“Intelligent persons factually take a dip in the ocean of Your nectarean activities and very patiently hear of them. Thus they immediately become freed from the contamination of the material qualities; they do not have to undergo severe penances and austerities for advancement of spiritual life.” (Prayers of the personified Vedas, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)
When the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, descends to earth in various forms to perform transcendental, nectarean activities, the nature of His actions is seemingly no different from those of ordinary persons. He gives pleasure and protection to family members and well-wishers, plays a prominent role in humorous incidents, imparts wisdom to others and engages in various sports with different close confidantes. Yet the non-devotee, one who is averse to the divine love that is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, will have no affinity for hearing such transcendental topics. Rather, they will gladly hear of any topic besides those relating to Krishna. This behavior lays proof to the claims of the Vedas regarding the genesis of the universe.
“Does God exist? Can you show me proof of His existence?” The paramahamsa, one with a purified vision, will tell you that there is evidence all around of the Almighty’s existence. Just the fact that one can come up with the question relating to an almighty entity is proof enough of a higher power’s existence. Based on the visual evidence around us, we know that life continues after a person dies. The deceased may or may not travel elsewhere, but others around them continue with their activities. The world doesn’t end when a person dies. From this we can also deduce that life existed before the time of our present birth, a fact supported by the statements of our parents and family relatives. If life on a grand scale remains in existence before and after the short duration of time the individual spends in one body, no man can be considered a superior entity; individual life forms are thus powerless.
Yet there must have been an original creator. A skeptic will say that there is no proof of this, and that at best, a series of random collisions between chemicals led to the giant cosmos that we see around us. Yet even the theory of a big bang doesn’t speak to the origin of chemicals themselves. If a series of atoms colliding could create the planets, the sun, and all other forms of life, then surely someone could take these same chemicals and create life again, no? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, certainly do acknowledge the reaction of chemicals as being the forerunner to the workings of nature around us. Yet just as we see how lifeless and useless a dead body is, chemicals are incapable of acting on their own. A Supreme Controller, someone who perpetually exists as a purusha, or spiritual personality, is responsible for the workings of matter on a large scale.
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)
Depending on the geographic location and specific traditions passed down to a set of people, the ever-existing, original spiritual entity is referred to by different names. In the Vedic tradition, He is tagged with names that describe His limitless attributes. His original name, Krishna, not surprisingly, applies to His original form, one which is all-attractive, ever blissful and eternally existing. For the purposes of creation, the original form of Godhead, Shri Krishna, expands Himself into an opulent, all-pervading divine figure known as Lord Vishnu. Vishnu then takes responsibility for creation through exhaling and then destruction through inhaling. Surely we can’t imagine anyone being able to do such extraordinary things simply by breathing, but this doesn’t invalidate the truths of the Vedas. Our inability to understand properly is simply a byproduct of our limited scope of vision. When an average person inhales, they are taking in so many tiny air molecules directly into their body. When the same person exhales, many other molecules are similarly released. The air molecules are considered tiny to the human eye because we can’t see or understand how many there are. In a similar manner, the universe is so gigantic that we have no idea how many planets exist and how many various life forms are dispersed throughout. Therefore the Vedic statements pertaining to Lord Vishnu’s breathing are not symbolic or part of any mythology, but rather assertions of fact that can be substantiated by those who have a higher level of thought derived from a grander vision.
The concept of God creating and destroying is not a novel one, nor is it exclusive to the Vedic tradition. The original theistic tradition of the Indian subcontinent does stand out, however, with respect to why the creation exists. While Krishna is the original form of Godhead, He can expand Himself into limitless smaller entities that retain much of the same potency as that belonging to the original. The comparison in power can be thought of in terms of the sun and the sunshine. When we feel the beaming hot rays of the sun during the day, the sun itself is not actually affected. Rather, its non-different energy expansions known as sunrays are protruding our skin and causing us discomfort. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord is the powerhouse of energy, the original energetic source. The energy expansions which emanate from His body are similarly powerful, but only in a collective sense. The individual sun rays aren’t nearly as powerful as the complete sun. What we think of as hot is nothing in comparison to the steady high temperature on the surface of the sun.
