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ISKCON seminars taught me that Krishna was the first form of God and then came Brahma and Vishnu etc.

But I grew up with the knowledge that the trimurthis are the primary Gods of the universe. Hence Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu and not the other way round.

Which is true according to the holy books??


[Edit: Title has been changed to better reflect my question and show its not an exact duplicate of According to...]

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    You may check answers given here and also here. – Tejaswee Sep 7 '17 at 0:55
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    No it does not. Krishna himself clarified that it was the Parabrahaman who spoke the Gita through him. So , he was just the medium on the battlefield. This he clarified to Arjuna in another portion of Mahabharata (of which Gita is a part). Arjuna wanted Krishna to repeat the whole Gita again because he forgot the lessons :P. Then Krishna said that it was not possible and he gave the aforementioned reasons. Otherwise Krishna (who himself is an avatara of Vishnu) saying I am Vishnu among the 12 Adityas would not have made any sense.. – Rickross Sep 7 '17 at 3:56
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    @Rickross Geeta was necessary to establish Dharma and it was for selflessness. But "Arjuna wanted Krishna to repeat the whole Gita again because he forgot the lessons". Here we can see selfishness. And I think bcz of Arjuna's selfishness, Krishna didn't repeat it. – Krishna Shweta Sep 7 '17 at 5:41
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    @KrishnShweta No he said that he can't. :) At the battlefield he was connected (through Yoga) with the Brahman. That's y he was able to speak it there. He clarified. – Rickross Sep 7 '17 at 5:44
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    @Rickross When Krishna can connect himself with Brahman during battle, why can't He again? It was just His leela. He never support for selfish things :) – Krishna Shweta Sep 7 '17 at 5:53
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"Which is true according to the holy books?"

Well, the answer is that both are true! :)

There are some verses in the scriptures which say that Krishna is incarnation of Vishnu, but there are also verses in the scriptures which say the other way round, namely that Vishnu is incarnation of Krishna. So both of those views are true. I don't see any good reason to believe that just one of those group of verses are true, while the other group of verses that tell the opposite is somehow untrue. Both must be true because that what scripture teaches is true!
So, sometimes when the Lord appears in this world as an avatara, specifically as Krishna, He is incarnation of Vishnu. But sometimes when the Lord appears in this world as an avatara Vishnu, He is incarnation of Krishna.

That what ISKCON devotees have taught you is correct. From the Bhagavad gita we only learn that Vishnu is incarnation of Krishna!, and there are no verses in the Gita that say Krishna is incarnation of Vishnu!

Here is what we learn from the Gita about who is whose incarnation, ie who is whose avatara:
There is a chapter in the Bhagavad gita titled vibhūti-yogaḥ "The Opulence of the Absolute", it's 10th chapter, see at https://www.vedabase.com/en/bg/10
In that chapter Lord Krishna is talking about his own opulence or vibhūti. This is seen from the verses 18-19:

10.18 — O Janārdana, again please describe in detail the mystic power of Your opulences. I am never satiated in hearing about You, for the more I hear the more I want to taste the nectar of Your words.
10.19 — The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Yes, I will tell you of My splendorous manifestations, but only of those which are prominent, O Arjuna, for My opulence is limitless.

But what is remarkable to note is the thing that in the following verses Lord Krishna not only mentions various things and living beings as manifestations of his opulence (vibhūti), but He also mentions several forms of Lord Vishnu, ie several well known incarnations (avataras) of Lord Vishnu, as his own opulence (vibhūti)!
Thus He clearly indicates that those forms of Lord Vishnu are, indeed, his incarnations (avataras)! Here are those verses:

10.21 — Of the Ādityas I am Viṣṇu
10.26 — ... among perfected beings I am the sage Kapila
10.29 — Of the many-hooded Nāgas I am Ananta
10.31 — ... of the wielders of weapons I am Rāma
10.37 — Of the descendants of Vṛṣṇi I am Vāsudeva

Thus those five incarnations (avataras) of Lord Vishnu, namely Vishnu Aditya, Kapila, Ananta, Rama (Ramachandra), and Vāsudeva (identified as Balarama), are manifestations of Lord Krishna's opulence (vibhūti), and thus they are Lord Krishna's incarnations (avataras). Here it's worth to mention that Vāsudeva referred to in verse 37 acaryas who commented upon the Bhagavad gita explained as Lord Krishna's brother Balarama.

