How to Understand God
by Stephen Knapp
Sometimes people say that they want to see God, or that God is not perceivable. And this is confirmed in the Vedic scripture, but with additional points of instruction on how we can perceive the Supreme Being. The Svetasvatara Upanishad (4.20) explains "His form of beauty is imperceptible to mundane senses. No one can see Him with material eyes. Only those who realize, through deep pure-hearted meditation, this Supreme Personality, who resides in everyone’s heart, can attain liberation."
Krishna lila or His pastimes are eternally going on in the spiritual world, whereas they appear to be happening only at certain points in time within the material energy. However, one who has purified or spiritualized his or her consciousness can still witness these activities even while in the material body. This can especially happen at the holy places (dhamas) where the spiritual and material energies overlap, and where the spiritual world appears with this material domain. Such places include Vrindavana, Mathura, Jagannatha Puri, Dwaraka, etc. And when the Lord is pleased with your service, He can reveal Himself to you. In this way, many greatly elevated and pure devotees of Krishna have been able to have personal darshan of the Lord and witness His pastimes even while in the material body. Then they may leave instructions for the rest of us to follow so that we can do the same. This is verification that the process of devotion, bhakti-yoga, works.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.14.29) continues with this point. "My Lord, if one is favored by even a slight trace of the mercy of Your lotus feet, one can understand the greatness of Your Personality. But those who speculate to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead are unable to know You, even though they continue to study the Vedas for many years."
The Katha Upanishad (1.2.23) also relates "The Supreme Soul can neither be attained by studying the Veda, nor by sharp intelligence, nor by hearing many discourses on the scriptures. However, the Lord reveals His original transcendental form to the soul who embraces Him within the heart as the only Lord and Master. That soul alone can attain Him--the Supreme Soul, the Personality of Godhead, the Lord of the heart."
Since Krishna is the Supreme Being and source of all enjoyment, it is in our best interest to engage in His service, for that will also connect us to Him and give us that great pleasure and bliss that we are always trying to find. That is the point of devotional service, called bhakti-yoga, which is the process of connecting (yog) with the Supreme through devotion (bhakti). In this way, our inherent loving propensity is directed toward the supreme lover and natural object of love, God. There is no better way of finding God than this. In other words, through devotion we do not try to see God, but we act in such a way that God reveals Himself to us. Then everything is accomplished. There can be no greater achievement in the human form of life than that. Everything else is temporary; it comes and goes. Only our spiritual achievements last eternally because they are connected with the immortal soul. Therefore, reawakening our relationship with the Supreme is the highest goal in human existence.
Since it is established in the Vedic texts that the Absolute ultimately is a person, then meditating on the personal form of God rather than the impersonal feature is the highest form of meditation. This is verified in Bhagavad-gita (12.2): "The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: ‘He whose mind is fixed on My personal form, always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be the most perfect.’"
Herein, we can understand that realizing the Absolute Truth in the form of the Supreme Person is much easier and much more attractive than struggling to realize, meditate on, or merge into the great white light of the impersonal brahmajyoti, or some other non-personal aspect of God. By understanding the Supreme Personality, all other facets of the Absolute, such as the Brahman effulgence and Paramatma or Supersoul, are also understood. In fact, those who are absorbed in Brahman realization can easily become attracted to understanding the Supreme Personality as did such sages as Sukadeva Gosvami and the Kumaras, as noted in Srimad-Bhagavatam:
"Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, the son of Vyasadeva, Sukadeva Gosvami. It is he who defeats all inauspicious things within this universe. Although in the beginning he was absorbed in the happiness of Brahman realization and was living in a secluded place, giving up all other types of consciousness, he became attracted by the most melodious pastimes of Lord Sri Krishna. He therefore mercifully spoke the supreme Purana, known as Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is the bright light of the Absolute Truth and which describes the activities of Lord Krishna." (Bhag.12.12.68)
Therefore, since Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality, then naturally there are certain ways in which to understand Him. This is a science, which we can more deeply explain later. But for now we can offer a summary of the instructions that point the way. The main point of consideration is that if we are trying to understand Lord Krishna, then we need to know what pleases Him, which is something that we can find from His direct instructions.
