Who is Krishna? Devamrita Swami

Devamrita Swami describes Krishna as "the greatest mystery in life," and gives advice on how to look for God. Devamrita Swami is the author of Searching For Vedic India.

Descriptions of Krishna

Krishna, playing His flute on the bank of the Yamuna River

Vedic writings say that Krishna has a stunningly beautiful spiritual form (Krishna means "all-attractive"), He plays a flute, His complexion is like a dark rain cloud, He wears peacock feathers in His long, black, curly hair, the soles of His feet are decorated with auspicious symbols, His voice is like rumbling thunder, and a unique gem—Kaustubha—hangs around His neck, along with a garland of ever-fresh flowers, attracting bees humming Vedic hymns.

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Other accounts say that Krishna's enchanting smile is irresistible, as are His attractively moving eyebrows. His clothing is compared to lightning. His wide eyes, delicate hands, reddish-soled feet, and His deep navel often draw comparisons to the beauty of lotus flowers. The luster of His dazzling toenails is compared to moonlight, and He always appears in the fullness of youth.

One of Krishna’s names is adhokshaja, He who is beyond the material senses. It's easy for us to see matter. The Supreme Person is 100% spiritual, and we need spiritual vision to be able to see Him. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that He keeps a curtain of illusion (maya) between Himself and those who have no affection for Him.

Any descriptions of the Supreme Being may seem incredible unless we consider that the ultimate source of everything, the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Person, God, is also the origin of all forms. Our forms in the material world are temporary, changeable, and often causes of misery, but the Absolute Truth is eternal, unchanging, and blissful. Contrary to impersonalist philosophy, He is always a person. The Supreme Person is the archetype of all forms—His form is most beautiful of all—and by practicing Krishna consciousness we can become qualified to see Krishna for ourselves, face to face.

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.

Krishna as the Supreme Person: References

NOTE: Krishna has many forms and names. As the name Krishna means "the all-attractive one," other names describe qualities He manifests in other forms, such as Narayana (shelter of all living beings), or Vishnu (maintainer of the universe).

  • Bhagavad-gita, 10.12
    "You (Krishna) are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Narada, Asita, Devala and Vyasa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me."
  • Brahma-samhita, 5.1
    "Krishna, who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes."
  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 1.1.1:
    "O my Lord, Sri Krishna, son of Vasudeva, O all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You. I meditate upon Lord Sri Krishna because He is the Absolute Truth and the primeval cause of all causes of the creation, sustenance and destruction of the manifested universes. He is directly and indirectly conscious of all manifestations, and He is independent because there is no other cause beyond Him. It is He only who first imparted the Vedic knowledge unto the heart of Brahmaji, the original living being. By Him even the great sages and demigods are placed into illusion, as one is bewildered by the illusory representations of water seen in fire, or land seen on water. Only because of Him do the material universes, temporarily manifested by the reactions of the three modes of nature, appear factual, although they are unreal. I therefore meditate upon Him, Lord Sri Krishna, who is eternally existent in the transcendental abode, which is forever free from the illusory representations of the material world. I meditate upon Him, for He is the Absolute Truth."
  • Bhagavad-gita, 5.29:
    "A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries."
  • Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-lila 5.142:
    "Lord Krishna alone is the supreme controller, and all others are His servants. They dance as He makes them do so."
  • Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-lila 7.7
    "Krishna, the reservoir of all pleasure, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, the supreme controller. No one is greater than or equal to Sri Krishna, yet He appears as the son of Maharaja Nanda."
  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.68.37, as well as Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.306
    “‘What is the value of a throne to Lord Krishna? The masters of the various planetary systems accept the dust of His lotus feet on their crowned heads. That dust makes the holy places sacred, and even Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva, Laksmi and I Myself, who are all portions of His plenary portion, eternally carry that dust on our heads.’
  • Bhagavad-gita, 7.7:
    "O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread."
  • Bhagavad-gita, 10.12-13, Purport:
    "In the Kena Upanishad it is stated that the Supreme Brahman is the rest for everything, and Krishna has already explained that everything is resting on Him. The Mundaka Upanishad confirms that the Supreme Lord, in whom everything is resting, can be realized only by those who engage constantly in thinking of Him."
  • Atharva Veda (Gopala-tapani Upanishad 1.24): yo brahmanam vidadhati purvam yo vai vedams ca gapayati sma krsnah: "It was Krishna who in the beginning instructed Brahma in Vedic knowledge and who disseminated Vedic knowledge in the past."

