Is Kṛṣṇa Superior to Nārāyaṇa?

Recently I was approached by devotees who requested that I write a review or refutation of a blog written by a Śrī Vaiṣṇava scholar in which he refutes the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava understanding of the famous kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam verse from Bhāgavata Purāṇa (1.3.28). I, personally, am not in favor of such dialogues, which only fuel up enmity among Vaiṣṇavas. If it were a dialogue of the vāda type, I would be happy to participate but I have no interest in vivāda (jalpavitaṇḍā). Therefore, I did not act upon the request of these devotees. Yet I decided to write down my views on this difference of understanding between the two groups of Vaiṣṇavas. My purpose is to bring a cordial relationship between the Vaiṣṇavas groups, not to throw mud at each other. 

The understanding that Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavas have of this famous verse originally comes from Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, although He did not write any work to explain it. That job has been done by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī in his magnum opus called Bhāgavata Sandarbha, now popularly known as Ṣaṭ Sandarbha, being a set of six books. It is the seminal work of Gauḍiya theology and darśana. In the fourth book, called Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha, he elaborately discusses the contentious verse.

The point to which I want to draw the attention of the readers is the following verse found in the maṅgalācaraṇa of the first book i.e., Tattva Sandarbha. In this verse, he states the adhikāri or eligibility required to read the Ṣat Sandarbhas:

yaḥ śrī kṛṣṇa-padāmbhoja-bhajanaikābhilāṣavān

tenaiva dṛśyatām etad anyasmai śapatho’rpitaḥ 

“This book may be studied only by one whose sole aspiration is to worship the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. All others are forbidden to study it.” (Tattva Sandarbha 6)

The word used for “forbid” here is śapatha, which has two primary meanings—a curse and a vow. Jīva Gosvāmī obviously does not intend the first meaning. His intention is conveyed by the second meaning. It is as if he is making a person who is not interested in Kṛṣṇa-bhakti take a vow not to read the Sandarbhas.

He does so not out of apprehension that the learned readers would find flaws in his writing. Rather, he suspects that his writing may disturb the faith of a person who is devoted to other forms of Bhagavān, such as Rāma, Nārāyaṇa, Narasiṁha, etc. Even if his writings may not disturb one’s faith, they may invite criticism or refutations, which is also not good for a serious sādhaka. That certainly is the case at hand. Thus, he makes a very categorical statement that his work should be shunned by all those who are not interested in following exclusive devotion to Kṛṣṇa. By Kṛṣṇa, he does not mean any form of Viṣṇu, but Kṛṣṇa only, the son of Yaśodā, Gopāla. Thus, he employs the word eka—meaning “only.” His śapatha also applies to those who may study for scholarly, academic purposes but have no interest in Kṛṣṇa-bhajana. He has thus very explicitly stated the adhikāra of a person eligible to study his work.

This statement also implies that those who are exclusively devoted to Kṛṣṇa, kṛṣṇa-bhajanaikābhilāṣavān, should not unnecessarily try to convince other Vaiṣnavas to accept the distinct principles related to Kṛṣṇa-bhajana. Indeed, it is seen in the life of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu that He did not discuss certain esoteric principles of Kṛṣṇa-bhajana with the laity. He was very selective with whom He spoke on these matters. There are various reasons behind such selectiveness. One of them is stated by Kṛṣṇa in the Gītā:

na buddhi-bhedaṁ janayed ajñānāṁ karma-saṅginām

 joṣayet sarva-karmāṇi vidvān yuktaḥ samācaran

“A wise person should not cause confusion in the minds of ignorant people who are attached to karma. He should engage them in action, while meticulously carrying out all duties.” (Gītā 3.26)

Although Kṛṣṇa speaks this verse about those persons, sakāma-karmīs, who are overly attached to material actions and their fruits, by extension, atideśa, the same principle can be applied to other situations. The main theme is not to cause confusion or disturbance in the minds of those who are devoted to a specific path based upon śāstra. Thus, the adherent of one path should not disturb the adherents of any other genuine path. I certainly do not mean that those who do not follow Kṛṣṇa-bhakti are ignorant. Rather, I take this verse in the sense of not causing a disturbance to someone’s śraddhā or trying to unsettle another’s mind. This I think is the extended application (atideśa) of the verse.

Kṛṣṇa gives another principle in Bhagavad Gītā

        ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham

“I reciprocate with all who seek refuge in Me in direct correspondence with the essential nature of their surrender.” (Gītā 4.11)

This statement can be seen at various levels. If someone sees Kṛṣṇa as an avatāra of Nārāyaṇa, then He will appear so to him. Such a person would find śāstric support for his conviction. On the other hand, if someone sees Kṛṣṇa as the source of other avatāras, then Kṛṣṇa would appear so to him and he also would find śāstric support for his position. This indeed is the beauty of Hinduism that a worshiper of a particular deity finds support for his conviction in śāstra. Thus, there is so much variety in Hinduism.

On a lighter note, if light can display its nature as a wave or a particle depending on the wish of the investigator, then why not the Ultimate Reality, who says, “I am the light of the Sun and the Moon”—prabhāsmi śaśi-sūryayoḥ (Gītā 7.8)?

