Relationships with Krishna, see also Rasas
We all have relationships—no one lives in a vacuum—and each of us also has a relationship with the Supreme Person, Krishna. Our basic relationship with Krishna is that of parts to the whole: God is great; we're small. He's like the sun, the ocean, or fire; we're like the sun's rays, drops of the ocean, or sparks of the fire. Ultimately, God is the source of our existence, and we're all parts of His energy. As such, we all have an inseparable relationship with Him.
How we relate with Him is up to us. Most people in this material world are trying to forget God entirely. The Prema-vivarta and other Vedic writings say that we've come here in the first place because we want to forget God, or Krishna, and He allows us to do that. He doesn't interfere with our free will. He keeps Himself out of sight, maintains us at a distance, and provides all our necessities of life while patiently waiting for us to turn towards Him again.
As long as we wish to avoid having a direct relationship with Krishna, our relationship is indirect. Indirect relationships with Him are of different types:
- begrudging and resentful—we may believe in God but not necessarily like Him
- selfish—we're always asking what God can do for us
- antagonistic—we may deny His very existence and consider ourselves atheists, or
- competitive—we may overtly or covertly wish we were God and hate the fact that He is
- apathetic—we may not care about God one way or the other.
None of these indirect relationships give us any real peace or happiness.
Sooner or later, however, we become aware of a nagging sense of incompleteness in our lives. We sense we're missing something, and we are, but we don't know what it is. Our eternal relationship with Krishna is the foundation of our very existence, and once we turn away from Him we try anything to fill the infinite void left by His absence—except seek His company. We occupy ourselves with all manner of temporary relationships, material goods, obsessions and addictions, all of which ultimately leave us dissatisfied.
When our dissatisfaction finally becomes unbearable, and we've exhausted all other options, we turn to the Supreme for answers to why we're feeling empty. Krishna then arranges for us to meet His devotees, and from them we can relearn who we are and how to reestablish our lost connection with our source.
(Picture shows Krishna's friends joking around with Him.)
some notes on understanding Radha, the feminine aspect of the Absolute Truth
by Jayadvaita Swami
When people see a picture like the one you see here, they often ask, "Who is that girl with Krishna?" The answer is that She is Srimati Radharani, Krishna's pleasure potency. The devotees of the Krishna consciousness movement humbly try to glorify Srimati Radharani because by her mercy one can advance wonderfully in Krishna consciousness.
What is the Pleasure Potency
Everyone naturally wants to enjoy, yet no one is fully independent in finding enjoyment. To satisfy our desires, we need the association of others. We use the expression "to enjoy oneself," but we enjoy ourselves most in good company. Indeed, most people would find prolonged solitude practically unbearable.
Krishna, however, the Supreme Lord, being the source of everything, is fully independent. He is independent in His existence, His knowledge and His pleasure, for everything rests upon Him, as pearls are strung on a thread.
Krishna, therefore, needs no one. Since in one sense He is everything, no one exists outside of Him. Consequently, when Krishna wants to enjoy, He expands the potency or energy within Himself that gives him enjoyment. This potency is a person. Her name is Srimati Radharani.
Radharani is not a different person from Krishna, or, rather, she is both one with and different from Him. How could two people be one person or one person be two? A simple example will illustrate how this is so. The sun cannot exist without the sunshine, nor the sunshine without the sun. We say, "the sun is in my room"—even though the sun itself is ninety-three million miles away—because the sun appears in the form of its energy. Therefore the energy (the sunshine) and the energetic (the sun) are simultaneously one and different. Similarly, Radha and Krishna are simultaneously one and different. Krishna, the self-effulgent Lord, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Srimati Radharani is His supreme pleasure energy. Together They constitute the complete Absolute Truth.
Who Can Understand All This
One cannot understand anything about Radha and Krishna through mental speculation. Krishna and His potencies are achintya, inconceivable, and ananta, unlimited. He is the very source of the mind itself, and therefore He is beyond the mind. The limited mind cannot understand the unlimited Personality of Godhead. The Vedic literature explains this very logically: "that which is transcendental to material nature is inconceivable, whereas speculative arguments are all mundane. Since mundane arguments cannot touch transcendental subject matters, one should not try to understand transcendental subjects through mundane arguments."
When ordinary mundane intellectuals try to explain or interpret the identity or pastimes of Radha and Krishna, Krishna's unlimited nature bewilders them, and therefore they misconstrue everything. Thus they sometimes consider Radha and Krishna to be like an ordinary boy and girl of the material world. But although they often pose as scholars, they do not know what they are talking about. One should therefore strictly avoid the confused mundane ideas of such blundering intellectuals. If one wishes to understand Radha and Krishna, one must understand Them by hearing submissively from a bona fide authority
The original authority on Krishna is Krishna Himself. Everyone is first an authority regarding his own self, and this is also true regarding Krishna. Moreover, since Krishna is unlimited, no one else can understand Him fully. Krishna's disciple Arjuna confirms this as follows in Bhagavad-gita:
vettha tvam purusottama
deva-deva jagat pate
"Indeed, You alone know Yourself by Your own potencies, O origin of all, Lord of all beings, God of gods, O Supreme Person, Lord of the universe!" (Bhagavad-gita, 10.15)
Although Krishna is inconceivable to mental speculation, those to whom He reveals Himself can understand Him. Krishna first gave such transcendental knowledge to Brahma, the first created living being. Brahma later transmitted this knowledge to his son Narada, who transmitted it to Vyasa, the author of Bhagavad-gita. In this way, the knowledge has descended from master to disciple, through a chain of the Bhakti tradition, even down to the present day. A spiritual master in this disciplic line is a bona fide authority regarding Krishna. He is the proper person from whom to receive transcendental knowledge.
What Gives Krishna Pleasure
According to such spiritual authorities, Krishna is the reservoir of all pleasure, and therefore He is all-attractive. Yet Krishna Himself derives pleasure from the service rendered by His devotees. Such devotional service attracts even Him. Krishna Himself, while speaking to a friend, confirms his as follows in Srimad Bhagavatam: "My dear Uddhava, you may know from Me that the attraction I feel for devotional service rendered by My devotees is not to be equaled even if one performs mystic yoga, philosophical speculation or ritualistic sacrifices, studies Vedanta, practices severe austerities or gives up everything in charity. These are, of course, very nice activities, but they are not as attractive to Me as the transcendental loving service rendered by My devotees." (Bhag. 11.12.1)
Krishna is full in six opulences: beauty, wealth, fame, strength, knowledge, and renunciation. No amount of material opulence, therefore, can attract Him. Just as one could not attract a millionaire by offering him a few dollars, one cannot attract Krishna merely by one's limited material opulence. Nevertheless, pure devotional service attracts even Krishna. This is the unique transcendental excellence of devotional service.
Srimati Radharani is the embodiment of pure devotional service. No one can be a greater devotee than She. The very name Radharani comes from the Sanskrit word aradhana, which means "worship." Her name is Radharani because She excels all in worshiping Krishna. Although Krishna is so beautiful that He can attract millions of Cupids and is therefore called Madana-mohana, "the attractor of Cupid," Radharani can attract even Krishna. She is therefore called Madana-mohana-mohini—"the attractor of the attractor of Cupid."