This view about those five forms of Lord Vishnu who are enumerated as Lord Krishna's opulence being His avataras or incarnations is even further strengthened with a verse 41 in the same chapter where Lord Krishna says that all those vibhūti or opulences that He described are just an aṁśa "a part" of his splendor:

yad yad vibhūtimat ... mama tejo-’ṁśa-sambhavam

mama — My; tejaḥ — of the splendor; aṁśaa part

Know that all opulent, beautiful and glorious creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.

It is important to know here that word aṁśa is used throughout Vedic scriptures in the sense of "avatara", or "incarnation" in English. And thus as a matter of fact Lord Krishna is saying that those five Vishnu forms are his avataras or incarnations.

As far as I know there are no verses in the Bhagavad gita which say that Krishna is incarnation (avatara) of Vishnu, but there are only those verses which I explained above that say the other way round.

Note: I will update my post with additional explanation later when I find some time.

  • Bhagavad Geeta is part of Mahabharata. It's not a separate text. The context of Geeta is entirely different. There's no reason to expect the list of Vishnu avataras in Geeta when it's been discussed elsewhere in Mahabharata. Nowhere Vishnu avataras are mentioned in Geeta. – user6990 Nov 13 '17 at 8:16
  • @brhama jijnasa You write "... while the other group of verses that tell the opposite is somehow untrue. Both must be true" - that's not logical. Moreover: Wherefrom do you know "that what scripture teaches is true"? Did you check the scriptures? – Jo Wehler Dec 3 '18 at 9:43
  • @JoWehler I'm not sure what you find to be illogical in that what I said. Did you read the whole sentence which I wrote? My stance is that everything we read in Hindu scripture is true because Hindus are supposed to learn their faith from the scriptures which they accept as authority and hence as true knowledge. I think every Hindu should have such a general understanding, of course unless there is some good reason to think otherwise. – brahma jijnasa Jan 6 at 18:18
  • You may accept the scriptures as true. But that does not imply that they are true indeed. It has to work just the other way round: First check that the scriptures are true. Then you may accept their content. – Jo Wehler Jan 6 at 18:46
  • @JoWehler I'll give you one example, check out this verse, it's Bhagavad-gita 15.7: vedabase.com/en/bg/15/7 How we can check that this verse is true? – brahma jijnasa Jan 6 at 21:39
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Does the Geetha indicate that Krishna is the primary form of the Supreme Godhead?

Yes, in Bhagavad gita Lord Krishna said that He is the Supreme Godhead. But different acharyas interpreted gita in different ways. So, it's far better to read all these interpretations to understand and decide yourself which is available here.

Here are the few verses where Krishna said He is Supreme Godhead:

4.6: Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all living entities, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.

9.11: Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.

10.8: I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.

10.15: Arjuna said: Indeed, You alone know Yourself by Your own internal potency, O Supreme Person, origin of all, Lord of all beings, God of gods, Lord of the universe!

By seeing the Universal form of Krishna, Arjuna said:

11.18: You are the supreme primal objective. You are the ultimate resting place of all this universe. You are inexhaustible, and You are the oldest. You are the maintainer of the eternal religion, the Personality of Godhead. This is my opinion.

You said "But I grew up with the knowledge that the trimurthis are the primary Gods of the universe. Hence Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu and not the other way round."

In the following verses Arjuna refers Lord Krishna as Vishnu:

11.24: O all-pervading Viṣṇu, seeing You with Your many radiant colors touching the sky, Your gaping mouths, and Your great glowing eyes, my mind is perturbed by fear. I can no longer maintain my steadiness or equilibrium of mind.

11.30: O Viṣṇu, I see You devouring all people from all sides with Your flaming mouths. Covering all the universe with Your effulgence, You are manifest with terrible, scorching rays.

