Indian theology recognizes three aspects of God: Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan – the Lord's impersonal feature, his all-pervading localized aspect, and his supreme personhood. The three primary attributes of God – sat (being, or eternality), chit (full cognition), and ananda (unending bliss) – are present in progressively greater degrees in these three aspects. Bhagavan realization represents the sum total of all of God's qualities. Thus Krishna, Bhagavan himself, has a distinct place in the stratification of divinity.
THREE ASPECTS: AN ANALOGY
To make the three levels of God-realization more understandable, later Vaishnava commentators have supplied the following apt analogy.
Three simple villagers and their guide are at a railway station, waiting in great anticipation for the train to arrive. The three have never seen a train before. As one of them notices a massive structure pulling in at a distance, he comments on the headlight: "What is this?" he asks. The guide responds: "That is the train." Confident that he has seen the train, the first villager leaves, satisfied.
When the train approaches the platform, one of the remaining villagers exclaims: "Oh! This is a train!" He has seen the series of cars pulling into the station – the form behind the headlights. He is now also confident that he has seen all there is to see and leaves.
The third man patiently remains behind. And when the train comes into the station he has the opportunity to meet the conductor and to see the various passengers on board.The three villagers went back to their small village and began to tell everyone what they had seen. Though it was an undeniable truth that each had seen the same train, their descriptions were diverse; their realizations were different. The third villager obviously had a more complete experience than the other two. He was able to convince the others for this, for he perfectly described what his two comrades had seen, and more.
Analogically, the big light represents the effulgent impersonal aspect of the Lord (Brahman). This light with something more behind it conveys the idea of divine substance, a personality that pervades all existence (Paramatma). And the third villager's vision represents the most complete aspect of God realization (Bhagavan), wherein one meets the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, and develops a relationship with him.
In the Vaishnava view, the above are considered different aspects of the same Absolute Truth, and they are all valid. One views these different aspects of God according to one's spiritual advancement.
"The Supreme Lord, the embodiment of truth, consciousness, and joy, is known as Govinda, or Krishna. He is beginninglss, the origin of everything, and the cause of all causes." (Brahma-samhita 5.1)
Krishna is Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Srimad Bhagavatam declares: "Krishna is God himself" (krishnas tu bhagavan svayam) – He is not merely a portion or manifestation of God, as are so many other divinities in India; he is the original Manifestor, the Complete Godhead. He displayed on earth his eternal lila, or spiritual activities, approximately 5,000 years ago. Vaishnava tradition teaches that Krishna engages in these activities eternally but manifested them on our planet only at that time.
Several pastimes of Krishna reflect grandeur and even harshness, as when he rids the world of evil forces. Despite this, Krishna's appearance underscores the superiority of love over power, sweetness over opulence. While most concepts of God evoke awe and reverence, Krishna evokes intimacy and personal relationship.