“The first syllable of the word bhagavan is bha, which means ‘sustainer’ and ‘protector.’ The next letter, ga, means ‘leader,’ ‘pusher’ and ‘creator.’ Va means ‘dwelling’ (all living beings dwell in the Supreme Lord, and the Supreme Lord dwells within the heart of every living being). Combining all these concepts, the word bhagavan carries the import of inconceivable potency in knowledge, energy, strength, opulence, power and influence, devoid of all varieties of inferiority.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 2.10 Purport)
Mention the word “God” and you get a variety of responses. In some places there might be universal acceptance, with smiling faces abound. In other areas the frown is the immediate change. They’ve got their arms up, in a ready position. They are prepared to argue the invalidity of the idea of creation and an intelligent designer.
The lack of uniformity in responses is due to the different ideas people have about God.
1. The Almighty
This person has a lot of strength. That person has tremendous ability. That guy reigns over an important tract of land. He has the final say in what happens to the people. He is in charge of protecting.
God should be more mighty than everyone else. He is the Almighty, so no one can surpass Him in strength, influence and ability. That is the whole point to worshiping Him. If He didn’t hold this title, He wouldn’t be able to save us.
2. The Supreme Being
We see many beings around us. The Vedas describe that every living thing is a being, bhuta. Some are moving. Some are nonmoving. Some have four legs, while others have two. Some can talk, while others can fly. Some live for a day, while others last beyond one hundred years.
The variety is due to the modes of nature covering up what is known as the spirit soul. The individual souls are equal in quality. They are not the same identity, but they possess the same qualities. There are so many beings, but only one can be supreme. This is another idea of God. He must be different from the rest.
3. The one watching over us
- That guy was obviously guilty. There is no question about it. He got off because of a technicality in the legal system. Now he is free to roam the streets, despite the questionable past.
- That politician took home classified documents and may have shared them with people not authorized to see them. While others go to jail for similar behavior, she did not get punished at all.
- That leader of the nation secretly spied on one of his political rivals. Yet today he is still relatively popular, with supporters thinking he was great.
- That guy lied about so many important things, but no one seems to care.
There is also the positive.
- No one saw me help that old lady cross the street.
- That massive donation to the charitable institution was done anonymously.
Will I get credit for these sacrifices? Will the bad guys eventually receive punishment?
“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)
Another idea of God is that He watches over us. The extreme on one side says that He is sitting in judgment, just waiting to punish the sinners. The more rational argument, supported by authorized sacred texts, says that there is an inherent system of fairness in play. The work is karma, and the phala, or fruits, arrive at the appropriate time. The consequences are commensurate with the deeds. That is to say if someone did something really bad, the punishment will be equally as intense. God must be the person managing this.
4. The concept that explains the unexplainable
How does a new life actually enter this world? Sure, we have the scientific explanation. The union of the man and woman, the gestation period, the exit from the womb. We understand that, but who created the rules in the first place? Who made it so that from a tiny seed you could get a giant tree that bears fruit? God must be that which is beyond explanation. He must be the person who will be able to answer questions that can never be answered in this life.
5. The origin
Along the same lines, there is no definitive proof of the what, when, and where relating to the origin of the universe. Even if there were secret surveillance video footage available to consult, there is no way to validate the date and time. The sound and images also don’t explain the past. That is to say there is always a beginning to a beginning and an end to an end. God must be that origin. He must be the person who is beyond time and space. The concept of infinity must apply to Him.
These are different speculations and ideas in the right direction, as man’s true purpose is to approach higher topics like life and death, the variety in species, the reason for living, and ultimately who is behind the forces of nature that seemingly have total control over us.
While the different ideas lead to different religions, and thereby conflict among the factions, there is a way to get a clear picture. This comes from the Vedic tradition, which describes God in so much detail. It covers the different conceptions, even applying specific names to them. Some of the features are contradictory. Some are beyond our ability to understand.
The key revelation is the concept of personhood. God is a person, but a different kind. He is a being like us, but without a distinction between spirit and body. He has definable attributes, and so a good name for Him is Bhagavan. This is more than a generic term like Ishvara or the commonly invoked “God.”
Bhagavan is the complete idea about the Divine, covering other features that aren’t as complete. Not that God is ever lacking anything, but in some manifestations He chooses not to reveal everything. This is to match the desires of the specific audience, who may not be ready for the in-person meeting yet. When they are, they get to continue to stay connected in the constitutional engagement known as bhakti-yoga, to which many lifetimes can be spent studying and trying to understand.
Classroom exercise making,
Teacher poll of students taking.
Different conceptions of God to give,
Like the one who forever to live.
In judgment over others standing,
Most powerful, universe commanding.
Vedas with picture clearest,
Bhagavan to soul dearest.
Categories: the five