And "Which is true according to the holy books?"

As @brahmajijnasa said both are true. There are scriptures which says Krishna is Supreme as well as Vishnu.

(I think it is better to believe Krishna and Vishnu as one and same. Not only Iskcon but other few sects also believe Krishna as Supreme and other sects who believe Vishnu as Supreme)

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I think in the Srimad bhagavatam, God appeared first as Sri Vishnu with four hands in front of Vasudeva and Devaki, which makes Krishna an incarnation of Vishnu. In Gita, after being horrified by seeing the Viswarupa, Arjuna requests Sri Krishna to appear in His previous four armed form. This I think also means that Krishna was a form of Vishnu.

In the Mahabharat, we have the Vishnusahasranaama and in that names like Devakinanda, Krishna etc are mentioned. But the name Vishnusahasranama I think makes its clear that Vishnu is the original form. Otherwise it would be named Krishnasahasranaama.

Vishnu as in the form of twelve adityas seem to be different from Lord Vishnu. just like Rama as Parashuram is different from Ramachandra and Balarama. And I think Krishna's comment that 'I am Vasudev among the Vrishnis' also makes it clear that Parabrahman Vishnu is speaking through Vasudeva Krishna. Most commentators think Vasudeva is Balarama but througout Mahabharat, its Sri Krisna who is referred to as Vasudeva.

In Gita, the Lord says that He is one with OM. The mantra of Sri Krishna is 'kleem' and the mantra of Sri Vishnu is OM. All mantras come from OM. This I think also proves that Vishnu is the primal form.

Sri Krishna's sayings has been captioned as 'Vasudeva ubacha'in Mahabharata except in the Gita where its mentioned as 'Sribhagavan ubacha' so far as my limited knowledge goes. This I think also means that In Gita, the Supreme Lord Vishnu is speaking through Sri Krishna.

By the way, as per the link Can the Devi Bhagavatam and Srimad Bhagavatam co-exist? it is established that Bhagavatam was most probably composed long after Mahabharata as it contradicts Mahabharata in many aspects. So, the supremacy of Sri Krishna as referred to in Srimadbhagavatam over Sri Vishnu seems incosistent with the Mahabharata and therefore Gita, by logical perspective. On the otherhand, it also seems true that from a spiritual point of view, the beauty of the different bhavas as explained in the Bhagavata is unique. As such personal and intimate human relationships of the spiritual aspirants normally relate to Sri Krishna and not to Sri Vishnu, its Sri Krishna Who could be considered the Supreme.

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According to me it is correct that it’s not Krishna rather it was someone else, as stated, that I could not repeat. Further, it was mentioned that I am soul (aatma) but because all souls come into birth and death cycle and I am Ajanma (unborn...) I am supreme soul. It seems that all human souls resides in an abode with supreme (param) soul called Param Dham & from there descends to the earth via Satya Yuga, Treta, Dwapara & Kali Yuga. On the conjunction of Kali Yug and Satya yuga, Supreme or Param Soul himself comes to earth as Incarnation (Avatar) in the body of the soul of Krishna, who was the first to descend on the earth in Satya Yuga. (Bible somewhere says choti ka pathar hi neev ka pathar bana) & Krishna came as Kalki (soul of Krishna came in Kali yuga after passing through all the 4 yugas and met the supreme soul param aatma, who gave him Knowledge (gyan) about himself and told you do not know your births but I know, being supreme soul and out of this birth and death cycle, and taught him how to cleanse himself of the dirt of vikaars (kama Krodha, Lobha, moha etc.) so that he can again be sent to Satya Yuga and all those who listen to param aatma and did what he told were selected, according to merit, for Satya Yuga, treta...). This cycle keeps on going.

