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The Meaning of "God is Love" by Stephen Knapp


The phrase and concept that "God is love" is often used by many people of different religions, but it is hardly ever explained adequately. People may say that God is all-loving, forgiving, or your eternal friend, which is true, but, essentially, this is a fairly shallow explanation of how God is love. So if we are to understand how a person can experience so much spiritual ecstasy that the material pleasures become insignificant, then this is a fitting time to analyze how God is the source of the ecstasy and love and happiness for which we are always seeking. But only in the highest levels of Vedic literature, especially in the Vaishnava tradition, do we find a proper and more complete explanation.

The Vedic literature describes the Absolute Truth as sat-cit-ananda vigraha, which means the personal form of eternal knowledge and bliss. And in the Taittiriya Upanishad (Second Valli, Seventh Anuvaka), the Absolute Truth is described as concentrated ananda or bliss. It is understood that this spiritual bliss is the dynamic and personal form of Sri Krishna. The Brahman effulgence, or great white light, is the expansive impersonal glow of that bliss. So the impersonal Brahman originates from the Supreme Personality, who is Sri Krishna, who is also the source of all bliss. The taste or experience of this bliss is dormant or undynamic in the brahmananda, or Brahman effulgence. By its very nature, the impersonal Brahman is not something with which you can have a personal relationship. There are no activities or reciprocation in the Brahman. In this way, it leaves unfulfilled those who merge into the impersonal Brahman, or who believe it to be the highest truth. But in the personality of Krishna, the bliss is always expanding and ever-growing to new dimensions in the pastimes and activities Krishna performs. The most sublime taste or experience of the pleasure of this spiritual bliss is called rasa, and Krishna is the rasa, or the center and source of this ecstatic spiritual experience. In other words, He is the most relishable object. This can also be broadened to mean that Krishna is the most worshipable and lovable object, as well as the ultimate realization and object of all knowledge, religion, yoga, and love. But Krishna is also rasika, which means the ultimate enjoyer of rasa, the experience of spiritual bliss.

Now we can begin to understand that Krishna is not only the ultimate object of all love, but also is the topmost enjoyer of all loving relationships. Therefore, in the dynamic and expanding form of Krishna, He has unlimited desires to enjoy spiritual loving relationships or pastimes, known as lila. To do this He expands Himself into the dual form of Krishna and Radharani, His eternal consort and topmost devotee. In other words, Radharani is the feminine aspect of Lord Krishna and is non-different from Krishna, but together (both the masculine and feminine aspects) They fulfill the purpose of engaging in sublime loving pastimes to exhibit supremely transcendental loving exchanges.

Radha is bhava, pure and selfless love personified. Everything Radha does is entirely for Krishna's pleasure. Radha is also hladini-shakti, the bliss potency that resides in Krishna. This bliss or pleasure potency within Krishna expands throughout the spiritual and material worlds, and whatever pleasure is felt by anyone is a form of this pleasure potency. But the closer we get to Krishna on the spiritual platform, the more directly we can feel the potency of this pleasure source. And its topmost personified form is Radharani. Therefore, Krishna engages in loving exchanges with Radharani and enjoys the bliss of Her love many millions of times more than the pleasure that comes from His own self. Radharani's love is the selfless love of Krishna's personified bliss potency. In this way, Krishna is the sweetest object of love, while Radha is the sweetest devotee of love.

As Their loving relationship increases, there are more and more devotees who assist in this pastime who also participate in these loving affairs of Krishna. Since all living beings are spiritual in nature, we all have a spiritual relationship with the Supreme Spirit, Sri Krishna. In the spiritual world this loving relationship fully awakens, and everyone feels great bliss because of this. As Krishna's pleasure increases, it expands to all the devotees who feel the ecstasy and reflect it back to Krishna through their devotional exchange. Krishna then reciprocates this love even more, and the loving exchange (bhakti) between Krishna and His devotees continues to expand and grow to new and higher levels in never-ending cycles. Thus, everyone is fulfilled in this spiritual love which is completely beyond the boundaries and estimation of material pleasures and relationships.

This is how a person can feel completely fulfilled and satisfied when he or she is engaged in pure Krishna bhakti. This is why bhakti, which fully manifests as pure love for God, is the real goal of any religion or yoga system. It is both the means and the goal. Therefore, the ultimate end of bhakti-yoga, or the devotional process, is not to enter heaven or the spiritual world, but simply to enter prema, which is to regain one's spiritual loving relationship with the Supreme regardless of what is our external situation. This is our natural spiritual position. This is the emotional fulfillment and love for which we are always looking. But rarely do we find such love and happiness while we are in the material concept of life, when we think that the temporary material body is our real identity. This sublime loving relationship is desired by all souls as well as the Supreme Being. This love is the gravitational force between us all, but can be fully manifested only on the spiritual level, between the living entities and the Supreme.

This is actually how God is love, all-loving, and the supreme lovable object for whom we all are looking, whether we understand this or not. No matter where we try to look for love, nothing can completely satisfy the soul as much as this spiritual love.

This is why Vaishnavas, worshipers of Lord Krishna, claim no allegiance to any particular religion, but only continue developing pure, unalloyed bhakti, love of God, through the practice of devotional service, bhakti-yoga. When this fully manifests as prema, such a pure relationship becomes so intense that there is no awareness of anything else. In this pure consciousness, there is no question of being Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or being affected by any other distinction. There is only God and the lovers of God on the spiritual platform, all of whom are absorbed in sublime and boundlessly ecstatic, loving exchanges.

The Supreme is waiting for us to return to our spiritual position to engage in these spiritual activities. How long it takes for us to return to our spiritual home simply depends on how long we allow ourselves to be influenced or controlled by the material impulses and desires which bind us to this material existence. We should not feel that we are so sinful or fallen that we have no hope for developing our spiritual relationship with the Supreme, for He is always waiting for His lost servants. But we have to begin to show that we want to return to Him by rising above bodily identifications and realizing the science of the soul: our real identity.

The essence of our pure spiritual identity and spiritual experience is our direct and personal loving relationship with the Supreme Being. This spiritual identity is the underlying principle of unity amongst all living entities. Reawakening this identity and love is the ultimate purpose of any true spiritual path. And this is most easily attained through the process of bhakti-yoga, the yoga of love of God.



Published with the kind permission of Stephen Knapp


Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana) is the President and Treasurer of the Vedic Friends Association ( He has been researching Vedic spirituality and comparative religious study for over 30 years in a variety of settings. He has directly engaged in those spiritual disciplines that have been recommended for hundreds of years. He continued his study of Vedic knowledge and practice under the guidance of a spiritual master to get the insights and realizations that are normally absent from the ordinary academic atmosphere. Through this process he has been initiated into the genuine and authorized spiritual line of the Brahma-Madhava-Gaudiya sampradaya, or disciplic succession, under the sanction of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. He has also extensively travelled throughout India to most of the major holy sights and more, and is known for his slide shows on his travels to the holy places and spiritual festivals of India (even nicknamed "the slide show acharya"), and for his lectures on the Vedic and Indian philosophy. He has written several books on the science and spiritual practice of Vedic culture and Eastern philosophy.



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This article was published on Tuesday 26 May, 2009.
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