“Lord Krishna is the self-sufficient Supreme Personality of Godhead, yet because He was playing the role of a human being, He became very depressed for a moment, as if He had actually lost His father. But at the next moment He could understand that the arrest and killing of His father were demonstrations of the mystic powers which Shalva had learned from the demon Maya.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 22)
One of the more intriguing aspects to the Lord’s pastimes performed on earth is His outward display of affection, which includes both elation and lamentation. After all, emotions swing in both extremes. If there is great joy as a result of an auspicious moment, surely there will be tremendous grief over a tragedy. These are the workings of ordinary human beings, so if the Lord is to play the role of one of us, He must do so to perfection. Yet how could Krishna, the purported Supreme Personality of Godhead, the controller of the universe, take to lamentation like an ordinary man? Doesn’t this prove that He cannot be God? To find the answer, we can look to the behavior of saintly people, those who have become detached from the workings of the senses. These sages, who are above hankering and lamenting, spend all of their time worshiping the Supreme Lord, the one and only God of the universe. If these exalted personalities are renounced, how then can their supreme object of worship be of a lower stature?
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)
Film, television, and theater often do a wonderful job at portraying ordinary events and sentiments in a humorous manner. The hit television sitcom Friends certainly had many episodes which depicted the workings of the average person very well. One episode in particular dealt with the issue of crying and the emotions shown after a tragic event. For those unfamiliar with the show, the basic plotline of each episode deals with the day-to-day goings on of a group of six friends who are all around thirty years of age. The character of Chandler is known for being particularly witty, as he takes to humor as a defense mechanism. In one episode, the other friends discover that Chandler is unable to cry. No matter the occasion, joyous or somber, Chandler cannot bring himself to tears. This leads Joey, Chandler’s best friend, to declare that Chandler is “dead inside”. Monica, who is Chandler’s significant other, then attempts to make Chandler cry by creating several hypothetical situations, scenarios which have her dying in the future and leaving a note from the beyond, or the couple witnessing the birth of their new child. Even after being presented with both cases, Chandler is unable to get himself to cry. He doesn’t necessarily feel ashamed over his unique ability, but at the same time, he knows that he is out of the ordinary in this area.
The episode’s humor comes from the fact that it is very difficult for anyone to become detached from the effects of the senses. Indeed, emotion is the essence of life, and a lack of it signals a dormant state of consciousness, or does it? The Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of India and the world, accurately state that one’s identity comes from the spirit soul, which is Brahman. Aham brahmasmi is a Sanskrit phrase which says that a person comes to a proper understanding when they realize that they are a spirit soul, part and parcel of the sum total of spirit known as Brahman. Brahman is truth; it is beyond duality, change, loss, or gain. It is important to understand Brahman because the faulty identification that we assume at the time of birth has nothing to do with Absolute Truth. Thinking in terms of “I” and “Mine”, the conditioned living entity, one who is uneducated in spiritual matters, takes the outer covering of the soul to be the permanent and unchanging truth. This, of course, is a faulty identification because the body is constantly changing. It is subject to creation and destruction.
“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bg. 2.11)
A wise person, realizing the temporary nature of everything in this world, including their own bodies, understands that grieving over temporary losses is not a productive activity. Even an event as horrible as death only represents a temporary change; the shedding of a set of clothes for the soul. The soul can never be killed, cut, or dried up. It is always in existence; hence it is known as truth, or Brahman. The soul inherits its properties from the Supreme Absolute Truth, Parabrahman. This Supreme Truth has a personality and a transcendental form. Though He may be addressed differently depending on time, circumstance, and geographic location, He is still a singular entity.
In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is known as Krishna, or Vishnu. The learned man, a pandita, takes to worshiping Krishna through acts of charity, sacrifice, and renunciation. The goal of renunciation is to become detached from the senses. How does one break free of the influence of the senses that it must interact with? Every emotion we experience is based on some exchange of information that relies on sense perception. We either hear something, see something, smell something, touch something, or taste something and feel good or bad. Depending on the intensity of the emotion, the result can be elation or depression. Is it possible to actually transcend these emotions?
