The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard proposed that taking to spiritual life required a leap of faith. Srila Rupa Goswami, one of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s chief disciples, wrote that the practice of bhakti-yoga, which culminates in pure love of God, begins with faith. That initial faith is said to be the result of previous service to Krishna offered unknowingly. Unknown acts of devotional service accumulate, generally over lifetimes, and influence us to accept love of God as the goal of life.

This explains why the essence of the philosophy of Krishna consciousness—devotion to God—resonates with some people and not others. Srila Prabhupada called those who’ve had previous contact with devotional service “pious.” He said that although there are arguments for and against the existence of God, the pro-existence arguments make sense to the pious but not the impious.

Another reason people don’t make the leap of faith into spiritual life is a lack of knowledge about God. Prabhupada’s mission was to teach people about God, drawing from the rich literature of the Vaishnava tradition.

As an example of how Vaishnava teachings can expand our understanding of God, consider that theologians often define God as existence, or being, itself. That seems to suggest that anyone who believes in an objective reality believes in God. For most people, that seems like a cop out. So, it might be fairer to say that the theologians’ position is that God is being itself because He is at the root of everything that exists.

In Sanskrit, the idea of existence or being is carried by the word sat, which can also mean “truth,” “goodness,” and “eternity.” Students of Krishna consciousness are familiar with the word sat as part of the compound sat-chit-ananda, usually translated by Srila Prabhupada as “eternity, knowledge, and bliss.” Prabhupada often quoted a verse spoken by Lord Brahma, a primary Vedic authority, that describes Lord Krishna as possessing a form composed of eternity (sat), knowledge (chit), and bliss (ananda). This confirms the idea that God is not only existence itself (sat), but also chit—knowledge or consciousness—and ananda, happiness.

According to Vaishnava authorities, understanding that God is existence (sat) is the highest realization of the jnanis, who rely on philosophical speculation to understand the Absolute Truth; mature yogis can realize both the sat and the chit features of God; and bhakti-yogis, or devotees, can realize all three aspects, most notably ananda, God’s blissful nature.

Put another way, jnanis realize the impersonal all-pervading brahmajyoti, the rays of God; yogis realize God in His form as Paramatma, the Supersoul in the heart; and devotees realize God as the original person, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Only by contact with the highest feature of God, His personality, can we taste the full happiness every soul desires.

This discussion is just a hint of the developed theology of bhakti-yoga. Learning about God from realized Vaishnava authorities can help people develop the faith required to embark on the path to pure love of God. Members of the Krishna consciousness movement can testify to the transformative power of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. I for one can say that my leap of faith in taking up bhakti-yoga began with a leap of understanding, propelled not by my own intellect but by Prabhupada’s enlightened words.

Nagaraja Dasa