“There are thousands and millions of names of Lord Krishna — Vishnu-sahasra-nama — and all of them are given to Him because of His transcendental qualities.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 14)
With a deep understanding of the human psyche, including the many ways that the mind challenges pieces of information purported to come from authority and the way it tries to understand higher concepts, the Vedas present the science of self-realization from all angles. The paths to knowing the Supreme Absolute Truth are not singular, though the destination is. Based on the variety in tendencies found within the living spirit, there may be one aspect of the Truth that is more appealing than another. Perhaps one person’s childhood environment completely differs from another’s, thereby leading to a different perspective on the world. Not to fear though, as the many names of address provide limitless ways to both understand and worship that Supreme Person.
Right away we see a way to understand this higher entity. By indicating that He is a person who is supreme we compare Him to an entity type with which we are familiar: people. Also, by using masculine pronouns, we compare the Supreme Absolute Truth to a male, or a member of the more dominant species. The female is the fairer sex, while the male generally has more physical strength. The male is the enjoyer and the female is the enjoyed. The male plants the seed and the female nurtures it until maturation so that it can become a living entity that can independently move about.
The same parallels can be used to describe God. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Person’s original form of Shri Krishna explains that it is He who impregnates the total material substance and makes possible the births of the living entities. Therefore God is the father and nature the mother. God is the real enjoyer, or purusha, and the living entities are the enjoyed, or prakriti. At the local level, the individual spirit soul is the purusha and its body and field of activities the prakriti.
Since Krishna is the Supreme Person, or Supreme Enjoyer, He is sometimes addressed as parama-purusha or maha-purusha. This type of address is both satisfying and helpful in terms of enlightenment. The spirit soul, the essence of identity, is naturally prone to service. Whether someone wants to accept this fact or not is irrelevant, for the penchant for service will be acted upon regardless. Just look around you and observe people’s behavior. Everyone would rather praise someone else than be praised. They would rather try to put a smile on someone else’s face than make themselves happy. Even the most selfish people in the world eventually get so miserable that they try to help others.
Addressing the Lord with names recognizing His superior standing with respect to dominating nature allows the soul to feel the pleasure from divine service. At the same time, the name brings a better understanding of the Absolute Truth’s position. Think of the small child and how they try to understand the parents. The children only know about playing all day and perhaps going to school. The adults are superior because they don’t have to go to school. They also get to do things that kids can’t. Therefore the definition of “adult” to the child incorporates these smaller concepts, whereas for the adult the definition of maturation is much more comprehensive.
The living entity doesn’t remember its many previous lives. Think of a past life as a past day, for the soul does not change in properties with the passage of time. The same soul that resides within the individual now existed within the womb of the mother, so just the outer covering changes. We wouldn’t consider a few weeks ago a past life, but it actually was. The future turns into the past very quickly, so the many previous lives we spent roaming the material land were at one time future lives.
The individual soul is known as the atma, or jivatma. The soul is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal, yet from travels through temporary bodies in a land governed by prakriti, forgetfulness gains strength. This means that the living entity has difficulty remembering things from one day or week ago. Thus when learning about the Supreme Absolute Truth, the living being must use known reference tools to try to make assessments. By addressing God as the Supreme Person, the individual takes their own acquired definition of a “person” and uses it as the basis for their initial assessment of God.
In the discussion of the soul, we have stumbled upon yet another way to both address and understand God. The individual soul has limitations, but the Supreme Soul does not. Krishna is Paramatma, or the all-pervading witness. He resides within us in this form of spirit, but unlike us, He can remember every past life. Moreover, He lives within every living being, so He is aware of the past, present and future for every single instance of spirit.
What if you don’t know God through these methods? What if you’re not interested in making comparisons based on personalities and the differences between matter and spirit? Whatever your preference, whatever your likes and interests, you can still understand God in the way that suits you best. As another example, many worshipers like to honor heavenly figures so that they will bless them with personal rewards. The worship of the abstract concept of God sometimes takes place in this way as well. “O Lord, forgive us for our sins. Please continue to give us Your blessings. Please keep us safe and allow our children to grow up to be happy and healthy. Please give us food to eat and eliminate our troubles.”
