“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.5)
kleśo ‘dhikataras teṣām
avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaṁ
Friend2: Haha. Do you know what any of these words mean?
Friend1: Sure I do. Mayavada means “impersonalism.”
Friend2: Good. Do you know the root definition?
Friend1: Like from the Sanskrit?
Friend1: Vada is a conclusion and maya is illusion. Mayavada is thus the conclusion that everything is maya.
Friend2: What is the definition of “everything”?
Friend1: Anything we see in this world. Even if the Supreme Lord descends, He takes on a body composed of maya.
Friend2: Now, is that conclusion correct?
Friend2: Do you have proof?
Friend1: This verse:
avyaktaṁ vyaktim āpannaṁ
manyante mām abuddhayaḥ
paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto
“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)
Friend2: You are batting a thousand today.
Friend1: You might come to regret that praise. Here is another attempt to stump you.
Friend2: Go for it.
Friend1: In the dispute between personalism and impersonalism, Shri Krishna is the final word.
Friend2: For sure. His teachings settle all disputes.
Friend1: Yes. Even in the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna is kind enough to ask the important question. He brings up the proverbial “elephant in the room.”
Friend2: He asks which path is better.
Friend1: Krishna declares that the path of personalism, wherein a person worships His transcendental form, is most perfect.
Friend2: What does He say about impersonalism?
Friend1: It is more difficult, especially for someone who is embodied.
Friend2: And who is embodied?
Friend1: Everyone in this world. Conditioned means embodied. That means that impersonalism is more difficult for everyone.
Friend2: There you go.
Friend1: Here’s my question. Does more difficult always equate to inferior?
Friend2: What do you mean?
Friend1: I’ll give you an example. In my freshman year of college, the introductory course in chemistry had two options. You could take the same class in one semester or have it split out into two semesters.
Friend2: Which one did you take?
Friend1: The one semester class.
Friend1: More than just taking it, I couldn’t understand why anyone would choose the other option. I guess you could say it was easier. The pace was slower, which allowed for more time to study the material. I viewed it almost as an insult. I thought to myself, “I am smart enough to handle the one semester class. They are trying to challenge me, and I am up to the challenge.”
Friend2: How did the class go?
Friend1: I got an A.
Friend2: You thought correctly, at least as it applied to yourself.
Friend1: Relating this to Krishna’s words, can we say that the path of personalism is for the less intelligent? Those who don’t want to be challenged take the easier route of worshiping the Supreme Lord’s form known as the deity. They think of His all-attractiveness, wherein He stands holding His flute, side by side with Shrimati Radharani.
Friend2: That is what the impersonalists will say. There is something called the panchopasana. These are five deities of the Vedic tradition. The Mayavadis say that you can worship any of these five, but the ultimate purpose is to move beyond and contemplate on the impersonal, formless Absolute.
Friend1: Who are the five deities again?
Friend2: Shiva, Durga, Surya, Narayana and Ganesha.
Friend1: Wow, they put Narayana in there?
Friend2: Right. It’s an incorrect understanding, as we both know that Narayana can never be a demigod or impersonal.
Friend1: So what is the proper refutation here? A lot of times easier doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Friend2: The correlation is not correct. In this case easier means less risky. The material world is full of risks. At every step there is danger. No matter how safe we think we are, death can strike at any moment. No one has any idea.
Friend1: So impersonalism is riskier?
Friend2: Right. You’re going down the more difficult path. Even if you concentrate for many years, your concentration can break very easily. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada uses the example of famous sannyasis opening hospitals. They were impersonalists, and since they couldn’t find enough pleasure by worshiping the formless Absolute, they reverted back to activities in maya.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: That is risky, because when you start worrying about the welfare of the body, you are no longer self-realized. With personalism, you actually get Krishna’s help. That is His special mercy on the devotee. He directly helped Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. He was with Hanuman from within during the messenger’s dangerous journey to Lanka. He is with Narada as the sage travels the three worlds chanting the name of Narayana and inspiring others to follow the path of bhakti, which is love and devotion. Worship of the personal form is safer, more effective, and in line with the constitutional position of the spirit soul, its dharma.
Not always better to make,
When easier path to take.
For those to challenges averse,
Though the path longer to traverse.
Impersonal more difficult Krishna saying,
Means that less risk when directly to Him praying.
Since maya at every turn attacking,
Easier for progress backtracking.