“Indeed, You alone know Yourself by Your own potencies, O origin of all, Lord of all beings, God of gods, O Supreme Person, Lord of the universe!” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.15)
vettha tvaṁ puruṣottama
- Who is God?
- Does He exist?
- Is He not a creation of the less intelligent who constantly look for meaning to life?
- Can a person study science and still believe in God?
- Is there a way to define Him without touching on spiritual traditions?
- Is there a way to know Him without fearing Him?
In the Shrimad Bhagavatam it is said that as many waves as there are in the ocean, that is how many incarnations of the Supreme Lord appear on earth. As each incarnation represents God, there are many ways to know Him.
avatārā hy asaṅkhyeyā
hareḥ sattva-nidher dvijāḥ
sarasaḥ syuḥ sahasraśaḥ
“O brahmanas, the incarnations of the Lord are innumerable, like rivulets flowing from inexhaustible sources of water.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.3.26)
The incarnations arrive and do amazing things. Sometimes they lift the entire earth. Sometimes they lift up a mighty mountain to use as an umbrella. Sometimes they get others to help them build a bridge made of floating stones. Sometimes they deliver the most confidential knowledge to a worthy recipient. The activities of the innumerable expansions of the Supreme Lord continue to expand His glories, and thus simultaneously give more points of reference for understanding Him.
Without even touching on the incarnations we can understand the Supreme Lord. Think of all that we have. We have sunlight, wind, earth, fire and food. We have water and shelter. We have parents and grandparents. Some of us have siblings and cousins. Some of us have advanced degrees, and many of us have jobs.
Everything that we have is attributed to God. This seems rather obvious, and not very significant. I have money, but so do other people. I have a spouse, but so many others have the same. Why should any attention be given to God, then? Shouldn’t He be acknowledged for something meaningful and rare?
In fact, none of these things would exist without His sanction. He is the original giver. Science studies only the laws of nature that already exist. The study of the properties of the earth and outer space touch on things which were already created. There is no evidence pointing to chemicals randomly colliding and creating all of these properties, since nothing like that happens now. A sun cannot be created in a laboratory. Neither can a mound of earth that contains all the seeds necessary for vegetation.
If we are living right now, we have something to be thankful for. Everything else can be bad. We can be in terrible distress. We can be suffering from disease, either mental or physical. We can be longing for the association of a loved one who has since passed on. Nevertheless, there is the continued existence, which is made possible by the Supreme Controller.
ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)
We know that so many people don’t acknowledge God in this way. They take His creation and everything in it for granted. They exploit the laws of nature for their own sense gratification. When they get in trouble, they curse at God; but otherwise they don’t think of Him. What use does thanking Him serve, then?
To know the Supreme is to know the self. There is an inherent relationship between the two, since both are of the same defining quality. Spirit is everlasting, immutable, undying and primeval. It can never be slain. When someone dies, it is simply the place-shifting of the soul. The spiritual spark animating the previously living body has moved elsewhere. The body remains, but it is dull and lifeless without the soul.
God is the Supreme Soul, the storehouse of the spiritual energy. The individuals souls are like sparks coming from Him. To know the Supreme Soul is to know the individual soul as well. Knowing the individual soul means knowing your true identity. When you know who you really are, you are better equipped for the difficult journey through life.
That journey is difficult because it must end in death. There will come a time where everything is left behind. The soul moves on, and so the wise person understands that their identity as spirit means that there is a lasting relationship that can be formed. That bond is with the Supreme Soul. The link can be created with knowledge, so understanding that God is the person to whom we owe everything is a great first step.
A simple way to repay what we owe is to acknowledge on a regular basis. This acknowledgement can be done through a simple prayer or thank you. It can be done blissfully through addressing God in names that really speak to His kind nature. These names are conveniently found in the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The fortunate soul who chants these names automatically pays respect to the origin of everything, whose mercy can bring relief from the suffering of the material existence.
Incarnations many of them so,
But other ways for God to know.
Everything in this world came,
From Him having Krishna the name.
Acknowledge for intelligence to rise,
Way to eternal relationship the prize.
Say thank you or His names with affection,
Get relief from misery and attain life’s perfection.