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A four-part talk on the history of Krishna’s appearance, given in the actual place where Krishna appeared on Earth, Vrindavan, India, by Radhanath Swami. Recorded at Gokula Mahavan, the site of some of Krishna's earliest childhood pastimes.
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Part One: The Importance of Hearing Krishna's Pastimes
Considering our vulnerable position in material existence, Radhanath Swami explains some of the benefits of hearing about Krishna, as well as the dangers of remaining absorbed in prajalpa, or materialistic subjects.
He then introduces the dangerous condition of the Earth that prompted the demigods to pray for Krishna’s appearance.
Part Two: the Conditions Under Which Krishna Appears
Just as Balarama appears in the womb of Devaki before Krishna appears—to purify and prepare the atmosphere there—here's what has to happen in our own lives before Krishna will appear in our hearts:
“When we take shelter of Krishna in a spirit of devotion, fear the power of maya, and never let go of Krishna’s mercy, never let go of the association of devotees who are saving us at every moment, we become purified.”
We hear the interesting socio-political situation in Vrindavan that resulted in Nanda Maharaja becoming king, and the mystery of how Krishna originally came to Vrindavan.
Part Three: Krishna Appears
How Nanda Maharaj first received news of Krishna’s birth, how the residents of Vrindavan celebrated the occasion, and the arrival (and departure) of Putana, a shape-changing witch who had a plan to kill Krishna.
Part Four: "Just Like a Sweet, Helpless Little Baby"
The "nourishing milk of transcendental wisdom," regarding who is a guru and who is not.
Also, how Krishna dispatched Shakatasura, another shape-changing demon who took the form of a big cart full of pots and pans.
Janmāṣhṭamī Lord Śrī Krishna’sAppearance Day Lecture by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda
London, August 21, 1973
(chants maṅgalācaraṇa prayers) His Excellency, the High Commissioner; ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for your coming here and participating in this ceremony, Janmāṣṭamī, advent of Krishna. The subject matter I’ve been ordered to speak on is advent of Krishna. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gītā,
janma karma me divyaṁyo jānāti tattvataḥtyaktvā dehaṁ punar janmanaiti mām eti kaunteya
This fact, that we can achieve such a stage of life when we can stop our birth and death… Sa ’mṛtatvāya kalpate. This morning, I was explaining this verse:
yaṁ hi na vyathayanty etepuruṣaṁ puruṣarsabhasama-duḥkha-sukhaṁ dhīraṁso ’mṛtatvāya kalpate
Amrtatva means immortality. So the modern civilization, they have no idea, either the great philosopher, great politician or great scientist, that it is possible to attain the stage of immortality. Amṛtatva. We are all amṛta. In the Bhagavad-gītā it is said, na jāyatena mrīyate vā kadācin. We living entities, we never die, never take birth. Nityaḥ śāśvato yaṁ, na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre Every one of us, we are eternal, nityaḥ śāśvato; Purāṇa, the oldest. And after annihilation of this body, we do not die. Na hanyate. The body is finished, but I have to accept another body. Tathā dehāntaraprāptir dhīras tatra na muhyati. Dehino ’smin yathā dehe kaumāraṁyauvanaṁ jarā.
This simple thing, at the present moment, they are lacking knowledge, that we, all living entities, part and parcel of Krishna, we are eternal, we are blissful, and we are cognizant. Krishna is described in the Vedic śāstras:
Sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ. God, Krishna, when I speak Krishna, that means God. If there is any important name… God, it is sometimes said God has no name. That’s a fact. But God’s name is given by His activities. Just like Krishna accepted the sonhood of Mahārāja Nanda, or Yaśodāmāyī, or Devakī, or Vasudeva. Vasudeva and Devakī were Krishna’s real father and mother. Nobody is real father and mother of Krishna, because Krishna is the original father of everyone. But when Krishna comes here, advents, He accepts some devotees as His father, as His mother. Krishna is the original, ādi-puruṣaṁ. Ādyaṁ Purāṇa-puruṣam nava-yauvanaṁ ca He is the original person. Then must be very old? No. Adyam purāṇa puruṣam nava-yauvanamca. Always fresh youth. That is Krishna. When Krishna was on the battlefield of Kurukṣetra, you have seen the picture, He’s just like a boy of twenty years or, at most, twenty-four years old. But at that time, He had great-grandchildren. Therefore, Krishna is always youth. Navayauvanam ca. These are the statements of Vedic literatures.
So, to understand Krishna, simply if we read as a formality the Vedic literature, it will be very difficult to understand what is Krishna. Vedesu durlābhaṁ. Although all the Vedas are meant for understanding Krishna. In the Bhagavad-gītā, it is said, vedaiś casarvair aham eva vedyo. Aham eva vedyo. What is the use of studying Vedas if you do not understand Krishna? Because the ultimate goal of education means to understand the Supreme Lord, the supreme father, the supreme cause. As it is said in the Vedānta-sūtra, janmādy asya yataḥ. Athāto brahma jijñāsā. Brahma-jijnasa, to discuss about the Supreme Absolute Truth, Brahman. What is that Brahman? Janmādy asya yatah. That Brahman means wherefrom everything emanates. So science, philosophy, means to find out the ultimate cause of everything. That we are getting from the śāstras, Vedic literature, that Krishna is the cause of all causes. Sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam. Sarva-kāraṇa-kāraṇam.
