Sunday, August 17, 2008

Krishna, The Supreme Aspect of the Absolute


    Srimad-Bhagavatam is Srila Vyasadeva’s transcendental thesis to prove that the supreme aspect of the Absolute Truth is a Supreme Person, Vasudeva, and he takes the required steps to philosophically reach this siddhanta. At the beginning of Bhagavatam, it was established that Vasudeva is the source of all  manifestations, both in the material world as well as in the spiritual world:


om namo bhagavate vasudevaya

janmady asya yato 'nvayad itaratas carthesv abhijnah svarat

tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye muhyanti yat surayah

tejo-vari-mrdam yatha vinimayo yatra tri-sargo 'mrsa

dhamna svena sada nirasta-kuhakam satyam param dhimahi


“O my Lord, Sri Krsna, son of Vasudeva, O all-pervading Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You. I meditate upon Lord Sri Krsna 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 Krsna, 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.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.1.1


It was also defined that the Supreme Absolute Truth possesses three  main aspects, and that ultimately Krishna is the Original Person, from Whom all incarnations emanate:


vadanti tat tattva-vidas

tattvam yaj jnanam advayam

brahmeti paramatmeti

bhagavan iti sabdyate


“Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.2.11


ete camsa-kalah pumsah

krsnas tu bhagavan svayam

indrari-vyakulam lokam

mrdayanti yuge yuge


“All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Sri Krsna is the original Personality of Godhead. All of them appear on planets whenever there is a disturbance created by the atheists. The Lord incarnates to protect the theists.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.3.28


Now, from chapter seven of the first canto onwards, the author proceeds further to present how the Personal Aspect of the Absolute is the Supreme One, what He is, what His attributes are, how He acts, and particularly, how He deals with His devotees, such as Queen Kunti, the Pandavas, Bhismadeva, and the inhabitants of Dvaraka.

      Foolish people devoid of spiritual knowledge cannot understand how the Supreme can descend to this earthly planet and still remain the Supreme, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita:


avajananti mam mudha

manusim tanum asritam

param bhavam ajananto

mama bhuta-mahesvaram


“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Bg 9.11


To illustrate this point, His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Svami Srila Prabhupada, the founder acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, used to tell an anecdote: Once an important man went to see the Prime Minister of England in his residence. The servant told him: “You have to wait. The Minister is busy now.” Then he waited and wait for a long time, after which he became curious to know in which kind of affairs the Prime Minister was so busy. Upon looking through the door of the Minister’s quarters, the visitor saw that he was playing the role of a horse while his children were riding on his back. Srila Prabhupada explains that it is not that the Minister is a horse, but he is assuming such a role just for the sake of enjoyment. In the same way, Krishna, although the Supreme Absolute Truth, regularly descends to this planet in innumerable forms for the sake of enjoyment, both His and of His devotees. But His descent is not like ours, for it does not affect His supremacy at all, therefore He is never under the clutches of the illusory energy, which is actually only one of His multifarious energies, as confirmed in the Svetasvatara Upanisad (6.8) :


parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate

svabhaviki jnana-bala-kriya ca


  "His potencies are multifarious, and thus His deeds are automatically performed as a natural sequence."


          The Mayavadi theory that the Absolute Truth, or Brahman, when in contact with the material energy, becomes saguna, impregnated with material qualities is completely smashed in the Bhagavatam in the words of Queen Kunti:


kunty uvaca

namasye purusam tv adyam

isvaram prakrteh param

alaksyam sarva-bhutanam

antar bahir avasthitam


Srimati Kunti said: “O Krsna, 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.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.8.18


