Imports of Word Niskincanah

Srimad Bhagavatam 10.60.37 - Imports of Word Niskincanah (download mp3) and (download mp4)
by Radhanath Swami at ISKCON Chowpatty

SB 10.60.37
niskiñcano nanu bhavan na yato ’sti kiñcid
 yasmai balim bali-bhujo ’pi haranty ajadyah
na tva vidanty asu-trpo ’ntakam adhyatandhah
 prestho bhavan bali-bhujam api te ’pi tubhyam

You possess nothing because there is nothing beyond You. Even the great enjoyers of tribute — Brahma and other demigods — pay tribute to You. Those who are blinded by their wealth and absorbed in gratifying their senses do not recognize You in the form of death. But to the gods, the enjoyers of tribute, You are the most dear, as they are to You.

Here Srimati Rukmini-devi replies to Lord Krsna’s statement in text 14:

niskiñcana vayam sasvan
tasmat prayena na hy adhya
 mam bhajanti su-madhyame

“We have no material possessions, and We are dear to those who similarly have nothing. Therefore, O slender one, the wealthy hardly ever worship Me.”

Queen Rukmini begins her statement by saying niskiñcano nanu, “You are indeed niskiñcana.” The word kiñcana means “something,” and the prefix nir — or, as it appears here, nis — indicates negation. Thus in the ordinary sense niskiñcana means “one who does not have something,” or, in other words, “one who has nothing.”

But in the present verse Queen Rukmini states that Lord Krsna “possesses nothing” not because He is a pauper but because He Himself is everything. In other words, since Krsna is the Absolute Truth, all that exists is within Him. There is no second thing, something outside the Lord’s existence, for Him to possess. For example, a man may possess a house or a car or a child or money, but these things do not become the man: they exist outside of him. We say he possesses them merely in the sense that he has control over them. But the Lord does not merely control His creation: His creation actually exists within Him. Thus there is nothing outside of Him that He can possess in the way that we possess external objects.

The acaryas explain niskiñcana in the following way: To state that a person possesses something implies that he does not possess everything.

In other words, if we say that a man owns some property, we imply that he does not own all property but rather some specific property. A standard American dictionary defines the word some as “a certain indefinite or unspecified number, quantity, etc., as distinguished from the rest.” The Sanskrit word kiñcana conveys this sense of a partial amount of the total. Thus Lord Krsna is called niskiñcana to refute the idea that He possesses merely a certain amount of beauty, fame, wealth, intelligence and other opulences. Rather, He possesses infinite beauty, infinite intelligence, infinite wealth and so on. This is so because He is the Absolute Truth.

Srila Prabhupada begins his introduction to the First Canto, Volume One, of the Srimad-Bhagavatam with the following statement, which is quite relevant to our present discussion: “The conception of God and the conception of the Absolute Truth are not on the same level. The Srimad-Bhagavatam hits on the target of the Absolute Truth. The conception of God indicates the controller, whereas the conception of the Absolute Truth indicates the summum bonum, or the ultimate source of all energies.” Here Srila Prabhupada touches upon a fundamental philosophical point. God is commonly defined as “the supreme being,” and the dictionary defines supreme as (1) highest in rank, power, authority, etc; (2) highest in quality, achievement, performance, etc; (3) highest in degree; and (4) final, ultimate. None of these definitions adequately indicates absolute existence.

For example, we may say that a particular American is supremely wealthy in the sense that he is wealthier than any other American, or we may speak of the Supreme Court as the highest court in the land, although it certainly does not have absolute authority in all political and social matters, since it shares authority in these fields with the legislature and the president. In other words, the word supreme indicates the best in a hierarchy, and thus the supreme being may merely be understood as the best or greatest of all beings but not as the very source of all other beings and, indeed, of everything that exists. Thus Srila Prabhupada specifically points out that the concept of the Absolute Truth, Krsna, is higher than the concept of a supreme being, and this point is essential to a clear understanding of Vaisnava philosophy.

Lord Krsna is not merely a supreme being: He is the absolute being, and that is exactly the point His wife is making. Thus the word niskiñcana indicates not that Krsna possesses no opulence but rather all opulence. In that sense she accepts His definition of Himself as niskiñcana.

In text 14 Lord Krsna also stated, niskiñcana-jana-priyah: “I am dear to those who have nothing.” Here, however, Queen Rukmini points out that the demigods, the wealthiest souls in the universe, regularly make offerings to the Supreme Lord. We may assume that the demigods, being the Lord’s appointed representatives, know that everything belongs to Him in the sense that everything is part of Him, as explained above. Therefore the statement niskiñcana-jana-priyah is correct in the sense that since nothing exists except the Lord and His potencies, no matter how wealthy the Lord’s worshipers appear to be they are in fact offering Him nothing but His own energy as a loving act. The same idea is exemplified when one worships the Ganges River by offering Ganges water, or when a child gets money from his father on the father’s birthday and buys him a gift. The father is paying for his own present, but what he is really interested in is his child’s love. Similarly, the Supreme Lord manifests the cosmos, and then the conditioned souls collect various items of the Lord’s creation. Pious souls offer some of the best items from their collection back to the Lord as a sacrifice and thus purify themselves. Since the whole cosmos and everything in it is simply the Lord’s energy, we may say that those who worship the Lord possess nothing.

In more conventional terms, people who are proud of their great wealth do not bow down to God. Queen Rukmini also mentions these fools. Satisfied with their temporary bodies, they do not understand the divine power of death, which stalks them. The demigods, however, who are by far the wealthiest living beings, regularly offer sacrifice to the Supreme Lord, and thus the Lord is most dear to them, as stated here.