by Swami Krishnananda
In the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, the eighth skandha is devoted to the detailing of Gajendra Moksha, Amrita Manthana, and Sri Vamana Avatara of Bhagavan Sri Vishnu, and in the ninth skandha we have the long history of the Solar and Lunar dynasties – Rama being a descendant of the solar dynasty, and Krishna of the lunar dynasty.
The most important theme, surpassing all other descriptions that we have in the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, is the principle objective of the whole text – namely, the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna himself. In a wonderfully touching prayer, Kunti glorifies the great master, as we have it recorded in the first skandha of the Bhagavata.
Namasye puruṣaṁ tvādyam īśvaraṁ prakṛteḥ param,
alaksṣaṁ sarva-bhūtānām antar bahir avasthitam (1.8.18).
Māyā-javanikāchhanam ajñādhokṣajam avyayam,
na lakṣyase mūḍha-dṛśā naṭo nāṭyadharo yathā (1.8.19).
Śrī-kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa-sakha vṛṣṇy-rṣabhāvani-dhrug-rājanya-vaṁśa-dahanānapavarga-vīrya, govinda go-dvija-surārti-harāvatāra yogeśvarākhila-guro bhagavan namaste (1.8.43).
The play of God in the theatre of this world is the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. He behaved in the same way as God would behave in His creation. The avatara of Rama is regarded as a maryada that he kept in terms of the rules and regulations of human society. Bhagavan Sri Krishna is known as not maryada purushottama, but lila purushottama. The demonstration of the perfection of human nature is the subject of the Ramayana, the life of Sri Ramachandra; and the demonstration of the perfection of God as He would operate Himself, independently, free from all accessories, is the theme of the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Srimad Bhagvata. Everything that Krishna did was the opposite of the world, while everything that Rama did was in consonance with the world.
The evolutionary process that is seen in the various avataras of Vishnu – such as Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimha, Vamana, etc., – reaches a culmination in Rama and Krishna. From the lower levels of life through which God incarnates, as demonstrated in the earlier avataras, human perfection is reached in Rama avatara. But that is not enough. God has to descend into the world in full force and power of His Completeness. Ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam (1.3.28). As the entire energy of the Sun may be concentrated on a lens through which this energy passes, and it has the capacity to work as the Sun would work, so is the way in which we have to understand the nature of an Incarnation, especially of the type of a superman such as Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The universal forces congeal and concentrate themselves in one personality when it becomes purna avatara. It is as if the force of the ocean rushes through a single conduit pipe; and we can imagine the energy that is conducted through this pipe when the entire ocean is passing through it.
The Bhagavata also describes God as a threefold manifestation – namely Brahma, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavān iti sābdyate (1.2.11). He is transcendent Supreme Being, Absolute, which is Brahman; He is the creative operative power, which is Paramatman; He is also the incarnation, which is Bhagavan. Three stages of the operation of God are here portrayed in the description of God being Brahman, Paramatman, and Bhagavan.
The lilas, or the plays of God in the form of Sri Krishna, have always been inscrutable right from the beginning. The very purpose of the play of God is to manifest those realities which are beyond human comprehension – to stultify human thought, paralyse all human action, stun the individual ego, and transform human nature into divine nature. Everything is a miracle right from the beginning of Sri Krishna’s life – his birth in a prison, the prison doors opening automatically, the crossing of the Yamuna River, and the various fantastic scenes that are associated with him in the Vrindavana lila. Boisterous, naughty and uncontrollable is the nature that Sri Krishna demonstrated right from childhood. He was not a simple, obedient, calm and quiet child. He was disobedient, boisterous, rebellious, independent in every way, and if anybody interfered with his independence, he would react with consternation, a wonder which surpasses human understanding.
