The sun and its rays—one and different.
Achintya-bhedabheda-tattva refers to the inconceivable oneness and difference of the Supreme Person and His energies. This is one of the key points of theistic philosophy taught by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. As parts of God's energy, we're also equal in quality with God, but there's a vast difference in quantity. We're each infinitesimal sparks of spiritual energy, and the Supreme Person, Krishna, is the infinite, supreme source of all energies.

Some parts of the Vedas say that all beings are one with God, and others say that God is different from all beings. Vedanta philosophers have long argued back and forth about this, but Chaitanya Mahaprabhu taught that both statements are simultaneously true.

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Just as the sun is the source of heat and light, God is the ultimate source of all energy. The sun is inseparable from its rays, and God is inseparable from His energies. God and His energies are therefore nondifferent. At the same time, God and His energies are distinct. The sun and its rays are one, but they're also different: we can feel the sun's light and heat while the sun itself is millions of miles away.

Similarly, God is omnipresent by His energy but also maintains His distinct personal identity – His own name, form, qualities, home, activities, and associates. Since everything is a display of God's energy, God is simultaneously different (bheda) and nondifferent (abheda) from everything. This truth (tattva) is inconceivable (achintya) to the mundane mind. All that exists within the spiritual world and the material world is also God's energy, and therefore one with and different from God simultaneously.

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Further reading on how the Supreme Person is simultaneously one with and different from everything:

  • Krishna Consciousness Is Real Science
    - "Suppose this table is gold. But this one gold thing is not the whole gold mine. There is a difference. Similarly, everything is Krishna, but still, everything is different from Krishna."
  • We Worship Everything
    - "Everything is Krishna, but you cannot worship this bench as Krishna. That is rascaldom. . ."
  • The Vision To See Life In Stone
    - Krishna is everything, and yet, Krishna is apart from everything.
  • Bhakti-vedanta: The Union of Religion and Philosophy
    - Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's achintya bhadabheda tattva philosophy Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the culmination and synthesis of centuries of Vaishnava thought.
  • On Service, the Soul, and the Supreme
    - We're one with God qualitatively but not quantitatively—God creates millions of planets that float in space, and we create airplanes that float in the air—yet we want all the credit.
  • Janmashtami Lecture in Hamburg
    - the inconceivable oneness and difference of Krishna and His creation (and plenty more) in this three-part audio lecture, with complete transcript.

We like to quote our sources. This page is based on the following:

  • Bhagavad-gita, 9.4:

    "By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 3.28.41, Purport:

    "This philosophy is propounded by Lord Chaitanya as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva. Everything is simultaneously one with and different from everything else. The cosmic manifestation created by the Supreme Lord by His material energy is also simultaneously different and nondifferent from Him. The material energy is nondifferent from the Supreme Lord, but at the same time, because that energy is acting in a different way, it is different from Him. Similarly, the individual living entity is one with and different from the Supreme Lord. This “simultaneously one and different” philosophy is the perfect conclusion of the Bhagavata (personalist) school . . ."

  • Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi-lila 2.16, Purport:

    "Although the sun is situated far away from the other planets, its rays sustain and maintain them all. Indeed, the sun diffuses its heat and light all over the universe. Similarly, the supreme sun, Govinda, diffuses His heat and light everywhere in the form of His different potencies. The sun’s heat and light are nondifferent from the sun. In the same way, the unlimited potencies of Govinda are nondifferent from Govinda Himself."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10.87.32:

    "The Personality of Godhead and His emanations, such as the jiva souls, are simultaneously different and nondifferent, just like the sun and its expanding rays."

  • Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.31.16:

    "Just as the sunshine is nondifferent from the sun, the cosmic manifestation is also nondifferent from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Supreme Personality is therefore all-pervasive within this material creation. . . Similarly, the whole cosmic creation appears different and yet nondifferent from the Supreme Person."

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