The Krishna Books: Antidote for Suffering
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Among the selected books of Vedic literature His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translated and wrote commentaries on, the trilogy known as Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is unique. Srila Prabhupada’s Krishna books directly tell us what God is like in His original, personal form and what He and His liberated associates are doing in the eternal, spiritual world. In our temporary world of manifold miseries, one who properly understands Krishna’s transcendental activities can attain the transcendental platform of eternal existence in full bliss and knowledge. So the Krishna books provide much more than fascinating stories: they provide invaluable spiritual knowledge.
Upon first seeing the Krishna books, however, many people express doubts: “Isn’t this mythology? I can’t take this literally.” They conclude that Krishna is just as imaginary as popular heroes like Superman or the mythological gods of ancient lore. To such people I would say. Rather than reject Krishna as imaginary and the Krishna books as mythology, you should understand who Krishna is. Krishna is far more than a popular hero or cultural myth. He is the Absolute Truth, and His pastimes described in the Krishna books are transcendental. The Krishna books deal exclusively with the highest philosophical understanding of the cause of all causes.
Now one may ask, “How can the ultimate truth be a person?” And the answer is that Krishna’s personality is not limited or material. The Vedic sages address Him as Bhagavan, “He who possesses to an infinite degree the opulences of wealth, fame, beauty, knowledge, strength, and renunciation.” The Sanskrit word Krishna literally means “all- attractive” and is therefore the perfect name for the Supreme Being.
Because we have all had bitter experience that persons are always imperfect and mortal, we are prone to conclude that the Absolute Truth can have no personal form or activities. But Jiva Goswami, the great sixteenth-century philosopher of Krishna consciousness, informs us that unless we accept the Absolute Truth as inconceivable we can never even begin to understand Him. In other words, Krishna is a person, but He is not a person like us—limited, frail, and mortal.
Still, there is another pressing objection to taking Krishna consciousness seriously: “Granted that there is a formidable and convincing philosophy of Krishna consciousness, and granted that the concept of God as the Supreme Person is valid. But how is all this relevant to us today? The people of the world are faced with the practical and urgent problems of economic and class struggles, and there is the imminent threat of nuclear war. So even if Krishna is God and is enjoying a life of eternal bliss with His devotees in the spiritual world, how does that help us here in our day-to-day predicaments?”
The answer is that unless we know the Absolute Truth, we can never solve problems arising from the immediate, relative truths. An expert physician knows that certain symptoms indicate a specific disease and that by curing the disease he can cure all the symptoms. Similarly, the world’s problems of conflict, scarcity, oppression, disease, and so on are merely symptoms of our ignorance of life’s real purpose: to know, serve, and love God. Unless our leaders themselves become enlightened in God consciousness and attack the root cause of social ills—widespread spiritual ignorance—no palliative measures can ever succeed in curing the body politic.
The human propensity for love has to be satisfied in terms of the real self and its spiritual needs, not just in terms of immediate physical, familial, or social needs. Our ultimate need is to understand our intimate loving relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. So Krishna is not irrelevant; rather, attempting to solve our problems without Him is irrelevant. Forgetting the Supreme Personality of Godhead and disobeying His codes of universal religion are the causes of all suffering. Careful study of the Krishna books, therefore, is not a waste of time but an activity of the utmost importance.
For those of us not interested in reading lengthy treatises on transcendental philosophy, Srila Prabhupada has presented the Krishna books in the attractive form of short stories comprising ninety chapters. The Krishna books are actually a summary study of the Tenth Canto of the Sanskrit scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam, which describes Lord Krishna’s all-attractive pastimes. In the Krishna books Srila Prabhupada has made the essence of this most sublime Vedic literature accessible to modern readers all over the world.
The relevance of the Krishna books to our modern difficulties becomes even clearer when we consider the setting of the original narration of Srimad-Bhagavatam. The scene was a sacred forest in India five thousand years ago. The sage Sukadeva Gosvami narrated the pastimes of Lord Krishna to the emperor Parikshit, who had been cursed to die within seven days. By their practical example, these two exalted persons teach us that life’s ultimate purpose is to hear about, glorify, and remember the Supreme Personality of Godhead. King Parikshit was especially intent on hearing about Krishna, because he knew he would die in a matter of hours. He was confident that by hearing about Krishna during his last moments, he would attain the eternal, spiritual world and thus escape the cycle of birth and death.
Not only King Parikshit but every one of us should be aware of death at every moment. And since the purpose of life is to become fully Krishna conscious before death, hearing or reading about Krishna is our prime need. Thanks to Srila Prabhupada, his Krishna books let us fulfill this need in a most pleasurable way.