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Getting to Know Krishna

“I’ll be gathering with other members of the local Krishna community for a big festival,” I told her.

“Christian community?” she asked.

Apparently, my Hare Krishna haircut didn’t mean anything to her.

“No,” I replied, “Krishna community. I’m a Hare Krishna.”

“Hare Krishna?”

“You’ve never heard of Hare Krishna?” I asked.

“No. Is it something like Islam?”

“No. It’s from India.”

And that’s as far was we got before the dentist’s drill found my mouth and ended our conversation.

I was surprised that someone living in an area that’s home to hundreds of Hare Krishna devotees had never heard of Krishna. But I was happy to introduce her to Him.

On my first visit to a temple, in 1974, I heard the lecturer say that Krishna is God because Krishna possesses six opulences in full: beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, and renunciation. These are attractive qualities, he said, and since Krishna is the reservoir of all of them, He’s naturally the most attractive person. That’s why He’s called Krishna—“the all-attractive person.”

Pondering the qualities the lecturer had mentioned, I balked momentarily at the idea that Krishna possesses unlimited fame. Two days earlier I’d never heard of Him. How could He be the most famous person?

I asked someone about that later.

“Well, He’s God,” he replied. “Everyone’s heard of God! And because He’s the most famous (among other things), He’s called Krishna.”

Srila Prabhupada came to teach us that Krishna is God. I sometimes wonder at how easily I accepted that proposition back then. The night before my first visit to the temple, I read a small book called Krishna, the Reservoir of Pleasure. I had bought it from a devotee that afternoon for twenty-five cents. I’d been haphazardly looking for “the truth” and keeping a diary of my search. When I finished reading that night, I wrote in my diary, “Maybe this Krysna [sic] is it.”

I’m sure the devotees’ conviction had a lot to do with my attraction to Krishna consciousness. I arrived at the temple a few hours before the Sunday Feast, so I was escorted to the apartment of a devotee couple, where I spoke with several devotees and witnessed something of their lives. One impression stuck: “Boy! These people are really into what they’re doing!”

Their dedication inspired me to dive into Srila Prabhupada’s books. And only a few weeks later I was blessed to see Srila Prabhupada himself at the San Francisco Rathayatra festival. That day I started wearing Vaishnava neck beads—an outward sign of my growing conviction that Krishna is God.

Seeing Prabhupada and reading his books helped me understand the depth of faith shown by his disciples. Srila Prabhupada’s conviction, clearly derived from experiences higher than any I could imagine, was contagious. His day was spent in full absorption in Krishna, in thought, word, and deed. And his books contained none of the hedging found in pretty much everything else I’d read.

Now I’m trying to do my small part to help Srila Prabhupada spread the name and fame of Lord Krishna.

Nagaraja dasa is the editor of Back to Godhead Magazine

"How do you know Krishna is God?"

People who doubt there's life after death sometimes say, "No one has ever come back to tell us about it."

But what if someone claimed to have come back? Would we believe him? What kind of proof would we want?

Trying to prove that Krishna is God presents a similar challenge. Someone might ask, "If Krishna is God, why doesn't He come and prove it?"

Well, there's evidence that He does come. For example, when He came five thousand years ago, millions of eyewitnesses saw Him, He did things only God can do, and Vyasadeva, a reporter with impeccable credentials, kept track of it all.

Vyasadeva recorded not only Krishna's matchless deeds but also the testimonials of the greatest spiritual authorities of the time, a time when large numbers of people pursued spiritual realization with every ounce of their being. The consensus of these saints and sages—masters of spiritual learning and discipline—was that Krishna is God.

People today tend to doubt the credibility of Vyasadeva's writings, thanks in large part to a smear campaign started by the British during their takeover of India. Yet despite their efforts, the light of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other books from Vyasadeva's prolific pen keeps shining. Great Western thinkers who received the Vedas without prejudice were astounded. Vyasadeva's writings were superior to anything they had ever come across.

But what about the "stories" Vyasadeva wrote? Was there really a boy named Krishna who lifted mountains and killed monsters? Scholars for whom Vyasadeva's "mythology" seems incompatible with his erudite philosophical works might propose that Vyasadeva didn't write both things. But that argument fails if we look at just one example of his work: Srimad-Bhagavatam. There Vyasadeva has written both profound philosophy and—as the climax, no less—charming stories about Krishna.

