A great way of judging a person’s character is by analyzing who they hang around with and who their friends are. Analyzing the makeup of a person’s friend circle gives insight from two different angles. First, it tells us what kind of person someone deems as friend-worthy, meaning who they voluntarily choose to spend their time with. There are many activities we can take up in our free time, so naturally we derive more enjoyment when there are people to share our experiences with. This is where friends come into play. By understanding who a person is friends with, we also get insight into what kinds of people choose to be friends with said person. For example, if a famous or well-respected person is friends with another person, it must mean that the well-respected person thinks highly enough of their friend to openly declare their friendship to others. This is how political endorsements work; i.e. a politician hoping to attract more voters by getting the endorsement, which is a type of friendship, of an established political figure. Respectable people carry great clout, so if they vouch for someone else, it goes a long way towards establishing the recipient’s reputation. We can apply this same principle towards God to gain a better understanding of His transcendental qualities.
“I told him that my wife assumes that everybody is her friend until they prove differently. While such an assumption maximizes the number of friends that she will have, it also maximizes her chances of being betrayed. Unlike my wife, my assumption is everyone is my enemy until they prove they're a friend. That assumption minimizes my number of friends but minimizes the chances of betrayal.” (Dr. Walter E. Williams, Do People Care)
With so many people in the world, it’s difficult to make an accurate judgment into the nature and quality of a person. As a result, it is also harder to accurately classify people without knowing their true nature. By the same token, it is also difficult for others to know our characteristics. Economist, professor, and author Walter E. Williams often tells a funny story in this regard. When he was studying economics at UCLA, Williams met the famous economist Armen Alchian and asked him a series of questions. Williams said that his wife felt that every person automatically viewed her as their friend, while Williams believed that every person automatically thought of him as a suspect. Which of the two viewpoints was correct? Alchian replied with a question, "Williams, have you considered a third alternative, namely, that people don't give a damn about you one way or another?"
This is actually a brilliant point because most of us don’t really care one way or the other about strangers. Maybe some physical feature will sway our opinion one direction, but this is a superficial opinion which doesn’t really hold any weight. In order to have a strong opinion, a gut feeling about something, we need to delve deeper into the issue. To this end, when judging people that we don’t know much about, we often look to see who they spend their time with, and as importantly, who decides to spend time with them. For example, we may see an ordinary book on the bookshelf at the local bookstore and simply pass by it. This is our natural apathy or equanimity showing itself. However, if we see that a famous person has written the foreword to the book, we are more likely to buy the book or at least open it up to see what it’s about.
Why is this true? Say that we have a favorite talk show host, actor, or other celebrity figure. If we see that such and such a person has written an introduction to someone else’s book, it essentially means they are endorsing it and inviting others to buy the book. If we respect person A, we are likely to respect anyone that person A considers a friend. Many of the jobs in the private sector are obtained this way. Hiring a new employee means bringing a new person into the family. People spend a lot of time at work, so naturally there is a comfort zone that gradually develops over time. Coworkers become used to each other, so it is not an easy thing to bring in a new person. For this reason, many companies like to hire people based on referrals and endorsements. “Yes, this person is a great employee, so if they are recommending this other person, we should certainly hire them.” One employee vouches for another, so an inherent trust is established.
Why are all these facts relevant? The one person who we should know the most about, but probably don’t, is the Supreme Lord, or God. God is great. Most of us know this fact but we’re not really sure what it means. Sure, He created this whole universe and makes sure that we have enough rain, food, shelter, clothing, etc., but does this really tell us anything about the man behind the greatness? Is He even a man? Does He have a form? Does He have a name, or does He just prefer to go by the term “God”?
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, try to provide answers to many of these intriguing questions. The Vedas declare that God is indeed a person, purusha, and that He is male. The term purusha can also mean male because purusha is the dominator of prakriti. Purusha is the enjoyer, or spirit, and prakriti is the enjoyed, or matter. Vedic information also states that God has unlimited forms, ananta-rupam, but that His original form is Shyamasundara, Lord Shri Krishna. Since He has unlimited forms, God has unlimited names which describe His various qualities and activities. The name Krishna means all-attractive. Shyamasundara means a beautiful person who has the complexion of a dark rain cloud.
The Vedas are very nice in this regard. They clue us in about many of the unknown questions we have about God and what He’s capable of. This is all well and good, but as we see in real life, it’s beneficial to have others vouch for a person’s character. Most of us don’t ever remember seeing God face to face, so we have to go off the authority of the scriptures. But there is another way of understanding the Supreme Lord. We can simply look to see who His friends are. By judging the character of God’s friends, we can gain better insight into how He works.
So who are some of God’s friends? The Vedas tell us that His first friend is Shrimati Radharani. She is Krishna’s best friend, and since she gives Him more pleasure than anyone else, she is known as the Lord’s pleasure potency, hladini-shakti. Technically, Radharani is not Krishna’s wife, for the marriage relationship could never accurately describe the intimate feelings they have for each other. Radha and Krishna are always together in the spiritual world, but when needed, they come down to earth and enact the same pastimes for the benefit of mankind. Some five thousand years ago, the divine couple roamed this earth and enacted many wonderful pastimes in Vrindavana.
