“By chanting and hearing of Krishna we can actually associate with Him, for He is absolute and nondifferent from His names, qualities, forms and pastimes. As we associate with Krishna, He helps us to understand Him and dispels the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 7)
“Can you show me God? Have you seen Him?” These are certainly legitimate questions to pose to transcendentalists and others who claim to be somewhat advanced in knowledge. But at the same time, the questions are somewhat incomplete, as the highest spiritual practice is not to simply rest the eyes on the beautiful form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The true magnificence, grandeur, beauty and awe-inspiring nature of such a form can never be truly understood by anyone, let alone the Lord Himself, as He even once descended to earth in the form of a preacher named Krishna Chaitanya to test His hand at devotional service and see what all the fuss was about. Despite man’s limited ability in understanding the Supreme Lord, all hope is not lost, as the greatest transcendental taste is provided from hearing descriptions of God, His names, pastimes and attributes. For those on the topmost platform of transcendental consciousness, this hearing is just as good as seeing, as under the pure mindset thoughts never deviate from that one entity who is capable of providing more pleasure than anyone else.
Why is there even a need to see God? Obviously, the things we are currently accustomed to observing must not be cutting it. If we see God, then maybe we can truly believe in His existence. If we see the Lord, we can ask Him why He hides Himself from everyone and why we are forced to suffer so much. But seeing alone doesn’t always bring about the best understanding. We can take the sun as an example to see why this is the case. The brilliant disc in the sky provides heat and light constantly to innumerable living entities spread across thousands of miles. Now just imagine if we undertook the nearly impossible task of trying to understand the sun by simply looking at it. For starters, depending on the time we decided to make our observations, the sun would strike back with its glaring effulgence, a splendor so powerful that it would bring pain and discomfort to the eyes. Indeed, staring at the sun for too long can hamper vision for the rest of the day, as the glow from the light leaves an extended imprint on the eyes.
Even if we looked at the sun at a time when it was less intense in its contact on the specific portion of the earth that we were standing on, such as during sunrise and sunset, the actual amazing nature and characteristics of the sustainer of life in the sky could never be understood. From a distance one man may speculate as to what the sun is like, while another will posit his own theory. In this respect, seeing is not believing in the true potency and benevolent nature of the sun. Yet if we took a different approach, where we observed the world around us, we could gain a more thorough understanding. For instance, we know that when the sun rises in the morning, the result is that there is light all around us. Conversely, when the sun sets at night, everything turns pitch black. The artificial light that man has created is fully humbled by the abundance of natural light provided by the sun. Therefore we can conclude that one of the properties of the sun is that it has tremendous light.
From our observations, we also deduce that when the sun is seen in the sky, the temperature outside gets a little warmer. When there is no sunlight, there is also a better chance of it raining, with clouds filling up the sky. From the presence of clouds we can reach another astute conclusion: the sun actually never disappears; it only gets covered up by other elements. Advancing further, we can understand that the sun actually doesn’t rise or set; the earth just rotates out of its direct view. Through these other symptoms, which have no relation to staring directly at the sun, we can understand so many things about the sun’s properties.
In our endeavor to fully understand the Supreme Lord, we can similarly apply tests of the functions of nature around us and gather information about the differences between spirit and matter and the workings of life. The functions of the sun represent only one tiny portion of the scheduled tasks and random movements of Mother Nature and the innumerable living entities that populate her land. Even if we somehow or other gained an understanding of the outer workings of nature, there are still the mysterious functions performed within each body type. The heart of the human being continues to beat throughout the day, even while we are sleeping. Breathing also takes place involuntarily. Miraculously, through eating food and drinking water we are able to stay alive.