Cause of all causes. Just like try to understand. I am caused by my father. My father is caused by his father. He is caused by his father, his father… Go on searching, then you’ll ultimately come to somebody who is the cause. But He has no cause. Anādir ādirgovindaḥ I may be cause of my son, but I am also result of the cause, my father. But the śāstra says that anādir ādir, He is the original person, but He has no cause. That is Krishna. Therefore, Krishna says that janma karma ca me divyaṁ yo jānāti tattvataḥ . The advent of Krishna, it is very important thing. We should try to understand Krishna, why He advents, why He comes on this material world, what is His business, what are His activities. If we simply try to understand Krishna, then what is the result? The result is tyaktvādehaṁ punar janma naiti mām eti kaunteya . You get that immortality. The aim of life is to achieve immortality. Amṛtatvāyakalpate.
So in the advent of Krishna, we shall try to understand the philosophy of Krishna. His Excellency was speaking of peace. The peace formula is there, spoken by Krishna. What is that?
If the politicians, diplomats, they are trying to establish peace in the world… The United Nation is there, and there are many other organizations. They are trying to have real peace and tranquillity, no misunderstanding between man to man, nation to nation. But that is not happening. That is not happening. The defect is that in the root is wrong. Everyone’s thinking “It is my country. It is my family. It is my society. It is my property.” This “mine” is illusion. In the śāstra it is said, janasya moho ’yam ahaṁ mameti This “I and my” philosophy is illusion.
So this illusion means māyā. māyā… If you want to get out of this illusion, māyā, then you have to accept the Krishna’s formula. Māmeva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te. Everything is there in the Bhagavad-gītā for guidance if we accept the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā as it is. Everything is there. Peace is there, prosperity is there. So that is a fact. Unfortunately, we do not accept it. That is our misfortune. Or we misinterpret it. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gītā, man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru. Krishna says that “You always think of Me,” man-manā bhavamad-bhakto. “Become My devotee.” Mad-yājī, “You worship Me.” Māṁ namaskuru, “And offer obeisances unto Me.” Is it very difficult task? Here is Krishna’s Deity. If you think of this Deity, Rādhā-Krishna, is it very difficult? Man-manā. You come into the temple and, just as a devotee, offer your respect to the Deity, man-manā bhava mad-bhakto. As far as possible try to worship the Deity, patraṁ puṣpaṁphalaṁ toyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati. Krishna does not want your whole property. Krishna is open to the poorest man for being worshiped. What He is asking? He says, patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁtoyaṁ yo me bhaktyā prayacchati: “With devotion, if a person offers Me a little leaf, a little fruit, a little water, I accept it.” Krishna is not hungry, but Krishna wants to make you devotee. That is the main point. Yo me bhaktyā prayacchati. That is the main principle. If you offer Krishna little things… Krishna is not hungry; Krishna is providing food for everyone. Eko yo bahūnāṁ vidadhāti kāmān. But Krishna wants your love, your devotion. Therefore He is begging little patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ. Man-manā bhava mad-bhakto. There is no difficulty in understanding Krishna and to accept Krishna consciousness. But we’ll not do that; that is our disease. Otherwise, it is not difficult at all. And as soon as we become devotee of Krishna, we understand the whole situation. Our philosophy, Bhāgavata philosophy, is also communism because we consider Krishna the supreme father, and all living entities, they are all sons of Krishna.
So Krishna says that He is the proprietor of all planets, sarva-loka-maheśvaram. Therefore whatever there is, either in the sky or in the water or in the land, they’re all Krishna’s property. And because we are all sons of Krishna, therefore every one of us has the right to use (the) father’s property. But we should not encroach upon others. This is the formula of peace. Mā gṛdha kasya svidhanam, īśāvāsyamidaṁ sarvam. Everything belongs to God. You are sons of God. You have got the right to use father’s property, but do not take more than you need. That is punishable. These things are stated in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Stena eva sa ucyate, in the Bhagavad-gītā, “he’s a thief.” If anyone takes more than he needs, then he’s a thief. Yajñārthāt karmaṇo ’nyatra loko ’yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ. If for the satisfaction of Krishna… Yajña means Krishna’s another name is Yajñeśvara. So you act for Krishna, you take prasāda Krishna. That what we are teaching here. In this temple, we are residing Americans, Indians, Englishmen, Canadians, Africans, different parts of the world. You know that. Not only in this temple, all over the world. [break]
…when we forget this philosophy, that Krishna is the supreme father, Krishna is the supreme proprietor, Krishna is the supreme enjoyer and Krishna is the supreme friend of everyone. When you forget this, then we come into this material world and struggle for existence, fight with one another. This is material life. So you cannot get… The politicians, diplomats, philosophers, they have tried so much, but actually nothing has become fruitful. Just like the United Nations. It was organized after the second great war, and they wanted that peacefully we shall settle everything. But there is no such thing. The fighting is going on between Pakistan and India, between Vietnam and America, and this and that. It is not the process. The process is Krishna consciousness. Everyone has to understand this fact, that we are not proprietor. Proprietor is Krishna. That’s a fact. Just like America. Say two hundred years ago the Americans, the European migrators, they were not proprietor—somebody was proprietor. Before them, somebody was proprietor or it was vacant land. The actual proprietor is Krishna. But artificially you are claiming that “It is my property.” Janasya moho ’yam ahaṁ mameti. This is called māyā.
