How to Approach God
In truth, 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 the Lord is actually approachable by one who follows the process of devotional service. 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 (11.14.20–21):
na sādhayati māṁ yogo
na sāṅkhyaṁ dharma uddhava
na svādhyāyas tapas tyāgo
yathā bhaktir mamorjitā
bhaktyāham ekayā grāhyaḥ
śraddhayātmā priyaḥ satām
bhaktiḥ punāti man-niṣṭhā
śva-pākān api sambhavāt
“My dear Uddhava, neither philosophical speculation nor meditational yoga nor penances can give Me such pleasure as devotional service practiced by the living entities. I am dear only to My devotees, and I can be achieved only by devotional service. Even an extremely lowborn person will become free from all contamination if he takes to My devotional service.” Devotional service is the only path by which one can achieve the Supreme Person.
Devotional service is the only perfection accepted by all Vedic literatures. Just as when a poor man receives some treasure he becomes happy, 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 the liberation from bondage are the goals of devotional service. Love of Kṛṣṇa, love of God, is itself the goal, and it consists in relishing the reciprocation of loving service with the Lord. In all Vedic literatures we find that the attainment of this loving relationship between the living entity and the Supreme Lord is the goal of devotional service. Our actual function is devotional service, and our ultimate goal is love of Godhead. Therefore in all Vedic literatures Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate center, and through knowledge of Kṛṣṇa all problems of life are solved.
Caitanya Mahāprabhu then quoted a verse from the Padma Purāṇa: “There are many different Purāṇas with instructions for worshiping different types of demigods, but such instructions only bewilder people into thinking that the demigods are supreme. Yet if one carefully studies the Purāṇas, he will find that Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the only object of worship.” For example, in the Mārkaṇḍeya Purāṇa there is mention of Devī worship, or worship of the goddess Durgā, or Kālī, but in this same Purāṇa it is also stated that all the demigods – even Durgā – are but different energies of Viṣṇu. Thus the 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. The Bhagavad-gītā (9.23) confirms that one who worships the demigods is in fact worshiping only Kṛṣṇa because the demigods are but different parts of the body of Viṣṇu, or Kṛṣṇa, but that such worship is irregular. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.21.42–43) confirms this irregularity by answering the question “What is the purpose of the different types of worship described in the Vedic literature?” In the Vedic literature there are various divisions: one is called the karma-kāṇḍa, which describes purely ritualistic activities, and another is the jñāna-kāṇḍa, which describes speculation on the Supreme Absolute Truth. What then is the purpose of the ritualistic sections of the Vedic literature, and what is the purpose of the upāsanā-kāṇḍa, which contains different mantras or hymns for worshiping 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 described in the Vedic literature 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 this literature are meant for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu. Indeed, because yajña, sacrifice, is specifically meant for satisfying Viṣṇu, another name for Viṣṇu is Yajñeśvara, or the Lord of sacrifices.
Since neophytes are not on the transcendental level, the Vedic literature advises them 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 example, the Purāṇas advise the neophytes attached to eating flesh to eat it only after offering it to the goddess 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, one can approach the Supreme Lord in pure devotional service. That is the actual purpose of philosophical speculation, and Kṛṣṇa confirms this in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.19): “After speculating for many, many births, the philosophical speculators and empiric philosophers ultimately surrender unto Me, Vāsudeva, and accept that I am everything.” It can thus be seen that all Vedic rituals and different types of worship and philosophical speculation ultimately aim at Kṛṣṇa.
Śrī 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. In addition, He informed Sanātana Gosvāmī that the planets in the spiritual sky, known as Vaikuṇṭhas, and the universes of the material sky are different types of manifestations, for they are created by different energies, namely, the spiritual energy and the material energy, respectively. 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 energy and the material energy, the Second Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives a clear analysis of the two. Śrīdhara Svāmī also gives a clear analytical study in his commentary on the first verse of the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Accepting Śrīdhara Svāmī as an authorized commentator on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Caitanya Mahāprabhu quoted his commentary as follows: “The Tenth Canto of the Bhāgavatam describes the life and activities of Kṛṣṇa because He is the shelter of all manifestations. Knowing Kṛṣṇa to be the shelter of everything, I worship Him and offer Him my obeisances.”
