Who is Krishna? #4
with Ravindra-svarupa dasa
- and what does "Supreme Personality of Godhead" mean?
"Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead." What exactly does that mean? In this video, filmed in Philadelphia in 2011, Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion and member of the Governing Body of the Krishna consciousness movement, Ravindra-svarupa dasa, explains why the founder of the Krishna consciousness movement, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, used it so frequently to identify Krishna.
A written transcript of this interview follows below*
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*Transcript of this interview:
Srila Prabhupada's famous phrase is, "Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead." This is a very interesting expression. It was satisfying to me in the beginning because I had definite issues with the word "God." But "Supreme Personality of Godhead" was different.
If you unpack it, there's the word "Godhead." That's a word that denotes, in the abstract, the entire Absolute Truth. It comes to English from German mysticism – "Gottheit" – from the fourteenth or fifteenth century. It means, when we say "Absolute Truth," the entire source of everything. The Absolute Truth means, "that from which everything comes," the ultimate source of all energies.
You really have a choice in your beliefs: one choice is "everything comes from nothing," or "everything comes from something."
Of course, modern scientists and philosophers are trying to make "everything comes from nothing" plausible. But if you don't accept that – because it is really hard to believe – then everything must come from something. And that comes down to the cause of everything, which means everything that's manifest is originally there in the source.
So that's "Godhead."
"Personality of Godhead" derives from the idea that's described in the Bhagavatam that the researchers – the investigators into this "Absolute Truth" (one name for this in Sanskrit is tattva, the fundamental principle or the fundamental reality of everything). People have investigated it – not by means that we know but by spiritual exploration, by yogic discipline, by the expansion of consciousness.
There are procedures for this investigation, which can be duplicated. These researchers have described this single, non-dual substance in three different ways:
1. The impersonal, undifferentiated ocean of light (brahman). People have encountered this all over the world in all kinds of mystic traditions, you'll find this encounter with this single, undifferentiated ocean of spiritual light into which one sometimes has the experience of "merging" or becoming one with, and later find it difficult to describe. This is reported by Eastern mystics, Hindu mystics, Buddhist mystics, even Christian mystics have described this brahman.
2. But there's another feature that people have encountered of this same Absolute Truth is paramatma, the Supersoul. One method brings one to this brahman realization, whereas another brings one to this Supersoul realization – that there is me, the self, and when I discover myself, which is of the same nature as this brahman, there's also the discovery of a Superself. Or the Self of all selves. And this Self, which I can contact by introspection and purification, is also the self of all other living beings, and is, in fact the Soul of the universe.
To borrow a term from Philip K. Dick – he had a novel called V.A.L.I.S. ("Vast Active Living Intelligent System") – that sort of describes Supersoul.
3. Then there's the other feature, which is bhagavan. brahman, paramatma, and bhagavan. Bhagavan is what Srila Prabhupada calls the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The Absolute Truth is, first of all, a Person. The Supersoul has personal attributes, but the Supersoul is this Person only insofar as He is running the universe and dealing with the souls who are in the material world. That's a limited conception of God. This is God as He's dealing with his material energies. But He also has spiritual energies in the spiritual realm.
When He's in His own realm, separate from the material world, then the bhagavan feature is manifest; the Personality of Godhead, His full personality is there.
In "Godhead," brahman is the source of everything; everything we can see in this world comes from that. There are personalities in this world, and so also there must be personality in the Source. You cannot give what you haven't got. The cause is greater than the effect. We see all kinds of persons here, so we have to assume that God is also a Person.
"Person" means "endowed with senses," a sentient being who has senses, and that automatically means a spiritual form. I am a person with senses, and what we call my "body" is just an organized arrangement of these senses. Senses means the instruments for perceiving the environment, and the instruments – like my hands and legs – for acting on the environment. That's what we mean by "person."
The Absolute Truth is not less than His creation of anything, so there is the Personality of Godhead. If God is a person, one among many, that would be a limitation – He would be a "this" and a "not that." So, actually, the Lord has many forms. He is a single individual, but because He deals in so many different relationships, He also is a different personality.
Just like one of us can have different personalities. I may be one way with my students, another way with my wife, another way with my children, and if I have a job I may act a different way there. So in different social roles and relationships we have different ways of dressing, different ways of acting, behaving, and so does the Lord. But He does it all at the same time. We have to do it sequentially.
So that's what we mean by "Supreme Personality of Godhead."
That's all a kind of abstract argument. Then the further claim is made that that Supreme Personality of Godhead is Krishna. The Srimad-Bhagavatam tells us who Krishna is and what He's like and what He does and what His relationships are and how He behaves. The Bhagavatam is basically His biography – a partial biography – of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
I can make a case that the Absolute Truth is a person – and this person would have to be the greatest, the most attractive, whatever superlatives are there, God must be the best of all. I can only say that Krishna, as described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, is the one I accept. I haven't seen anywhere any description of anyone conceivably greater. If somebody can show me, I'll be happy to look at it.
And, of course, people who have explored the Absolute Truth – just like some have experienced brahman, some have experienced paramatma . . .usually these (experiences) are cumulative: if you have experience of brahman, that's partial, if you have paramatma realization you'll also have brahman realization, and then bhagavan realization, well, you can have that and also paramatma and brahman realization. Brahman, paramatma, and bhagavan. All three are there in realization of bhagavan.
One other thing: when we think of God, we think of the Almighty, which He is. That's the way people worship God mostly - as the Almighty. This is one form of the Personality of Godhead. But God has other features, which are sweetness. When He's encountered as the Almighty, He inspires awe and reverence. There's a complete understanding of the ontological gap between us and God, and there's a certain amount of being overawed and fearful. You stand off and feel little and tiny.
This, to God, sometimes puts a limitation on Him because He wants to have intimate relationships with His devotees. So therefore, in His form of Krishna, this is the intimate (form). He causes some devotees to kind of forget that He is God so they can enter into more personal relationships.
So the Personality of Godhead, say, as Narayana (four-handed Vishnu form), His majesty overwhelms or overawes us, and His sweetness is veiled. But as Krishna, His sweetness overpowers His majesty. And that's what we mean by "Krishna."
Krishna is the private life of God. as Krishna, He seems to be a village boy in a rural setting. All the trappings of the "urban Krishna," with majesty and chariots and castles and many queens – that's not evident. And this is higher.
After all, if you meet the President at a state occasion, well, maybe you've "arrived" somewhat. But if you get to go to the White House on an informal Sunday morning, and sit around with his family and his wife, you've more arrived. So this is the highest realization of Krishna.