So Krishna advents for give us lesson. Yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānirbhavati bhārata. Krishna says, “My dear Arjuna, I come when there is discrepancies in the process of religious life.” Dharmasyaglānir bhavati. And what is dharma? The simple definition of dharma is dharmāṁ tu sākṣād bhagavat- praṇītam. This is dharma. Dharmāṁ tu sākṣād bhagavat-praṇītam. Just like what do you mean by law? Law means the word given by the state. You cannot make law at home. That is not possible. Whatever the government gives you, that “You should act like this,” that is law. Similarly, dharma means the direction given by God. That is dharma. Simple definition. You create dharma. I have created this dharma, another man creates another dharma; these are not dharma. Therefore, where the Bhagavad-gītā ends, that sarva-dharmānparityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ , this is dharma—to surrender to Krishna. Any other dharma, they are not dharma. Otherwise, why Krishna asks sarva-dharmān parityajya: “Give up”? He said that dharma-saṁsthāpanārthāya sambhavāmi yuge yuge: “I advent to establish the principles of religion.” And at last He says, sarva-dharmān parityajya. That means the so-called dharmas that we have manufactured, man-made dharmas, they are not dharmas.Dharma means what is given by God. But we have no understanding what is God and what is His word. That is the modern civilization defect. But the order is there, God is there—we won’t accept. Where is the possibility of peace? The order is there. Krishna says, the Supreme, bhagavān uvāca. Vyāsadeva writes bhagavān uvāca. One should know what is bhagavān. Vyāsadeva could have written Krishnauvāca. No. He says… If one may misunderstand Krishna, therefore he writes in every stanza, every verse, śrī bhagavān uvāca. So Bhagavān is there. Bhagavān is speaking. Bhagavān is accepted by all the ācāryas. Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇusvāmī. Latest, Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu also, even Śaṅkarācārya, he also accepts Krishna—sa bhagavān svayaṁ Krishna. So the verdict of the modern ācāryas, and in the past also, Vyāsadeva, Nārada, Asita, everyone accepted Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Arjuna, who heard from Krishna, after understanding Bhagavad-gītā, he said, paraṁ brahma paraṁ dhāma pavitraṁ paramaṁ bhavān puruṣamādyaṁ śāśvatam.
So everything is there. Especially in India, we have got so much asset for understanding God. Simple thing. Everything is there ready made. But we won’t accept. So what is the remedy for such disease? We are searching after peace, but we won’t accept anything which is actually giving us peace. This is our disease. So this Krishna consciousness movement is trying to awaken the dormant Krishna consciousness in everyone’s heart. Otherwise, how these Europeans and Americans and other countrymen, they never heard of Krishna four or five years ago, how they are taking Krishna consciousness so seriously? Krishna consciousness is there in everyone’s heart. It has to be awakened only. That is described in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta
It is awakened. Love for Krishna, devotion for Krishna, is there within everyone’s heart, but he has forgotten. So this Krishna consciousness movement is simply meant for awakening that Krishna consciousness. This is the process. Just like when you are sleeping, your, I have to call you loudly—“Mr. such and such, such and such, get up. You have got this business.” No other senses will act when you are sleeping. But the ear will act. Therefore, in this age, when people are so fallen they will not hear anything, if we chant this Hare Krishna mahā-mantra, he’ll be awakened to Krishna consciousness. This is practical.
So actually if we are anxious for peace and tranquillity in society, then we must be very serious to understand Krishna. That is our request. Don’t take it neglectfully, the Krishna consciousness movement. This movement can solve all the problems of life, all the problems in the world. Social, political, philosophical, religious, economical—everything can be solved by Krishna consciousness. Therefore, we request those who are leaders—just like His Excellency is present here—you should try to understand this Krishna consciousness movement. It is very scientific, authorized. It is not a mental concoction or sentimental movement. It is most scientific movement. So we are inviting all leaders from all countries: try to understand. If you are sober, if you are actually reasonable, you’ll understand that this Krishna consciousness movement is the sublime movement for the welfare of the whole human society. That’s a fact. Anyone may come. We are prepared to discuss this subject matter. Krishna bhūliyā jīva bhoga vāñchā kare. We should not…
Our human life, the ultimate goal of human life is to achieve immortality. Tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti , This is our…, we have forgotten this. We are simply leading the life of cats and dogs, without any knowledge that we can achieve that perfection of life when there will be no more birth, no more death. We do not understand even that there is possibility of amṛtatvam. But everything is possible. Amṛtatvam. Nobody wants to die. That’s a fact. Nobody wants to become old man, nobody wants to become diseased. This is our natural inclination. Why? Because originally, in our spiritual form, there is no birth, no death, no old age, no disease. So after evolutionary process down from the aquatics, birds, beasts, plants, trees, when you come to this form of human form of body after… Aśītiṁ caturaś caiva lakṣāṁs tād jīva-jātiṣu. This is evolutionary process. We come to the human form of body. Then we should know what is the goal of life. The goal of life is amṛtatvam, to become immortal. That you can become immortal simply by becoming Krishna conscious. Krishna says. It is a fact. We have to simply understand. Janma karma me divyaṁ yo jānātitattvataḥ. If you try to understand Krishna in truth, tattvataḥ, then, tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma naiti, after giving up this body, you don’t accept any more material body. And as soon as you don’t accept any material body means you become immortal. Because by nature we are immortal.