From the example of Chandler in Friends, we see that there are certainly people who can avoid crying over tragic events. The saintly individuals, those who are aiming to achieve perfection in spiritual life, actually make ascension to this superior level of detachment a goal. Based on perceived worldly experiences, we see that often the greatest source of distress relates to sexual relations, the dealings between a man and a woman. Under the flawed bodily identification that we all inherit at the time of birth, an individual becomes attached to another individual’s outward features. Sex life is entirely based on sense pleasures and attraction to bodies which are ever changing. Therefore the serious transcendentalist will make controlling his sexual urges his top priority. Civilized spiritual life, one following the flawless law codes instituted by the Supreme Lord, calls for one’s duration of life to be divided into four distinct stages, or ashramas. In every stage except one, married householder life, sex life is strictly prohibited.
In days past, even the women of the Vedic tradition would chide men who were overly attached to sex life. If a man was seen falling victim to the urges of his senses, he would be rebuked by others in society, including chaste women. Goswami Tulsidas, one of the most celebrated devotional poets in history, was so attached to his wife that he refused to allow her to leave home and spend time with her family. When she happened to leave one night to her parents’ home, he travelled through a storm just to go see her. Rather than praise Tulsidas for his great affection and attachment to her, his wife sternly rebuked him for being attached to a body which was nothing more than flesh, blood, and stool. As a learned man, a brahmana, Tulsidas was supposed to be detached from conjugal attraction and instead focused on serving God. He indeed took this lesson to heart, turning his back on married life immediately and dedicating the rest of his life to serving Lord Rama, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead.
So not only is it possible to become detached from the senses, it is actually considered beneficial behavior. Saintly men are the spiritual leaders of society. They teach others about bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to God. If they were to overly lament over death, which is nothing more than the dissolution of a body which is destined for destruction, where would the common man go for strength? Through their exemplary behavior, the sages prove to be the greatest teachers and welfare workers. Since they lead by example, they are known as acharyas.
This makes Krishna’s behavior during His time on earth all the more puzzling. Around five thousand years ago, the Supreme Lord descended to earth in His original form to take on demons and enchant the hearts and minds of the purified souls looking for liberation in the form of sublime pleasure. While the soul is eternal, it can assume temporary material bodies in a perpetual cycle. This transmigration, known as reincarnation, continues until the individual has had enough and wants out. Liberation doesn’t simply signal the end of the cycle, but rather, it marks the beginning of a new way of life, one involving the association of the Supreme Lord in the spiritual world.
“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form-to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.22)
For those sincerely looking to rekindle their forgotten relationship with Krishna, the Lord provides what they lack and preserves what they have. Who would try to take away what the saints possess? The answer, of course, is demons; the lowest of mankind who have no desire for release from the attachment they have to their senses. When Krishna descends to earth, He especially takes to dealing with these seedy characters who harass the innocent. One such demon was named Shalva, a miscreant so puffed up with false pride that he directly attacked Krishna while the Lord was ruling over Dvaraka.
God can never take birth or die, but when He appears on earth, He accepts exalted personalities as parents. Krishna’s parents during His advent five thousand years ago were Vasudeva, who was of the warrior caste, and Mother Devaki. Though Krishna spent His youth under the care of His foster parents in Vrindavana, when He was a grown man, He ruled over the kingdom in the sea, Dvaraka, where Devaki, Vasudeva, and other close family members lived with Him. Obviously as a powerful king, Krishna was attacked on many occasions by demons. In fact, the root cause behind the existence of the temporary and perishable realm is the envy of the conditioned souls, those who are jealous of God’s abilities in the areas of creation, maintenance, and destruction. More than anything else, they are jealous of Krishna’s ability to enjoy. Rather than take part in that enjoyment with the Lord, i.e. take to devotional service wherein one regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and worships the deity, the foolish will take to their own concocted path to pleasure, while denying the existence of God at the same time.