The great leaders of India's spiritual lineages since Krishna's time have concluded that a great philosopher like Vyasadeva wouldn't frivolously insert fanciful stories into his treatise on the Absolute Truth. Vyasadeva's gravity alone is solid evidence that his stories of Krishna's exploits tell of actual events.

Like many nineteenth-century scholars, anyone who reads the Vedic literature with an open mind is sure to be awed. But readers need help, too. Traditionally, a student of the Vedas gets guidance from a self-realized person coming in a line of authorized teachers. Four main lines have directed India's spiritual culture for hundreds of years, and each of them asserts that Krishna, or His expansion Vishnu, is God.

I find it disturbing to read media coverage of Krishna conscious events that refers to devotees as worshipers of "the god Krishna." For the average person in the West, the writer might as well be saying we worship "the god Zeus." Why would anyone take seriously a group of people who have arbitrarily chosen to worship one god out of a whole stable of contenders?

But our choice is far from arbitrary. It's founded in the Vedic scriptures, the credibility of saints of respected spiritual lines, and the realized conviction, persuasive writings, and pure character of Krishna's emissary His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Is Krishna God?

Is God an idea? A quality? A white light? Or do these conceptions ignore the most important feature of the Supreme?

In 1966 in New York City when His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was founding the Hare Krishna movement, a friend suggested he call it the “International Society for God Consciousness.” But Srila Prabhupada felt that the word God was too vague. By naming his movement the “International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” Srila Prabhupada was telling everyone that when he spoke of God he meant a specific person—Krishna.

To convince Westerners that Krishna is God, Srila Prabhupada had to refute a variety of misconceptions: There is no God; we are all God; God is impersonal; God is love; God is dead. Or, God is a person, but He can’t be Krishna, who is, after all, either an Indian folk hero or one of the mythological Hindu gods. Despite facing such an array of ideas, Srila Prabhupada was confident of the power of the Vedic literature to convince people of the existence and identity of God. On the premise that God is unlimited, Srila Prabhupada ruled out philosophical speculation as an adequate means of understanding God. God is beyond our present powers of perception. If we want to know God, therefore, we must hear from God Himself. His revelations about Himself are recorded in the world’s scriptures. The most elaborate exposition of God can be found in the Vedic literature, and the cream of the Vedic literature is Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Because Srila Prabhupada wanted to deliver convincing information about God, he had begun translating the Srimad- Bhagavatam from Sanskrit into English even before coming to the United States. Although the vast library of Vedic literature deals with a variety of subjects directly or indirectly related to God, the Bhagavatam deals exclusively with the science of God and the method by which to understand Him.

The Bhagavatam is scientific and does not demand blind faith. It presents not only an exhaustive analysis of God, but also the method for realizing Him. In the second verse the author, Srila Vyasa-deva, declares that God will reveal Himself within the heart of the serious student of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. And throughout the Bhagavatam Vyasadeva has verified his claim by recording the histories of great saints who have realized God by the method prescribed in the Bhagavatam.

The Bhagavatam gives a reasonable, step-by-step presentation of the science of God. In Srila Prabhupada’s Introduction to the Srimad- Bhagavatam, he begins by defining the term God:

The Sanskrit word ishvara (controller) conveys the import of God, but the Supreme Person is called the parameshvara, or the supreme ishvara. The Supreme Person, or parameshvara, is the supreme conscious personality, and because He does not derive any power from any other source. He is supremely independent.

In summary then, God is the supreme person and the supreme controller, and He is completely independent. The Bhagavatam also describes God as Bhagavan, the possessor of all opulences, chief of which is His unlimited beauty. The reservoir of that beauty is His eternal, transcendental body, composed of unlimited knowledge and bliss.

These elaborations on the word God from the Srimad-Bhagavatam at once solve many philosophical problems. They especially help us evaluate the validity of various impersonal conceptions of God. For example, because God means the supreme controller. He must be a person. He cannot be impersonal, like a white light or a quality or an idea.

An impersonal energy, a “white light,” cannot control the creation or any part of it, since control must be ultimately exerted by a controller, a person. The “white light” is in fact a subordinate aspect of God known as the brahmajyoti, or the impersonal Brahman. Although many people accept Brahman to be the highest manifestation of God, the Bhagavatam repeatedly declares that the Supreme Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna. The Bhagavatam also states that those who think they have attained ultimate liberation by merging with Brahman are not mature in their realization and must eventually fall again to the material world. Only devotees of the supreme controller, Krishna, can attain complete liberation.

