How to Understand God

Krishna and Arjuna“O Dhananjaya, all this work cannot bind Me. I am ever detached, seated as though neutral.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.9)

Bhagavad-gita, 9.9“How can I understand God? Is He the richest person? I know wealthy people right now, so maybe He is wealthier than all of them combined. What about understanding Him through ability? I know someone who can drink so many beers within a few hours. They don’t even look phased afterwards. Perhaps the Supreme Lord is better than them in that area. I know someone who can hold their breath for like five minutes. It seems unbelievable, but they are able to do it. They’re not even huffing and puffing afterwards. Maybe God can hold His breath for six minutes then.”

We don’t know anything beyond what we’ve experienced in this current lifetime. Our viewpoint is extended a little by the experiences we hear others explain, but even in that there is some skepticism. Since we haven’t experienced what they describe, we either don’t fully accept their words or we don’t want to think about what they mean. Thus the tendency is to measure greatness using only points of reference known to us. Ironically enough, the Supreme Person, the one we think is better than everyone else at everything, doesn’t really have much concern for greatness in these areas. He is the original creator of the material universe, and though everything happens according to His will, He is not affected by the work.

What does it mean to be affected by work?

softwareLet’s say I start a business. It can be any business, but in this scenario let’s say it’s a software company. To start, I will need an idea. I want to sell such and such product. Then I need a way to produce it. For software, I’m going to need computer programmers. I will need a few of them, perhaps one dedicated to each facet of the software development life cycle. Then I need a sales team. The software programmers likely aren’t very good at communicating or softening up the stances of others who are unwilling to part with their money. I’m going to need someone expert at selling things in order to get the finished product out the door.

I will also need a place of business, an office. Oh, and all of this costs money. Before I can even begin working on my product, I need some funding mechanism. Therefore I will take out a loan from the bank, hit up a friend for some cash, or look for investors. Once all of that falls into place, only then can I begin the work.

In our hypothetical scenario, let’s say that I reach a point where the business is up and running and selling to many customers. I now have a full human resources department that manages hiring new employees. I have an accounting department that sends invoices and processes payments. I have a real sales department along with the revamped IT department that constantly looks for new ways to improve the product. As the president and founder of the company, I was responsible for all of this taking place, but now everything more or less operates without my intervention. I’m sitting back and enjoying the fruits of my labor.

Since everything in the business runs at my command, I can be considered responsible for everything. At the same time, I’m not really doing everything, so I am detached from the situation as well. Despite a position in detachment, I am affected by the work. What I did had an influence on my life. I enjoy the profits the company earns and I suffer when the company loses money. If there is a lawsuit, I will be negatively impacted. If someone has a problem with the software, I, as the face of the company, will have to go out in public and explain what happened. I am always affected, no matter my level of involvement.

Lord KrishnaThe Supreme Lord, on the other hand, is not affected. He creates much more than just a single business. His creative powers are so great that one can easily get lost in all the detail and forget the fact that there is an original controller. The field of material science today more or less ignores the influence of spirit. Seeing only the results of the original person’s work, the scientists think they can manipulate the material elements, which have their own laws that can’t be broken, in order to reach a position of superiority.

Their drive is destined for failure due in part to many factors. There is eventual death. There is also subservience to the will of nature. We have to live by the relative positioning of the sun and the influence that has on us. We have to abide by gravity and the effects of disease. We have to suffer the effects of other living entities, and we have to survive through the calamities brought on by mother nature. In this way we are not independent at all, though we think we are.

Though the Supreme Lord creates all of this, He is not affected by the work. Whether or not the elements of nature operate on time has no bearing on Him. Thus to try to understand Him in terms of material opulence alone does not lead to perfection in knowledge. We think that maybe God is the richest person, but actually He doesn’t care about material wealth at all. That is the true definition of greatness. A person who is really great can survive just fine whether in opulence or squalor. They say that you should be nice to the people you meet on your way up because they will be the same ones you meet on your way down. No position is fixed. To think that only large accumulation is an opulence is a mistake. The person who can go without needing to drink so many beers or holding their breath is just as good as one who is supposedly skilled in these areas.

There is a benefit to knowing that God both creates the material nature and is unaffected by that creation. Since material opulence is not fixed, it cannot be the best way to understand the Supreme Person. Rather, only someone who is above both high and low can be supreme. A clearer understanding of Him is provided in the Vedas, which also describe the essence of the individual. That essence is a spiritual fragment, a vital force which is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. The Supreme Person is similar to this essence, except the magnitude of His qualities is greater.

How can someone be more eternal than someone else?

Eternality for the individual means remaining a spiritual spark regardless of the material body accepted. Though there is still birth and death, the individual never dies. For the Supreme Lord, there is never a material body accepted. Therefore His eternality is superior; it is constant on both the inside and outside.

Narasimhadeva with PrahladaHis superiority in eternality, bliss and knowledge gives pleasure to the individual. God is aloof from the material creation, but He is not so with the interests of those who deeply care for Him. For them He is the swift deliverer from the greatest danger. He provides to them what they lack and preserves what they have. By definition, they only want to serve Him, a service which can take place through a variety of ways, including hearing and chanting. The principal ways are enumerated by Prahlada Maharaja in the Shrimad Bhagavatam.

“Prahlada Maharaja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one’s best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him…” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.23)

Since the devotees don’t desire material opulence, God has no problem breaking from His neutrality to help them out. He is not affected by this work, either, as how can there be a downside to helping the devotees come back to Him? The followers of bhakti-yoga get a much better understanding of God, and through that knowledge they transcend the influence of the material nature. At the end of life they return to the Supreme’s abode, where there is neither creation nor destruction.

In Closing:

“How God to truly understand?

Is He like magician with slight of hand?


Does He possess number of houses untold?

Can breath for long periods He hold?”


Actually, on Him greatest work has no effect,

All of nature under His control, no fatigue to detect.


Greatness is there for Him whether small or large,

For material rewards He puts others in charge.


Real understanding only from the Vedas hear,

In devotion relationship to Him to become clear.

Categories: bhagavan

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