“Shrimati Radharani's twenty-five chief transcendental qualities are: (1) She is very sweet. (2) She is always freshly youthful. (3) Her eyes are restless. (4) She smiles brightly. (5) She has beautiful, auspicious lines. (6) She makes Krishna happy with Her bodily aroma. (7) She is very expert in singing. (8) Her speech is charming. (9) She is very expert in joking and speaking pleasantly. (10) She is very humble and meek. (11) She is always full of mercy. (12) She is cunning. (13) She is expert in executing Her duties. (14) She is shy. (15) She is always respectful. (16) She is always calm. (17) She is always grave. (18) She is expert in enjoying life. (19) She is situated at the topmost level of ecstatic love. (20) She is the reservoir of loving affairs in Gokula. (21) She is the most famous of submissive devotees. (22) She is very affectionate to elderly people. (23) She is very submissive to the love of Her friends. (24) She is the chief gopi. (25) She always keeps Krishna under Her control. In short, She possesses unlimited transcendental qualities, just as Lord Krishna does.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 23.87-91)
If we consult the authorized Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Brahmavaivarta Purana, and other works written by the great devotees of Krishna, we can gain a better understanding of Radha’s character. Upon consulting these works one will quickly realize that Radha’s character is top notch. She is kind, sweet, humble, beautiful, etc. The Chaitanya Charitamrita lists her primary divine qualities. She is a top notch chef, for Lord Krishna enjoys her cooking more than anyone else’s. She is shy, a wonderful daughter, has perfect knowledge of the scriptures, and is always concerned about the welfare of others. So in this regard we see that she is the topmost person. In Vrindavana her appearance day is celebrated with more fanfare than even Lord Krishna’s is. Many devotees view her as being greater than God since she is His perfect servant. Not only does she love God purely and without motive, but she is also completely unselfish, not wanting to hog Krishna for herself. She is the one who recommends devotees to Krishna. If she sees that someone is pure and interested in rekindling their relationship with the Supreme Lord, she puts in a good word with Krishna. Knowing these facts, how could anyone not love her? The Vedas tell us that Radharani is the origin of all the goddesses of fortune, meaning that Goddess Lakshmi, and Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, are expansions of Radha. Sita Devi, who similarly possesses all great qualities, is the same Radharani.
Just by knowing that Radha views Krishna as the supreme object of pleasure is reason enough for us to take to Krishna’s service. But as we all know, people have different tastes. We tend to like those people who are similar to us in nature. These are the people we choose to be friends with. For example, if we are open and honest and like to be sociable, it makes sense that others who possess similar traits would attract us. By the same token, those who are shy and reserved and never want to offend others will naturally look to be friends with those who also possess these qualities.
Just as God has many forms and names, He also has many friends. Even if we aren’t impressed by the fact that Radha is Krishna’s best friend, we can still study the lives of some of the Lord’s other friends. Lord Rama is one of Krishna’s most famous incarnations. The handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, Rama took on and defeated the Rakshasa demon Ravana many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Ravana had his own army of Rakshasas, but the Lord didn’t take them all on by Himself, though He easily could have. Instead, He enlisted the help of Vanaras, an elevated race of monkeys, whose lead warrior was Hanuman. In India, everyone knows who Hanuman is. He is probably the most popular divine figure, worshiped by millions. Hanuman is unbelievably strong, courageous, kind, and learned. He possesses all yogic siddhis, or perfections, so he can assume any shape at will. He can make himself unbelievably large or small.
"You are the gate-keeper of Shri Rama's kingdom, where none may enter without your permission." (Goswami Tulsidas praising Hanuman, Hanuman Chalisa)
Hanuman is so strong that he could have defeated Ravana all by himself. But why didn’t he? Of all his characteristics, Hanuman is best known for his devotion to Lord Rama. In fact, Hanuman isn’t concerned with all of his other qualities, for he views everything in relation to how it can help him serve Rama. In this regard, we see that Hanuman is of the highest character. Goswami Tulsidas, the famous Vaishnava saint and poet, spent much time worshiping Lord Rama, but his devotion didn’t reach fruition until he approached Hanuman and took instruction from him. Returning the love shown to him, Tulsidas authored the famous Hanuman Chalisa, an ode to the great servant of Lord Rama. Those who want to worship Lord Rama are advised to first seek out Hanumanji. Similar to how Radharani recommends devotees to Lord Krishna, Hanuman enables a person to develop their love for Lord Rama in a perfect way.
“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.30)
Radha and Hanuman are just two of the Lord’s great friends and devotees. Prahlada, Janaka, Lord Shiva, Shukadeva Goswami, and countless others are also great devotees and friends of the Lord. These people dedicate their lives to always associating with God, and at the same time, the Supreme Lord always remains with them. The lesson here is that we should most certainly try to understand God, for that is the meaning of life. The human brain allows us to take the necessary steps to understand that God is the proprietor of everything, our dearmost friend, and the ultimate reservoir of all pleasure. Understanding these three facts is the key that unlocks the door to the spiritual world.
“The worship of My devotees is better than worship of Me.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.19.21)
Getting this key isn’t easy, so in addition to trying to understand Krishna, we should also take the time to get to know His friends. God’s friends will teach us how to become an associate of the Lord. As jiva souls, part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, we can never become God. The highest perfection we can achieve is becoming God’s friend. By offering our service to His well-wishers, the great devotees and spiritual masters, we can learn how to do just that. The pure devotee will give us a ringing endorsement, allowing us to rest assured that the Lord will accept us as His friend.