He would break pots, steal things, and damage all things, which is not the usual behaviour of a child. He would take away everything that one possesses, and make one feel grieved that valuable things have been lost; but, at the same time, he would see to it that he endeared himself to everyone. With all the pranks that he played which were contrary to human expectation, he managed to see to it that he became the most beloved of all the children. Nobody could dislike him, irrespective of his funny behaviour, which was not expected from a little child. So, there was a double behaviour: naughtiness and unpleasantness inflicted upon people and, at the same time, becoming the most beautiful darling of humanity.
God’s ways are always a combination of opposites. It is not a stereotyped action, as we think in our minds. God can create the world, and He can also destroy the world. He can create human beings, and then flood their towns with heavy rains which damage crops and wash away villages. Even after having created the Earth as an abode for people, He can cause earthquakes, pestilence, disease, and He can also provide the greatest cures. When Sri Krishna was naughty, his mother, out of exhaustion, tied him up to a huge pestle, and he used the pestle to which he was tied to uproot a tree – an unthinkable action. People attributed this kind of event to the operation of a devil, and they poured auspicious mantra-purified water on him to free him from the effects of any kind of adverse forces that they thought were the reason for such catastrophic events such as the falling of a tree for no apparent reason whatsoever, as nobody could imagine that a child could pull out a tree by its roots. He could kick up a row and create dust, and do whatever he liked with his comrades, and yet his comrades loved him immensely.
The contrary nature that is so remarkably seen in Bhagavan Sri Krishna cannot be seen in anyone else. Whatever he did, and whatever he said, had this characteristic of a blending of contrary features which are not easily reconcilable. Even the Bhagavadgita that he taught is of such a nature: it is a winding argument which leads nowhere, if you read it carelessly. Throughout his life, he played this role of wonderful activity which was justifiable from his point of view, but nobody could understand what he was up to.
The first part of the tenth skandha of the Srimad Bhagavata occupies itself with these pranks of the child Krishna, and while every action of his was superhuman, he made it still worse by engaging himself in a dramatic performance called the Rasa Lila, which cannot be seen in the life of any other person in the world. Here again we have a mystery that transcends human reason, because there are no men and women before God. The prejudices of the duality of sexes, and the additional prejudice of the attachment to human predilections and rules and regulations, have to be broken down in the Divinity that manifests finally.
Human laws and regulations cannot take us to God. These rules of man can take us only to a human realm, because the constitution of God’s government is not a human constitution. It is an inclusiveness to which human nature is not accustomed. All our laws and regulations are partial in their nature and are valid for certain given conditions, but they are not valid for all times. This is the defect in manmade laws: they are good for some times, but they are not good for other times. But the law of God is good for all times. Once the enactment is made, it does not require any amendment. In human parliaments, circumstances change, and therefore we change the laws; but God has no such circumstances where He has to change the laws. In the Isavasya Upanishad it is said: yāthātathyato’rthān vyadadhāc chāśvatībhyas samābhyaḥ (Isa 8). An ordinance was enacted in the parliament of God and it is valid for all time to come, till the end of creation, because it was so perfectly visualised, taking into consideration every eventuality or possibility in the history of creation.
In a similar manner, the deportment of Sri Krishna multiplying himself into many in this Rasa Dance makes him a person not human in his nature, because no human being can become multiple. Therefore, our judgment of him cannot be based upon human values, as a human being cannot multiply himself, lift a mountain or swallow forest fire – all of which he did, to the consternation of his associates. The superhuman nature of this child, which is seen right from the beginning, frees him from the human association of any kind of limited interpretation of his activities.
The Rasa Lila has many a meaning, as commentators would tell us – namely, it is the dance of the whole cosmos around the central pivot of the Absolute. The whole cosmic dance is demonstrated there. The feminine nature of the gopis is comparable to the counterpart, which is the nature of the components of creation, to the centrality which is the Absolute. The Absolute Supreme Being does not evolve. It does not dance; it acts as a central nucleus of the entire creation, which dances in all its particulars. To mention again, Sri Krishna is born to demonstrate cosmic perfection, and not to reiterate manmade laws and regulations.