The same Krishna who is not attracted by any amount of material opulence finds Srimati Radharani irresistible. One time Krishna, to joke with the gopis, the cowherd girls of Vrndavana, was hiding Himself beneath a bush, but finally they spotted Him from a distance. Krishna then changed Himself into His four-armed form of Narayana. When the gopis approached and found Narayana instead of Krishna, they were not very interested in Him; only Krishna's original two-armed form attracted them. They therefore offered their respectful obeisances unto Lord Narayana and prayed that He would bestow upon them the benediction of Krishna's eternal association. Then they went on searching for Krishna. When Srimati Radharani passed by, however, Krishna tried to maintain His disguise as Narayana but was unable to do so; he kept slipping back into His original two-armed form. This illustrates the great influence of Srimati Radharani's pure transcendental love.
Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita that as one surrenders unto Him, He reciprocates accordingly. Therefore the more Radharani tries to please Krishna, the more he desires to please Her, thus in turn increasing Her enthusiasm to increase His pleasure. Therefore although the Lord is unlimited, both He Himself and His pleasure potency are always increasing. The all-blissful reciprocation between the Lord and His pleasure potency is expressed in the transcendental pastimes of Radha and Krishna, which are described in detail in Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Love or Lust—What's the Difference
The reciprocation of love between Radha and Krishna is the essence of spiritual love. Because Krishna is the origin of everything, He is the origin of love also. The attraction between boys and girls in the material world is a perverted reflection of the purely spiritual relationship between Radha and Krishna. One who thinks he can be happy through material sexual enjoyment cannot understand the relationship between Radha and Krishna; and, conversely, if one hears about Radha and Krishna from a bona fide spiritual master, his material sexual desires evaporate.
In the material world, although one may profess true love, inwardly one's real desire is to enjoy his own senses. We love someone as long as he or she satisfies our senses, and when such sensual pleasure dwindles, the so-called love dwindles with it. Thus the love affair ends in separation or divorce. But pure devotees of Krishna on the spiritual platform have no desires to please themselves. They desire only to please Lord Krishna. This is true unalloyed love.
What we speak of as "love" in the material world is actually lust, or a desire to serve oneself. It has no permanent basis; today I love one girl, tomorrow another, according to my changing fancy. Indeed, although a boy and girl may change sexual partners as often as dogs and cats do, in our modern idiom we refer to their sexual intercourse as "lovemaking," as through the gross friction of two hot bodies could generate love. We speak of love so easily, but really in this material world there is no love—it is all lust. The difference between love and lust is like the difference between gold and iron. Both gold and iron are metals, but otherwise they are not at all alike.
The conditioned souls in the material world are generally misdirected and frustrated in love because they try to get pleasure by satisfying their material bodily senses. They do not know that they are different from their bodies. The body is always changing—from childhood, to youth, to old age—but the same person is always present in each body. He identifies himself as an American or Englishman, a Jew or a Christian, a boy or a girl, according to his body, but that body is not himself. Therefore no matter how diligently he tries to be happy by gratifying his bodily demands, he is never successful. Just as one cannot satisfy a bird by cleaning its cage and not feeding the bird itself, one cannot satisfy his physical senses. Besides that, the more one tries to satisfy the senses, the more they demand. Indulgence cannot satisfy the senses, any more than gasoline can extinguish a fire. Trying to smother one's anxieties with the gasoline of sense gratification will only ignite an explosion. Therefore, by trying to satisfy his material desires for sensual enjoyment the poor conditioned soul merely increases his desire, but not his satisfaction. He becomes a servant of the senses, working hard to fulfill hankerings that can never be fulfilled. To find real pleasure, one must find real love—and for this one must love Krishna. To be truly happy, one must engage in His devotional service.
Such devotional service is under the control of Srimati Radharani. She is the presiding Deity of devotional service. Because She is very merciful, devotees especially take advantage of Her merciful nature to attain the service of Krishna. Indeed, although engagement is pure devotional service is rarely achieved, one can achieve it very easily by the grace of Srimati Radharani.
Bhagavad-gita confirms that those who are truly mahatmas, great souls, take shelter of Krishna's daivi prakrti, or spiritual energy—Srimati Radharani. "Always chanting My glories," Lord Krishna declares, "endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion." (Bg. 9.14) This devotional service is not an activity of the material world; it is fully spiritual because it is directly under the control of Krishna's spiritual energy—Srimati Radharani.
To perform devotional service, one should follow in the footsteps of Srimati Radharani by performing pure devotional service to Krishna, without any concern for material profit. But one should not worship Krishna alone. Krishna is not complete without Srimati Radharani, as the sun is not complete without the sunshine. One should therefore worship both Radha and Krishna, for together They are the complete Absolute Truth.
Actually, worshiping Radharani is better than worshiping Krishna. More precisely, one can best worship Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, through Srimati Radharani, His supreme pleasure energy. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it." (Bg. 9.26) But rather than offer a flower directly to Krishna, better to offer the flower to Srimati Radharani, requesting, "My dear Radharani, please recommend me to Your Krishna." Krishna is the supreme controller, yet he is controlled by the pure devotion of Srimati Radharani. Krishna is therefore also known as the "property of Radharani." If one can please Radharani, therefore, one can very easily please Lord Krishna.
Srimati Radharani has the vision of a most highly elevated devotee. Thus She sees everyone equally. If anyone approaches her to serve Krishna, even if he is the most fallen, She immediately bestows Her mercy upon him by recommending to Krishna, "Oh, Krishna, here is a devotee. He is better than Me." Because Srimati Radharani is always absorbed in thought of Krishna, She is very dear to Krishna. Therefore if one tries in this way to reach Krishna through Radharani, he will surely be successful.
How Can We Learn To Serve Radha and Krishna
To be able to serve Radha and Krishna, one must first approach a bona fide spiritual master. Krishna has two energies—material and spiritual. The spiritual energy is full of eternal bliss and knowledge, whereas the material energy causes ignorance, misery and death. Although we are all originally spiritual, unfortunately we are now engrossed in the material energy. Because of illusion, however, we do not remember our real position, nor do we know how to return to the spiritual world. Therefore Krishna personally descends to this material world to attract us by exhibiting His transcendental pastimes and by speaking the message of Bhagavad-gita for our enlightenment. But Krishna returned to His abode 5,000 years ago. Does this mean we can no longer approach Him? No. In His absence, we may approach him through His representative, the spiritual master.
The spiritual master is the mercy incarnation of God. Because Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, approaching Him is difficult. But he is also most compassionate, and out of his compassion He empowers His pure devotees to bring back home, back to Godhead, the fallen souls who have forgotten Him.
Srimati Radharani, the tenderhearted female counterpart of Lord Krishna, represents His compassionate nature. Therefore he spiritual master, who compassionately appears in the material world for the sake of the fallen souls, is considered a representative of Srimati Radharani. By the mercy of the spiritual master, one can obtain the mercy of Krishna. There is no alternative means for success. Without the mercy of the spiritual master, one cannot make any progress in devotional service. This is the opinion of all bona fide authorities on devotional life.
The spiritual master trains his disciples in such a way that they can become free from bondage to material consciousness, engage in devotional service, and thus gradually develop pure love of Godhead. The spiritual master has the responsibility of scientifically engaging each disciple in a practical manner. Among the many different paths for the attainment of spiritual realization, one needs the expert guidance of a bona fide spiritual master to understand which path to follow to make actual progress toward the supreme goal.
In our modern age, the most recommended process for perfection is to chant the Hare Krishna mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Krishna and Rama are names of the Lord, and Hare addresses Hara, the pleasure potency of the Lord—Srimati Radharani. As living spiritual souls, we are originally spiritual energy, but somehow or other we have now fallen into this material world of birth and death. But when we come under the shelter of the supreme spiritual energy, Srimati Radharani, we come to our happy, normal position.
Radharani is the potency who gives transcendental pleasure to Krishna. When the mercy of that potency is bestowed upon a living entity, he develops love of Godhead and thus attains the highest pleasure—and he can also distribute that pleasure—and he can also distribute that pleasure to others. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has introduced this process of chanting to the Western countries and is spreading it all over the world. "The chanting," he says, "is exactly like the cry of a child for its mother's presence. Mother Hara [Srimati Radharani] helps the devotee achieve the Lord Father's grace, and the Lord reveals Himself to the devotee who chants this mantra sincerely."
Krishna is the Supreme Person, the Godhead. Krishna is the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, which is recognized throughout the world as one of mankind's greatest books of wisdom. In the Gita, as it is also known, Krishna says repeatedly that He is God Himself, the source of everything. Arjuna, to whom Krishna is speaking, accepts Krishna's words as true, adding that the greatest spiritual authorities of that time also confirm that Krishna is God.
Traditions that follow in the line of these authorities have carried Krishna's teachings down to the present day.
God, A Transcendental Person
The personhood of Krishna is not an idea invented by human beings naively creating a God in their own image. Nor is personhood a limiting concept when applied to God, or the Absolute Truth. As the source of everything, Krishna naturally has His own personal identity, just as each of us does. The Vedas define God as the one supreme conscious being among all other conscious beings. He is infinite, we are finite, and He maintains us all.
Naturally, the best way to understand God is to learn from Him. In the Bhagavad-gita ("The Song of God"), Lord Krishna—a real person—tells us that He is God and reveals many things about Himself.
A Complete Conception of God
Many people have a hard time conceiving that God can be an actual person. But the Vedas tell us that God's unique personal identity is His highest aspect. Here's an analogy to show how God has three main features.
Looking at a mountain from a distance, we can make out only its size and shape. This is compared to comprehending God only as Brahman, His impersonal energy, which emanates from Him just as light shines out from its source.
As we move closer, we'll start to make out more of the mountain's characteristics—the colors of its foliage, for example. This is compared to understanding that God is within our hearts as Paramatma, or the Supersoul.
Finally, when we arrive at the mountain we can explore its soil, vegetation, animals, rivers, and so on. This is compared to understanding God the person, or Bhagavan.
Bhagavan is the source of Brahman and Paramatma and is therefore, in a sense, one with them. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan are called the three phases of the Absolute Truth.
What is God Like?
As with anyone in our experience, God is unique and complex. He's the transcendental Supreme Person, so there's infinitely more to know about Him than anyone else. The Vedas, especially Srimad-Bhagavatam, supply detailed information about Him.
Everything about God is fully transcendental, or spiritual. Because God is absolute, there is no difference between Him and His name, form, activities, qualities, and so on. Contact with any of these gives the same spiritual benefit, namely purification of our consciousness.
Transcendental Form - The Vedas tell us that spirit is composed of eternity, knowledge (or consciousness), and happiness. Both God and we souls possess spiritual forms, which are free of the limitations of material form. For example, each part of a spiritual body can perform the function of any other part.
Krishna's body never changes; He is an eternal youth.
Unlike we ordinary souls, who may possess a material body, Krishna and His body are always identical.
A Description of Krishna - The Vedas describe Krishna in this way: He is a beautiful youth with a glowing complexion the color of rain clouds. He plays a flute, attracting the hearts of all. His cheeks are brilliant, His smile enchanting. He wears a peacock feather in His curly black hair and a flower garland around His neck. His beautiful garments are the color of lightning. His toenails resemble the light of the moon.
Not only do the Vedas tell us what Krishna looks like, but pure souls have received His audience and written of their encounters. And fifty centuries ago, Krishna revealed His transcendental form to residents of India when He lived there for 120 years, sometimes showing and sometimes hiding His divinity.
Krishna is loving by nature. In our original pure state, we love Him fully. In the exchange of complete love, Krishna considers His devotees greater than Himself. In the spiritual world He always stays with His devotees, and in this world He resides in every heart as the Supersoul. He wants His children in the material world to return to Him to enjoy with Him eternally.
Krishna is completely independent, and we cannot comprehend him completely. He cannot be conquered by knowledge. But He can be conquered—and seen directly—through pure love.
God has feelings: He is satisfied when someone offers Him a nice prayer. Even though He is great, He can be moved by our love. He responds to us according to how we approach Him.
"The pure devotee is always within the core of My heart, and I am always in the heart of the pure devotee. My devotees do not know anything else but Me, and I do not know anyone else but them." —Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.4.68
Understanding that God is spiritual, people sometimes conceive of Him as having no qualities. But although Krishna has no material qualities, He is full of unlimited transcendental qualities, and those qualities attract us to Him. Thus great souls who have given up everything cannot give up attraction to Krishna, and they dedicate their lives to finding Him.
The following qualities are considered especially attractive, and Krishna possesses them in full: beauty, wealth, fame, influence, knowledge, and renunciation.
Being God, Krishna has innumerable qualities and seemingly contradictory qualities are resolved in Him.
Hearing of how Krishna shows these qualities can give us a sense of His greatness and of His power to attract all souls.
While Krishna's expansions and incarnations perform duties in the material and spiritual worlds, He Himself simply enjoys with His most intimate devotees in His transcendental home, known as Goloka. By His desire, His associates there don't even consider Him God. They enhance His enjoyment in five loving moods: neutrality, servitude, friendship, parental affection, and conjugal love. In other words, Krishna's life is filled with unending bliss in the company of His associates.
Krishna enjoys Himself with abandon, frolicking as a youth in expansive fields and forests with His friends and cows. He dances, He plays His flute, He relishes whatever activity strikes His fancy at the moment.
To entice souls in the material world to join Him in Goloka, Krishna comes to this world periodically, as He did 5,000 years ago, and shows His confidential, intimate loving exchanges with His ever-liberated devotees.
Krishna savors diversity from various kinds of pure, transcendental love. As we enjoy a variety of relationships in our families and society, so does Krishna, but all of His relationships are eternal, transcendental, and completely free of material contamination.
Each of Krishna's devotees interacts with Him in one of five primary relationships. In ascending order of intimacy, these five are neutrality, servitude, friendship, parental affection, and conjugal love. Each includes the primary sentiments of the ones before it, and then adds its own flavor. Pure love of God reaches its summit in romantic exchanges with Krishna.
Each devotee eternally feels one of these main moods predominantly:
- Devotees in the mood of neutrality witness and support Krishna's pastimes by their presence as plants, animals, streams, and so on, as well as normally inanimate objects like houses—all of which are fully conscious in Goloka.
- Devotees in the service mood run errands for Krishna, pack His lunch, wash His clothes, and perform other demonstrations of love for Him as the moment indicates.
- Devotees in the fraternal mood serve Krishna by being His friends. They are sometimes boastful, considering themselves equal to Krishna. In His company, they herd cows and enjoy games in the beautiful country setting.
- Devotees in the parental mood see themselves as Krishna's provider and protector. Krishna behaves with them like a dependent child. His mother cuddles Him, carefully prepares His meals, and thinks only of His protection. His father sees that He has all the comforts of a normal home.
- Devotees in the conjugal, or romantic, mood, offer service as Krishna's girlfriends, relating with Him in the intimacy of lover and beloved.
Although Krishna is invisible to us in our present state, we can perceive His presence through His energies, which are everywhere. Although innumerable, His energies fall into three primary categories.
Internal Energy - Krishna's internal energy expands as the spiritual world in all its variety, including His ever-liberated associates there. The internal energy is eternal and full of knowledge and happiness. Presently beyond our perception, the spiritual world makes up most of reality.
