And so it has been another year and it’s Kṛṣṇa’s appearance day again. Will He or won’t He? That is the question. In the aprakaṭa-līlā He will, of course, but in our current perception of Him?
Well, actually in His unmanifested pastimes it’s only His birthday, He appears there only once and then they celebrate His birthdays with their version of a cake and the birthday song, so it’s not “appearance day” per se, save for those devotees in vātsalya mood who relive His actual appearance over and over again. And it’s not a real “appearance day” for us either, it’s an anniversary of one, save for those of us who will be graced by His actual appearance in their hearts. That’s the anticipation I’m talking about – will He or won’t He?
It’s a safe bet that Kṛṣṇa won’t be making a personal entrance today yet but His appearance has degrees. He appears as His Holy Name, for example, or as a Deity form, and so what we are really talking about is the change in our perception of Him. If we are lucky we just might have a sudden surge in realization, which will be practically like an actual appearance.
Will His Holy Name dance on our tongues today? Will memories of Him melt our hearts? Will His Deity smile at us in a special way that would take away our breath for a second? Everything is possible and on His birthday the probability of this special mercy is a tad higher than usual. It could happen, if we do it right, for it’s always a two way street.
We say that Kṛṣṇa’s mercy is causeless, which means independent, but it’s a mercy of engaging us in a relationship, which means two hands need to make a clap, not one. Our hearts must be ready and eager to appreciate and reciprocate, we must deserve to be noticed even if we can’t force Kṛṣṇa’s hand. We will never actually deserve it but we still must try our best, and if we are not trying than it makes His mercy highly unlikely and a matter of fate, which itself depends on preciously accumulated good fortune.
In any case, we must develop bhakti in our hearts, whether it will be enough for Kṛṣṇa to accept our service or not is secondary, because bhakti is not only the goal but also the process AND the reward, too. Our lives are not about making Kṛṣṇa notice us but about making Him pleased with our devotional service regardless of how He chooses to react.
That’s a rather long introduction, our concern today should be about making that special effort, just because it’s Kṛṣṇa’s birthday. If we fail today there’s always tomorrow because it will be Śrīla Prabhupāda’s appearance day and he might plead a special case on our behalf, too.
Since it’s Kṛṣṇa’s appearance in Vṛndāvana it’s natural to dedicate this day to remembering His pastimes there. We might read something from Kṛṣṇa Book or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam but I’ve decided to have a look at actual Vṛndāvana since internet makes it so easy. Youtube is filled with videos of practically every aspect of Vṛndāvana’s life. Whatever comes to your mind, youtube has got it. Janmāṣṭamī in Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandira? They’ve got. Videos of parikramā, they’ve got it. Temples of Vṛndāvana, they’ve got it. Sounds of Vṛndāvana, they’ve got it. Sights of Vṛndāvana? They’ve got it. Govardhana, Varṣaṇa, they’ve got it all. Will it make any difference, though?
It’s obvious that this is engaging stuff, not as good as actual visits but still very potent. Most videos have got music for soundtrack but you get to see life in Vṛndāvana pretty much as it is, exactly the same things you’d notice, look at, and remember if you were actually there, but will it be enough?
It’s an interesting question because when I look at these images I have a suspicion that they are missing the point. Temples and deities are okay, I guess, but filming people of Vṛndāvana is a less certain affair. Let me explain what I mean.
We accept that residents of Vṛndāvana are special souls, Vrajavāsīs, they are not of this world even if they still live here. They are one or two steps away from being personally with Kṛṣṇa, they are His family already, they love Him very dearly and material world for them is not an illusion anymore but a medium for their eternal service.
With this understanding we think that looking and associating with Vrajavāsīs is purely spiritual. We are taught to always treat them with utmost respect, no matter what, and for this reason we are taught not to freely mingle because familiarity brings contempt and all that. Gawking at them is okay, though, and so is filming them.
Well, not everybody who we see or who we film is an actual factual Vrajavāsī. Many are pilgrims just like us, many are recent economic migrants attracted by the boom brought by the increase in visitors, and they bring their children with them, too, so not every kid is the Vrajavāsī of the kind we expect. They are all blessed, don’t get me wrong, but buying a condo in Vṛndāvana doesn’t automatically make one a resident and building that condo doesn’t do so either.
Then we have videos of legitimate Vrajavāsīs going about their daily lives – tending the cows, selling stuff, shopkeepers, pūjārīs etc. Absorbing their mood is beneficial no matter what but what we need to absorb is their internal mood, their external appearance is not nearly as important. I can compare it to watching your guru brush his teeth, blow his nose, and maybe even burp. On some higher level those are all spiritual activities but clearly not as beneficial as sitting at his feet, listening to him preaching and talking about Kṛṣṇa, and asking questions. That’s the kind of association we should seek from Vrajāvāsīs, too, but it’s nearly impossible to obtain.
Devoid of that we settle on watching them haggle over prices, or watching monkeys playing with each other, or watching peacocks etc. The real benefit of going to the dhāma is taking the association of the sādhus living there, staring at the monkeys in hope that something might just down on us is a waste of time and opportunity by comparison.
Here’s another thing I’ve noticed about Vrajavāsīs – they never really engage with you, even when they talk and look at you or look in the camera, they are not really there, their eyes never really open windows into their souls. It’s not a bad thing, as we would ordinarily think, it’s simply our lack of readiness to see what’s in the window. It’s not that they don’t show it, we are just not qualified to see.
When they do engage with us they do it out of their mercy and they try to do it by our rules, not by theirs. They try to deal with us on our level and our level is pretty low so possible benefits are lower, too. Most of the time our communication with Vrajavāsīs is about material things – prices, features, quality etc. We are interested in that and they are happy to oblige. We get some benefit but clearly not that much. Getting them to express their inner world of love for Kṛṣṇa is nearly impossible for outsiders like us.
So, if we want to put ourselves in the best position to prepare for Kṛṣṇa’s mercy today we should seek sādhus, not sights. We should seek devotees talking about Kṛṣṇa, devotees talking about parikramā, devotees talking about temples etc.
OTOH, today is the special day so anything can happen in most unexpected of places, we just don’t know how Kṛṣṇa might manifest His mercy and through what or who, so it’s okay to try everything as long as we are honest. At the end of all arguments we should take shelter in the Holy Name and trust that everything will be arranged, and keep a lookout in eager anticipation.