Western philosophers have presented well-reasoned arguments in favor of God. I find, though, that these philosophers are somewhat handicapped by their reliance on the conception of God developed over the past two millennia or so by scholars of the Abrahamic traditions—the so-called three great monotheisms.

There is of course another great theism, called Vaishnavism, with deep roots in the ancient Vedic literature. The Vaishnava view of God generally agrees with that of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, accepting, for example, that by definition God must be eternal, omniscient, and unlimited. One area where Vaishnavism has much to offer regards God’s personhood. If more Western philosophers had at least a theoretical grasp of what Vaishnavas in general, and Gaudiya Vaishnavas (devotees in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s line) in particular, have to say about God as a person, they could raise their theological discussions to a higher level.

This issue of Back to Godhead corresponds with the annual celebration of the appearance of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, whose identity tells us much about God as a person. With the support of authoritative references from the Vedas and Puranas, Gaudiya Vaishnavas regard Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as Krishna Himself, present on earth about five hundred years ago. Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami’s Chaitanya-charitamrita lists both “external” and “internal” reasons for Krishna’s appearance as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The chief external reason was Krishna’s desire to launch the religion for the current age: the congregational chanting of God’s names. The internal reasons were Krishna’s desire to understand “the glory of Radharani’s love, the wonderful qualities in Him that She alone relishes through Her love, and the happiness She feels when She realizes the sweetness of His love.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila 1.6)

Kaviraja Goswami has given us unparalleled insight into the mind of God. According to Gaudiya Vaishnava theology, Radharani is Krishna’s “pleasure potency” (hladini-shakti), making Her in some sense identical with Krishna. In other words, Radha and Krishna are one. But they are also two. As Kaviraja Goswami explains, although Radha and Krishna are one, They separate to enjoy as two, and They combine again as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. They reunite because Krishna wants to experience Himself from the point of view of Radha, His most intimate devotee.

Few Western minds have contemplated ideas such as these. Kaviraja Goswami is telling us that God wants to know what it’s like to be His own devotee. Radha is maha-bhava-rupa—the very form of ecstatic love for Krishna. When Krishna comes as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, He takes on Her mood, as well as Her golden complexion.

Minds steeped in Western thought might object that this is anthropomorphism and that Vaishnavas are guilty of making God all too human. But no, we don’t say He’s human; we only insist He be allowed to be a person. Why should anyone deny Him characteristics of personhood we ourselves cherish, especially the desire to fully experience love?

Krishna’s taking the role of His own devotee is the ultimate demonstration of the principle “to give is better than to get.” Krishna thinks, “Radha is happier giving Her love to Me than I am receiving it. I want to feel what it’s like to be filled with love for Me. I want to feel the same happiness Radha does when She beholds My sweetness.”

Contemplating God’s thoughts as revealed in Gaudiya Vaishnava literature increases our appreciation for the exalted nature of both God and His devotees.—Nagaraja Dasa