As I was saying yesterday – it’s not really clear what or who Kṛṣṇa is for most of us, conditioned souls. His devotees, real ones, have some sort of direct perception of His form and qualities but all of that is hidden from us, we have to rely on our our imagination instead.
One could say that we have authoritative descriptions of practically every aspect of Kṛṣṇa’s personality but having heard about Him and seeing Him for real are two very different things.
Look how it works – we read somewhere that His face resembles some campaka flower and His eyes resemble lotus petals and His lips resemble bimba fruit, now go and draw it. How?
I mentioned campaka because it’s the only flower I remember off the top of my head, I don’t think it matters because I’ve never seen it, nor have I ever seen any of other flowers usually mentioned in our literature. I don’t even know what lotus petals look like, the ones I’ve seen made no impression on me, I expect Kṛṣṇa’s eyes to be much more beautiful that that, and don’t even start on bimba fruit.
The color of tamal tree is also a mystery. One can easily google it, of course, but none of the pictures really helps. Personally, I wouldn’t use any of them to talk about actual person’s skin color.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda was here devotees just asked him if their paintings of Kṛṣṇa were correct and that was good enough, but good enough is not enough to say that this is exactly what Kṛṣṇa looks like. We still only imagine Him, and even within our ISKCON history we can see evolution of our imagination.
Early depictions of baby Kṛṣṇa showed Him looking like an angel or even Cupid of western pastoral tradition. Latest ones, however, are blue copies of contemporary CGI animations while others are clearly inspired by computer game graphics.
The point is – we do not know Kṛṣṇa, we only imagine what He looks like and we use our material standards to describe or draw Him. Can we surrender to such pictures?
Well, yes, as long as they are approved by our guru, but I don’t think any of us is weird enough to actually equate our mundane drawings with Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental nature. We are not surrendering to colored lines on paper, we surrender to…, I don’t really know what. A concept?
There are also deities, those are non-different from the Lord and we can surrender to them as if they are actual persons, they just don’t move like the rest of us, but even in that case we do not surrender to metal or carved marble, material elements making up a deity are not Kṛṣṇa per se, even though inseparable from Him.
Deities are like bodies – someone creates them and then the Lord enters them, and at some point they get destroyed and merge with the rest of material elements while Kṛṣṇa lives on. Without Kṛṣṇa’s presence they are just dead statues, but what is this “Kṛṣṇa” thing that makes them alive?
There’s also the Holy Name, which is non-different from the Lord in every respect. It’s not a material vibration even though it sounds like an ordinary audio wave. We can record it, amplify it, put it through an equalizer and apply all kinds of effects, material form will change but Kṛṣṇa won’t. How? Is the material sound of the Holy Name material?
Obviously it is – it needs material sources to create the vibration. It comes from our tongues and mouths. In the spiritual world it exists on its own, I suppose, and sometimes it can manifest independently of material carriers even within this universe, like when Lord Brahmā heard it in meditation, but generally we deal with clearly material vibrations.
Can we produce them artificially? I suppose we can – we can get Siri to say Kṛṣṇa’s name and even chant the entire mahāmantra but would it make it into a Holy Name?
To become transcendental sound the Holy Name must come from the right sources, or it would become poisonous like milk touched by a snake. Does it mean that if a devotee makes Siri to say “Kṛṣṇa” then it will be Holy, and if a non-devotee does it than it will be just an ordinary sound?
On this point – we shouldn’t take poisoned milk analogy too far – what will be poisoned is our relationships with the Lord, the Name itself cannot be affected, and, if you think of it, ALL instances of the Holy Name in this world are authorized. They might be corrupted by non-devotional attitudes but the name Kṛṣṇa doesn’t have any other source but Kṛṣṇa Himself. Even the generic word kṛṣṇa has its source in the Lord.
Atheists can think up their own names for God and those won’t be authorized but they can’t change the origin of names like Kṛṣṇa or Govinda, these names will always be non-different from the Lord.
Does it mean they are real and not imaginary like our drawings?
That opens up another aspect of Lord’s representation in the material world – even if the name itself is fully spiritual, we do not perceive it as such. It might be objectively real but it doesn’t feel like it to us, and so what is the use of its reality?
We can’t avoid disrespecting the Holy Name if we don’t see it as Holy. If the sound of Kṛṣṇa is non-different from any other sound and we’d rather listen to a neighbor spreading some new, juicy gossip, what’s the value of the name being non-different from the Lord?
It’s not the lack of Lord’s presence that keeps us from His association, it’s something else.
So, arguing the material or spiritual nature of the Holy Name misses the point. Whatever we decide as the best outcome of this debate won’t change how we perceive it, it won’t reveal Kṛṣṇa’s real, spiritual form.
Can we surrender to the Holy Name? I guess we can, but what do we actually do when it happens?
For kids it’s easy to surrender to their parents – just trust your father, he’ll make everything alright. When we grow up we surrender to our teachers, then we might surrender if we join the army. We surrender to politicians and political parties, we surrender to the governments, we surrender to our partners and families.
It always requires a personal touch and reciprocation, even with large, impersonal entities like the army or the government. Without feedback surrender makes no sense, we at least expect a peace of mind in return.
How do we surrender to the name? How do we surrender to the sound? We don’t see it as a person and we don’t expect the sound itself to offer us protection or solve our problems. Kṛṣṇa does that, and even if He is non-different from the sound, He exists separately from it, too. We can just think of Kṛṣṇa and surrender to Him in our mind. Is His mental image in our heads imaginary of real?
In my head it’s not an image at all, just an awareness, a concept, something that I assume to be God. It has no shape or form, it doesn’t talk, it can’t be defined, it can’t be compared to flowers or fruits. It doesn’t feel like anything in particular.
When I tell myself “always remember Kṛṣṇa” there’s nothing really to remember – unlike anyone else I know, I’ve never seen Him, never experienced Him, I have no memories of Him. What’s there to remember? Even if I had some warm memories that I attribute to His mercy, I can’t invoke them at will, I don’t even remember them exactly.
What is real about this Kṛṣṇa and what is not? What am I supposed to surrender to? A product of my imagination? An actual sound?
It’s the second day in a row and I’m nowhere near the answer. Maybe it will come to me in the future.