by Swami Krishnananda
In the third book of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana we have an elaborate presentation of the instruction given by Maharishi Kapila to mother Devahuti. Everyone should read this wondrous conversation between Sage Kapila and Devahuti for the variety of themes dealt with in this connection. Among many other things which are very important from the point of view of a sadhak, the emphasis that Rishi Kapila lays here is concentration on God as the Supreme Person. The concept of God as a Person is pre-eminent in all religions. We cannot but conceive God as a Great Person, whose limbs have to be the objects of our concentration. The minute details of this process are described by Kapila in these chapters.
In every religion, we will find that God is conceived as a Person – whether it is the Father in Heaven, Allah, Ahura-mazda, or Narayana, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva. Whatever be the nomenclature of this Great Divinity, the idea behind it is the Personality of God. The structure of human individuality is such that the necessity to encounter the Ultimate Being as a Person cannot but be felt, because the devotee expects a response from God. The heart of the devotee does not feel comfortable with the imagination that God is a transparent, ubiquitous pervasiveness which includes the devotee also, so that the possibility of response between the devotee and God is not well defined.
For instance, we hear in the Old Testament that the Jews had covenants with God. They would deal with God as if He was their caretaker, their well-wisher, and He would fulfil all their requirements. The very feeling that such a covenant with God is possible arises due to the conviction that God is such a Person with whom we can have concourse.
The principle of devotion to God emphasises this aspect of Person, but not like a human person, which is mortal in its nature. This is a metaphysical Person, inconceivable to the ordinary mind, the deathless Personality of God – the Mahapurusha, as we have it described in the Purusha Sukta of the Vedas. The very name Purusha suggests the idea of the great Person.
Also, we should be satisfied and happy during the time of meditation. It is one of the conditions of successful contact with God. We cannot satisfactorily place ourselves before God Almighty with a sense of fear for Him, as if He is a terror in front of us and we do not know what He will do to us. The conviction of the devotee is that God will also do good, and His response is not always so uncertain that it causes insecurity in the heart of the devotee. We reach out to God and approach Him for succour because we feel certain that He will help us, and He will not harm us. We cannot conceive Him like a universal magnetic field, by touching which we do not know what reaction will follow. Here is a confirmation in the heart of the devotee that only a good thing will follow.
That is the reason why God as a Supreme Person is considered as magnificently beautiful. It is a great art presented before us, an attraction which satisfies not only the mind, the feeling and the heart, but even the sense organs which seek the perception of beautiful forms. That is how Maharishi Kapila describes God as the Marvel of marvels. We also have this type of description in the vision of Narayana that was granted to Brahma, and we have it partially in the second and part of the third book of the Bhagavata. God is always considered as a divine protector, a parent – a father and mother. The feelings of satisfaction, affection, and aesthetic completion go together in our worship of God. This is the reason why in every religion God is considered as a Supreme Person.
We also have in our scriptures the description of the Mahapurusha, Purushottama: ato’smi loke vede ca prathitaḥ puruṣottamaḥ (Gita 15.18), says Bhagavan in the Bhagavadgita. We cannot describe Him in any other manner except Purushottama, the best of all purushas. Here the word ‘purusha’ does not connote a male being, but means an inclusiveness of all particulars bereft of the distinction of male and female. We cannot say whether God is a male or female, because that majesty is so complete that we cannot describe God section-wise or partially in terms of social connotations.
How does Maharishi Kapila describe the majesty of God, so that we may contemplate on him? Yesterday I mentioned the Zen technique of attention paid to minute particulars of anything that becomes the object of concentration. Here is a similar description of meditation on every minute part of the body. The visualisation of God rises gradually from His feet to the cosmic apex of His head, which is all-pervasive. There are stotras in Sanskrit which are called Vishnu-padadikeshanta-varnanam – or, in a reverse way, Vishnu-keshadipadanta-varnanam. From the conceived hair of the Supreme Person down to the feet, and in the other order, from the feet to the Supreme head with His hair, is a kind of vipasana meditation of a mysterious type, taking the mind from top to bottom and from bottom to top. We are looking at God from head to foot in all his finery, completeness, beauty, ability and omnipotence.
Because of the magnificence and the might of God, the mind may not be in a position to conceive the whole of it in one stroke. Even when we look at an ordinary individual, we cannot visualise the entire person in one stroke. We see only some part of the person for the purpose of our practical activity, and concentration on every limb is not done, generally speaking. But in order to attract the attention of the mind to the beauty and perfection in every part of the body of God, it is said that everything is madhuram – adharam-madhuram – everything is sweetness, like sugar candy where we cannot say that any part is not sweet.
