“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)
Friend1: Impersonalism. Mayavada. Voidism. Variations of the same theme – I know that they are bad.
Friend2: Why the classification in the negative?
Friend1: A missed opportunity. Not as much enjoyment. The ceiling with that path is brahmananda, or the joy of merging with the impersonal spiritual energy known as Brahman.
Friend2: There is something beyond, something greater?
Friend1: Sharanagati. Full surrender in devotion. Surrender here means service, and service means two distinct individuals, at the least.
Friend2: With impersonalism there aren’t two individuals?
Friend1: Just one; the conditioned soul seeking liberation. Impersonal itself means lacking personality. It is something like appreciating the sunshine without acknowledging the sun.
Friend2: Why do you need another individual, though?
Friend1: That is in the nature of the soul, its dharma.
Friend2: Is impersonalism any different from materialism?
Friend1: Materialism is like worshiping God from behind. Everyone is connected in some way; just the nature of the connection determines the type of living.
Friend2: So even the atheists are enjoying?
Friend1: Temporarily, and with misery mixed in. Brahmananda is not materialism, but it is similar in a sense. It is the negation of material life. Sharanagati is something different entirely. It is above attachment and aversion, love and hate. It has nothing to do with any kind of manifest world. It is going directly to the source and experiencing His association to the fullest.
Friend2: Great explanations today.
Friend1: Alright, here is my question. I understand the negative opinion of impersonalism. I get it. But if it’s so bad, why is it there to begin with? Why present it as an option?
Friend2: You mean in terms of spiritual life? Like, why is it one of the things taught? Why not just reveal that God is a person and skip the fuss about the Brahman energy?
Friend2: Everyone has a choice. You could ask the same questions about material nature itself. Birth and death, old age and disease – why go through these things? Why suffer so much? Don’t even make material life an option.
Friend1: Listen, I understand the purpose of that. There is something called free will. If everyone were forced into bhakti [devotion], then it wouldn’t be true love. It has to be exercised voluntarily.
Friend2: Okay, so you can think of impersonalism as one of the options for life outside of bhakti. There is still variety in material life; that cannot be denied. Not everyone is in the same occupation. Not every person is at the same level of understanding. Impersonalism is like one of the steps. It is very difficult to understand God in truth, as the person He is.
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
Friend1: Okay, but does impersonalism help at all? Isn’t it like spiritual suicide, this idea of merging?
Friend2: It doesn’t have to be. Arjuna essentially asks the same question in the Bhagavad-gita. He wants to know which path is better. Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, responds that impersonalism is more difficult, especially for someone who is embodied. The path of personalism is preferred.
Friend1: Right, but He doesn’t discount the first option altogether.
Friend2: No, because every person has their own path to the end. If you can see past the distinction between matter and spirit, that is a significant step forward. Do not downplay that. Brahmananda is still considered liberation. If you think that is it, that there is no God, that Krishna is merely a Brahman-realized soul, then you get into trouble.
Friend1: I see. You can still advance further.
Friend2: For sure. In fact, the brahma-bhuta soul is ideally situated to take up devotional service.
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)
You could say that the regulative principles practiced even in the beginning stages of bhakti are a way to come to the Brahman platform, as there is a negation of the material consideration which we acquire at the time of birth. Remember, advanced devotees even appreciate their past life in materialism.
Friend1: Why is that?
Friend2: Because it taught them what not to do. It was a bitter experience that they never want to return to. They have found a higher taste, which makes them appreciate having left behind the other options of both spiritual and material life.
Remembering past experience bitter,
And how today consciousness fitter.
Something worthwhile after pain,
Advantage from human birth to gain.
Impersonalism of many paths just one,
Flawed when beyond thinking none.
Because to God the person chance,
Even the liberated to enhance.