Are there Many Krishnas?
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on May 8, 1883.)

When referring to the concluding verse of the Bhagavadgita—yatra yogeśvaraḥ kṛṣṇo yatra pārtho dhanurdharaḥ, tatra śrīr vijayo bhūtir dhruvā nītir matir mama (B.G. 18.78)—I mentioned that every Arjuna has to find his own Krishna. One of the seekers who listened to this statement asked whether there are many Krishnas, so that one has to find some Krishna or the other. The answer is yes and no.

The finding of a particular Krishna by a corresponding Arjuna is a stage of the process of integrating consciousness with its content in any level of experience, or in any given condition. The content of consciousness remains always outside it. This is why we regard everything as an object the moment we become conscious of it. The consciousness of something is the consciousness of nothing but an object. There is always an ‘of’ between consciousness and the object. It is always consciousness of something. This particular word which conjoins the principle of knowledge, or knowing, which is consciousness, with its object, or we may say its content, is the crux of all relationships in the world.

For all practical purposes, Arjuna stands outside Krishna, and as far as we can see the world with our own senses, everything is different from everything else. The object of knowledge is anything and everything which gets associated with consciousness in such a way that it establishes a knowledge situation, as we call it, and a relationship is established between consciousness and that which it knows. The whole problem of philosophy, finally, is perhaps the problem of discovering the nature of what it is that lies between consciousness and that which it knows as its object, or its content.

It is perhaps in the light of this discovered importance of the relationship between consciousness and its content that the doctrine of knowledge is always considered to be a necessary precedent to all philosophical studies. “How do we know anything?” is a question that any philosopher would put to himself. All great thinkers hinge their arguments on this crucial issue: How does one know anything at all? The question does not arise in the normal hours of the workaday world, because there is no need to raise such a question when it becomes clear to the untutored consciousness that its object is there and it is related to it, whatever be the way in which it is related.

“My son is related to me,” says the father, but the father does not want to raise the question as to how he is related to his son. No father will raise such a question. This only shows that for the father to love his son, he need not necessarily be a philosopher. But a philosophical mind is a peculiar pattern of the operation of consciousness which cannot rest contented unless it knows what seems to be hidden beneath the surface of what appears to be completely clear for the time being. Even those things which appear to be clear for all practical, commercial purposes need not necessarily be clear even to the one who thinks so when these circumstances are probed in a scientific or a logical manner.

The object of consciousness is that with which consciousness establishes a particular kind of relation. Now, the relation is that which makes it possible for the consciousness to know that there is an object. If this relationship were not there, there would be no knowledge of the existence of the object. The philosophic implication of this knowledge situation is that the word or the term ‘relation’ has to be explained in order that the process of knowing may be an intelligible content of the knowing consciousness itself.

The relationship of one thing with another is an intriguing, mysterious something. It is difficult to know how one thing is related to another, though there is nothing in the world except that kind of relationship. That which is most obvious, most prominent and most unavoidable, and something always taken for granted as being as clear as daylight, is that which has never been understood, and can never be understood easily, for the simple fact that it mysteriously operates between the knowing subject and the object without revealing itself to the consciousness.

It is necessary for this mysterious something called relation to remain outside the purview of consciousness, lest it should itself become an object of consciousness. That particular thing we call the object of consciousness can have any meaning or sense to the consciousness only if the relationship between consciousness and the object is itself not an object of consciousness. Thus it is that this relation cannot be known to anyone. The moment it becomes known, it becomes a content, or an object, of the knowing consciousness, and then it ceases to be something other than the object already mentioned. We will have two objects: that which is intended to be known, and that which makes that knowledge possible.

This question of the relation of consciousness to the object is the single question that is argued throughout the history of philosophy, in all the nations of the world. How does consciousness come to know that there is anything at all, and how does it establish a contact? This inveterate necessity felt by consciousness, or we may say by our mind, that a sort of contact or external relation is necessary in order that anything may be known, possessed or enjoyed is the problem of life, and leads to every sorrow of existence. Is it necessary that the object should always remain an external something, to be related by a mysterious link in order that it may be known by consciousness? Or is there any other way of knowing that it is, without the intervention of this mysterious link, this eluding something called relation?

The necessity felt by the perceiving consciousness for an external relation operating between itself and its object is the mistake that it commits. The blunder into which we fall in all processes of knowing anything in the world is our erroneous conviction that an object has to be necessarily outside the knowing consciousness in order that it may be known correctly. This implies, therefore, that this totally external object has to be kept apart from the knowing consciousness by something which is called the relation, and yet it should not be really kept apart as if it does not have any connection with consciousness.

