Vedic literature points out that God is both personal and impersonal. God’s impersonal aspect is called by different names by different people. Generally, the impersonal aspect is known as the Brahman effulgence or brahmajyoti. A description of the Brahman can be found in different parts of Vedic literature, including the Mundaka Upanishad (2.2.10-12), which says: “In the spiritual realm, beyond the material covering, is the unlimited Brahman effulgence, which is free from material contamination. That effulgent white light is understood by transcendentalists to be the light of all lights. In that realm, there is no need for sunshine, moonshine, fire or electricity for illumination. Indeed, whatever illumination appears in the material world is only a reflection of that supreme illumination. That Brahman is in front and in back, in the north, south, east and west, and overhead and below. In other words, that supreme Brahman effulgence spreads throughout both the material and spiritual skies.”
To realise or attain entrance into the impersonal Brahman, one must practice yoga for many years without failing in such strict practice. One must be celibate, chant the Om mantra correctly, raise the life airs within the body to the top of the head and leave the body while meditating on the Brahman. If one cannot void his mind of all sensual engagement and concentrate on the Brahman for hours at a time without agitation, one will not be successful. If one is successful, one can be liberated from material existence by merging into the Brahman where there is eternity and knowledge. However, there is no real ananda or bliss there. The only pleasure in the brahmajyoti is the freedom from all material suffering. Some yogis think such pleasure, which may be felt on elementary levels of meditation, is a sign of reaching the final goal. But real ananda is found only in spiritual engagement. Without understanding this, one’s spiritual knowledge is incomplete.
The goal of the impersonalists is to merge into the Brahman effulgence, where they lose all of their individual characteristics. If they succeed, they remain there as an inactive spiritual spark, floating in the rays of the brahmajyoti. They do not develop a spiritual body that would give them the opportunity to engage in various spiritual activities because they do not know about such engagement that can be found on the spiritual Vaikuntha planets that exist within the Brahman effulgence. So, if they again have any yearning for engaging in activities, they cannot go upward to the spiritual planets because they are not qualified to do so. Thus, they are forced to seek shelter in the material world, where they start over again.
The problem is that it is our natural inclination to be active, always doing something. So if the soul is so active while within the material body, how can the impersonalist philosophers suggest that once we are liberated we will be completely inactive? This is not very logical. The Vedic literature states that once one has attained liberation and reaches the brahmajyoti, he will not stay there, but at some point, he will again desire to return to the material world for engagement. Therefore, the brahmajyoti is not considered the highest form of spiritual liberation, although some so-called sages today speak of it as if it is.
Such impersonalist yogis or philosophers either do not know or simply reject the fact that beyond nirvana and the outskirts of the Brahman effulgence are the Vaikuntha planets of the spiritual sky. Thus, due to their ignorance, or even rebelliousness against God, they concentrate only on the impersonal Brahman. One can enter that region by the difficult, mechanical yoga process for controlling the mind, but cannot go any higher. Just as a person cannot escape the material world if he still has material desires, he cannot enter the spiritual planets if he is still absorbed in thinking of the void. In this way, such people are unable to enter into the spiritual life of complete eternity, knowledge, and bliss. Therefore, the idea of achieving spiritual liberation by merging into the Brahman effulgence is considered the process of a cheating religion.
Why it is considered this is that it destroys the opportunity for people to re-establish their loving relationship with the Supreme. This is confirmed in the Chaitanya-Charitamrita (Adi.1.92):
The foremost process of cheating is to desire to achieve liberation by merging in the Supreme, for this causes the permanent disappearance of loving service to Krishna.
Therefore, those who have reached mature spiritual realisation look upon merging into the Brahman effulgence as a great mistake.
The impersonal realisation of the Brahman effulgence is the indirect process of understanding the Absolute Truth and is considered a difficult path according to SrimadBhagavadgita.
But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, fixed and immovable–the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth–by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed toward everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me. For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.Srimadbhagavadgita, 12.3-5
By realising this impersonal Brahman, one only realises the bodily effulgence of the Absolute. In other words, the all-pervading spiritual force has a source. This is clearly described in the Caitanya-CharitamritaAdi.2, 5 & 15
“What the Upanishads describe as the impersonal Brahman is but the effulgence of His body, and the Lord known as the Supersoul is but His localised plenary portion. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, replete with six forms of opulence. He is the Absolute Truth, and no other truth is greater than or equal to Him… These opulence forms of the impersonal Brahman spread throughout the millions and millions of universes. That Brahman is but the bodily effulgence of Govinda [another name of Krishna].”