In the Vedic tradition, such pleas are typically offered to heavenly figures known as devas. The devas, or gods, are living entities like us but they live for much longer periods of time, and they can give boons to those who worship them. Yet again, the Supreme Lord can be understood through using the established practice as a frame of reference. Shri Krishna is known as the deva-vara, or the chief god. With this address, the same concept of a god is there, but the understanding of Krishna’s position as being the most powerful God or the God of the gods is introduced.
“Shri Rama’s name is greater than Brahman, and it grants boons to even those who are capable of giving boons. Lord Shiva knowingly selected it out of the one hundred crore verses describing Rama’s acts.” (Dohavali, 31)
Another way to understand the Supreme Lord’s position is to know that He grants boons to even those who grant boons. This is the point made by Goswami Tulsidas in a couplet that appears in both the Dohavali and the Ramacharitamanasa. The poet’s preferred form of Godhead is Lord Rama, the incarnation of Krishna as a warrior prince. The avataras are equal to the original personality, but the outward tendencies may vary so as to attract certain kinds of worshipers and also fit the needs of society at the time. Shri Rama is Krishna and Lord Vishnu too, both of whom are approached by the devas that others worship to get benedictions. Mahadeva, the great god, also worships Shri Rama by regularly chanting His name. Therefore even the greatest boon-donor, Lord Shiva, spends his life worshiping the Supreme Lord.
What if you are into yoga? You like to sit down in meditation and chant the sacred syllable om, which represents the impersonal feature of the Supreme Lord, that which pervades all of nature. Again, you can understand Krishna’s position without leaving your realm of activity. As Yogeshvara, Krishna is the Lord of yoga. He is the greatest mystic, expert at doing whatever the topmost yogi can do, but even better. If you’re interested in achieving the mystic perfections of becoming small or large at the drop of a hat, travelling outside of your body, getting whatever you want, controlling others, or being able to hold your breath for long periods of time, know it for a fact that Krishna can do all of these much better than any other yogi can. This higher position automatically makes Him worshipable.
Even the term “Supreme Lord” is a way to understand God. Every living entity is an ishvara, or lord of their body. We make the decision when to get up and what to do. Material nature has the effect of tricking us into thinking that we are inferior to matter, but in our constitutional state, we are always superior to the external energy. God’s position is higher though. He is Parameshvara, or the chief lord. Therefore through this nice name we can better appreciate His position, how He is fit to be worshiped.
Every living entity likes attractiveness. Search for pleasure through objects and activities that are pleasurable. The very name Krishna indicates that the Supreme Lord is the most attractive. That feature is shared with His many personal forms and names used to address them. That Krishna attracts every living entity shouldn’t surprise us, but the sweetest association, the most lasting form of happiness, comes from His personal self. The material nature is His external energy, so it lacks His personal presence. Therefore we see such things as crime, depression, anger, rage, and tremendous sadness mixed in with short bursts of happiness in the land that we currently occupy.
Through reciting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the best names used to address the Lord are invoked, along with a call to His energy that helps the devotees find that highest pleasure. Krishna is all-inclusive, as is the name Rama, which addresses both Shri Rama and the ability of God to give transcendental pleasure to others. Whatever your state in life, chant these names with firm faith, conviction and love. In the end, you’ll know all that there is to know about God and why it is man’s primary duty to worship Him.
Shri Krishna, He of glorious fame,
Limitless attributes give so many names.
Understand Him in ways that you already know,
Through that path let devotion to Him grow.
As ishvara, over decisions you have control,
As Parameshvara, God has powers untold.
Natural beauty appreciate with eyes to see,
Krishna is all-attractive, most beautiful is He.
Demigods to their devotees boons grant,
Krishna is even their lord, so His name always chant.