Oneness of God

Oneness of God

This work is based on translations and purports from the works of Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of Iskcon. All books here are from the BBT publishing house of Bhaktivedanta Swami.

The main books quoted here:

SB-Shrimad Bhagavatam-a treaty written by Vyasadeva in Sanskrit, also called Bhagavat Purana. It is considered to be the explanation of Vyasadeva to his book Vedanta Sutra.

BG-Bhagavad Gita, the main philosophical basis of the Hindu religion.

CC-Caitanya Caritamrita, written by Krsna Das Kaviraj in Bengali, about 300 years ago. The book presents the life and philosophy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, The head of the Vaisnava school of Bengal.

BS-Brahma Samhita, spoken By Lord Brahma at the dawn of creation when Krsna and the spiritual world manifested before him.

Some philosophers take negative look at myths. For them, philosophy is above myths. But in the course of eliminating myths, they subject the God of the scriptures to a mere principle, or an entity of such exclusive oneness without any diversity, that one cannot practically describe or speak about it positively.

Vaisnavism[1], which represents a monotheistic conception of God based on the Vedic literature, has a philosophical approach to the oneness of God, that enables the concept of God to be personal and full of varieties and myths, and still remain in His oneness.

I will try to describe this interesting combination in this work.

Caitanya Mahaprabhu (appeared 1486-1534) is the head of The Gaudiya Vaisnavas, the Vaisnavas of Bengal, which are stemming from "Brahma Madhava Sampradaya". (Sampradaya means a disseminating line of knowledge coming originally from God through a chain of disciplic succession). His main philosophical contribution was the principle of inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference[2].

The Gaudiya Vaisnavas belong to the Dvaita school.

There are two main schools of interpretations of the Vedic literature. One is the Dvaita, dualistic, and one is the Advaita, the non dualistic. The dualistic school states that God is separated from the living entities, and the non dualistic school states that God and the living entities are one. The inconceivable simultaneous oneness and different was used by Caitanya Mahaprabhu as a way to reconcile both approaches. I will try to explain the oneness of God in the light of this philosophical principle, based on a verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam, first canto, second chapter, verse eleven:

vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
brahmeti paramatmeti
bhagavan iti sabdyate

Translation:

Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.

God is one, but He can be viewed in three aspects:

a) Brahman is the spiritual, conscious effulgence emanating from the body of God. It is the all pervading aspect of God.

b) Paramatma is the localized (the God in the heart) aspect of God.

c) Bhagavan is the personal form of God, full of all opulences.

These 3 aspects are explained by Bhaktivedanta as follows (BG, 2.2,p):

"These three divine aspects can be explained by the example of the sun, which also has three different aspects, namely the sunshine, the sun's surface and the sun planet itself. One who studies the sunshine only is the preliminary student. One who understands the sun's surface is further advanced. And one who can enter into the sun planet is the highest. Ordinary students who are satisfied by simply understanding the sunshine-its universal pervasiveness and the glaring effulgence of its impersonal nature-may be compared to those who can realize only the Brahman feature of the Absolute Truth. The student who has advanced still further can know the sun disc, which is compared to knowledge of the Paramatma feature of the Absolute Truth. And the student who can enter into the heart of the sun planet and meet there the Sun God is compared to those who realize the personal features of the Supreme Absolute Truth."

Brahman:

Sarvam khalv idam brahma: "There is nothing but the Lord, and He is one without a second." (Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.1)

Brahman is defined in Bhagavad Gita: the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, unchanging, fixed and immovable-the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth (B.G 12.3-4)

The Advaita (or Mayavada), the nondualistic school who follow the path of Sankaracarya, says that since everything is Brahman, also every one is Brahman, or God. This is because there is nothing but Brahman, and Brahman is God.

But the Vaisnava school accepts that although every thing is Brahman, or spirit, still there is differentiation: the complete spirit is composed of the energetic and the energy, or God and His energies, which are one with Him, but still separated.

The example is given that the sun and the sunshine are one, but from different perspective the sun as the source is different from its sunshine, the emanation. The sun is situated in one place, while the sunshine is all pervading.

