“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)
अवजानन्ति मां मूढा
मानुषीं तनुम् आश्रितम्
परं भावम् अजानन्तो
avajānanti māṁ mūḍhā
mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam
paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto
“Why this constant fighting between impersonalist and personalist? Why the constant mention within the purports of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada? Why the McCarthyism-like tactics of labelling this person and that as an impersonalist, as a way to bring down their authority?
“This is spiritual life, is it not? We are all individuals, are we not? Then why not let people choose for themselves. If someone wants to experience brahmasukha, let them go for it. We don’t expect them to succeed so easily. At the very least, they will become sinless, in the process. They will develop good qualities.
“I get it that some of us might prefer to worship the personal God. We want others to experience a similar transcendental taste. We want people to be happy. But that is no reason to criticize, unnecessarily.”
There is something additional to the presentation of the impersonalist. It is not that they merely seek merging into the transcendental effulgence known as brahmajyoti. It is not that they merely want to find a stateless existence, wherein the life of liberation is devoid of activity and service.
There is a difference between a Brahmavadi and Mayavadi. You usually won’t find too much criticism of the Brahmavada philosophy. That direction is always an option, even presented within Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna asks directly which path is better, and Krishna does not say that Brahmavada is invalid.
ये त्वक्षरमनिर्देश्यमव्यक्तं पर्युपासते ।
सर्वत्रगमचिन्त्यं च कूटस्थमचलं ध्रुवम् ॥
सन्नियम्येन्द्रियग्रामं सर्वत्र समबुद्धय: ।
ते प्राप्नुवन्ति मामेव सर्वभूतहिते रता: ॥
ye tv akṣaram anirdeśyam
sarvatra-gam acintyaṁ ca
kūṭa-stham acalaṁ dhruvam
te prāpnuvanti mām eva
“But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, fixed, and immovable—the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth – by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.3-4)
The impersonal path is a little more difficult. For those who are embodied, in the consciousness-sense, it is difficult to understand what nirguna means. An embodied person sees qualities everywhere. They make distinctions, vishesha. They create identities based on these distinctions.
For instance, in a single classroom we have so many identifications. There is the teacher. There are the students. There is the adult. There are the children. There are boys and girls. There are differences based on time, as well.
Homeroom in the morning. Circle time, where students share. Later in the day, there is lunch, followed by recess. Eventually, it is the end of the day and the students go home. Within the period of instruction, there are distinctions between letters, words, and numbers.
In reality, there is no difference. Every instance of life is an individual soul. The distinctions are based merely on the presentation of prakriti, which is the material energy. The teacher is a spirit soul who has been within their particular body for a longer period of time, as compared to the students.
The boys have certain bodily features which are sometimes different and sometimes the same compared to what is found for the girls. The different times of the day represent relative positioning between the earth and the sun. At one moment a person is eating and another they are running around, playing. The identity of the individual does not change.
To understand Brahman in this case is not easy. You essentially have to strip away every designation. You have to perceive the constant of the Brahman force within everything.
मत्तः परतरं नान्यत्
किञ्चिद् अस्ति धनञ्जय
मयि सर्वम् इदं प्रोतं
सूत्रे मणि-गणा इव
mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat
kiñcid asti dhanañjaya
mayi sarvam idaṁ protaṁ
sūtre maṇi-gaṇā iva
“O conquerer of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.7)
The central truth is actually a person. All truths rest on Him, like pearls on a thread. Impersonal is the negation of personal. You can only have a shadow if there is light. Therefore, the full and complete understanding is on the personal side.
Fortunately, this understanding is a little easier for those who are embodied. It is completely natural, as well. We deal with individuals all the time. We understand the inherent distinction between one person and the next. We even extend that understanding to the animal community. There is the subtle acknowledgment of life in another species, though the scientific understanding might not arrive until after proper education from spiritual authorities.
The criticism of the Mayavadi is based on their cutting down of spiritual attributes belonging to the single source. This philosophy is also addressed within Bhagavad-gita. The people who do not recognize Krishna for who He is are fools. They lack proper intelligence.
This means that it is wrong to claim that the Almighty is without features. This is the basis of the criticism. In addition, on a scale of happiness, personalism wins by an immeasurable factor. We have the example of King Janaka meeting Shri Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana.
नृप गहे पाय असीस पाई मान आदर अति किएँ |
अवलोकि रामहि अनुभवत मनु ब्रह्मसुख सौगुन किएँ ||
nṛpa gahe pāya asīsa pāī māna ādara ati kiem̐ |
avaloki rāmahi anubhavata manu brahmasukha sauguna kiem̐ ||
“The king went and received blessings and then paid so much honor and respect after that. When he saw Rama, he experienced a happiness one hundred times that of Brahman realization.” (Janaki Mangala, Chand 5.2)
Goswami Tulsidas describes that the happiness Janaka felt was one hundred times that of brahmasukha. That should settle any doubts. Mahadeva is the greatest authority in spiritual life, and he is a personalist. He always worships the personal God, and so we can use his example to properly judge the highest standard of living.
Through their intimately knowing,
And by their authority showing.
That personal worship the best,
By Krishna Himself blessed.
Otherwise difficulty so,
Lack of attributes to know.
Distinction everywhere to reflect,
Singular hard to detect.