Krishna, who is the personification of eternity, knowledge, and bliss, is perceived in three of His aspects – Brahman (residing everywhere), Antaryami (residing within as the Supersoul), and Bhagavan (the Supreme Person who lives beyond this material world and possesses six kinds of opulence in full – strength, fame, wealth, knowledge, beauty and renunciation). It will be easier to understand with the help of an example. The sun, sunshine and sun’s reflection are one but also different. All pervading sunshine (compared to Brahman) is non-different from the sun. Both are heat and light, yet the sun (compared to the Supreme Personality of Godhead) retains its form and identity as the source of everything. Similarly, the same sun may be reflected upon ponds or numerous pots of water. In this way, the same God is reflected within the hearts of all living entities as Paramatma or supersoul. Hence Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan are 3 aspects of the Supreme. Brahman and Paramatma are partial whereas Bhagavan is the complete realization of the Supreme truth.
#1 Lord Krishna is realized in 3 ways – Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan
Vadanti tat tattva vidas tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
Brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate
(Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.11)
Learned transcendentalists, who understand the nature of the absolute truth, depict that non-dual truth as Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan.
Advaya jnana tattva-vastu krsnera svarupa
Brahma, atma, bhagavan – tina tanra rupa
(Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi, 2.65)
Lord Krishna is the one undivided absolute truth, the ultimate reality, who manifests Himself in three ways – Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan.
#2 Bhagavan is the most complete realization of the Supreme whereas Brahman and Paramatma are partial realizations
Bhakti yoge bhakta paya yanhara darsana
Surya yena savigraha dekhe deva gana
Jnana yoga marge tanre bhaje yei saba
Brahma atma rupe tanre kare anubhava
(Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 2.25-26)
By executing devotional service, the devotees can behold the Supreme Personality of Godhead (Bhagavan) just as the denizens of heaven can see the Personality of the sun. Whereas those who walk the path of speculative knowledge or yoga, perceive the same Supreme Lord as impersonal Brahman or localized Paramatma.
#3 What is Brahman ?
Just as sunshine is non-different from the sun, similarly, the effulgence of the Supreme Lord constitutes the all-pervading Para Brahman and is non-different from Him. Brahman is the sat (eternal) aspect of Krishna. It is realized by understanding one’s eternal nature as the ‘atman’ or soul.
“That Brahman is in front and in back, in the north, south, east, and west, and also overhead and below. In other words, that supreme Brahman (Parabrahman) effulgence spreads throughout both the material and spiritual skies.”
(Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.1)
apanipado javano grahita pasyaty acaksuh sa srnoty akarnah
sa vetti vedyam na ca tasyasti vetta tam ahur agryam purusam mahantam
(Svetasvatara upanishad, 3.19)
Grasping without hands, moving without feet, He sees without eyes and hears without ears. He knows what is to be known, but no one knows Him. The sages have called Him the First and the Greatest being.
Na tatra suryo bhati chandra tarakam
Nema vidyuto bhanti kuto yam agnih
Tameva bantam anubhati sarvam
Tasya bhasa sarvam idam vibhati
(Katha Upanishad 2.2.15)
In the transcendental abode of the Supreme Lord the sun does not shine, nor the moon or the stars or lightning as we know them. So what to speak of ordinary fire? All of them get their power of illumination from the Lord’s effulgence alone. In fact, the whole universe exists only because of His existence.
Brahmano hi pratisthaham amrtasyavyayasya ca
Sasvatasya ca dharmasya sukhasyaikantikasya ca
(Bhagavad Gita 14.27)
I (Krishna) am certainly the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is immortal, indestructible, and eternal, and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness.
#4 Who is Paramatma ?
Paramatma represents the cit (knowledge) aspect of the Supreme Lord. The Katha Upanishad likens the soul and the Supersoul to two birds sitting within the same tree (i.e. the heart). The Supersoul is initially realized in various ways, through remembrance, instinct, intellect, inspiration, and exceptional ability. Supersoul is the object of meditation for many mystic yogis.
Paramatma yenho tenho krsnera eka amsa
Atmara atma haya krsna sarva-avatamsa
(Chaitanya Charitamrita, madhya, 20.161)
Paramatma or the Supersoul is a plenary portion (ekamsa) of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is the original soul of all living entities, and the source of Paramatma.
Isvara sarva bhutanam hrd-dese ‘rjuna tisthati
Bhramayan sarva bhutani yantrarudhani mayaya
(Bhagavad Gita 18.61)
The Supreme Lord is seated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities who are seated as on a machine, working under the spell of material energy.
Kecit sva dehantar hrdayavakase
Pradesa matram purusam vasantam
Catur bhujam kanja rathanga sankha
Gada dharam dharanaya smaranti
(Srimad Bhagavatam 2.2.8)
Others conceive and meditate on the Personality of Godhead residing within the body in the heart, and measuring only eight inches, with four hands holding lotus, wheel, conch, and club respectively.
#5 Lord Krishna is Bhagavan
Bhagavan is the Supreme Person who lives beyond this material world and possesses six kinds of opulence in full – strength, fame, wealth, knowledge, beauty and renunciation. Bhagavan is personal and an individual soul can enjoy His reciprocation by entering into a direct relationship with him, thereby experiencing ananda (spiritual pleasure).
Ete camsa kalah pumsah krsnas tu bhagavan svayam
Indrari vyakulam lokam mrdayanti yuge yuge
(Srimad Bhagavatam 1.3.28)
All these incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of plenary portions of the Supreme Lord, but Lord Krishna is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead. All of His incarnations appear whenever there is a disturbance created by atheists. These incarnations appear to protect the theists.
Isvarah paramah krishna sac cid ananda vigrahah
Anadir adir govindah sarva karana karanam
(Brahma Samhita 5.1)
Krishna, who is also known as Govinda, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He has a transcendental form of eternal bliss and knowledge. He is the origin of all and the prime cause of all causes.
Athapi yat pada nakhavasrstam
Sesam punaty anyatamo mukundat
Ko nama loke bhagavat padarthah
(Srimad Bhagavatam 1.18.21)
Who could be worthy of the title “Supreme Personality of Godhead” but Sri Krishna? Brahma, the creator of the universe, amassed the water emanating from the nails of Krishna’s lotus feet to give Shiva a worshipful welcome. This very water, the Ganges, is purifying the whole universe including Lord Shiva.
Yasyamsamsamsa bhagena visvotpatti layodayah
Bhavanti kila visvatmams tam tvadyaham gatim gata
(Srimad Bhagavatam 10.85.31)
O Krishna, the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe are all carried out by a fraction of an expansion of an expansion of Your expansion. I offer my respectful obeisances unto You and surrender myself before You.