“Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.65)
Question: “When Krishna says to surrender unto Him, is He referring to His sach-chid-ananda vigraha or to the embodied being who appeared on this earth and then left, or are they both the same?”
Answer: Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has a body full of bliss and knowledge. It is also eternal in its existence. In some popular spiritual traditions the concept of salvation occurs through surrender unto the son of the Supreme Lord or to one of the Lord’s representatives. While the Vedas have a similar tradition set up through the proxy of the guru, or spiritual master, the features of the original personality are still described to some detail. Since He is the creator of both the material and spiritual energies, the Supreme Lord is free to make appearances in whichever land He chooses. He already resides within each of us as the Supersoul, though without practice in yoga we have no way of realizing the presence of this kind expansion of Supreme Spirit. For Shri Krishna, the origin of life and matter, there is no difference between body and spirit, therefore when He advises surrender He always refers to Himself alone.
The Bhagavad-gita is Krishna’s song, and it is unique in the information it provides. Rather than accept spirituality as a matter of inheritance from family tradition or some faith that one can easily give up, the principles of a bona fide religious system can be dissected as a science, a discipline with truths that can be piled on top of one another to reach a final flawless conclusion. One who follows Krishna’s teachings may be outwardly tagged as a Hindu or Vaishnava, but to the people who are in the know, these designations bear no meaning. The foremost identification for every single person is the same, regardless of which spiritual tradition they follow. Aham brahmasmi, which means “I am a spirit soul”, applies to even the dog. Because the same quality of spirit pervades the material space there can be no such thing as sectarianism when discussing the science of self-realization.
Why does the “self” need to be realized? It is in this area that religion takes on its true value. We all have the same identity, but the majority of the conditioned souls are not aware of it. What obviously follows an incorrect identification are activities that one is not meant to take up. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending are the primary engagements of the animals who don’t know how to speak or determine what their future fate will be. The human beings follow similar behavior, but they are given intelligence to transcend the base animal instincts, to find higher truths. Knowledge brings power, so one who understands that they are spirit at the core can reach the most suitable destination.
The identification as spirit is important because otherwise identities are taken from changing bodies. The best way to think of the difference is to put on a specific type of shirt one day and then base your identity off of that shirt for the rest of your life. Obviously this wouldn’t be wise behavior because the shirt worn can change at any time. Similarly, identifying off of race, gender or nationality is silly because these designations can change in the future, and we didn’t even get to pick them prior to our birth. Does one really think that a person born in a particular land has different inherent qualities from the person appearing on this earth in another land?
The similarities amongst human beings can be understood even in the absence of a pursuit in spiritual life, but with the limited knowledge-gathering capabilities of the human being due to the constraints of time and space, the proper realization of the self and how it transcends even the human species cannot be understood without outside help. True enlightenment requires explicit instruction followed by dedicated practice. The Bhagavad-gita serves both of these purposes, and it was nicely presented at just the right moment, when a capable warrior was unclear about the proper course of action to follow.
From the Gita comes the knowledge of the self and its position with respect to matter. In this work Krishna right away reveals that the soul continually exists, both before birth and after death. The different outer coverings are due to karma, which is the system that manages fairness based on actions taken. The bodies assumed do not represent one’s real identity, as spirit transcends every temporary change. Because there is no reason for attachment to the body, one should follow the prescribed regulations of spiritual life, or dharma, in order to keep the soul in a better position.
And what position is that? From knowledge of our identity comes a constitutional position. In addition to being eternal, the soul is knowledgeable and blissful. Strange to think that’s the case when we see so much strife around us, duplicity coupled with avarice and selfishness. Yet the root cause of even unwanted behavior is this desire for ananda, or bliss. The true form of happiness can be found when the soul is placed into situations that are conducive to realization of the self. The soul is tied to a higher spirit soul, who is, not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord, the person the majority of the world refers to as God.
Krishna is that same God, the original form of Godhead. He is both the instructor and the object of worship. The soul derives the most pleasure from being in His company, either personally or through consciousness. This is where things can get a little tricky, especially if you are unfortunate enough to be led astray by a misguided commentator of the Gita. Thus far we have seen that the living beings accept bodies and reject them through reincarnation fueled by karma. The soul is the identifiable aspect within every form of body, from the tiny ant all the way up to the denizens of heaven. Then this surely must mean that Krishna Himself followed the same tact while roaming the earth five thousand years ago? The person delivering the Gita must have had a body that did not belong to Him, for the spirit soul inside was His identity. If His spirit departed with Him at the end of life, how does one connect with Him today?
“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)
Just from reading the Gita with sincerity and honesty, the confusion is cleared up immediately. In addition to describing the position of the soul, the differences between the material and spiritual energies, and God’s position as being superior to both of them, Krishna makes it a point to deride those who think that He accepts bodies like the subordinate living entities. Being supreme has a meaning. With the higher position come unique abilities. Krishna specifically says that anyone who thinks He has assumed His form is a fool; that they do not know His true nature, which is changeless.
