from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-05, 2000
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
If God is inconceivable, as the scriptures state, can we really know anything about Him?
Sri Ishopanishad states that Krishna is simultaneously very far away and very close. The Vedic scriptures encourage us: The best way to know Krishna and bring Him closer is to hear about Him.
As we open any book about Krishna, we’ll immediately feel the richness of the clear and scientific knowledge it contains. We’ll also come to understand that Krishna is by nature inconceivable to finite beings. Although some world religions extend that to mean that Krishna is by essence completely inconceivable (not only far away), we cannot agree. Yes, He is ultimately inconceivable, but His name, fame, and form can be known just as we know any person face-to-face. Anyone who wants to be God conscious has to understand this point.
Here’s an example of a statement that ties these two concepts together. It’s from the Srimad- Bhagavatam (10.12.38), in connection with Lord Krishna’s killing and liberating the demon Aghasura, who in the form of a gigantic snake had swallowed Krishna and His friends.
"Krishna is the cause of all causes. The causes and effects of the material world, both higher and lower, are all created by the Supreme Lord, the original controller. When Krishna appeared as the son of Nanda Maharaja and Yashoda, He did so by His causeless mercy. Consequently, for Him to exhibit His unlimited opulence was not at all wonderful. Indeed, he showed such great mercy that even Aghasura, the most sinful miscreant, was elevated to being one of His associates and achieving sarupya-mukti [having the same form as the Lord], which is actually impossible for materially contaminated persons to attain."
Srila Prabhupada comments:
Krishna is the cause of all causes. He is the creator of cause and effect, and He is the supreme controller. Nothing is impossible for Him. Therefore that He enabled even a living being like Aghasura to attain the salvation of sarupya-mukti is not at all wonderful for Krishna. Krishna took pleasure in entering the mouth of Aghasura in a sporting spirit, along with His associates. Therefore, when Aghasura, by that sporting association, as maintained in the spiritual world, was purified of all contamination, he attained sarupya-mukti and vimukti by the grace of Krishna. For Krishna this was not at all wonderful.
“Not at all wonderful” is Srila Prabhupada’s way of saying we shouldn’t be surprised or doubtful when we hear of Krishna’s power and opulence. Krishna killed demons. Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill. Krishna married 16,108 wives. None of these acts is at all wonderful, because Krishna did them effortlessly. Krishna is the source of cause and effect, yet He appears as a child. Does that sound incredible, unbelievable? Well, Krishna has infinite greatness. Nothing is impossible for Him.
But we are wonderstruck. Srila Prabhupada named one chapter of his book Krishna “Wonderful Krishna.” Wonderful is a tasty word if it’s not used superficially; it refers to something filled with joy, a superlative experience.
In the scriptures the devotees express their appreciation of “wonderful Krishna” according to their relationship with Him. Queen Kunti prays that although Krishna is the Supreme Truth, in His childhood form He becomes subordinate to mother Yashoda. Although fear personified is afraid of Krishna, He runs in fear from His mother, who threatens Him with a stick. Kunti says that when she thinks of Krishna running fearfully, His black mascara smeared by His tears, she becomes amazed. What fortune Yashoda has to be Krishna’s mother and to subordinate the supreme controller!
The acaryas, the great spiritual masters of the past, have pointed out another aspect of Krishna’s inconceivable power, beyond even that of His expansions and avatars: He performed amazing feats as a small child. When Krishna killed Putana, He was only a few months old. He was seven when He lifted Govardhana Hill with the pinkie of His left hand. In other incarnations, He assumed large forms to do a large task. To kill Hiranyakashipu He appeared in a huge form as a half man, half lion. Although He begged three steps of land from Bali Maharaja in the form of a dwarf brahmana, He assumed a huge form to reclaim the universe with those steps. Krishna performed equally difficult tasks, yet He performed them in His beautiful Vrindavana form as a cowherd boy. That in itself is wonderful.