Believing that God is a quality, like love or beauty, is also impersonalism. Being the supreme person, Krishna possesses these qualities in full, but such qualities are not the complete expression of God. They are but aspects of His personality.

Nor is God simply an idea. He is the supreme controller, the person who directs the workings of the universe. He must possess intelligence, discrimination, determination, and all the other qualities that make a person an expert manager. He is the best manager. As the elaborate workings of the universe testify. God is a living, supremely intelligent person.

The atheist, of course, denies the existence of a universal controller. In his opinion the universe simply operates under a set of complex laws that do not warrant the supervision of any person. But this is contrary to common sense: Laws are made by persons. And behind every complex system within our experience we find a person. For example, the traffic in a large city flows smoothly (ideally) because of a complex system of traffic signals. A child may think the traffic lights operate independently, but an adult knows about the city government behind those traffic signals. And the city government is made of people, headed ultimately by one person. All complex systems trace back to a person. Experience leads us to assume that the extremely complex workings of the universe are controlled by a person.

That person is also controlling us. Those who deny the existence of the supreme controller cannot even prove that they themselves are free of His control. By advances in science and technology they may feel that they can ultimately control nature, but such hopes are unfounded. The unconquerable forces of old age, disease, and death are intrinsic to this material world and are dispensed by the justice department of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The atheist, despite his denial of God, will undeniably witness God’s control at death.

Though atheists may hear many reasonable arguments for the existence of God, they stubbornly hold to their belief that God does not exist. They sometimes demand, “Show me God.” But if they want a direct experience of God, they must avail themselves of the proper method of obtaining that experience. The uninformed and unfounded claims of the atheists cannot influence the devotees of God, who have experienced God by dint of their adherence to godly principles.

Despite atheistic propaganda, most people still “believe” in God. Unfortunately, they often reject Krishna as God, owing to incomplete knowledge about Him. But if someone is serious about knowing God, then he or she will be eager to hear about Krishna. Give Krishna a chance. Check His credentials.

Krishna’s credentials appear in many Vedic literatures. The Srimad-Bhagavatam in particular clearly and repeatedly states that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the Bhagavatam’s step-by-step presentation, the complete science of God is given in nine cantos, comprising more than two dozen volumes. The entire Tenth Canto describes exclusively the appearance and activities of Sri Krishna. Lord Krishna alone, the Bhagavatam reveals, possesses all the qualifications of God discussed in the preceding nine cantos. And all the great teachers of the Vedic literature—led by Madhvacarya, Ramanujacarya, Vishnusvami, Nimbarkacarya, and Sankaracarya (who professed to be an impersonalist)—accept Krishna as God.

Some people reject Krishna as God because of their misunderstanding that the Vedic religion of India, now known as Hinduism, propounds the worship of many gods, one of them being Krishna. The Vedic religion, however, is not polytheistic. If we study the Vedic literature closely, we find that Krishna is always declared to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. After listing many incarnations of God, the Srimad- Bhagavatam states that Krishna is the origin of all incarnations and that He alone is the Supreme God (krishnas tu bhagavan svayam). The Brahma-samhita (5.1) states, “Krishna, who is known as Govinda, is the supreme controller. He has an eternal, blissful, spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin, for He is the prime cause of all causes.” Krishna is described here as the original controller. His position is unique: There can be only one original controller, and He is God.

But Krishna does not have to personally supervise the workings of the universe. He has subordinate controllers (demigods) whom He empowers to run various functions of universal affairs.

Modern man ridicules the so-called primitive practice of worshiping a powerful aspect of material nature as if it has personal qualities. The Vedic literature, however, explains that empowered individuals known as demigods control all material phenomena. Just because we cannot see these powerful controllers doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We can reasonably infer their existence after studying the intricacies of material nature. The Vedic literature describes the demigods elaborately, Srila Vyasadeva’s rigorous presentation of the science of God is serious and scholarly. And he describes the demigods as real persons, not as mythological characters.

The demigods control the departments of universal management. Indra controls the rain, Vayu controls the air, Varuna the water, Vivasvan the sun, and so on.