External Energy - Krishna's external energy consists of all that is matter: the material world, the laws of material nature, material bodies, and so on. The external energy is temporary and full of ignorance and suffering. It is inert by nature and must be moved by spirit. The material world is a tiny fraction of God's creation.
Marginal Energy - We finite spirit souls are expansions of Krishna's marginal energy. We can choose to live in the spiritual world or the material world. Or, to put it another way, we can be deluded by matter or illuminated by spirit.
Both the external energy (matter) and the marginal energy (we souls) can become fully spiritualized by contact with the internal energy through acts of devotion to Krishna (Bhakti-yoga).
God owns everything, so in a sense His home is everywhere. But He Himself resides in the spiritual world in a place known as Goloka, the highest spiritual region. Reaching Krishna there is the highest achievement of human life.
Goloka is self-illuminated, and everyone there is liberated, shining with pure love for Krishna. Because Krishna is the center of everyone's heart, there is complete unity and peace. Goloka is built of transcendental gems that yield whatever one wants. The natural surroundings are beautiful, full of diversity and opulence. In Goloka, every word is a song, every step a dance, every moment new, fresh, and exciting.
Just as we may have different names according to our various roles—Mommy, Dr. Jones, Sweetheart, Professor, Your Honor—so does God. And since God is unlimited, He has innumerable names.
The names can be generic terms, such as "God" or "the Absolute Truth."
They can be in Sanskrit, such as Govinda, Gopala, or Shyamasundara.
They can be in other languages, such as Yahweh and Allah.
The name Krishna, which means "the all-attractive One," implies that each of us has an eternal relationship with God and we are always drawn either to Him directly or to His energies.
God and His names are identical, so by speaking them we enter His purifying company. Regularly reciting, singing, or chanting His names awakens our innate love for Him and gains us release from bondage to matter.
In contemplating the above, the reader may ask, "Where are you getting this knowledge from?" Apart from Sri Krishna's own words in His Bhagavad-gita, the ancient Vedas (scriptures) of India extensively describe God in detail, His expansions, incarnations and pastimes.
Bhagavatam, A Major Contribution to the Understanding of God
The Vedas deal with many subjects. They are the books of a highly developed civilization and cover all departments of knowledge. Among them, Srimad-Bhagavatam (also known as the Bhagavata Purana) deals exclusively with subjects about God. Srimad means "beautiful" or "opulent," and Bhagavatam means "related to God." Hence, Srimad-Bhagavatam can be translated as "The Beautiful Story of God."
Srimad-Bhagavatam describes God, our relationship with Him, and the process for realizing that relationship. Its 18,000 verses give detailed accounts of God's names, forms, nature, personality, devotees, activities, residences, and much more.
In one of the opening chapters, the narrator explains that the sage Vyasadeva, who wrote portions of the Vedic literature and compiled the rest, felt dissatisfied despite his accomplishments. Under the order of his guru, he then embarked on writing Srimad-Bhagavatam, considered the ripe fruit of the tree of the Vedas.
The Vedic science of rasas (relationships) reveals to us the many ways of loving God.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
One, two, three, four, five.
Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning had something else in mind when she penned her beatific “How do I love thee?” question, but the Vedic literature of ancient India, highly poetic itself, answers that there are primarily five ways that an “I” and a “thee” can love each other: (1) in a mood of reverence, (2) in a mood of service, (3) in a mood of friendship, (4) in a mood of parental, or protective, affection, and (5) in a mood of conjugal affection.
Browning fans might think these five categories constitute a relatively cold analysis of love’s ways. Even a cold analyst might take exception. What would Sigmund Freud have to say? Does his Oedipus complex fit into the parental mood or the conjugal mood, or not fit at all? And how about Carl Jung? If these five categories exist, then why in his extensive research in the fields of personality and self-discovery did he never discover them? Erich Fromm does list five types of love in his book The Art of Loving, but they differ from the Vedic types.
Nevertheless, the five loving moods, while not listed in the writings of modern poets and psychoanalysis, are easy to recognize in our own everyday lives. The Sanskrit term for these moods is rasa, a word that also carries the connotations of “relationship” and “taste.” We taste loving relationships in these five rasas. For clarification, let us count the ways again, briefly elaborating on each rasa.
We revere, or stand in awe of, persons we consider greater than ourselves—a politician, a famous artist or athlete, a successful businessman. Knowledge of someone’s achievements and social position is an important factor in invoking our respect. Reverence is sometimes called the neutral rasa because it involves only passive admiration, not an active exchange with the revered person. In the strictest sense, therefore, it is not a loving mood, although it may foster love.
- Loving service.
When reverence intensifies, it inspires us to perform service, which is the next rasa. Out of admiration for a political candidate, for example, we may help in his election campaign, or at least vote for him. Our feeling of reverence is still there, but we act on it. Not only in the political field but in other social situations as well, the voluntary rendering of service develops from a foreground of reverence and respect. Service rendered strictly for money, or involuntarily out of fear, is not love.
When the rasa of service intensifies, it may develop into friendship. Again the example of a politician: through prolonged service in his or her campaign, you may come to know the candidate personally, and the candidate, instead of treating you like a servant, may begin to confide in you as a friend. The rasa of friendship contains the previous two rasas, but since friendship involves equality and familiarity, the rasa of awe and reverence diminishes markedly. Your friend’s awe-inspiring credentials are not as important as his individual qualities.
- Parental affection.
Intensify friendship and add to it a feeling of protective superiority toward the object of your affection, and you have the parental rasa. Parenthood ordinarily denotes the relationship between a biological father and mother and their children. But we cannot confine the parental rasa to biological kin. Men and women often show parental affection for others’ children or for each other.
- Conjugal affection.
This topmost rasa includes the previous four. In addition to respect, service, friendship, and protective affection, conjugal lovers enjoy erotic exchanges as well as feelings of exclusive intimacy.
So there it is. Are these five rasas not apparent in our daily affairs? Vedic authorities assert that any other categories of love we might perceive are merely subdivisions of these.
The concept of rasa encompasses not just loving relationships but unloving ones as well. When the five primary rasas are disturbed, or when they are absent altogether, seven secondary rasas take over.
Aach! More counting of the ways? Yes, just one last tally. The secondary rasas are: (1) anger, (2) wonder, (3) comedy, (4) chivalry, (5) mercy, (6) dread, and (7) ghastliness. Secondary rasas vary in intensity—from the dread of a visit to the dentist to the horror of losing a child, parent, or other loved one. The story of Romeo and Juliet is one famous example of a secondary rasa, ghastliness, resulting from the disruption of a primary rasa, conjugal love. These twelve rasas, five primary and seven secondary, constitute the sum total of personal relationships in every society. Life is an ocean of rasa.
The Vedic science of rasa provides an interesting and useful analytical framework for the study of interpersonal psychology. We could discuss current high divorce rates, for example, in terms of the negative effect that secondary rasas have on family members when the primary marital and parental relationships are broken. Or we could advocate friendly relationships between nations, since in the absence of friendship dreadful and ghastly wars are likely. But it is also interesting and far more useful to understand that the great self-realized authors of the Vedic literature have given us the science of rasa first and foremost to help us reawaken our eternal loving relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.
Krishna is no less a person than we are, which means that He can also relate to others in twelve rasas. In fact, He is the original person, the primeval cause of all causes. The conception of God as an enjoyer of rasa does not originate in the human imagination. No. Krishna is our origin. We reflect His qualities. Although God is great and we are small, we are qualitatively equal to Him. Therefore, just as you can know something of the Atlantic Ocean by tasting one drop of ocean water, you can know something of Krishna by observing yourself.
