teṣāṁ yat sva-vaco-yuktaṁ
buddhimāṁs tat samācaret
The word īśvara is usually defined in Sanskrit dictionaries as “lord, master, ruler,” and also as “capable, potent to perform.” Śrīla Prabhupāda often translated the word īśvara as “controller,” which brilliantly synthesizes the two fundamental concepts of īśvara, namely a master or ruler and a capable or potent person. A master may be incompetent, but a controller is a master or lord who in fact makes things happen. The parameśvara, the supreme īśvara, the supreme controller, is of course God, Kṛṣṇa, the cause of all causes.
Although people in general, especially in the Western countries, are not aware of the fact, powerful personalities control our universe. The modern, impersonal concept of the universe depicts an almost totally lifeless cosmos in which the earth floats meaninglessly. Thus we are left with the dubious “ultimate purpose” of preserving and reproducing our genetic code, which has its own “ultimate purpose” of adding another link to the meaningless chain of events by again reproducing itself.
In contrast to this sterile, meaningless world concocted by ignorant materialists, the actual universe is full of life — personal life — and in fact full of God, who pervades and supports all that exists. The essence of reality is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His personal relationship with the innumerable living beings, of whom we are samples. Some of the living beings are trapped in the illusion of materialism, or identification with the material body, while others are liberated, aware of their eternal, spiritual nature. A third class comprises those progressing in self-realization from the materialistic state of ignorance to the enlightened state of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Reality is ultimately personal and divine, and therefore it is not surprising that, as the Vedic literature reveals to us, our universe and other universes are managed by great personalities, just as our city, state and country are managed by empowered personalities. When we democratically award a particular politician the right to govern, we vote for him because he has exhibited something we call “leadership” or “ability.” We think, “He’ll get the job done.” In other words, it is only after an individual acquires the power to govern that we vote for him; our vote does not make him a leader but rather recognizes a power in him coming from some other source. Thus, as Lord Kṛṣṇa explains at the end of the Tenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, any living being exhibiting an extraordinary power, ability or authority must have been empowered by the Lord Himself or by the Lord’s energy.
Those directly empowered by the Lord are devoted to Him, and thus their power and influence spread goodness throughout the world, whereas those who are empowered by the Lord’s illusory potency are in an indirect relationship with Kṛṣṇa because they do not directly reflect His will. Of course, they do reflect His will indirectly, since it is by Kṛṣṇa’s arrangement that the laws of nature act upon ignorant living beings, gradually persuading them, through their journey of many lifetimes, to surrender to the Supreme Lord. Thus as politicians create wars, false hopes and innumerable passionate schemes for the materialistic persons who follow them, the politicians are indirectly carrying out the Lord’s program of allowing the conditioned souls to experience the bitter fruit of godlessness.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has translated the word īśvarāṇām as “those who have become powerful through knowledge and austerity.” As one understands the nature and will of God and makes the personal sacrifice required to achieve excellence in spiritual life, one becomes empowered by the Supreme Lord to represent His will, which one has intelligently recognized and accepted.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead kindly descends to earth to show a vivid example of religious behavior. As Lord Kṛṣṇa states in the Bhagavad-gītā (3.24), “If I did not execute standard duties, the whole world would be misled and in fact destroyed.” Thus the Lord showed, in His different incarnations, how to act properly in this world. A good example is Lord Rāmacandra, who behaved wonderfully as the son of King Daśaratha.
But when Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself descends, He also demonstrates the ultimate religious principle, namely that the Supreme Lord is beyond all other living beings and that no one can imitate His supreme position. This foremost of all religious principles — that the Lord is unique, without equal or superior — was clearly demonstrated in Lord Kṛṣṇa’s apparently immoral pastimes with the gopīs. No one can imitate these activities without incurring dire consequences, as explained here by Śukadeva Gosvāmī. One who thinks that Lord Kṛṣṇa is an ordinary living being subjected to lust, or who accepts His rāsa dance as admirable and tries to imitate it, will certainly be vanquished, as described in text 30 of this chapter.
Finally, a distinction must be made between the Lord and His empowered servants. An empowered servant of the Lord, as in the case of Brahmā, may experience a remnant of reactions to previous activities, according to the law of karma. But the Lord is eternally free from any entanglement in the laws of karma. He is on a unique platform.