Ashtanga yoga - realization of the Absolute Truth
Srimad Bhagavatam – 2.2.11
He is well decorated with an ornamental wreath about His waist and rings studded with valuable jewels on His fingers. His leg lets, His bangles, His oiled hair, curling with a bluish tint, and His beautiful smiling face are all very pleasing.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the most beautiful person amongst all others, and Srila Sukadeva Gosvami describes every part of His transcendental beauty, one after another, in order to teach the impersonalist that the Personality of Godhead is not an imagination by the devotee for facility of worship, but is the Supreme Person in fact and figure. The impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth is but His radiation, as the sun rays are but radiations from the sun.
Sukadeva Goswami is describing the form of the Lord in the heart, in the form of paramatma. This description is to facilitate meditation on the form after conceiving that form in the mind. Somebody asked one question, why is it said that the Lord is measuring eight inches in height. Just like if we have to make an arca murti vigraha, then we ask the sculptor to make the Deity four feet or two and a half feet. Similarly, for the yogi to meditate on the Lord within the heart after conceiving that form in the heart or in the consciousness. Dharana is one of the steps in astanga yoga practice. It begins with yama, niyama - certain dos and don’ts, then progresses to asana - certain bodily exercises to enable the yogi to actually sit firmly in one place without back pain, neck pain, stomach ache - so he has to control his eating, sleeping so that his body will be in perfect condition. He should completely control his breathing, pranayama.
Pranayama is explained by Sukadeva Goswami – it is the breathing exercise by which the life air that is circulating in the body is completely controlled, so that the body will work like a perfect machine without being bothered about eating, sleeping or even breathing. So that the complete attention can be directed towards meditation on the form of the Lord that is conceived in the mind. The fifth step in astanga meditation is pratyahara - withdrawing the senses from all sense objects. These sense objects, one of the elements of the material energy - is called tanmatra.
The spiritual form of the Lord is completely different from material form and is actually one of the elements of the material energy. Sukadeva Goswami describes this interaction in the material world. I am the spirit soul - the person, I am the seer, I have got these eyes which are the instruments or the senses, there is a demigod who is controlling this. The seer is given a facility to actually try to enjoy materially this seeing something for which he hankers. It is a factual form of the Lord, which is eternally existing, but nonetheless for the yogi in the beginning because he cannot perceive the spiritual form which is actually present in the heart, he has first of all to withdraw all his senses from the sense objects to completely become free from all material conceptions of form, it is called pratyahara. So to negate the material form he withdraws his senses - that means in his consciousness he is erasing all conceptions of material form - pratyahara. Then comes dharana - the sixth step where he is guided by the scriptures. He conceives that form within his heart for meditating upon.
Just like Prabhupada is directing his disciples who are painting pictures of Krishna, the yogi is directed by the shastra - how the Lord appears within the heart, the factual description of the actual form of paramatma that is given here. Therefore why you conceive the form of the Lord in the heart being eight inches in size, the description is given here - He is having four hands, He is carrying four symbols sankha, cakra, gadha, padma and which hand is holding which particular symbol, His mouth expresses happiness, His eyes spread like the petals of a lotus, His garments are yellowish like the saffron of the Kadamba flower, bidet with valuable jewels, glowing head dress, ear rings. So all these descriptions are to facilitate that dharana and then after dharana is done, the form is conceived within the heart, then dhyana, meditate on that particular form. An astanga yogi does not concoct a form within his mind; he is conceiving the form exactly in accordance with the description in the scriptures.
Now who is giving this description in the scriptures? Those who have actually seen the Lord in the heart, they are describing. Now as opposed to that the mayavadi says that this form of the Absolute Truth is an imaginary form to facilitate worship by the devotees. Neither the yogi who is following the astanga yoga method is meditating nor concentrating his attention on an imaginary form.
So Prabhupada points out that Sukadeva Goswami describes every part of His transcendental beauty one after another in order to teach the impersonalist that the Supreme Lord who is present in the heart is a factual person and not an imaginary person. Here Prabhupada uses the word impersonalist in the sense of a mayavadi, there is a difference between a mayavadi and a brahmavadi. You can understand from the Bhagavad-gita. A mayavadi is a person who thinks that or who wants to establish that Krishna's form, the form of the Absolute Truth described in the scriptures is actually a form made of maya, a material form. Specifically when we say mayavadi we mean those persons who conclude that Krishna's form is made of matter.
So the mayavadis argue, they try to establish that Krishna's form is or for that matter any form is ultimately a material form. In the Bhagavad-gita in the seventh chapter 24th verse the mayavadis are described as avyaktam vyaktim apannam manyante mam abuddhayah. The mayavadis they say that Krishna has assumed a form or a personality and that personality is coming from some avyakta - avyaktam vyaktim apannam from the avyakta – from the impersonal, unmanifest, some form is coming out manyante they think like that. And Krishna says they are abuddhayah, less intelligent persons. param bhavam ajananto – they do not know My supreme nature, param bhavam ajananto mamavyayam anuttamam that supreme nature is avyayam – imperishable and anuttamam – the finest, that they do not know.
