Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #23 – Is Jagannatha the Highest Manifestation of God?

June 7th, 2021

In honor of the upcoming New York Ratha-yātrā, I will be sharing a Monday Morning Greeting from 2017 about the ontological position of Lord Jagannatha. I know I have posted this before the New York Ratha Yatra the two previous years, but relevant spiritual topics are always dynamic, because the more we meditate on such topics, the more their mystery is revealed. Just one final reflection before this week’s Greeting: I am quite surprised that this parade is being allowed just as the pandemic is receding, but on the other hand, if the Lord of the Universe wants a parade down 5th Avenue who can stop Him?!


Is Jagannatha the Highest Manifestation of God?


Jagannatha is the highest form of God. That’s the realization I had today here in Puri. My reasoning goes like this:


God is a person. I am starting from this proposition because I assume my readership mostly accepts it. Also, I have already argued this point extensively in Monday Morning Greetings #26.[1] Assuming that God doesn’t have the defect of impersonality, my argument proceeds as follows:


The fullest manifestation of any person is not in their position or power, but in their personality, or inner self, as a friend, parent, or lover. For example, we may meet a very powerful person, but if we don’t have a familial relationship with them—if they are a stranger or even a reverential superior—very little of that person’s fullest or most intimate self will be revealed. Position therefore covers personality, or the fullest manifestation of being.


The example of a high court judge is often given to demonstrate this. We may have studied the judge’s background or history or even know him as kind or sober, but his full self is not manifest while holding court. It is only manifest when he comes home and his parental, fraternal, or romantic side is not checked by the formality and majesty that judgeship demands.


In the same way, God is not fully manifest when He displays His full grandeur as Narayaṇa, or the creator and controller of existence. His personality is only fully visible when He sheds His position of grandeur and appears as Krishna, a beautiful cowherd, so His intimate side is not restrained by the opulence (aiśvarya) and formality of Godhead. Krishna is thus aptly described by Sri Rupa, the great Vaishnava teacher, as akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti, the personification of the combined bliss of all rasas—in other words, the fullest manifestation or personhood.


Certainly, there can be nothing higher than Krishna, but a question still remains. What is the fullest manifestation of Krishna? Here’s where we come to Jagannatha.


Krishna, like any person, gives His heart in proportion to the force of one’s love. As the most intense love is mādhurya-rasa, the mellow of conjugal love, Krishna gives Himself most fully to the gopīs. And as Sri Radha stands supreme even amongst the gopīs, Krishna opens His heart most fully to Her.


Therefore, the fullest manifestation of Krishna is in response to Radha’s love, specifically the height of that love, the peak of Her separation from Krishna. This is a love so powerful that even Krishna’s body transforms in overwhelming ecstasy, a condition where His eyes become highly dilated and His limbs withdraw into His body, a form known as Jagannatha.[2]


And if there is still any doubt that Jagannatha is the fullest manifestation of Krishna, please consider the following:


One of the main practices of spontaneous devotional service (rāgānugā-bhakti) is the worship of the form of Krishna corresponding to the love one aspires to attain. Sri Chaitanya was seeking to taste the love of His best devotee, Sri Radha, at the height of Her love. He therefore accepted Jagannatha as His worshipful Lord and spent the last eighteen years of His life in Jagannatha Puri, and even one year when Sri Chaitanya stayed in Sri Rangam for the four months of the rainy season, where the deity of Visnu presides, and there is no Jagannatha temple, He personally carved His own Jagannatha deity to nourish His devotion.


Can there be any doubt that Jagannatha is the highest form of God?



[1] See Is God a Person?

[2] For an elaborate explanation of how Krishna became Jagannatha, see Three Logs of Wood from Gopal Jiu Publications.

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