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    This looks like a supporting comment to an existing answer. What you say about Krishna is actually the opposite what is said in the Geeta. Krishna says to Arjuna that he knows the births and Arjun doesn't know. Krishna didn't incarnate in the Kaliyuga and Kalki is different from Krishna avatar. You added some quotes from the Bible which are not necessary here. The references added should from Hinduism point of view. Please take a tour of the site and read faq. Please format the answer properly and try to add translations for Hindi quotes. – Sarvabhouma Nov 13 '18 at 8:56
  • Thnx sir, but things seems to be very complicated and scattered so we have to take references & co-relate them, place them in properly in sequence with proof. Krishna is the first prince of satyug. Vishnu is combined from of Laxmi and Narayan. – BRIJ Nov 15 '18 at 9:43
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Yes, what ISKCON seminars taught you has support in Bhagavad Gita, apart from the accepted answer, let me add some more points.

According to Jiva goswami verses from 18.64-66 in bhagavad gita indicates supreme position of Krishna over all other avatars.

Since Kṛṣṇa’s greatness is unequalled, in speaking the summary of the Gītā which is the essence of all scriptures to Arjuna, dear to the Lord and worshipped all devotees, he teaches worship of himself as the greatest secret, surpassing worship of other forms which manifest from him. Kartuṁ necchasi yan mohāt kariṣyasy avaśo ‘pi: helplessly, you will do what you do not want to do out of bewilderment. (BG 18.60) Then Kṛṣna says:

īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānāṁ hṛd-deśe 'rjuna tiṣṭhati | bhrāmayan sarva-bhūtāni yantrārūḍhāni māyayā || tam eva śaraṇaṁ gaccha sarva-bhāvena bhārata | tat-prasādāt parāṁ śāntiṁ sthānaṁ prāpsyasi śāśvatam || iti te jñānam ākhyātaṁ guhyād guhyataraṁ mayā | vimṛśyaitad aśeṣeṇa yathecchasi tathā kuru || sarva-guhyatamaṁ bhūyaḥ śṛṇu me paramaṁ vacaḥ | iṣṭo 'si me dṛḍham iti tato vakṣyāmi te hitam || man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru | mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te pratijāne priyo 'si me || sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja | ahaṁ tvā sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ ||

O Arjuna, the Lord is situated in the heart of all living entities. He engages them in action by his energy, like dolls moving by strings. O descendent of Bharata, take refuge in the Paramātmā alone with complete devotion! Having extinguished both avidyā and vidyā, by my mercy you will attain the eternal spiritual abode. Thus I have explained a scripture more secret than the knowledge of karma, jñāna and aṣṭāṅga-yoga. Considering this thoroughly, do as you wish to do. Again hear from me the highest words, the supreme secret. Since you are very dear to me, I will speak for your benefit. As a devotee, offer your mind to me. Offer articles to me in worship. Offer respects to me. I promise that you will come to me without doubt, for you are most dear to me. Giving up all dharmas, just surrender unto me alone. I will deliver you from all sins. Do not worry. BG 18.61-66

Here there are few important things to consider, in 18.62, Krishna says surrender to paramatma. And then in 18.63 he says, 'I have taught you more confidential(guhyatara) knowledge'. In 18.64 he says 'I will teach most confidential knowledge of all again'. 'Again' is used because Krishna taught the same at the end of 9th chapter of Gita from 9.32-34. In 18.66, Krishna says 'Surrender to me'. Therefore, even here it is bhakti and sharanagati which is taught same as what is taught 18.62. What is the most confidential about it then? The most confidential thing is not the process, but the object of surrender, previously it was paramatma, but now it is Bhagavan and not just any form of Bhagavan, it is Krishna alone. This also explains the Gaudiya Vaishnava's disctintion of Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan in SB 1.2.11.

Here is Jiva Goswami's explanation of the same:

The meaning of the verses is this. The text does not advocate war but rather the supreme goal, starting with this concluding passage. Please hear what is more secret and what is most secret. The antaryāmī of all beings (īśvaraḥ) makes all beings who are mounted on the machine of saṁsāra by māyā move about and is situated in their hearts. Surrender unto him, understanding he is everything (sarva-bhāvena) as in puruṣa evedaṁ sarvam; the puruṣa is everything in this world (Śvetāśvatāra Upaniṣad 3.15). Or sarva-bhāvena means “with the inclination of all senses.” You will achieve the Lord’s highest bhakti (parāṁ śāntim), since it is said śamo man-niṣṭhatā buddheḥ: śama means steady intelligence in me. (SB 11.19.36 ) Sthānam means the Lord’s abode.

