The conclusion of the atheistic Sāṅkhya philosophy is that because the effects—the phenomena of this material world—are temporary, or illusory, the cause is therefore also illusory. The Sāṅkhya philosophers are in favor of voidism, but the actual fact is that the original cause is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that this cosmic manifestation is the temporary manifestation of His material energy. When this temporary manifestation is annihilated, its cause, the eternal existence of the spiritual world, continues as it is, and therefore the spiritual world is called sanātana-dhāma, the eternal abode. The conclusion of the Sāṅkhya philosophers is therefore invalid.
Then there are the philosophers headed by Gautama and Kaṇāda. They have minutely studied the cause and effect of the material elements and have ultimately come to the conclusion that atomic combination is the original cause of creation. At present the materialistic scientists follow in the footsteps of Gautama and Kaṇāda, who propounded this theory, called Paramāṇuvāda. This theory, however, cannot be supported, for the original cause of everything is not inert atoms. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, as well as in the Vedas, wherein it is stated, eko nārāyaṇa āsīt: "Only Nārāyaṇa existed before the creation." Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and the Vedānta-sūtra also say that the original cause is sentient and both indirectly and directly cognizant of everything within this creation. In the Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says, ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavaḥ (BG 10.8), "I am the original cause of everything," and mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate, "From Me everything comes into existence." Therefore, atoms may form the basic combinations of material existence, but these atoms are generated from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus the philosophy of Gautama and Kaṇāda cannot be supported.
Similarly, impersonalists headed by Aṣṭāvakra and later by Śaṅkarācārya accept the impersonal Brahman effulgence as the cause of everything. According to their theory, the material manifestation is temporary and unreal, whereas the impersonal Brahman effulgence is reality. But this theory cannot be supported either, because the Lord Himself says in the Bhagavad-gītā that the Brahman effulgence rests on His personality. It is confirmed in the Brahma-saṁhitā that the Brahman effulgence is the personal bodily rays of Kṛṣṇa. As such, impersonal Brahman cannot be the original cause of the cosmic manifestation. The original cause is the all-perfect, sentient Personality of Godhead, Govinda.
The most dangerous theory of the impersonalists is that when God comes as an incarnation He accepts a material body created by the three modes of material nature. This Māyāvāda theory has been condemned by Lord Caitanya as most offensive. He has said that anyone who accepts the transcendental body of the Personality of Godhead to be made of material nature commits the greatest offense at the lotus feet of Viṣṇu. Similarly, the Bhagavad-gītā also states that when the Personality of Godhead descends in a human form, only fools and rascals deride Him. This actually occurred when Lord Kṛṣṇa, Lord Rāma and Lord Caitanya moved within human society as human beings.
The personified Vedas condemn the impersonal conception as a gross misrepresentation. In the Brahma-saṁhitā, the body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is described as ānanda-cinmaya-rasa. The Supreme Personality of Godhead possesses a spiritual body, not a material body. He can enjoy anything through any part of His body, and therefore He is omnipotent. The limbs of a material body can perform only a particular function; for example, the hands can hold but cannot see or hear. But because the body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is made of ānanda-cinmaya-rasa and is thus sac-cid-ānanda-vigraha (Bs. 5.1), He can enjoy anything and do everything with any of His limbs. Acceptance of the spiritual body of the Lord as material is dictated by the tendency to equate the Supreme Personality of Godhead with the conditioned soul. The conditioned soul has a material body. Therefore, if God also has a material body, then the impersonalistic theory that the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the living entities are one and the same can be very easily propagated.
Factually, when the Supreme Personality of Godhead comes He exhibits a nonmaterial body, and thus there is no difference between His childish body when He is lying on the lap of His mother Yaśodā and His so-called grown-up body fighting with the demons. In His childhood body He also fought with demons, such as Pūtanā, Tṛṇāvarta and Aghāsura, with strength equal to that with which He fought in His youth against demons like Dantavakra and Śiśupāla. In material life, as soon as a conditioned soul changes his body he forgets everything of his past body, but from the Bhagavad-gītā we understand that because Kṛṣṇa has a sac-cid-ānanda body He did not forget instructing the sun-god about the Bhagavad-gītā millions of years ago. The Lord is therefore known as Puruṣottama because He is transcendental to both material and spiritual existence. That He is the cause of all causes means that He is the cause of the spiritual world and of the material world as well. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is omnipotent and omniscient. Therefore, because a material body can be neither omnipotent nor omniscient, the Lord's body is surely not material. The Māyāvāda theory that the Personality of Godhead comes within this material world with a material body cannot be supported by any means.