Although from our point of view these demigods are extremely powerful, they are nonetheless subordinate to Krishna. All living beings are spiritual, but they belong to two different categories. In one category there exist the unlimited Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, and His personal expansions. In the other category are all other living entities, the innumerable infinitesimal souls. Although Lord Krishna can expand Himself into unlimited forms that possess His full potency, the demigods are not such expansions. Rather, the demigods belong to the category of the infinitesimal living entities, called jivas. The jivas may possess material bodies—like those of the demigods, for example—but Krishna’s body is always transcendental. Pleased with their devotion and good qualities. Lord Krishna assigns the demigods to responsible posts in His universal government. No matter how powerful a demigod may be, however, Krishna is ultimately in control.

Despite hundreds of direct statements throughout the Vedic literature that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the Absolute Truth, some people (who profess to be followers of the Vedic literature) still contend that ultimately Krishna is not a person. They may even say that Krishna is God, but they really mean that Krishna is an incarnation of the impersonal Brahman, which they say is the ultimate truth. Krishna has realized His identity with the impersonal Brahman, they say, so now He is God. And we too can “become God” through meditation and philosophical speculation. We are all God, they say; we just have to realize it. They say that when Krishna speaks in the Bhagavad-gita about surrender to Him,He is actually telling us to surrender to “the unborn” within Him. For them, the “unborn” is greater than Krishna.

Such speculative notions betray an ignorance of the science of God. There is no difference in the Absolute Godhead between His inside and His outside. His body is purely spiritual. He is the Absolute Truth, the source of everything. He is not subordinate to any impersonal “unborn” entity. As Krishna explains, brahmano hi pratishthaham: “I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman.”

And God never forgets His identity. Because He is the source of all energies, He never falls under illusion like ordinary jivas. If we were God we would not be bewildered by God’s illusory energy—and we wouldn’t be struggling to become God. God is always God. He doesn’t need to do anything to realize that eternal truth.

Because God is a person beyond all time and space, we can never understand Him by our speculation. He can be understood only when He reveals Himself. To our great fortune. He has revealed Himself in the Vedic literature, which presents the fullest explanation of the transcendental names, forms, qualities, and activities of God. The Srimad- Bhagavatam—the crest jewel of the Vedic literature—specifically expounds the glories of Lord Sri Krishna. Those who wish to advance their understanding of God would do well to study Srimad-Bhagavatam as it is presented in English in its pure form by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

From “The Force” to the Supreme Person

Penetrating the clouds of mystery surrounding the personhood of God.

Is God a person who lives far away in His own spiritual land? Or is He very near, residing in the hearts of everyone? Or is He just plain everything?

What would you say to these questions? Or, to put it another way, what do you think of when you think of God?

You’re not alone if you find these questions hard to answer. Most people have only vague notions of what God might be like. People I’ve asked often say that while they think of God as having certain personal characteristics, such as beauty, power, and wisdom, they also think He must be everything or be within everything, like an all-pervasive energy—“The Force.” This is a revealing disparity, because it indicates that while many people believe God is a person, they realize that thinking of Him as a person in the strictest and most literal sense would limit Him. They’re afraid they might end up with an anthropomorphic conception of God, a “God” who is subject to all (or at least some of) the limitations and imperfections of ordinary persons.

In Christianity, for example, we have descriptions of God as Father—certainly a personal epithet. But what does our father who art in heaven look like? On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel there’s Michelangelo’s painting of God as an old man creating Adam, who, by the way, looks healthier and more handsome than God.

So as I was saying, most educated people don’t like to think too strictly of God as a person. Unintelligent, simple folk may do that, or an artist, in his fertile imagination, may fancy some personal form of God. But sophisticated worshipers, priests, and theologians don’t like to take that phrase “God the father” too literally; they’d like to avoid the stigma of being considered aboriginal.

There was a time in my own life also when my conceptions of God as a person proved inadequate. Back in 1966, during my sophomore year of college, I took my first philosophy course, Introduction tot Philosophy. From that point I began to reexamine all I had been taught, and my ideas of God and religion quickly began to change. I wanted like anything for God to be everywhere, in everything and every situation, because at every turn I was beset with ugly reality. Time was a relentless destroyer—seasons changed, leaves fell, a flowers faded, memory failed, dust accumulated, and true love proved false. The rust of time showed on every building, on every creature, and corroded every philosophy and art. It hung in the air and entered the blood through the lungs. Nothing endured, except . . , I endured. I had to. How could I be destroyed? I wanted to live, to exist through the fall, through the winter, and to again behold the spring, on and on eternally. The earth would die, the sun would burn out, certainly my body would disintegrate, but I would endure. I was eternal.