Observe myself? How? By looking in the mirror?
Not exactly. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna explains that the self, the individual person, is not the physical body but an eternal spirit soul dwelling in the body. The body is temporary clothing covering the eternal soul. Not only in the human body but in every living body in all species of life—the plants, aquatics, insects, birds, beasts, and human beings—there is an individual soul. The proof of the soul’s presence is that even the animals exchange rasa, showing affection for mates, children, parents, and so on. So to observe the self means to observe not the body but how a living entity exchanges rasas.
In general we see that rasas are exchanged only with members of the same species. It is sometimes said that the dog is man’s best friend, but there are in fact many obstacles to a meaningful exchange of rasa between a human being and a dog, or between a human being and any other species. We naturally restrict “counting of the ways” to our own kind. Man to man. Dog to dog. Salamander to salamander.
On the spiritual platform, however, every person, whatever his temporary bodily covering, is of the same quality, the same species, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Exchange of rasa with Krishna is therefore natural for everyone. Most religious traditions teach us to respect God as the all-great, all-powerful, all-knowing Supreme, and to serve Him in the mood of awe and reverence. This is certainly correct, but we overlook His true greatness and power if we ignore that He can also relate to others in the higher rasas of friendship, parenthood, and conjugal love. The Narada-pancaratra clearly states that pure love of God means to completely transfer our affection to the Supreme Person and to completely repose all sense of kinship in Him. The pure devotee takes Krishna as everything—master, friend, child, lover—and relates affectionately to everyone else as fellow servants of Krishna.
Mundane affairs in this temporary physical world appear more interesting to us than religious or spiritual pursuits precisely because mundane affairs hold the promise of varieties of personal exchanges in each of the twelve rasas, whereas religious advancement, we falsely believe, does not. Without at least some preliminary knowledge of the completeness of God’s personality, of His ability to exchange rasa, it is difficult, if not impossible, even to revere Him. How can you revere a nonentity? Ignorant of the Vedic science of Krishna consciousness, people gradually take to agnosticism, atheism, and lip-service-ism.
The Vedic literature doesn’t recommend that we imagine ourselves to be intimate friends of the Supreme Person. Krishna is certainly able to share friendship and parental and conjugal affection with us, but to comprehend the spiritual nature of loving affairs with Krishna we must first fully understand that we are infinitesimal spirit souls and that Krishna is the Supreme Soul. Until we are acquainted with our non-physical, spiritual identity as members of Krishna’s “species,” reverently recognizing Krishna’s supreme, all-powerful position, we cannot even begin to experience an exchange of rasa with Him. Intimacy with the Lord, if we desire it, is possible only after we qualify ourselves.
It is also a mistake to think that Krishna’s loving affairs are exactly like the affairs we experience in the material world. There are similarities, but material loving affairs are temporary and therefore bound to disappoint us, whereas spiritual rasa is eternal, pure, unlimited, and ever-increasingly satisfying. In particular, we should not equate Krishna’s conjugal affairs, which are sometimes graphically depicted in books on Eastern religion, with the affairs of ordinary, or even extraordinary, men and women. Again, the two appear similar, but there is a gulf of difference.
The affairs of men and women on this tiny planet do not interest Krishna, the all-powerful creator and maintainer of millions of universes. Even Krishna’s confidential devotees, who glorify His pastimes of conjugal love, have no attraction for material love affairs. Lord Caitanya, who inaugurated the modern Krishna consciousness movement five hundred years ago, taught that there is no better worship of Krishna than that displayed by the damsels of Vraja, who worshiped Him in conjugal love. Yet Lord Caitanya was a strict renunciant and, although not disrespectful toward women, avoided even distant association with them. Conjugal love of Krishna is therefore not the conjugal love we know of in the material world. The material is a perverted reflection of the spiritual.
Accompanied by His confidential devotees, Krishna occasionally visits the material world, appearing in human society to display His transcendental pastimes and demonstrate to the embodied souls, who are absorbed in temporary loves, that He is rasaraja, the king of loving affairs. He thus invites us to reawaken our eternal spiritual rasa with Him. Pure devotees of Krishna have recorded His earthly pastimes in epic works such as the Mahabharata (of which the Gita is one chapter), the Srimad- Bhagavatam, and the Ramayana. Through these great literatures one can relish the Lord’s pastimes with His devotees, learn the art and science of devotion, and gradually rise to the pure devotional platform.
Unfortunately, when Krishna mercifully appears, many foolish people mistake Him for an ordinary human being. They discount His superhuman pastimes or take them for myths and ignore the Vedic teachings, which establish beyond doubt His supreme dominion over all that be. We should not be misled by such confused persons, who cannot see beyond counting the paltry ways of love in this material world; instead we should take advantage of Krishna’s mercy and help the ones we truly love to do the same.
Because my family frequently moved when I was a child, I attended a succession of Sunday schools and vacation Bible schools. Consequently, I had occasion to ask a number of religious instructors a question that had me genuinely puzzled. I knew that God was so great and powerful that it cost Him virtually no effort at all to maintain and control this vast creation. He could do it with the tip of His little finger, so to speak. So, I wanted to know, what did God do with his time? How did He occupy Himself in His heavenly kingdom?
I kept on asking this question because no one could answer it. My teachers would first be startled—as though the question had never occurred to them—and then frankly nonplussed. After a while, of course, I stopped asking. It seemed to me that God must be sitting up there on His throne, just as bored in heaven as I was in Sunday school.
And there was this related question: What did we do in paradise? What made it such a desirable place to be? Here I was offered a variety of answers, hut the dominant image of the kingdom of God I retained from childhood is of a sort of perpetual suburban Saturday spent on the back patio in an interminable family reunion with pious resurrected relatives, while Jesus wanders in white robes from house to house through the back yards. I did not find this a particularly attractive prospect for eternity.
In my teens, I encountered a more sophisticated notion of paradise: Our beatitude there arises from our perpetual vision of God. This idea is enshrined at the conclusion of The Divine Comedy. When Dante at last comes directly before God in paradise, he encounters an awesome “Eternal Light” surrounded by nine concentric circles of circumnavigating angels. Dante became “wholly rapt” before this light and could only gaze upon it, “fixed, motionless, and intent.”
This account had its interest for me, but staring at a bright light was nowhere near as alluring as the variety of relationships I was beginning to explore in the world around me. God and His kingdom were simply not attractive enough to compete with the offerings of the material world.
Yet obviously that must be wrong. For God, by definition, is the greatest and best of all. Consequently, He must be the supremely lovable being, the most attractive and alluring of all persons. Similarly, His kingdom must be the most excellent and most desirable of all neighborhoods. It follows, then, that if we really knew what God was like, and really knew what our relationship with Him in His own abode was to be, no other persons and no other relationships would claim our interest.
Just for that reason. God has in fact revealed to the world the intimate and confidential details concerning Himself, His own residence, and the relationships He pursues with His pure devotees there. This supreme revelation of Krishna—God in His highest and most attractive feature—is recorded in the Sanskrit text called Srimad-Bhagavatam.
It is established practice for experts in every field to organize knowledge of their subject into levels of increasing mastery and to compose textbooks for each grade, from the most elementary to the most advanced. So it is for knowledge of God, and the Srimad-Bhagavatam is among the most advanced texts in that science. It begins where the more widely known Bhagavad-gita leaves off.
