“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them. And yet everything that is created does not rest in Me. Behold My mystic opulence! Although I am the maintainer of all living entities, and although I am everywhere, still My Self is the very source of creation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4-5)
The major religions of the world have varying doctrines and prescribed regulations. The general principle behind the teachings of each religion is that one should live life in a regulated manner for God’s service. Through the course of human history, various elevated personalities have appeared to expound the principles of each particular faith. People like Jesus, Mohammed, and Moses are all considered great prophets, or even representatives of God. It is often seen that people will include Lord Krishna in this group of prophets. In fact, many celebrated figures of the Hindu faith also describe Krishna in this manner. Though a teacher of religion Himself, it is incorrect to classify Lord Krishna as a prophet.
Most of the major religions of the world give an impersonal description of God. Even Lord Jesus Christ told everyone of a kingdom of God, but never went into detail about God’s features or His personality. A preacher of the Vaishnava mold, Jesus was pure and kind-hearted to the people of his time, begging them to dedicate more time towards prayer and religious life. His central teaching was that people should look to God for everything, a fact which is undoubtedly true. Other great figures such as Moses and Mohammed gave similar instructions. Yet none of these people ever gave concrete information relating to God’s names, His forms, or His attributes.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, also sometimes describe God in an impersonal way. The Lord is referred to as ishvara, the Supreme Controller, but we see that sometimes the living entities are also described as ishvara. God is also known by His feature of Brahman, the impersonal energy which constitutes the sum and substance of material creation. In describing God in an impersonal manner, the Vedas are not denying that God Himself is a person. On the contrary, the Lord’s ultimate feature is that of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Brahma-samhita describes God as adi-purusham, meaning the original person.
“In the Brahma-samhita, the body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is described as ananda-chin-maya-rasa. The Supreme Personality of Godhead possesses a spiritual body, not a material body. He can enjoy anything through any part of His body, and therefore He is omnipotent.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)
Yet still, there is a large section of elevated transcendentalists of the Vedic tradition that take God to be impersonal. This philosophy, known as Mayavada, declares that Brahman is the ultimate source of everything and that man’s duty is to study Vedanta with the aim of one day merging into this impersonal energy. To support their theory, they point to the commentaries on the Vedanta-sutras written by Shankaracharya.
The primary basis for the impersonalist philosophy stems from the Vedic description of God as being nirguna, meaning without material qualities. Everything in this material world possesses gunas, or material qualities. In fact, this is the difference between the material world and the spiritual world. In this world, we all take on bodies made up of the elements of nature. Our qualities are a combination of goodness, passion, and ignorance. By declaring God to be nirguna, the Vedas aren’t saying that He has no attributes, but rather that the Lord has no material attributes. For example, we have hands, legs, a brain, etc. By definition, a hand is limited in its capabilities. There is only so much we can do with each one of our material features. In order to accurately describe God’s greatness, the Vedas tell us that the Lord doesn’t have the same type of hands, legs, and arms that we do. God does possess these features, but they aren’t limited in the same way that ours are. For example, God can eat with His eyes, smell with His mouth, etc. Using His eyes, God can accept food offered to Him with love and devotion.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
At the same time, the Vedas also sometimes describe God as saguna, meaning with attributes. Again, this is just to describe the difference between His original form and that of His incarnations. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and other primary Vedic texts declare that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the original God. Even in other Vedic texts, Lord Vishnu is described as God. This is also correct since Vishnu, or Narayana, is Lord Krishna’s primary expansion. From time to time, the Lord descends to earth in the form of a living entity. These incarnations are referred to as avataras. The saguna description applies to the avataras or other vishnu-tattva expansions. In the case of His avataras, the Lord comes to earth in what appears to be the dress of a living entity, but His body remains completely spiritual.
“There is evidence in the Vedic literature that worship may be saguna and nirguna-of the Supreme possessing or not possessing attributes. Worship of the Deity in the temple is saguna worship, for the Lord is represented by material qualities. But the form of the Lord, though represented by material qualities such as stone, wood, or oil paint, is not actually material. That is the absolute nature of the Supreme Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 12.5 Purport)
Krishna’s incarnations of Narasimha Deva, Rama, Varaha, etc. are all described as saguna, but we should never think that They possess material bodies. This thinking is strongly condemned by Lord Shiva in the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas. God is a person, and the original person is Krishna.
The Lord in His original feature is referred to as Bhagavan, which means one who possesses all fortunes. The most accurate English translation of Bhagavan is “the Supreme Personality of Godhead”. Krishna is Supreme because there is no one above Him. He is a personality in that He is a spirit soul just like us, except that His soul is not subject to the laws of nature nor is it subject to bewilderment by the forces of maya. He is the origin of Godhead, meaning He can take unlimited forms such as His various expansions and incarnations. Even we living entities are considered His expansions, technically known as His marginal energy. Though He can expand Himself into unlimited forms, He nevertheless remains completely whole and powerful. That is the true definition of God. In the material world, one minus one equals zero, but in the spiritual world, God can create direct copies of Himself without losing any of His original potency.
The Bhagavad-gita is one of the most famous books in history. In the Gita, Lord Krishna describes the science of self-realization and the meaning of life to His cousin and dear friend Arjuna. The book has been studied by devotees, theologians, and philosophers for over five thousand years. The teachings in the Gita are perfect and complete in all respects. Since many philosophers like to study different religions, through the powers of mental speculation, they decide to label Krishna as a great prophet. Even many followers of the Vedic tradition take Krishna to be an elevated manifestation of Brahman. Even though the final instruction of the Gita is that mankind should surrender unto Krishna and be delivered from all calamity, many scholars say that it is not Krishna that one should surrender unto.
“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.11)
Krishna knew that His teachings would be misinterpreted in this manner by pseudo-transcendentalists and non-devotees, so He directly addressed these people in His discourse. The people who take Krishna to be a prophet or an ordinary human being are described as mudhas, or asses, rascals, or fools.
Lord Krishna is the kindest and most merciful. We have forgotten our constitutional position as servants of His Lordship, so He kindly appears from time to time to reinstitute the principles of dharma and to help us come back to Him. Veda means knowledge, and the origin of that knowledge is Krishna who first imparted Vedic wisdom into the heart of Lord Brahma, the first created living entity. That same knowledge has since been passed down through the chain of disciplic succession. From time to time, that chain gets broken and the Lord personally appears to reinstitute real religion.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)
Krishna’s final instruction in the Gita is that Arjuna should abandon all varieties of religion and simply surrender unto Him. This was told to Arjuna only after the entire Vedic system was described in great detail. This means that devotion to Krishna is the highest form of religion, superior to fruitive activity, mental speculation, and mystic yoga. Though Krishna gave this instruction to Arjuna, His invitation is open to anyone. This means that any person of any faith, any country, race, nationality, etc., they can surrender unto Krishna and be delivered. This was the same message preached by Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation appearing some five hundred years ago in India. Lord Shri Krishna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is for everyone.