Most believers worship or admire God for His infinite power and greatness. For example, one worships God as the supreme Father, as the Creator of the entire cosmos, or as the person who can fulfill all of one’s desires.
God’s Perceived Greatness
Most scriptures like the Upanisads, and also those of other religions, talk about God’s greatness through innumerable evidences based on tattva-vicara, or philosophical consideration, which reveal Krishna as the Supreme person. This understanding is essential, especially for beginners in spiritual life, and it protects one from taking God cheaply. In the Bhagavad-gita (10.8), Lord Krishna declares Himself as God and says that He is the source of all material and spiritual worlds. Aham sarvasya prabhavo mattau sarvam pravartate: “Whatever you see is an emanation from Me. Everything is created out of My energy and I am the origin of everything.” “O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me,” Krishna says in the Gita (7.7). “Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.”
Even great demigods like Lord Brahma confirm these truths. Lord Brahma says in Brahma-samhita (5.1), isvarah paramah krsnah sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah anadir adir govindah sarva-karana-karanam: “Krishna , who is known as Govinda, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He has an eternal, blissful, spiritual body. He is the origin of all, but He has no origin, for He is the prime cause of all causes.”
God’s Hidden Greatness
It is easy to understand Krishna ’s greatness since we realize how insignificant we are in front of the enormous material nature and other cosmic forces that are working under Him. However, the Vedic scriptures explain that this is not the real greatness of Krishna . As per rasa-vicara, or the study of devotional mellows, His greatest quality is His ability to engage in sublime loving relationship with His devotees. This results in much greater happiness for both the devotee and the Lord than the happiness arising out of passive adoration of God’s greatness. The Supreme Lord, the master of everything, is so pleased by loving devotional service performed by even an insignificant living entity that He more than adequately reciprocates with such an emotion, even though He is self-satisfied and not in need of anyone’s service. Indeed, that is a great encouragement for any aspiring devotee.
In order to understand the transcendental loving relationship of a devotee with the Supreme Lord Krishna , one may consider a few examples that highlight the personal aspects in which He deals with His devotees.
Sudama was Krishna ’s schooltime friend who remained povertystricken for a long time. When he went to meet Krishna in Dvaraka and witnessed the Lord’s reciprocation, he expressed his appreciation in the following way:
kvaham daridrah papiyan kva krsnah sri-niketanah brahma-bandhur iti smaham bahubhyam parirambhitah
“Who am I? A sinful, destitute friend of a brahmana. And who is Krishna ? The Supreme Personality of Godhead, full in six opulences. Nonetheless, He has embraced me with His two arms.” (Bhagavatam 10.81.16)
Understanding how Sudama is reluctant to offer the palmful of chipped rice to the Supreme Lord, Krishna says, “What gift have you brought Me from home? I regard as great even a paltry gift offered by My devotees in pure love, but great offerings presented by nondevotees do not please Me.” Sri la Prabhupada explains in this connection how when we offer food to Lord Krishna with love and devotion, Krishna is pleased, and the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, becomes a guest in that house, and thus the home becomes opulent.
When the great mystic Durvasa Muni, ran for his life after being chased by Sudarsana cakra (the Lord’s ultimate weapon, shaped like a wheel) for offending a great devotee Maharaja Ambarisa, fell at the lotus feet of Narayana, Lord Vishnu said: aham bhakta-paradhino hy asvatantra iva dvija sadhubhir grasta-hadayo bhaktair bhakta-janapriyau
I am completely under the control of My devotees. Indeed, I am not at all independent. Because My devotees are completely devoid of material desires, I sit only within the core of their hearts. What to speak of My devotee, even those who are devotees of My devotee are very dear to Me. (Bhagavatam 9.4.63)
Sweetness Overrides All Other Qualities
When Lord Krishna appears on earth, He performs extraordinary pastimes as a cowherd boy in Vrndavana. The devotees in Vrndavana have such intense love for Him that they even forget that He is the Lord and treat Him as their friend, son or lover. And the Lord, to please His devotees, responds accordingly. For instance, as a transcendental pastime, He used to steal butter from the damsels of Vrndavana. Once, however, His mother caught Him, bound His waist with a rope, and tied Him to a grinding mortar to punish Him. The Lord is therefore also known as Damodara (dama means “rope,” and udara means “waist”). Sri Satyavrata Muni describes this pastime in the Damodaraastakam, as follows:
To the supreme controller who possesses an eternal form of blissful knowledge, whose glistening earrings swing to and fro, who manifested Himself in Gokula, who stole the butter that the gopis kept hanging from the rafters and who then quickly ran in retreat in fear of Mother Yasoda but was ultimately caught – to that Supreme Lord, Sri Damodara, I offer my humble obeisances. Upon seeing His mother’s whipping stick, He cried and rubbed His eyes again and again with His two lotus hands. He was panting and His eyes were terrified, and as Mother Yasoda bound His belly with ropes, He quivered with fright and His pearl necklace shook as He is bound by His devotee’s love.
