How to Approach God

Srila Prabhupada

Teachings of Lord Caitanya
By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda
Chapter Five

How to Approach God

Actually all Vedic literature directs the human being toward the perfect stage of devotion. The paths of fruitive activities, speculative knowledge and meditation do not lead one to the perfectional stage, but by the process of devotional service the Lord actually becomes approachable. Therefore all Vedic literature recommends that one accept this process. In this regard, Caitanya Mahāprabhu quoted from the Lord’s instructions to Uddhava in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:

na sādhayati māṁ yogo
na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma uddhava
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo
yathā bhaktir mamorjitā

“My dear Uddhava, neither philosophical speculation, nor meditational yoga, nor penances can give Me such pleasure as devotional service practiced by the living entities.” (Bhāg. 11.14.20)

Kṛṣṇa is dear only to the devotees, and He can only be achieved by devotional service. If a lowly born person is a devotee, he automatically becomes free from all contamination. Devotional service is the only path by which one can achieve the Supreme Person. This is the only perfection accepted by all Vedic literature. Just as a poor man becomes happy upon receiving some treasure, when one attains to devotional service, his material pains are automatically vanquished. As one advances in devotional service, he attains love of Godhead, and as he advances in this love, he becomes free from all material bondage. One should not think, however, that the disappearance of poverty and liberation from bondage are the end results of love of Kṛṣṇa. It is in relishing the reciprocation of loving service that love of Kṛṣṇa exists. In all Vedic literatures we find that the attainment of this loving relationship between the Supreme Lord and the living entities is the function of devotional service. Our actual function is devotional service, and our ultimate goal is love of Godhead. In all Vedic literatures it can be found that Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate center, for through knowledge of Kṛṣṇa all problems of life are solved.

Caitanya Mahāprabhu pointed out that although (according to Padma Purāṇa) there are different scriptures for worshiping different types of demigods, such instructions only bewilder people into thinking that the demigods are supreme. Yet if one carefully scrutinizes and studies the Purāṇas, he will find that Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the only object of worship. For instance, in the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa there is mention of Devī worship, or worship of the goddess Durgā or Kālī, but in this same caṇḍikā it is also stated that all the demigods—even in the shape of Durgā or Kālī—are but different energies of the Supreme Viṣṇu. Thus study of the Purāṇas reveals Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to be the only object of worship. The conclusion is that directly or indirectly, all types of worship are more or less directed to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. In Bhagavad-gītā it is confirmed that one who worships the demigods is in fact only worshiping Kṛṣṇa because the demigods are but different parts of the body of Viṣṇu, or Kṛṣṇa. That such worship of demigods is irregular is also stated in Bhagavad-gītā (Bg. 7.20–23 9.23) Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam confirms this irregularity by asking the question: “What is the object of worshiping the different types of demigods?” In Vedic literature there are various divisions of ritualistic activities; one is karma-kāṇḍa, or purely ritualistic activities, and another is jñāna-kāṇḍa, or speculation on the Supreme Absolute Truth. What then is the purpose of the ritualistic sections of Vedic literatures, and what is the purpose of different mantras or hymns that indicate worship of various demigods? And what is the purpose of philosophical speculation on the subject of the Absolute Truth? Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam replies that in actuality all of these methods defined in the Vedas indicate the worship of the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu. In other words, they are all indirect ways of worshiping the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Sacrifices contained in the ritualistic portions of these literatures are meant for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord Viṣṇu. Indeed, because yajña, sacrifice, is specifically meant to satisfy Viṣṇu, another name for Viṣṇu is Yajñeśvara, or Lord of sacrifices.

Since neophytes are not all on the same transcendental level, they are advised to worship different types of demigods according to their situation in the different modes of material nature. The idea is that gradually such neophytes may rise to the transcendental plane and engage in the service of Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For instance, some neophytes who are attached to flesh eating are advised by the purāṇas to eat flesh after offering it to the deity Kālī.

The philosophical sections of the Vedic hymns are intended to enable one to distinguish the Supreme Lord from māyā. After one understands the position of māyā, he can approach the Supreme Lord in pure devotional service. That is the actual purpose of philosophical speculation, and this is confirmed in Bhagavad-gītā:

bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Bg. 7.19)

It can thus be seen that all Vedic rituals and different types of worship and philosophical speculation ultimately aim at Kṛṣṇa.

Caitanya Mahāprabhu then told Sanātana Gosvāmī about Kṛṣṇa’s multiforms and His unlimited opulence. He also described the nature of the spiritual manifestation, the material manifestation, and the manifestation of the living entity. He also informed Sanātana Gosvāmī that the planets in the spiritual sky, known as Vaikuṇṭhas, and the universes of the material manifestation are actually different types of manifestations, for they are the created manifestations of two different types of energy—the material and the spiritual energy. As far as Kṛṣṇa Himself is concerned, He is directly situated in His spiritual energy, or specifically in His internal potency. To help us understand the difference between the spiritual and material energies, there is a clear analysis of the two in the Second Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Śrīdhara Svāmī also gives a clear analytical study in his commentary on the first verse of the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Śrīdhara Svāmī was accepted by Lord Caitanya as an authorized commentator on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and Caitanya Mahāprabhu quoted his writings and explained that in the Tenth Canto of Bhāgavatam the life and activities of Kṛṣṇa are described because Kṛṣṇa is the shelter of all manifestations. Knowing this, Śrīdhara Svāmī worshiped and offered his obeisances unto Kṛṣṇa as the shelter of everything.

