Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 11, Chapter 22, Text 01-03


SB 11.22.1-3

sri-uddhava uvaca
kati tattvani visvesa
 sankhyatany rsibhih prabho
navaikadasa pañca triny
 attha tvam iha susruma
kecit sad-vimsatim prahur
 apare pañca-vimsatim
saptaike nava sat kecic
 catvary ekadasapare
kecit saptadasa prahuh
 sodasaike trayodasa
etavattvam hi sankhyanam
 rsayo yad-vivaksaya
gayanti prthag ayusmann
 idam no vaktum arhasi
Uddhava inquired: My dear Lord, O master of the universe, how many different elements of creation have been enumerated by the great sages? I have heard You personally describe a total of twenty-eight — God, the jiva soul, the mahat-tattva, false ego, the five gross elements, the ten senses, the mind, the five subtle objects of perception and the three modes of nature. But some authorities say that there are twenty-six elements, while others cite twenty-five or else seven, nine, six, four or eleven, and even others say that there are seventeen, sixteen or thirteen. What did each of these sages have in mind when he calculated the creative elements in such different ways? O supreme eternal, kindly explain this to me.
Lord Krsna thoroughly explained in the previous chapter that Vedic knowledge is not meant for sense gratification but for liberation from material bondage. Now Uddhava presents some intermediate questions that must be answered so the path of liberation will be clear. Different philosophers have historically disagreed over the exact number of material elements, about the existence and nonexistence of particular external objects and about the existence of the soul itself. The jñana-kanda section of the Vedas aims at liberation through analytic understanding of the material world and of the spirit soul as a transcendental element beyond matter. Ultimately the Supreme Lord Himself stands above all elements and maintains them by His personal potency. Uddhava mentions in numerical terms different methodologies of various sages, citing first the Lord’s own opinion. The word ayusman, or “possessing eternal form,” is significant in this regard. Since Lord Krsna is eternal, He possesses all knowledge of past, present and future and is thus the original and supreme philosopher.
According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, the different analytic approaches mentioned by Sri Uddhava are actually not contradictory, since they are different methods of categorizing the same reality. Atheistic speculation on reality does not recognize the existence of God; consequently it is a worthless attempt to explain the truth. The Lord Himself empowers different living entities to speculate and speak on reality in different ways. The actual reality, however, is the Lord Himself, who will now speak to Sri Uddhava.
Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 11, Chapter 22, Text 04