Vanity thought #210. Krishna’s appearance.

Bhagavat Gita 4.9:

One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.

I don’t get it – what’s not to understand?

Apparently it is a big deal – understand it and go back to Godhead, don’t understand it and stay here but I still don’t see what’s so important about it. What could it mean – not understand Krishna’s appearance? How can one not understand it?

Is my confusion related to what we’ve learned about Krishna’s appearance from Prabhupada? Does it apply to all the people who learned about Krishna in less authoritative ways?

For us it’s really simple – Krishna’s body is transcendental even if He appears as an ordinary human being. Perhaps for His contemporaries, for Arjuna’s contemporaries, there was a lot of confusion about Krishna’s real nature. That is understandable, does it mean that this verse was spoken particularly for their benefit?

They have seen Krishna face to face, they have seen Krishna get hungry and angry like any other human, they have seen Him exhibiting emotions and they have been spared doubts about all this being just a collection of myths. Krishna was very real for them – you could go and touch Him and you could sit down for a chat or, maybe, for a game of chess or whatever they did in those days to entertain themselves.

From this perspective it’s easy to understand that many couldn’t accept Krishna’s absolutely superior nature. He looked way too normal and human for them. I bet there were many people who thought they were better than Him in every way. Actually there were people who thought they were better, like Paundraka, for example, but I mean among Krishna’s friends and acquaintances there must have been some who thought they were more skillful at chess or archery or chatting up girls.

I guess it would have been difficult for them to accept Krishna’s supremacy and so they needed to realize His transcendental nature if they wanted to achieve liberation.

The problem is, though, is that they were already liberated simply by the dint of having personal relationships with Krishna. Arjuna himself had no idea who Krishna was, does it mean he was an ordinary conditioned soul? Of course not.

I still think, though, that out of thousands of people who have met Krishna in their lives there were plenty who didn’t fully used their chance to develop love of God, or hate of God, as did Kamsa and others. Without total absorption in the Lord and with remaining material attachments and big plans for the future it is probably impossible to reach Krishna’s abode despite meeting Him face to face on Earth.

What are they supposed to do once they reach the spiritual world if their interests still lie here? This should be a fair warning to us as well – if we don’t develop devotion there’s nothing for us to do there, too.

Anyway, that’s them, what about us? What problems do we face in understanding Krishna’s appearance?

The main one, I think, is that we simply don’t believe in it. With our background, I’m not talking about Indians here, stories about any God, Christ or Krishna, is a matter of faith and it goes against all factual evidence by definition. When we take to Krishna consciousness we go against everything we had been taught about God and his existence and that’s why I believe this old habit of ours is very difficult to overcome. We don’t admit it consciously but this is the root of all our behavior, all our thoughts and actions.

Krishna consciousness is supposed to replace these thoughts and attitudes and purify our hearts and minds but it’s a process, we’ll never see the end of it.

So, for people who lived five thousand years ago it was difficult to accept Krishna’s transcendental position, for us the position is given but it’s difficult to accept His very existence instead. We don’t know Krishna as anything else but the Supreme God, if He actually existed, of course.

Come to think of it, all evidence of His existence I have ever seen is a large grindstone allegedly pulled by baby Krishna during His famous deliverance of Nalakuvara and Manigriva, and remnants of the pillars of the temple built by Vajranabha, Krishna’s great grandson. Not much of an evidence, if you ask a skeptic within me. I can easily imagine a scenario where these stones were labeled as Krishna related just to please the devotees searching for proof.

There’s also a question of Krishna’s miracles, like that same grindstone – it’s too big and heavy for any one person to move. Would the people of that age have been doubtful of Krishna’s nature because they didn’t believe He could really pull it off? Not really, I think, Mahabharata is full of extraordinary feats. Some of the stories might appear as grossly exaggerated for us but by Vedic standards they were quite alright. Perhaps people didn’t believe in Krishna’s divinity because one doesn’t have to be God to suck life out of woman’s breast or kill an elephant with his bare hands.

Anyway, the difference in the nature of the doubts between us and Krishna’s contemporaries is not absolute, just look at the life of Lord Chaitanya. There’s no doubt He existed as real, historical personality. He wasn’t our contemporary but our authorities on the subject, historians and scientists, do not dispute His existence per se.

What we might doubt about Lord Chaitanya is His status as God Himself, pretty much as Kauravas might have doubted Krishna’s status as God. It’s easier for us to believe because we don’t know Lord Chaitanya as anything else but Krishna appearing as Radharani, thanks to the deficiency in our prior education. People who knew about Lord Chaitanya before reading Prabhupada’s version might have bigger problems with accepting His divine nature, and that brings me back to my original point – how anyone learning about Krishna from Srila Prabhupada not understand His appearance and pastimes? We are truly blessed this way.

Still, I think we tacitly accept stories from Bhagavatam as mythology that has some spiritual streak to them that is enough to sustain our faith and not much more. I’m speaking for myself here but I doubt I’m all that original in this regard.

With doubts like this – not about Krishna’s Supremacy but about His actual appearance on Earth, it doesn’t make any difference if He was actually born here or not. I have similar faith in Lord Ramachandra and His life story has no historical evidence whatsoever. It was so long ago that it’s impossible to accept it as real other than on faith.

What I mean to say is that I would believe in Krishna or Rama even if they didn’t actually appear here, even if there was no such place as Vrindavana, for example. Dvaraka has disappeared and people can only speculate where it once was but it doesn’t make it any less real for me, I believe in its existence equally.

Or even Vrindavan itself – I can’t see spiritual form of that place, it stays hidden from my materialistic eyes. I can see lots of temples and devotees and it certainly helps but if it turns out that actual locations of Krishna’s pastimes were some hundred kilometers to the east or to the west it wouldn’t make any difference to me, honestly, I won’t lose anything.

What really matters, at the end of the day, is how I can’t offer Krishna any birthday presents on this occasion. Janmashtami is marked in our calendars as a holiday and we subconsciously treat it as such, but it’s Krishna’s holiday, it’s not there for our pleasure, it’s for Krishna’s, and, sadly, I have nothing to offer, no birthday presents at all. It’s always me, me, me. “What can He do for me?” – that’s all I’m interested about.

I guess this demonstrates my misunderstanding of Krishna’s appearance – I believe He came down here to serve me better.

The really sad part is that if I had any actual devotion for Krishna then He, through His agencies, would have supplied me with ample opportunities to serve Him on this glorious day. I don’t deserve even that. Total waste of human form of life.

Oh well, I still have six rounds to chant today, I better use this last opportunity to the full, it’s all I can do and I should try to make it count.

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