The 15th and 16th mantras of the Isa Upanishad also acknowledge that from the personal body of God comes the rays of the Brahman effulgence:
O my Lord, sustainer of all that lives, Your real face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Please remove that covering and exhibit Yourself to Your pure devotee. O my Lord, O primaeval philosopher, maintainer of the universe, O regulating principle, the destination of the pure devotees, well-wisher of the progenitors of mankind–please remove the effulgence of Your transcendental rays so that I can see Your form of bliss. You are the eternal Supreme Personality of Godhead, like unto the sun, as am I.
From these verses, it is clear that without going beyond the Brahman effulgence, one cannot see the real form of the Supreme. If one reaches the stage of realising the Brahman and becomes convinced that he has attained the Ultimate, then he does not have complete understanding or full realisation. He still must go further until he has reached the source of the Brahman, which, according to the Isa Upanishad, is the Supreme Personality.
The absolute truth is a person
Many a time, there are so-called gurus or saints who say that the Absolute Truth, especially in referring to the void or Brahman effulgence, cannot be described with words. Of course, if that were actually the case, why would they expect people to attend their lectures when they spoke about the Absolute? But the Vedanta-sutras (1.1.5) point out that
The Absolute may not be completely expressible and understood by words alone, but there is a great deal that one can learn by this means. Beyond this, one can learn by practical experience and realisation for which the various yoga practices are described. This is what the Vedic texts teach.
If the Brahman had no personality or characteristics, then, obviously, Brahman would be very difficult to describe. But the Vedanta-sutras correct this viewpoint in the very second verse:
He, from whom proceeds the creation, preservation and reconstruction of the universe, is Brahman.
This is further substantiated in the Mundaka Upanishad (1.1.9) where it states that the Brahman comes from Him who knows all:
From Him who perceives all and who knows all, whose penance consists of knowledge, from Him (the highest Brahman) is born that Brahman, name, form and matter.
Therefore, Brahman ultimately means a person. The conclusion, according to the Vedic texts, is that the Absolute Truth is that source from which everything emanates, and that source is, ultimately, the Supreme Person.
Since the Brahman effulgence is considered to be but one of the opulences of the Supreme, it should be understood that whenever the Vedic texts speak of Brahman, they are indicating the Supreme Personality of God. In fact, it is stated that in the Vedic literature the word Brahman means, “in whom all the attributes reach to the infinity.” In this way, it is clear that Brahman primarily means the Supreme Person, of whom the Vedic literature is full of descriptions of various aspects of His infinite qualities and characteristics. The Chaitanya-Charitamrita clearly states:
The word ‘Brahman’ indicates the complete Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is Sri Krishna. That is the verdict of all Vedic literature.6.147
The Chaitanya-Charitamrita (Adi.7.112) also explains:
Everything about the Supreme Personality of Godhead is spiritual, including His body, opulence and paraphernalia. Mayavadi philosophy, however, covering His spiritual opulence, advocates the theory of impersonalism.
The Mayavadi impersonalists say that God is formless and has no attributes other than eternity and knowledge. But the truth of the matter is that God has no material form because He is completely spiritual. He is a transcendental person. Just as we are individuals, God is also an individual and has His form. If He were formless only, then He would be less than that which has form. Therefore, God, the complete whole, must have that which is formless as well as that which has form. Otherwise, He would not be complete. In this way, the Supreme has immense potencies, including everything within as well as beyond our experience. Krishna says:
I am the origin of everything. Everything emanates from Me.Srimadbhagavadgita,10.8
Thus, the Supreme expands Himself into everything but does not lose His original form. This is also confirmed in the first verse of Isa Upanishad where it says: “Because He is the complete whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains a complete balance.”
The impersonalists believe that after God has expanded Himself into the matter and into the innumerable living entities, He must no longer exist, just as a large piece of paper no longer exists once it has been torn into many little pieces. If such were the case, then matter and the living beings are equal to or the same as God. In other words, the impersonalists say that we are God but are temporarily undergoing the pains and pleasures in this material world due to the forgetfulness of our godlike position. Once we are free from this illusory forgetfulness, or our individuality, we can merge back into the Absolute and again become God. But impersonalists fail to explain how the individual soul became separated from the Brahman effulgence to exist within this material world. Furthermore, if the soul is the same as God, how could it fall into the illusion of identifying itself as a material body? How could we, if we are God, be controlled by the illusory energy? This would mean that material nature is more powerful than God, which would negate God’s supremacy.