There are no human ethics for God. Though God has His own ethics, they are not comparable to human understanding. God is very just; it is perfectly true, but His justice is different from the nature of justice that we can think in our mind. God can dissolve the whole cosmos. Where is the justice in it? But it is justice. God has a rule and law of His own. God has a parliament of His own, we can say, but He can dissolve the parliament for some purpose. For instance, Sri Krishna broke his promise that he would not take part in the Mahabharata war; he dissolved this parliament, and took up weapons himself when it became necessary.
When love of God reaches its heights, God can break all His laws due to the devotee’s devotion. In the highest reaches of devotion, laws do not operate. Devotion to God is above all laws and regulations, because we cannot love God while tied up by human laws, as that love would be a mortal combination of fettered understanding. That is why the nature of the bhakta, or devotee, cannot be easily understood.
The Rasa Dance that is described in five chapters in incomparable beautiful majesty of lyrical poetry – which otherwise looks like a seductive presentation of human emotions – is considered by Suka Maharishi as a cure for the feelings of sexual passion. That which appears to be a demonstration of that particular emotion is the remedy which causes the cessation of that same emotion. It acts as a cathartic for feelings of any kind that human nature may abhor, and yet hug.
Man is basically hypocritical; he disagrees with that which he loves very much. For instance, this emotion that is mentioned here particularly, is present in every person, and nobody can say it is not. Not only it is present in every human being, it is endearingly hugged by all people as most important in their life. Yet, it is treated as if it is the most abominable thing in the world. The contradictory nature of human laws, and the hypocrisy behind manmade religion and his laws and regulations, can especially be seen in this particular instance. The very thing that we abhor becomes the most desirable thing for us in other contexts. We secretly love a thing, but publicly abhor it. This is how human beings behave. We are one thing in our bedroom and another thing in parliament. Can we consider this aspect of human nature to be justifiable finally? Can God pardon us for this behaviour? Can we be real devotees of God if we behave in this manner?
If God wishes us to love Him alone finally, and no one else can come to our rescue, we must love Him as He is required to be loved. Unless we are attuned to His nature, our love is tarnished by human considerations. We carry the dirt of human thought even in our devotion to God, and therefore it will not materialise. The same attachments of wealth, sex and family are hidden in a potential form even in our love for God. We keep these secrets of our attachments hidden under our armpit or in our bag, and then prostrate ourselves before God. God wants to break this down once and for all, for the welfare of His true devotees. This is also the secret behind the cheera-harana, or taking away of the gopis’ clothes, making them feel consternated and shamefaced, which was impossible for them to believe. When our prejudices are broken, we are unable to know what is happening to us, and it looks as though the Earth itself is breaking apart.
The whole life of a human being is prejudice and contortion, and an abominable justification of what cannot be finally justified. Therefore, man as man, woman as woman, cannot reach God. Man has to cease to be a man, and woman has to cease to be a woman, and they must attain the perfection of a unity of spirits –which is actually the dance of Rasa. It is spirit dancing with spirit. The particular souls of the jivas dance around the cosmic Universal Soul; and here, the comparison with human characteristics is completely anomalous. Therefore, no unpurified mind should read the tenth skandha of the Srimad Bhagavata. Only a purified mind should read it.
Otherwise, how would we appreciate the answer of Suka Maharishi to Parikshit’s question, that this is a cure for desire? A thing that would otherwise arouse desire is considered to be a cure for it. This is how God acts; He slaps us from both sides, and we do not know what the intention behind it is. Sri Krishna behaved recklessly with his mother and his comrades, and yet always saved them in their hour of need. He did fantastic things such as eating mud, and then behaved abominably with children; but when he was threatened, he showed the Cosmic Form in his open mouth. And he would not allow his mother to remember this vision that he had shown her, and immediately veiled it from her consciousness. Again she hugged the little child, as if nothing had happened. Look at this contradiction in his behaviour. He showed the Cosmic Form, but would not allow her to remember it. Then why did he show it to her at all? This is how God acts. He will tantalise us, and yet save us.