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Difference (Bheda) Is Real
Q. Whenever both Bhagavan and the jivas are spoken of as being conscious (chaitanya), then is the difference between the two real or imaginary?
A. No. Bhagavan's consciousness is all pervading (vibhu-chaitanya), and the jiva's consciousness is infinitesimal (anu-chaitanya). This difference between the two is not imaginary, but factual. Bhagavan is the Lord of His own maya-sakti, whereas the jivas are subordinate to maya-sakti.
Q. How many types of bheda (difference) are there?
A. There are two types of Bheda: vyavaharika (relating to behavior) and tattvika (relating to truth).
Q. What is vyahavarika-bheda?
A. This is illustrated in the difference between a clay pot and a piece of cloth. They seem to be different things, but they both originated from the same thing — the soil of the earth. In the original condition as soil, there is no difference between the two things (the pot and the cloth). This type of difference is called vyavaharika-bheda .
Q. What is tattvika-bheda?
A. This is when one thing is different from another thing in its function as well as in its original cause. This type of difference is called tattvika-bheda.
Q. Is the difference between the jiva and Bhagavan vyavaharika or tattvika?
Q. Why is that?
A. Because in no condition whatsoever can the jiva become Bhagavan.
Q. Then how are we to understand the profound statements (maha-vakya) of the scriptures like tat-tvam-asi (You are that Is)?
A. The great sage Svetaketu received the following instructions: «you are spirit soul; you are not born from matter, but from consciousness (chaitanya). From this lesson it is never to be understood that you are the supreme all-pervading consciousness (vibhu-chaitanya).»
Q. Then the scriptural statements regarding the oneness of the jiva with the all-pervading Brahman effulgence do not apply?
A. From the jiva's point of view, the difference between the two (bheda) is eternal; and from Brahman's point of view, the non-difference is eternal. Therefore difference and non-difference (bheda and abheda) are both eternal and true.
Q. How can we understand this contradictory conclusion?
A. By the Lord's inconceivable potency (acintya-sakti), all contradictory truths exist in complete harmony; but the tiny jivas, who possess very limited intelligence, think that such things are impossible.
Q. Then why do we always hear condemnation of the philosophy of oneness?
A. Because those who propound the philosophy of oneness say that the difference is also eternal, and by proving this, they have correctly ascertained the doubtless truth of acintya-bhedabheda (simultaneous oneness and difference). Those who preach the philosophy of bhedabheda are faultless, whereas those who only propound either bheda or abheda are condemned by their adherence to a one-sided truth.
Q. Who has the sole opinion of abheda (non-difference)?
A. The nirvisesa-vadis (propounders of non-distinction) only accept the philosophy of abheda, whereas the savisesa-vadis (propounders of eternal distinction) do not accept this philosophy of abheda.
Q. Who accepts the savisesa philosophy?
A. All the Vaishnava-Sampradayas accept it.
Q. How many sampradayas do the Vaishnavas have?
A. There are four principal vaishnava doctrines: 1) Dvaita, 2) Visista-advaita, 3) Dvaita-advaita, 4) Suddha-dvaita
Q. Are there any ontological disagreements among their views?
A. There is no actual disagreement between their doctrines, for they are all savisesa-vadis (believers in eternal distinction). None of them tolerate the philosophy of kevala-abheda (only oneness). All of these four Vaishnava groups have affection for the Lord, and thus they accept the true principles of the Lord's energy (bhagavat-sakti). Those of the dvaita school (dvaita-vadis) say that those of the exclusively advaita school are totally blind. This is because the dvaita-vadis can see the eternality of the dvaita-vada (doctrine of duality). This is the opinion of Shri Madhvacarya. The visista-advaita-vadis say that all things are endowed with attributes, and therefore can never be advaita or non-dual. The dvaita-advaita-vadis are very outspoken in their views, which clearly denounce the impersonal philosophy of advaita. The doctrine of suddha-advaita also condemns the advaita philosophy and establishes its own conclusion by emphasizing the pure form of eternal attributes. By seeing and thoroughly understanding an overview of these four schools of Vaishnava doctrine, it is obvious that there is no disagreement among them.
Q. Then why did Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu accept only the doctrine of Shri Madhvacarya?
A. The special characteristic of Madhvacarya's doctrine is that it very clearly defeats the faulty mistakes of the advaita philosophy. By maintaining this forceful position, the distress caused by the impersonal philosophy is cast very far away. Therefore, in order to bring about safe and sure benefit for the unfortunate conditioned souls who are weakened from the onslaughts of Kali-Yuga, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu accepted the doctrine of Shri Madhvacarya. But by doing so He did not minimize the importance of the other three vaishnava doctrines whatsoever. Whichever type of savisesa-vada (philosophy of eternal distinction) one accepts is just fine, for it will certainly bring eternal auspiciousness.