“O son of Pritha, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I need to obtain anything – and yet I am engaged in work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.22)
“Why should I worship Krishna? Why not give attention to another deity or even the abstract sound vibration om, which doesn’t directly address any specific person?” Since God’s transcendental qualities are impossible to fully enumerate, the task of convincing others why they should abandon every form of dharma except bhakti, devotional service, is a difficult one. Despite His being described as neti neti in the Vedas, which means “not this, not that”, the glories and transcendental qualities held by the Supreme Person are still worth mentioning, as the more we know about Him, the more the seed of devotional service found within the heart grows into a creeper, ideally culminating in the development of a full blown tree holding every tasty fruit imaginable. One of the more noteworthy qualities found in the Supreme Person in His original form of Lord Krishna is that He doesn’t have to do anything. No one can tell Krishna what to do, nor is He obligated to perform any work. Whatever He does is for His own pleasure, thus proving that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The initial impulse for the maturing human being is to find a condition where life’s necessities are met to a satisfactory level, where necessary goods continually arrive without worry. The fact that the animal kingdom already has such needs met without any conscious thought given is overlooked, for the more possessions a human being acquires, the stronger the urge to protect and defend becomes. To ensure that a comfortable shelter is erected, that food is regularly supplied to the dinner table, and that clothing and other delights are available in sufficient quantities, the adult human being goes to work. He either starts his own business, becomes an independent contractor in a specific field, or goes to work for someone who runs their own business.
Irrespective of the specific path chosen, there is both service and obligation. The obligation itself entails service. The boss of a successful company must ensure that his customers are happy. Whether he is delivering a product or service, if there are no patronizing customers, the autonomy and power of the proprietor end up being meaningless. The most successful companies often have the hardest working owners. The employee can clock out when their shift is over, but to the proprietor the worry over profit and loss never ceases. If hard times are encountered, the workers can look for jobs elsewhere, but the owner must figure out a way to earn a profit, else risk losing his business, which is his life and soul.
After many years of working, the ideal end is retirement, the time in life when there is no longer an obligation to work. Enough money has been earned to provide for a sufficient standard of living, one that no longer requires the obligation of running a business or showing up to the jobsite. This time is highly coveted because of the relief of stress and pressure that it brings. Who wouldn’t want to live a life where you didn’t have to go to work? The only other time when such obligations are absent is during childhood, especially the years before schooling. Even while attending school during youth, there are vacations and time off, extended breaks not available to the adult worker. There are vacations and holidays sparsely populating the calendar for the busy business owner and laborers, but since adult workers are involved in a profit/loss game, not too much time can be missed from the business without a negative consequence resulting.
If we study the issue a little more closely, however, we’ll see that even retirees have to work. They have some sort of obligation they must meet. Either they have to tend to their children and grandchildren, travel to different places, or manage their finances. Even the “trust fund babies”, children born into wealth, make up obligations and duties for themselves. If they didn’t follow such obligations, there would be consequences that they would find unpleasant.
For one person, however, there is never any obligation. This is true for Him at any stage of life, which is a pretty significant fact considering that the length of His life is longer than any other person’s. Though the spirit soul travels through different species through reincarnation, its constitutional position never changes. The soul, or atma, is described as sanatana, or eternal, in the Vedas. This fact is difficult to comprehend from only using the known outward perceptions gathered in a particular stint in a particular form. The qualification is placed on “known” perceptions because not all sense observations are remembered or accounted for. During our childhood the length of time of one year was the same as it is during adulthood, but since consciousness wasn’t fully developed back then, the memories of those days and nights are almost all forgotten. Yet, just because we remember one event and forget another doesn’t mean that there are any differences between the two lengths of time.
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)
Just as we can’t remember the specific details of events in our life that took place many years ago, we have no memory of our experiences prior to the current life. Therefore the concept of sanatana needs identifying and explaining; otherwise the ignorant soul would simply associate with their present body, a form that is constantly changing. This association is silly because we know from our past that our body has constantly changed. An adult doesn’t consider themselves a kid, for they would never think of playing on slides and running through children’s parks as an adult. But surely during the time of childhood the identity was based on age and the makeup of the outer covering of the soul. Since this outer covering eventually completely changed, that past basis for identity was incorrect.
Similarly, the adult basing their identity off of their outward features makes a grievous error, for the entire covering will be discarded in favor of a new one at the time of death. Therefore the soul is accurately described as sanatana, though it has a choice as to which realm to occupy and what activities to adopt. When choosing in favor of the turbulent waters of the ocean of material existence, there must be obligations relating to such things as work, school and family interests.
The Supreme Person, the entity who’s realm is actually our natural home, is also sanatana, but in a different way. He remains in His body, unchanged for all of eternity. Even when He makes appearances in His material creation, His spiritual body is still unchanging, even though it seemingly goes through the natural shifts like from boyhood to youth, to adulthood, and so on. Along with His sanatana form comes a lack of obligation. Since the laws of karma, the effects of action and reaction, and the influences of the threefold miseries of life cannot ever touch Him, He never has anything to do.
Most of us refer to this person as God, but His specific features may not be as well known. Since in His original form His attributes are most fully represented, the name used to address Him in a loving way is Krishna, which means “all-attractive”. It must be noted that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, has many expansions, which include even the living entities. From one come many, but the many aren’t always equal to the one. When the one makes a personal expansion, the new form is identical in potency and supremacy to the original. When there are separated expansions, the qualities found in the Supreme Person are replicated only to a percentage, thus creating an inherent relationship between the two parties. The superior is always the same in quality as the inferior, but the inferior can never become superior. Where they are tied, however, is in interests. When the inferior becomes fully aware of their standing, they never leave the superior’s side.