In this world there are two kinds of principles operating: One principle is the origin or shelter of everything, and all other principles are derived from this original principle. The Supreme Truth is the āśraya, the shelter of all manifestations. 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 souls a chance to become liberated and return to the āśraya-tattva, or the Absolute Truth. Since everything in the cosmic creation, which is manifested by Kṛṣṇa’s Viṣṇu expansions, is dependent on the āśraya-tattva, the various demigods and 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 in the Bhagavad-gītā.
Lord Caitanya then asked Sanātana Gosvāmī to listen attentively as He described the different features of Kṛṣṇa. First the Lord 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. His form is eternal, full of bliss, and full of knowledge absolute. He is both the shelter of everything and the proprietor as well.
In this connection Lord Caitanya gave evidence from the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.1):
īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ
anādir ādir govindaḥ
“Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, with a body full of knowledge, eternality and bliss. He has no origin. He is the original person, known as Govinda, and is the cause of all causes.” In this way, Caitanya Mahāprabhu gave evidence that Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead, full in all six opulences. His abode, known as Goloka Vṛndāvana, is the highest planet in the spiritual sky.
In addition, Lord Caitanya quoted a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.3.28):
ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ
kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam
mṛḍayanti yuge yuge
“All the incarnations described previously are either direct expansions of Kṛṣṇa or, indirectly, expansions of the expansions of Kṛṣṇa. But Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead. He appears on earth, in this universe or 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 philosophical speculation, the impersonal Brahman feature of Kṛṣṇa is understood; by meditation, or mystic yoga, the Supersoul, the all-pervading expansion of Kṛṣṇa, is understood; and by devotional service in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the original Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, is realized. In this connection, Lord Caitanya quoted a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.11):
vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam
bhagavān iti śabdyate
“Those who are knowers of the Absolute Truth describe the Absolute Truth in three features: the impersonal Brahman, the 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. But according to the process adopted, He is realized as Brahman, Paramātmā or Bhagavān.
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 effulgence of that original sun god. Similarly, the spiritual effulgence (brahmajyoti), the impersonal Brahman, is nothing but the personal effulgence of Kṛṣṇa. To support this analysis, Lord Caitanya quoted an important verse from the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.40), in which Lord Brahmā says:
yasya prabhā prabhavato jagad-aṇḍa-koṭi-
tad brahma niṣkalam anantam aśeṣa-bhūtaṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
“I worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Govinda, whose personal effulgence is the unlimited brahmajyoti. In that brahmajyoti there are innumerable universes, each filled with innumerable planets.”
Caitanya Mahāprabhu further explained that the Paramātmā, the all-pervading feature situated in everyone’s body, is but a partial manifestation or expansion of Kṛṣṇa. It is for this reason that Kṛṣṇa is sometimes called Paramātmā, the Supreme Self, the soul of all souls. In this regard Lord Caitanya quoted another verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.55), concerning the talks between Mahārāja Parīkṣit and Śukadeva Gosvāmī. While hearing 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
jagad-dhitāya so ’py atra
“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 acted just like a human being to attract people to Him and show that He is not formless.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 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 enjoy spiritual bliss, eternal life and full knowledge in His association.
Next Lord Caitanya quoted a verse from the Bhagavad-gītā (10.42) in which Kṛṣṇa, while telling Arjuna of His different opulences, indicates that He Himself enters this universe by one of His plenary portions, Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, and also enters into each universe as Kṣīrodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, and then expands Himself as the Supersoul in everyone’s heart. Lord Caitanya then said 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.