All of these perceptible functions actually give us an understanding about God, for we see that nothing in this world can exist without a creating source. Since even the human being comes from a previous fusion of life forms, the mother and father, there must be an original creator. From accumulating so many conclusions, we gain some understanding of the properties of spirit and the nature of Supreme Spirit. Thus far we have not directly looked at God or seen Him, but our knowledge and appreciation of His potencies have increased.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that the hidden truths of life were originally imparted to the first created living entity, who subsequently passed down the same information to his worthy descendants and disciples. As such, even the first created living entity had a father, who is the person we all know as God. Interestingly enough, Lord Brahma, who took birth from the stem emanating from the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord, didn’t take in Vedic wisdom by staring at Vishnu’s glorious and opulently adorned body. Instead, all the knowledge Brahma acquired came from within the heart, where the transcendental wisdom was kindly placed by Vishnu. Therefore, since the beginning of time, the secret to gaining knowledge of the Absolute has been the hearing process, understanding information from external sources through hearing and then resting that knowledge comfortably within the heart, where the essence of life, the spirit soul, is located.
Though we may be tempted to think that the Vedic version of creation is simply a fairy tale crafted as part of a mythological tradition, we can understand the importance of the hearing process from other areas of life as well. Say that we have a picture of one of our elderly relatives, like a great-grandfather, lying around the house. We can maybe venture a few guesses as to his demeanor by studying the photograph, but to gain a true understanding of his life and precepts, we have to ask relatives, people who either knew him personally or heard information about him from others. In the same way, to understand God properly, simply observing a few pictures and scouring nature for the Absolute Truth will not do. The descending process of information transfer starting from Vishnu Himself must be tapped into. Luckily for us, the Vedic seers are more than happy to share their supreme information with us, provided we are eager to listen and not tainted by motives of competition and jealousy.
“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)
Could anyone be jealous of God? Surely they can, as this envy is precisely the cause of the existence of the phenomenal world. When first hearing such a statement, we’ll want to challenge it or take it to be some sort of dogmatic insistence aimed at converting others to follow the Vedic tradition. But from observation of outward symptoms this claim is completely validated. How much time is spent glorifying God on a regular basis? How much time is dedicated to describing His activities, forms, names and pastimes? Indeed, there is great attention given to names and activities, but of ordinary human beings. There is much worship and adulation, but of celebrities, rock stars, movie stars and famous athletes. The penchant for service naturally exists in every single individual. Even the lonely man who has no wife or children will purchase a cat or a dog to have an outlet for their love.
When there is all of this affection being regularly distributed, why the lack of attention shown to God? Since He is the creator, it is naturally understood that the Supreme Lord is the wisest, most renounced, most famous, most beautiful, most wealthy and the strongest. Since He possesses these attributes simultaneously and to the fullest extent, He is known as Bhagavan. Who wouldn’t be jealous of Bhagavan? After all, He enjoys more than anyone else and He is never put into any trouble. Only when the attitude to challenge Bhagavan ceases can any real progress in consciousness be made. The human being has already shown the desire to love, so when the beneficiary of such effort is pure and above all darkness, not only is the intended object of worship pleased, but so is the person offering the service.
The phenomenal world continues to exist for as long as the aversion to divine love, which is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, continues. As long as nature around us is only studied for the purposes of increasing mundane knowledge or enhancing sense gratification, there will be no end in sight to the miseries brought on by material contact. Even death is not the end, as in the next life the soul is simply placed into a new body whose type is commensurate with the desires and work performed in the just completed life. Lest we think reincarnation is a dogmatic belief of those descending from the Indian subcontinent, we can understand the eternality of spirit by simply observing the way life continues to exist before and after the appearances of various living entities. Based on the knowledge given to us by our parents and the recorded history of the world, we know that life on earth functioned just fine before we were born. We also know that life will continue after our passing because others around us have passed away and our lives didn’t end. Therefore the eternal nature of spirit is confirmed by basic outward perception. Just as life as a whole continues before and after death for other entities, it will continue perpetually for us as well.
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)
In the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Lord, in His original form of Shri Krishna, kindly explains the truths of life, the eternal nature of the soul, and what it takes to see and understand Him. The simplest formula for achieving liberation from ignorance and misery is provided: think of the Lord at the time of death. If we want to be Krishna conscious by the time we quit our body, shouldn’t we know what the Lord looks like? Also, if it has already been established that simply seeing God isn’t that big a deal, how will our consciousness ever be altered? This is where the hearing process comes to the rescue once again. Just as hearing a pleasurable song can immediately transport us back in time to when we first heard and enjoyed that song, hearing discourses about Krishna, or Krishna-katha, can immediately transfer us back to the spiritual world. The worshiped deity representations and pictures of the Lord are crafted off of specific information contained within sacred texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam describing the transcendental features belonging to the forms of the Supreme Lord’s ever existing original body and those of His numerous incarnations.