In the logic of this kind of philosophy, there is no point in praying to God, singing praises to Him, or serving Him since, being formless, God has no ears to hear you or eyes to see you. In fact, such a formless God would have very little to do with us. He could not judge what is right or wrong, or reward the righteous or punish the wrongdoers. This impersonal viewpoint actually pervades much of our society today and allows people to reason that anyone can do anything he or she wants to do and face no retribution from God or the universal laws He sets in motion.
Another point is that if God is impersonal, then it puts the process of the creation of the universe in a different light. If God were simply a mass of energy, it would not be possible for God to create the material manifestation and then watch over and control it. Thus, the way the world was created might have happened in any number of different ways. This is the point of view many people have, especially the scientists who try to piece together proof to show that the theory of evolution is truth and the world started from some miraculous big bang. The idea that God is simply an impersonal force or does not exist at all is the one factor that gives theories like evolution and the big bang some potential for credibility. But in spite of the popularity of these theories, no one has yet proved them to be true.
These various impersonalist beliefs, as briefly described above, are not supported by the Vedas. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says:
पूर्णमदः पूर्णमिदं पूर्णात्पूर्णमुदच्यते।
पूर्णस्य पूर्णमादाय पूर्णमेवावशिष्यते॥
(Although He expands in many ways, He keeps His original personality. His original spiritual body remains as it is)5/1/1
Thus, we can understand that God can expand His energies in many ways, but is not affected or diminished in His potency.
The Svetasvatara Upanishad (6.6) also states:
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, the original person, has multifarious energies. He is the origin of material creation, and it is due to Him only that everything changes. He is the protector of religion and annihilator of all sinful activities. He is the master of all opulences.
This verse specifically points out that only due to God’s multi-potencies does the world continue to change and be maintained. He also protects religion, which could not be done if He were impersonal. This is only logical since it takes a person to watch over, protect, or maintain anything.
In the Katha Upanishad (2.2.13) there is the important verse:
नित्यो नित्यानां चेतनश्चेतनानामेको बहूनां यो विदधाति कामान्
(He is the supreme eternally conscious person who maintains all other living entities.)
From these descriptions in the Vedic texts, we can clearly understand that God is the Supreme Person who is the source of everything and controller of all. This Supreme Person is the Absolute Truth, as confirmed in the Caitanya-Charitamrita (Adi.7.111):
According to direct understanding, the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has all spiritual opulences. No one can be equal to or greater than Him.
Since it is established in the Vedic texts that the Absolute is a person, then meditating on the personal form of God rather than the impersonal feature is the highest form of meditation. This is verified in Bhagavad-gita (12.2):
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: ‘He whose mind is fixed on My personal form, always engaged in worshipping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be the most perfect.’
Herein, we can understand that realising the Absolute Truth in the form of the Supreme Person is much easier and much more attractive than struggling to merge into the great white light of the brahmajyoti. By understanding the Supreme Personality, all other aspects of the Absolute, such as the Brahman effulgence and Paramatma or Supersoul, are also understood. In fact, those who are absorbed in Brahman realisation can easily become attracted to understanding the Supreme Personality as did such sages as Sukadeva Gosvami and the Kumaras, as noted in Srimad-Bhagavatam:
Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, the son of Vyasadeva, Sukadeva Gosvami. It is he who defeats all inauspicious things within this universe. Although in the beginning he was absorbed in the happiness of Brahman realisation and was living in a secluded place, giving up all other types of consciousness, he became attracted by the most melodious pastimes of Lord Sri Krishna. He therefore mercifully spoke the supreme Purana, known as Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is the bright light of the Absolute Truth and which describes the activities of Lord Krishna.Srimadbhagavadgita,12.12.68
When the breeze carrying the aroma of tulasi leaves and saffron from the lotus feet of the lotus-eyed Personality of Godhead entered through the nostrils into the hearts of those sages [the Kumaras], they experienced a change in both body and mind, even though they were attracted to impersonal Brahman understanding.Srimadbhagavadgita, 3.15.43
How the jnani and other yogis absorbed in the impersonal realisation of the Absolute become attracted to the personal form of God is further described in the Chaitanya-Charitamrita (Madhya-Lila, 17.137,139-140):
The mellows of Lord Krishna’s pastimes, which are full of bliss, attract the jnani from the pleasure of Brahman realisation and conquer him… The transcendental qualities of Sri Krishna are completely blissful and relishable. Consequently, Lord Krishna’s qualities attract even the minds of self-realised persons from the bliss of self-realisation. Those who are self-satisfied and unattracted by external material desires are also attracted to the loving service of Sri Krishna, whose qualities are transcendental and whose activities are wonderful. Hari, the Personality of Godhead, is called Krishna because He has such transcendentally attractive features.
Many of the Gosvamis of Vrindavan who had personally realised the attractive features of the Supreme wrote many books about the transcendental personality of God. One of the greatest of these saints was Rupa Gosvami (1489-1564 AD) who wrote a list of Krishna’s characteristics in his book, Bhakti Rasamrita-Sindhu. This list describes 64 different qualities of God that are mentioned in Vedic literature. Some of these are; beautiful bodily features, strong, ever-youthful, effulgent, highly learned and intelligent, artistic, grave, gentle, heroic, happy, expert in joking, talks pleasingly, source of all other incarnations, giver of salvation, performs wonderful pastimes, attracts everyone by His flute playing, and so on. All of these qualities are those of someone who has a highly developed form and personality.
Even the Bible verifies that God has a most beautiful form and is not formless, as is shown in the next few verses that are very similar to the Vedic description of God’s form:
My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand. His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven. His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set. His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers; his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh. His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl; his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires. His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold; his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars. His mouth is most sweet; yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend.Song of Solomon 5.10-16
Obviously, there is no more elevated truth or higher bliss than the personal form of the Supreme. As Sri Krishna says:
O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no truth superior to Me.Srimadbhagavadgita, 7.7
Many great transcendental scholars have accepted this fact, including Lord Brahma, who, after performing many austerities for spiritual purification, became perfectly self-realised and, getting a glimpse of the Lord’s spiritual nature, composed the Brahmasamhita many thousands of years ago and described what his confidential realisations were.
Descriptions from Brahmasamhita
Krishna, who is known as Govinda, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, the first progenitor who is tending the cows, yielding all desires, in abodes built with spiritual gems, surrounded by millions of purpose trees, always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds of thousands of Lakshmis [goddesses of fortune] or gopis.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, who is adept in playing on His flute, with blooming eyes like lotus petals, with head bedecked with peacock’s feather, with the figure of beauty tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and His unique loveliness charming millions of cupids.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, round whose neck is swinging a garland of flowers beautified with the moon-locket, whose two hands are adorned with the flute and jewelled ornaments, who always revels in pastimes of love, whose graceful three-fold bending form of Syamasundara is eternally manifest.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, whose transcendental form is full of bliss, truth, substantiality and is thus full of the most dazzling splendour. Each of the limbs of that transcendental figure possesses in Himself, the full-fledged functions of all the organs, and eternally sees, maintains and manifests the infinite universes, both spiritual and mundane.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, who is inaccessible to the Vedas, but obtainable by pure unalloyed devotion of the soul, who is without a second, who is not subject to decay and is without a beginning, whose form is endless, who is the beginning, and the eternal purusha; yet He is a person possessing the beauty of blooming youth.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, only the tip of the toe of whose lotus feet is approached by the yogis who aspire after the transcendental and betake themselves to pranayama by drilling the respiration; or by the jnanis who try to search out the nondifferentiated Brahman by the process of elimination of the mundane extending over thousands of millions of years.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, who is Syamasundara, Krishna Himself with inconceivable innumerable attributes, whom the pure devotees see in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, who manifested Himself personally as Krishna and the different avataras in the world in the forms of Rama, Nrsimha, Vamana, etc., as His subjective portions.
I worship Govinda, the primaeval Lord, whose effulgence is the source of the nondifferentiated Brahman mentioned in the Upanishads, being differentiated from the infinity of glories of the mundane universe, appears as the indivisible, infinite and limitless truth.
The three worlds are composed of the nine elements, viz., fire, earth, ether, water, air, direction, time, soul and mind. I adore the primaeval Lord Govinda from whom they originate, in whom they exist and into whom they enter at the time of the universal cataclysm.
I adore the primaeval Lord Govinda, the meditators of whom, by meditating upon Him under the sway of wrath, amorous passion, natural friendly love, fear, parental affection, delusion, reverence and willing service, attain to bodily forms befitting the nature of their contemplation.
When the pure spiritual experience is excited by means of cognition and service [bhakti], superexcellent unalloyed devotion characterised by the love of Godhead is awakened towards Krishna, the beloved of all souls.