Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Lord's Multiple Oneness

It is a material condition the fact that an object cannot occupy more than a single space. If two different spaces are occupied, we have to conclude that there are two distinct objects. Similarly, we cannot speak of a variety of attributes belonging to the same object if their concomitance is not possible, like hot ice, or soft rock. But if we want to understand a bit about the potencies of God, we have to set aside these rational limitations. The śruti confirms that Lord Viṣṇu is one, although He manifests Himself in many forms:

eko vaśī sarvagaḥ kṛṣṇa īḍya eko ‘pi san bahudhā yo ‘vabhāti

taṁ pīṭha-sthaṁ ye tu yajanti dhīrās teṣāṁ sukhaṁ śāśvataṁ netareṣām

(Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad, 1.20; Govinda-bhāṣya, 2.3.38)

“Kṛṣṇa is the only all-pervasive and worshipable Supreme Lord. Although one, He appears as many. The wise who worship His form sitting on the throne attain eternal bliss, and not others.”


If one erroneously applies material rational estimations in regard to the innumerable manifestations of God, he will come to the faulty conclusion that there are many gods, which undermines the whole concept of bhakti unto a Supreme Person. To emphasize the necessity of discarding all material conceptions, and to corroborate the inconceivable potency of Lord Kṛṣṇa, the Brahma-sūtras (3.2.11) reply in the following words:

na sthānato’pi parasyobhaya-liṅgaṁ sarvatra hi

“There is no doubt that although He is situated in many places, the Supreme Lord is only one, for being present everywhere, He is characterized as one and many at the same time.”


That means, no material condition can limit His potency. Being so, He can be manifested in unlimited places at the same time, and still remain the very same one Personality of Godhead, or He can assume slightly different features, or absolutely different features in each different manifestation, and still this would in no regard affect His supremacy. That is one of the modes by which God is able to personally reciprocate in a very particular way with each of His devotees, for every one of them also has a unique mood and feeling towards the Lord. If He were not able to expand unlimitedly in all aspects, it would not be possible for Him to properly deal with His worshippers, and this would disqualify Him as the all-powerful One. Similarly, there is no limitation regarding the quality or number of distinct attributes God can assume in the very same form or in diverse forms, even if they apparently show contradiction. For example, in His very sweet form as a cowherd boy in Vṛndāvana, He manifested Himself as fierce death to many demons, while in His terrific form as Nṛsiṁhadeva, He displayed a very affectionate mood towards Prahlāda. But despite all these multiple displays, it must be understood that we are speaking of the very same Supreme Personality of Godhead. To corroborate this fact, the śruti declares:

indro māyābhiḥ puru-rūpa īyate yuktā hy asya harayaḥ śata-daśety ayaṁ vai harayo’yaṁ vai daśa ca sahasrāṇi ca bahūni cānantāni ca| tad etad brahmāpūrvam anaparam anantaram abāhyam| ayam ātmā brahma sarvānubhūtir ity anuśāsanam (Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, 2.5.19; Govinda-bhāṣya, 3.2.12)

“The Supreme Soul manifests Himself in multiple forms by dint of His potencies. Thus, Lord Hari has tens, hundreds, thousands, and unlimited forms. He is Brahman, Whom nothing precedes or succeeds, besides Whom and outside Whom nothing exists. He is Parabrahma, the omniscient Supreme Soul. This is the instruction of the scriptures.”

 This is another aspect of the acintya-bhedābheda-śakti of the Lord, through which He performs what no one else can. The śruti and smṛti also confirm His multiple abilities to display Himself unlimitedly:

amātro’nanta-mātraś ca dvaitasyopaśamaḥ śivaḥ

oṁkāro vidito yena sa munir netaro janaḥ

(Māṇḍūkya-upaniṣad, 1.29; Govinda-bhāṣya, 2.1.27)

“One who knows that this auspicious syllable Oṁ, the Supreme, is the cessation of duality, has no parts, and yet has unlimited parts— such a person is wise, and no one else.”


eka eva paro viṣṇuḥ sarvatrāpi na saṁśayaḥ

aiśvaryād rūpam ekaṁ ca sūryavad bahudheyate

“Although existing everywhere, the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu is undoubtedly only one. By His mystic potency, He appears as many, just like the sun.”

Although it is not possible to find any parallels in the material platform, Vidyābhūṣaṇa gives some analogies  to better appreciate this mystic opulence of the Lord: the vaidūrya gem, although one, is seen by different people from different angles as possessing different forms and colors; an actor on stage, although remaining the same person, assumes different characters and expresses different emotions according to the role he is playing. Similarly, the one and the same Supreme Personality of Godhead displays different forms to display particular rasas, without ever abandoning His original forms or status. These analogies are backed up by the śāstras in the following words:

maṇir yathā vibhāgena nīla-pītādibhir yutaḥ

rūpa-bhedam avāpnoti dhyāna-bhedāt tathācyutaḥ

 “Just as a gem appears different when in contact with blue, yellow and other colors, Lord Acyuta also appears different according to different modes of meditation.”


yat tad vapur bhāti vibhūṣaṇāyudhair avyakta-cid-vyaktam adhārayad dhariḥ

babhūva tenaiva sa vāmano vaṭuḥ sampaśyator divya-gatir yathā naṭaḥ

(Bhāgavatam, 8.18.12)

“The Lord appeared in His original form, with ornaments and weapons in His hands. Although this ever-existing form is not visible in the material world, He nonetheless appeared in this form. Then, in the presence of His father and mother, He assumed the form of Vāmana, a brāhmaṇa-dwarf, a brahmacārī, just like a theatrical actor.”

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