In Bhagavad Gita Arjuna declares God as the Supreme Brahman-Param Brahma.

Krsna, who is declared to be God in the Bhagavad Gita, says threre: "By Me, in My unmanifested (Brahman) form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them".

Krishna declares Himself to be the source of Brahman (B.G. 14.27): "And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is immortal, imperishable and eternal and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness."

This material world is but the transformation of Brahman, or the energy of God.

in Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.12.8p) it is said: "idam hi visvam bhagavan ivetarah". The entire cosmic manifestation is but a transformation of the energy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but because of illusion, no one can appreciate that God is nondifferent from the material world. Actually He is not different, but this material world is simply a transformation of His different energies; parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate. There are also other versions of this in the Vedas: sarvam khalv idam brahma. Matter and spirit are all nondifferent from the Supreme Brahman, Bhagavan."

Paramatma

In the complete oneness of God, the Paramatma feature is the localized feature of God who is situated in everyone's heart, as well as in every atom in the material world.

God and Paramatma are one and the same. Paramatma is the manifestation of God in the material world. The one God divides Himself to many but is still remains one, just as the one sun appears to be divided when it is reflected in the many buckets of water during noon time.

The Paramatma (Supreme Soul) maintains the material world and is directing the wondering of the living entities in their journey in the material world, till the moment of liberation.

In the Bhagavad Gita (18.61) Krishna explains one of His (God's) roles as the Paramatma:

"The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy."

In another verse in the Bhagavad Gita, (13.23) Krishna explains this feature of Him:

"Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul."

The Paramatma is ‘suhridam sarva-bhutanam', the well wisher of the soul who is wandering in the material world. He is the God that hears our prayers and fulfills them in His way. He is also responsible to the Karma of the living-entity which is accompanying him from one life to another. He is the best well wisher of the living entity. The Supersoul is waiting to direct the willing soul out of the material prison to achieve liberation. This is illustrated in a nice verse from Mundaka Upanishad (3.1.2) and svetasvatara Upanisad (4.7):

"Although the two birds are in the same tree, the eating bird is fully engrossed with anxiety and moroseness as the enjoyer of the fruits of the tree. But if in some way or other he turns his face to his friend who is the Lord and knows His glories-at once the suffering bird becomes free from all anxieties."

The devotee meditates on the Paramatma with love. When he wants to increase his love to the point of loving service, he transfers his meditation to Bhagavan, to the personal God.

The mystic Yogis also meditate on the Paramatma, but with the purpose of either to get from Him mystic powers, or to become liberated by becoming one with Him.

According to the Vaisnava philosophy, the living entity can achieves mystic union with God either by merging in His Brahman effulgence, or merging into the Paramatma. But this merging is artificial. Ultimately the living entity will fall down to the material world again. The reason for this is explained in the following verse (SB 10.2.32):

"O Lord, the intelligence of those who think themselves liberated [who thinks that they are one with God, or they are God] but who have no devotion is impure. Even though they rise to the highest point of liberation by dint of severe penances and austerities, they are sure to fall down again into material existence, for they do not take shelter at Your lotus feet."

Bhagavan

Some philosophers, mainly followers of the Advaita school of Sankaracharya, claim that if God is to be absolute and unlimited, beyond any dualism, He can have neither form, nor positive attributes. They say that the Varieties that we see here are just illusion, and actually, the only truth is the formless Brahman: brahma satyam jagan mithya-Brahman is the truth, while this material world, the world of variety, is illusion.

Based on the same Vedic literatures, the Vaisnavas interpret the scriptures differently:

If God is to be perfect and complete, He must posses form and no form simultaneously. Because He is inconceivably simultaneously one and different from His attributes, and because His body is limited and unlimited simultaneously, He can still maintains His oneness.

Bhagavan means the possessor of all opulence. With this opulence, or attributes, He controls and enjoys the entire spiritual and material world.

Parasara Muni (one of the great Vedic authorities) defined God as the possessor of six opulences in full: He has full strength, full fame, full wealth, full knowledge, full beauty and full renunciation.

