bhūtāni bhagavaty ātmany
In Bhagavad-gītā (6.30) the Lord says:
yo māṁ paśyati sarvatra
sarvaṁ ca mayi paśyati
tasyāhaṁ na praṇaśyāmi
sa ca me na praṇaśyati
“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” Śrīla Prabhupāda comments, “A person in Kṛṣṇa consciousness certainly sees Lord Kṛṣṇa everywhere, and he sees everything in Kṛṣṇa. Such a person may appear to see all separate manifestations of the material nature, but in each and every instance he is conscious of Kṛṣṇa, knowing that everything is the manifestation of Kṛṣṇa’s energy. Nothing can exist without Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa is the Lord of everything — this is the basic principle of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.”
The qualification for seeing Kṛṣṇa everywhere is stated in the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.38):
santaḥ sadaiva hṛdayeṣu vilokayanti
yaṁ śyāmasundaram acintya-guṇa-svarūpaṁ
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
“I worship the primeval Lord, Govinda, who is always seen by the devotee whose eyes are anointed with the pulp of love. He is seen in His eternal form of Śyāmasundara, situated within the heart of the devotee.” A devotee of the highest level of spiritual qualification is glorified for the expansiveness of his spiritual vision. For example, when the stalwart demon Hiraṇyakaśipu questioned his self-realized son Prahlāda Mahārāja as to the whereabouts of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Prahlāda, being a mahā-bhāgavata, or pure devotee, answered straightforwardly that the Supreme Lord is everywhere. The demoniac father then asked if God was in the pillar of the palace. When Prahlāda answered yes, Hiraṇyakaśipu, being a bona fide demon, struck the pillar with his sword, trying to kill God, or at least disprove His existence. Then Lord Nṛsiṁhadeva, the most ferocious form of the Supreme Lord, immediately appeared and finished forever the illicit program of Hiraṇyakaśipu. Thus Prahlāda Mahārāja can be accepted as an uttama-adhikārī devotee.
A pure devotee is completely free from the tendency to enjoy things separately from the Lord’s service. He does not see anything in the universe as unfavorable, because he sees everything as the expanded potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Such a devotee’s purpose in existing is to give pleasure somehow or other to the Supreme Lord. Thus everything that a pure devotee experiences, moment by moment, increases his ecstatic loving desire to satisfy the transcendental senses of the Lord.
The three modes of material nature torment the conditioned soul, who absorbs his mind in the separated, material energy of the Lord. The function of this separated energy, bhinnā prakṛti, is to take the living entity away from the reality, which is that everything is within Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa is within everything. Being covered by gross ignorance, the bewildered conditioned soul believes that only the objects of his own limited vision actually exist. Sometimes such foolish persons speculate that if a tree falls in a forest with no one to hear it, there will actually be no sound. The conditioned souls do not consider that since the Supreme Personality of Godhead is all-pervading, there is no question of no one’s hearing; the Lord always hears. As stated in the Thirteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā (13.14), sarvataḥ śrutimal loke: the Supreme Lord hears everything. He is upadraṣṭā, the witness of everything (Bg. 13.23).
In this verse the word bhāgavatottamaḥ, “the most advanced devotee,” indicates that there are those who are not gross materialists but who are not the highest devotees. According to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, those who cannot properly distinguish between devotees and nondevotees and who therefore never worship the pure devotees of the Lord are to be known as kaniṣṭha-adhikārīs, devotees on the lowest stage of devotional service. Such kaniṣṭha-adhikārīs engage in worship of the Supreme Lord, especially in the temple, but are indifferent to the Lord’s devotees. Thus they misunderstand this statement by Lord Śiva in the Padma Purāṇa:
viṣṇor ārādhanaṁ param
tasmād parataraṁ devi
“O Devī, the most exalted system of worship is the worship of Lord Viṣṇu. Greater than that is the worship of tadīya, or anything belonging to Viṣṇu.” Śrīla Prabhupāda comments on this verse, “Śrī Viṣṇu is sac-cid-ānanda-vigraha. Similarly the most confidential servant of Kṛṣṇa, the spiritual master, and all devotees of Viṣṇu are tadīya. The sac-cid-ānanda-vigraha, guru, Vaiṣṇavas and things used by them must be considered tadīya, and without a doubt worshipable by all living beings.” (Cc. Madhya 12.38 purport)
Typically the kaniṣṭha-adhikārī is eager to engage his materialistic qualifications in the service of the Lord, mistaking such material expertise to be the sign of advanced devotion. But by continuing to serve the Supreme Lord and the devotees engaged in propagating the Lord’s mission, the kaniṣṭha-adhikārī also advances in his realization and comes to the stage of dedicating his activities to helping more advanced Vaiṣṇavas. Even such kaniṣṭha-adhikārīs can help ordinary living entities by their association, since at least the kaniṣṭha-adhikārīs have faith that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Because of this faith, the kaniṣṭha-adhikārī gradually becomes inimical to those who are opposed to the Lord. As he gradually becomes more and more inimical to those who hate the supremacy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and becomes more attracted to friendship with other faithful servants of the Lord, the kaniṣṭha-adhikārī approaches the second-class stage, called madhyama. In the madhyama stage the Vaiṣṇava sees the Lord as the cause of all causes and the chief goal of everyone’s loving propensity. He sees the Vaiṣṇavas as his only friends within this morbid world and is eager to bring innocent people within the shelter of Vaiṣṇava society. Also, a madhyama-adhikārī strictly avoids associating with the self-proclaimed enemies of God. When such an intermediate qualification becomes mature, the concept of supreme qualification begins to present itself; that is, one comes to the stage of uttama-adhikārī.
