Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #23 – Is Jagannath the Highest Manifestation of God? II

June 5th, 2023

The form of the Lord worshiped in the temple is called arcā-vigraha, the deity manifestation of God. Each deity manifests or represents a different incarnation. Occasionally the deity represents not only a particular deity incarnation, but also is the form of a particular pastime of that incarnation, such as Sri Nathaji, who is the form of Sri Krishna lifting Govardhan Hill. The deity of Sri Jagannath is particularly unique. It is not only the form of the Lord representing a particular pastime of the Lord, but also a deity who visibly performs that pastime. For the followers of Sri Chaitanya, Sri Jagannath is the deity of Sri Krishna who is returning to Vrindavan in ecstasy after many years in response to the separation of Sri Radha, and who re-enacts that pastime by inspiring His devotees to mount Him on a large chariot and parade Him.


Next Saturday is New York Ratha-yātrā. It is amazing that almost forty years ago, when the Hare Krishna movement was still very much considered a new religious movement and a cult, the devotees were able to get permission to parade Lord Jagannath down 5th Avenue, arguably the most important and influential street in the world. How was that possible? What is not possible for Jagannath, literally the Lord of the universe!


Jagannatha Ratha-yātrā is a wonderful gathering of Vaiṣṇavas, but for the Vaiṣṇava it is much more than just a social gathering. They follow in the footsteps of Sri Chaitanya, who participated in Ratha-yātrā to relish deep sentiments of devotion. They thus prepare for the festival by hearing about the Lord’s Ratha-yātrā pastime so they can approach the festival in the right understanding and mood.[1] I offer this short explanation every year of the exalted position of Sri Jagannatha among all deity forms of Sri Krishna to especially serve the devotees who may be fortunate, by Srila Prabhupada’s mercy, to attend a Ratha-yātrā festival.


Is Jagannatha the Highest Manifestation of God?

January 23, 2017

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.[2] 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.[3]


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 Viṣṇu 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] For those want to go deeper in the subject of Lord Jagannatha I have included an article by Madhavananda das of Gopal Jui Publications. See here: https://archive.org/details/kk-12-the-hidden-identity-of-lord-jagannath-b

[2] See Is God a Person? https://wavesofdevotion.com/2016/06/27/is-god-a-person/

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


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