Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Krsna Transcends the Suddha Sattva Avatara

[The present article was written in its primordial form in the year 2011 CE. Yet it could not be published all these years. I have posted it today after making some modifications.]

The Book II (dvitiya skandha) of the Bhagavata of Sankaradeva contains much material for the study of the core doctrine of Sankaradeva.

Suddha sattva avatara

In the Discourse between Brahma and Narada (Brahma Narada Samvada) section of Book II, we find the concept of suddha sattva avatara—those incarnations/manifestations (rupas) of the Lord which are shown to be of the nature of purity and sattva. In the course of their conversation (samvada), Brahma tells Narada that by doing the listening (sravana) of the tale of these ‘pure’ avataras one may most happily obtain liberation:

Açöl শুনা শুদ্ধ oY²Å AlY²çjP±³i |
শ্ৰৱণতে hpçoëõL hëKë²èY² dçl³i || 99 ||
Acçèa Rcöh Réöl Kë²K²Zç শুনয় |
Y²çj hök K²XádZ fç虲³iç AçQ²³i ||
AlY²çj P±èjöŒ Y²çpçK² èfcçm³i |
èhök höpça³i Kï²n¸dçöl jèY² p³i || 100 ||
শুনা èK²Që² K²öpç hëLÅ hëLÅ AlY²çj |
RMY²j ôkçöK² শুনি Y²ö´V²çK² oüoçj ||
Gèp fëèk ódÆöh èfèb K²èpfçK² økkç |

(Note: The Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha edition reads suddha satya avatara rather than suddha sattva avatara. This may be a variant reading or a printing error.)

[Brahma says to Narada,] “Hear now about the suddha sattva avataras [of Krsna],
listening to whose deeds people happily obtain liberation. 99
Through countless births, the embodied personality (jiva) listens to foul talk.
The passage of his ear is blocked by its accumulated dirt.
The tale of these descents removes this filth.
Liberation is obtained; loving attachment to Krsna’s feet is generated. 100
Hear now, I narrate to you the facts relating to some of the chief descents of the Lord.
Let the people of the world be saved from samsara listening to it.”
With these words, the giver of injunction began to recount with great love.

It is evident from this passage that the main intention of Brahma behind narrating to Narada the tale of the avataras of Krsna is to secure the welfare of the people of the world. Avatara caritra seems to be one of the most important subjects of the Bhagavata, if not the central one. The entire scripture, in a sense, may be viewed as one colossal avatara caritra. But of course, in the 10th Book, we have Krsna caritra rather than avatara caritra since Krsna is God Himself and not an avatara. As Sankaradeva hammers home the point in the very first line of his Kirttana, “sarva avatarara karana narayana” (He (Krsna) is the cause of all descents (rather than a descent Himself)). Without doubt, it is precisely for this reason that Sankaradeva does not bring in Krsna in his Description of the Twenty Four Descents of the Lord (caturvimsati avatara varnana). Of course, Krsna is considered as a descent, the paripurnatama avatara or the most complete descent—the purna or full avatara. But Sankaradeva, in consonance with the philosophy of the Bhagavata (krsnastu bhagavan svayam), does not mention Krsna in his description of the twenty-four incarnations in the Kirttana

Again, precisely for the reason mentioned above, Madhavadeva also in his Nama Ghosa, keeps Krsna separate from his list of the ten forms or manifestations (akrti) of the supreme immanent personality:

matsya kurmma narasimha, bamana parasurama
halirama baraha srirama
buddha kalki name dasa, akrti dharica krsna
tayu pave karoho pranama

The ‘fish,’ the ‘tortoise,’ the ‘man-lion,’ the ‘dwarf,’ the ‘axe-wielding Rama,’
‘Rama-with-plough,’ the ‘boar,’ ‘the all-opulent Rama,’
‘the intellectual one (Buddha)’ and ‘the destroyer of heretics (Kalki)’—by these names, in ten forms (akrti) you appear, Krsna;
at your feet I pay obeisance. 3

Madhavadeva is making here the same point as Sankaradeva. Krsna is the source of all incarnations, the cause (karana) of all these manifestations and not the manifestations themselves. Krsna transcends the suddha sattva avatara. Krsna is God Himself.

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