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Bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness, means quite simply being conscious of Krishna. When we love someone we naturally think of them, so when we love Krishna it is natural to think of him and want to hear or read about his lila or divine activities. Those of us who want to love Krishna—or even believe in him if we are new—will make progress in knowing and loving Krishna by reading about his pastimes in the Shrimad Bhagavatam or in Shrila Prabhupada’s Krishna book which is the summary of the 10th Canto.

We are advised to read with the desire to understand and in the mood of service, humility and reverence--at least with that ideal in mind. Just like in Shrila Prabhupada's introduction to the Gita he recommends a new person to at least theoretically accept Krishna as the Supreme Lord, because that will help create the right mood to enter into the book. Though we want to use our intellect to understand as far as we can, our spiritual heart needs to come out, since that is the real way to understand the inconceivable Lord.

In Prabhupada’s translations of Vedic literature, we have the scripture with a commentary by a pure devotee. Many people have become devotees by reading these books. As wonderful and powerful as these books are they don’t ask us if we have understood, nor do they personally interact with us to show us how to be Krishna conscious. For that we need advanced devotees we can observe and serve with.

The scriptures teach us that there is the book Bhagavatam and the person Bhagavatam. Krishna includes his devotees who live their life as service to him. In fact, Krishna reveals himself through his devotees, as they are considered more merciful then he is (by his desire and arrangement). Therefore, we need the scriptures and those who are living scriptures because a good deal of our advancement comes from association with more advanced devotees of Krishna. Such devotees share their heart and faith with us and enable us to get out of our intellect and into our spiritual heart. In addition, the pastimes of Krishna are full of his interactions with his devotees and their adventures as well.

I am going to recount one of my favorite pastimes of Krishna. It is the story of the great devotee Shri Akrura as he travels to Vrindavana to bring Krishna and Balarama to Mathura. There is a great deal to this story. Although Akrura was in ecstasy, Krishna’s family and cowherd boy and girl friends were not. They were plunged into an ocean of grief in separation from the love of their lives as Krishna left them.

But for now let us pray to enter into the ecstatic mood of Akrura as he travels to have the association of his Lord, teaching us the proper mood of visiting a holy place. He worships Krishna in the mood of a servant. The four other moods or rasas are neutrality, friendship, parenthood and conjugal love. First, before we accompany Akrura, let us set the stage by giving some background.

After Krishna’s heroic killing of the demon named Arishtasura in Vrindavana, Narada Muni decided to facilitate one of the missions of Krishna to kill the demons. Therefore, he went to Mathura to speak with the greatest evil person of the time, King Kamsa. Narada explained to Kamsa how he had been deceived by Krishna’s father, Vasudeva, into thinking that his eighth child was a daughter (it had been foretold that Vasudeva’s eighth child would kill Kamsa). Actually, Vasudeva’s eighth child was Krishna, but he took him to Vrindavana to be protected and raised by Nanda Maharaja and Yashoda Devi.

Upon hearing this King Kamsa immediately wanted to kill Vasudeva, but Narada dissuaded him. However, being so angry he immediately arrested Vasudeva and his wife, Devaki, and shackled them in iron chains. Then Kamsa came up with an idea to arrange a huge wrestling match in his city of Mathura and invite Krishna and his brother Balarama along with the cowherd people to come to watch the festivities and enjoy the beauty of the city.

Kamsa’s plan was to have his powerful fighters challenge Krishna and Balarama to a wrestling match and have the two brothers killed. In addition, Kamsa thought of different ways to kill Krishna even before the wrestling match such as having him attacked with a most powerful elephant. To insure his success Kamsa had his close friends arrange to worship a form of Lord Shiva with animal sacrifices.

Next Kamsa called for Akrura, who he politely praised and tried to entice to do him a favor, in bringing Krishna and Balarama to Mathura and inviting all the cowherd people. He described to him all his nefarious plans to have his powerful associates kill Krishna, Balarama, their parents, and all his rival kings and enemies so he could peacefully rule the world.

After patiently hearing King Kamsa, Akrura replied: “O King, you have expertly devised a process to free yourself of misfortune. Still, one should be equal in success and failure, since it is certainly destiny that produces the results of one's work. An ordinary person is determined lo act on his desires even when fate prevents their fulfillment. Therefore, he encounters both happiness and distress. Yet even though such is the case, I will execute your order.” [SB 10.36.38-39]

The next morning Akrura set out for Vrindavana on a new chariot given by King Kamsa. As he traveled on the road he experienced great devotion, feeling very blessed—though unworthy—to have the opportunity to see Krishna. He wondered what he might have done to deserve such great good fortune. Yet he considered this as an act of Krishna’s causeless mercy upon him. Akrura considered that on this day his life was made successful as he would be able to touch the lotus feet of Krishna, which are sought after by great mystic yogis.

