On the Complexities of Understanding God


Offering arotik
After weeks of very dry weather, we have finally received the mercy of rain, which has been coming down in torrents since last night. I can almost feel the living entities dancing in delight to receive such needed water. While offering mangal arotik at the temple this morning (pictured above), I thought about what an appropriate metaphor life giving rain is to the nature of Shri Balarama, whose holy appearance day is today. Balarama is the brother of Krishna, and his first expansion. He serves Krishna in innumerable ways—from being his clothes, ornaments, and worshipping paraphernalia, to the holy lands themselves, or the dhams, like Shri Vrindavan. Vrindavana is the original home of Krishna in the spiritual world, which he also manifests on this planet in India. Most importantly for us, the guru, or saintly teacher, is considered to represent Balarama, who is the original guru. Balarama gives us spiritual strength which is so helpful in remaining fixed on the spiritual path, in spite of innumerable distractions and temptations that may prompt us to give up the Godly quest, and enjoy matter.

We Gaudiya Vaishnavas (followers of Lord Chaitanya and his empowered servants) generally say that Krishna expands into Vishnu for the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the material worlds, giving rebellious souls the opportunity to try to enjoy matter in forgetfulness of God. However, it is equally true that Vishnu expands from Balarama’s expansions, and that they are all considered God--one and different from one another. There is one God “principle” or Vishnu-tattva, which has unlimited personalities, aspects, and energies. We could imagine a line of God’s expansions, where Krishna is the original candle, who “lights” or expands into Balarama, who in turn further expands into different manifestations for various purposes. This is the Vedic idea of Godhead, with one original Personality or Source, amidst infinite other Personalities of Godhead. This is dynamic oneness: one God, one Source, one energy, yet diversity with it. In other words, it is completely different from our material experience, and thus inconceivable.

Our Gaudiya read of Vedic scripture (gleaned from the six Goswami disciples of Shri Chaitanya) teach us that Krishna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead. Our worshipable Lord, is that mischievous, adorable, flute playing, cowherd Krishna. One of his unlimited glories is that He expands into the personification of the Almighty God of the material world, or Vishnu, so he can remain absorbed in His loving pastimes with his devotees. He prefers to be subservient to the love of his devotees, rather than being praised and respectfully glorified in awe and reverence as the Almighty, Great, Powerful God. Such a preference on the part of God is often difficult for those used to formal reverence to accept and relate to. Krishna's apparent human pastimes mixed with his display of inconceivable powers (like lifting Mt. Govardhan or killing strange beings), bewilder them
Additionally, it is confusing for those in other faith traditions to relate the idea of many personalities of Godhead, since they are very focused on the particular savior, or flavor of their path. Looking at different religious current today, they are all very vague in their explanation about the nature of God. They would agree with the idea that God is great, but not exactly how. Followers of Islam say to make a form or picture of God is blasphemous, while in some forms of Christianity it is said God is like a blinding light, and if we were to see Him, we'd immediately die. In Judaism the name of God is so sacred it can’t be uttered. Some people are biased toward thinking that an impersonal all-pervading spiritual energy is supreme, instead of of what they think is a limited human looking personal God, that so many people are fighting about. And a there is the idea that the universe or matter is all there is. Therefore, for those people conditioned by such religious ideas, the conception of Krishna being God and fully present in his name, or that His expansions are equally God, yet distinct Personalities, can be incomprehensible. Even for those who come to Krishna, this face of God as Krishna, requires getting used to. Through the study of the Vedic scriptures, we gain realization from the purification of spiritual practice and Godly service.

Krishna can only be known by his mercy, and the practice of bhakti, under the guidance of pure devotees, is the way to attract that mercy. Then we can understand that the form and apparent ordinariness of Krishna doesn’t limit his position as the inconceivably, unfathomable, Supreme Being. We can see that Krishna so loves his devotees, that he has assumed a form in which they can know and relate to Him in love. The more awe we have for God, the less intimacy we feel, and we can’t love Him in full affection and comfort. Our own desire for loving relationships in the world comes from our being part of Krishna, who is the source of everything.

One aspect of Lord Vishnu is the “savior” of suffering souls. Out of His compassion and love, He sends his representatives, and also personally appears in human society, to deliver the conditioned souls caught in the web of birth and death. We minute souls are one of the energies of God—his sons and daughters—so He feels responsible for our unhappiness and sorry plight. Since we are tiny souls, and effected by our environment, we can easily be overcome by matter. We require the mercy of God and his agents to reawaken our eternal nature, and thus be free from illusion. Therefore, in this age of Kali, Krishna and Balarama have come as Shri Chaitanya and Nityananda. We see Nityananda as an even more merciful form of Lord Balarama, coming with the Kali-yuga avatara (Lord Chaitanya) to give the highest mercy of love for Krishna.

Devotees may call out: “Nityananda Balarama!” Thus along we reading the pastimes of Shri Balarama we can also remember His expansion of Lord Nityananda, and contemplate how the Guru represents his merciful nature to help us spiritually awaken. One of the many ideas to garner from the appearance of Lord Balarama is to arrive at a place in our life, where our quest of God, is our magnificent obsession, and we will do whatever is favorable for this goal. The mercy of Balarama and Nityananda will assist us. God helps those who help themselves!
Shri Balarama
Pancatattva kirtana 2