Lord Caitanya’s debate with Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya

In this article, we will present further refutations of the Mayavada philosophy by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the form of His conversations with Sri Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. These explanations elaborate the points discussed in the previous part and firmly dismantle the Mayavada theory of Shankarcharya.

Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya was a learned scholar and a teacher of Vedanta philosophy in Jagannatha Puri. He is considered an incarnation of Bhrihaspati, the guru of the demigods. His erudition and command over the subject matters of Vedanta was unmatched. As an unrivaled exponent of nyaya, Sri Sarvabhauma had many sannyasi disciples, though he was a householder himself.  Due to his scholarship, King Prataparudra personally invited and adorned the pandita as the chief scholar of his court. However, the Bhattacharya was an impersonalist of the Shankara school and hence taught the mayavada conclusions.

When Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu first arrived in Jagannatha Puri after accepting sannayasa, He went to have darshana of Sri Jagannatha and fainted there due to spiritual ecstasy. Sarvabhuma Bhattacharya, who was present there, ascertained that this was a genuine symptom of transcendental transformation and arranged for the Lord to be brought to his own house.  Attracted by the elevated characteristics and the gentle behavior of Lord Caitanya, he requested the Lord to be his guest and made all necessary arrangements. Taking the Lord to be a young and inexperienced sannyasi who needs guidance to maintain his vows, Sarvabhauma offered to teach Him the Vedanta philosophy.  The Bhattacharya thought that the Lord should continuously read Vedanta so that He may be fixed up in the renounced order of life and thus be elevated to the path of Advaita. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu accepted this proposal with humility, appreciating the concern of Sri Sarvabhauma as an indication of paternal affection.  

Thus, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya expounded his understanding of the Vedanta philosophy to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu continuously for seven days. However, while listening patiently, the Lord remained silent and never uttered a word. Surprised by His silence, Sarvabhauma enquired from the Lord whether He was able to comprehend the difficult subject matter and encouraged Him to seek clarifications. 

Lord Caitanya disclosed the reason for his silence and spoke to the Bhattacharya, refuting all his impersonalistic interpretations. Following is a summary of Lord Caitanya’s explanations of the real meaning of the Vedanta, which led to the deliverance of Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya.

The Lord begins by saying that while the explanations of the Vedanta sutras are clear, Sarvabhauma ‘s  interpretations are agitating His mind. The factual meanings of the aphorisms are as clear as the sunshine but the Mayavadi philosophers try to cloud them by their reckless interpretations. The Lord then chastised Sri Sarvabhuma saying that it appears to be the business of the impersonalists to cover the meaning of the brahma sutras in order to present their false and imaginary explanations by word jugglery even if it is detected to be absurd. The direct meanings of Upanishads are also recorded in the Vedanta sutras. This is because the sutras are nothing but the Upanishadic summary. Hence, the direct meaning of each sutra should be accepted as it is without interpretation and not as done by the Mayavadis.   

The Lord then declared that the pramana or evidence given in the Vedic version to be the foremost among all other evidences. This direct understanding is to be taken as the first class pramanaSrila Prabhupada elaborates this point in his purport by enlightening the readers that there are ten kinds of pramana listed by Srila Jiva Goswami in his Tatva sandarbha.  Out of these, the four important evidences are direct perception, hypothesis, historical reference and the Vedas.  However, the sabda pramana i.e, the evidence of the Vedic statements has to be accepted as final for they are apauruseya or the revealed knowledge from the Supreme Personality Himself.  Other forms of evidence like anumana or hypothesis cannot stand as the self-evident proof of the Vedic statements. Therefore the authority of the Vedic statements as the self-evident truth is lost. The examples of cow dung and conch shell are cited. The Vedas, which are as radiant as the sun, state that they are pure and sanctified, though it may appear contradictory. However, we have to unreservedly accept this statement as a fact because it is a Vedic injunction and conjecturing about the statements is akin to covering the sun with clouds.

In the same manner, all the bonafide Vedic statements and other literatures that strictly adhere to Vedic teachings explain the brahman to be subordinate to the Supreme Lord, being one of His features. The Supreme Absolute truth is a person, full of six oppulances. The apparent impersonal descriptions of God in the Vedas are to establish that everything actually belongs to Him and that He is free from mundane characteristics. For instance, it is said in the Svetashvatara Upanishad:

apāṇi-pādo javano grahītā
paśyaty acakṣuḥ sa śṛṇoty akarṇaḥ
sa vetti vedyaḿ na ca tasyāsti vettā
tam āhur agryaḿ puruṣaḿ mahāntam

"He has no feet or hands, yet He is the swiftest runner and can grasp anything. Though without eyes or ears, He sees and hears. Nobody knows Him, yet He is the knower and the object of knowledge.

Sages describe Him as the supreme, original Personality of Godhead."
Srila Prabhupada explains the import of this verse in the following manner:

“Although the Supreme Lord is described as having no hands and legs, He nonetheless accepts all sacrificial offerings. He has no eyes, yet He sees everything. He has no ears, yet He hears everything. When it is stated that the Supreme Lord has no hands and legs, one should not think that He is impersonal. Rather, He has no mundane hands or legs like ours. "He has no eyes, yet He sees." This means that He does not have mundane, limited eyes like ours. Rather, He has such eyes that He can see past, present and future, everywhere, in every corner of the universe and in every corner of the heart of every living entity. Thus the impersonal descriptions in the Vedas intend to deny mundane characteristics in the Supreme Lord. They do not intend to establish the Supreme Lord as impersonal.”

Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, the author of Caitanya Caritamrita quotes the verse from Sri Caitanya-candrodaya-nataka to describe Lord Caitanya’s explanation about the existence of both the personal and impersonal aspects in the Personality of Godhead:

yā yā śrutir jalpati nirviśeṣaḿ
sā sābhidhatte sa-viśeṣam eva
vicāra-yoge sati hanta tāsāḿ
prāyo balīyaḥ sa-viśeṣam eva

'Whatever Vedic mantras describe the Absolute Truth impersonally only prove in the end that the Absolute Truth is a person. The Supreme Lord is understood in two features — impersonal and personal. If one considers the Supreme Personality of Godhead in both features, he can actually understand the Absolute Truth. He knows that the personal understanding is stronger because we see that everything is full of variety. No one can see anything that is not full of variety.'

Srila Prabhupada explains this principle in the Sri Isopanisad:

 “Here is a description of some of the Supreme Lord's transcendental activities, executed by His inconceivable potencies. The contradictions given here prove the inconceivable potencies of the Lord. "He walks, and He does not walk." Ordinarily, if someone can walk, it is illogical to say he cannot walk. But in reference to God, such a contradiction simply serves to indicate His inconceivable power. With our limited fund of knowledge we cannot accommodate such contradictions, and therefore we conceive of the Lord in terms of our limited powers of understanding. For example, the impersonalist philosophers of the Mayavada school accept only the Lord's impersonal activities and reject His personal feature. But the members of the Bhagavata school, adopting the perfect conception of the Lord, accept His inconceivable potencies and thus understand that He is both personal and impersonal. The bhagavatas know that without inconceivable potencies there can be no meaning to the words "Supreme Lord."”

This explanation is a part of the purports to the following verse:

tad ejati tan naijati tad dūre tad v antike
tad antar asya sarvasya tad u sarvasyāsya bāhyataḥ

“The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.”

Continuing to speaking further, Lord Caitanya describes the opulences of the Supreme Person. All the three phases of cosmic manifestation (creation, maintainence and annihilation) is due to the will of the Supreme Lord. When the Lord wished to become many, He glanced over the material energy and caused this cosmic situation to manifest. As there was no existence of the material mind and eyes before creation, the transcendental nature of the Lord’s completely spiritual senses (mind and eyes) is confirmed.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu also categorises the personal features of the Lord into apadana(ablative case indicating cosmic manifestation), karana(instrumental case indicating maintenance) and adhikarana (locative case indicating annihilation or merging of creation into the Absolute truth).

'apādāna,' 'karaṇa,' 'adhikaraṇa'-kāraka tina
bhagavānera saviśeṣe ei tina cihna

"The personal features of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are categorized in three cases — namely ablative, instrumental and locative."

He then establishes the actual meaning of the word ‘brahman’ to be the purna Bhagavan as stated in the following verse.

brahma-śabde kahe pūrṇa svayaḿ bhagavān
svayaḿ bhagavān kṛṣṇa, — śāstrera pramāṇa

"The word 'Brahman’ indicates the complete Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is Sri Krishna. That is the verdict of all Vedic literature.”

Glorifying the inconceivable magnificence of Krishna, who actuates the three phases of the cosmic manifestation, and yet remains unchanged and stays aloof from it, Lord Caitanya says:

maṇi yaiche avikṛte prasabe hema-bhāra
jagad-rūpa haya īśvara, tabu avikāra

"The touchstone, after touching iron, produces volumes of gold without being changed. Similarly, the Supreme Personality of Godhead manifests Himself as the cosmic manifestation by His inconceivable potency, yet He remains unchanged in His eternal, transcendental form.

Hence, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu questions Sri Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya on how he is trying to explain the Supreme Personality, whose form is transcendental and complete with six opulences to be impersonal and formless. The Lord, who is sac-cid-ananda vigraha, has three primary potencies of knowledge(samvit), eternality(sandhini) and bliss(hladini) and they are fully present in Him. The three phases of His spiritual potencies are called internal, marginal and external. Then, how can the Lord be impersonal and devoid of all potencies? How could the Lord who is the master of these potencies and the living entity who is subordinate (to them) be one and the same? At the same time, how can the living entity be completely different from the Lord when the same jiva is a marginal potency of the Lord? How could the transcendental form of the Lord, which is complete in sat, cit and ananda and is untinged by the tri-gunas, be in the material mode of goodness?

In this way, Lord Caitanya completely defeated the arguments of Sri Sarvabhauma. While exposing the various faults of Mayavada, He pointed out that this philoshophy of Mayavada is more dangerous than that of Buddhism as it takes shelter of the Vedic scriptures and yet teaches agnosticism (vedāśraya nāstikya-vāda). Hence, one who hears the Saririka bhasya explanations is ruined as Shankaracharya establishes his own point by not touching upon the direct meaning and deliberately diverts attention by misreprensentation(vitanda vada).

In reality, Vedic literatures teach the subject matters of sambandha, abhideya and prayojana. Therefore, the verdict of the sastras is that Krishna is the center of all relationships, acting in devotional service is the only occupation and attainment of love of Godhead is the ultimate goal of life.

Finally, Lord Caitanya completed His refutation of Mayavada by stating that any interpretation of the self-evident meanings of the Vedic literature has to be understood as imaginary and must be rejected. Hearing these perfect and potent instructions of the Lord, Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya completely surrendered to Lord Caitanya and accepted His conclusions in full faith and devotion. After this incident, he came to be known as one of the most confidential devotees of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

We will continue to study the refutations of Mayavada in the next article.