A talk given by Acyutananda Svami in Los Angeles, March 1978.
Translation of a Sanskrit Verse
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the Supreme Soul, and He has no beginning. He is transcendental to the material modes of nature and beyond the existence of this material world. He is perceivable everywhere because He is self-effulgent, and by His self-effulgent luster the entire creation is maintained.”
(by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada)
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead is described here. He is not a temporary person, nor does He have a beginning. He is without a cause, and He is the cause of all causes. Parah means transcendental, beyond the creative energy. The Lord is the creator of the creative energy. We can see that there is a creative energy in the material world, but He is not under this energy. He is prakrti-para, beyond this energy. He is not subjected to the threefold miseries created by the material energy because He is beyond it. The modes of material nature do not touch Him. It is explained here, svayam-jyoti: He Himself is luminous. We have experience in the material world of one light’s being a reflection of another, just as moonlight is a reflection of the sunlight. Sunlight is also a reflection of the brahmajyoti, or spiritual effulgence. Similarly, the brahmajyoti is a reflection of the body of the Supreme Lord. This is confirmed in the Brahma-samhita:yasya prabha prabhavatah. ‘The Brahman effulgence is the Lord’s bodily luster.’ “
Acyutananda Svami Explains
In the Bhagavad-gita (7.8) Lord Krsna says, “I am the light of the sun.” Three times a day when we chant the brahma-gayatrimantra, we invoke the sun as the first expression of Krsna that we can perceive. So if we are Krsna conscious, we can understand that the sun is reflecting Krsna’s effulgence.
But the materialistic scientists cannot explain the sun. I read in the newspaper that Russian scientists and American scientists recently had a conference. Their conclusion was, “We are no longer positive why the sun shines.” So that implies that at one time they were positive. No—they were never positive. How can such a gigantic ball of fire burn without smoke, without any apparent source of fuel—no intake, no exhaust, no waste? The scientists’ explanation is that the sun creates an ash and then “positivizes the neutrals.” But ash cannot be made to burn again. The scientists do not understand how the sun shines.
The colors that we can see with our eyes are due to the diffraction of white light, as through a prism. White light is a combination of seven colors, and the source of that light is the sun. Within the sun is Vivasvan, the sun-god, who controls the sun. His world is made of colors that our eyes cannot understand. These colors are so intense that they glow as a pure white light that can be diffracted into the colors we can see. So just imagine the colors in the sun! And Vivasvan is nothing but a jiva—a single spiritual spark—one spark of the pure white light of Krsna. Beyond this universe is infinite pure white light—the brahmajyoti—which is nothing but the effulgence of Krsna. Imagine, then, the intense brilliance and color in Krsna’s world—Krsna’s pastimes, Krsna’s peacock, Krsna’s spiritual Goloka planet!
In the Brahma-samhita (5.40) it is said,
yasya prabha prabhavato jagad-anda-koti-
kotisv asesa-vasudhadi vibhuti-bhinnam
tad brahma niskalam anantam asesa-bhutam
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami
“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who possesses the greatest power. The glowing effulgence of His transcendental form is the impersonal Brahman, which is absolute, complete, and unlimited, and which displays the varieties of countless planets, with their various opulences, in millions and millions of universes.”
So the brahmajyoti, or the Brahman effulgence, is due to Krsna’s bodily luster. Therefore it is said here, in this verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam, that the Lord is svayam-jyoti, self-effulgent. In all the Upanisads, the essential portion of the Vedas, God is described as jyoti, or luminous. The impersonal philosophers think that this effulgence is the ultimate truth. But simply by common sense we know that you never see a light without a source. Take the light in this room, for instance. It comes from a source, the light bulb (which has form). Then, too, the energy that produces the electricity that causes the light ultimately comes from the sun. So, in one sense, the light in this room is a “reflection” of the sun’s light. Similarly, the sun reflects the light of the brahmajyoti, and the brahmajyoti is Krsna’s bodily effulgence. In this way you can understand Krsna as the source of everything you see.
Also, the sun creates the cloud, which covers our vision of the sun itself—but you can see the cloud only because there is sunlight. Similarly, Krsna creates this material nature, which blocks Him from our vision—but the only reason you can even see the material nature is because Krsna is giving you consciousness to see it, and giving it the existence to be seen. So everything is ultimately spirit: sarvam khalv idam brahma. Everything is Brahman (spirit), but some things are the original Brahman and some things are the by-products of Brahman.
Acyutananda Svami: chipping away at the old cliche.
The different uses of electricity provide a good analogy. Although electricity itself is fiery hot, it can be made to run a refrigerator and produce a by-product—cold. Still, it’s all part of the science of electricity. Similarly, when we speak of Krsna we generally mean Krsna’s divine form in Goloka Vrndavana, where He is accompanied by His personal associates. But when Krsna is mentioned in the Upanisads as Brahman or tat, yat, iti, the words refer to Krsna and His various byproducts, down to even the material speck. So Krsna’s energy includes everything.
Krsna and His energies are also something like the sun and the sunshine. The sun produces sunshine, which makes trees grow. When the trees die, they are compressed into coal. From coal smoke one can make paint. So if you have “The Complete Book of the Sun,” you’ll need to have a chapter about paint—which comes from coal, which comes from trees, which come from the sunshine, which comes from the sun. But paint is not the sun—I don’t get a sunburn from paint. (In fact, it has the opposite effect: if I paint my body, I won’t get a sunburn.) But still, paint should be included in “The Complete Book of the Sun.” Similarly, “The Complete Book of Krsna”—the Srimad-Bhagavatam—describes everything about Him, including how we can perceive Him even in this material world. But how much we’ll perceive Krsna depends on how much we have surrendered to Him.
Ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham (Bg. 4.11): depending on how much you have surrendered to Krsna, that is how much you’ll understand Him. If you have rebelled against Krsna and become an animal, you may understand Krsna only up to the point of appreciating the moonlight: night prowlers—they have understood Krsna only to the point of coming out at night. Or, if you’re a moth, you’ll understand Krsna in a flame or electric light.
Ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham means that according to your devotion, that is how Krsna will face you. So those who are bugs can understand Krsna in light—material light. Those who practice the Vedic rituals for elevation to the heavenly planets can live on the moon or the sun. Those who are jnanis (impersonalists) can appreciate Krsna’s spiritual light. But those who are devotees can enter into Goloka Vrndavana, Krsna’s own planet, where Krsna displays His full personality. There the devotees enjoy eternal association with Krsna.
What the materialists cannot understand is that Krsna exists simultaneously in the spiritual and material worlds. The Brahma-samhita (5.37) confirms this: goloka eva nivasaty akhilatma-bhutah: “He is living in Goloka, but He is still present all over the creation. He is the Supersoul of everything.” When we forget Krsna, we experience a limitation—there is no center to our lives. Everywhere we find limitation and purposelessness. But when we remember Krsna, we find that His existence has no circumference and that the center of our lives—Krsna—is everywhere. We feel no limitation. Even impersonalists can understand that there is no end to the existence of the brahmajyoti, the spiritual effulgence. But how can the center be everywhere? Again, ye yatha mam prapadyante: in proportion to our devotion, Krsna will show Himself to us. But when and how He shows Himself is completely up to Him. He can appear to us in any way he likes—even from within a pillar, as He did for the great devotee Prahlada. Prahlada was praying to Krsna in Goloka, but at one intense point of his devotion, he forgot about Goloka and prayed that the Lord appear from a pillar. The Lord is on His own planet, but when someone expresses supreme devotion for Him, then He can manifest His original form anywhere.
Later in his purport Srila Prabhupada explains, “The Lord is the Supersoul of everything, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and He has innumerable transcendental qualities. It is also concluded that although He is undoubtedly a person, He is not a person of this material world. Impersonal philosophers cannot understand that beyond this material world there can be a person; therefore they are incomplete in knowledge. But it is explained nicely here that the Personality of Godhead is beyond material existence.”
Those who have had a bad experience with variety and personality in this material world are afraid of the variety and personality in Krsna’s spiritual world. These people are like the cow that escaped from a burning barn. After that, every time the cow saw red she would think, “Here is fire again!” and she would run away. Similarly, when the impersonalists see that in Krsna consciousness there are form, sound, smell, taste, and touch—in short, personality—they think, “Oh! Here is the material world again!” and they run away. They don’t understand Krsna’s actual position, because they don’t have a proper guru to explain the scriptures.
Here the Srimad-Bhagavatam describes Krsna as nirguna prakrteh, above the material nature. So Krsna’s form, sounds, and so forth are not material but spiritual. If you worship a “material Krsna,” that’s not really Krsna. But that’s just what the impersonalists do. They say that God is formless, but that He takes a material form when He appears in the material world. This is self-contradictory. How can “He” be formless? The pronoun He implies a person, and where is there a formless person? Besides, in Bhagavad-gita (4.8) Krsna says, paritranaya sadhunam vinasaya ca duskrtam: “To save the devotees and to destroy the miscreants, I come to the material world.” So God sees when His devotees are suffering at the hands of the demons, and then He incarnates. But how can something formless or impersonal feel the compassion to want to take form? An impersonal nonentity cannot feel anything. The impersonalists’ idea is self-contradictory.
The main point, though, of this conception of a formless God is that it allows the impersonalists to neglect the form of Krsna. “If God is formless,” they think, “then why should I worship Krsna, who is less than God? If Krsna’s form is only a temporary, material expression of the impersonal Absolute, why should I worship Him?” Because of these ideas, sometimes you will see rich people coming to a temple in India and throwing two cents at the Deity’s feet… because they don’t really believe in Krsna. They don’t believe that He is God. They think, “God is formless, and the self is God, so I am greater than Krsna.”
This impersonal concept kills bhakti, or devotional service to the Lord. Also, in the West there are many impersonalistic yoga groups that chant Hare Krsna. The “gurus” say, “See” I also chant Hare Krsna. We are doing the same thing.” No. Their chanting of Hare Krsna is not the same as ours. Theirs is not devotional service; it is a counterfeit.
Suppose we have a big meeting and invite Governor Jerry Brown. If I introduce him as “Mr. Jerry Brown, the chief of police,” he’ll be insulted. He’ll walk out. I may protest, “But the chief of police is very powerful. He can arrest anybody. Why are you insulted?”
“Because I am the Governor! Why are you calling me less than what I am?”
So the impersonalists may stand in front of Krsna and pray, “O Krsna this, Krsna that,” but all the time they’re thinking, “Actually, You’re material.” With every word they’re insulting Krsna more than if they’d simply ignored Him.
You can see how cunning the impersonal philosophy can get—and how deadly. It is atheism in its most deadly form. That is why we cannot tolerate impersonalism, and take such great pains to convince everyone of its dangers.