This crazy story is brought to you courtesy of the Buddhist tradition. There Krishna appears in a text called Ghata Jataka.
Jatakas are stories of the previous incarnations of Buddha, but Krishna’s case is different because there He is presented as an incarnation of one of the Buddha’s chief disciples – Sariputta.
To make it more confusing, Wikipedia claims that Sariputta was actually Krishna’s father while this source, where I got all my info from, claims Sariputta was Krishna Himself. Actually, their version of Krishna does not deserve a capital “H” in pronouns, I’ll continue using it only because Buddhist story still describes real Krishna’s pastimes.
I’m too lazy to look at Wikipedia edits, perhaps someone confused Vasudeva with short “a” and Vasudeva with long “a”. One is the father, one is the son.
Original Wikipedia edition didn’t have this mistake – Sariputta was originally Krishna, Krishna’s father was added later.
Either way – couldn’t they at least assign Krishna to one of the Buddha’s incarnation? In our tradition we treat Buddha a lot better.
I suspect the problem lies with the nature of Buddhist canon itself – it was compiled hundreds of years after Buddha’s death and Buddhism had some ideological battles thought right from the start, so accuracy of Jataka stories describing his disciples is somewhat questionable. Who’s to say it wasn’t just a ripoff of Hindu stories circulated in the country at that time. Everybody would have told it differently, to the kids, to the neighbors, to the kings.
I guess the same can be said about passing down Srimad Bhagavatam, too, but we have clear authorship and too much philosophical and religious significance attached to it to suggest any frivolous tampering with the story.
Overall I don’t know how to describe the Buddhist version better – that there are difference or that there are some similarities – glass half full/half empty.
Names are slightly changed, probably to sound more Buddhist, Devahuti was imprisoned from the very young age, she wasn’t allowed to see any man, meaning no chance to marry, and so she couldn’t have any children. The opening episode of Krishna Book, the detailed description of the incident on the chariot with the voice from the sky, Kamsa threatening to kill her on the spot, Vasudeva begging for mercy and pleading to Kamsa’s reason – none of that has ever happened in the Buddhist text.
In our view that was a very significant occurrence, I think it’s very unlikely it was only a figment of some storyteller’s imagination.
Then there was an arrangement between Devahuti and her maid (!), Nandagopa(!) to swap children at birth, so that it would appear that Devahuit had only daughters while all her sons were given to Nandagopa’s care. There was no killing of Krishna’s brothers, no escape across the Yamuna. Again, I don’t think we’ve made that story up, more likely Buddhist sources were trying various plausible scenarios to tie loose ends together .
And then it goes on and on, but it’s not the historical accuracy or authenticity that makes Jataka version interesting, it’s how Krishna was presented overall – following from yesterday’s musings on His out of Vrindavana lilas.
Yesterday I said that Krishna’s main mission in this incarnation was not about Vrindavana pastimes, it was to relieve the earth of the excess of kshatriyas, atheists, re-establish principles of religion etc.
Vrindavana lila was just a bonus, came in a gift bag. No one until Lord Chaitanya realized the actual significance of Vraja lila, certainly not Buddhists. There’s not a single word about Krishna’s time in Vrindavana in Ghata Jataka, not important from the point of view and their interests.
God, they have no idea what they have missed!
To be fair, everybody saw Krishna according to his realization and attitude. For Lord Chaitanya’s followers He is the most attractive personality in all the material and spiritual worlds. On highest levels we are not supposed to be impressed by His position as the Supreme God anymore. His greatness, His power, His position among all the other Gods and gods – none of it would matter, we would just love Him unconditionally as a cowherd boy, for what he is – son, friend, first love etc.
Actually, this highest truth about devotional service to Krishna was practically the first thing I’ve learned about Krishna Consciousness so I take is as self evident truth. In Lord Chaitanya’s discussion with Ramananda Rai I couldn’t appreciate the build up of Lord Chaitanya’s questions and Ramananda’s answers. We are all supposed to serve Krishna with unalloyed love and devotion – why didn’t he start from that?
Looking at the Buddhist view of Krishna’s pastime makes me appreciate the mystery of devotional service a bit more. It really is NOT for everybody, common souls like me can only learn about it by the causeless mercy of Lord Chaitanya’s devotees. If not for that mercy we would probably be like these Buddhists – reading about Krishna as if He was some ordinary prince.
Still, it makes an interesting comparison between how devotees see Krishna and non-believers.
Yesterday I also talked about some difficulties we might face when explaining Krishna’s pastimes to outsiders and whether He really set standards of following religion. From how ordinary people understand dharma a lot of what Krishna did was at least contradictory and some would probably condemn Him outright. I think we don’t have a really good explanation for them, not without buying into the whole Krishna Consciousness ideology.
To put it another way – Krishna’s actions make sense only to the devotees. Everybody else might get completely bewildered or even hostile. From their point of view and their understanding of dharma Krisna doesn’t make sense.
This Buddhist story is a perfect example how people might completely misunderstand everything that Krishna ever done.
They talk about a gang of ten ferocious brothers plundering the country with absolute impunity and taking by force presents meant for the king himself.
I guess it’s the reference to the garment vendor mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam who refused to provide Krishna and Balarama with new clothing.
About a month ago I myself expressed some doubts about this particular incident and how it could have appeared to the outsiders. Well, today I’ve got the confirmation – some outsiders took the vendor’s side.
There’s a treasure trove of things like this in that Jataka, I think I’d better continue tomorrow.
So far I don’t see the bridge between devotees and non-devotees here. We can’t reach to them with logic and reasoning, only devotion in their hearts can make them see Krishna and appreciate His lessons in dharma.
Maybe this realization is of a more absolute nature than little disagreements over some “facts” in obscure Jataka tale.
Anyway, more on the matter tomorrow.