King Parīkṣit inquired from Śukadeva Gosvāmī about a very important topic in understanding transcendental subject matter. His question was, “Since Vedic knowledge generally deals with the subject matter of the three qualities of the material world, how then can it approach the subject matter of transcendence, which is beyond the approach of the three material modes? Since the mind is material and the vibration of words is a material sound, how can the Vedic knowledge, expressing by material sound the thoughts of the material mind, approach transcendence? Description of a subject matter necessitates describing its source of emanation, its qualities and its activities. Such description can be possible only by thinking with the material mind and by vibrating material words. Brahman, or the Absolute Truth, has no material qualities, but our power of speaking does not go beyond the material qualities. How then can Brahman, the Absolute Truth, be described by your words? I do not see how it is possible to understand transcendence from such expressions of material sound.”
The purpose of King Parīkṣit’s inquiry was to ascertain from Śukadeva Gosvāmī whether the Vedas ultimately describe the Absolute Truth as impersonal or as personal. Understanding of the Absolute Truth progresses in three features—impersonal Brahman, Paramātmā localized in everyone’s heart, and, at last, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa.
The Vedas deal with three departments of activities. One is called karma-kāṇḍa, or activities under Vedic injunction, which gradually purify one to understand his real position; the next is jñāna-kāṇḍa, the process of understanding the Absolute Truth by speculative methods; and the third is upāsanā-kāṇḍa, or worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and sometimes of the demigods also. The worship of the demigods recommended in the Vedas is ordered with the understanding of the demigods’ relationship to the Personality of Godhead. The Supreme Personality of Godhead has many parts and parcels; some are called svāṁśas, or His personal expansions, and some are called vibhinnāṁśas, the living entities. All such expansions, both svāṁśas and vibhinnāṁśas, are emanations from the original Personality of Godhead. Svāṁśa expansions are called viṣṇu-tattva, whereas the vibhinnāṁśa expansions are called jīva-tattva. The different demigods are jīva-tattva. The conditioned souls are generally put into the activities of the material world for sense gratification; therefore, as stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, to regulate those who are very much addicted to different kinds of sense gratification, the worship of demigods is sometimes recommended. For example, for persons very much addicted to meat-eating, the Vedic injunction recommends that after worshiping the form of goddess Kālī and sacrificing a goat (not any other animal) under karma-kāṇḍa regulation, the worshipers may be allowed to eat meat. The idea is not to encourage one to eat meat but to allow one who insists on eating meat to eat it under certain restricted conditions. Therefore, worship of the demigods is not worship of the Absolute Truth, but by worshiping the demigods one gradually comes to accept the Supreme Personality of Godhead in an indirect way. This indirect acceptance is described in the Bhagavad-gītā as avidhi. Avidhi means “not bona fide.” Since demigod worship is not bona fide, the impersonalists stress concentration on the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth. King Parīkṣit’s question was, Which is the ultimate target of Vedic knowledge—this concentration on the impersonal feature of the Absolute Truth or concentration on the personal feature? After all, both the impersonal and the personal feature of the Supreme Lord are beyond our material conception. The impersonal feature of the Absolute, the Brahman effulgence, is but the rays of the personal body of Kṛṣṇa. These rays of the personal body of Kṛṣṇa are cast all over the creation of the Lord, and the portion of the effulgence which is covered by the material cloud is called the created cosmos of the three material qualities—sattva, rajas and tamas. How can persons who are within this clouded portion, called the material world, conceive of the Absolute Truth by the speculative method?