Faith, śraddhā, is the basic qualification for bhakti to any deity. Kṛṣṇa says that He fortifies the faith of a worshipper in the object of his devotion: 

yo yo yāṁ yāṁ tanuṁ bhaktaḥ śraddhayārcitum icchati

 tasya tasyācalāṁ śraddhāṁ tām eva vidadhāmy aham

“Whatever form a particular devotee chooses to worship with faith, I bestow upon him firm faith in that particular deity.” (Gītā 7.21)

This is the basic principle. Although in this verse, Kṛṣṇa is referring to faith in minor deities or the devas, yet by atideśa, the principle applies even to the various forms of Viṣṇu. Therefore, I see no conflict with those Vaiṣṇavas who consider Nārāyaṇa as supreme. I feel that we Vaiṣṇavas should not fight among ourselves. 

Anyone who worships a deity has to think of that deity as supreme. That is the natural outcome of śraddhā. Every child thinks that his parents are the best. But a child does not go around announcing this or arguing with other children about it. A chaste husband or wife considers their spouse to be the best, but they do not try to prove it to their friends or demonstrate how others’ spouses are inferior. A sincere disciple thinks that his guru is the best. But it is not expected that he proves that every other guru is inferior to his own. In the same way, if someone is a Rāma bhakta, then Rāma is supreme for him. We know the story from Caitanya Caritāmṛta that Murāri Gupta, an associate of Caitanya Mahāprabhu, was devoted to Rāma, and Pradyumna, aka “Nṛsiṁhānanda Brahmacārī,” was devoted to Narasiṁha Deva. They did not give up their respective allegiances to Rāma and Narasiṁha. Śrī Rupa and Sanātana Gosvāmi tried to convince their younger brother Anupama to give up Rāma-bhakti and take to Kṛṣṇa-bhakti, so that all three brothers could relish Kṛṣṇa-bhakti together; but Anupama did not change. Rūpa and Sanātana Gosvāmī were not upset with him. Rather, they appreciated Anupama’s staunch faith. 

There are enough battles with the non-Vaisnavas. Our fighting ability and energy should be exercised there. After all, whether we accept Kṛṣṇa as supreme or Nārāyaṇa as supreme, we all identify ourselves as Vaisnavas or those who worship Viṣṇu. Neither do worshipers of Kṛṣṇa call themselves kāṛṣṇis nor do the worshipers of Nārāyaṇa call themselves nārāyaṇas.

I therefore request Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavas to respect other Vaisnavas and not to think of other Vaisnavas as inferior. All Vaisnavas are worshipable. When we meet another Vaisnavas, we offer our respect by bowing down and by reciting the following verse:

vāñchā-kalpa-tarubhyaśca kṛpā-sindhubhya eva ca

patitānām pāvanebhyo vaiṣṇavebhyo namo namaḥ

The Vaisnavas mentioned in this verse do not refer only to Gauḍīya Vaisnavas.

Furthermore, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī himself writes that in principle there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and Nārāyaṇa:

siddhāntatas tv abhede’pi śrīśa-kṛṣṇa-svarūpayoḥ

rasenotkṛṣyate kṛṣṇa-rūpam eṣā rasa-sthitiḥ 

“Although from the point of siddhānta (tattva) there is nondifference, abheda, between the svarūpa of the Master of Lakṣmī, Śrī-iśa (Nārāyaṇa), and Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣna’s rūpa is superior on the basis of rasa. Such is the nature of rasa.” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.59)

From this verse, it is clear that as far as tattva is concerned, there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and Nārāyaṇa. Both are viṣṇu-tattva. However, the manifestation of the form of Kṛṣṇa has a specialty from the point of rasa. I do not think any Vaisnava has any problem with that. Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes are the object of poetry, painting, dance, kīrtana, and play in the tradition of all Vaisnavas. Hindu art, music, drama, and dance are replete with Kṛṣṇa-līlāRāma- and Kṛṣṇa-līlā pervade the Indian subcontinent.

Whatever rasa appeals to one, that is the best for him, and the corresponding form of Bhagavān is the Supreme form for him. Therefore, to try to prove the superiority of Kṛṣṇa to a worshiper of any other form of Viṣṇu is futile and will ultimately end up in offense. Offense means that which is displeasing to one’s iṣṭa-devatā. Do we want that? I certainly do not want it. Therefore, we should respect all Vaisnavas from our hearts. Our ācāryas refer to other Vaiṣṇava ācāryas with great reverence. Vaiṣṇavas are extremely rare, says King Parikṣit:

muktānām api siddhānām nārāyāṇa-parāyaṇaḥ

sudurlabhaḥ praśāntātmā koṭiṣvapi mahāmune 

“O great sage, among many millions who are liberated and perfected in the knowledge of the self, one whose being is established in unalterable peace and who is fully devoted to Lord Nārāyaṇa is most rare to find.” (SB 6.14.5)

Interestingly, King Parikṣit uses the word Nārāyaṇa, although he is well-known as a devotee and relative of Kṛṣṇa.

Some Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas who are endowed with preaching fire may not like my opinion. I beg my pardon at their feet. Whatever I have written is my personal conviction.

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