It’s easy for us to imagine Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Absolute Truth, full of knowledge and bliss. We don’t know Him any other way. Every time He comes into our minds we treat Him as omnipotent, omnipresent God. Every time we think of people interacting with Him we expect them to lose external consciousness and exhibit the same symptoms as Lord Caitanya did.
The reality might be very very different.
We think we know Kṛṣṇa but we don’t. Both in the sense we’ve never seen Him reveal Himself to us and in the sense that we can’t sense His presence in the Holy Name or in the Deity. We treat the Holy Name and the Deity as Kṛṣṇa Himself, and we treat our guru as Kṛṣṇa’s empowered representative and we think that this is enough. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.
It should be enough for our current spiritual needs and our current stage of progress but I don’t think it’s enough to say “we know Kṛṣṇa”.
It’s easy to know and recognize Kṛṣṇa – He has a bluish body and He is a young boy, who else can we mistake Him for? Lord Viṣṇu? Viṣṇu has four arms. Lord Śiva? I don’t think so. Yet Kṛṣṇa, if He suddenly decided to appear before us, might not look like what we expect at all. There are plenty of cases where He became visible and interacted with His devotees and they didn’t realize they were talking to Him.
Kṛṣṇa appeared before Mādhavendra Purī as a cowherd boy and offered him some milk, for example (CC Madhya 4, from verse 24 onwards). Mādhavendra Purī thought they boy was beautiful but he had no idea who he was. He then saw the same boy in his dream, followed the instructions, and discovered the Deity of Gopāla.
That story is interesting for another reason – it explains how Kṛṣṇa supports His devotees. He said that in His village no one fasts and He encouraged Mādhavendra Purī to go and beg for food. Isn’t it nice? Kṛṣṇa wants His devotees to beg for food, He asks us to do at least that much for our maintenance, and if that doesn’t work, He said, if a person doesn’t ask anyone for food, Kṛṣṇa supplies Him with eatables Himself.
How many of us are prepared to support ourselves by begging? Of course the caveat might be that Kṛṣṇa was talking about HIS village, at the foot of the Govardhana Hill, not the abominable places we are forced to reside in by our karma. Still, the principle is clear – we need to make an effort and Kṛṣṇa will make sure we get the provisions. And if we don’t make an effort we’d be forced to accept His personal service. What devotee would agree to that?
I guess it means we are okay working for food, too. Whatever efforts we must make, we cannot decline because doing so would mean bothering Kṛṣṇa just out of laziness and false pride. He’ll cover us, sure, but why would we want to inconvenience Him like that?
Anyway, another big case study of devotees not being able to recognize the Lord is life of Lord Caitanya. No one knew who He was even though many suspected He was not an ordinary boy. His older brother figured it out, that brāhmaṇa I wrote a bunch of posts about last week knew who He was, but most had no idea whatsoever.
They saw Him everyday, they were attracted by His beauty, they knew He was crazy after the names of Hari, but they couldn’t put two and two together. They looked at Him, talked to Him, played with Him and they didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. They didn’t lose consciousness, they didn’t cry incessantly, their skin didn’t get covered with goose bumps and so on.
Yes, He was relatively more attractive then all the other babies but that was it. He once walked into a Kṛṣṇa kathā get together in the house of Advaita Ācārya to call His brother Viśvarūpa home for dinner. He was very young then, didn’t even wear clothes. So He stood there, butt naked, covered in dust, looking with great appreciation at the devotees who were just discussing His own glories, and no one recognized Him. He just didn’t look the part.
Now imagine you get to see the Lord like that day in and day out, just like an ordinary boy, snot on his face, dirt under his fingernails, stinky head, restless and always hungry. How are we going to accept him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead?
He might have adorable feet but all children his age are, how can we see them as “lotus”, as our life and soul, and as our only shelter? I’m afraid we can’t.
People who get to associate with the Lord like that do not see divine in Him. He looks very ordinary. It was true for Kṛṣṇa, it was true for Lord Caitanya, too.
Now with Kṛṣṇa it looked somewhat easier – everyone in Vṛndāvana is a pure devotee, everyone has a loving relationship with the Lord, we don’t have to worry about them. In Navadvīpa, however, it was different. The town was overrun by materialists who ridiculed vaiṣṇavas on every occasion. That’s why devotees flocked to Advaita Ācārya’s house – they had no other place to go, everyone everywhere else would laugh at them and their Lord. It was tough, really tough.
And when Kṛṣṇa appeared there as Gaurasundara they still didn’t recognize Him. Lacking the knowledge of Lord Gaurāṅga’s identity they tried to establish relationships with Kṛṣṇa, basically ignoring the Lord before their eyes.
And what about all the non-devotees there? They rejected serving Kṛṣṇa and didn’t appreciate Lord Caitanya very much. Even Mother Śacī got angry at Advaita Ācārya for preaching about Kṛṣṇa, which is a different story but makes a point here nevertheless.
The Lord just looked very very human, and familiarity, as we know, breeds contempt. Maybe not outright contempt but we can’t suddenly treat someone clearly human as God, we will always remember a million human like things about that person. AND we might be non-devotees to boot, too. I mean now we know about Kṛṣṇa but in our next life, which could be in the company of Lord Caitanya, we might be His childhood friends or neighbors He comes to pee on the floor every time no one is looking.
We might see Him as a naughty little boy or as an arrogant young man intoxicated with his own intellect and education. We might think of him as someone who broke his mother’s heart and took sannyāsa when she had no one to look after her, no husband, no other sons.
What I am saying is that knowing the Lord up close and personal might turn out very different from what we usually expect. He might not look “lordly” at all. How are we going to surrender then?
Ther’s also the case of Lord Nityānanda but I’ll leave that for some other time