One of the defining characteristics of Bhagavān is that it is most difficult to understand how He functions. In Anuchheda 40 of the Bhagavat Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Goswami analyzes Brahmā’s prayers to Bhagavān from the tenth canto of the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, and gleans the four ways in which Bhagavān cannot be known.
The verse is as follows:
ko vetti bhūman bhagavan parātman yogeśvarotīr bhavatas tri-lokyām
kva vā kathaṁ vā kati vā kadeti vistārayan krīḍasi yoga-māyām
O Greatest One! O Supreme Person! O Self of all selves! O Master of all yogic power! Who knows where, or how, or to what extent, or when, You expand Your yoga-māyā potency and enact Your activities within these three worlds? (SB 10.14.21)
The second line of this verse contains four questions subsumed under one main question. Śrī Jīva writes:
क्व वा कथं वा कति वा कदा वा योगमायां दुस्तर्क्यां चिच्छक्तिं विस्तारयन् तथा तथा प्रवर्तयन् क्रीडसीति भवत ऊतीर्लीलास्त्रिलोक्यां को वेत्ति? न कोSपीत्यर्थ:। “यस्यामतं तस्य मतं मतं यस्य न वेद सः” (केन २/३) इति भावः।
[Brahmā is saying:] “Who in the three worlds knows where, or how, or to what extent, or when, You expand, or put into action, Your inconceivable internal potency, yoga-māyā, in all these ways and enjoy Your activities (ūtī), or pastimes, within the three worlds?” The question is rhetorical – no one knows. The same idea is conveyed in KU 2.3, “One who claims not to know Brahman, knows; but one who claims to know Brahman, does not know. “
The four questions are rhetorical as Śrī Jīva points out above, and are basically meant to convey that
No one knows
1. Where (kva)
2. How (katham)
3. How many or to what extent (kati), and
4. When (kadā)
Bhagavan performs His līlās in the material world.
According to Śrī Jīva, Brahmā answers each of the above questions in the first line of the verse by calling Bhagavān by four names. We list these below in the format of Question: Answer.
Kva or Where: Bhūman or all-pervading
Katham or How: Bhagavān or Lord who is replete with all opulences
Kati or How many: Parātman or One who has unlimited qualities and performs unlimited acts.
Kadā or When: Yogeśvara or One who is not limited by time.
How Bhagavān performs His līlās is difficult to understand in the above four ways. Because He is all-pervading, He can perform acts anywhere in space and manifest His form anywhere. It is not possible to predict where He will appear and perform His līlā.
Because He contains all possible śaktis, no act is beyond Him. He can perform amazing acts like lifting Govardhana on the tip of his finger, and it is inconceivable how it could be done. Similarly, the world comes into existence by His śakti, but it is impossible to understand if/how He participates in the world’s coming into existence and its evolution. This is beyond our capacity to comprehend.
Similarly, Bhagavān can perform unlimited acts simultaneously because He is unlimited. It is beyond the mind’s capacity to understand the extent of His activities.
Finally, because He is not limited by time, He acts outside the confines of time itself. Therefore His activities are even more bewildering. An example is when Arjuna was shown the viśva-rūpa in which He saw all the soldiers on the battlefield already dead, and the battle had not even begin. Furthermore, Kṛṣṇa asked him to fight those same warriors.
The conclusion is that it is very difficult to understand how, when, where and to what extent Bhagavān acts. Needless to say, one who claims to know how Bhagavān acts, even in the context of something as mundane as the evolution of the material world, is missing the basic sense of the Kena Upaniṣad:
“One who claims not to know Brahman, knows; but one who claims to know Brahman, does not know. “