So Krishna advents, Krishna advents to teach us this lesson, that “You are immortal by nature. As spirit soul you are part and parcel of Me. I am as immortal. So you are also immortal. Unnecessarily, you are trying to be happy in this material world.”
Simply struggle for…, unnecessarily. The best thing is that you have enjoyed sense life in so many varieties of life, as cats, as dogs, as demigods, as tree, as plants, as insect. Now, in this human form of life, don’t be captivated by sensuous life. Just try to understand Krishna. That is the verdict of the śāstras. Nāyaṁ deho deha-bhājāṁnṛloke kaṣṭān kāmān arhate viḍ-bhujāṁ ye . To work very hard like dogs and hog for sense gratification is not the ambition of human life. Human life is meant for little austerity. Tapodivyaṁ putrakā yena śuddhyet sattvam. We have to purify our existence. That is the mission of human life. Why I shall purify my sattva existence? Brahma-saukhyam tv anantam. Then you get unlimited pleasure, unlimited happiness. That is real pleasure. Ramante yogino ’nante satyānanda-cid-ātmani iti rāma-padenāsauparaṁ brahmābhidhīyate.
So, at least in India, all the great personalities, saintly persons, sages and ācāryas, they have cultivated this spiritual knowledge so nicely and fully, and we are not taking advantage of it. It is not that those śāstras and directions are meant for the Indians or for the Hindus or for brāhmaṇas. No. It is meant for everyone. Because Krishna claims
Krishna claims that “I am everyone’s father.” Therefore, He is very much anxious to make us peaceful, happy. Just like the father wants to see his son is well situated and happy; similarly, Krishna also wants to see every one of us happy and well-situated. Therefore He comes sometimes. Yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati This is the purpose of Krishna’s advent. So those who are servants of Krishna, devotees of Krishna, they should take the mission of Krishna. They should take up the mission of Krishna. That is Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s version.
āmāra ajñāya guru hañā tāra ei deśayare dekha, tare kaha, ‘Krishna’-upadeśa
Krishna-upadeśa. Just try to preach what Krishna has said in the Bhagavad-gītā. That is the duty of every Indian. Caitanya Mahāprabhu says.
bhārata-bhūmite manuṣya janma haila yārajanma sārthaka kari para-upakāra.
So Indians, Indians are meant for para-upakāra. Indians are not meant for exploiting others. That is not Indians’ business. Indian history is all along for para-upakāra. And formerly, from all parts of the world, used to come to India to learn what is spiritual life. Even Jesus Christ went there. And from China and from other countries. That is history. And we are forgetting our own asset. How much we are callous. Such a great movement, Krishna consciousness, is going on all over the world, but our Indians are callous, our government is callous. They do not take. That is our misfortune. But it is the Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s mission. He says any Indian, bhāratabhūmite manuṣya janma, if he’s human being, he must make his life perfect by taking advantage of this Vedic literature and distribute the knowledge all over the world. That is para-upakāra. So India can do. They are actually appreciating. These Europeans, American young men, they are appreciating that how great… I get daily dozens of letter, how they are benefited by this movement. Actually, that is the fact. It is giving the life for the dead man. So I shall specially request the Indians, especially His Excellency, kindly cooperate with this movement, and try to make successful your life and others’ life. That is the mission of Krishna, advent of Krishna.
On a field near Govardhana Hill, in the twilight, the demon Arishtasura had assumed the form of a bull and, at King Kamsa’s order, had tried to kill Lord Krishna. Instead, the Lord had slain him. Just prior to his attack, Krishna had been chatting with His girlfriends, the gopis of Vrindavana, who had become quite frightened by the demon’s angry bellowing.
Krishna strolled over to them, expecting to engage in their usual rasa dance. In this, the girls would form a circle, Krishna would miraculously reproduce His body between each two girls, and the party would ecstatically dance round and round. But the gopis, now relieved of their fear of Arishtasura, were in a playful, joking mood.
As Krishna tried to place His arm around the shoulder of one of them, she flinched and stepped back, saying, “I don’t think You should touch any of us now.”
“Oh? And why not?”
“Well, You’ve just killed a bull. And the scriptures consider a bull to be as sacred as a cow.”
“True, but that bull was really a demon.”
“Doesn’t matter,” a second girl said. “He still had a bull’s body. So by killing him, You’ve committed a terrible sin.”
“I have?” Krishna beamed, playing along with their joke.
“Absolutely. You’re very contaminated now.”
“How terrible!” Krishna said with mock seriousness. “Then what should I do?”
“You should atone for Your sin,” a third gopi said.
“Atone?” He asked, eyebrows raised.
They all nodded firmly, wanting to laugh but restraining themselves.
The first gopi said, “I think You should bathe in every holy river in the world.”
The other gopis nodded.
“All the rivers?” Krishna asked.
“Yes,” the girls giggled. “All.”
“But that’ll take too long. I have a better idea.”
“Oh?” they inquired.
“Instead, I’ll bring the rivers here.”
“How can You do that?” asked the second gopi skeptically.
Krishna turned away from them and kicked His heel into the ground, making a hole.
Then He ordered, “O holy rivers, please come here at once!”