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)
Whenever there is a decline in religious practice and a steady rise in irreligion, Krishna descends to earth either personally or in a non-different form. Based on this information it seems that Krishna has created an obligation. Since His appearance is tied to a specific condition on earth, it must mean that as soon as that condition is present, the Lord is compelled to appear. For instance, if we have a building equipped with a sprinkler system to deal with fire emergencies, as soon as the detector goes off, the sprinklers will turn on. Therefore the sprinklers are essentially obligated to act once a condition is met.
This actually isn’t true with the Supreme Lord. His appearing on earth to redress discrepancies in religious practice is simply out of His own whim, and it is not automatic. Rather, the statement relating to when and why He appears is made to give the unintelligent spiritual fragments trapped in a cycle of reincarnation a rudimentary understanding of why Krishna is sometimes visible and why He is sometimes not.
When the incarnations come, when Krishna personally remains in the spiritual sky but descends as an avatara, or non-different form, some obligations are seemingly put into place. For instance, as the warrior prince Lord Rama, Krishna assumed the role of a pious son, one following the tremendous example of virtue and dedication to righteousness passed down by the rulers of the Ikshvaku dynasty. Rama agreed to limit His activities to kingly duties and the exhibition of strength in defense of the innocent. Since Krishna can never hide His natural beauty, Shri Rama enthralled everyone with His stunning good looks and His kind nature. Therefore many people wanted to associate with Him intimately, but since He voluntarily abided by righteousness to set a good example, He only took one wife in His life, the glorious Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka. Shri Rama also abided by the orders given by His superiors, such as the guru Vasishtha and the father King Dasharatha.
Other avataras have also followed obligations created based on the time and circumstance. Lord Narasimhadeva came for a brief period of time to specifically kill the demon king Hiranyakashipu, who was harassing his five-year old son Prahlada Maharaja. Lord Parashurama was only interested in killing, in wiping out the kshatriya race over and over again. Lord Vamanadeva came to liberate Bali Maharaja, and Lord Varaha came to save the earth when it was submerged in water.
With Shri Krishna, however, the self-imposed obligations are virtually absent. Instead of abiding by dharma, travelling to certain places, or following orders so that society’s dedication to virtue can remain strong, Krishna simply plays on His flute. This is His most natural activity, as it gives Him tremendous pleasure. If He likes, Krishna enjoys with His cowherd friends, the cows, or even Mother Yashoda. Krishna is actually celebrated for His act of stealing butter from the stockpiles found in the neighbors’ homes. Shri Krishna is the wealthiest person in the world and lives under no one’s obligations, yet He steals from others because it gives Him pleasure. Since Krishna is the reservoir of all pleasure, anything He does to provide Himself happiness automatically brings pleasure to those who are connected with Him.
If someone were to come into our cupboard or pantry and take away our food that we had safely tucked away, obviously we wouldn’t be too happy. Yet the gopis of Vrindavana, while outwardly feigning anger and disappointment, were so thrilled to have the young Krishna, who was living with His foster parents Mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja in Vrindavana at the time, come and steal their butter. When they would complain to Mother Yashoda, the elderly gopis still would ask her not to punish Krishna, for they could not remain angry at Him, despite what He had done.
When the cows in Vrindavana would sometimes start running around uncontrollably or when the crowd of friends roamed away from Krishna’s side, the Lord would ascend a hill and start playing His flute. The sounds that emanated from this magical instrument had never been heard before, nor can they be found in any place in the material world. That flute sound is actually heard constantly in the spiritual sky of Goloka Vrindavana, which is the permanent residence of the Krishna devotees who think of Him at all times in their life, and especially at the time of death. As soon as Krishna would play His flute, everyone would settle down and fix their gaze upon their beloved Shyamasundara.
Since Krishna is not obligated to do anything, He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His most complete form. If the Lord does seemingly take up an activity out of duty, it is done to simply provide pleasure to those who have abandoned hopes for enjoyment in material life. Krishna stays with those who want His association, who enjoy chanting His names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, more than any other activity. Even the avataras and incarnations that follow obligations only do so because of the Lord’s love for His devotees. In this way, even though Krishna has no obligations and never has to worry about providing for Himself, when He sees others who need help finding their forgotten constitutional positions, innocent souls sincerely interested in adopting bhakti-yoga as a way of life, Krishna brings His beautiful image and pleasurable pastimes to the forefront of their consciousness. Though He has nothing to do, Krishna has everything to bring to the surrendered soul. To those who think of Him in a mood of pure love and devotion, Krishna runs at the speed of the mind to their location and gives them the pleasure they most certainly deserve.
At the jobsite the dedicated worker tries his best,
To complete his tasks, to one day find real rest.
Retirement is seen as the panacea, for the dream of peace one hopes,
For reaching that end with the trouble of life the worker copes.
But obligations do never end, one must have something to do,
One needs activity, to keep the mind from feeling blue.
One person is so wonderful that He never has to act,
He is happy within Himself, that is a fact.
He is known as Shri Krishna because He is all-attractive,
At winning the hearts of the pious He is most effective.
He comes to earth to play on His flute,
His youthful figure so beautiful and cute.
From the neighbors’ homes does He steal butter,
Complain do the gopis to Yashoda His mother.
But once they see Krishna, their anger do they forget,
“Let Him come to our homes, a glance at His smile we’ll get.”
For Krishna there is nothing to do, no obligations,
For the devotees He comes to earth, to relieve their frustrations.
For this He is ever worthy of love and adoration,
Chant His name always and you will get liberation.