The Vedic literature is to be considered a source of real knowledge, but if one does not take it as it is, one will be misled. For example, the Bhagavad-gītā is an important Vedic literature that has been taught for many years, but because it was commented upon by unscrupulous rascals, people derived no benefit from it, and no one came to the conclusion of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Since the purport of the Bhagavad-gītā is now being presented as it is, however, within four or five short years thousands of people all over the world have become Kṛṣṇa conscious. That is the difference between direct and indirect explanations of the Vedic literature. Therefore Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, mukhya-vṛttye sei artha parama mahattva: “To teach the Vedic literature according to its direct meaning, without false commentary, is glorious.” Unfortunately, Śrī Śaṅkarācārya, by the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, compromised between atheism and theism in order to cheat the atheists and bring them to theism, and to do so he gave up the direct method of Vedic knowledge and tried to present a meaning which is indirect. It is with this purpose that he wrote his Śārīraka-bhāṣya commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra.
One should not, therefore, attribute very much importance to the Śārīraka-bhāṣya. In order to understand Vedānta philosophy, one must study Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, which begins with the words oṁ namo bhagavate vāsudevāya, janmādy asya yato ’nvayād itarataś cārtheṣv abhijñaḥ sva-rāṭ: “I offer my obeisances unto Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, son of Vasudeva, who is the Supreme all-pervading Personality of Godhead. I meditate upon Him, the transcendent reality, who is the primeval cause of all causes, from whom all manifested universes arise, in whom they dwell and by whom they are destroyed. I meditate upon that eternally effulgent Lord, who is directly and indirectly conscious of all manifestations and yet is fully independent.” (SB 1.1.1) Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the real commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra. Unfortunately, if one is attracted to Śrī Śaṅkarācārya’s commentary, Śārīraka-bhāṣya, his spiritual life is doomed.
One may argue that since Śaṅkarācārya is an incarnation of Lord Śiva, how is it that he cheated people in this way? The answer is that he did so on the order of his master, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is confirmed in the Padma Purāṇa, in the words of Lord Śiva himself:
- māyāvādam asac chāstraṁ pracchannaṁ bauddham ucyate
- mayaiva kalpitaṁ devi kalau brāhmaṇa-rūpiṇā
- brahmaṇaś cāparaṁ rūpaṁ nirguṇaṁ vakṣyate mayā
- sarva-svaṁ jagato ’py asya mohanārthaṁ kalau yuge
- vedānte tu mahā-śāstre māyāvādam avaidikam
- mayaiva vakṣyate devi jagatāṁ nāśa-kāraṇāt
“The Māyāvāda philosophy,” Lord Śiva informed his wife Pārvatī, “is impious [asac chāstra]. It is covered Buddhism. My dear Pārvatī, in Kali-yuga I assume the form of a brāhmaṇa and teach this imagined Māyāvāda philosophy. In order to cheat the atheists, I describe the Supreme Personality of Godhead to be without form and without qualities. Similarly, in explaining Vedānta I describe the same Māyāvāda philosophy in order to mislead the entire population toward atheism by denying the personal form of the Lord.” In the Śiva Purāṇa the Supreme Personality of Godhead told Lord Śiva:
- dvāparādau yuge bhūtvā kalayā mānuṣādiṣu
- svāgamaiḥ kalpitais tvaṁ ca janān mad-vimukhān kuru
“In Kali-yuga, mislead the people in general by propounding imaginary meanings for the Vedas to bewilder them.” These are the descriptions of the Purāṇas.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura comments that mukhya-vṛtti (“the direct meaning”) is abhidhā-vṛtti, or the meaning that one can understand immediately from the statements of dictionaries, whereas gauṇa-vṛtti (“the indirect meaning”) is a meaning that one imagines without consulting the dictionary. For example, one politician has said that Kurukṣetra refers to the body, but in the dictionary there is no such definition. Therefore this imaginary meaning is gauṇa-vṛtti, whereas the direct meaning found in the dictionary is mukhya-vṛtti or abhidhā-vṛtti. This is the distinction between the two. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu recommends that one understand the Vedic literature in terms of abhidhā-vṛtti, and the gauṇa-vṛtti He rejects. Sometimes, however, as a matter of necessity, the Vedic literature is described in terms of the lakṣaṇā-vṛtti or gauṇa-vṛtti, but one should not accept such explanations as permanent truths.
The purpose of the discussions in the Upaniṣads and Vedānta-sūtra is to philosophically establish the personal feature of the Absolute Truth. The impersonalists, however, in order to establish their philosophy, accept these discussions in terms of lakṣaṇā-vṛtti, or indirect meanings. Thus instead of being tattva-vāda, or in search of the Absolute Truth, they become Māyāvāda, or illusioned by the material energy. When Śrī Viṣṇu Svāmī, one of the four ācāryas of the Vaiṣṇava cult, presented his thesis on the subject matter of śuddhādvaita-vāda, immediately the Māyāvādīs took advantage of this philosophy and tried to establish their advaita-vāda or kevalādvaita-vāda. To defeat this kevalādvaita-vāda, Śrī Rāmānujācārya presented his philosophy as viśiṣṭādvaita-vāda, and Śrī Madhvācārya presented his philosophy of tattva-vāda, both of which are stumbling blocks to the Māyāvādīs because they defeat their philosophy in scrupulous detail. Students of Vedic philosophy know very well how strongly Śrī Rāmānujācārya’s viśiṣṭādvaita-vāda and Śrī Madhvācārya’s tattva-vāda contest the impersonal Māyāvāda philosophy. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, however, accepted the direct meaning of the Vedānta philosophy and thus defeated the Māyāvāda philosophy immediately. He opined in this connection that anyone who follows the principles of the Śārīraka-bhāṣya is doomed. This is confirmed in the Padma Purāṇa, where Lord Śiva tells Pārvatī:
- śṛṇu devi pravakṣyāmi tāmasāni yathā-kramam
- yeṣāṁ śravaṇa-mātreṇa pātityaṁ jñāninām api
- apārthaṁ śruti-vākyānāṁ darśayal loka-garhitam
- karma-svarūpa-tyājyatvam atra ca pratipādyate
- sarva-karma-paribhraṁśān naiṣkarmyaṁ tatra cocyate
- parātma-jīvayor aikyaṁ mayātra pratipādyate
“My dear wife, hear my explanations of how I have spread ignorance through Māyāvāda philosophy. Simply by hearing it, even an advanced scholar will fall down. In this philosophy, which is certainly very inauspicious for people in general, I have misrepresented the real meaning of the Vedas and recommended that one give up all activities in order to achieve freedom from karma. In this Māyāvāda philosophy I have described the jīvātmā and Paramātmā to be one and the same.” How the Māyāvāda philosophy was condemned by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His followers is described in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā, Second Chapter, verses 94 through 99, where Svarūpa-dāmodara Gosvāmī says that anyone who is eager to understand the Māyāvāda philosophy must be considered insane. This especially applies to a Vaiṣṇava who reads the Śārīraka-bhāṣya and considers himself to be one with God. The Māyāvādī philosophers have presented their arguments in such attractive, flowery language that hearing Māyāvāda philosophy may sometimes change the mind of even a mahā-bhāgavata, or very advanced devotee. An actual Vaiṣṇava cannot tolerate any philosophy that claims God and the living being to be one and the same.