I have taught you this knowledge which is more secret (guhyataram) than knowledge of Brahman which is also secret (guhyat). The suffix tara indicates superiority.

Thinking that this is not sufficient for his great, exclusive devotee, Kṛṣṇa then boldly teaches the highest knowledge of all, surpassing the hierarchy of worship with gradations of superiority among Pradyumna, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Vāsudeva and the Lord of Vaikuṇṭha. Please listen to the the highest teaching, the greatest secret (sarva-guhyatamam).

Though what is most secret (guhyatamam) means that it is greater than the secret and more secret, use of the word sarva with guhyatamam indicates that it surpasses what is taught in other scriptures about worship of the Lord of Vaikuṇṭha because of the meaning of guhyatamam by itself simply means most secret. The suffix tama means excellent among all or supreme. The reason that Arjuna is qualified for this secret that Kṛṣṇa teaches is given: you are very dear to me (iṣṭo ‘si me dṛdham). This means “You must hear this statement from me, who am the supreme perfection.” The reason that Kṛṣṇa reveals such a personal secret is explained: it is because Arjuna is dear to him (tataḥ).

Arjuna, becoming enthusiastic, thinks “What is this great secret?” Affectionately, he folds his hands with tears in his eyes. Kṛṣṇa then speaks to him. Concentrate your mind on me, Kṛṣṇa, situated as your friend. Take me alone as your goal (mad-bhaktaḥ). The word mat is repeated to indicate that one must repeat worship of Kṛṣṇa only, not īśvara in general. The result of sādhana is mentioned. You will come to me (mām eva). The word eva indicates that Kṛṣṇa is the best of all. You will come to me only, not to anyone else. That Arjuna attained Kṛṣṇa is mentioned when Parīkṣit speaks to Kali: śocyo ’sy aśocyān rahasi praharan vadham arhasi || Since Kṛṣṇa has departed with Arjuna, you are in pitiable position. By beating innocent creatures in a solitary place, you deserve to be killed. SB 1.17.6

Satyam te means “I swear this to you.” Kṛṣṇa says this out of great affection. This promise nourishes the meaning of his statement made in great compassion: “I will teach you the greatest secret of all.” “How should I concentrate on you, since I am overcome with many obstacles?” Kṛṣṇa answers. Give up (tyajya) all dharmas (sarva-dharmān) including the daily practices (nitya-kriyā), completely, at their very root (pari), since sin or obstacles will not arise, since you give them up on my order. This is reinforced with a negate statement: do not worry or lament. Lamentation was first mentioned at the beginning of the teachings when Kṛṣṇa indicated Arjuna’s foolishness: aśocyān anvaśocas tvaṁ prajñā-vādāṁś ca bhāṣase | gatāsūn agatāsūṁś ca nānuśocanti paṇḍitāḥ ||

You, while lamenting for what is not worthy of lamentation, are speaking words of wisdom. The wise men do not lament for the gross body or the subtle body. BG 2.11 Giving up such lamentation, accept my teachings. Though I have taught many things, in order to show their comparative strengths, accept this instruction, while giving up lamentation. This indicates the supremacy of this last statement. The two statements (giving up all other dharmas and giving up lamentation) have the same meaning. Thus the superiority of Kṛṣṇa has been demonstrated.

According to the concluding statement and the jist of his words, Kṛṣṇa is supreme in this last section. Therefore in the Gītā, Kṛṣṇa alone is proved to be Svayam Bhagavān.

It is said:

ekaṁ śāstraṁ devakī-putra-gītam eko devo devakī-putra eva | karmāpy ekaṁ devakī-putra-sevā mantro’py eko devakī-putra-nāma || There is one scripture, the Bhagavad Gītā. There is one Lord, Kṛṣṇa alone. There is one actions, serving Kṛṣṇa. There is one mantra, the name of Kṛṣṇa.

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