“The Personality of Godhead heard the appealing voices of His friends, and casting a pleasing glance over them, He began to answer. By speaking through His eyes, He impressed His friends that there was no cause for fear. Then Krishna, the supreme mystic, the powerful Personality of Godhead, immediately swallowed up all the flames of the fire.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 19)
Friend1: There is that famous verse from the Bhagavad-gita about the four kinds of people.
Friend2: Isn’t every verse famous?
Friend1: They should be, but you know what I mean.
Friend2: Probably meant to say, “The often quoted verse.”
Friend1: There you go. If you already know what I mean, what need is there to correct?
Friend2: What fun is it if I just let you go on without interruption?
Friend1: You know the verse of which I speak, I presume.
Friend2: “O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
Friend1: There you go.
Friend2: So what’s your question?
Friend1: I always liked that verse because it reminds me of so many situations from life. The situations are depicted well on screen, and I can also relate from my own experience.
Friend2: Such as?
Friend1: Who hasn’t been distressed at some point and turned to the heavens? I particularly like the prayer of, “God, please help me out this one time. I promise to never bother you again.”
Friend2: That is a good one. That person belongs in the category of “distressed.” You end up going back to Him when you need something again, which you surely will.
Friend1: And who doesn’t want money?
Friend2: The Sanskrit word is artha, which means “profit.” Basically, you want a successful outcome to your efforts. Who wants to do work for nothing? Even in charity there is some expectation that the effort expended is benefitting someone.
Friend1: So the question I had relates to the distressed category. Well, first let me ask if these four kinds of people are practicing bhakti.
Friend2: It’s the preliminary stage. It’s the entryway. Think of it like four different doors that lead a person to the Supreme Lord. Since He is all-attractive, one name for Him is Krishna.
Friend1: Perfect. Exactly what I wanted to hear. So the question is about the residents of Vrindavana.
Friend2: Which Vrindavana? The original spiritual abode of Shri Krishna, known as Goloka Vrindavana, or the replica version of the same place found in this land?
Friend1: It doesn’t matter so much because the question pertains to the people, really. Let’s say we’re talking about the Vrindavana on this earth, but during the time when Krishna was here. I choose this time and place intentionally, because I know in Goloka Vrindavana there are no asuras.
Friend2: Right. You can’t have bad guys there. As soon as there is a hint of desire to go against God, which is the definition of bad, then you descend to the material world.
Friend2: So which residents did you want to ask about?
Friend1: I’ll give you an example. There is the story of the forest fire.
Friend2: Oh, yes. Krishna and His friends are in the forest and suddenly a major fire develops around them.
Friend1: And so Krishna’s friends have no other hope. They look to Him to save them.
Friend2: Which the Lord easily does by swallowing the entire fire. He can do that because there is nothing material about Him. No element, even in the largest quantity, can influence Him. He is above the three modes of nature, the different elements contained within, and even the three kinds of ways they cause misery to people.
Friend1: Nice. Here’s the issue. We know that the associates of Krishna in Vrindavana are the most elevated souls.
Friend2: For sure. There must be qualification to associate so intimately with Krishna. The Supreme Lord’s association isn’t so cheap. The qualification can be quickly acquired, but the biggest hurdle is desire. There’s a reason some yogis spend years and years, lifetimes even, without reaching the same person who was bound up in the ropes of mother Yashoda’s love.
Friend1: Alright, but aren’t the friends in the situation of the forest fire considered part of the aforementioned “distressed” category? They were in trouble. They had no one else except Krishna to save them. And if they are distressed in that way, isn’t their bhakti, or devotion, at a preliminary level?
Friend2: Great questions. First, many of these associates already had been jnanis before. As you know, when Krishna mentions the four groups in the Bhagavad-gita, in the next verse He says that the jnanis are the most dear.
Friend1: Oh yeah. That’s right.
Friend2: The reason is obvious. The jnani knows things as they are. They understand the difference between matter and spirit and how sense gratification is the aim for the lower species. The human being has a higher purpose to fulfill. Therefore when such a person starts bhakti-yoga, they aren’t really looking for anything more. Such a person quickly becomes dear to Krishna.
Friend2: So the male cowherd friends of Krishna were already jnanis?
Friend1: In a previous existence. It is said that many of the female friends, the gopis, were highly advanced ascetics in a previous life, as well. This proves two things. One is that jnana is not the end. Knowledge is one path towards reaching the Supreme Lord. The second is that bhakti is the ultimate destination. That’s where a second life begins, one that is actually eternal.
Friend2: Alright, so I am glad you stipulated that. Wouldn’t the forest fire incident raise a contradiction? You have people in the second, eternal life, but then they are still distressed. How is that considered a liberated state?
Friend1: Great questions. The explanation is that the emotions are transcendental. It’s a way of interacting in bhakti. Devotional life is full of ups and downs, positive and negative emotions, changes in experience, etc. The idea is that every condition is favorable towards devotion. The fear of the dangerous forest fire is a situation that allows for further closeness and reliance on God. It increases the surrender, which thus increases the bliss. I know you want to ask how much it can increase.
Friend2: I do!
Friend1: That is the beauty of bhakti. There is no limit. The surrender can continue increasing. Krishna is ever-fresh and new, and so is devotion to Him.
Never too much bhakti to do,
Since Lord ever fresh and new.
So even when in Vrindavana land,
Fear when dire situation at hand.
Like forest fire the boys to surround,
In helpless call to Krishna to sound.
Not like distressed in ordinary case,
Transcendental pleasure from fear to erase.