In the case of an ordinary mortal, there is a distinction made between the functions of the head, heart, lungs, feet, hands and so on, but in the case of the Mighty Person, such distinction is not made. Any part is as good as any other part. We cannot say that His feet are inferior to His head, as no such comparison is possible in the case of God’s Personality. His limbs are described for the purpose of meditation. Every part is capable of doing the function of any other part. This is how we have it in the Bhagavadgita or in the Veda. Sarvataḥ pāni-pādam tat sarvato’kṣi-śiro-mukham, sarvataḥ śrutimal loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati (13.13): Every part of His body are eyes and ears, every part is mouth, every part is feet, every part is hands. He can work with His feet, not merely with His hands; He can see with His toes and speak with His nose, because every function is an attribute of every part of God. It is not a limitation of concept as in our own personality where one organ cannot know the function of another organ. There, every organ is all organs because God is called All-in-all.
So Padadikeshantavarnana is the subject of this description for the purpose of meditation. Beautiful are Your feet – resplendent, radiant. Rays of sunlight emanate from His toes – not merely a dazzling light before which we have to close our eyes, but a mellowed honey-like flow which is at the same time sweet and satisfying. Anything that proceeds from God is beautiful and sweet. If He speaks, it is beautiful sweet words; if He thinks, it is beautiful sweet thoughts; if He acts, it is beautiful sweet action; if He blesses us, it is sweet blessing. There is nothing but sweetness in His case. And this sweetness is not a quality like the quality of sweet objects; it is the essence of God Himself.
One of the specialties of the Srimad Bhagavata is that it highlights the sweetness of God rather than His majesty and omnipotence. In the Mahabharata, for instance, special emphasis is on the greatness, the power, the potency, and the ability of God as incarnation, Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Here, in the Bhagavata, that is not taken into consideration pre-eminently, as in the case of the Mahabharata where Vyasa always presents Lord Krishna as a fearsome personality before whom everybody has to bow, and no one can take advantage of him. Even kings come down from their thrones at the very sight of him, as he is a fear to everyone and nobody can stand before him. Such a figure of Bhagavan Sri Krishna is presented in the Mahabharata. But here in the Bhagavata, God is not to be feared; He is a source of joy, madhura. In the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana the loving character of God is emphasised everywhere, in all the skandhas, right from the beginning to the end.
The reason is that in our meditations we require a total absorption of ourselves in God. It is not enough if only our intellect is illumined by the clarity of perception of the omnipotence of God; it is also necessary that other faculties in us, such as feeling and aesthetic sense, should also be satisfied. Usually, the mind of man cannot conceive such a completeness of God. Can God give us everything? It is said that He can. But our frailty does not feel itself competent to accept this possibility of everything being possible for God at all times, because we do not believe that He is a mother, we always believe that He is a judge whose dispensation can be for or against. But a mother’s judgment is not against, it is always for. In a similar manner, in the Bhagavadgita and also in the Srimad Bhagavata, Bhagavan says, “Whoever loves me, I shall love him abundantly.” Many characteristics of God are involved in this concept.
Now, coming to the point of meditation on God as the Supreme Person, we have to see how we can visualise Him in our presence as a mighty inclusiveness – a Person standing before us in all glory and perfection. We require a little bit of imagination and the power of will to concentrate like this.
We say that God created the world. The Bhagavata does not deny this fact that God created the world, because the mind of the human individual cannot but accept that God created the world. We cannot violate our own sense of feeling. The Bhagavata does not expect us to violate our own feelings and acceptances, and takes them as they are. And like a good schoolmaster taking the student from the level of his own standard, the Bhagavata gradually takes us from our own standard of incompleteness and finitude, and the needs incumbent upon this finitude, to another level.
All the parts of this personality are equally distributed systematically, beautifully, like an artistic presentation. We have no occasion in this world to see beautiful things in such a complete manner. We have sentimental perception of beauty which is valid for some time, but it does not persist for all time. Nothing that engulfs us in its beauty for all time, under any circumstance, is available in this world. That is available only in God, who is Supreme Beauty. Inasmuch as we are not accustomed to perceive such beauty in the world, we find it hard to conceive God in that perfection. This is why there is struggle in the beginning of the attempt at meditation. The mind gets revolted by the concept of perfection.
The beauty should be perfect, as incomplete, imperfect beauty cannot attract. But we have not seen perfect beauty anywhere in the world. Every beauty is imperfect; it has a flaw behind it, which we always ignore for the time being, for practical purposes, and that which is ignored will come up one day or the other and tell us that our concept of the beautiful object is not complete. But here, it is not like that. Nothing is hidden; it is open beauty.
Thus, Maharishi Kapila takes us gradually from the various parts of the Person to every other part. We can look at His head, His eyes, His nose, His hands, His chest, His whole person. What do we see there? We see the whole cosmos embedded into Him. We are not looking at an extra-cosmic person standing on the top of the world, with his feet on the earth as if the earth has no connection with him. This Mighty Person, called the Visvarupa, includes all the creation that He is supposed to have made. In the Visvarupa-darsana we will find all the worlds rolled up in one mass. Ihaikasthaṁ jagat kṛtsnaṁ pasyādya sacarācaram (Gita 11.7): “You can see the whole universe here,” says Bhagavan in His Visvarupa.