The individual sparks which emanate from Krishna are ever-existing, just as is Krishna. Thus, by constitution, the sparks have free-will, independence and a penchant for loving service. In the spiritual world, the tiny expansions remain in Krishna’s company, so their independence and loving propensities are utilized properly. Is there an improper way to love? The Supreme Lord expands Himself for His own pleasure. As the Almighty God, the Lord can do as He pleases, and just as the enjoyment from our experiences is enhanced when our friends and family are with us, the Supreme Lord takes great delight from associating with His purified energy expansions. Of all the entities that emanate from Krishna’s reservoir of energy, no one is more purified and more indicative of the perfection of loving service than is Shrimati Radharani. She is so beautiful, kind, sweet and loving that she essentially becomes one with Krishna through her service. Sometimes the energy expansions may take themselves to be equal or more powerful than Krishna. Under the mindset of equality, they will desire to become one with the Lord, but this type of oneness can never be achieved. A single ray of the sun can never become its own sun, equal in power and strength.
There can be oneness in terms of the relationship between the two entities. A crude example is the rock concert. A rock band will go out on tour to support their latest album. Concerts are held in large venues ideally filled with fans who want to hear the band play their music live. During the actual performance, if both the band members and fans are completely in tune with each other, there is oneness in the relationship that results. The band members would be incomplete if they played to an empty stadium. There would be no joy derived, and the music would sound lifeless. By the same token, the audience members would have no reason to rejoice or feel pleasure if there was no band. When the two entities are put together, there is equality in the sense that both components represent an equal part of the complete whole that is the resulting relationship.
In the spiritual world, oneness is achieved through sharanagati, or complete surrender unto the Lord. Voluntary and loving surrender is the constitutional position of the spirit soul that emanates from the storehouse of spiritual energy, Krishna. The universes created by Maha-Vishnu are the result of the desires of the wayward souls, those who misuse their independence. Why would a soul want to separate from Krishna? The nature of independence and free-will is that desires cannot be dictated. Regardless of their constitutional makeup, some souls will simply want to imitate Krishna or try to surpass the magnitude of His beauty, wealth, strength, fame and renunciation. Since such practices cannot go on in Krishna’s realm, there must be a temporary playground created. Similar to how when children who want to imitate the adult activities of their parents are put into a playpen for the day, the wayward spirit souls are sent to a temporary realm where knowledge of their relationship to the Supreme Lord is forgotten.
Information pertaining to the nature of individual spirit fills in the picture more clearly, but there are still the questions of why Krishna would allow the souls to leave and when the separation first took place. As previously mentioned, the individual tiny fragments emanating from God cannot surpass the Lord in the area of knowledge. Due to this apparent defect, no human being can totally understand the big picture of creation and dissolution with any clarity. Supreme knowledge is the exclusive property of the Supreme Knowledgeable. At best, we can acquire a glimmer of information sufficient to return us to our constitutional position as loving servant of the only entity worthy of our service.
“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.17)
So if we can’t figure out when separation from Krishna first occurred, is there a way to get back to the purified spiritual realm? The Vedas and the seers who pass down Vedic wisdom don’t assume that success in spiritual endeavors will come overnight. Just as it would be silly to think that everyone only gets one day to remain alive, it is nonsense to think that we only get one life to live. A life is simply a division of time, similar to that of a day, week, month, year, etc. The length of this time is longer for some than it is for others, but the constitutional position of the soul does not ever change. The event we know as death is simply the changing of bodies, the discarding of one outer covering in favor of a new one.
What is the need for death if the soul remains tied to the material world in the next life? If a child still wants to play with their toys but their clothes get soiled, the parents will change the child’s outfit and put them back in the pen. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord will not remove spirit souls from their “happy place”, but when the outer dress of the soul starts to decay, a new dress will be provided. Using logical deduction, we can see that if when the time comes for our change of clothes our desires shift from that of wanting to remain in the material world to that of returning to the spiritual world, wherein we’ll enjoy Krishna’s company, liberation will surely be granted.
Altering the desire to remain tied to material nature is easier said than done. Through many lifetimes on earth, the conditioned spirit soul has increased its aversion to divine love. In order to rekindle their loving relationship with Krishna, one can take to basic religious functions such as austerities and penances. These practices are known to spiritualists all over the world. For those with a poor fund of knowledge and those in the neophyte stage of spiritual understanding, adherence to these rules and regulations is compulsory. In the absence of deference to established guidelines, the living entity will likely continue to form attachments to its various toys and thus become further entrapped in the miserable cycle of birth and death that is reincarnation.
The key determining factor, the fuel of the engine of the transmigration of the soul, is desire. If we sincerely want to return to Krishna’s realm, we will be allowed to do so. Austerity and penance, as restrictive activities, certainly can help us break free of our attachment to matter, but at the same time, they don’t do anything to further our attachment to Krishna. The negative activities of spiritual life are certainly beneficial, but there must be positive activities as well. A person training for a marathon can refrain from fatty foods and overindulgence in intoxication, but unless they practice running they will have no chance at completing a marathon.
