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nrsu tava mayaya bhramam amisv avagatya bhrsam
tvayi su-dhiyo ’bhave dadhati bhavam anuprabhavam
katham anuvartatam bhava-bhayam tava yad bhru-kutih
srjati muhus tri-nemir abhavac-charanesu bhayam
The wise souls who understand how Your Maya deludes all human beings render potent loving service to You, who are the source of liberation from birth and death. How, indeed, can fear of material life affect Your faithful servants? On the other hand, Your furrowing eyebrows — the triple-rimmed wheel of time — repeatedly terrify those who refuse to take shelter of You.
The Vedas reveal their most cherished secret — devotional service to the Personality of Godhead — only to those who are tired of material illusion, which is based on a false sense of independence from the Lord. The Vajasaneyi-samhita (32.11) of the White Yajur Veda contains the following mantra:
paritya bhutani paritya lokan
paritya sarvah pradiso disas ca
“After passing beyond all the species of life, all the planetary systems and all the limits of space in all directions, one approaches the original Soul of immortality. Then one receives the opportunity to enter permanently into His domain and worship Him with personal service.”
The proponents of various contending materialistic philosophies may consider themselves very wise, but they are in fact all deluded by the Supreme Lord’s Maya. Vaisnavas recognize this pattern of general delusion and submit themselves to the Supreme Lord in the devotional moods of servitude, friendship and so on. Instead of the heat and strife of philosophical quarrel, the pure Vaisnavas experience only delight at every moment, because the object of their love is He who brings an end to material entanglement. And the devotees of Lord Visnu enjoy constant pleasure not only in this life but in future lives. In whatever births they take, they enjoy loving reciprocations with the Lord. Thus the sincere Vaisnava prays:
yesu yesu bhramamy aham
tatra tatracyuta bhaktir
acyutastu drdha tvayi
“Wherever I may wander, O master, among thousands of species of life, in each situation may I have firmly fixed devotion to You, O Acyuta.” (Visnu Purana)
Some philosophers will question how the Vaisnavas can overcome their material entrapment without thorough analytic knowledge of the entities tvam (“you,” the jiva) and tat (“that,” the Supreme), and without developing a sufficient hatred of material life. The personified Vedas here answer that there is no chance of material illusion continuing to act on devotees of the Lord because even in the earliest stages of devotional service all fear and attachment are removed by the Lord’s grace.
Time is the root cause of all fear in this world. Indeed, with its three divisions of past, present and future it creates terror at the prospect of impending disease, death and hellish suffering — but only for those who have failed to obtain shelter at the feet of the Supreme Lord. As the Lord Himself says in the Ramayana (Lanka-khanda 18.33):
sakrd eva prapanno yas
tavasmiti ca yacate
abhayam sarvada tasmai
dadamy etad vratam mama
“To whomever even once surrenders to Me, pleading ‘I am Yours,’ I give eternal fearlessness. This is my solemn vow.” Furthermore, in the Bhagavad-gita (7.14) the Lord says:
daivi hy esa guna-mayi
mama maya duratyaya
mam eva ye prapadyante
mayam etam taranti te
“This divine energy of Mine consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.”
Vaisnavas do not like to waste their time in prolonged and fruitless wrangling over dry philosophic subjects. They would rather worship the Personality of Godhead than quarrel with philosophical adversaries. The Vaisnavas’ understanding concurs with the essential message of revealed scripture. These devotees’ conception of the Supreme Absolute Truth as the infinite ocean of personality and loving pastimes in His worshipable forms of Krsna, Rama and other divine manifestations, and their conception of themselves as His eternal servants, amount to the perfect conclusion of Vedanta philosophy in terms of the entities tat and tvam.
The Personality of Godhead and His emanations, such as the jiva souls, are simultaneously different and nondifferent, just like the sun and its expanding rays. There are more jivas than anyone can count, and each of them is eternally alive with consciousness, as the srutis confirm: nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. (Katha Upanisad 5.13 and Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.13) When they are sent forth from the body of Maha-Visnu at the beginning of material creation, the jivas are all equal in the sense that they are all atomic particles of the Lord’s marginal energy. But according to their differing conditions, they divide into four groups: Some are covered by ignorance, which obscures their vision like a cloud. Others become liberated from ignorance through a combination of knowledge and devotion. A third group of souls become endowed with pure devotion, with a slight mixture of desire for speculative knowledge and fruitive activity. Those souls attain purified bodies composed of perfect knowledge and bliss with which they can engage in the Lord’s service. Finally, there are those who are devoid of any connection with ignorance; these are the Lord’s eternal associates.
The marginal position of the jiva soul is described in the Narada Pañcaratra:
yat tata-stham tu cid-rupam
sa jiva iti kathyate
“The tata-stha potency should be understood as emanating from the Lord’s samvit [knowledge] energy. This emanation, called the jiva, becomes conditioned by the qualities of material nature.” Because the minute jiva lives within the margin between the Lord’s external, illusory potency, Maya, and His internal, spiritual potency, cit, the jiva is called tata-stha, “marginal.” When he earns liberation by cultivating devotion to the Lord, however, he comes completely under the shelter of the Lord’s internal potency, and at that time he is no longer tainted by the modes of material nature. Lord Krsna confirms this in Bhagavad-gita (14.26):
mam ca yo ’vyabhicarena
sa gunan samatityaitan
“One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.”
The object of the soul’s worship is realized in three aspects: Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan. Impersonal Brahman is like the radiant effulgence of the sun; the Supersoul, or Paramatma, is like the sun globe; and the Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, is like the presiding deity within the sun, complemented by his elaborate entourage and paraphernalia. Or, to cite another analogy, travelers approaching a city from a distance cannot at first distinguish its features but rather see something vaguely shining ahead of them. As they come closer, they may discern a few of the taller buildings. Then, when they are sufficiently close, they will see the city as it is — a bustling metropolis with many citizens, residences, public buildings, highways and parks. In the same way, persons inclined to impersonal meditation may at best gain some realization of the Supreme Lord’s effulgence (Brahman), those who approach closer can learn to see Him as the Lord in the heart (Paramatma), and those who come very close can know Him in His full personality (Bhagavan).
In summary, Srila Sridhara Svami prays:
kathañcid apannam iha prapannam
tvam uddhara sri-nrhare nr-lokam
“O Sri Nrhari, please deliver those human beings who have suffered all kinds of torments and been ripped apart by the sharp edge of samsara’s wheel but who have now somehow found You and are surrendering themselves unto You.”