All entanglement in life is born of the contact of senses with objects, says the Bhagavadgita: ye hi saṁsparśajā bhogā duḥkhayonaya eva te, ādyantavantaḥ kaunteya na teṣu ramate budhaḥ (B.G. 5.22). This insistence of consciousness that nothing can be known as a valid, real existence unless there is an external relation, which cannot be possessed, is similar to a child asking for the moon. The mother palliates the child by patting it on its back and making it feel that the moon can be possessed by showing it the reflection of the moon in the water, which the child may touch under the impression that it is touching the moon, though the moon is not touched at all. Similarly, consciousness can be duped into the belief that it is actually coming in contact with the real object outside, while it is only touching a reflection in the waters of this mysterious something we call the relation, of that which is really there.

The relation mentioned is intriguing because it plays a double role, which is really self-contradictory. It is two different things at the same time. The relation of consciousness with the object is a means of bringing the object in a sort of positive communion with consciousness in order that the object may not remain totally outside, because that which is totally outside cannot be related, cannot be possessed, cannot be enjoyed, and one cannot have anything to do with it.

So it is necessary that the so-called object of consciousness cannot, in fact, be totally cut off from the knowing consciousness; it cannot be really outside it, because that which is really outside is incapable of contact, merely because of the fact that it is really outside. But all satisfaction that consciousness has in its knowledge of the object is indicative of the conclusion it arrives at, that the object is really not so remote or external as to make it incapable of any kind of contact. The object should not be outside consciousness in order that it may be known. It also cannot be one with consciousness in order that it may be known as an object. What sort of existence has the object if it is neither one with consciousness, nor it is really different from it?

This dubious, chameleon-like position which the object of consciousness manages to maintain is the drama of this world, where we seem to be seeing something worthwhile, while we are really seeing nothing substantial. Thus, we seem to be living in a world where that which we know, that which we see, that which is seen, and that with which we wish to establish a contact is really eluding our grasp while, at the same time, promising a satisfaction of its being really related to us very dearly and organically. All phantasm is of this nature. Any magic performance is of this character. It is really there, because we can see it; but it is really not there, for reasons well known. But the problem of life being this problem of the relation of consciousness with its object, or extending this analogy, we may say the problem of the relation of consciousness to the world as a whole, to the universe in its completeness—the problem being how the consciousness comes to know that there is a universe at all—is the problem not only of the doctrine of what we call the theory of knowledge, and the doctrine of any school of philosophy, but it is also the crucial point in yoga practice.

Theories of knowledge and philosophic schools analyse the possibility of coming to a definite conclusion as to the character of the relation between consciousness and its object, and they seem to feel that they can define this relation in a logical manner, but they do not really solve the problem. If philosophy is a logical, intellectual pursuit engaging itself in the analysis of the circumstances of the world, it is not that which we really seek. Analysis is essential, but it is a precondition to something which we really wish to seek and realise in our life. The reason why the object should appear to be of this nature may be an answer of the philosophies, but whatever be the reason for the object being such, how do we free ourselves from this entanglement in this undesirable quagmire of a mysterious connection of ourselves with the object, because it is self-contradictory? Thus, we live in a self-contradictory world, which explains the self-contradictory character of our desires and longings in the world, which appear to be fulfilled but can never be fulfilled.

The yoga technique takes up the matter very seriously, and the point which was raised in connection with this verse of the Bhagavadgita is the point of yoga proper. The union of Arjuna with Krishna being seated in a single chariot, which is the substance of the last verse of the Bhagavadgita, is the world situation placed before us. It is the universal circumstance pictured very majestically and clearly before our eyes. We are ever seated in a chariot. This chariot is any kind of situation in which we find ourselves where two things are invariably necessary for the purpose of knowledge. These situations are generally called the degrees of reality. These degrees of reality are actually the various stages of the integration of consciousness with its object. Yoga is this much, nothing more, nothing less. What is yoga? It is the process of integrating the knowing consciousness with its content, whatever that content be. Anything with which you are engaged, anything that you seem to know, anything in which you are involved, anything from which you cannot escape, anything which is your object for the time being, is the situation in which you are found.

Yoga is not merely the attempt of consciousness to establish a relationship with its object in any given condition. It is not a contact of consciousness with the object, because we have seen that this contact is illusory, really speaking. Such a thing is not possible. What yoga aims at is not any kind of contact by way of positive or negative possession, but a communion. The consciousness does not any more cognise or perceive or contact the object as an external something. It communes itself with it, and the object is part and parcel of the knowing consciousness such that the area of consciousness expands automatically because of the entry of the jurisdiction of the object into the location of consciousness.

One becomes expanded because one has vast riches. One becomes expanded because one has a large army. One becomes expanded because one has many friends. One becomes expanded because one possesses large areas of land. One psychologically feels a sort of self-expansion in the possession of desired objects. That is why one feels happy in the possession of that which one likes to have. The happiness arises on account of a transcending of the limitation of the consciousness usually lodged in the physical body. It does not really transcend, but it has a veneer of feeling that it has transcended.