The Bhagavad-gita establishes that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that there is no truth higher than He, and that all different paths of religion are just a seeking after Him. Therefore, Krishna’s final instruction in the Bhagavad-gita is that one should “abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me” (18.66). The Srimad-Bhagavatam opens with the statement that it is intended for those who have complied with Krishna’s order, and it identifies the “religion” Krishna tells us to abandon as kaitava-dharma—religion contaminated by various sorts of material ambitions. Pure religion, according to the Bhagavatam, is service rendered to God without interruption or selfish motivation, and the Srimad- Bhagavatam itself is specifically intended for those who are serving God in this way. Such pure devotees are the most advanced students in the science of God. It is no wonder, then, that in the text meant for them we find the most complete disclosures of God.
In the Bhagavad-gita (4.11), Krishna states the principle by which He discloses Himself to us. “All of them—as they surrender unto Me—I reward accordingly. Everyone follows my path in all respects.” While all people on the path of religon may be progressing toward God, they are considered more or less advanced according to their degree of surrender to Him. And according to that degree of surrender, God reveals Himself.
For example, let us consider a level of spiritual advancement known as karma-kanda. A person on this platform (called a karmi) is allowed restricted material enjoyment according to the regulations given by God in scripture. The karmi is given to know that if he piously follows these regulations he will earn the reward of future enjoyment and that disobedience will bring him punishment. Thus it is a system of rewards and punishments that impels the karmi to follow God’s orders. Such a person will make some spiritual advancement, because at least he acknowledges the supremacy of God and is restricted in his sense gratification.
Karma-kanda religion, in fact, was precisely the sort of religion I learned in Sunday school. We understood God mostly as the cosmic fulfiller of our needs and desires and as the supreme judge, whose great power over us inspired proper awe, veneration, and fear of disobedience. We envisioned God’s kingdom as a place of uninterrupted (if somewhat dispassionate) material enjoyment, a reward for our good behavior. And we thought of God Himself as a voice issuing from on high, ordering, cajoling, and threatening. He was a benevolent but stern parent, remote but still attentive, toward whom we, His children, should feel both gratitude and fear.
Certainly, one sometimes comes across more advanced understandings in Judeo-Christian traditions, but the form of religion I have just described is by far the most common. And it is this sort of religion—religion contaminated by material desires—that we have to abandon if we are to approach closer to God and ultimately meet Him in His supremely attractive personal form, Krishna.
What Westerners find most startling about the revelation of God as Krishna is that Krishna has a humanlike form. They find it hard to believe that this is an advanced realization of God, since they have been taught that God is formless, featureless spirit, and they take Krishna to be an anthropomorphic fantasy. Furthermore, they see that Krishna disports Himself as a beautiful, youthful cowherd boy surrounded by a simple village community of relatives and friends. Where, then, is the power and majesty that properly belong to God? Where is the controller of the cosmos, the mighty judge of the living and the dead? How can a simple, charming cowherd boy inspire the fear, trembling, and sense of creaturliness that we should feel before God?
To be sure, the first lesson in religion is to appreciate the infinite greatness of God and to realize that we are only His infinitesimally small creatures. Unfortunately, this lesson can be very hard for us to learn, because we have come to this material world in rebellion against God. We do not wish to remain subordinate to God. Those who are the most envious of God deny His existence. There are others who acknowledge God’s greatness, even though the tendency to be independent remains within their hearts. Their lack of complete surrender to God is shown by their engagement in materially motivated religion, and God reveals Himself to those in this early stage of spiritual advancement only in His might and majesty. Although they may know theoretically that God is a person. God keeps His personal features hidden from them. He remains aloof, inscrutable, inaccessible. In this way, God exacts the proper respect and veneration from those who still have the inclination to disobey Him.
But it is also part of God’s greatness that He enters into more intimate and familiar relationships with those devotees who have become completely pure in heart and who serve Him solely out of love, without any expectation of return. To them He reveals His supreme personal form. Because this form resembles ours, the ignorant will call it anthropomorphic. But the truth is that our human body is theomorphic. We are made in the image of God. Of course, our copy of God’s body is a temporary, material replica, while God’s own body is spiritual and eternal. Speculators may think that a body, as such, is a bad thing and thus deny that God has form, but only a material form that grows old, becomes diseased, and dies should be rejected. The eternal, ever-youthful body of Krishna is not subject to those conditions. To reject God’s form on the grounds that if God had a body it would be a material body like ours is to be guilty of anthropomorphism.
Krishna is reluctant to reveal Himself to everyone. For Krishna sets aside all lordliness and signs of dominion, allows His beauty to completely overpower His majesty, and simply engages in developing pastimes of love with His devotees. To facilitate intimate relationships, Krishna causes His devotees to forget that the beautiful, exquisitely charming object of their love is God. And so He dwells in His eternal abode, playing as a simple village cowherd boy, ever increasing the unending bliss of His devotees.
Pure devotees most appreciate God in this confidential, all- attractive feature, but others, seeing Krishna in His human form, react differently. Krishna mentions this in the Bhagavad-gita (9.11): “Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” Out of envy, they will claim either that Krishna is an ordinary human being or that ordinary human beings are God.
In spite of this danger, Krishna Himself descended onto this planet five thousand years ago, bringing with Him His eternal associates, and for a time displayed His most confidential and intimate pastimes at the tract of land known as Gokula Vrindavana. More than anything else, God wants the fallen souls suffering in the material world to come back to Him, and therefore He decided to show the unparalleled sweetness of the limitlessly variegated loving relationships that He and His devotees enjoy without end in His supreme abode. The world already knew God as all-mighty and all-seeing; now it would know Him as all-attractive.
Learned devotees have carefully studied these pastimes of Krishna as they are recorded in the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other texts, and they have discovered five principal kinds of relationships devotees have with God. Each of these relationships has a particular taste that the devotee relishes. In Sanskrit that taste is called rasa. The five principal rasas, listed in order of increasing intimacy, are neutrality, or passive adoration, servitorship, fraternal love, parental love, and conjugal love.
In the rasa of neutrality the devotee is so overwhelmingly conscious of God’s greatness that He can only adore Him passively. The devotee feels no impetus to render service, because he thinks that God is so great that there is nothing he can do for Him. Dante’s description of the Beatific Vision as producing stunned, enraptured awe before God suggests that neutrality is his highest conception of a relationship with God. In the rasa of servitorship there are also feelings of subordination, but they are not so extreme as to prevent the devotee from actively serving his Lord. In the fraternal rasa the devotee associates with Krishna on an equal level, as a friend of the same age and sex. And in the parental rasa Krishna enjoys having His devotee act as His superior. Krishna becomes the child, and His devotee loves and serves Him in the position of His mother or father. Finally, the most intimate rasa is conjugal love; here, the devotee regards Krishna as husband or lover.
Just as Krishna’s body is the prototype of our material body, so Krishna’s transcendental relationships are the prototypes of material relationships, which are perverted reflections of the originals. Accordingly, we should not project the quality of material affairs onto the spiritual rasas. The sublime exchange of ecstatic emotions in spiritual bodies that takes place between Krishna and the cowherd girls of Vrindavana cannot be compared with the gross features of material sex. Moreover, the relationships with Krishna in the spiritual world never grow stale or come to an end like the relationships in this world. In the spiritual world, all rasas continue for eternity.