A kaniṣṭha-adhikārī guru, one who is simply attached to performing religious ceremonies and worshiping the Deity, without appreciation for other Vaiṣṇavas, especially those who are preaching the message of the Lord, will especially appeal to persons interested in the dry cultivation of knowledge. As a living entity develops mundane piety, he proudly devotes himself to regulated work and nobly tries to detach himself from the fruits of his work. Through such regulated detached work, knowledge or wisdom gradually arises. As knowledge or wisdom becomes prominent, the pious materialist becomes attracted to altruistic and charitable work and gives up gross sinful activities. If he is fortunate, he then becomes favorable to the transcendental devotional service of the Lord. Desiring a mere intellectual understanding of devotional service, such a pious materialist may seek shelter at the feet of a kaniṣṭha-adhikārī. If able to advance to the madhyama qualification, he then becomes attracted to a Vaiṣṇava actively engaged in preaching Kṛṣṇa consciousness. And when fully mature on the platform of intermediate devotion, he becomes attracted to the mahā-bhāgavata level and is awarded a glimpse of the exalted position of the mahā-bhāgavata spiritual master by the grace of Kṛṣṇa within his heart. If one gradually goes on in the devotional service of the Lord, one becomes established as a paramahaṁsa mahā-bhāgavata. At this stage all of his actions. movements and engagements in preaching are dedicated solely to the satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa. The illusory potency, māyā, has no power to throw or cover such a purified living entity. In Upadeśāmṛta (5) Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has described this stage of life as bhajana-vijñam ananyam anya-nindādi-śūnya-hṛdam.
A mahā-bhāgavata, being empowered by the Supreme Lord, Yogeśvara, is endowed with the supernatural power to inspire and give success to the madhyama-adhikārī who follows in his footsteps and to elevate a kaniṣṭha-adhikārī gradually to the intermediate platform. Such devotional power springs automatically from the ocean of mercy found within the heart of a pure devotee. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura points out that a mahā-bhāgavata has no desire to inflict punishment on the enemies of the Lord. Rather, he engages the madhyama-adhikārīs and kaniṣṭha-adhikārīs in preaching work to purify the polluted mentality of the inimical souls, who are falsely imagining the material world to be separate from Kṛṣṇa.
There are unfortunate living entities who are unable to understand the glory of a kaniṣṭha-adhikārī within the realm of devotional service, have no praise for the more advanced state of intermediate devotion and cannot even begin to understand the most exalted stage, that of the uttama-adhikārī. Such unfortunate souls, attracted to impersonal Māyāvāda speculation, follow faithfully in the footsteps of Kaṁsa, Agha, Baka and Pūtanā and are thus killed by Śrī Hari. In this way the community of sense gratifiers remains uninterested in service at the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, and according to the individual perverted vision of so-called self-interest, each materialist chooses his own misfortune in the form of repeated birth and death in various types of material bodies. There are 8,400,000 species of material forms, and the materialistic living entities select the particular flavors of birth, old age, disease and death they wish to inflict upon themselves under the hallucinations of so-called material progress.
The analogy is given that a lusty man, being agitated by sexual desire, sees the whole world as filled with sensuous women. In a similar way, a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa sees Kṛṣṇa consciousness everywhere, although it may be temporarily covered. Thus one sees the world just as one sees himself (ātmavan manyate jagat). On this basis one may argue that the vision of the mahā-bhagavata is also illusioned, since the Bhāgavatam has already stated throughout that those conditioned by the three modes of material nature are not at all Kṛṣṇa conscious but in fact are inimical to Kṛṣṇa. But although the conditioned living entity may appear inimical to the Lord, the eternal, unalterable fact is that every living being is part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa. Although one’s ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa may now be covered by the influence of māyā, by the causeless mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead the conditioned soul will gradually be promoted to the stage of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
In fact, everyone is suffering the pangs of separation from Kṛṣṇa. Because the conditioned soul imagines that he has no eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa, he is unable to ascertain that all his miseries are due to this separation. This is māyā, or “that which is not.” Actually, to think that misery arises from anything other than separation from Kṛṣṇa is to be in illusion. So when a pure devotee sees living entities suffering within this world, he correctly feels that just as he is suffering because of separation from Kṛṣṇa, all other living beings are also suffering from separation from Kṛṣṇa. The difference is that a pure devotee correctly ascertains the cause of his heartbreak whereas the conditioned soul, bewildered by māyā, is unable to understand his eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa and the unlimited pain arising from neglect of that relationship.
Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī has quoted the following verses, which illustrate the ecstatic feelings of the topmost devotees of the Lord. In the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.35.9) the goddesses of Vraja speak as follows:
vana-latās tarava ātmani viṣṇuṁ
vyañjayantya iva puṣpa-phalāḍhyāḥ
prema-hṛṣṭa-tanavo vavṛṣuḥ sma
“The creepers and trees of the forest, their branches weighed down by rich coverings of flowers and fruits, seemed to manifest Lord Viṣṇu within their hearts. Exhibiting eruptions of ecstatic love upon their bodies, they poured down rains of honey.” Elsewhere in the Tenth Canto (Bhāg. 10.21.15) it is said:
nadyas tadā tad upadhārya mukunda-gītam
āliṅgana-sthagitam ūrmi-bhujair murārer
gṛhṇanti pāda-yugalaṁ kamalopahārāḥ
“Hearing the song of Lord Mukunda’s flute, the rivers then stopped their currents, although the minds of the rivers could still be ascertained from the presence of whirlpools. With the arms of their waves the rivers seized the two lotus feet of Murāri, taking help from the lotus plants, and thus He became trapped in their embrace.” And in the last chapter of the Tenth Canto (10.90.15), the queens of Dvārakā pray:
kurari vilapasi tvaṁ vīta-nidrā na śeṣe
svapiti jagati rātryām īśvaro gupta-bodhaḥ
vayam iva sakhi kaccid gāḍha-nirviddha-cetā
“Dear kurarī, now it is very late at night. Everyone is sleeping. The whole world is now calm and peaceful. At this time, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is sleeping, although His knowledge is undisturbed by any circumstance. Then why are you not sleeping? Why are you lamenting like this throughout the whole night? Dear friend, is it that you are also attracted by the lotus eyes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and by His sweet smiling and attractive words, exactly as we are? Do those dealings of the Supreme Personality of Godhead pinch your heart as they do ours?” Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura has also given mother Yaśodā as an example of an uttama-adhikārī, for mother Yaśodā actually saw all living beings within the mouth of Kṛṣṇa during the Lord’s Vṛndāvana līlā.
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura also points out in his commentary, atra paśyed iti tathā darśana-yogyataiva vivakṣitā, na tu tathā darśanasya sārva-kālikatā. “In this verse the word paśyet, or ‘one must see,’ does not mean that at every moment one is visualizing the form of Kṛṣṇa; rather, it means that one has reached the exalted platform of devotional service on which he is fit to see or is capable of seeing Kṛṣṇa’s form.” If only those who constantly see the form of Kṛṣṇa are to be considered uttama-adhikārīs, then Nārada, Vyāsa and Śukadeva cannot be considered topmost devotees, since they do not always see the Lord everywhere. Of course, Nārada, Vyāsa and Śukadeva are considered to be on the highest standard of pure devotional service, and therefore the real qualification is tad-didṛkṣādhikya, or having an overwhelming desire to see the Lord. Therefore the statement of Bhagavad-gītā that a devotee should see Kṛṣṇa everywhere (yo māṁ paśyati sarvatra) can be understood in terms of the example of a lusty man’s thinking that the world is full of beautiful women. Similarly, one should become transcendentally so desirous of seeing the Lord that one can perceive within the entire universe nothing but Kṛṣṇa and His potency. Vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti. In Śrīla Prabhupāda’s correspondence in 1969 with Professor J. F. Staal of the University of California, Śrīla Prabhupāda claimed that all of his disciples who were strictly following the intense program of Kṛṣṇa consciousness were in fact sudurlabha-mahātmās who were seeing vāsudevaḥ sarvam. In other words, if one is constantly engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness with an intense desire to please the Lord and one day gain His association, it is to be understood that in one’s life there is nothing but Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura has warned us, however, that a mere theoretical or academic understanding that Kṛṣṇa is everything does not qualify one as a first-class devotee. One must actually have developed love for Kṛṣṇa. Therefore it can be practically understood that anyone who enthusiastically adopts the Kṛṣṇa consciousness program and eagerly participates in the preaching activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is acting on the platform of a madhyama-adhikārī devotee. When such a devotee becomes overwhelmed by his desire to serve Kṛṣṇa and associate with the Lord, so much so that he is not attracted to anything else within the universe, he should be understood to be an uttama-adhikārī Vaiṣṇava, as mentioned in this verse.