Putting us into the material world creates a fundamental problem for Kṛṣṇa – He can’t reach us! We are His counterparts as eternal spirit souls but when we accept temporary material identities He can’t relate to us in the natural way, He has to devise new methods to send us His messages.
It’s not only His problem, of course, we can’t reach Him, too. Even when we ostensibly decide to enlist into His service once again we can’t reach Him right away. The moment of surrender should be the moment our eternal relationship is promptly re-established but it proved to be practically impossible. We need to shake off the illusion first and until that happens we can’t reach Him. Liberation takes a lot longer than we estimate in the beginning, certainly not within this one lifetime, hopefully after death, but we can’t be totally sure either.
It’s not some design fault, of course, and it’s not a problem per se – it’s a process. We need to do our part and Kṛṣṇa does His, eventually the twain shall meet, we gradually cleanse our hearts and convert ourselves back to our true spiritual selves and Kṛṣṇa never runs out of options to contact us either, but He does that indirectly, via the medium of His external energy.
This method of reaching us might not be as fool proof as speaking to us personally but it does the job, and it also continuously tests our commitment as we have to make conscious, voluntary choices to accept His materially manifested messages. If we deal with them inappropriately and disrespectfully it shows to Kṛṣṇa that we are not ready for His own grand entrance yet. “Love me, ḷove my dog” kinda test.
For us it means that there’s persistent mismatch between Kṛṣṇa’s eternal nature and His external manifestations. Deities are not eternal, for example. We haven’t seen much of Deity disappearances yet but we all can observe the process of Deity creation. Hopefully, our Deities will last for our lifetime and so the question of losing the Deity will never arise but we can easily get separated from them – we need to live in close proximity to the temple to have a meaningful relationships with our Deity.
Sometimes temples relocate, sometimes we move to a new house, things happen. We can’t also rule out the possibility of a Aurangazeb like crackdown when our temples get outlawed and destroyed. Russians should always watch out for this, or Ukrainians who had to move our of the war zone. Sometimes there are earthquakes, like in New Zealand a few days ago.
The point is – we can always lose our Deity because we both operate in the material world where nothing is solid and everything is impermanent. We should value the fleeting moments of our association with our Deity, they are irreplaceable.
Another way for the Lord to reach us is śāstra. Traditionally, knowledge has always been the best way to realize God. Even deities are just dolls if we don’t have enough knowledge to treat them as direct manifestation of Godhead. Knowledge, Veda, is what always sets people free.
Knowledge, however, needs material carriers. Only very few realized souls can receive it through their hearts in meditation, the rest of us need to access it with our material senses. This means that knowledge need to be manifested through temporary, material forms. This means that sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not, and it can disappear at any moment.
This happens all the time, albeit mostly on the cosmic scale. Within our limited lifespans nothing major happens to the existing fund of knowledge, it’s not a big deal – we have libraries, we buy our own books, we have digital copies – once it’s there it’s going to be preserved one way or another. If we take a longer view, however, knowledge comes and goes all the time.
I remember some estimate that we have access to only 20% of all revealed scriptures. Maybe this number is wrong but it illustrates the point all the same. On the other hand, we also have a plethora of spurious texts purporting to be this and that and it’s hard to decide which of those we can trust, like Bhaviṣya Purāṇa. We love to quote from it but it was unknown to Six Gosvāmīs, they never referenced it in their writings, I guess it was considered extant at the time.
If we zoom out a little more we can see how Vedic knowledge came under serious threat in the beginning of the Kali yuga and Śrīla Vyāsadeva had to write it all down. It’s easy to imagine entire generations of people not having access to important portions of Vedas until Vyāsadeva’s work was complete.
And Śrīmad Bhāgavatam didn’t come out until the very end, and we know that all Vedic literature before that was dealing with a happy material life, traigunya viśaya veda, as Kṛṣṇa told Arjuna (BG 2.45). What was the point of learning all that if it didn’t lead to devotional service to the Lord? What was the fate of people living in pre-Bhāgavatam time?
We always make a point about Christians who claim there’s no salvation outside of Christ – why would God abandon billions of people who have never had an opportunity to meet a Christian? Not just abandon but condemn to eternity in hell. It just doesn’t make sense.
We, ourselves, have the same problem, however – what was people’s chance before Bhāgavatam was propagated?
Our answer is that we don’t know how exactly but Kṛṣṇa always provides necessary guidance to those who search for Him. Now it might come through Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books bought so many years ago and collecting dust on a bookshelf, we are sure there was a way for Him to reach people back then, too.
OTOH, both Advaita Ācārya and Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura lamented the degraded state of human knowledge in their times. Advaita Ācārya tackled the problem in a God-like way – by summoning Kṛṣṇa Himself while Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura translated, wrote and published thousands and thousands of books for the benefit of the general public. Śrīla Prabhupāda did the same for the western audience, too. It’s all very nice, but what about people who died just before Prabhupāda came to America? What about those who died just before Lord Caitanya’s appearance? What about those who died before Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura? What was their chance?
We could say that those ready for spiritual knowledge were born in the appropriate places at appropriate times and those who didn’t have any access were not interested anyway, but that doesn’t quite fit with our narrative about people being saved from ignorance. It means people were destined to be saved the moment they were born, taking away credits from Śrīla Prabhupāda and his followers.
This is where it gets confusing – were we saved by luck or by design? Were we saved by mercy or we earned our right in our previous lives? Our teachings support both premises at the same time, which is fine, I guess, the only danger is minimizing our respect for the efforts of Śrīla Prabhupāda and our gurus.
Perhaps we have to learn to appreciate their mercy regardless of whether we were put in the position to receive it by chance or by lifetimes of accumulating ajñāta sukṛti. I think it would be worth the effort to see and appreciate the glorious spiritual component of our guru instead of tying him up to material circumstances.
Guru and time, btw, is still the subject I haven’t tackled yet even though I meant to a few days ago. Coming soon, I hope.