God Descends for the Ascent of Man
by Swami Krishnananda

(Sri Krishna Janmashtami Message August 31, 1983)

We are here to bring into our minds the important issue that this collective session here at this moment is not merely a gathering of many people. This is not a parliament; this is not a company meeting. Here is a speciality with which those visible forms looking like people are gathered for a superhuman purpose at this superhuman context of the coming into our hearts of a principle which normally the human mind cannot grasp. Our being here at this moment is not a get-together or a coming together; it is a different thing altogether. If this difference does not enter the minds of those who are seated here looking like people in the world, the purpose of the sitting would not be served.

There is a condition in which we will realise that we are not human beings. Under circumstances or conditions we call normal, we regard ourselves as people, persons dealing with things in an atmosphere we call the world. A religious communion is quite different from getting together for a purpose which is either social or, to say the least, even personal and human.

We may well appreciate that we are in a religious atmosphere, but the atmosphere we consider as religious is also something which requires a transvaluation of values from our own side. In a prayer meeting, man is facing God. He is not facing an altar in a church. This is important, and nothing can be more important. In a very significant manner we are here to offer our prayers to the Almighty, though a prayer is not necessarily conducted in a room built by brick and mortar. We are not offering our obeisance to any manmade institution, call it a temple or a church. It is nothing but the cessation of what we call man in man that is called religion. Here is the crux of the whole matter. We have umpteen celebrations and functions in our the religious circles of the human world. We have the birthdays of great saints, the coming of Incarnations, Christmas, and so forth. All goes well in a human way, and it does not go in any other way. This is something which requires to be underlined as the determining factor of the future of mankind itself.

Religion, which is the attitude of the human spirit before God the Almighty, is not a social performance. It is not an observance with the ringing of bells. The bell has to ring from inside. If it does not ring, the outside bells will bring us nothing. It is hard for the human mind, accustomed to the comforts of physical existence, to bend before the needs of the inner spirit. Nobody would find time to be religious. None has time to go to the temple, or to study a scripture, or to attend a prayer congregation. The business of life floods man and drowns him to the core in the occupation he calls the needs of life, from which he ostracises all the religious requirements. Religion is a hobby, and spirituality becomes a fancy, and the truths, the hard facts, the unavoidable realities of life are what we call the business in which man is engaged, whatever be the field in which this business is conducted. No one can expect peace with this attitude. We cannot have peace unless we pay the price for peace. Receiving salvation as a mere charitable gift should be unthinkable.

When I was coming here, I was cogitating on the poverty of human nature, the futility of the human way of thinking which takes the pleasures of life as realities and religious values as abstract permissions given to leisure hours. Such is the topsy-turvy thinking today. These words of introduction I place before you as a sort of meditation on my own part also. This is not an instruction I am giving to you; it is my own self-meditation, and whatever is said, is said to myself also.

Thus comes the great response of man to the calls of life, which are the multitudinous beckoning from all the quarters of Heaven. It is necessary for a truly religious person to shed all the learning of this world with which you have been brainwashed right from your childhood, to bid goodbye to all your learning and knowledge which tells you that God is in Heaven and the Earth is here as your footstool, and religion is something which is obligatory on your part as a part of many other functions that you perform. Nobody teaches you religion, and nobody can teach it also, because that would be the teaching of your internal responsibility to God Himself. Religion is man’s responsibility to God, and it is not any other thing. It is nothing that you do in this world. It has no concern finally with the blaze of God’s all-seeing eyes which can reduce the values of the Earth to ashes in a second, whatever be the hard concrete forms they assume to the physical eyes of man. Have you not seen even religious people considering themselves as belonging to schools of religious thinking, observing holy days and auspicious moments as if it is a great concession that they give to God in the midst of very serious realities of this Earthly life which they consider as their duty? You are very busy with your duties. It is only for a few minutes that you can show your head in a temple or find a moment’s respite to visit a church on Sunday because God is not your reality and, therefore, religion cannot be your reality. This truth is hidden by a camouflage of hypocritical thinking which tries to throw dust on the eyes of God Himself by the reading of a passage from a scripture during moments of a little leisure when you have no other pressure from your office or from the courts of law, etc. Tragedy should be the name of this kind of attitude.