At the dawn of creation, Brahma, known to be the secondary creator of this material universe, had a revelation of God. Following that revelation He composed a song in glorification of God (in the book known as ‘Brahma Samhita'). The first verse of the fifth chapter of this song defines God:

"Krishna who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes."

This verse will be the basis for deliniating the concept of Bhagavan. I will explain this verse line by line.

Krishna means ‘the all attractive one'. God as Bhagavan possesses all opulence, and as such He is all attractive. It is considered by Vaisnavas that ‘Krsna' is the Highest name of God[3]. This is because this name expresses God's highest aspects of beauty and loving exchange.

In Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, after realizing Krsna's position, says (BG 10.12-13) "You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest".

In the Caitanya Caritamrita (Adi 5,142) it is also confirmed: ekale isvara krishna, ara saba bhritya. "Lord Krishna alone is the supreme controller, and all others are His servants."

God has an eternal blissful spiritual body.

The bliss of God is His loving relations with His devotees. This is described in BS 5.31 "I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, round whose neck is swinging a garland of flowers beautified with the moon-locket, whose two hands are adorned with the flute and jeweled ornaments, who always revels in pastimes of love, whose graceful threefold-bending form of Syamasundara is eternally manifest."

According to the above verse, God's form is not made by limited matter. Being eternal, it is made of spiritual energy.

Philosophers usually accept God as unlimited. Therefore, the argument is given that ‘how can God has a form, since form is limited by space'?

The Vaisnava school will answer to this argument that material form is certainly limited, but spiritual form is unlimited. God, being perfect and complete, is both unlimited and limited. The specific form maybe limited, but that does not limit God, because His form contains unlimited potencies[6] and although He is one, He can manifest this one form in an unlimited ways, and all these forms exist simultaneously. God is positively unlimited, since He has unlimited, so called limited, forms. The unlimited body of God is described in BS 5.33, where it is said: "…who is without a second, who is not subject to decay, is without a beginning, whose form is endless, who is the beginning, and the eternal purusa (enjoyer); yet He is a person possessing the beauty of blooming youth."

He can change to unlimited various forms, some of them greater than the greatest, and some smaller than the smallest, and all these forms can exist simultaneously as the same one supreme God.

Krishna is the original form of God, and His form is medium size, like a human size. This is explained by Sri Bhaktisidhanta in his purport to BS 5.1, "As His inconceivable spiritual energy is all-extending, still He maintains His all-charming medium size by His qualifying spiritual instrumentals."

In his being the original, He is just like a first candle that lights unlimited other candles which are all similar in quality to Him, but still He is the original one.

God's body is absolute. His body is the same inside and outside. He has no veins and blood like human beings. This is corroborated in Isopanisad 8: "Such a person must factually know the greatest of all, the Personality of Godhead, who is unembodied, omniscient, beyond reproach, without veins, pure and uncontaminated, the self-sufficient philosopher who has been fulfilling everyone's desire since time immemorial".

In the Svetasvatara Upanisad 6.8 it is said,

"He does not possess bodily form like that of an ordinary living entity. There is no difference between His body and His soul. He is absolute. All His senses are transcendental. Any one of His senses can perform the action of any other sense. Therefore, no one is greater than Him or equal to Him. His potencies are multifarious, and thus His deeds are automatically performed as a natural sequence." (Svetasvatara Upanishad 6. 8)

Krishna's body never turns old. Even though He stayed on earth for 125 years, his body always looked like 16-20 years old. This aspect is called nava yauvanam, eternally youthful. (BS, 5.33)

As part of God, we are one with Him in quality, but different in quantity. God is spirit and the living entity is spirit, but in quantity, the living entity is infinitesimal, and God is infinite. The example is given: The living entity and God are compared to the drop of the ocean and the ocean. Qualitatively (from the saltiness point of view) the drop is similar to the ocean, but qualitatively there is vast difference.[5]

Although it is described here that qualitatively the living entity is similar and one with God, there is still different in terms of qualities. For further details, please see appendix.[6]

If a follower of the Advaita school will state that he is God, or Brahman, it is true. From the quality point of view he is one with, or just like God, but this statement is partial, because it ignores the eternal quantitative difference between him and God.