Here in the material world we find reflections of these relationships, and because we are always interested in tasting rasas, we constantly enter into them and try to perpetuate them. Our problem, however, is that we do not find the satisfaction we seek. We are inevitably disappointed. For all rasas in the material world are eclipsed. Here everything is changing, unstable, and temporary. We form relationships with our heroes, our friends, our children, and our lovers or spouses, and we start off with vast hope and great expectations. We all remember—ruefully—that intoxicating promise of endless love our first adolescent infatuation brought. And what can match the boundless hope a mother feels when she first holds her newborn? Yet none of these relationships deliver what they promise. As we grow older, we become “mature” by learning how to live with dead rasas, failed relationships, broken hearts. And, having discovered that my hero has feet of clay, or that my best friend has betrayed my trust, or having seen what was once the sweetest girl of my dreams stare at me over a lawyer’s table with murderous hate, or having stood over the small grave of my child, I will find it hard, or even impossible, to love as I once hoped I could.
Our propensity to love tends naturally to expand without limit, yet in this world it meets with repeated impediments. The baffling of our urge to love becomes one of the most tragic features of life. The crux of the problem is that although we want to love. we are never more vulnerable than when we do. As soon as we love someone, we open ourselves to rejection, betrayal, separation, loss, and all the attending anguish and pain. Experience of these things has filled the world with bitter and disappointed people, cynics and misanthropes.
But even before we have suffered the pains of thwarted love, we aren’t able to love fully and unconditionally. There is an essential incompatability between what we are and what we can love in this world, and in our hearts we know it. Our desire to love without limit and without end is a clear indication that we are ourselves eternal, spiritual beings. At the same time, whatever we can love in this world is temporary and material. Consequently, we cannot love without fear, and, consciously or unconsciously, from the outset we cannot help but withhold the full investment of our love.
A frequent theme in literature concerns a hero or heroine who loves recklessly and without restraint, inevitably undergoes the most intense sort of suffering, and finally meets with a tragic or pitiful death. We may take these stories as cautionary tales. Yet we really don’t need them to remind us of the constant frustration of our being. There is no adequate object for our love in this world.
Therefore, out of boundless compassion for us. Krishna reveals His kingdom of transcendental, unrestricted love, in which He is eternally manifest as the ultimate object of affection—the most perfect hero, master, friend, child, and lover. His beauty is unrivaled, and His personality, expressed in infinitely varied exchanges of love, is ceaselessly fascinating. When we turn to Krishna, our loving propensity breaks loose at last from the tight confines of matter and opens up into an ever-expanding flow that never meets any resistance. That is why Krishna is perpetually inviting us to come to Him in His eternal abode and enjoy with Him forever the delights of an endless love.
from Back To Godhead Magazine, #37-03, 2003
by Nagaraja Dasa
Of the Avatars of Lord Krishna described in the Srimad- Bhagavatam, Lord Nrisimha, whose appearance coincides with this issue of BTG, is especially intriguing to many of us. Half man, half lion—and all God.
People encountering a picture of Nrisimhadeva ferociously ripping apart Hiranyakashipu are often taken aback. “You believe this is God?”
Why not? God is the ultimate in everything. He can light like no one else. He can tear up the mighty terrorist Hiranyakashipu with little effort.
But if you find the fierce aspect of God unappealing, know that His supreme anger is a display of His intense love for His devotee Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu’s son, who was being tortured by his atheistic father.
But Nrisimha’s actions were also motivated by love for Hiranyakashipu, His apparent victim. Hiranyakashipu is one of the Lord’s eternal servants, a gatekeeper in the spiritual world. Lord Vishnu yearned for good light, so He arranged an incident in the spiritual world that ended with His servant’s fall to the material world to spend three lives as the Lord’s greatest enemy. What to our eyes seems like the attack of a bloodthirsty creature is in fact a dance of love between the Lord and His servant.
We must always be careful to understand God’s activities under proper guidance. God’s devotees know that He can do no wrong. Everything He does springs from His love for us and His infinite desire to exchange love with each of us in a deep, personal, unique relationship. We may look at Hiranyakashipu and feel sorry for him, but that’s the wrong reaction. We should praise him for his great fortune at having been chosen to assist the Lord in His quest for a knock- down, drag-out light. If only we could be so privileged!
We learn from the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic books that we have a unique relationship with God and should use our human life to revive it. When Krishna comes to this world in His countless forms, He shows some of the endless variety of ways we can exchange love with Him. In Lord Nrisimha’s appearance, for example, we see extreme contrast in His displays of love for Prahlada and Hiranyakashipu.
Another example of Lord Nrisimha’s unique love is His relationship with Lord Brahma, His empowered servant who creates the universe. Brahma had given Hiranyakashipu several boons—up to Brahma’s limit of power to bestow—through which Hiranyakashipu believed he had become immortal. He could not be killed by any known being in the universe, by any weapon, during the day or night, inside or outside, in the sky, in the sea, or on the land. Lord Nrisimha showed respect and love for His devotee Brahma by honoring his benedictions. Outsmarting Hiranyakashipu, He assumed a form as half man, half lion to kill Hiranyakashipu with His fingernails, at dusk, on His lap, in the doorway of the palace. The Lord could have disregarded Brahma’s benedictions, but He chose to show his affection for his servant by honoring them. When we carefully study the activities of the Lord’s incarnations, we’ll find them to be the highest expressions of love, no matter how violent they may seem at first glance.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #33-04, 1999
by Nagaraja Dasa
The philosophy of Krishna consciousness is vast and deep. After twenty-five years of study I’ve yet to master all its subtleties. Still, I’ve found that contemplating even the basic concepts can be highly satisfying.
Srila Prabhupada stressed the importance of studying the teachings of Lord Krishna every day. Just the other day I was reading Srimad-Bhagavatam when one of Prabhupada’s explanations struck me as so self-evident I just had to chuckle: “Of course. How could anyone argue with that?”
Srila Prabhupada was making the point—as he did over and over again—that we are all eternal servants of God and by realizing that we attain perfection.
“Everyone must serve someone,” Srila Prabhupada pointed out. We can’t exist without serving. We serve our family, friends, pets, boss, country. Even if we manage to avoid all those services, we can’t escape serving the demands of our own body and mind and, ultimately, the forces of nature that ravage and destroy our very bodies.
We all must serve. This point is an example of what Prabhupada meant when he used to say that he was not teaching a sectarian religion. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Jew; American, Indian, European, or Asian—we all must serve.
“So what?” you might ask.
So it follows that since we’re servants by nature, we’re subordinate to a higher power. And to control, that higher power must have intelligence, and must therefore be a person.
God is the only person not under anyone else’s control. We’re not God. Unlike us, God doesn’t have to serve anyone. We’re subordinate to Him; we’re His servants.
Realize that one simple point, and all our problems will be solved because we’ll stop fighting our real nature.
Because our original consciousness, now in touch with the material energy, is polluted, we resent being told we’re “eternal servants.” We don’t want to serve; we want to be served. (That’s probably why people like going to restaurants.) We’re all here trying our best to be God. Even in our self-styled attempts at spirituality we want to keep God out of the picture.
There’s another reason we resent being told we’re servants: Our experience of serving in this world tends to be unsatisfying.
Yet selfless service, which we glimpse in, for example, a mother’s loving service to her child, is highly satisfying. And great philanthropists no doubt derive pleasure in sacrificing for others. Srila Prabhupada pointed out that the philanthropists’ urge to serve others without reward indicates our eternal nature as servants of God.
Service in devotion is not drudgery. Limitless bliss awaits us in serving God. Because God, Krishna, is a person, in our liberated state we can serve Him as playmates, family members, even girlfriends. To me, this is one of the most wonderful aspects of the Krishna conscious explanation of our position as servants of God. He wants us to serve Him the way a friend serves a friend, a lover serves a lover. We simply have to give up our stubborn insistence on trying to take His place.