So I was trying to say that our gathering here is not a gathering of people; it is a gathering of flames of spirit, sparks of the divine flame that everyone is, and while we are here we should be able to shed, with herculean effort for a moment at least, the idea that we are anything else. Only then can there be a response from the universal spirit. The response from the universal spirit will be listened to and welcomed only by the spirit within us. The spirit welcomes the spirit and responds to the spirit in the universe. It is not the body, the sense organs, the family or our social organisation to which we are wedded that can respond in this manner. That in us which is sympathetic to the nature of God will respond to the call of God, and inasmuch as there is an inscrutable characteristic which constitutes God-being, that very nature also has to be roused in us in order that it may respond to the call. If a disharmonious attitude is developed within us, there would be no response in us, and there would be no response from the other side also.

So in our religious observances, call it the holy occasion of the coming of an Incarnation or the birth of a saint, it is not a function of a social group of people as we imagine because, finally, there is no such thing as society in this world. This is only an empirical reading of the facts of existence by the mind which considers the centre of the spirit as a human being – the society that we speak of, a group of people, humanity. This is our particular limited reading of the manner in which the universal forces act and react within themselves. Actually there is neither humanity nor mankind nor anything in here. There is something else dancing within its own bosom in the ecstasy of its purpose which is to be fulfilled on the part of every one of us by participation or by accepting that hidden characteristic within us which is sympathetic with the characteristic of that which is at the back of this drama of life.

We may say, for the purpose of our understanding, that God is supposed to descend in order to set the visible in tune with the invisible. This descent is called Avatara in the Sanskrit language, the meaning of which is difficult to understand. It is a forceful entry of a very pointed focusing energy into a particular historical situation or a physical condition, something like a powerful injection of a potent medicine administered into the human system to bring the organism into balance.  Though the pricking is at one spot only and not in all parts of the body, the medicine is felt uniformly by the total organism because of the potency of this descent of the power of the medicine into the organism.

The whole world is an organism of this kind. It is not made up of little bits of bricks and stones, in the same way as our physical body is not made up of little bits of physical matter or biological stuff, though it may look as if the body is made like that. For all normal, classical, physical observation, the world is made up of little bits of matter – stones, gravel, molecules, atoms, etc. A jungle of all these little particulars or spots of material stuff constitute the world, as it were. To think in this way would be to imagine that the human body is made up of little bits of biological substance – genes, chromosomes, cells – but it is nothing of the kind. It is one integrated completeness; otherwise, the medicine that we take cannot permeate the whole system. The potency that has entered into the body will instantaneously pervade everything that is the human body, and we will realise then that we are a total completeness and not a heap of little chromosomes or little particles of physical or biological substance. The world is such a thing, and the descent of God is like that – potent energy which immediately permeates the entire atmosphere to set it right.

This is something different from the working of a saint or a sage. Usually it is said, according to tradition, that a saint is one who has ascended to perfection from a lower level to the peak of achievement. But the Incarnation is the opposite. It is not an ascent from the lower, but a descent from the higher. It is also told to us that God descends for the sake of the ascent of man. All these are mysteries. No intelligence that is locked up within the human brain can comprehend these universal mysteries – how such Incarnations could be possible.

We sometimes hear Christ being called the son of Man, a designation attributed to him in the holy Testament. How can Christ be called the son of Man? Everyone is a son of man, so why should he alone be the son of Man? You would have seen the word ‘man’ with a capital M. It is not a lower-case man’s son; it is man as such that has begotten this divine coming on the Earth plane. The total cry of humanity is symbolised here as the capital Man. The whole mankind is in turmoil. It is not man as I or you, or he, she or it that requires the coming of God on that historical occasion. It is man as a single unified force. Don’t you consider the nation of a country as a single individual? A nation is a multitude of many citizens who can be counted in a census, for instance. You can count heads. But a nation is not to be understood in that sense. A nation is a single organism; it is not made up of many people. This requires a little loftier thinking from a highly elevated point of view of political science. An ordinary politician cannot think like this. It is not that a government is made up of many officers. It is a single, total force that is called the government. Just as the body, as I mentioned to you, is not made up of little pieces of matter, so is mankind. It is the species that is calling. The entire genus called humankind required the coming of a supernal force because it was a condition in which mankind as a whole found itself which man himself, or even mankind put together, could not set right.

