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God as the Universe

Yes, the universe is God, as many people believe, but there’s much more to Him than that.

In contemplating God as “the greatest.” people sometimes conceive of Him (Her, It) in terms of expansive natural phenomena like the sky, the wind, or space. Even aborigines are known to wonder at and worship such natural spectacles as a great mountain, a waterfall, lightning, or an earthquake. And the same tendency is present in civilized societies as well. This search for the greatest may finally lead us to the concept of God-as-everything or God-as-the- universe. the complete and all-inclusive ultimate entity.

The Vedic literature describes many forms and conceptions of God, including this God-as-the-universe conception, which Vedic scholars call the Virat-rupa, or the universal form. The universal form is a material conception of God in that it is composed of the material elements, and in that it can therefore be grasped by materialists—by those who believe that nothing but matter exists, and who are prone to deny God in the forms in which He is most conventionally worshiped.

To say that the universe is God, however, is only a half- truth, since the material nature is one of God’s energies, not His personal self. God is both identical with and different from His energies, just as the sun is different from the sunshine. Full-truth God, according to Vedic sources, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna, whose material energy we contemplate in the universal form. The Brahma- samhita states, “The supreme controller is Krishna. He has an eternal, blissful, spiritual body. He is the origin of everything. He has no origin. He is the cause of all causes.”

The trouble is, individuals who have in all sincerity undertaken the search for the greatest and who have arrived at the conception of God-as-the-universe have almost inevitably, along the way, left behind all concepts of personality. Persons, in their experience, are imperfect, incomplete, and limited. Therefore God, the unlimited, must be impersonal.

While the universal form is indeed made of an impersonal energy, Vedic authorities seek to correct the notion that God Himself is ultimately impersonal. God is a person, they insist though not a limited person like us. He is complete, perfect and unlimited, and when we limited persons redirect our attention and service to Him, we rise above His impersonal material energy and regain our completeness as parts of His entourage. Krishna declares, “This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it”

To re-accustom the sincere searcher to the idea of personality, the Vedic literature makes a more or less imaginary comparison of the universe with God’s personal body. Here, in a prayer from the Tenth Canto of the Srimad- Bhagavatam, is one of many descriptions of the universal form:

My dear Lord, fire is Your mouth, the earth is Your feet the sun is Your eye. the sky is Your navel, and the directions are Your ears. Space is Your head. the demigods are Your arms. the oceans and seas are Your abdomen. and the winds and air are Your strength and vitality. All the plants and herbs are the hair on Your body; the clouds are Your hair. the mountains are Your bones and nails, the days and nights are the twinkling of Your eyelids, and the rains are Your semen.

And again in the Second Canto:

The hairs on His body are the cause of all vegetation… . The hairs on His head and face are reservoirs for the clouds, and His nails are the breeding ground of electricity, stones, and iron ores. The back of the Lord is the place for all kinds of frustration, ignorance, and immorality. From His veins flow the great rivers and rivulets, and on His bones are stacked the great mountains.

The Bhagavad-gita contains perhaps the best-known description of the universal form. But in the Gita the universal form appears not merely as a pleasant poetic vision but as a fierce, all-devouring, many-mouthed monster. Trembling before this terrible apparition, Arjuna offers reverent prayers. Here are some excerpts:

O Lord of the universe, O universal form, I see in Your body many, many arms, bellies, mouths, and eyes, expanded everywhere, without limit I see in You no end, no middle, and no beginning.
You have numberless arms, and the sun and moon are Your eyes. I see You with blazing fire coming forth from Your mouth, burning this entire universe by Your own radiance.
O Lord of lords, O refuge of the worlds, please be gracious to me. I cannot keep my balance seeing thus Your blazing deathlike faces and awful teeth.
I see all people rushing full-speed into Your mouths, as moths dash to destruction in a blazing fire.

The Gita’s description of the universal form is so vivid, and Arjuna’s fear so palpable, that the assertion that the universal form is imaginary seems curious. The apparition not only scared Arjuna. it talked to him. At Kurukshetra, where the Gita was spoken, Krishna was personally present and He directly displayed His universal form. In general, however, we can say that Krishna is not personally present in the universal form, and that its personification is a device to start materialists on the path to the transcendental plane of God realization. The Bhagavatam (1.3.10) confirms:

The conception of the universal form is imaginary. It is to enable the less intelligent to adjust to the idea of the Lord’s having a form. But factually the Lord has no material form.

Krishna’s original form is His sac-cid-ananda spiritual body, and His supreme personality is identical with that transcendental body.

But at Kurukshetra, with Krishna present the universal form looked real enough, to put it mildly. Bewildered and terrified by all the ferocity, Arjuna inquired:

O Lord of lords, so fierce of form, please tell me who You are. I want to know about You, for I do not know what Your mission is.

To this request Lord Krishna in His universal form replies:

Time I am, the destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to destroy all people. With the exception of you [Arjuna and his brothers], all soldiers on both sides will be slain.

So the fearsomeness of the form before Arjuna was a representation of time. Time, another energy of God, pervades, controls, and finally destroys the universe and everything in it. Time is truly an all-devouring monster, smashing us with its horrible teeth.

But why was an exception made for Arjuna and his brothers? Was Lord Krishna showing favoritism toward His friends, or sectarian preference for His devotees?

Not exactly. Yes, Krishna specifically protected Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, but that protection is available to every devotee of God who transcends the material conception of life. Krishna explains in the Gita that we are not our material bodies, which time controls and destroys, but rather eternal, spiritual individuals within the body. Through the agency of material nature, Krishna has awarded us these bodies to fulfill our desires to enjoy separately from Him. As pure souls, however, we have nothing to do with matter, our eternal constitutional position being to enjoy blissful, deathless life by serving Krishna, the complete Personality of Godhead.

Although Krishna, out of love, has let us leave His service. He also, through His energy of time, reminds us that our desires to enjoy on our own are illusory. We simply can’t enjoy apart from Him, just as a finger cannot nourish itself apart from the whole body. Even while wandering life after life through material nature, we are indirectly connected to Him, since matter is His energy. And while wandering, we have a lesson to learn from the fact that time over and over again destroys our material bodies and all the other manifestations of material nature.

Arjuna and his brothers were exempt from time’s devastation because they were pure devotees of Krishna. They had no interest in the material world, even while discharging their royal duties. Such devotion as theirs is transcendental and eternal, beyond the jurisdiction of time. Not only Arjuna, but every pure devotee is safe from time’s all-devouring mouths. Even when devotees’ bodies are destroyed in time, it is superficial to say the devotees have died.

After seeing the universal form, Arjuna prayed for Krishna to reveal again His original, two-armed form. and Krishna consented. As a devotee, Arjuna specifically loved Krishna, the original Personality of Godhead. He had appreciated the universal form; it had awed him and elicited his respectful prayers. But you can’t love the universal form’s terrifying, all-devouring features, so Arjuna was not in the final account much interested in them.

Following Arjuna’s example, we may also desire to serve the original Personality of Godhead, Krishna, rather than contemplate His universal form and confront the devastating faces of time.