Seeing the deity form in the temple is seeing God. In the ignorant state, we have no idea how this bucking of the laws of nature through spiritual infusion can occur, but a trained eye can see the influence of Krishna not only in the deity but in every aspect of the creation as well. Staring at the sun puts a powerful glare in our eyes, but through this process we at least know that the sun is there. But a young child doesn’t even know what the sun is until they are told about it. Similarly, the deity looks just like a stone or wood statute to those who aren’t familiar with the Vedic traditions and the importance of altering consciousness. Indeed, if words can bring joy to the mind and songs pleasure to the ears, why can’t the divine vision of the deity bring a permanent shift to a transcendental consciousness, one which is always thinking about God in a loving way?
Superior to trying to understand God by observing the workings of the multitudes of spiritual entities, who are technically known as Brahman, and better than simply staring at the deity is hearing about the Lord and His pastimes. And while the descriptions of the forms, pastimes and attributes can certainly bring about a clearer picture of the Lord within the mind, more potent than any other aspect of the Supreme Spirit is His name. Therefore the foremost recommendation for aspiring transcendentalists of this age is to simply chant the holy names of Bhagavan, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The glories of the holy name know no bounds, as these sound vibrations are non-different representations of the person they address. Krishna is God’s name that describes His all-attractive nature. Rama refers to His ability to infuse transcendental pleasure into anyone who is willing to accept it. Hare refers to His perfected energy manifestation, that beautiful entity who always engages in Krishna consciousness without any deviation.
Calling out the names of God is the most wonderful activity because it serves as an alert, a signal to the higher authorities that someone is interested in learning more about Krishna. Pretty soon thereafter, information about Krishna’s beautiful childhood form that roamed the earth five thousand years ago in Vrindavana is understood. Though the sun beams a tremendous effulgence, there is still a physical object behind all the glare. In a similar manner, the splendor of the universe is simply the effulgence beaming off of the original transcendental body of the Supreme Lord. Only by penetrating this covering can a glimpse of true spiritual understanding be attained. The most purified souls, however, are so kind and sweet that Krishna goes out of His way to provide them the topmost transcendental pleasure. Therefore He sometimes makes a divine appearance on earth in forms that look awfully similar to ordinary human beings. Due to the tremendous capabilities and beauty of these forms, the wise are able to decipher the actor from the role.
Though devotees have their specific favorite forms and incarnations, it’s hard to argue against exclusively worshiping the sweet and beautiful childhood form of Krishna that enchanted all the residents of Vrindavana. He wore a peacock feather in His hair, the Kaustubha gem around His chest, and held a lotus flower in one hand and His wonderful flute in the other. All the while Krishna kept smiling, defeating the pride of many thousands of cupids. Devotees never got tired of seeing this wonderful form, and even when Krishna would go out to play during the day, they would maintain the mental image of His face by singing His glories and describing His playful sports such as stealing butter from the neighbors, playing with the cows, and mesmerizing the residents with His flute playing. Indeed, never has this world or any other realm heard a sound as sweet as the audible nectar produced by the flute of Muralidhara, Lord Krishna.
“While churning, she [Mother Yashoda] remembered the childish activities of Krishna, and in her own way she composed songs and enjoyed singing to herself about all those activities.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.2)
The descriptions of Krishna’s pastimes and attributes discussed by sages, put into poetry form and sung by devotees like Mother Yashoda in Vrindavana, and documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam represent only a small glimpse of the endless rays of spiritual sunshine available to those who humbly and kindly approach one who follows the Vedic tradition of bhakti. Hearing about Krishna is always superior to any other activity, as through understanding His transcendental nature, the divine vision remains forever lit within the mind. Through this method we can see God at all times of the day, whether we are in trouble or in the happiest of moods. Staring at the sun for too long will hurt our eyes, but hearing about Krishna will only bring us pleasure, as the mind’s eye can forever remain locked in on the transcendental form of Shyamasundara, the beautiful darling of Vrindavana who has the hue of a dark blue raincloud.