He has no origin, but He is the origin of every thing.

In the first out of four seed verses of the Srimad Bhagavatam (2.9.33) it is said:

"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."

In this verse there is very nice explanation of the oneness of God. He is the origin of every thing, and He and all the emanations are one.

Another verse from the invocation of Sri Isopanisad describes this further:

"The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance."

God is the cause of all causes

In Srimad Bhagavatam (1.3.28) it is declared that Krishna is the supreme Godhead. God has many incarnations, but Krishna is not incarnation, but He is the source of all incarnation. "All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Sri Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead."

God expand Himself in two ways-Svamsa and Vibhinamsa.[7] The Svamsa expansions are expansions of His own nature. They are God. The Vibhinamsa expansions are His separated parts-the living entities, who are manifestation of His spiritual, marginal energy. All His Svamsa expansions are separated personalities, all with complete godly capacities. Although separated personalities, they are one God, and not many.

To illustrate this point, one may consider that he may have different appearances throughout the day-sometimes he at work, sometimes he is with his family, sometimes he goes for enjoyment. He has different appearances, and even personalities (according to his roles throughout the day). One man with different personalities. Since God is absolute, He can have all these different appearances and personalities at the same time, and still be one although separated. Therefore He can be Visnu and Rama and Narayana, but still considered one.

The following verse and purport substantiate this point. In SB, verse 1.11.37, it is said: "the queens of Lord Sri Krishna rejoiced within their minds to see their husband home after a long period abroad. The queens got up at once from their seats and meditations. As was socially customary, they covered their faces shyly and looked about coyly."

PURPORT

"As mentioned above, the Lord entered His home palaces occupied by 16,108 queens. This means that the Lord at once expanded Himself in as many plenary expansions as there were queens and palaces and entered in each and every one of them simultaneously and separately. Here is another manifestation of the feature of His internal potency. He can expand Himself in as many forms of spiritual identity as He desires, even though He is one without a second. It is confirmed by the Sruti-mantra that the Absolute is one alone, and yet He becomes many as soon as He so desires."

Finally, there is a nice statement about the oneness of God (SB. 2.4.9): "The Supreme Personality of Godhead is one, whether He alone acts with the modes of material nature, or simultaneously expands in many forms, or expands consecutively to direct the modes of nature."

So, the one God manifests Himself in many (bahu syam), and thus all diversities are in Him, and He is in all diversities, although He is nevertheless different from all of them. That is the inconceivable mystic power of God, and as such everything is simultaneously one with and different from Him by His inconceivable potencies (acintya-bhedabheda-tattva).

I tried to show the Vaisnava's Vedic conception that God, although an individual person who has activities, attributes and forms, still maintains His oneness in all respects, in Himself, with His expansions, with His creation, and with the living entities.

In this way, the personal God one prays to and direct his personal emotions to, and the God one thinks about (philosophically) can be united, without any tension.

[1] Vaisnavism-those who worship Visnu, God. The Vaisnavas believe that the worship of Visnu is the highest worship. They accept Visnu to be the supreme Person. They don't accept that beyond God is the Brahman, as the Advaitas, the followers of Sankaracarya, believe.

In regard to the svamsa and vibhinamsa expansions of God, there is the following details in the Caitanya Caritamrita (madhya 22.9)

[2] Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in His teaching of acintya-bhedabhedha-tattva, or simultaneous oneness and difference, has clearly demonstrated that we are qualitatively one with God but quantitatively different. God is personal consciousness, and He has His personal form. Similarly, we are also personal consciousness, and ultimately, when liberated, we also have eternal forms. The difference is that the eternal form and personality of God contain unlimited potency and opulence whereas our potency and opulence are infinitesimal. We are conscious of our personal body, whereas Krishna, the Absolute Truth, is conscious of everyone's body, as stated in Bhagavad-gita (ksetra-jnam capi mam viddhi sarva-kshetreshu bharata).

[3]From lecture given by Bhaktivedanta Swami: "Of course, according to Vedic literature, Krishna is the principal name. God has many names. According to His work, according to different persons' understanding, He has got innumerable, numberless names. But , in the Vedic literature it is said that Krishna is the principal name. Because Krisha means the highest pleasure."