When we think of Krishna’s opulence, we see the paradoxes. He is the master, yet He’s subordinate to His devotees. He’s inconceivable, yet He allows us to know Him. In the Third Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the great devotee Uddhava expresses bewilderment at Krishna’s being unborn yet apparently being born, at Krishna’s being fearless yet leaving Vrindavana out of fear of Kamsa. The contradictions are bewildering, and Uddhava’s separation from such a wonderful Krishna also bewilders him. And of course, the nondevotees are bewildered because they cannot accept Krishna with His apparent paradoxes. Their mundane morality can never accommodate the inconceivable opulence of Krishna.
Krishna’s Most Attractive Feature
Krishna is wonderful, amazing—inconceivably so—but we have not touched on the most mysterious and inconceivable of all His qualities: His ability to express love. He is powerful, He is wise, He is strong and famous, but His inclination to love all living beings, and His expression of that love in a variety of ways, is His most attractive feature. And even more attractive than that is His special love for His devotees. Therefore, a devotee, while recognizing Krishna’s mastership over his or her life, does not ever forget this greatest glory of Krishna’s love.
I recently heard Srila Prabhupada on tape speaking about suffering. A devotee asked Prabhupada how we should understand that even though we are devotees, we still have to suffer. Prabhupada took a strong position. He said it was not our right to question that we have to suffer. And we should never think that we would love Krishna more if we didn’t suffer. Nor does Krishna have to explain to us why we are suffering. A devotee sees Krishna unquestionably as master. In the mood of a devotee, Lord Caitanya prays, “Whether You make me brokenhearted or You handle me roughly in Your embrace, You are always my worshipful Lord, birth after birth.” A devotee never doubts Krishna’s loving intention toward him.
I was raised in a nominally Catholic family. We never discussed faith or the reality of God, never broached doubts. As soon as I entered the larger world of college and was exposed to doubts, I had no answers. I remember one teacher saying, “How can there be God if there is so much suffering in the world?” This is a classic theological puzzle: If God is all-good and all-powerful, why are we suffering? How can He be all-loving if His creatures are feeling pain?
A devotee is not bewildered by these apparent contradictions. We may not understand His purposes, but we are never bewildered by them. A devotee has ultimate trust in Krishna’s most wonderful quality.
Therefore, don’t ask Krishna for sense gratification, and don’t bargain with Krishna for something less than love of God. While we acknowledge that Krishna is far away from us, we also feel His closeness and our ability to address Him, just as a child will go to the father to have his desires fulfilled. On the higher stages of Krishna consciousness, devotees may very well express their own desires, but their desires are always for Krishna’s pleasure. Devotees also express a variety of moods, some submissive and some contrary. Krishna enjoys them all.
We can’t imitate those types of expressions, and if we try, we may end up asking for something not in our ultimate interest. Krishna, as the kind father, will provide the “toy.” In the end we may find ourselves telling Krishna we didn’t want what we received, and Krishna saying, “Well, you asked for it, so now you play with it until it breaks.” How sad when we go to Krishna for such things. And how sad that it may take thousands of years of action and reaction to live out the gift He gave us.
The Gopis’ Example
How pleased Krishna must be when He sees a pure devotee who cares only for Him. Srila Prabhupada was ecstatic to hear that the gopis, Krishna’s cowherd girlfriends, never asked Krishna for anything. Prabhupada offered their behavior as an example of real bhakti. Usually, in a conjugal relationship men and women want something from each other. Women usually want security, and even Krishna’s queens in Dvaraka had that. But the gopis had nothing. They never asked for anything. They went to the forest in the middle of the night at the risk of losing their families and reputations, and Krishna did not provide them with any guarantee or indemnity. Therefore, they are considered the highest devotees; they wanted only to give Krishna happiness, to please wonderful Krishna.
After Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill, the cowherd men were bewildered. Who is this wonderful boy? Nanda Maharaja repeated what the priest Gargamuni had told him at Krishna’s name- giving ceremony. Krishna is narayana-sama, “equal to Narayana, or God,” Gargamuni had said. Although the cowherd men understood, they didn’t abandon their parental affection for Krishna. Rather, they said, “Just let us always live in the protection of wonderful Krishna.”