namaḥ śāntāya ghorāya
namo jñāna-ghanāya ca
namaḥ—all obeisances; śāntāya—unto He who is above all material qualities and completely peaceful, or unto Vāsudeva, the Supersoul in every living entity; ghorāya—unto the fierce forms of the Lord like Jāmadagnya and Nṛsiṁhadeva; mūḍhāya—the form of the Lord as an animal, such as the boar; guṇa-dharmiṇe—who accepts different qualities within the material world; nirviśeṣāya—who is without material qualities, being fully spiritual; sāmyāya—Lord Buddha, the form of nirvāṇa, wherein the material qualities stop; namaḥ—I offer my respectful obeisances; jñāna-ghanāya—who is knowledge or the impersonal Brahman; ca—also.
I offer my respectful obeisances to Lord Vāsudeva, who is all-pervading, to the Lord’s fierce form as Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva, to the Lord’s form as an animal [Lord Varāhadeva], to Lord Dattātreya, who preached impersonalism, to Lord Buddha, and to all the other incarnations. I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Lord, who has no material qualities but who accepts the three qualities goodness, passion and ignorance within this material world. I also offer my respectful obeisances unto the impersonal Brahman effulgence.
In the previous verses it has been described that although the Supreme Personality of Godhead has no material form, He accepts innumerable forms to favor His devotees and kill the demons. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, there are so many incarnations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead that they are like the waves of a river. The waves of a river flow incessantly, and no one can count how many waves there are. Similarly, no one can calculate when and how the different incarnations of the Lord appear according to the necessities of time, place and candidates. The Lord appears perpetually. As Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā (4.7):
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I descend Myself.” In the material world there is always the possibility of deviation from Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and therefore Kṛṣṇa and His devotees always act in various forms to curb such godlessness.
Even impersonalists who stress the knowledge feature of the Supreme Personality of Godhead want to merge in the effulgence of the Lord. Therefore, here the word jñāna-ghanāya indicates that for atheists who disbelieve in the form and existence of the Lord, all these various incarnations appear. Since the Lord comes to teach in so many forms, no one can say that there is no God. The word jñāna-ghanāya is especially used here to refer to those whose knowledge has become solidified by dint of their searching for the Lord through speculative philosophical understanding. Superficial knowledge is useless for understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but when one’s knowledge becomes extremely intense and deep, one understands Vāsudeva (vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ [Bg. 7.19]). A jñānī attains this stage after many, many births. Therefore the word jñāna-ghanāya is used here. The word śantāya indicates that Lord Vāsudeva is situated in everyone’s heart but does not act with the living entity. Impersonalist jñānīs realize Vāsudeva when they are fully mature in knowledge (vāsudevaḥ samam iti sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ).
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