I have one question about various incarnations of Lord Vishnu (the question may have sub questions). I remembered from Bhagavata purana, many incarnations are either the incarnation of Maha Vishnu or Kshirothakasayi Vishnu. I would like to know if Lord Vishnu is supreme, who is catur vyugas and who are Karanodakasayi vishnu, Garbodaga sayi vishnu and Kshirodaga sayi vishnu?

Are they existing separately or they manifest from one Lord Vishnu and after performing various pastimes will they merge back to Vishnu? For example, Lord Vishnu and Lord Krishna are existing separately now or Lord Krishna merged back to Lord Vishnu? If they merged, how they will satisfy the devotees, if one wants to associate Lord Krishna in vaikuntas?

If some incarnation is coming out from Lord Vishnu and merging back him, that means Vishnu is changing and his activities are coming under time correct? how to understand this Vishnu is beyond time?

Please explain in simple English or Tamil is the best language for me to understand.

I may ask further questions to understand this subject clearly based on the answers. Please refer the sastras or Sri Ramanuja Acarya's teachings, as much as possible.

  • Karanodakasayi vishnu, Garbodaga sayi Vishnu and Kshirodaga sayi Vishnu are terms used by Gaudiya Vaishnavaites or ISKCON. When Vishnu incarnates on earth, He is still present in Vaikunta, as Vishnu is Brahman to you and infinite, some portion of him doesn't change him much. As Brahman, He is beyond time. Time is under control of Brahman. Time is intrinsic component of Brahaman – The Destroyer Mar 10 '16 at 4:53
  • Thank you so much Ankit Sharma. Please explain based on Sri Vaishnava sampradaya teachings. I already received Lord Vishnu's various incarnation details from Gaudiya sampradaya teachings, but would like to learn Sripad Ramanuja Acarya's teachings in simple English terms. – Jay Mar 10 '16 at 18:05

The Incarnations of Lord are unlimited. However Supreme Vishnu manifests himself in 3 primary forms viz. Karnodakshayee vishnu(Maha-Vishnu), garbhoDakshayee Vishnu and Ksheerodakshayee Vishnu. Supreme Vishnu first manifests as Sankarshan(1st expansion) and Sankarshan manifests himself as mahavishnu. Mahavishnu lays down in causal ocean(Kaaran ocean;hence called Karnodakshayee Vishnu).From MahaVishnu unlimited universes come into existence.Vishnu enters each of the universes as garbhoDakshayee Vishnu from whose naval brahma is born. the stem that grows from His navel has all planetary creations in universe. Ksheerodakshayee Vishnu then lies in Ksheer saagar(Ocean of milk) and maintains that universe and also enters each and evry entity as paramatma in that universe.

These innumerable universes are produced from the pores of Mahā-viṣṇu’s body. As innumerable atoms pass through the tiny holes in a screen, innumerable universes similarly emanate from the pores of Mahā-viṣṇu’s body. As He breathes out, innumerable universes are produced, and as He inhales, they are annihilated. All of the energies of Mahā-viṣṇu are spiritual: they have nothing to do with the material energy. In the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.48) it is stated that the predominating deity of each universe, Brahmā, lives only during one breath of Mahā-viṣṇu. Thus Mahā-viṣṇu is the original Supersoul of all the universes and the master of all universes as well.

The second Viṣṇu incarnation, Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, enters each and every universe, spreads perspiration from His body and lies down on that water. From His navel grows the stem of a lotus flower, and on that lotus flower the first creature, Brahmā, is born. Within the stem of that lotus flower are the fourteen divisions of planetary systems, which are created by Brahmā. In the form of Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, the Lord maintains each universe and tends to its needs. Although He is within each material universe, the influence of the material energy cannot touch Him. When it is required, this very same Viṣṇu takes the form of Lord Śiva and annihilates the cosmic creation. The three secondary incarnations – Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Śiva – are the predominating deities of the three modes of material nature. The master of the universe, however, is Garbhodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, who is worshiped as the Hiraṇyagarbha Supersoul. The Vedic hymns describe Him as having thousands of heads.

The third incarnation of Viṣṇu, Kṣīrodaka-śāyī Viṣṇu, is the incarnation of the mode of goodness. He is also the Supersoul of all living entities, and He resides on the ocean of milk within the universe. Thus Caitanya Mahāprabhu described the puruṣa-avatāras.

You can read more here and here.

Lord vishnu has two expansions. Sva amsha and vibhinna amsa. Lord narayan, Lord ram etc are his sva amsha. ie.they are indifferent from Krishna. Krishna is called Supreme person in Srimad Bhagvatam. gaudiya Vaishnav regard Him as Supreme Personality of godhead or Supreme Brahman. Lord Brahma,demigods,humans etc are vibhinna amsa.

Isopanishad says:

The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.

Hence all the incarnations are as good as Supreme Vishnu himself. But one should not consider Krishna(Supreme lord) to be on same level as demigods or we;living entities. Also lord being omnipresent; he is present evrywhere. hence when he descends to this world; it does not mean that he is absent in Vaikuntha. He in evrywhere. He is the master of maya(illusion). so by his potency he appears in this mortal world as if one of us. Lord explains this in gita chpt 4(4.9).

P.S: This answer is based on interpretation of Gaudiya vaishnav.

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