Now brahmavadis are quite different from the mayavadis. The brahmavadis are the ones who know of the Absolute Truth - have spiritual impersonal reality beyond everything material. In the 12th chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna asks Krishna a question -
tesam ke yoga-vittamah
evam satata-yukta ye
bhaktas tvam paryupasate
ye capy aksaram avyaktam
tesam ke yoga-vittamah
Arjuna is asking Krishna which is considered to be more perfect - those who are properly engaged in Your devotional service worshiping the spiritual form or those who worship the impersonal brahman - the unmanifested? Krishna’s direct answer is that those who worship the spiritual form, the devotees, they are the most perfect but Krishna goes on to describe the worshippers of the impersonal brahman in the third and fourth verses of the 12th chapter. This is very important to help us understand the brahmavadi.
ye tv aksaram anirdesyam
sarvatra-gam acintyam ca
kuta-stham acalam dhruvam
Krishna has described the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth which is the object of worship of the brahmavadis. The impersonalists or the brahmavadis, they know the supreme Absolute Truth as Brahman. And that Brahman is described very distinctly in this verse by Krishna Himself. Aksaram – the Absolute Truth is beyond the perception of the senses. You cannot perceive the Absolute Truth using your material senses. Even your spiritual senses are presently covered. Anirdesyam – indefinite, you cannot describe or conceive the Absolute Truth, specially the Brahman feature. Anirdesyam, avyaktam – unmanifest.
So avyaktam is not manifest, so don’t try to search out for the Absolute Truth among all manifested varieties of this material world. The mayavadis try to eliminate all the varieties of this material manifestation by the process called neti neti netiti. The Absolute Truth is not this, not that and they eliminate all varieties. But the brahmavadis - their understanding is avyaktam the Absolute Truth is impersonal, Brahman is unmanifest, He is never manifest in any material form. So Brahman is not realized by searching for Brahman or the Absolute Truth among the manifested material varieties. So there is no possibility that a brahmavadi will look at Krishna's form and say this is not Absolute Truth; he will never do that. A mayavadi looks at Krishna and says this is not Absolute Truth, this is material form. Mayavadis are offenders of Krishna whereas the brahmavadis are not offenders of Krishna.
On brahmavadis there is a description in the Krishna Book. Krishna and Balarama were invited by Kamsa through Akrura to participate in dhanur yagna. Of course it is Kamsa’s plan to kill Krishna and Balarama but nonetheless it was camouflaged as an invitation for a festival - dhanur yagna. So Krishna and Balarama entered the wrestling arena where Kamsa had arranged some wrestlers to kill Krishna and Balarama. Sukadeva Goswami describes how the brahmavadis saw Krishna as impersonal Brahman. So the brahmavadi is not seeing Krishna and thinking here is some ordinary person having material form. They know that the Absolute Truth is non-material, unmanifested, avyaktam sarvatra gam - is all pervading, is present everywhere. Impersonal Brahman is spread everywhere. Then acintyam – inconceivable, so never try to conceive what this Absolute Truth in the form of Brahman is within your mind or within your limited understanding. Kuta stham is actually fixed, it is not something because all these other adjectives suggest it is something very diffused, it is something which even though we cannot conceive in our present condition at least, it doesn’t mean it is something which is diffused, no it is fixed. acalam – immovable, dhruvam. So in this way it is very difficult to actually understand and try to meditate on the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth as Brahman.
Therefore Krishna in the fifth verse says kleso 'dhikataras tesam avyaktasakta cetasam - those who are attached to the unmanifested impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth, for them meditation is very difficult. Whereas the mayavadis are not necessarily going through any difficulty in trying to properly meditate on the impersonal feature. The mayavadis simply try to negate everything material and they finally think they have become liberated when they have eliminated all material varieties. Whereas the brahmavadi - his goal is to realize the impersonal Brahman, the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth and towards that end the brahmavadi is trying to fix his attention on the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth.
Now as opposed to that, Sukadeva Goswami is describing paramatma feature, which is a definite form of the Lord who is present in the heart, who is conceived by the yogi after going through the steps of yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara only after that dharana - conceives that form. After he conceives that form then dhyana - he engages in meditation on that form.
Prabhupada says meditation means concentration of one’s attention on that particular form and then samadhi, when he is completely in meditation on that form, then he achieves complete absorption in the supreme so that is the factual form of the Lord. Even though he begins with conceiving the form in his heart, still when he gets absorbed in that form, because that is a form of the Lord, that is not his imagined or material form; it is actual form of the Lord. When he becomes absorbed in complete meditation on that form he is said to be in samadhi. So he realizes the form of the Lord in the heart. That is the process of astanga yoga - realization of the Absolute Truth or self realization.