[4] If love is defined as harmonious, mutual relations between two personalities, and if God is to be an object of love, He must have both personality and attributes. there is no possibility of love of God unless He is a person. And more attributes are exchanged between the lovers, more rich the relations are.

[5] "a drop of water from the ocean is also salty, and similarly we the living entities, being part and parcel of the supreme controller, isvara, or Bhagavan, Lord Sri Krishna, have all the qualities of the Supreme Lord in minute quantity because we are minute isvaras, subordinate isvaras." From BG, introduction.

If love is defined as harmonious, mutual relations between two personalities, and if God is to be an object of love, He must have both personality and attributes. there is no possibility of love of God unless He is a person. And more attributes are exchanged between the lovers, more rich the relations are.

[6] Srila Rupa Gosvami, after consulting various scriptures, has enumerated the transcendental qualities of the Lord as follows: (1) beautiful features of the entire body; (2) marked with all auspicious characteristics; (3) extremely pleasing; (4) effulgent; (5) strong; (6) ever youthful; (7) wonderful linguist; (8) truthful; (9) talks pleasingly; (10) fluent; (11) highly learned; (12) highly intelligent; (13) a genius; (14) artistic; (15) extremely clever; (16) expert; (17) grateful; (18) firmly determined; (19) an expert judge of time and circumstances; (20) sees and speaks on the authority of Vedas, or scriptures; (21) pure; (22) self-controlled; (23) steadfast; (24) forbearing; (25) forgiving; (26) grave; (27) self-satisfied; (28) possessing equilibrium; (29) magnanimous; (30) religious; (31) heroic; (32) compassionate; (33) respectful; (34) gentle; (35) liberal; (36) shy; (37) the protector of surrendered souls; (38) happy; (39) the well-wisher of devotees; (40) controlled by love; (41) all-auspicious; (42) most powerful; (43) all-famous; (44) popular; (45) partial to devotees; (46) very attractive to all women; (47) all-worshipable; (48) all-opulent; (49) all-honorable; (50) the supreme controller. God has all these fifty transcendental qualities in fullness as deep as the ocean. In other words, the extent of His qualities is inconceivable.

As parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, the individual living entities can also possess all of these qualities in minute quantities, provided they become pure devotees of the Lord. In other words, all of the above transcendental qualities can be present in the devotees in minute quantity, whereas the qualities in fullness are always present in God.

Besides all of the above-mentioned fifty qualities, Krishna possesses five more, which are sometimes partially manifested in the persons of Brahma or Siva. These transcendental qualities are as follows: (51) changeless; (52) all-cognizant; (53) ever fresh; (54) sac-cid-ananda (possessing an eternal blissful body); (55) possessing all mystic perfections.

Krishna also possesses five other qualities, which are manifest in the body of Narayana, and they are listed as follows. (56) He has inconceivable potency. (57) Uncountable universes generate from His body. (58) He is the original source of all incarnations. (59) He is the giver of salvation to the enemies whom He kills. (60) He is the attractor of liberated souls. All these transcendental qualities are manifest wonderfully in the personal feature of Krishna.

Besides these sixty transcendental qualities, Krishna has four more, which are not manifest even in the Narayana form of Godhead, what to speak of the demigods or living entities. They are as follows. (61) He is the performer of wonderful varieties of pastimes (especially His childhood pastimes). (62) He is surrounded by devotees endowed with wonderful love of Godhead. (63) He can attract all living entities all over the universes by playing on His flute. (64) He has a wonderful excellence of beauty which cannot be rivaled anywhere in the creation.

Adding to the list these four exceptional qualities of Krishna, it is to be understood that the aggregate number of qualities of Krishna is sixty-four.

[7] Krishna expands Himself in many forms. Some of them are personal expansions, and some are separate expansions. Thus He performs pastimes in both the spiritual and material worlds. The spiritual worlds are the Vaikuntha planets, and the material universes are brahmandas, gigantic globes governed by Lord Brahma.



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