Similarly, one must engage in positive activities in order to rekindle their loving feelings towards Supreme Spirit. The quintessential assertive activity of the discipline of devotional service is the chanting of the Lord’s names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The name of the Lord is the easiest of the divine incarnations to produce, remember, hold on to and develop an attachment towards. The recitation of the name is open to every type of person, regardless of their family tradition, ethnicity, country of origin, or race. There is also no limit to the number of times that the holy sound vibration can be produced and heard.
Chanting, hearing and adherence to the restrictions of the four regulative principles are enough to guarantee salvation for the conditioned soul. But due to Krishna’s mercy, there is yet another way, one that is even more effective, towards developing and maintaining an attachment to the Lord. This method is the hearing of the transcendental pastimes and activities of Krishna and His various non-different expansions performed during their times on earth. Krishna, in His original form, actually roamed the earth around five thousand years ago. Performing beautiful pastimes in the village of Vrindavana, Krishna captivated the hearts and minds of everyone around Him. Fortunately, the great Vedic seers, the true saints and well-wishers of the universe, recorded their thoughts and impressions in written form. Books like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita contain accounts of Krishna’s activities and descriptions and details about His beautiful bodily appearance. If one simply has an affinity for regularly hearing these accounts, they will bypass the need for any other type of religious process, be it austerity, penance, or the giving of charity.
Because the hearing process is simple and efficient enough, everyone would be attracted to it, no? Obviously this is not the case, as books about Krishna, Rama, Vishnu and Chaitanya aren’t nearly as widely read as the latest non-fiction and fiction titles available in the bookstores. The non-devotees, those who are unaware of the real mission in life or their natural relationship to God, are accustomed to hearing about topics relating to anyone besides Krishna. The television networks constantly run documentary shows about various celebrities, chronicling their every move and their rise to stardom. The newspapers are filled with tidbits about different actors, politicians and sports figures. There is even attraction to hearing fictional stories which are portrayed on television and in cinema.
If there already is a great tradition of hearing and dedication to lending an ear to mundane topics, why not shift the focus to Krishna and the transcendental nectar of His pastimes? The situation at hand is yet another indication of the supreme wisdom possessed by the Vedic seers and Krishna Himself. The idea of the conditioned living entity being averse to practicing divine love is not a simple theory that was crafted through a brainstorming session. The repulsion to devotional service exhibited by the souls residing in the mundane world is the practical proof of the claims made by the Vedas pertaining to the reasons for the world’s creation. Not only did the material world come into existence due to the aversion to divine love, but it also continues to remain manifested for as long as the desire remains. Even at the end of the creation, when everything is destroyed and ultimately put back into Vishnu’s gigantic body, the conditioned souls, the challengers of God, are not granted salvation. They will simply be part of the population that inhabits the next creation.
Krishna’s activities are quite similar to those performed by ordinary human beings. This was the intention after all, for the Lord wanted to help the purified souls foster an attachment to Him. The natural loving sentiment cannot be harbored in its most pure form for one who is extremely opulent and imposing as a figure. Rather, love and kind service is evoked voluntarily by those who feel an attachment. Human beings will naturally have an affinity for those who are like them, thus Krishna presented Himself as an ordinary child for the benefit of others. Aside from ignorance and the misfortune of having never heard of the Supreme Lord and devotion to Him, there can be no other reason besides jealousy to explain the conditioned souls’ willful neglect towards hearing about God and His pastimes, especially when the same individuals suffer through so many other activities. If the doubting soul says that Krishna’s lifting of Govardhana Hill and His killing of various demons sound too much like mythology and that they have no attraction to imaginary stories, why are fictional movie series and television shows so popular? If they say that Krishna’s instructions are too restrictive and not worth listening to, why do books which propound scaled down philosophies and theories relating to success in material life sell so well?
“That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.37)
Even if one is averse to hearing about transcendental topics in the beginning stages, they should still force themselves to “suffer” through them. Married couples often make this sacrifice for each other, with men sitting through operas and television dramas and women putting on a good face while watching football and attending action movies. Every conditioned soul is originally married to the Lord in some way or another, so a sacrifice towards hearing should be made. In a romantic relationship, the individual will likely never enjoy doing those particular activities enjoyed by the partner. But in bhakti, the spirit soul will gradually come to relish the transcendental topics relating to Krishna and His divine associates. In fact, the sound vibrations describing such incidents will soon be taken to be the sweetest ambrosia, the only possession worth holding on to. When such an attachment remains at the time of death, the individual soul will not only be guaranteed of hearing about Krishna for the rest of eternity, but they will get to directly take part in His pastimes that are constantly occurring in the spiritual world.