“While Vasudeva was carrying his son Krishna in the falling rain, Lord Shesha in the shape of a serpent spread His hood over the head of Vasudeva so that he would not be hampered by the rainfall. Vasudeva came onto the bank of the Yamuna and saw that the water of the Yamuna was roaring with waves and that the whole span was full of foam. Still, in that furious feature, the river gave passage to Vasudeva to cross, just as the great Indian Ocean gave a path to Lord Rama when He was bridging over the gulf.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 3)
“What would you say to the argument that religion is dull and lifeless? Sit there in a house of worship and listen to someone ramble on and on. I doubt anyone is paying attention. The smart people go to the back room, away from everyone else. There they can mingle and pass the time among friends. They still get credit for showing up, for being pious, but avoid the torture.
“What is the appeal to someone who is looking for fun? The adventure-seeker. The rock-climber. The world traveler. The person making a bucket list, items to complete prior to passing away. Why would they be drawn to information about life and death and the beyond? Why would strict rules and regulations be appealing to them?”
From the first interactions between the parents in the Mathura jail cell and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, we see that genuine spiritual life can be exhilarating, awe-inspiring, riveting, and dangerous. It can get your pulse-racing like nothing else can.
To be clear, this was a surprise interaction. Devaki and Vasudeva never expected to have the Divine appear as their son. At that point, they were happy to have any child who survived. King Kamsa had killed the previous children born to them. He did so immediately; the latest-term abortion imaginable, conducted within plain sight.
The explanation of the acharyas is that there was strict austerity and penance in past lives. Vasudeva was someone else before and so was Devaki. This is in terms of identity within society. The identity is actually the same, just as I have not changed who I am since the time of birth, when emerging from the womb.
Shri Krishna confirms this in the Bhagavad-gita. In His sacred conversation with the bow-warrior named Arjuna, Krishna says that a person takes up devotion to Him only after sinful life has been completely exhausted. No more impurities. No more ulterior motives. No more lingering desires for sense gratification or world domination.
येषां त्व् अन्त-गतं पापं
भजन्ते मां दृढ-व्रताः
yeṣāṁ tv anta-gataṁ pāpaṁ
bhajante māṁ dṛḍha-vratāḥ
“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.28)
The key words for this discussion are dridha-vratah. This is a vow of strength. In other words, determination. Devotees who interact directly with Krishna are not passersby. They are not chanting the holy names as the fashion of the day: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
As a reward for that devotion, they get one surprise after another, with each increasing their devotion. There is no limit to the bliss. Maharishi Valmiki helps us understand. The ananda is something like connected rivers flowing back into the source. The key distinction is that this source never becomes overfilled.
The devotee can accept one experience after another. They are ready. They have done the field work. There was purification at a previous time; either in past lives or in this one. This is the real purpose of the rules and regulations of spiritual life, in whichever tradition they are followed.
The end-goal is always something blissful, even if the teachers have not reached the understanding of the personal God and the eternal nature of the relationship with Him. Fortunately, we have the Vaishnava tradition, which passes forward works like Bhagavata Purana and Bhagavad-gita. We see and hear from God directly; there is no doubt as to His existence. In our interactions with Him, He will continue to pleasantly surprise us, as He did with Vasudeva, who had to carry his new son across the raging Yamuna River in the middle of the night.
Surprise at every turn,
When Divine mercy to earn.
Never boring and stale,
Riveting is Vasudeva’s tale.
Where suddenly prison to leave,
And obstacle of river to receive.
But Krishna in arms holding,
So pleasant the adventure unfolding.