Lord Brahma The Original Created Being
by Satyaraja Dasa
According to the Vedic literature, behind the workings of the cosmos stand powerful controllers, know as devas, or demigods. As we people in this world control our cars or homes, the devas control various aspects of the cosmos. The are among the exalted servants of Lord Krsna.
Everything in the universe begins with Brahma, the four-headed (catur-mukhi) demigod who rides a swan and carries in his four hands the Vedas, a ladle, a water vessel, and a mala, or string of prayer beads. He is known in the Mahabharata as Pitamaha, “the grandfather,” for he is the oldest person in the universe, the original instructor, or guru, of the sages. He is the first created being the original progenitor of mankind and he is the founder of the esoteric lineage to which ISKCON belongs.
In India the Hare Krsna tradition (sampradaya) is known as the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya-sampradaya. That is to say, Brahma relayed eternal knowledge to his successors, it eventually reached Madhva, a great teacher who systemized the knowledge, and about five hundred years ago the whole tradition was revitalized by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared in Bengal, then called Gauda-desa. Hence: the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya-sampradaya. And the line is carried on to this day through ISKCON.
How did Brahma originally receive Vedic knowledge? The Supreme Lord uttered the eternal truths of Krsna consciousness to Brahma at the beginning of time. Brahma’s enlightenment is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (Canto 2, Chapter 9), which depicts him, at the dawn of creation, being born on a lotus sprouted from the divine navel of Visnu. Brahma, finding himself in a new world, is wholly ignorant, both of his own identity and of his purpose in life. Seeking a clue as to his origin, Brahma climbs down the stem of the spiritual lotus, but to no avail. With a heart resigned to his fate, he hears the voice of his Lord and master, Visnu, calling out two syllables: ta-pa, literally, “austerity,” or “penance.”
The syllables are deep with meaning, and Brahma obeys by performing austerity in the form of meditation for one thousand celestial years. Brahma can then see first the Lord’s abode and then the Lord Himself, who lovingly shakes Brahma’s hand and recites for him the four seminal verses of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which contain its essential meaning and, indeed, the meaning of life.
When we speak of Brahma meditating for one thousand celestial years, we should understand just how long Brahma’s life actually is. Bhagavad-gita (8.17) gives us a hint: “By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together form the duration of Brahma’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.”
What is meant here by “ages”? Here an “age” is the Vedic divya-yuga. If you add together one Satya-yuga (1,728,000 years), one Treta-yuga (1,296,000 years), one Dvapara-yuga (864,000 years), and one Kali-yuga (432,000 years), you have onedivya-yuga. That comes to 4.32 million of our years.
Now, according to the Gita verse quoted above, if you put 1,000 of those divya-yugas together, you get 4.32 billion earth years a mere 12 hours (one day) in Brahma’s life. So his day and night come to 8.64 billion years. Each of Brahma’s years takes 360 of those days and nights. And he lives a full 100 years.
Before we brush off Brahma’s inconceivable life span as some kind of outlandish mythology, we should keep in mind that time is relative. Imagine if we could explain our life span to a microorganism whose life lasts but a few seconds or minutes. The creature would be extremely skeptical, to say the least, unable to accommodate the concept of a week, a month, a year. So although Brahma’s life may seem inordinately long to us, for him it seems perfectly natural, perhaps even a little short.
Since Brahma is, essentially, an extraterrestrial, living on a higher planet, his perceptions of time and space are entirely different from our own. Indeed, the Vedic literature tells us that demigods are made of subtle substance; in Brahma’s case, he has a body composed of pure intelligence. His feet never touch the ground, he doesn’t blink, and he casts no shadow. Demigods are simply different kinds of living entities, and there is no reason to expect them to conform to our conceptions of time and space.
Because Brahma’s life span is the longest in the cosmic creation, he outlives all other living things. At the beginning of each of his days all varieties of life forms appear, and with his night comes partial annihilation until the next day, when he sets everything in motion again, re-creating the various forms of life.
The details of creation may differ slightly from day to day, but one thing remains the same Brahma begins each day by meditating on the Supreme Lord. At that time he says, “I pray only to engage in the Lord’s service in the creation of the material world, and I pray that I not be materially affected by my works, for thus I may be able to give up the false prestige of being the creator.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 3.9.23)
In fact, Brahma takes every opportunity to glorify Visnu, or Krsna, as supreme and to acknowledge his own subservience. In the very first verse of Brahma-samhita, for example, Brahma says, “Krsna, who is known as Govinda, is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternally blissful and spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin, for He is the prime cause of all causes.”
Later in the same work (5.49), Brahma makes clear that he is indeed subservient to the Supreme Lord Krsna: “The sun manifests his brilliance in a gem, although it is stone. Similarly, the original Personality of Godhead, Govinda, manifests His special power in a pious living entity. Thus that living entity becomes Brahma and manages the affairs of the universe. Let me worship Govinda, the original Personality of Godhead.”
Unlike many other demigods, Brahma is rarely mistaken for the Supreme. For that reason, in all of India Brahma has only one major temple dedicated to his worship in Puskara, Rajasthan.
Still, Brahma is deeply revered as a great devotee. In fact, he is considered by all Vaisnavas to be a guna-avatara, a manifestation of the Lord who presides over the mode of passion. Thus his passionate nature is put to work, and he is engaged in creation, as described above. He is therefore known as the “creator god,” in contradistinction to Visnu, who is seen as “the preserver” (and the master of the mode of goodness), and Siva, “the destroyer” (who presides over the mode of ignorance).
In popular Hinduism this triad of avataras (trimurti) is viewed as merely diverse modalities of one and the same God and there is a scriptural basis for this but a careful study reveals that both Siva and Brahma are subservient to Visnu.
In fact, making this clear that Krsna is supreme was one of the main reasons why Brahma wrote his Brahma-samhita. Commenting on the Brahma-samhita, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura notes that it refutes pancopasana, the popular Hindu worship of five gods: Visnu, Surya, Ganesa, Durga, and Siva.
“The worship of Visnu as found in pancopasana,” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta says, “does not please Visnu; it is heterodox and highly improper.” Visnu is the Supreme, the Personality of Godhead; no one is equal to or greater than Him. But the worship of Visnu as one of the five deities brings Him down to the level of the others, as though He were one of several deities, and this is a great spiritual offense.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati continues, “It is the eternal duty of all jivas [living beings] to serve [only] Krsna, the Lord of all lords. All other deities are His servitors. Their function is only to carry out Govinda’s commands.” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati concludes that those who “conceive of the deities as the different names and bodies of Visnu instead of knowing them as His servitors” will never acquire liberation. One becomes perfectly liberated only by surrendering fully to Visnu, Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Satyaraja Dasa is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and a regular contributor to Back to Godhead. He has written several book on Krsna consciousness. He and his wife live in New York City.
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