    - for a discussion of this verse, see Bhagavad-gita, 10.8, Purport

  • Narayana Upanishad (1): "atha puruso ha vai narayano 'kamayata prajah srjeyeti: 'Then the Supreme Personality Narayana desired to create living entities.' The Upanisad continues; narayanad brahma jayate, narayanad prajapatih prajayate, narayanad indro jayate, narayanad astau vasavo jayante, narayanad ekadasa rudra jayante, narayanad dvadasadityah: 'From Narayana, Brahma is born, and from Narayana the patriarchs are also born. From Narayana, Indra is born, from Narayana the eight Vasus are born, from Narayana the eleven Rudras are born, from Narayana the twelve Adityas are born.' This Narayana is an expansion of Krishna."

    - for a discussion of this verse, see Bhagavad-gita, 10.8, Purport

  • Narayana Upanishad (4): "brahmanyo devaki-putrah: 'The son of Devaki, Krishna, is the Supreme Personality.' Then it is said, eko vai narayana asin na brahma na isano napo nagni-somau neme dyav-aprthivi na naksatrani na suryah: 'In the beginning of the creation there was only the Supreme Personality Narayana. There was no Brahma, no Siva, no water, no fire, no moon, no heaven and earth, no stars in the sky, no sun.'"

    - for a discussion of this verse, see Bhagavad-gita, 10.8, Purport

  • Mahabharata, Moksha-dharma:

    "prajapatim ca rudram capy
aham eva srjami vai
tau hi mam na vijanito
mama maya-vimohitau

    'The patriarchs, Siva and others are created by Me, though they do not know that they are created by Me because they are deluded by My illusory energy.'"

    - For a discussion of this verse, see Bhagavad-gita, 10.8, Purport

  • Varaha Purana:

    "narayanah paro devas

    tasmaj jatas caturmukhah
tasmad rudro 'bhavad devah
sa ca sarva-jnatam gatah

    'Narayana is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and from Him Brahma was born, from whom Siva was born.'"

    - for a discussion of this verse, see Bhagavad-gita, 10.8, Purport

  • Bhagavad-gita, 10.8: "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts."

Krishna's Appearances on Earth: References

Below are some source notes on the subject of Krishna's appearances on Earth and why it should matter to us that He appears here:

  • Bhagavad-gita, 4.7, Purport: "Although the Lord appears on schedule, namely at the end of the Dvapara-yuga of the twenty-eighth millennium of the seventh Manu in one day of Brahma, He has no obligation to adhere to such rules and regulations, because He is completely free to act in many ways at His will. He therefore appears by His own will whenever there is a predominance of irreligiosity and a disappearance of true religion."
  • Bhagavad-gita, 4.7: "Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata (Arjuna), and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I descend Myself."
  • Bhagavad-gita, 4.6: "Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all living entities, by My internal energy I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form."
  • Bhagavad-gita, 4.6, Purport: "The Vedas also confirm that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is unborn yet He still appears to take His birth in multimanifestations. The Vedic supplementary literatures also confirm that even though the Lord appears to be taking His birth, He is still without change of body."
  • Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Introduction: "Our only purpose is to present this Bhagavad-gita As It Is in order to guide the conditioned student to the same purpose for which Krishna descends to this planet once in a day of Brahma, or every 8,600,000,000 years."
  • Bhagavad-gita, 4.9: "One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna."


Chaturatma dasa: Who Is Krishna?

In less than a minute, Chaturatma dasa explains exactly who Krishna is and why God is known by so many names. Chaturatma is a bhakti yogi, Vedic priest, and host of many videos.

Who Is Krishna? Historical Perspectives

Some notable personalities from Vedic history—kings, queens, spiritual leaders—give their view on Krishna's identity.

Arjuna—a key military commander during the time of Krishna's appearance at the Battle of Kurukshetra. He asked Krishna all the questions in the Bhagavad-gita.

Arjuna said: You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest. All the great sages such as Narada, Asita, Devala and Vyasa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me. (Bhagavad-gita 10.12-13)

O great one, greater even than Brahma, You are the original creator. Why then should they not offer their respectful obeisances unto You? O limitless one, God of gods, refuge of the universe! You are the invincible source, the cause of all causes, transcendental to this material manifestation. (Bhagavad-gita 11.37)

Queen Kunti—wife of world emperor Pandu and mother of emperor Yudhisthira, as well as the commanders Bhima and Arjuna. One of the most influential and highly principled people of her time.