This is also corroborated by Sankaracharya in his commentary on the Gita: “narayanah paro ‘vyaktat.”  In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.10.19), Sri Krishna is defined as both nirguna and gunatma, which means He does not possess any material attribute, but He is full of all spiritual qualities and is also the origin of all spiritual and material qualities. But as stated above, some people will not accept even common sense. Once in Varanasi, I was discussing Bhagavad Gita with a so-called scholar, and he told me that he had never seen a translation that was purely literal, without any addition of some personal philosophical view. I told him that the language in the Gita is so clear that there cannot be two different meanings, and just to prove my point, I started to translate verse 10.8 – aham “I (am),” sarvasya “of everything,” prabhavah “the source.” Then he immediately objected: “That is OK, but we have to understand what is meant by “I.”  Everybody knows that there are no horns in the head of a rabbit, but nevertheless, some people will make research to find them out. Srila Prabhupada used to mention the case of a famous writer, who was a big scholar in Indian philosophy, but in his commentary on Bhagavad-gita, he tries to find out some meaning for words like “aham” (I) or “mam” (to me). The Vaisnavas, however, accept the common sense shared by all great acharyas: ‘I’ means Krishna, since He was the One speaking. And it is this Krishna Who is revealing His confidential pastimes with His devotees in the pages of the Bhagavatam.
The Personal Aspect of the Absolute Truth is not only an impartial observer and ruler chastising the impious and rewarding the pious, but He is also the supreme source of all rasas, the reservoir of all mellows, able to reciprocate the loving feelings of His unalloyed devotees. And here we have the main reason for His descent: to enjoy unlimited pastimes with His beloved ones. Srila Prabhupada emphasizes that the Mayavadis want to become one with God, but the Vaisnavas are not only one with God— they are more than God. In the Bhagavatam, we see how Lord Krishna appears in an apparent menial position as Partha-sarathi, the chariot driver of Arjuna. It is only apparent because when Arjuna was in a fearful situation, facing the brahmastra released by Asvatthama, he immediately addressed Krishna:

tvam adyah purusah saksad

isvarah prakrteh parah

mayam vyudasya cic-chaktya

kaivalye sthita atmani


“You are the original Personality of Godhead who expands Himself all over the creations and is transcendental to material energy. You have cast away the effects of the material energy by dint of Your spiritual potency. You are always situated in eternal bliss and transcendental knowledge.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.7.23


Apparently, He may play as an ordinary child or chariot driver, but whenever there is a need, Lord Krishna shows His supremacy by lifting Govardhana Hill or saving Pariksit Maharaja. Thus, Lord Krishna, out of transcendental affection for the Pandavas, played the role of a maternal cousin, friend, counsellor, messenger, benefactor, etc. These personal features of the Supreme Absolute Truth are so amazing that even exalted devotees like Kunti Devi admit being bewildered at the sight of Krishna crying out of fear of Mother Yasoda, so what to speak of non-devotees who cannot even conceive the Supreme Truth as a person…


          Even though superficially He exhibits Himself in what may seem to be human affairs, the position of the Lord is always distinctly transcendental. For example, in Dvaraka, Lord Krishna played exactly like a king and henpecked husband, keeping 16,108 wives, but they were all Goddesses of Fortune. Whatever riches there may be in the material world are but a small gift of the Goddess of Fortune, but in Dvaraka we see that Laksmi works as a maidservant of the Lord. Laksmi is known as Cancala, for nobody can keep Her for a long time, but Laksmi Herself cannot leave the Lord even for a moment. This evinces the Lord’s supreme opulence and beauty. 


  Out of the three aspects of the Absolute, Krishna is the Original Person, from Whom Paramatma is an expansion (S.B.1.3.18), the support of Brahman (B.G.14.27), He is attractive to all liberated persons (S.B.1.7.10), He possesses unlimited opulences, He performs wonderful activities, He is always surrounded by loving devotees, His flute and exquisite beauty attract the whole creation. Srila Vyasadeva clearly elaborates on all these points to present Sri Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Srila Prabhupada in his purports gives us the formula to realize Him through the process of bhakti-yoga: Chanting the Personal Names of God:
       Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
       Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

As well as reading, hearing and remembering His Personal Pastimes with His personal devotees; worshipping His Personal Form in the temple, etc. Thus Srila Prabhupada makes clear the meaning of his pranama:


namaste sarasvate deve gaura-vani-pracarine-nirvisesa-sunyavada-pascatya-desa-tarine

   He is the servant of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and went to the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism, voidism and atheism, to propagate the message of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and establish Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead – the Supreme Aspect of the Absolute Truth.

The original version of this essay was published in the Prajñā vol. 47-48, an academic magazine of Benares Hindu University, and the above version was submitted for assessment during the first year of the Bhakti Vaibhava course at VIHE, first canto of Bhagavatam, on 27/10/02

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