And the spiritual essence I intuited within all transient phenomena was also eternal. And that essence was also I. The sense of “I,” however, was illusory, I concluded, a temporary phenomenon of the temporary, ever-fluctuating, rusting world around me, a world I had come to regard as illusion. From my readings and speculations I concluded that I existed, but not as a unique, individual entity. In reading Sankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination, I came across the Sanskrit phrase tat tvam asi: “You are that.” My reading convinced me that by meditation and study “I” was to break out of the subject-object dichotomy, out of the illusion of self-hood and ego, and merge into the all- pervading, eternal, spiritual reality that was the only true existence and the only true identity. All else was illusion.

My situation wasn’t unusual—to realize that the casual understanding of God that I’d grown up with was superficial, sentimental, and philosophically weak. I was trying to increase my awareness of God. I wanted a Theology, a Metaphysics, a Weltanschauung that I could believe in, not just a religious sentiment that would crumble in the crucible of academic scrutiny.

So in my own informal way I came up with a layman’s version of what the Vedic literature refers to as Brahman realization. This is the first of three classically discussed levels of God realization, each level more clear and accurate than the former. Perhaps I can best explain this with an analogy.

I used to live in Los Angeles, and on a clear day, usually just after a heavy rain, I could see in the distance, just beyond the city, the San Gabriel Mountains. But usually they looked hazy and nondescript, appearing more like clouds or aberrations in the atmosphere. Then one Sunday I took my wife and three-year-old son on a picnic to Mt. Wilson. We got into the car and started driving, and soon we could see the mountains quite clearly. Within another fifteen minutes or so, we were actually driving along the Angeles Crest Highway, seeing the homes, ranches, and little crossroad villages. The San Gabriel Mountains were no longer a distant, nondescript presence on the horizon but a tangible reality, full of life and activity. People lived there and worked there. We hiked along a footpath, climbing over boulders, discovering pockets of snow, and experiencing the unusual vegetation. We even visited the Mt. Wilson Observatory. Things we had previously only been able to speculate about we were now able to see firsthand.

So in this analogy, my sophomoric version of God as an all- pervasive, eternal spiritual existence is like my hazy view of the San Gabriel Mountains through twenty miles of smog. The mountains appeared as a nondescript presence on the horizon. The second level of God realization (technically known as Paramatma realization) is like a closer, clearer look at the mountains. But the final level (Bhagavan realization) is like a picnic, a hiking trip, and a tour of the Mt. Wilson Observatory all in one. I’ve already discussed the first level, now to understand the second level consider the following scenario… .

High in the Himalayas a skinny, wizened yogi of indecipherable age sits cross-legged, his eyes half-closed in meditation. His diet is simple, light, and highly regulated. He has long ago given up all touch with civilization, and his mind is peaceful. No hankering to return to the comforts and sensory titillations of the city disturbs him. He is completely free from sexual interests. He has no family affection to distract him, no financial cares or responsibilities. He has no affection for the country of his birth, so he is without patriotic sentiments and obligations. He has no worldly ambition and doesn’t even care to inform others of his mastery of the yoga discipline he has been practicing for so many years. He could, of course, return to civilization and display his prowess. He could become a famous guru, exhibit his mystic powers, attract many followers, and perhaps advertise himself as an incarnation of God. But he knows that such materialistic desires are the downfall of the serious student of yoga.

What’s he doing? He’s trying to go beyond the limitations of the hazy, distant, impersonal Brahman conception of the Absolute Truth. He’s been trained to meditate within. The process is extremely difficult, requiring unswerving determination, perfect health, patience, great mental power and clarity, and a long life. Now, at long last, he has detached himself from all material conditioning and awareness and, in spiritual joy, beholds within his heart the perfect form of eternity, knowledge, and bliss, the four-armed Vishnu-murti, Lord Paramatma.

Our consummate yogi, absorbed in meditation on this feature of the Absolute Truth, is more advanced in his understanding than a transcendentalist fixed only in Brahman realization. Whereas all-pervasive Brahman is the bodily effulgence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Paramatma is His personal expansion. The Supreme Person is inconceivably powerful, and He has expanded Himself in innumerable forms, each one perfect and complete. This is Paramatma, the witness, controller, and friend within the heart of every living being. In our San Gabriel Mountains analogy, our Paramatma-realized yogi is like a person who is near enough to the mountains to clearly see them, though not in detail. He has realized the Absolute Truth, but not in fullness. He has yet to realize the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This final realization is referred to in the Vedic literature as Bhagavan realization.