In a few seconds, the personified forms of every sacred river appeared there, standing with their palms folded and heads bowed. The men were bare-chested but decked in rich dhotis, whereas the women were wearing luxurious saris.
Krishna turned to the gopis.
“See? They’re all here.”
Although the girls were astonished, they scoffed, “We don’t see anybody.”
Krishna said to the rivers, “Would you please announce yourselves?”
Each river spoke his or her name, such as Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Sarayu, Sona, and Sindhu.
The gopis looked at each other doubtfully. Were those persons really those rivers?
Then the hole that Krishna had made with His heel suddenly expanded into a vast hollow, and all the personified rivers gladly entered it, each manifesting his or her own water form. It was now a beautiful, inviting, holy pond.
Krishna descended and splashed into it up to His neck, dunked His head several times, and climbed out, drying His dark glistening body with His hands.
“Well, now I’m completely pure.” He smiled. “You don’t have to worry anymore.”
The girls tittered, knowing they never had to anyway.
“But look at you,” Krishna said with mock condescension, pointing at them.
“What about us?” a few asked.
“You’re all impure.”
“Us?” several answered, incredulously.
“No, we didn’t touch the bull,” the second girl said. “You did.”
“True, but you’ve never performed any religious activities for Lord Brahma’s pleasure. That makes you impure.”
Then Krishna’s favorite, Srimati Radharani, turned to Her girlfriends and said, “All right, if we’re impure, then we’ll become pure.”
“How?” the third gopi asked.
“I’ll make an even better pond than Krishna’s, and we’ll all bathe in it.”
“But where?” asked the second gopi.
“Just follow Me.”
With Krishna in tow, Radharani confidently led Her friends a short distance away. They noticed that Arishtasura’s hooves had dug a shallow ditch just west of Krishna’s pond, and Radharani decided to make Her pond there.
“Let’s start digging,” She said to Her friends.
They bent over, began clutching clumps of soft clay, and discarded them. After only an hour, they created a large hollow.
Krishna was astonished by how rapidly they had dug it.
When the gopis came out, the Lord munificently said to them, “You can fill it up with the holy water from My pond.”
“Your pond?” Radharani asked, patronizingly.
“Yes, why not?”
“Because Your pond is contaminated. When You bathed in it, You left Your bull-killing sin there. I don’t want that in My pond!”
Krishna laughed loudly.
“Then where will You get the holy water?”
“From the nearby Manasi Ganga lake. We’ll bring many pots of it here.”
Krishna recalled that some time ago He had meditated on the holy Ganges River, which was a considerable distance from Vrindavana, and had miraculously made it appear here as a lake. It was thus named Manasi Ganga (“the Ganges created by Krishna’s mind”). But now Krishna wanted to spare Radharani and Her friends the heavy labor of lugging thousands of jugs of water from there to here. So He gestured to His pond, and suddenly a male representative of all the holy rivers emerged from it. With tears in his eyes, he folded his palms, bowed his head to the ground before Radharani, and devotedly prayed to Her.
Radharani’s mood changed from playful to serious. She could see that he was approaching Her for some sacred purpose.
Rising to his knees, the representative said, “O Goddess, even those who know the scriptures well, such as Lord Brahma and Lord Siva, cannot understand Your glories. Only Krishna, the highest goal of all human effort, can. Therefore, He wishes to make sure that, when You’re fatigued, You can wash away Your perspiration. That would make Him very happy.”
Radharani gratefully glanced at Krishna, and then returned Her attention to the rivers’ representative.
“As soon as Krishna ordered us, we came here to live in His excellent pond. But we all have a desire, and only if You are pleased with us can it be fulfilled.”
Radharani pleasantly asked, “Oh? And what is it?”
“We desire to come to Your pond, for only then will our lives be successful.”
With a gentle smile, Radharani replied, “All right. Please do.”
Her friends nodded in agreement, feeling immensely happy.
At that moment, all the holy rivers in Krishna’s pond broke through its blackish clay boundary and quickly flowed into and filled Radharani’s pond. This movement sounded like a surging river during a heavy rainstorm.
As Radharani was enjoying this sight, Krishna seriously said, “My dear Radharani, may Your pond become even more famous than Mine. I will always come here to bathe in it and to enjoy water sports. Indeed, this pond is as dear to Me as You.”
Radharani was touched deeply and replied, “And I, with My girlfriends, will also bathe in Your pond, even if You kill hundreds of Arishtasuras here. And anyone who, with intense devotion, bathes in My pond or resides on its bank will surely become very dear to Me.”
“And dear to Me also,” Krishna added. “I will certainly bless such persons well!”
As the darkness enfolded them, Krishna and the gopis formed a circle and began their rasa dance. He resembled a rain cloud, and Radharani a flash of lightning. As They danced, They generated a torrential downpour of brilliant, transcendental joy. From that night on, Radharani’s pond (kunda) would be called Radha Kunda, and Krishna’s, Shyama Kunda. And anyone who would bathe even once in Her pond, or perform devotional service on its banks, would, by Her mercy, develop pure love for Krishna. Such love would of course culminate in continuous divine ecstasy. Thus, Radha Kunda would become known as the most exalted pilgrimage spot in the world.
For this reason, countless pilgrims travel many miles just to bathe in its spiritually exalting waters.
