“Then Krishna, the supreme mystic, the powerful Personality of Godhead, immediately swallowed up all the flames of the fire. The cows and boys were thus saved from imminent danger. Out of fear, the boys were almost unconscious, but when they regained their consciousness and opened their eyes, they saw that they were again in the forest with Krishna, Balarama and the cows.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 19)
Those who are familiar with the teachings of Vedanta have likely heard of the threefold miseries of life. There are the four miserable events known as birth, old age, disease and death. These repeat in cycles through what is known as reincarnation. The changing of bodies is the easier way to understand reincarnation, to remove the mystical aspect to it. I am the same person that I see in that old photograph. Though I look totally different right now, my identity has not changed. This is the simple way to get proof of reincarnation.
dehino ‘smin yathā dehe
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
Reincarnation is not fun because it is forced upon the living entity. Why can’t I sustain my athletic ability forever? If I can play tennis for three hours at a time today without a problem, how come in several years’ time that ability will diminish? It’s not fair.
The living being encounters various miseries between the events of birth and death. Vedanta, which is also known as Vedic philosophy or the conclusion of all conclusions, puts those miseries into three categories. Adhidaivika are the ones that come from the heavenly region. Think of acts of nature like the hurricane, the tornado, the rainstorm, and the forest fire. Adhibautika are those caused by other living entities, such as when people are overly aggressive and mean. Adhyatmika are those coming from within, like disease and mental anguish.
The Supreme Lord is above these miseries. As He is a person, He sometimes appears within our realm. Though He gives the appearance of changing His external body, there is actually no difference between matter and spirit for Him. Though He lives in the same realm as us, the threefold miseries do not affect Him. In addition, He changes the influence of those miseries for those who seek His shelter.
1. Lifting Govardhana.
The king of heaven was angry at the residents of Vrindavana. They neglected to worship him. Was this done out of malice? Were they purposefully trying to insult Indra? Actually, they got advice from Krishna that worship of a nearby hill named Govardhana was a better use of their time. This neglect only occurred one time, and Krishna asked very nicely. In the form of a small child, Krishna persuaded the residents, who all loved Him very much.
Unable to tolerate the supposed insult, the king of heaven unleashed a torrential downpour. It was so bad that normally there would have been no hope. It was devastating rain, set to wash away everyone, including the animals. Krishna changed the nature of that adhidaivika misery by lifting the massive Govardhana Hill and holding it up for seven straight days. He created this amazing umbrella effortlessly, and the very powerful Indra and his rain were defeated.
2. Swallowing the forest fire.
In the same Vrindavana during Krishna’s time bad things were always happening. The Sanskrit word for demon is asura. This is a simple negation of another word: sura. A sura is a devotee, a person who believes in God. They may not always remember His supremacy all the time. Indra is a sura, and he temporarily forgot about Krishna’s real nature. Still, a sura is generally a good person.
The asura is always against God. It is in their nature. They don’t just proclaim that God is a myth. They don’t just thumb their nose at religion. They are aggressors against the good. They even try to defeat God when He appears in their midst, as they are too blinded by ignorance to realize who He is. Such was the case when Krishna was in Vrindavana. Asuras tried so many times to inflict harm on Krishna and His friends.
Once there was a raging forest fire. Krishna’s friends, who were of the same childhood age, were unconscious and set to be burned to death. Krishna stepped in and easily swallowed the entire fire. Fire is a material element, after all, which can be used for both good and evil. The misery of the natural disaster was easily averted for those who had shelter of God the person.
3. The pain of separation in the gopis.
No one looks forward to missing someone. I don’t intentionally leave home so that I can become homesick. Thus we would have to say that separation pain is a kind of misery. It comes from within, so it belongs in the adhyatmika category. With the Supreme Lord, the same separation pain is blissful. Proof is seen in the gopis of Vrindavana. They are the cowherd girls of the community, and they are so attached to Krishna that they can’t stop thinking about Him. Even if they are engaged in household affairs the entire day, every thought is about the jewel of Vrindavana. Even if they are older and have their own children to worry about, their top priority is the wellbeing of Yashoda’s son.
Lord Chaitanya has declared that the mood of worship of the gopis is the highest. It is superior to the meditation of the renounced yogis, the study of the Vedantists, and the work with detachment of the karma-yogis. In addition to this constant thinking in separation being extremely pleasing to the Supreme Lord, it is also the source of the highest bliss. This contradiction can only be realized through direct experience. The more one knows Krishna, the more they miss Him. The more they miss, the more conscious they are of Him, which is the aim of life. Though typically it is painful to miss someone, when you miss God you actually feel pleasure.
4. Narasimhadeva protecting Prahlada.
Just like the residents about to be washed away by Indra’s flood, Prahlada Maharaja was helpless. He was only five years old, and his Daitya father tried everything possible to change Prahlada’s devotional ways. The father went so far as to employ deadly force. Thus the boy suffered adhibautika miseries from a much more powerful force. No one would expect him to survive being thrown off a cliff, taken into a pit of fire, or left with deadly snakes. Yet the boy did survive, and his devotion thrived. This was due to the efforts of Krishna, who eventually arrived on the scene in person, as the avatara named Narasimha.
5. Giving back life to the Vanaras on the battlefield.
During His descent to earth as the warrior prince named Rama, there were many living entities willing to give up their lives for Him on the battlefield. In the culminating stage of a long conflict with the king of Lanka, monkeys from the Kishkindha forest served as Rama’s soldiers. These monkeys, known as Vanaras, battled courageously against foes known as Rakshasas. A Rakshasa is asura-like, but even more fallen. They sink so low as to eat human beings, and they employ unfair tactics in battle, like black magic.
sukhinaḥ kṣatriyāḥ pārtha
labhante yuddham īdṛśam
“O Partha, happy are the kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.32)
Many Vanaras died in battle. According to Shri Krishna this is a very noble death, one that brings immediate elevation to heaven. Yet Rama was so kind that after winning, He requested that the Vanaras all be brought back to life. Thus the miserable event of death was reversed through the Lord’s grace.
Krishna can do anything, so even the difficult material nature becomes friendly through His grace. After all, the superintendent of the material world, Durga Devi, serves Krishna. Her trident works against the asuras, the people who are against God. The sura gets protection, and better than the sura is the pure devotee, who associates with the Supreme always in thought, word and deed. The threefold miseries have a different influence on them, as every moment they get closer and closer to the Lord in consciousness.
Material existence with miseries three,
Each person in some way to see.
But Krishna Himself able to transcend,
Downpour and forest fire away can send.
For the devotees protection giving,
Changing nature for improved living.
Getting closer to Him with each step,
Bliss even from separation to get.
Categories: the five