The problems of the world cannot be solved by the world itself. A patient cannot cure himself. He requires a medical specialist. As is the case with a patient, so is the case with the world. As a patient cannot treat his own illness, the world cannot set itself right by any effort. It requires a power beyond the world. And that there are realms beyond the physical realm is a truth which does not require much of a mention in these days of great discoveries and findings.

The Avatara or the coming, the Incarnation, is the pressure exerted by the higher realm of reality upon the lower level. The Earth plane receives the influence, the impact of the higher planes. God only knows; it is impossible for us to understand how many planes are there. For all practical purposes, we may count the planes – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 – but there can be infinite planes; therefore, infinite are the possibilities in creation, because infinite is the final reality.

The Incarnations are the timely response which the all-pervading omnipresent Almighty gives to that realm which calls for assistance. God is timeless, and therefore, God does not take time to act. We may take time: “I will do it tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.” We say we shall take time to do something, but God is neither in space nor is time applicable to Him, so there is no distance which God has to cover though a vehicle in order to set Himself into action. He has no distance. He has no time. Therefore, instantaneous is the action of God. ‘Instantaneous’ is the only word we can use – the timeless effect produced in the processes of time. This is the reason why man cannot understand God.

But there is a spirit in man which is the representative of God Himself. The Atman is Brahman, says tradition, which, in other words, is to say that man is made in the image of God. If we know ourselves, we have known the universe because man, as a cross section of this cosmos, has in himself the seeds of perfection in a miniature form which one can discover in the whole universe.

So in a religious mood when we are gathered for a prayer to the great Creator of the universe, the Almighty, we do not seat ourselves as little men and women belonging to some country; we cease to be such for a second. The moment we shed these ideas we begin to realise our belonging to that which is God’s creation. Every part of the body belongs to the whole body in a very specific way, and not as a field belongs to a farmer, or money belongs to a rich man, or a property belongs to a particular person. It is not in this sense that the part of the body belongs to the body. The part of the body belongs to the body in a different sense altogether – and in what sense, each one of you knows. The body does not possess legs as a rich man possesses money in the bank. It is a different kind of possession. It is a communion, not a possession, not a content. So we belong to God not in the sense of something belonging to somebody else but as an inward awakening by which we realise our inseparability from that which alone is and which alone can be.

It is only at this moment of lifted thinking, elevated contemplation, that we can be purged of all the dross of what we may call sins. These contemplative moods, these moments, though they are perhaps only a few and may last only for a few moments, these lofty contemplations can burn up all the sins of the past. In a great passage, Madhusudana Saraswati, the renowned commentator on the Bhagavadgita, says a moment’s sincere feeling of belonging to the Almighty will be equal to a thousand sacrifices or yajnas that you perform in the holy places of the world. The effect of many Rajasuyas, Somayajnas and Asvamedhas cannot equal the effect that is produced at the moment when you are sincerely feeling that you belong to that Great Being with the sense that only that Being is and nothing else can be, and therefore you also cannot be. As it is unthinkable that two ‘be’s can be, a complete surrender automatically takes place without any effort from you.

Thus, our historical conventions of occasional observances as functions and celebrations, call them Christmas or Krishna Janmashtami, are temporal symbols provided for invoking into ourselves a non-temporal truth. If this understanding can be awakened within ourselves, we are truly observing the coming of Sri Krishna, and perhaps then we are truly religious. And it is then perhaps that God will listen to what we inwardly seek and it shall be given to us. May this be our prayer.