The demons who fought with Krishna were especially powerful. One of the noteworthy benedictions given to miscreants killed by Krishna is that they receive liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Since these nefarious characters, though possessing every undesirable personality trait known to man, think of God at the time of death, they are ultimately rewarded. Since their minds are focused on the Supreme Lord at all times, they transcend the attachment one has to the senses. The behavior of such demons shouldn’t be imitated, but it should serve as a reminder of the benevolent nature of Krishna. If even demons are granted such benedictions, one can only imagine what is in store for the saintly person who thinks of Krishna in a loving way at all times.
Shalva was expert at black magic and illusion. While fighting with Krishna, the demon was getting his butt handed to him, so instead of fighting honorably, he decided to take shelter of illusory powers. Shalva was able to conjure up an illusion where a crying person approached Krishna and informed the Lord that Vasudeva had been taken prisoner of Shalva. The demon then appeared on the scene with Vasudeva in his custody. Right in front of Krishna, Shalva then cut off the head of the Lord’s father. Seeing such a horrible scene, Krishna immediately gave way to excessive lamentation. This display of emotion didn’t last for very long, as the Lord eventually realized that what He had seen was just an illusion. Regaining His senses, Krishna would go on to defeat and kill Shalva.
So why did Krishna lament? As Bhagavan, the Lord possesses every opulence imaginable, including that of renunciation. Yet if He was able to cry over an illusion showing His father’s death, how could He claim to be God? A similar question was pondered by Mother Parvati, the controller of the material nature and wife of Lord Shiva, an exalted divine figure and greatest devotee of Lord Vishnu. Many thousands of years prior to Krishna’s advent, the Lord came to earth as Rama, an adept and pious prince. On one occasion, Rama’s wife Sita was kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Seeing that Sita was missing, Rama similarly gave way to lamentation and grief. Parvatiji, who was accustomed to viewing her husband as the Supreme Lord of the universe, couldn’t understand why he took to worshiping Lord Rama. Of all of Lord Vishnu’s forms, Rama is Shiva’s favorite.
Lord Shiva could understand what Mother Parvati was thinking, so he immediately dealt with her concerns. He told her to never think that Rama was an ordinary man, because even though He was in the guise of a fallible human being, He was still the Supreme Lord, the original form of Godhead for all of humanity. His displays of emotion were simply part of His pastimes, a way to show everyone His human side. When we worship the Lord by hearing of His activities, we can’t just label some of His pastimes as transcendental and discard the others. Krishna’s displays of emotion actually don’t need to be excused or explained away. Whether Krishna is killing demons, teaching others about the Vedas, or crying over tragic events, all of His activities are transcendental and worth hearing about. Krishna’s crying is as important as His defense of the innocent.
For those bewildered by the Lord’s behavior, understanding the innate relationship between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul can help shed some light on the issue. Dharma is one’s occupational duty borne of the inherent characteristic of the soul. The soul, being the driving force to all activity, is an autonomous entity that is both knowledgeable and blissful. Yet this spiritual entity is not meant to reside alone; it has a life partner. That complementary entity is the Supreme Lord, the eternal loveable object of the soul. For love to be valid, the affectionate emotions must exist between both entities involved in the relationship. The purified souls such as Vasudeva certainly show their love to Krishna through activities, thoughts, and words. The Supreme Lord, for His part, does not simply take in this love and not offer any in return.
Lord Krishna’s crying over the apparent death of Vasudeva shows that God loves His devotees just as much as they love Him, if not more. Though an ordinary man may cry over the death of a loved one, Krishna will cry in a manner more intense than has ever been witnessed on this earth. As the reservoir of all pleasure and energy, Krishna can display emotions to the extreme. His exhibitions of lamentation and worry only substantiate the claims of the devotees who take Krishna to be the Supreme Lord. The renounced saints are able to transcend the effects of the senses, essentially deadening the internal attachments formed over many lifetimes. Yet the only way to become truly “dead inside” from a material perspective is to become completely alive by taking to devotional service. Sharanagati, the bliss resulting from total surrender unto the feet of the Supreme, secures great pleasure for the soul. Annihilation of misery and sense attachment is only one piece of the puzzle. The rest can be filled in by hearing of Krishna’s glorious activities and developing a loving attachment to Him.