In this world there are two principles operating: One principle is the origin or shelter of everything, and the other principle is deduced from this original principle. The Supreme Truth is the shelter of all manifestations and is called āśraya. All other principles, which remain under the control of the āśraya-tattva, or the Absolute Truth, are called āśrita, or subordinate corollaries and reactions. The purpose of the material manifestation is to give the conditioned soul a chance to attain liberation and return to the āśraya-tattva, or the Absolute Truth. Since everything in the cosmic creation is dependent on the āśraya-tattva—the creative manifestation or Viṣṇu manifestation—the various demigods an? manifestations of energy, the living entities and all material elements are dependent on Kṛṣṇa, for Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Truth. Thus Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam indicates that everything is sheltered by Kṛṣṇa directly and indirectly. Consequently perfect knowledge can be had only by an analytical study of Kṛṣṇa, as confirmed by Bhagavad-gītā.

Lord Caitanya then described the different features of Kṛṣṇa and requested that Sanātana Gosvāmī listen attentively. He then informed him that Kṛṣṇa, the son of Nanda Mahārāja, is the Absolute Supreme Truth, the cause of all causes and the origin of all emanations and incarnations. Yet in Vraja, or Goloka Vṛndāvana, He is just like a young boy and is the son of Nanda Mahārāja. His form, however, is eternal, full of bliss, and full of knowledge absolute. He is both the shelter of everything and the proprietor as well.

Caitanya Mahāprabhu also gives evidence from Brahma-saṁhitā of the transcendental properties of Lord Kṛṣṇa’s body:

īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ
sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ
anādir ādir govindaḥ
sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam

“Kṛṣṇa, 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.” (Brahma-saṁhitā 5.1).

In this way, Caitanya Mahāprabhu gives evidence that Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead, full in all six opulences. It is Śrī Kṛṣṇa whose abode, known as Goloka Vṛndāvana, is the highest planetary system in the spiritual sky.

In addition, Lord Caitanya also quotes a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhag. 1.3.28):

ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ
kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam
indrāri-vyākulaṁ lokaṁ
mṛḍayanti yuge yuge

All incarnations are either direct expansions of Kṛṣṇa or, indirectly, expansions of the expansions of Kṛṣṇa. However, the name of Kṛṣṇa indicates the original Personality of Godhead. It is He who appears on this earth, in this universe or in any other universe, when there is a disturbance created by the demons, who are always trying to disrupt the administration of the demigods.

There are three different processes by which Kṛṣṇa can be understood: the empiric process of philosophical speculation, the process of meditation according to the mystic yoga system, and the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, or devotional service. By the method of philosophical speculation, the impersonal Brahman feature of Kṛṣṇa is understood. By the process of meditation or mystic yoga, the feature of the Supersoul, the all-pervading expansion of Kṛṣṇa, is understood. And by devotional service in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the original Personality of Godhead is realized. Lord Caitanya also quotes this verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam: (Bhāg. 1.2.11):

vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
brahmeti paramātmeti
bhaga vān iti śabdyate

“Those who are knowers of the Absolute Truth describe the Absolute Truth in three features as impersonal Brahman, localized all-pervading Supersoul, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa.” In other words, Brahman, the impersonal manifestation, Paramātmā, the localized manifestation, and Bhagavān, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are one and the same. However, according to the process adopted, He is realized as Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān.” (Bhāg. 1.2.11)

By realizing the impersonal Brahman, one simply realizes the effulgence emanating from the transcendental body of Kṛṣṇa. This effulgence is compared to the sunshine. There is the sun-god, the sun itself and the sunshine which is the shining effulgence of that original sun-god. Similarly, the spiritual effulgence (brahmajyoti), impersonal Brahman, is nothing but the personal effulgence of Kṛṣṇa. To support this analysis, Lord Caitanya quotes one important verse from Brahma-saṁhitā in which Lord Brahmā says:

yasya prabhā prabhavato jagadaṇḍa-koṭi-
koṭiṣv aśeṣa-vasudhādi-vibhūti-bhinnam
tad-brahma niṣkalam anantam aśeṣa-bhūtaṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi

“I worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by whose personal effulgence the unlimited brahmajyoti is manifested. In that brahmajyoti there are innumerable universes, and each is filled with innumerable planets.” (Brahma-saṁhitā 5.40)

Lord Caitanya further points out that the Paramātmā, the all-pervading feature situated in everyone’s body, is but a partial manifestation or expansion of Kṛṣṇa, but because Kṛṣṇa is the soul of all souls, He is called Paramātmā, the Supreme Self. In this regard, Caitanya quoted another verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam concerning the talks between Mahārāja Parīkṣit and Śukadeva Gosvāmī. While hearing of the transcendental pastimes of Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana, Mahārāja Parīkṣit inquired from his spiritual master, Śukadeva Gosvāmī, as to why the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana were so much attached to Kṛṣṇa. To this question Śukadeva Gosvāmī answered:

kṛṣṇam enam avehi tvam
ātmānam akhilātmanām
jagaddhitāya so ’py atra
dehīvābhāti māyayā

“Kṛṣṇa should be known as the soul of all souls, for He is the soul of all individual souls and the soul of the localized Paramātmā as well. At Vṛndāvana He was acting just like a human being to attract people and to show that He is not formless.” (Bhāg. 10.14.55)

The Supreme Lord is as much an individual as other living beings, but He is different in that He is the Supreme and all other living beings are subordinate to Him. All other living beings can also enjoy spiritual bliss, eternal life and full knowledge in His association. Lord Caitanya quotes a verse from Bhagavad-gītā in which Kṛṣṇa, telling Arjuna of His different opulences, points out that He Himself enters this universe by one of His plenary portions, Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, and also enters into each universe as the Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, and then expands Himself as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart. Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself indicates that if anyone wants to understand the Supreme Absolute Truth in perfection, he must take to the process of devotional service in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Then it will be possible for him to understand the last word of the Absolute Truth.

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