brahma Samhita by the following two verses:
The Lord of Gokula [Krishna] is the transcendental Supreme Godhead, the Own Self of Eternal Ecstasies. He is superior to all superiors, and is busily engaged in the enjoyments of the transcendental realm, and He has no association with His mundane potency.
The external potency, Maya, who is the shadow of the Chit [intelligence] potency, is worshipped by all people as Durga, the creating, preserving agency of this mundane world. But I adore the Primeval Lord Govinda, in accordance with Whose will Durga conducts herself.
If we take a drop of water from the ocean and analyze it, we will find that its chemical composition is the same as that of the ocean. In the same way, we are microscopic samples of God, but can we say that the drop of water is the ocean? In the Upanishads, the measurement of the spirit soul is given as one ten-thousandth the ultimate tip of a hair. Yet, we tend to become so inflated as to claim to be God. We are like sparks from a fire. The sparks are indeed fire, but when they fly out of the fire they are subject to extinction. Similarly, we can only remain in our transcendental position by remaining in contact with Krishna, the Supreme Whole.
Through practice of the eightfold Yoga system Astanga Yoga, that is, which consists of posture, controlling the breath, concentration, meditation, etc. the yogis can realize the partial manifestation of the Supreme Person, Which is known as the Supersoul, or Paramatman. This Paramatman is situated in everyone's heart as the indwelling Witness and Guide. In the Upanishads the relationship between the individual soul and the Supersoul is compared to two birds sitting in one tree. One bird is eating the fruit of the tree, while the other bird simply sits and watches. The individual soul is compared to the eating bird, and the Paramatman to the bird who is watching. The Paramatman witnesses all our actions, and awards us the fruits of these actions:
That Supersoul enters into the bodies of the created beings and, according to the modes of material Nature, causes the living beings in different bodies to enjoy, by the subtle mind and the effects of Nature. (Srimad Bhagwatam 1:2:32)
He is also waiting to help us go back to home, back to Godhead, should we decide to turn to Him for guidance. He is our dearmost Friend. But the conditioned souls have chosen to ignore Him. Still, He is so kind as to stay with us constantly, and to try converting us to our real and happy state.
Realization of the Supersoul is a step higher than realization of the impersonal Brahman. It recognizes both eternity (Sat) and knowledge (Chit). Yet the bliss, Ananda, of full spiritual realization is still missing. Narada Muni, a very great saint, says in The Srimad Bhagwatam:
It is true that by practicing restraint of the senses in the Yoga system one can get relief from the disturbances of desire and lust; but that is not sufficient to give the satisfaction to the soul which is derived from devotional service to the Personality of Godhead. Only devotional service to the Personality of Godhead can fully satisfy the soul, by developing love of Godhead, unalloyed Prema, which is the perfectional stage of life.
In the Sixth Chapter of The Bhagavad Gita, Krishna describes the Yoga system to Arjuna, and Arjuna rejects it as being too difficult. Arjuna was such a very intelligent man that he understood The Bhagavad Gita in about an hour, as it was spoken to him by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Today men are studying The Gita for lifetimes and still cannot understand it. Also, Arjuna had the qualification of being Krishna's friend and devotee. Yet he said:
O Madhusudana [Krishna], the system of Yoga which You have summarized appears impractical and unendurable to me, for the mind is restless and unsteady.
For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krishna, and to subdue it is, it seems to me, more difficult than controlling the wind.
If the great-souled Arjuna rejected this system as being too difficult for him 5,000 years ago, how can we, who are far inferior to Arjuna and who are living in an age that is very unconducive to spiritual practice, hope to perfect this system of Yoga? Our duration of life is shortened, we have poor memory, meager intelligence, and are unfortunate in so many ways. This Yoga system was the recommended means for spiritual realization in the "Satya Yuga," or Golden Age of a long-gone antiquity. Now we are in the midst of a new age, called "Kali Yuga," which is characterized by quarrel, chaos, and heavy iron industry. And for realization in this age the chanting of the Holy Names of God is recommended by many authorities and Scriptures. According to Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Who appeared some 500 years ago in India:
In the Age of Kali there is no other religion than glorifying the Lord by utterance of His Holy Names, and that is the injunction of all the revealed Scriptures.
In Satya Yuga, by practicing the Yoga system with devotion one could realize Krishna, the Supreme Person. But even then there were many pitfalls along the way. For example, some yogis might become attracted by the development of their mystic powers. The yogi who misuses these powers for personal gain surely brings his spiritual progress to a halt.
Other yogis, having realized the Paramatman, think that they have realized the Absolute Truth in full, and therefore do not go on to realize the Supreme Person, of Whom the Supersoul is only a partial manifestation. Others are caused to fall down by attraction for material sense enjoyment. The senses are artificially controlled by the Yoga system, but as soon as some opportunity for sense enjoyment presents itself, the senses may again exert themselves to take advantage of it. Another mistake is to falsely identify the individual soul with the Supersoul, and again come to the faulty conclusion that one is God Himself.
The really intelligent transcendentalist will immediately take shelter of the Lotus Feet of Krishna, and serve Him with devotion. In this way he can know the Supreme Absolute Truth in full, as the Supreme Person. Krishna is unknowable, but through His Grace, He may reveal Himself to his devotees. Scriptures, and the great saints, the mahatmas, tell us over and over again to simply surrender to God, and in this way reach the perfection of life. Krishna is Sat-Chit-Ananda Vigraha, the form of eternity, knowledge and bliss in perfection. He is calling mankind to go back to home, back to Godhead, trying to wake him up from the gross dream of material life. He offers man a very simple process, and the only possible obstruction to achieving the goal is man's own failure to accept it.
Of this devotional process, Lord Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita says:
Surrendering all duties, seek refuge in Me alone. I shall absolve you of all sins, so do not grieve.
And, in The Srimad Bhagwatam, the great sage Vyasadeva writes:
Thus the enlivened man, affected by contact with devotional service to the Lord, can positively have scientific knowledge of the Personality of Godhead, liberated from all material association.