“Brahma, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.33)
अहम् एवासम् एवाग्रे
नान्यद् यत् सद्-असत् परम्
पश्चाद् अहं यद् एतच् च
यो ऽवशिष्येत सो ऽस्म्य् अहम्
aham evāsam evāgre
nānyad yat sad-asat param
paścād ahaṁ yad etac ca
yo ‘vaśiṣyeta so ‘smy aham
“I hate to bring other traditions into the discussion, but the questions that popped into my head seemed relevant when applied to the Vedic tradition, which commonly goes by the term ‘Hinduism.’ The idea from the outside is that you must accept a certain person as a savior. Whether they are a prophet, a preacher, an empowered teacher, or related to Divinity itself, the entire basis of the particular organization is affiliation with this person.
“You could be good or bad in everything else, but you are fine as long as you accept the savior. If you are given over to him, then everything will be alright. I am not here to get into an argument of dogmatic insistence. I fully realize that any person can hold up a book, assign Divine status to a particular person, and then denounce anyone who does not share the same point of view. The outsiders would fall into the ‘sinner’ category, while everyone on the inside would be slated for the best destination in the afterlife.
“The contention I have is that everything about that particular religion is based on this one individual. The followers identify themselves with a name linked to that person. The leaders never say that God is for everyone or that every person follows the Almighty in some way or another. They say that if you don’t accept their specific savior, you are doomed.
“The obvious flaw is that this savior only appeared in this world a relatively few number of years ago. You could say that thousands of years is a long time, but in the grand scheme of things it is like a blip on a radar screen. I get it that everything changed after that, but there was certainly time prior, with a separate set of individuals making up the population of earth.
“What about those people? They couldn’t accept the savior precisely because the savior had yet to appear in the world. What were their options for salvation? Was genuine religion not available? If it was, then why wouldn’t the same religion they practiced be applicable today? Do you mean to tell me that the basics of life and death, the afterlife, sin and piety, and so forth are bound to a specific period of time? That doesn’t make sense.
“These are the doubts I have. Do you think there is any carryover to the Vedic tradition? For instance, in Bhagavad-gita we hear the call to surrender, that every kind of dharma will be accounted for if you accept the shelter of Shri Krishna. There was a time in this world prior to Krishna, as well. What was the solution for people who lived prior to Krishna’s advent?”
Shri Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, non-different from the original. Although there is only one God, He manifests differently depending on the time and circumstance. How He manifests has no bearing on His identity.
For instance, if we are Markandeya Rishi and see the Supreme Lord as a small child resting on a banyan leaf while the entire cosmic manifestation is being annihilated, it does not mean that God is limited to the diminutive stature.
Similarly, while Arjuna sees God in the virata-rupa, the universal form, it does not mean that God is too large to fit into a temple or into my heart. He is everywhere and anywhere, and He is never affected by the manner in which others connect to Him.
In a verse from Shrimad Bhagavatam, the same Supreme Lord instructs Brahma that God is never absent from a situation. Vishnu exists prior to Brahma’s emergence from the stem of the lotus flower tied to Vishnu’s navel, padmanabha. Vishnu exists while Brahma undertakes the process of creation, and Vishnu will be there after everything is annihilated.
Although Krishna appears at a certain time and place and delivers words of instruction, that wisdom is timeless. For instance, He explains to Arjuna that the same Bhagavad-gita was spoken at the beginning of the creation, to the sun-god.
इमं विवस्वते योगं
प्रोक्तवान् अहम् अव्ययम्
विवस्वान् मनवे प्राह
मनुर् इक्ष्वाकवे ’ब्रवीत्
imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
proktavān aham avyayam
vivasvān manave prāha
manur ikṣvākave ’bravīt
“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)
There is a reason that the best equivalent term for religion in the Vedic tradition is sanatana-dharma. Placing the two words together is significant. Dharma is the essence of living. Dharma can never be removed from the individual. Whether they are a plant, a tree, a flower, a lion, a human being, or a demigod, dharma remains the same.
That dharma is timeless; hence sanatana. There is no beginning and no end to the dharma of the individual, and so at any period of time there is the opportunity for salvation. The people worship Vishnu prior to His advent as Krishna, and in another period of time they perhaps direct their worship to another avatara.
The end result is the same, and so no one is ever shut out from genuine religion. There may be a rise or decline in adherence to dharma over the course of time, which may require empowered representatives to reignite the tradition of allegiance to righteous principles, but connection to God the person is never tied to external factors like language, place of birth, occupation, or stature within society.
“To accept the savior must,
In our future promise trust.”
But what about prior years?
Before of savior people to hear.
Limited applicability then?
Where religion on time to depend.
With Vedas on eternal truth landing,
Where Vishnu always as supreme standing.