How can Krishna be changeless if He appeared on earth in Vrindavana in the form of a small child and then disappeared later on in the body of an adult? The fact that Krishna has a spiritual body that never changes must be accepted on faith in the beginning. This shouldn’t be that difficult to do, as we accept so many apparently unbelievable pieces of information on faith already. Through the benefits that come from following Krishna’s words, the sum collection of which is included in the vast Vedic literature, the truth of the Lord’s position is revealed.
The key is to study the Bhagavad-gita from someone who is familiar with both Krishna and His many teachings. The Gita represents Krishna’s direct instructions, but this does not mean that Vedic instruction is limited to just Krishna’s words. Rather, through every one of His activities the Lord reveals His true nature, how He finds pleasure, and what the ideal position of the living entity is. The entire Vedic culture is aimed at bringing a permanent connection between the living entities and the Supreme Lord. Therefore when we encounter such bogus commentaries as Krishna not suggesting that one surrender unto Him but rather to the “Krishna” inside all of us, we should understand that the commentator has their own personal motive to further and that they have not properly studied sacred texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Puranas. Moreover, they haven’t even understood the entire Gita, for Krishna reveals that He does not have a material form and that worship of Him can continue in any place and at any time.
If Krishna could only be worshiped through the association of His personal self, the sach-chid-ananda vigraha, then there would be no such thing as deity worship or the chanting of the holy names. In the Uddhava-gita, which is a collection of teachings Krishna presented to His dear friend Uddhava just before departing for the spiritual sky, there is a brief description of deity worship, its purpose, and how to perform it. Therefore Krishna Himself set up a system where He could be worshiped in His absence. In addition, the gopis of Vrindavana, Krishna’s childhood female friends, spent most of their time on earth worshiping Krishna when He wasn’t in their personal company. Yoga is the connection of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. Krishna’s expansion residing within the heart of every living being is not different from the Krishna that was on the battlefield of Kurukshetra giving instructions to Arjuna.
The argument of Krishna being an embodied living entity does not hold any water either, for He was worshiped prior to His appearance in Vrindavana and continues to be honored long after His time on earth. The Shrimad Bhagavatam and other bhakti shastras state that there isn’t even a difference between Krishna and His names. Just by reciting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, one can surrender unto Krishna in the same way that Arjuna did. If Krishna were an embodied being, He would not have been superior to Arjuna, and thus there would have been no purpose to the teachings of the Gita. If Krishna is a being who undergoes birth and death just like us, then there is no difference between Him and us. If we are the same as God, what need is there for spirituality? What need is there to read the Bhagavad-gita?
Another common opposing argument posited is that Krishna is simply the guru to Arjuna and that the “me” in the surrender shloka in the Bhagavad-gita refers to the guru, who is self-realized. To be frank, this argument is complete nonsense and not supported anywhere in the Vedic literature. Arjuna was fighting a war against the opposing side which counted his guru as one of its members. If Krishna were telling Arjuna to surrender unto the guru, Arjuna easily could have gone over to the other side and told Dronacharya that he wasn’t going to fight with him. If the guru is the prime object of worship, one would think that Krishna would reveal how one becomes that object, how a person can become God. Yet this information is absent not only from the Gita, but from any authorized literature describing the glories of God.
The guru is still very important. He is the teacher following the principles espoused by Krishna in the Gita. He acts as the Lord’s representative on earth, giving information to those souls who are sincerely interested in connecting with God, living their life in such a way as to remain in constant yoga. The bona fide guru will never claim to be God, however. Krishna had many direct representatives who spent time in His company while on earth. They would never dare claim to be equal to the Lord. They always thought of Krishna, but this didn’t turn them into Krishna. The guru is treated on the same level as Krishna because of their important role, but never do they become God. In fact, no one can become the Supreme Controller, for it is a singular post that never has a vacancy.
Krishna has many personal expansions as well that can be surrendered to. A personal expansion is not the same as having offspring or sending a representative. Just as an identical candle can be lit from the original, Krishna is non-different from His expansions, which include even the Supersoul residing within the heart. Therefore the offer of surrender is available to every single person, regardless of their religious persuasion. Rather than just leave everyone to focus on an abstract concept of God, Krishna descends to earth, provides sublime wisdom and enacts wonderful pastimes to give the bewildered souls an idea of what is in store for them if they should follow the bona fide principles of religion. Krishna’s association is the reward for the surrendered souls, and since nothing can beat this gift, there is no higher engagement than bhakti-yoga directed at sharanagati, which brings the bliss of liberation.
“Always think of Me and do all your work for Me,
This line is proper, happy you will be.”
Statements like this quite simple to understand,
On their own merits tall do they stand.
Yet to the bogus commentator meaning is missed,
With alternate agenda, Krishna’s words do they twist.
Krishna told Arjuna that unto Him he should surrender,
Offer for us too, if service to Krishna we render.
Lord is all-pervading, He is not like us who are embodied,
Can worship Him by dedicating every thought, word and deed.