Krishna, the Supreme Person, expands Himself into many other forms of God in order to enjoy transcendental pastimes and to create and oversee the material world. Balarama is Krishna's first expansion, who often appears as Krishna's brother. Through Balarama come countless other avatars, forms of God.
Here, Harinama Dasi narrates "The Glories of Lord Balarama"— the Introduction to Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi Lila, Chapter 5. Click on that link to read along. You'll be glad you did.
In former times Lord Krishna would personally participate in the cosmic struggle between good and evil. What can He do in these days of moral ambiguity?
These days most people think it simple-minded to see the world as an arena where the forces of good contest the forces of evil. We no longer view things in black and white but shades of grey; we have become used to moral ambiguity, and for good reasons, we are wary of the claim that “God is on our side.” When Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” I was not alone in feeling uneasy—uneasy not because I like Russia, but because Reagan seemed far too unaware that the United States has not been, by contrast, all sweetness and light.
Indeed, our modern world more and more seems to be a bleak place where evil simply battles evil, a place of furious struggles where the victory of any party is a disaster. True, people are a mixture of good and bad, but somehow the mechanisms of modern civilization increasingly seem to subvert the good and employ it for vile ends. Consider Albert Einstein’s desire to plumb nature’s truths—which to him meant understanding the mind of God. How did it happen that such a pristine urge resulted in the most demonic weapons of war? And this was facilitated by leaders who sincerely wanted nothing but peace.
Under the circumstances, our longing for the moral simplicity of unambiguous good contesting an equally unambiguous evil is understandable. I’m sure such a longing contributed to the vast popularity of the Star Wars films. Of course, we seek in fantasy what we don’t find in reality. Yet I am convinced that this paradigm of the contest between good and evil is much more than a fantasy, much more than an expression of nostalgia for a lost political innocence. It reflects, rather, a basic feature of the real world, and one we still need to attend to.
This is how the Vedic sage Vyasa saw it. When he relates in the Srimad-Bhagavatam the histories of Krishna’s various appearances in this world in ages long past, the pattern clearly emerges. On the side of the good we have the suras, the godly, and on the opposite side the asuras, the ungodly; and a great cosmic contest between these two parties has been seething since the beginning of the universe.
The suras, according to this account, are servants of God, devoted to furthering God’s purpose in the world. God created the world for the reclamation of the fallen souls, who meet with repeated birth and death as they transmigrate through various species of life. When a soul is at last promoted to a human birth, he has a chance to become free from this round of birth and death altogether and return to the kingdom of God for an eternal life of perfect knowledge and bliss. Such freedom comes by properly developing the full consciousness characteristic of the human form. This developed consciousness, which permanently ends all material miseries, is called Krishna consciousness. A Krishna conscious person no longer wrongly identifies himself with his material body, having directly realized his own nature as an eternal spiritual being, and he uses his mind and senses solely to satisfy God. Without Krishna consciousness, we misidentify ourselves with the material body, as animals do, and, like animals, we act merely to satisfy material desire. And because we have failed to realize our human potential, we remain interred in the world of the dying.
The principal task of the suras is to maintain the normative form of human civilization, established by God, that nurtures Krishna consciousness. The standard books of knowledge of such a civilization, teaching the science of self- realization, are the Vedic literatures. Where there is no Vedic culture, no one is released from birth and death, and God’s purpose in creating the world is frustrated.
The asuras, in contrast, labor under the profound misconception that happiness can be achieved not by self- realization but by sense gratification. While the suras, under Vedic direction, engage all natural and human resources in the service of God, the demonic asuras use God’s property for their own enjoyment. In their hands, science becomes a tool to subjugate and control all resources systematically; thus their aim is to usurp the position of God Himself. They are naturally opposed to the stewardship of the Lord’s representatives, and so try to depose the suras time and again.
In the days when a well-established Vedic civilization would be assaulted by the asuras, there was an unambiguous struggle between good and evil. Since suras are inherently humble and meek and asuras ruthless and brutally efficient, in the natural course of events the suras would have been unfailingly crushed. But they were not, because time and again their supernatural ally and ultimate protector—God Himself—would intervene and reverse the course of events. Just as from the friction between two sticks of wood, fire appears, so from the friction between suras and asuras, God appears. Krishna states in Bhagavad- gita (4.7-8) the reason for His occasional descents: “Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice … and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to establish the principles of religion, I Myself appear millennium after millennium.
At the time Krishna appeared and spoke the Bhagavad- gita, the whole world had been oppressed by an alliance of asuras, who had siezed political power and had built up huge military forces. The head of this demonic alliance was an unscrupulous tyrant named Kamsa. Krishna took birth as Kamsa’s own nephew, and when Kamsa received prophetic warning that one of his sister’s children would eventually kill him, he imprisoned his sister and her husband and killed her children as soon as they were born, one by one. But Krishna escaped and was hidden away to grow up in the country among cowherds.
At the age of sixteen, however, Krishna deliberately walked into a trap set for Him by Kamsa, a wrestling match Kamsa had arranged in his capital. This was not the sporting event it seemed; the wrestlers were trained killers with orders to slay the youthful Krishna. But Krishna vanquished the bone-crushers and then, dragging the astonished tyrant from his throne, slew him with a single blow. Thereafter, as a kshatriya, a member of the royal order, Krishna defeated Kamsa’s allies in battle, one after another, thus ridding the world of its violent and unholy oppressors.