The Supreme Personality of Godhead (Bhagavan) is Krishna, and one who understands this has surpassed the other, incomplete stages of God realization. Bhagavan realization, however, is not possible by philosophical speculation or yogic meditation. Rather, it is possible only when one receives special favor from the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, through His representative, the pure devotee.

A pure devotee of God has already attained the stage of Bhagavan realization and has no business within the material world except for executing the mission of the Lord by disseminating the Lord’s special favor to others. The Bhagavan-realized person has entered the absolute, spiritual world, where he eternally engages in the transcendental service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. But he descends to this material world to give others the opportunity to come to the highest level of God realization and thus perfect their lives.

Once a transcendentalist has completed the arduous path of realizing the Absolute Truth as impersonal, all-pervasive Brahman (step one) and as Lord Paramatma in the heart (step two), then he must surrender to a pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to one who has already fully realized Bhagavan and who is at one with the Absolute Truth, being engaged in His absolute devotional service. Thus, by taking guidance from such a Bhagavan-realized person, a transcendentalist can complete his course and come to the third and final level of God realization.

But what if one is not already advanced in philosophical speculation and yogic meditation? Is he at a disadvantage for realizing the highest truth?

No. The favor of the pure devotee is so powerful that anyone who receives it can enter the spiritual reality of serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Bhagavan- realized pure devotee of God serves as a spiritual master, guiding the aspiring transcendentalist toward perfection. He instructs him in the science of the Absolute Truth and acquaints him fully with the transcendental forms, qualities, activities, and names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although these are beyond the material world and beyond the purview of the material mind and senses. This is the special power and authority of the pure devotee of the Supreme Person: being of the transcendental world, he can introduce that eternal reality to any sincere, submissive servant, especially by training him in the chanting of the Supreme Lord’s transcendental names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Because the Bhagavan-realized spiritual master perfectly understands his eternal position as the servant of God, he can perfectly impart this understanding to his student, elevating him to the position of transcendental, loving service. Thus the student learns that although he is one with God, that oneness is in quality, not in quantity. The Lord is great, but he is small. The Lord is master, but he is servant.

Now the whole picture of the Absolute Truth comes into focus, and the lower stages of God realization are seen in their proper perspective—in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Take, for example, those impersonalistic views I formulated back in college. I had a conception of God as all-pervasive spiritual reality, and I asserted that I was spiritual and eternal, persisting through all the changes of this material world. This much was right. But on certain key points I was wrong.

And where I was wrong, boy was I wrong! In my eagerness to go beyond the ephemeral, I had rejected not only the false ego that I was this material body—born in south Mississippi, son of Mr. and Mrs. George C. Bosworth—but I had also rejected the prospect of real ego. I see now that the little spiritual learning I had then was a dangerous thing. Although to deny my material identity was good, to disregard the possibility of spiritual identity was like throwing out the baby with the bath water. In seeking an egoless state, I was courting spiritual suicide. I was denying that I had any individual spiritual identity and denying that God could be an individual. Thus, in an attempt to make God unlimited, I had restricted Him: “God can’t have a personality, a form, desires.” And not only was I restricting God, but I was trying to usurp His position.

That’s right. You see, with no distinctions between me as spiritual self and God as an individual spiritual person, then all was one and one was all. In other words, I thought I was God! And believe me, the books I was reading were really feeding me that line. While espousing humility and service, these so-called gurus were flattering me into thinking I was God. (But where’s the possibility of being humble if you’re thinking you’re the Supreme?)

And as for worship, that was all right, but on a higher level it made no sense. After all, the idea that I was a separate identity from God was supposed to be illusory, so why all the hullabaloo over worship? Worship was for the less intelligent, the anthropomorphists, the aborigines. Of course, worship could be helpful—as long as you kept your wits about you and didn’t fall back into the subject-object dichotomy. Thus my new-found sophistry gradually twisted all my praise of God into the devotionless, even disrespectful utterances of a sycophant. Tat tvam asi: “You are that.” Yes, I was it. I was really it.