The Vedic teachings say the highest truth has both male and female aspects. The female nature is called shakti ("the energy") and the male shaktiman ("the energetic"). They are one and different simultaneously, like the sun and sunshine; each gives meaning to the other. The male and female aspects of the Supreme Being are described in histories like Srimad-Bhagavatam, Ramayana and Mahabharata, where They appear together as Vishnu and Laksmi, Rama and Sita, and Krishna and Radharani.
from Back To Godhead Magazine, #36-06, 2002
Srila Prabhupada sometimes told stories about a king in Bengal and his court jester, Gopal Ban.
One morning, when Gopal arrived for the king's daily amusement, the king asked him, "Gopal, what's the difference between you and a jackass?"
Guessing the distance between him and the king, Gopal replied, "Sir, the difference is about three feet."
The king laughed heartily, even though the joke was on him.
Srila Prabhupada told this story to show that although God receives the highest honor and respect, He enjoys taking the role of a subordinate. He's more satisfied by intimate relationships than official ones.
In another story that illustrates the same point, Prabhupada told of a British prime minister who had once kept a guest waiting outside his office while he played "horsey" for his grandson.
Lord Chaitanya's followers combed the Vedic scriptures to draw out the most comprehensive description of God. In other places we may learn about God's omnipotence, but in the tradition of Krishna consciousness we learn about God's personality—in striking detail. It's like the difference between knowing a judge in court and knowing him at home.
God in His majesty is God at work; Krishna is God at home.
Lord Chaitanya taught us to aspire to be with Krishna in His eternal home, in the pure, relaxed atmosphere of Vrindavan. Whereas awe and reverence pervade other parts of the spiritual world, in Vrindavan love rules. Krishna's devotees there don't know, or care, that He is God. They love Him, that's all. And they're eager to serve Him.
We infinitesimal souls are all eternal servants of God. There's no escaping our role; it's our nature. We can serve God willingly, as devotees, or unwillingly, by serving His material energy, as we unwillingly grow old, get sick, die, and so on. In our rebellious spirit, the idea of servitude seems repulsive. But the pure souls in the spiritual world know service to be the source of unparalleled bliss. Why? Because, quite simply, the residents of Vrindavana serve Krishna by being His friends, His relatives, His respected elders, and so on. What could be better than that? They serve Him by their relationship with Him, because that's what He wants.
Just as we like to enjoy a variety of relationships, so does God. A husband and wife may be happy in each other's company, and may have relationships with friends, subordinates, and superiors, but still they choose to have children and so create new relationships.
Because Krishna is unlimited, He likes to enjoy an unlimited number of relationships, each unique. We each have a unique relationship with Krishna, revealed when our love for Him matures. The relationships between Krishna and His eternal associates are free of the hardships that plague the analogous relationships in the material world. In the spiritual world, all exchanges flow from pure love and are therefore perfect.
While impersonalists want to become one with God, devotees can attain the position of being greater than God. In the intimacy of pure love, they can tell God what do to, and He loves to hear it.
a talk by Srila Prabhupada on Bhaktivinod Thakur's song
“Krishna is the lover of Radha. He displays many amorous pastimes in the groves of Vrindavana. He is the lover of the cowherd maidens of Vraja, the holder of the great hill named Govardhana, the beloved son of mother Yashoda, and the delighter of the inhabitants of Vraja. He wanders in the forests along the banks of the River Yamuna.”
("Jaya Radha Madhava" by Srila Bhaktivinod Thakur)
This is the original nature of Krishna. He is Radha-Madhava; He is the lover of Srimati Radharani. And—kunja- vihari—He always enjoys the company of the gopis [cowherd girls] within the bushes of Vrindavana forest. Radha-madhava kunja-vihari. Not only is He the lover of Radharani, but—vraja-jana- vallabha—all the residents of Vrindavana love Krishna. They do not know anything else. They do not know whether Krishna is God or not. Nor are they very much harassed by the thought “I shall love Krishna if He is God.” Instead they think, “He may be God or He may not be God. Whatever He is, it doesn’t matter, but we love Krishna.”
That’s all. That is called unalloyed love. “If Krishna is God, then I shall love Him”—this is conditional love, not pure love. Krishna may be God or whatever He may be, but by His wonderful acts the Vrajavasis [residents of Vrindavana] are thinking, “Oh, Krishna is a very wonderful child. He may be some demigod.”
People are generally under the impression that the demigods are all-powerful. The demigods are powerful within this material world, but people do not know that Krishna is above all of them. Ishvarah paramah krishnah sac-cid-ananda- vigrahah. The highest demigod, Brahma, is giving his opinion: “The supreme controller is Krishna.”
So, as the residents of Vrindavana love Krishna without any condition, Krishna loves them without any condition.
Giri-vara-dhari. When the inhabitants of Vrindavana stopped the sacrifice to Indra, they were in danger because Indra became very angry. For seven days he incessantly sent very great, powerful clouds and rain over Vrindavana. When the inhabitants became very much disturbed, Krishna, although He was only a seven-year-old boy, saved them by lifting Govardhana Hill. In this way He taught Indradeva, “To stop your disturbance is the business of My little finger. That’s all.” So Indra fell to his knees before Krishna. These things you’ll find in our book Krishna.
As Gopi-jana-vallabha,Krishna’s only business is how to protect the gopi-jana [gopis]. Our Krishna consciousness movement is teaching how to become one of the gopi-janas. Then Krishna will save us from any danger, even by lifting a hill or a mountain. Krishna is so kind and so powerful. When Krishna lifted the hill He had not practiced some yoga system. He was playing like a child. But when there was some need, He manifested Himself as God. That is Krishna. Not that He has to go and practice some yoga system to become God. No. He is not that type of “God,” not a manufactured “God.” He’s God.
Yashoda-nandana, vraja-jana-ranjana. Krishna likes to be the child of a devotee. As the beloved child of Yashoda, He is called Yashodanandana, He wants to be chastised by His devotee father and mother, because everyone worships Him and nobody chastises Him. So He takes pleasure when a devotee chastises Him. That chastisement is service to Krishna. If Krishna takes pleasure in being chastised, then the responsibility is taken up by a devotee: “All right, I shall become Your father and chastise You.” When Krishna wants to fight, one of His devotees becomes Hiranyakashipu and fights with Him. Therefore, become an associate of Krishna and develop Krishna consciousness.
Yashoda-nandana, vraja-jana-ranjana. As the vraja-jana’s [Vrindavana residents’] business is how to satisfy Krishna, Krishna’s business is how to satisfy the vraja-jana. This is reciprocation of love.
Yamuna-tira-vana-cari. Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is wandering on the banks of the Yamuna River to please the gopis, the cowherd boys, the birds, beasts, and calves. They are not ordinary birds, beasts, calves, or men. They are on the top level of self- realization. Krita-punya-punjah—after many, many lives they got the position to play with Krishna.
Our Krishna consciousness movement is so nice that everyone can go to Krishnaloka and associate with Krishna as a friend, as a servant, as a father or mother, as so many things. And Krishna is agreeable to any one of these propositions. These things are described very nicely in our book Teachings of Lord Caitanya.
Krishna does not go even one step out of Vrindavana. The original Krishna is in Vrindavana. Take advantage of these books, this knowledge, this prasadam, and this chanting. Be happy, and go to Krishna. It is such a nice thing.