While some love God and others hate Him, God Himself is ultimately impartial and equally beneficent to all. Because He is a person. He responds according to the way we approach Him, and thus He is perceived as amiable or inimical. Yet those like Kamsa, whom Krishna slays, are liberated by virtue of their direct contact with the all-auspicious Personality of Godhead. Thus a victory by Krishna is a victory for everyone—sura and asura alike.
In these rough times, we no longer see the clear-cut distinction between sura and asura. The gradual triumph of secular culture and the erosion of spiritual values has affected nearly everyone. The godly tendency in people is baffled by lack of encouragement and direction and is co-opted by the institutions of a materialistic culture. Even religion has been subverted, for it usually tries to persuade God to gratify our desires, rather than to teach us to satisfy His; it aims at enlisting God on our side rather than at showing us how to be on His. Stevenson’s parable claimed that a bestial Mr. Hyde is hidden—as the name suggests—in every Dr. Jekyll, but now it seems that Mr. Hyde is on the loose, and the good doctor doesn’t know how to get out.
Most of us are innocent, but because of the detrimental effects of this age, we act like asuras, simply because we don’t know of any alternative. If Krishna were to act now just as He did in former times, coming with bow or sword or ax to destroy the asuras, we would all be liable to His chastisement. Therefore, when Krishna appeared five hundred years ago as Lord Chaitanya to reenact His historic mission for our own age, His divine weapon was the Hare Krishna mantra. This weapon destroys the demonic mentality. Even though this mentality has infected practically everyone, those who are basically godly will be attracted by the chanting of Hare Krishna, and it will purify their consciousness of all asuric imposition. Thus Vedic culture will gradually be reestablished all over the world for the salvation of all living beings.
If things go on as they have been, however, there will finally be no real contrast between godless communism and godless capitalism; both sides will be guided entirely by asuric interests. Even now, both sides are locked into the deployment of increasingly terrifying weapons, a situation anticipated by Krishna, who said that asuras characteristically “engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world” (Bg. 16.9). But we are fortunate to be living in the era of Lord Chaitanya, who offers us an alternative. Because of that, we may look forward to the fulfillment of the poet W. B. Yeats’s prophetic words concerning modern man:
Now his wars on God begin;
At stroke of midnight God shall win.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and David Lawrence, a British schoolteacher, took place in August 1973 during an early morning walk in London.
David Lawrence: In the Srimad-Bhagavatam there seems to be a great deal of … demonology, if you like. Now, I confess this raises problems for me. Are the references to, say, the demoness Putana taking Krishna on her lap and Krishna sucking her breast and killing her—is this to be taken literally or allegorically?
Srila Prabhupada: Literally.
Mr. Lawrence: Literally, as a physical fact?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Of course, in the Bhagavatam there are some figurative stories, similar to Aesop’s Fables. These are for instruction.
Mr. Lawrence: What about the reference to Krishna and the unmarried gopis [cowherd girls]? You say in your books that “He treated them like dolls, yet they were well pleased with Him.” What is the main point of that passage?
Srila Prabhupada: When the Bhagavatam says Krishna treated the gopis like dolls, that means the gopis danced just according to His desire.
Mr. Lawrence: Is that to be taken literally, or is there some symbolic meaning?
Srila Prabhupada: No, literally. The gopis are so devoted to Krishna that whatever Krishna desires, they do.
Mr. Lawrence: I must confess, these activities of Krishna’s are quite beyond my comprehension.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, they are very difficult for ordinary people to understand. That is why this portion of Krishna’s life is depicted in the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Nine cantos are devoted to understanding Krishna’s supreme position. Then Krishna’s intimate lila [pastimes] are described in the Tenth Canto. But if one tries to read the life and pastimes of Krishna without understanding that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one will be misled. Therefore the Bhagavatam begins by explaining the Supreme Lord as the original source of the creation (janmady asya yatah). The Bhagavatam doesn’t abruptly introduce Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis .
In the spiritual world Krishna has unlimited varieties of activities. The activities in this material world are only a perverted reflection of those in the spiritual world.
But out of foolishness we take Krishna’s activities to be like ours. Krishna loved the gopis. The gopis were young girls, and Krishna was a young boy, and He loved them. But here the so-called love between a young boy and girl is lust. Therefore it is condemned. But in the love between Krishna and the gopis there is not a trace of lust
Here lust is going on in the name of love. And because it is not love, it doesn’t continue very long—it breaks. But in the history of the spiritual world, you don’t find that the love between the gopis and Krishna broke at any time. That is the difference between lust and love.
Mr. Lawrence: In the West, one in three marriages is destined to break up. That’s what they say now—one in three.
Srila Prabhupada: Just see! And they are trying to drag their lusty ideas into Krishna’s pastimes. Generally, rascals claim that Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis support their own lusty activities: “Krishna acts lustily, so I can also.” This is a gross misunderstanding. People who think like this do not take into account that here in the material world so-called love is lust—and it breaks. But in the love between Krishna and the gopis, there is no breaking—only increase. So how can they compare their lusty affairs to Krishna’s loving affairs with the gopis?
Mr. Lawrence: I must admit that I’ve read far enough in your books to see that they really can’t.