You might well wonder why the scriptures bother to describe the impersonal feature at all. Why not skip on over to the highest realization, the Supreme Personality of Godhead? Well, there’s a reason. The first lesson in spiritual life is to understand that God and spiritual reality are the exact opposite of material reality. If God is presented to our grossly materialistic mentalities as a person, we’ll think that He’s an ordinary person (anthropomorphism). So the scriptures describe God as being without form and qualities, because He is without material form and qualities. But the natural tendency of the neophyte is to do as I did, and throw the baby out with the bath water.

From Vedic literatures, like Bhagavad-gita, and from the teachings of my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, I now understand what true spiritual oneness is. You don’t have to subscribe to the philosophy of anthropomorphism to hold a personal conception of God. Anthropomorphism refers to human beings’ theoretically ascribing personal characteristics to the Supreme. This is only speculative imagination, however, and cannot help one realize the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When one attains the highest stage of God realization, Lord Krishna reveals Himself as a person; it is not a question of imagining God as having personal attributes, as in the painting by Michelangelo. God creates man in His own image, not vice versa. God’s image is fully spiritual, transcendental, eternal;man’s image is material and temporary.

And you don’t have to succumb to the vain self-flattery and covered blasphemy of impersonalistic philosophy to achieve liberation from illusion and to affirm that God is unlimited and that there is spiritual oneness. As one in the highest stage of God realization understands. God is a unique, individual person, and at the same time He is everything.

Consider the analogy of fire. Although it’s in one spot, say your fireplace, it permeates and pervades the entire room by its energies: heat and light. Heat and light are simultaneously fire and not fire. Similarly, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although an individual person in His spiritual abode far beyond the material creation, is present everywhere by His energies: matter and spirit. His energies are simultaneously one with Him and different from Him. There is no meaning to the Supreme without His energies and no meaning to His energies without Him. In fact, nothing exists but the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His energies. A person in the highest stage of God realization, therefore, sees simultaneous spiritual oneness and spiritual diversity.

So, getting back to my original questions, if you said God was everything, you were right—partly. And if you said God was an individual person, you were also partly right. But just how God reconciles these apparent contradictions and manifests Himself everywhere without losing His individual personality is a transcendental mystery that can be understood only by one engaged in the Supreme Lord’s loving service under the guidance of a Bhagavan-realized spiritual master.

Now, if you said that God is living within everyone’s heart, again you were partly right. Lord Krishna expands Himself not only by His energies but by His personal transcendental form of Paramatma as well. Lord Paramatma, in the heart of every living being, is Krishna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but the Paramatma-realized yogi doesn’t fully realize this. Because he doesn’t have the benefit of devotional service, he may consider himself one with Paramatma, much as the Brahman-realized person considers himself one with Brahman. Only by the grace of a pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead can the Paramatma-realized yogi (or anyone else) enter into the Lord’s transcendental service and understand Him in full.

The Paramatma, however, is eager to fully reveal Himself—His transcendental names, activities, and forms—to the sincere transcendentalist. Vedic literature, therefore, describes an external manifestation of the Lord in the Heart, and this is the Bhagavan-realized spiritual master. By submissively hearing and serving the spiritual master, one contacts the Paramatma and becomes qualified to receive His directions and enlightenment from within the heart. Thus one engaged in devotional service under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master has already achieved Paramatma realization. But without taking guidance from God’s representative from without, one should not expect to receive direct revelation of God from within.

So if you’re serious about God realization, the key is to seek the shelter of a Bhagavan-realized spiritual master. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34), “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire submissively and render service unto him. The God-realized souls, having seen the Truth, can impart knowledge unto you.” So don’t expect to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead without the guidance of the spiritual master. Even if you study the scriptures very carefully, you won’t be able to avoid the pitfalls of impersonalism. And don’t take that just as my advice, thinking that what happened to me years ago can’t happen to you. Take it as the conclusion of the revealed scriptures: Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita that only by devotional service, under the guidance of the spiritual master, can one understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Under the spell of material illusion we have forgotten our eternal relationship with Lord Krishna as His servants. Thus we are suffering birth and death repeatedly, life after life, in the material world. Sometimes we try to find happiness in gross sensual activities, as an animal or animalistic human being; sometimes we tire of this futile attempt at imitating God and take to philosophical speculation, culminating in declaring ourselves to be God; and sometimes we seek happiness through yogic asceticism and meditation. But only when we take up the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are we able to end our material illusion and suffering for good and achieve the full, intimate understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.