The key is explained directly by Lord Sri Krishna Himself when he says: "Knowledge about Me as described in the scriptures is very confidential, and it has to be realized in conjunction with devotional service. The necessary paraphernalia for that process is being explained by Me. You may take it up carefully. All of Me, namely My actual eternal form and My transcendental existence, color, qualities and activities--let all be awakened within you by factual realization, out of My causeless mercy." (Bhag.2.9.31-32)
Therefore, it is Lord Krishna’s causeless mercy upon us that allows us to reach the stage of being truly awakened. Any other process is but mechanical and does not necessarily invoke the mercy of the Supreme Lord. So, to start this process, one needs to hear from one who knows and is acquainted with the qualities of Lord Krishna and can explain them to others. This is established in this famous verse:
yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthaha
"Unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master, all the imports of Vedic knowledge are automatically revealed." (Svetasvatara Upanishad 6.23)
Lord Krishna also says, however, that "I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency, and therefore they do not know that I am unborn and infallible." (Bg.9.25)
Lord Brahma concurs with this point and verifies the need for the performance of devotional service, in which he says to Lord Krishna, "My dear Lord, devotional service unto You is the best path for self-realization. If someone gives up that path and engages in the cultivation of speculative knowledge, he will simply undergo a troublesome process and will not achieve his desired result. As a person who beats an empty husk of wheat cannot get grain, one who simply speculates cannot achieve self-realization. His only gain is trouble." (Bhag. 10.14.4)
As Lord Krishna establishes the foundation for attaining the means to understand Him, He continues to emphasize the importance of this process: "Only by practicing unalloyed devotional service with full faith in Me can one obtain Me, the Supreme Person. I am naturally dear to My devotees, who take Me as the only goal of their loving service. By engaging in such pure devotional service, even the dog-eaters can purify themselves from the contamination of their low birth." (Bhag.11.14.21)
In his summary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sri Suta Gosvami also explains the above point: "Remembrance of Lord Krishna’s lotus feet destroys everything inauspicious and awards the greatest good fortune. It purifies the heart and bestows devotion for the Supreme Soul, along with knowledge enriched with realization and renunciation." (Bhag.12.12.55)
Lord Krishna continues His instructions to Arjuna: "My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding." (Bg.11.54)
"The person who is searching after the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, must certainly search for it up to this, in all circumstances, in all space and time, and both directly and indirectly. O Brahma, just follow this conclusion by fixed concentration of mind, and no pride will disturb you, neither in the partial nor in the final devastation." (Bhag.2.9.36-37)
Herein it is as if Lord Krishna is speaking directly to us, that if we follow through with this process, we will be successful even at the time of death, which is certainly the final test of life in whatever we may have done.
"For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death." (Bg.12.6-7)
"All that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me. In this way you will be freed from all reactions to good and evil deeds, and by this principle of renunciation you will be liberated and come to Me." (Bg.9.27-28)
"By regularly hearing, chanting and meditating on the beautiful topics of Lord Mukunda with ever-increasing sincerity, a mortal being will attain the divine kingdom of the Lord, where the inviolable power of death holds no sway. For this purpose, many persons, including great kings, abandoned their mundane homes and took to the forest [for performing spiritual pursuits]." (Bhag.10.90.50)
Here it becomes clear that, as it is further described, for those who hear and chant the holy names and topics of Krishna, millions of grievous sinful reactions become immediately burned to ashes. Of course, the most important time for remembering the Lord and chanting His name is at the time of death. That is why it is said that those who chant "Krishna, Krishna" at the time the body expires become eligible for liberation.
The GopalaTapani Upanishad (1.6) states, "One who meditates on this Supreme Person, glorifies Him, and worships Him, becomes liberated. He becomes liberated."
In conclusion, Lord Krishna simply explains that, "Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do. Because you are My very dear friend, I am speaking to you the most confidential part of knowledge. Hear this from Me, for it is for your benefit. Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend. Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear." (Bg.18.63-66)
This, therefore, is the means by which we can reach the stage of understanding the Supreme Being.
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