(Jiva.org) – Shanta-rasa is not Brahman-realization
Question: Do devotees in śānta-rasa worship Bhagavān in his Brahman form?
Answer: No. All rasas are related to Bhagavān, the personal aspect of Tattva. There is no rasa in Brahman-realization because in Brahman-realization, there is no distinct identity between the jīva and Brahman.
Śānta rasa means that the devotee has an understanding that Bhagavān is the personification of Brahman, is full of all opulences and does not need anything. Thus, he thinks that Bhagavān is perfect and that he, the devotee, has no ability to do anything for Him. Moreover, there is no such need on the part of Bhagavān. The śānta bhakta likes to meditate on Bhagavān and remain very detached from everything else. He knows that mukti is not possible without bhakti. But he is not interested in sāyujya mukti.
Question: When a śānta bhakta departs, where does he go? It seems like, without personal service to Bhagavān, he would then default to an impersonal form of liberation.
Answer: No, no, the śānta bhakta goes to Vaikuṇṭha. Think of Vaikuṇṭha as a kingdom where Viṣṇu is the king. There are many people who live in a kingdom; they like their king but do not have any personal relationship with him. That is how kings are.
Question: Is renunciation something unique about śānta bhaktas? Please give examples of such devotees.
Answer: Examples include the four Kumāras and Kardama Muni. When Kapila was born, Kardama left for the forest to meditate.
Question: Do some devotees choose to attain Brahman over a personal servitor relationship with God in the para-vyoma?
Answer: No. No devotee chooses Brahman over the personal aspect. Devotees have no interest in Brahman-realization.
Question: What really happens to the soul when it attains Brahman? Does the soul vanish?
Answer: The soul cannot vanish ontologically. It is a reality and cannot be destroyed. That is the basic teaching of Bhagavad Gītā, Chapter Two. In Brahman-realization, the soul identifies with Brahman. You can understand from our current situation that we are not the body. But we do not feel so. We feel as if we are the body. This is because we identify with it. A similar thing happens in Brahman-realization. The jīva does not feel distinct from Brahman because it identifies with It.
Question: In Bhagavat Sandarbha, Jīva Gosvāmī explains that the soul and Brahman are one, or at least that is how I understood it.
Answer: They are not one ontologically.
Question: So attaining Brahman is a reality?
Question: Does one fall back down after attaining Brahman?
Answer: No. Brahman is the impersonal aspect of Bhagavān. There is no variety in it. There is no duality in all-pervading consciousness. Entering Brahman means that there is no sense of a separate identity. It is like a drop of water entering into the ocean; the drop does not become the ocean. A drop is still a drop but now it has no separate identity.
Separate identity and separate existence are two different things. In rasa, there is a separate identity and separate existence but there is oneness out of prema. In Brahman-realization, there is separate existence but no separate identity, therefore, there is no prema.
Question: I’ve heard that to attain liberation into Brahman, the Advaitavādī has to resort to bhakti, because only Mukunda can award liberation. Advaitavādīs such as Swami Sivananda gave very nice talks about Hari and doing bhakti to God; he also wrote that the only way to get liberation is to surrender to God through bhakti. Ādi Śaṅkarācārya also wrote about Govinda and bhakti. Are those who turn to Kṛṣṇa to achieve Brahman realization bhaktas to some extent?
Answer: For them, bhakti is a means, not a goal. They are very clear about this. They use bhakti to reach their goal of Brahman, so you cannot really call them “devotees,” in the true sense of the word. However, they may appear as devotees because they engage in devotional activities.