Krishna's attributes and qualities

"How do you know Krishna is God?"

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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.

How God is Great

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from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-02, 2000

Srila Prabhupada would often say that from the Vedic literature we learn not only that God is great but in what ways He is great. Before coming to Krishna consciousness, I had only a vague idea of God. Now, like millions of others, I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge about God from Srila Prabhupada through his presentation of revealed Vedic wisdom. The following short list includes just some of the many things Srila Prabhupada taught us about God:

God is the supreme person, whose form is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge.

God has innumerable forms, of which the original is Krishna, a beautiful dark-blue cowherd boy who plays the flute and sports a peacock feather on His head.

God is unlimited in all respects.

God is the source of everything.

God can be seen by devotees whose vision is purified by unalloyed love.

God attracts everyone, either directly or through His material energy.

God knows everything—past, present, and future.

God has His eternal home, Goloka Vrindavana, in the spiritual world.

God’s all-powerful Narayana expansions rule innumerable spiritual planets, called Vaikunthas.

Although God expands forms equal to Himself in power, He is never diminished in the least.

God breathed the Vedas, which contain all knowledge required for human existence.

God spoke the Bhagavad-gita five thousand years ago.

God is all-loving, and He created each of us to enjoy eternally with Him in one of His innumerable forms.

In His original form as Krishna, God enjoys the most intimate exchanges with His confidential devotees.

God especially enjoys with His pleasure potency, Srimati Radharani.

God’s agents manage the universe while He enjoys with His devotees.

Though eternally residing in Goloka Vrindavana, God is simultaneously present everywhere, even within the atom.

As the original male, God impregnates nature with rebellious souls, who then take on material bodies.

As the Supersoul, God accompanies us throughout our sojourn in the material world.

We living beings are infinitesimal parts of God, and our qualities—consciousness, the will to live, and so on—are samples of His unlimited qualities.

God is fully present in the sound of His names, which are identical with Him.

God appears in the form of the Deity to accept our worship.

God is called Bhagavan (“possessor of opulence”) because He possesses in full the six primary opulences: beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, and renunciation.

God comes to this world repeatedly in various forms to subdue the demonic, please His devotees, and reestablish religion.

God descended five hundred years ago as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and introduced the chanting of His names as the religion for the age.

God controls the sun, the rain, nature—everything—and unlike us is never subject to anyone’s control.

The powerful forces of nature are only a hint of God’s omnipotence.

God directs the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe.

In His form as Maha-Vishnu, God creates millions of universes when He exhales and destroys them when He inhales—one breath taking hundreds of trillions of years.

God’s expansion Ananta Sesha, who has innumerable mouths, has never been able to adequately describe God’s glories, although trying to do so eternally.

Who is Krishna? #1

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Mitrasena dasa explains how Krishna means "attractive force" and that everything that attracts us is but a glimpse of one of Krishna's many powers. Mitrasena is a musician, writer and sustainability enthusiast. He and his family live in North Carolina, USA.

Who is Krishna? Ravindra-svarupa dasa

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with 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.

Wonderful Krishna

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from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-05, 2000


If God is inconceivable, as the scriptures state, can we really know anything about Him?

Sri Ishopanishad states that Krishna is simultaneously very far away and very close. The Vedic scriptures encourage us: The best way to know Krishna and bring Him closer is to hear about Him.

As we open any book about Krishna, we’ll immediately feel the richness of the clear and scientific knowledge it contains. We’ll also come to understand that Krishna is by nature inconceivable to finite beings. Although some world religions extend that to mean that Krishna is by essence completely inconceivable (not only far away), we cannot agree. Yes, He is ultimately inconceivable, but His name, fame, and form can be known just as we know any person face-to-face. Anyone who wants to be God conscious has to understand this point.

Here’s an example of a statement that ties these two concepts together. It’s from the Srimad- Bhagavatam (10.12.38), in connection with Lord Krishna’s killing and liberating the demon Aghasura, who in the form of a gigantic snake had swallowed Krishna and His friends.

"Krishna is the cause of all causes. The causes and effects of the material world, both higher and lower, are all created by the Supreme Lord, the original controller. When Krishna appeared as the son of Nanda Maharaja and Yashoda, He did so by His causeless mercy. Consequently, for Him to exhibit His unlimited opulence was not at all wonderful. Indeed, he showed such great mercy that even Aghasura, the most sinful miscreant, was elevated to being one of His associates and achieving sarupya-mukti [having the same form as the Lord], which is actually impossible for materially contaminated persons to attain."

Srila Prabhupada comments:

Krishna is the cause of all causes. He is the creator of cause and effect, and He is the supreme controller. Nothing is impossible for Him. Therefore that He enabled even a living being like Aghasura to attain the salvation of sarupya-mukti is not at all wonderful for Krishna. Krishna took pleasure in entering the mouth of Aghasura in a sporting spirit, along with His associates. Therefore, when Aghasura, by that sporting association, as maintained in the spiritual world, was purified of all contamination, he attained sarupya-mukti and vimukti by the grace of Krishna. For Krishna this was not at all wonderful.

“Not at all wonderful” is Srila Prabhupada’s way of saying we shouldn’t be surprised or doubtful when we hear of Krishna’s power and opulence. Krishna killed demons. Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill. Krishna married 16,108 wives. None of these acts is at all wonderful, because Krishna did them effortlessly. Krishna is the source of cause and effect, yet He appears as a child. Does that sound incredible, unbelievable? Well, Krishna has infinite greatness. Nothing is impossible for Him.