Srila Prabhupada: When you give an analogy, there must be many points of similarity. So where are the points of similarity between Krishna’s pastimes and the lusty affairs of this material world? These rascals are so dull-headed that they don’t even have a logical argument. They are comparing the lusty affairs of this material world to the affairs of Krishna and the gopis. But where is the similarity?
Mr. Lawrence: There’s never any mention at all of lust or animal desire, is there?
Srila Prabhupada: No. For example the Bhagavatam describes everything about Krishna’s dancing with the gopis—their kissing, their embracing, and so on. But there is no mention of contraceptives. And the gopis never became pregnant. So how can we compare Krishna’s loving affairs with the gopis to the lusty affairs of this material world?
Mr. Lawrence: It can’t be done. Another question: I was reading a book (one not put out by the Krishna consciousness movement) about Lord Chaitanya, and it said that the manifestations of Krishna consciousness He showed during kirtana [chanting] and so on were manifestations of madness. Can you comment on that?
Srila Prabhupada: When a man is himself mad, he’ll find others mad. [Laughter.]
Mr. Lawrence: He’ll see a reflection of himself.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. This misunderstanding is condemned in Bhagavad-gita, where Krishna says avajananti mam mudha: “Because when I come to this world I come in a human form, rascals take Me for an ordinary human being.” (The word mudha means “rascals” or “asses.”) So, Lord Chaitanya is Krishna Himself, but the fools and rascals take him for an ordinary human being.
Mr. Lawrence: They’re just talking from within their own experience. They can’t imagine what happens when God presents Himself as a man.
Srila Prabhupada: When they hear that Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill, they think, “This is mythology.” But if Krishna is actually God, is it very difficult for Him to lift a mountain? He’s floating so many heavy planets in the sky. So if Krishna can make so many planets weightless, is it very difficult for Him to make Govardhan Hill weightless?
These things are very easy for devotees to understand, but nondevotees cannot understand them. Therefore in the Bhagavad-gita Krishna clearly says, bhaktya mam abhijanati: “Only through devotional service can one understand Me.” So if you want to understand Krishna and Krishna’s pastimes in truth, you must take to the process of devotional service.
Those who, even while remaining situated in their established social positions, throw away the process of speculative knowledge and with their body, words and mind offer all respects to descriptions of your personality and activities, dedicating their lives to these narrations, which are sung by you personally and by your pure devotees, certainly conquer your Lordship, although you are otherwise unconquerable by anyone within the three worlds. (Lord Brahma’s Prayers to Lord Krishna, Srimad-bhagavatam 10.14.3)
Today I’ve posted a painting Brahma Honors Krishna and an excerpt from its commentary from the book Intimate Worlds: Indian Paintings from the Alvin O. Bellak Collection. The commentary, by art historian John Seyller, briefly tells the Brahma-vimohan lila (the pastime of the bewilderment of Brahma). Some nice details about the painting’s design are included.
The hearing of, and contemplation upon the lilas of Krishna, (especially as found in Srimad-bhagavatam) comprise what is widely considered an essential limb in the practice of bhakti-yoga. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll try to delve a little deeper into the Brahma-vimohan lila. Besides posting more art, I will be sharing some of Brahma’s prayers and my thoughts on them. There is much to discuss in terms of theology, Vedanta philosophy, yoga and rasa (in this context, an experience a particular relationship with God). I’ll be calling on some of The Bhakti Collective’s contributing writers to share insights and I invite readers to chime in as well.
Brahma Honors Krishna
Page from a dispersed series of the Bhagavata Purana
Northern India, probably Delhi-Agra region, c. 1525-40
Opaque watercolor and ink on paper
7 1/8 x 9 1/2 inches (18.1 x 24.1 cm)
This painting, which falls at the beginning of the fourteenth chapter, marks the culmination of an episode that leads the god Brahma to acknowledge Krishna’s limitless existence. Having witnessed Krishna perform one supernatural feat after another, Brahma tests him once more, this time by employing magic to abduct a group of cowherds and their kine from Krishna’s presence. Krishna recognizes Brahma’s handiwork when he is unable to locate the missing cows and cowherds, and simple multiplies himself to replicate each one. The replacements resemble the original cows and cowherds in every detail, but they so strongly embody the divine presence that their mothers’ affection for them grows exponentially. This remarkable development and Brahma’s subsequent vision of each figure being transformed into Krishna in all his splendor move him first to marvel at Krishna’s ability to transcend his own deception and then to recognize the deity’s omnipresence with this, he dismounts his swan vehicle and prostrates himself before Krishna. Raising himself to his feet, Brahma joins his hands together in veneration, and begins a long hymn of praise to Krishna.
The artist pays tribute to the momentousness of the revelation by isolating each of the deities within a separate colored field. The stout, four-headed Brahma appears against a cool green background; Krishna, the object of his devotion stands opposite, his superiority indicated not only by his receptive gesture, but also by the brilliant red rectangle positioned immediately and exclusively behind him. Krishna’s theological advantage is carried through even to the trees that bracket and divide the two figures. Whereas Krishna stands erect on one leg between two trees with absolutely straight trunks, Brahma is backed by a date tree whose trunk bends close to him and his vehicle as if in imitation of his earlier prostration. A black sky and un undulating band of clouds set off the trees’ luxurious foliage and a flowering creeper, which entwine in the upper reaches of the composition to bind the two halves together. The result is a painting whose masterful design matches its religious eloquence. JS