Who Is God?

One Christmas, Life magazine did a cover story entitled “Who is God?” They asked that question of many people and printed the replies. The color photos of worshipers throughout the world showed many ways of approaching God. Life said, “The God of our story is the God of personal, private faith.” Intrigued by the topic, I asked myself, “Okay, what’s your answer to ‘Who is God?’”

My personal faith in God comes from my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, and from the Vedic scriptures. The intimations I had of God’s presence when I was a child were faint indications only. Real God consciousness began for me when I met Srila Prabhupada and heard about Lord Krishna. It is the Supreme Lord who speaks the Bhagavad-gita whom I wish to serve and love.

God is revealed not only in the Vedic scriptures but in other scriptures of the great world religions. The worshipers appear to have different understandings, yet the expert spiritual master knows that the essence of religion is one—love of God. The details differ with the time in which religion is taught, the persons to whom it is taught, and the place where it is taught.

We cannot deny that God comes to people in His own way. One Life testimony was from an old woman who didn’t know for sure whether there is a next life or whether there is God. A housemaid from Beirut said that God is a very old black person and He wears a long white robe.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own faith. But there is a science of revelation. God shouldn’t be discussed only by hunches. We have a right to our own feelings, but the feelings need to be directed.

I cannot claim to be more directly touched by God than others. But my point is that we should become educated in our God consciousness. We shouldn’t deliberately avoid this education, thinking that it’s sectarian. And we shouldn’t, like some people, take God in a sentimental way and think that sacred books and teachers are useless.

In our relationship with God, the most important relationship of our lives, it is best that we approach reliable sources of study. Srila Prabhupada used to say that religion without philosophy is sentiment or fanaticism, and philosophy without religion is dry speculation. Therefore pure devotees of Krishna are bhaktivedantas: they approach God through devotion (bhakti) as well as through scriptural knowledge and the power of reasoning (vedanta).

Who is God? Only God Himself knows this answer completely, and therefore we should hear from Him. In the Bhagavad- gita and other scriptures, Lord Krishna tells us, “I can be known only by devotional service.” Krishna also makes it easy for us to know Him by telling us He can be seen even within the material world. He says, “I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and the ability in man” (Bhagavad-gita 7.8).

There are symptoms of a person who has realized God. The chief symptom is that he always serves and praises his Supreme Beloved. He cannot bear to be away from Krishna’s service for even a moment. When people come in contact with such a pure devotee, they also become attracted to hearing and chanting about the Supreme. And the result of such knowledgeable devotional service is that one can ultimately attain to Sri Krishna’s eternal abode.

Frankly, some of the witnessing in Life turned me off. A rancher thinks God is pleased when he kills cows.

A boy from India says, “It would be pretty boring sticking to one God every day.… My dad bought this lottery pen. It shoots out numbers like in the lottery … so when I pray I take a number. Whichever number comes out I pray to that God.”

I know that any progress toward God-worship is worthwhile. The Supreme Lord considers all worshipers pious, even when they approach Him for material relief through the demigods. But should we consider all God conscious persons to be on the same level? Krishna says, “As all approach Me I reciprocate. Everyone is on My path.” But He also advises that the best devotees are they who approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead not for any profit but just out of love. This topmost way of knowing God is bhakti- yoga. Krishna calls it “the king of all knowledge.” And He advises that we eventually give up all lesser forms of religion and “Just surrender to Me.”

In former ages, persons determined to know “Who is God?” used to undergo severe austerities to reach the goal. Because the difficult practices of yoga and meditation are mostly no longer possible in the present age, Lord Caitanya has taught us an easy method, one authorized by scriptures: chanting the holy names of God. The holy names are not different from God Himself, so a sincere chanter can make quick advancement in God consciousness.

For the most part I enjoyed reading Life’s faithful testimonies. They’re certainly more encouraging than statements by nonbelievers. I honor the witnesses. It is an education to meet God-fearing, God-loving persons. And if we can learn to appreciate one another, we can go a long way toward defeating atheism. When devotees of God meet with open minds, I will find that “my” God is not so different from yours.

Who is Krishna? Ravindra-svarupa dasa

"Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead." What exactly does that mean? In this video, filmed in Philadelphia in 2011, 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. Ravindra-svarupa Dasa is a member of the Governing Body of the Krishna consciousness movement. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from Temple University.

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.