Attainment of hari-bhakti is sudurlabha, or extremely rare. Sri la Rupa Gosvami describes the extreme rarity of bhakti: sadhanaughair anasangair alabhya sucirad api harina casv adeyeti dvidha sa syat sudurlabha
There are two reasons for Haribhakti being so rare. First, it cannot be achieved in spite of engaging in sadhana for a long time as long as one is bereft of firm faith and unwavering persistence. Second, Sri Hari does not easily grant perfection in bhakti even though one may be engaged in sadhana. (Brs 1.1.35)
In Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.6.18, sukadeva Gosvami states, “Lord Mukunda Himself was the protector, guru, worshipable Deity, well-wisher and head of the dynasty of the Pandavas and the Yadus. Sometimes He even became their obedient servant. It is a matter of great fortune because although Bhagavan easily grants mukti to those engaged in getting His favor, He seldom grants the benediction of direct service unto Him, which is far superior to mukti.” The Supreme Lord, in His transcendental ecstasy becomes subservient to His pure devotees like Maharaja Ambarisa, Sudama brahmana, the Pandavas, and Mother Yasoda.
The relationship between the Lord and His devotee is transcendentally beautiful. The devotee is always anxious to render service to the Lord, and the Lord is ever anxious to render service to the devotee. Such a devotee, devoid of all distractions, engages in the cultivation of favorable service in relationship to Krishna (anukulyena Krishna anusilanam), and Krishna suitably reciprocates. Although He certainly has the quality that anyone who receives a slight particle of the dust of His lotus feet becomes at once a great personality, He says that this greatness is due to His affection for His devotee.
Krishna ’s reciprocation with His devotees is not restricted to devotees of bygone ages. The Lord continues to reciprocate with His devotees even now if they serve Him with unalloyed devotion. Under the guidance of an able teacher, one can clearly understand the real purport of Krishna ’s instructions such as the ones in Bhagavad-gita. Because the Bhagavad-gita is widely read, unscrupulous persons often take advantage of the Gita’s popularity to push their own philosophies, thus misleading innocent readers. Sri la Prabhupada, a pure devotee of Krishna , therefore, presented Bhagavad-gita As It Is. His commentaries faithfully draw from the great devotee-scholars of the past, and allow Lord Krishna ’s pure message to shine forth. Received in its pure form, the Bhagavad-gita is not difficult, or in any way inapt for the modern mind.
Bhakti-yoga, the Master-key
The greatness and the sweetness of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are revealed only by the process of bhakti-yoga. The reciprocating loving exchanges that Krishna has with His devotees are indeed His real greatness, and that is precisely why He is so very dear to them. For the surrendered soul He is always within reach, whereas for the non-surrendered soul He is unapproachable. Even His transcendental pastimes, which no one else can perform, are enacted by Him for the pleasure of His devotees and to protect them, and not primarily to establish His supremacy, for that is self-evident.
The Supreme Lord first needs to be understood in His greatness through tattva-vicara but as we progress further in devotional service we can know Krishna in His sweetness through rasa-vicara. Indeed, the greatness of the Supreme Lord is enhanced by His service to His devotees, and never diminished.
Damodara Nityananda Dasa (Dr. Dipankar Deb) is a disciple of Sri la Bhakti Vikasa Swami. He holds a PhD degree in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia. He is the author of an upcoming book, “Muslim Devotees of Krishna .”