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Is Krishna an Avatar of Vishnu?
Sometimes people think that Krishna is one among the ten avatars (incarnations) of Vishnu. But a more complete understanding is that Krishna is the source of all the Vishnu forms including Maha Vishnu, Garbhodakashayi Vishnu and Kshirodakashayi Vishnu. There are 24 lila avatars like Matsya avatar, Kurma avatar etc., and all these avatars originate from Krishna. That is mentioned in Shrimad Bhagavatam (1.3.28):
ete camsa kala pumsa krishnas tu bhagavan svayam
"All the lists of the incarnations of Godhead submitted here-th are either plenary expansions or parts of the plenary expan-¦ nS of the Supreme Godhead, but Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself." In rhe Vedic literature names like Narayana and Vishnu may u,e found more frequently than the name Krishna. This is because such names refer to the Lord's activities in relation to the materia! creation ''"Vishnu" means "all-pervading" and "Narayana" means "the shelter of all living entities") But Krishna never takes any part in creation, maintenance or annihilation. He always remains aloof from all these and is always merrily playing in His own abode.
A practical example can explain the aloofness of Krishna from the material creation. Suppose you are a big business magnate, say, the owner of a thousand companies. Though you own all the companies, you don't have to go to every company and manage the daily affairs there. You have already appointed managers for each company and given them authority to manage the companies. So. although all these companies are working under you, you can coolly relax in an easy chair and enjoy life at home. And once in a while you may desire to visit any of those companies. So you will make a phone call to the managing director of that company informing him of your visit. When you arrive at the company, the managing director will warmly welcome you with a bouquet and will take you inside the company with all due respects. However the workers in the company may not know you. They will speculate about your identity and may conclude that you must surely be some important person, maybe an assistant to their managing director. They arrive at this wrong conclusion of your identity because, within their limited knowledge, the managing director is the all-in-all.
Similarly, though Krishna is actually the source of Vishnu.still He has left all the affairs of the management of the material world to Vishnu. Therefore the living entities within the material world consider Vishnu to be the all-in-all. And moreover Lord Krishna as well as all the avatars who descend into this material world come through Kshirodakashayi Vishnu, just as vou enter your company through the company manager. That is why when Krishna comes to this material world through Vishnu, He is often mistaken to be one of the avataras of Vishnu.
Around 5000 years ago, when the world was overburdened by demons, Brahma with all the demigods approached Kshirodakashayi Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu gave the message that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, will appear on the earth very soon along with His supreme powerful potencies.
Thus, from this historical narration, it is clearly established that Krishna is the source of even all the Vishnu forms. When Krishna is in His natural mood in Goloka Vrindavana, He enjoys multifarious loving pastimes with His eternal associates such as cow-herding, wrestling, singing and dancing. But when He expands as Maha Vishnu. He takes on a sober role of creating millions of universes by lying in the Causal Ocean. The difference between Krishna and Vishnu is like the difference between a traffic policeman at home and the same policeman on duty. At home, a traffic policeman plays with his children just like a child. He may even carry his child on his back like an elephant. But when he takes the duty of a traffic policeman, he takes on a serious role, though He is the same person. Similarly. Krishna and Vishnu are non-different. Only their mellows (or rasas) of reciprocation are different.
The relationship of the living entities with Krishna is categorized into five types: shanta (Neutrality), clasya (Servitorship) sakhya (Friendship), vatsalya (Parental love) and madhurya (Con-• „a\ ]ove). On the other hand, the relationships of the living envies with Vishnu or Narayana are confined to the lower rasas: neutrality, servitude and friendship mixed with sawe and reverence.
In order to confirm that there is no one superior to Him, Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita (7.7)
mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya
mayi sarvam idam protam sutre mani-gana iva
"O conquerer of wealth (Arjuna), there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread."