Sambandha-jnana: Conceptual Orientation

By Swami B.V. Tripurari, originally published in Joy of Self, Mandala Publishing, March 1997.

The term sambandha literally means “relationship.” In the context of Gaudiya Vedanta, it represents knowledge of the relationship between the world and God, God and the atomic souls, the atomic souls and the world, and so on. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, the essence of the Veda, all knowledge that concerns the nature of the Absolute and his energies as well as the activities of those energies is considered sambandha-jnana.

Although the Absolute as described in the Bhagavata is one without a second, he is not without energy. The existence of the Absolute is a dynamic affair on account of his being possessed of various energies. Just as we are all possessed of energy by which we conduct our affairs, so the Absolute is replete with energies. The oneness of the Absolute, however, is not compromised by its possessing energy, for although we can speak of energetic and energy as different, they are at the same time inseparable.

In the monistic schools of Vedanta, the Absolute is portrayed as devoid of energy. Monists conceive of the Godhead as such because they cannot understand how an Absolute replete with energy can at the same time be singular. The unfortunate result of pursuing this line of reasoning is, among other things, that all that we see and experience, including the sense of our own individuality, is rendered an illusion. Moreover, the material experience is considered an illusion that has no logical explanation. The material experience is false knowledge purported to have no knower and no known.

Gaudiya Vedanta can save us from this confusion. Explaining the Absolute as presented in the Bhagavata, Gaudiya Vedanta posits an Absolute that is singular in principle yet plural in terms of experience. The Godhead’s experience of himself is made possible by his inherent energies. Because these energies have no independent existence from the Godhead, they are in this sense one with him. The happy result of this conception is that a logical explanation of the world of our present experience follows. The material world is understood to be the external energy of the Godhead. Furthermore, our own sense of individuality is validated, we being an atomic particle of the Godhead’s marginal energy.

In touch with the external energy, the marginal energy brings about the world as we know it. While matter is insentient, sentient beings bring matter to life. The atomic souls animate the material world, which like a movie has a beginning and an end. Although the movie ends, karmic reruns play endlessly with the same actors in new roles. As atomic souls reincarnate life after life due to their misidentification with matter, they are unaware of their predicament due to the deluding influence of the external power of Godhead. Material nature rules over the atomic souls, even though her capacity to do so is initially dependent on her being animated by them. The relationship between the marginal and external powers of Godhead can be compared to a person in the modern world turning on the insentient television only to have it then take over his life.

In this life of material despair, we may misconstrue that we are happy. Yet time tells us that the happier we are, based on material security, possessions, friends, and family, the more miserable we will be when they all slip through our fingers, and our own attachment to temporary things forces us to remain in a temporal plane in search of eternity. Birth and death are not friends of those in quest of the fountain of youth. Yet it is these two whom we must contend with as long as we insist upon the kingdom of God without God.

In conjunction with the external energy, the activities of the atomic souls, parts and parcels of the Godhead’s marginal energy, are illusory, however profoundly we may speak of them. Although units of eternity and joy, conscious atomic souls such as ourselves are trapped in a network of illusion. Identifying with the external energy of Godhead, we repeatedly experience the tribulations of birth and death. The solution to our plight lies first in knowledge, not only of this predicament, but even more so in knowledge of the Godhead himself.

The Godhead has his own primary energy by which he conducts his affairs aloof from the material atmosphere. These affairs are termed lila in the Bhagavata. They are untouched by the external energy and are thus never subject to the misery that we experience due to the external energy. Because we are constituted of the marginal energy, we can live either under the influence of the external energy of Godhead or under the influence of his primary energy. The former is the life of misery we are now experiencing, the latter the life of joy we are in search of.

Who is this Godhead possessed of primary, external, and marginal powers? The Bhagavata tells us that it is Krsna. Krsna means “all attractive,” “irresistible.” Krsna is joy himself. Because he is so, he also is known in terms of his cognitive and existential features, as Brahman and Paramatma respectively.

For one to exist, one need not be cognizant. If, however, one is cognizant, one must exist as well. One can exist and be cognizant without being joyful. But if one is joyful in nature, one must exist and be cognizant as well. Because Krsna is nothing short of joy itself, out of necessity this singular, absolute person is also known in two other features. As cognizance he is known as Brahman, and as existence, Paramatma. In his Paramatma feature, he manifests and presides over the material world and enters the heart of every atomic soul as a witness to all. In his Brahman feature, he brings material existence to life.

These two features of Krsna are realized by those who tread the paths of yoga and knowledge (jnana) respectively. Those who tread the path of devotion know him as Bhagavan, or he who possesses all attractiveness. These devoted transcendentalists know this ultimate feature of the Absolute in two ways, either through devotion steeped in awe and reverence (vaidhi-bhakti) as the majestic Godhead appearing in innumerable incarnations or through passionate love (raganuga-bhakti) as Krsna, the charming humanlike lover.

Krsna, the charming humanlike Godhead, is the ultimate object of love, depicted by the Gaudiya Vedantins as an eternal youth, the rural cowherder of dark complexion resembling a rain cloud. As the cloud is pregnant with rain, Krsna is full in himself yet showering love in all directions and celebrating his fullness, and in this way nourishing all. Krsna is the God of the Vedanta of aesthetics, not a dry philosophical principle but the ultimate person—infinitely beautiful, charming, soft-hearted, yet strong willed. He has innumerable transcendental qualities and engages in pastimes with his eternal retinue. Flute-bearing, he charms his devotees with passionate spiritual love free from material contamination.

He is the perfect object of love because all potential for love in transcendence can be realized in him. When Krsna becomes the object of one’s love, one can realize not only love steeped in a reverence that is appropriate for the greatest of persons, but love in friendship, the filial love one feels for one’s child, and, in the optimum, passionate love for God. Krsna is thus the supreme Godhead, the acme of theism and transcendental realization, in that it is love that we all seek in eternity. Being the perfect object of love, Krsna is thus objectively supreme through an analysis of love.

Krsna is surrounded by his primary energy appearing as his own family, friends, abode, and paraphernalia. This primary energy ultimately personifies the potency of pleasure, hladini. Known also as Radha, Krsna’s eternal consort, she is the shelter of ultimate love. The object of love, Sri Krsna, and the shelter of love, Sri Radha, together constitute the Godhead as complementary features of the Absolute. There is no meaning to Krsna without Radha and no meaning to Radha without Krsna. In the eternal drama of their transcendental lives, we can play a small yet in nitely important part.

The conceptual orientation presented in the Bhagavata offers great hope to suffering humanity. It tells us that we can experience eternal love in relation to Krsna, the object of perfect love. Love for Krsna stands as a perfect example of the highest love. The reality of Radha-Krsna speaks sweetly, assuring us of all that we aspire for, should we but turn in the right direction. To live in perfect love and joy is possible when we repose our loving propensity in Radha-Krsna. All other attempts for love are futile, for they are off-center at best. Time tells us that nothing belongs to us. Gaudiya Vedanta tells us that everything belongs to Krsna. Loving Krsna enables us to transcend the false proprietorship that has imprisoned us within time and space, leaving self-centered material consciousness forever and entering the land of love.

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