We know very well that the power that a politician or an official wields is an externalised psychological relation. It is not like the power of an elephant, for instance. The power of an elephant is not an externally poised relationship; it is integrally connected with its physical existence. But the power of a rich man, the power of a landlord or the power of a person who wields any kind of official authority is not like the elephant’s strength. Such a person has no elephantine strength at all. The psyche tentatively manufactures, and then emanates around itself, an area which appears to be larger than the area occupied by the physical body, so the landlord appears to be larger than he really is physically. Everyone who possesses any kind of external strength imagines that his self has expanded beyond the limits of the physical body, and so he feels joy. Therefore, happiness is the same as power. It is a very blessed thing, and it is the necessary and immediate consequence of the expansion of the area of consciousness, or rather, the enhancement of the location of the knowing subject.

In all endeavours in normal empirical life, this expansion never really takes place. Even the strongest man in the world is like any other man in the world, really and factually. That apparent superiority by way of wielding strength, power, etc., visualised in a particular person is a psychological construct, and not a reality by itself. This is the reason why it can cease to be at any moment, and the person can stand naked as he was before he was invested with this authority or the apparent sovereignty or suzerainty over that which he seemed to possess. This makes it evident that all our joys are ephemeral, a whitewash and a make-believe, and are really not there.

What does yoga aim at? It goes into the depths of this secret behind the reason why one feels happy when the self is expanded, even artificially. The reason is, again, simple enough to understand with a little bit of deep thinking. The reason is that happiness and the self are identical things. Happiness is not a quality. Actually, it is the very substance of what is called the subject, or the consciousness that knows.

We have heard it said again and again that sat-chit-ananda—existence, consciousness, and happiness or bliss—go together. Not only do they go together, they are three characterisations of one and the same Existence, one and the same Being. When the dimension of existence is expanded by the communion of consciousness with its object, it also feels enhanced by its knowledge because of the direct intuition of the object due to its communion with the object. So the expansion of the area of one’s existence by means of this communion with the object is, at the same time, an enhancement in the quality of knowledge; therefore, it is also an increase in happiness. So existence, knowledge and bliss go together, and even to say they go together is to say very little. ‘They’ is not the proper word.

Sat-chit-ananda—existence-knowledge-bliss—are three terms we use to describe the three facets which reveal themselves in experience when consciousness expands itself in its own being. This is the union that we expect in our endeavour to contact and commune with God. To ask “Are there many Krishnas?” is to ask “Are there many Gods?” Religions worship many Gods. But there are no many Gods, and there are no many Krishnas. These many Krishnas with which the different levels of Arjuna are to find communion are the deities superintending over the knowledge situation, which is the enigmatic ‘something’ I referred to earlier, a relation between the knowing consciousness and its object.

In Indian traditional philosophic thinking, the knowing subject is called the adhyatma, the object is called the adhibhuta, and the superintending divinity is called the adhidaiva. The deity is responsible for any kind of knowledge in the world. The deity is this invisible relation between the knowing consciousness and its so-called object outside. In order that consciousness as an isolated subject may know an object as an isolated external, this deity should transcend both the knowing subject and the object, because it is not difficult to understand that A cannot be related to B unless this relation transcends both A and B. This transcendence is what we call the god, the deity, the angel, the divinity, the superintending principle, and so on.

In Plato’s Doctrine of Ideas, he expounds a hierarchy of what he calls the Ideas, a hierarchy of the coming together of the knower and the known in a transcendent position he calls the Idea, which can very well be equated with what in India is designated as the deity. This deity, the superintending principle relating the knowing consciousness with its object, is one degree of the expression of Reality, and there is a hierarchy of these deities, one above the other, as if they are hanging like a bunch of grapes, all connected to a single root at the top which may be said to determine the operation of all the other linkages at the lower levels.

Thus, the many Krishnas are the many levels of conscious integration in yoga. We may even call them as the many samadhis, samapattis, in yoga practice, or the various stages of knowledge as the Yoga Vasishtha puts it, or the realisation of God in various states of ecstasy as bhakti yoga puts it, or whatever be the language we use. This merely means that the universe is manifest gradually by stages or degrees, and the knowledge of God, which is nothing but the union with God, is a communion of the knowing consciousness with that deity which is immediately above it, in order that it may rise further on until the Supreme Deity is realised, which we call God-realisation, universal subjectivity of experience, the realisation of the Absolute Substance, temporality entering into the bosom of eternity.

These are some of the thoughts that occurred to me just now by way of a reply to that question someone put to me, “Are there many Krishnas?”