As he meditated on what might transpire when he actually saw Krishna, he thanked Kamsa for sending him on this mission. Even though Kamsa had evil intent, it was giving Akrura a rare opportunity. In this and later chapters Akrura offers many insightful, enlightening prayers and statements which give one great joy to read and contemplate. When will we be as fortunate as Akrura or other great devotees to have the personal audience of Krishna, and have a particular affectionate relationship with our dear most friend and well-wisher, the Lord of our heart?!

Thus, on any day, but for certain on Jamastami day, please read the pastimes or divine lila of Krishna, praying to appreciate them, and see them as an invitation to enter into that world of love, devotion, bliss, service, and effulgence. Although Krishna's activities appear to take place on the Earth they are full of spiritual power and wonder, revealing the eternal activities of the spiritual realm.

Akrura said: “I am going to see the Supreme Lord Vishnu, the reservoir of all beauty, who by His own sweet will has now assumed a humanlike form to relieve the earth of her burden. Thus, there is no denying that my eyes will achieve the perfection of their existence. He is the witness of material cause and effect, yet He is always free from false identification with them. By His internal potency He dispels the darkness of separation and confusion.

“The individual souls in this world, who are manifested here when He glances upon His material creative energy, indirectly perceive Him in the activities of their life airs, senses and intelligence…Today I shall certainly see Him, the goal and spiritual master of the great souls. Seeing Him brings jubilation to all who have eyes, for He is the true beauty of the universe. Indeed, His personal form is the shelter desired by the goddess of fortune. Now all the dawns of my life have become auspicious.” SB 10.38.11,12, & 14] Akrura became perfect by his prayers/visualizations of interacting with Krishna, and thus he is known as an example of perfection through praying.

As Akrura meditated on Krishna and his future dealings with him, he hardly noticed the time passing—it seemed like a very short time. Finally, after traveling all day, as the sun was setting he entered Gokula (Vrindavana). On the ground, he noticed Krishna’s footprints and became overwhelmed with blissful emotions:

“In the cowherd pasture Akrura saw the footprints of those feet whose pure dust the rulers of all the planets in the universe hold on their crowns. Those footprints of the Lord, distinguished by such marks as the lotus, barleycorn and elephant goad, made the ground wonderfully beautiful. Increasingly agitated by ecstasy at seeing the Lord's footprints, his bodily hairs standing on end because of his pure love, and his eyes filled with tears, Akrura jumped down from his chariot and began rolling about among those footprints, exclaiming, 'Ah, this is the dust from my master's feet!'

“The very goal of life for all embodied beings is this ecstasy, which Akrura experienced when, upon receiving Kamsa's order, he put aside all pride, fear and lamentation and absorbed himself in seeing, hearing and describing the things that reminded him of Lord Krishna.” SB 10.38.25-27

He rolled on the ground in spiritual, enlivening humility not considering social conventions or whatever material position he had. He had no fear of criticism from friends or Kamsa. Akrura only wanted to serve Krishna in his mood of loving servitude. Similarly, we can pray to Krishna to be able to serve Krishna in our unique way and have the good fortune to see Krishna. At the same time, we can’t expect to see Krishna now, without being purified—our spiritual eyes need to be opened with the salve of love. Prabhupada’s guru, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati has told we beginners: “Don’t try to see Krishna, but act in such a way that he will want to see you.”

We are given the chance to see Krishna through his Deity forms in the Temple, and to hear Krishna through his holy name and in his pastimes such as this in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Krishna consciousness is about the deepening of our spiritual faith in Krishna, where we will be wonderfully compelled to serve Krishna out of our increasing love and affection. As Prabhupada encouraged us, "Just give this one life to Krishna." He knew the value of such a life, and we have to realize it at least to some extent if we are to embark and remain on the path.

Now our lives are centered on our personal, material concept of self. After being blessed by our guru, through the purification of Krishna consciousness, we cultivate our eternal serving nature. So be blessed on this day, on Janmastami day, and every day by hearing, chanting, remembering and serving Krishna and his devotees. Study the lives of great devotees and pray for their mercy. May Akrura bless us all to have unflinching devotion for Krishna and to always remember him in love throughout our life!