Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #13 – Rasa or Tattva?

March 27th, 2023

Tattva means science or subject. Rasa means heighten loving emotion to Śrī Krishna. I have seen, however, the words rasa and tattva used in a more colloquial manner. When people raise a question whether something is literally true or figuratively true, they sometimes ask whether it is tattva [hard fact] or rasa [figurative]. To make such subtle distinctions in one’s study of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam in terms of the meaning of words and phrases can be important in our understanding of the text.


Before I continue with this week’s post, I should be clear that scriptural analysis doesn’t mean that we take the history of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as mere mythology or metaphor and discount the description of the demons and other seemingly fantastic stories, including the other worldly descriptions of the universe. It means using the pedagogical tools given by our ācāryas to help us interpret or understand those verses and stories in a deeper way and in the proper context[1].


The most important lens or tool by which we understand a particular sacred text is called sambandhi, understanding the reality to which all the texts in a particular śāstra has a relationship. In common language, this means deciphering its theme. For the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that reality is that Śrī Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In other words, the focus of Śrī Vyāsa, the author, is to establish Krishna’s position and other subjects such as material science or history, for example, are only studied as far as they help us realize that fact. They are therefore not meant as the basis of a deep independent study within itself, as the author himself didn’t find the necessity to do that.[2]


For example, every Purana (spiritual history) to be authorized must outline and describe to some extent the lineage of the kings. Why? To deter one from the natural material impetus to seek such lordship and to focus instead on attaining love for Krishna, which is the text’s sambandhi, it is necessary to hear how those at the pinnacle of control and enjoyment, the kings, have their attachments thwarted and suffer by the same twists of fate as everyone else. As the intent of such history is to promote renunciation, approaching the text to the standard of academic historical analysis may not only be wanting, but also a distraction from understanding the deep import intended by the author. Śukadeva Gosvāmī himself describes this:


Śukadeva Gosvāmī said, “O mighty Parīkṣit, I have related to you the narrations of all these great kings, who spread their fame throughout the world and then departed. My real purpose was to teach transcendental knowledge and renunciation. Stories of Kings lend power and opulence to these narrations but do not in themselves constitute the ultimate aspect of knowledge.” [emphasis mine] (Bhag. 12.3.14)


Similarly, cosmology also has a specific purpose in relationship to the text’s theme, or sambandhi. The subject of the planetary systems is described as sthānaṁ and defined in the Second Canto as sthitir vaikuṇṭha-vijayaḥ—that the right situation (sthitir) for the living entities is to accept the superiority (vijayaḥ) of Krishna (vaikuṇṭha) by understanding the grandeur of this world in relationship to Him and thus establishing our position as His servant, which is the sambandhi of the text. Again, those seeking an academic scientific description that neatly fits the language of modern cosmology when that objective was neither the author’s focus nor the language or interest of his audience at time will no doubt be disappointed. I had a friend that took nearly fifty years to surrender to Krishna in part because he couldn’t fit the descriptions of the universe found in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam into his highly educated and academic scientific world view. Perhaps a few tools of analysis based on an understanding of the author’s intent would have helped him surrender sooner and for that matter be of relevance now in deepening our faith and understanding.


Rasa or tattva? Yes, a few simple interpretative tools could save us years of doubt that obscure the message of the Bhagavat and impede our attainment of what’s really important—to well within our hearts the ultimate goal of life, love of Godhead.



[1] There are different types of verses and not all our meant to be understood literally. For example, most of the poetry in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is to be taken as metaphorical, while Vedic verses are strictly literal and Puranic verses focus more on the moral the history is teaching than the exact historical facts. This is mentioned by Śrī Jīva in Tattva-sandarbha:

“The Vedas, Puranas, and poetic works instruct one like a master, friend and beloved, respectively, but Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam enlightens us in all three categories.” Quote in Tattva-sandarbha Anuchedda 26


[2] To instill faith in today’s audience who espouse faith in modern science, Śrīla Prabhupada did want his devotee scientists to understand and express the structure of the universe in the language of modern science to affirm the authenticity of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam’s scientific world view. He established the Bhaktivedanta Institute for that purpose. We see, however, still what an immense task that has been specifically because that level of scientific clarity wasn’t the objective of Śrīla Vyāsadeva, the author of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.


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