Srimati Kunti said: O Krishna, I offer my obeisances unto You because You are the original personality and are unaffected by the qualities of the material world. You are existing both within and without everything, yet You are invisible to all. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.18)

Being beyond the range of limited sense perception, You are the eternally irreproachable factor covered by the curtain of deluding energy. You are invisible to the foolish observer, exactly as an actor dressed as a player is not recognized. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.19)

Let me therefore offer my respectful obeisances unto the Lord, who has become the son of Vasudeva, the pleasure of Devaki, the boy of Nanda and the other cowherd men of Vrindavana, and the enlivener of the cows and the senses. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.21)

My respectful obeisances are unto You, O Lord, whose abdomen is marked with a depression like a lotus flower, who are always decorated with garlands of lotus flowers, whose glance is as cool as the lotus and whose feet are engraved with lotuses. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.18.22)

Sukadeva Goswami—the son of Vyasadeva— editor of the Vedas—who spoke the Srimad-Bhagavatam to Emperor Pariksit:

Shukadeva Goswami said: Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead who, for the creation of the material world, accepts the three modes of nature. He is the complete whole residing within the body of everyone, and His ways are inconceivable (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.4.12)

Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the all-auspicious Lord Sri Krishna, about whom glorification, remembrances, audience, prayers, hearing and worship can at once cleanse the effects of all sins of the performer (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.4.15)

Let me offer my respectful obeisances again and again unto the all-auspicious Lord Sri Krishna. The highly intellectual, simply by surrendering unto His lotus feet, are relieved of all attachments to present and future existences and without difficulty progress toward spiritual existence. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.4.16)

Bharata Maharaja—A saintly king who gave up his kingdom to meditate on Krishna:

The Supreme Personality of Godhead is situated in pure goodness. He illuminates the entire universe and bestows all benedictions upon His devotees. The Lord has created this universe from His own spiritual potency. According to His desire, the Lord entered this universe as the Supersoul, and by virtue of His different potencies, He is maintaining all living entities desiring material enjoyment. Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the Lord, who is the giver of intelligence. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.7.13)

Prajapati Daksha—one of the original beings within the universe, responsible for increasing universal population. His name appears in many places in the Srimad-Bhagavatam in connection with various pastimes of Shiva.

Prajapati Daksha said: The Supreme Personality of Godhead is transcendental to the illusory energy and the physical categories it produces. He possesses the potency for unfailing knowledge and supreme willpower, and He is the controller of the living entities and the illusory energy. The conditioned souls who have accepted this material manifestation as everything cannot see Him, for He is above the evidence of experimental knowledge. Self-evident and self-sufficient, He is not caused by any superior cause. Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Him. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.4.23)

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna appearing as His own devotee to set the example for how to best practice Krishna consciousness.

O Krishna, beloved son of Nanda Maharaja, I am Your eternal servant but somehow or other I have fallen into this ocean of nescience, and although I am struggling very hard, there is no way I can save myself. If You kindly pick me up and fix me as one of the particles of dust at Your lotus feet, that will save me. (Shikshashtaka 5)

I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly in His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my Worshipful Lord unconditionally. (Shikshashtaka 8)

Narada Muni—a devotee of Krishna who frequently appears many times in the Srimad Bhagavatam and other Vedic literature. He can travel at will anywhere within (or even outside of) the universe, and is the spiritual master of many kings and other spiritual authorities, such as Vyasadeva, Prahlad Maharaja, Dhruva Maharaja, and others.

[Narada Muni said:] O Krishna, Krishna, unlimited Lord, source of all mystic power, Lord of the universe! O Vasudeva, shelter of all beings and best of the Yadus ! O master, You are the Supreme Soul of all created beings, sitting unseen within the cave of the heart like the fire dormant within kindling wood. You are the witness within everyone, the Supreme Personality and the ultimate controlling Deity. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.37.10-11)

Yamunacharya—a prominent acharya (spiritual leader) of Shri Vaishnavism in South India, around the time of the 10th century. At an early age, he was given rule of a kingdom due to his skill in philosophy and debate. He later became a great renounced teacher and the spiritual master of Ramanuja.

By serving You constantly, one is freed from all material desires and is completely pacified. When shall I engage as Your permanent eternal servant and always feel joyful to have such a fitting master? (Stotra-ratna 43)

As the minds of young girls take pleasure in thinking of a young boy, and those of young boys take pleasure in thinking of a young girl, may my mind take pleasure in You, O my Lord. (quoted by Rupa Goswami)

King Kulashekhar—an 8th century Indian emperor and mystic poet of great renown who left his kingdom to wander in search of the Absolute Truth. He later became the author of Mukunda-mala Stotra, a famous collection of poems in praise of Krishna. (image courtesy of Kula Shaker)

O enemy of Madhu and Kaitabha, O Lord of the universe, the perfection of my life and the most cherished mercy You could show me would be for You to consider me the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Your servant. (Mukunda Mala Stotra 25)

All glories unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is known as the son of Devaki! All glories to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is known as the light of the dynasty of Vrishni! All glories to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose bodily luster is like that of a new cloud, and whose body is as soft as a lotus flower! All glories to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who appeared on this
planet to deliver the world from the burden of demons, and who can offer liberation to everyone! (Mukunda Mala Stotra 3)

Bhakti Talk with Premananda Gaur and Mayapur Malini, Part One: Who is Krishna?

We spoke with Premananda Gaur and Mayapur Malini in Alachua, Florida, and discovered that Krishna is the coolest, most attractive, far-out trickster ever.