“His name is Rama and He is the most effulgent and powerful (mahatejah). He is the foremost of all wielders of the bow, and possesses divine qualities and weapons. He adheres to the highest level of conduct (paramdharma) on the battlefield.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.15)
God is the greatest and the most energetic. The living entities, jiva-tattva, can achieve perfection in life by realizing that they represent God’s energy and that He is the only controller. Hearing that God is great is one thing, but actually realizing this fact is another. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, make a distinction between theoretical knowledge, jnana, and practical knowledge, vijnana. In order to help us truly understand God’s greatness and strength, the Vedas provide various descriptions of the Lord. These descriptions are necessary because people tend to understand concepts more clearly when comparisons are used.
Of course God is great. Most people naturally understand this. God’s greatness is actually inconceivable to us and for many, this fact leads them away from spiritual life. “God is too powerful for me to comprehend, so why should I try?” The Vedas tell us that this human form of life is meant for understanding God and then using that knowledge to serve Him. Perfection in life comes when one rekindles their lost relationship with the Lord. To reach this end, the Vedic literatures give us descriptions of the Lord’s names, forms, and pastimes. Obviously God’s powers can never be truly comprehended by the human brain, but through study and devotion, we can gain a slight understanding. Just a tinkling of knowledge about God is enough to arouse loving feelings towards Him.
Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, directly expands Himself into Lord Vishnu, or Narayana. Narayana then expands Himself into various incarnations which appear on earth. Through the activities performed by the many different incarnations, the Lord receives a variety of names. In fact, devotees often recite the thousand names of Lord Vishnu (Shri Vishnu-sahasra-nama-stotram) as a means of prayer. One thousand names seem like a lot, but as stated before, God’s glories are actually limitless. These names serve as a foundation for understanding the true nature of the Lord. For example, one of Krishna’s names is Keshava, meaning the killer of the Keshi demon. This name refers to a specific pastime of the Lord. Another name is Achyuta, meaning one who is infallible. Parameshvara means the supreme controller or supreme ishvara, and Rama means one who gives pleasure. When reading the epic Mahabharata, one will often find that Lord Krishna is directly referred to many different names. The Pandava brothers and other associates purposefully addressed Krishna with different names depending on time and circumstance. The name Krishna itself means one who is all-attractive. These names and activities of the Lord exist to help the devotees understand and remember Him.
Even though He has one thousand different names, the complete list of Lord Krishna’s powers can never be properly enumerated. It is similar to how the Constitution of the United States works. The Founding Fathers envisioned a government of the style of a democratic republic with limited powers. For this reason, the Constitution specifically enumerates the activities that Congress can engage in. Fearing an oppressive government, the Founding Fathers included the Bill of Rights as the first ten amendments to the Constitution. It is a common misconception that the Bill of Rights enumerates the rights that people have. In actuality, the Bill of Rights put limits on the activities of Congress. The first amendment states that “Congress shall make no law” abridging or infringing on various rights of the people.
“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (Tenth amendment to the Constitution)
As venerable a document as the Constitution was, the Founders still realized that the rights of man could never be completely enumerated. For this reason, they declared that any right or power not specifically mentioned in the Constitution would automatically be granted to the people. This essentially meant that if an activity wasn’t specifically mentioned in the Constitution, then the Congress had no right to regulate it, meaning freedom belonged to the people.
This same principle holds true with the Vedas and Lord Krishna. Through the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Puranas, and other Vedic texts, we get a short list of the qualities, names, forms, and pastimes of the Lord, but this list is by no means complete. By default, God automatically possesses any power not specifically mentioned in the Vedas. This fact is easily forgotten by people living on this earth. To remind us of His greatness, the Lord personally appears here from time to time.
This was the case during the Treta Yuga when Lord Krishna incarnated as a kshatriya warrior named Rama. In the above referenced statement, the Rakshasa demon Akampana is explaining to Ravana how Rama had just killed 14,000 Rakshasas all by Himself in the forest of Janasthana. At the time, Rama was roaming the forests of India with His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana. Rakshasas are a race of demons who are usually atheistic. Ravana was their leader and was so powerful that no one could defeat him in battle.
Ravana was the king of the island of Lanka, and thus he had an army of Rakshasas at his disposal. He sent 14,000 of them, headed by Khara, to Janasthana to kill Rama. Lord Rama, being God Himself, easily killed all of them all by Himself. He sent Sita away from the battlefield and instructed Lakshmana to protect her while the fighting was going on. All the Rakshasas were killed, but somehow Akampana managed to escape and limp his way back to Lanka. Upon seeing him, Ravana wanted to know what had happened. Hearing that 14,000 Rakshasas were killed by Rama, Ravana wanted to know more about Him. He asked Akampana if Rama was assisted by the demigods, for he couldn’t believe that one man was capable of this.
“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)
Ravana’s attitude represents the ignorance of the atheistic class. In the Vedic tradition, there has been a long history of demigod worship. Demigods, also referred to as devataas or devas, number in the thousands. They serve as Lord Krishna’s chief associates. The material world equates to a temporary place full of miseries. The spiritual world is a place full of knowledge and bliss, and this material world is just the opposite. Governed by the illusory energy known as maya, this world causes us to live in ignorance and become bound to the materialistic way of life. God Himself can never associate with maya, thus He lets the demigods manage the material affairs. They are in charge of all aspects of life, including weather, food, money, health, good and bad fortune, etc.
People generally worship the Gods for material rewards. For example, young girls and boys pray to Lord Shiva and his wife, Parvati, to reward them with a nice spouse when they grow older. Others pray to Lord Ganesha to remove their obstacles in life. This type of worship certainly isn’t bad, but the rewards received are temporary. Lord Vishnu, or God Himself, can never be worshiped in this manner. One can ask Him for material things, but He will only provide what is good for His devotees. The demigods are just the opposite. They are required to grant benedictions to anyone who pleases them, regardless of the worshiper’s intentions. This was the case with Ravana. He prayed to Lord Brahma and Shiva to grant him many material benedictions. He received ten heads and a fighting prowess that made him feared throughout the world. Ravana’s biggest mistake was that he thought the demigods were the limit to celestial power. Thinking that he had outsmarted them by receiving benedictions from them, Ravana believed he was God and that no one could ever defeat him.
Rama proved Ravana to be wrong in the worst possible way. When he heard of Rama’s extraordinary feat of killing 14,000 Rakshasas, Ravana thought that Rama must have had some help. For devotees, Rama’s feat was certainly great, but not surprising at all. God’s powers are limitless. Lord Rama is a direct incarnation of Vishnu, meaning He is just as good as God Himself. Rama was the kindest, sweetest, and most compassionate person. At the same time, as a fighter, He was the most skilled. God is simultaneously the most peaceful and the most violent. His violence is directed towards the miscreants such as Ravana and His peaceful nature is bestowed upon His adherents, the devotees. The choice is ours as to which side of God we wish to associate with.