It can be concluded that all the theories of the materialistic philosophers are generated from temporary, illusory existence, like the conclusions in a dream. Such conclusions certainly cannot lead us to the Absolute Truth. The Absolute Truth can be realized only through devotional service. As the Lord says in the Bhagavad-gītā, bhaktyā mām abhijānāti: (BG 18.55) "Only by devotional service can one understand Me." Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī has composed a nice verse in this regard, which states, "My dear Lord, let others engage in false argument and dry speculation, theorizing upon great philosophical theses. Let them loiter in the darkness of ignorance and illusion, falsely enjoying as if very learned scholars, although they are without knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As far as I am concerned, I wish to be liberated simply by chanting the holy names of the all-beautiful Supreme Personality of Godhead—Mādhava, Vāmana, Trinayana, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Śrīpati and Govinda. Simply by chanting Your transcendental names, O Lord Madhupati, let me become free from the contamination of this material existence."
In this way the personified Vedas said, "Dear Lord, when a living entity, by Your grace only, comes to the right conclusion about Your exalted transcendental position, he no longer bothers with the different theories manufactured by the mental speculators or so-called philosophers." This is a reference to the speculative theories of Gautama, Kaṇāda, Patañjali and Kapila (nirīśvara). There are actually two Kapilas: one Kapila, the son of Kardama Muni, is an incarnation of God, and the other is an atheist of the modern age. The atheistic Kapila is often misrepresented to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Kapila the incarnation of Godhead appeared as the son of Kardama Muni long, long ago, during the time of Svāyambhuva Manu; the modern age is the age of Vaivasvata Manu.
According to Māyāvāda philosophy, this manifested world, or material world, is mithyā or māyā, false. The Māyāvādī preaching principle is brahma satyaṁ jagan mithyā: "Only the Brahman effulgence is true, and the cosmic manifestation is illusory, or false." But according to Vaiṣṇava philosophy, this cosmic manifestation is true because it is caused by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the Bhagavad-gītā the Lord says that He enters within this material world by one of His plenary portions and thus the creation takes place. From the Vedas also we can understand that this asat, or temporary cosmic manifestation, is an emanation from the supreme sat, or fact. From the Vedānta-sūtra also it is understood that everything has emanated from the Supreme Brahman. Therefore the Vaiṣṇavas do not take this cosmic manifestation to be false. Because the Supreme Personality of Godhead has entered this cosmic manifestation in the form of His plenary expansion and caused the creation, the Vaiṣṇava philosophers see everything in this material world in relationship with the Supreme Lord.
This conception of the material world is very nicely explained by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, who says that when persons renounce the material world as illusory or false without knowing that the material world is a manifestation of the Supreme Lord, their renunciation is of no value. The Vaiṣṇavas, however, are free of attachment to this world because although the material world is generally accepted as an object of sense gratification, the Vaiṣṇavas are not in favor of sense gratification and are therefore not attached to material activities. The Vaiṣṇava accepts this material world according to the regulative principles of the Vedic injunctions and works without attachment. Since the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the original cause of everything, the Vaiṣṇava sees everything in relationship with Kṛṣṇa, even in this material world. By such advanced knowledge, everything becomes spiritualized. In other words, everything in the material world is already spiritual, but due to our lack of knowledge we see things as material.
The personified Vedas presented the example that those seeking gold do not reject gold earrings, gold bangles or anything else made of gold simply because they are shaped differently from the original gold. All living entities are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and are qualitatively one with Him, but they are now differently shaped in 8,400,000 species of life, just like many different ornaments manufactured from the same source of gold. As one who is interested in gold accepts all the differently shaped gold ornaments, so a Vaiṣṇava, knowing well that all living entities are of the same quality as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, accepts all living entities as eternal servants of God. A Vaiṣṇava, then, has ample opportunity to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead simply by reclaiming these conditioned, misled living entities, training them in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and leading them back home, back to Godhead. The fact is that the minds of the living entities are now agitated by the three material qualities, and the living entities are therefore transmigrating, as if in dreams, from one body to another. When their consciousness is changed into Kṛṣṇa consciousness, however, they immediately fix Kṛṣṇa within their hearts, and thus their path toward liberation becomes clear.
In all the Vedas the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the living entities are stated to be of the same quality—cetana, or spiritual. This is confirmed in the Padma Purāṇa, wherein it is said that there are two kinds of spiritual entities: one is called the jīva, and the other is called the Supreme Lord. From Lord Brahmā down to the ant, all living entities are jīvas, whereas the Lord is the supreme four-handed Viṣṇu, or Janārdana. Strictly speaking, the word ātmā can be applied only to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but because the living entities are His parts and parcels, sometimes the word ātmā is applied to them also. The living entities are therefore called jīvātmā, and the Supreme Lord is called Paramātmā. Both the Paramātmā and the jīvātmā are within this material world, and therefore this material world has a purpose other than sense gratification. The conception of a life of sense gratification is illusion, but the conception of service by the jīvātmā to the Paramātmā, even in this material world, is not at all illusory. A Kṛṣṇa conscious person is fully aware of this fact, and thus he does not take this material world to be false but acts in the reality of transcendental service. The devotee therefore sees everything in this material world as an opportunity to serve the Lord. He does not reject anything as material but dovetails everything in the service of the Lord. Thus a devotee is always in the transcendental position, and everything he uses becomes spiritually purified by being used in the Lord's service.