But we are wonderstruck. Srila Prabhupada named one chapter of his book Krishna “Wonderful Krishna.” Wonderful is a tasty word if it’s not used superficially; it refers to something filled with joy, a superlative experience.

In the scriptures the devotees express their appreciation of “wonderful Krishna” according to their relationship with Him. Queen Kunti prays that although Krishna is the Supreme Truth, in His childhood form He becomes subordinate to mother Yashoda. Although fear personified is afraid of Krishna, He runs in fear from His mother, who threatens Him with a stick. Kunti says that when she thinks of Krishna running fearfully, His black mascara smeared by His tears, she becomes amazed. What fortune Yashoda has to be Krishna’s mother and to subordinate the supreme controller!

The acaryas, the great spiritual masters of the past, have pointed out another aspect of Krishna’s inconceivable power, beyond even that of His expansions and avatars: He performed amazing feats as a small child. When Krishna killed Putana, He was only a few months old. He was seven when He lifted Govardhana Hill with the pinkie of His left hand. In other incarnations, He assumed large forms to do a large task. To kill Hiranyakashipu He appeared in a huge form as a half man, half lion. Although He begged three steps of land from Bali Maharaja in the form of a dwarf brahmana, He assumed a huge form to reclaim the universe with those steps. Krishna performed equally difficult tasks, yet He performed them in His beautiful Vrindavana form as a cowherd boy. That in itself is wonderful.

When we think of Krishna’s opulence, we see the paradoxes. He is the master, yet He’s subordinate to His devotees. He’s inconceivable, yet He allows us to know Him. In the Third Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the great devotee Uddhava expresses bewilderment at Krishna’s being unborn yet apparently being born, at Krishna’s being fearless yet leaving Vrindavana out of fear of Kamsa. The contradictions are bewildering, and Uddhava’s separation from such a wonderful Krishna also bewilders him. And of course, the nondevotees are bewildered because they cannot accept Krishna with His apparent paradoxes. Their mundane morality can never accommodate the inconceivable opulence of Krishna.

Krishna’s Most Attractive Feature

Krishna is wonderful, amazing—inconceivably so—but we have not touched on the most mysterious and inconceivable of all His qualities: His ability to express love. He is powerful, He is wise, He is strong and famous, but His inclination to love all living beings, and His expression of that love in a variety of ways, is His most attractive feature. And even more attractive than that is His special love for His devotees. Therefore, a devotee, while recognizing Krishna’s mastership over his or her life, does not ever forget this greatest glory of Krishna’s love.

I recently heard Srila Prabhupada on tape speaking about suffering. A devotee asked Prabhupada how we should understand that even though we are devotees, we still have to suffer. Prabhupada took a strong position. He said it was not our right to question that we have to suffer. And we should never think that we would love Krishna more if we didn’t suffer. Nor does Krishna have to explain to us why we are suffering. A devotee sees Krishna unquestionably as master. In the mood of a devotee, Lord Caitanya prays, “Whether You make me brokenhearted or You handle me roughly in Your embrace, You are always my worshipful Lord, birth after birth.” A devotee never doubts Krishna’s loving intention toward him.

I was raised in a nominally Catholic family. We never discussed faith or the reality of God, never broached doubts. As soon as I entered the larger world of college and was exposed to doubts, I had no answers. I remember one teacher saying, “How can there be God if there is so much suffering in the world?” This is a classic theological puzzle: If God is all-good and all-powerful, why are we suffering? How can He be all-loving if His creatures are feeling pain?

A devotee is not bewildered by these apparent contradictions. We may not understand His purposes, but we are never bewildered by them. A devotee has ultimate trust in Krishna’s most wonderful quality.

Therefore, don’t ask Krishna for sense gratification, and don’t bargain with Krishna for something less than love of God. While we acknowledge that Krishna is far away from us, we also feel His closeness and our ability to address Him, just as a child will go to the father to have his desires fulfilled. On the higher stages of Krishna consciousness, devotees may very well express their own desires, but their desires are always for Krishna’s pleasure. Devotees also express a variety of moods, some submissive and some contrary. Krishna enjoys them all.

We can’t imitate those types of expressions, and if we try, we may end up asking for something not in our ultimate interest. Krishna, as the kind father, will provide the “toy.” In the end we may find ourselves telling Krishna we didn’t want what we received, and Krishna saying, “Well, you asked for it, so now you play with it until it breaks.” How sad when we go to Krishna for such things. And how sad that it may take thousands of years of action and reaction to live out the gift He gave us.

The Gopis’ Example

How pleased Krishna must be when He sees a pure devotee who cares only for Him. Srila Prabhupada was ecstatic to hear that the gopis, Krishna’s cowherd girlfriends, never asked Krishna for anything. Prabhupada offered their behavior as an example of real bhakti. Usually, in a conjugal relationship men and women want something from each other. Women usually want security, and even Krishna’s queens in Dvaraka had that. But the gopis had nothing. They never asked for anything. They went to the forest in the middle of the night at the risk of losing their families and reputations, and Krishna did not provide them with any guarantee or indemnity. Therefore, they are considered the highest devotees; they wanted only to give Krishna happiness, to please wonderful Krishna.

After Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill, the cowherd men were bewildered. Who is this wonderful boy? Nanda Maharaja repeated what the priest Gargamuni had told him at Krishna’s name- giving ceremony. Krishna is narayana-sama, “equal to Narayana, or God,” Gargamuni had said. Although the cowherd men understood, they didn’t abandon their parental affection for Krishna. Rather, they said, “Just let us always live in the protection of wonderful Krishna.”