“Seeing His devotees so disturbed, Shri Krishna, the infinite Lord of the universe and possessor of infinite power, then swallowed the terrible forest fire.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.17.25)Download this episode (right click and save)
Earth, water, fire, air and ether. These are the five gross elements of the material world. Coming in different proportions and combinations, they cover the otherwise spotless spirit soul. That soul is jivatma, which means it is localized and given independence with respect to association. It can turn towards the Divine light or fall into the well of darkness.
“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego-altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.4)
The subtle elements combine with the gross elements to create the temporary body for the jivatma. The exact combination of gross elements influences attributes like intelligence, height, strength, and beauty. The various attributes tied to an individual, of any species, are based on the makeup of the material elements. Some species have more air than others. Thus they are able to fly. Some have properties allowing them to live in the water. In some species there is more fire.
Despite the covering, the elements are material and have nothing to do with the spirit soul. While conditioned, the jivatma may not be able to transcend the elements, but for a different kind of spirit there is actually no dichotomy. His body and soul are identical. There are no material elements with Him. The distinction applies only for the jivatmas.
He is thus known as Paramatma. He is one soul, though appearing inside of every living being. He is in my heart right now, alongside the soul which identifies me. Indeed, whenever the word “me” is there, soul is automatically implied. Paramatma is inside of you as well. Though He appears divided, He is one.
Material elements like air and water do not affect Paramatma. This is easy to accept in theory, but more difficult to believe in concept. To help there is the incarnation, the manifest version of Paramatma. Since it is an individual with identifiable features, the name for this aspect of the Divine is Bhagavan.
We have a story from the life of Bhagavan Krishna that proves He is above the material elements. Though He looked like a young and beautiful boy to His friends, parents and relatives, Krishna always retained His position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
One time in Vrindavana a forest fire threatened to kill many people. It was the middle of the night, and the fire took everyone by surprise. There was no time to think. There was no means of escape. Full surrender to Krishna was the only option. The very concept of sharanagati was materializing before everyone. They asked Krishna to save them.
The Supreme Lord, whose body is never made up of material elements, easily devoured the entire forest fire. The material element in great abundance that could apply lethal force went into the mouth of Krishna without issue. Having just been inside the ring of fire, He and His devotees emerged unscathed.
In the same way, the constant flow of desires is a kind of raging fire. You buy one stock, watch its price, and wait to sell at the appropriate time. If you make a profit, you’re looking to make even more with the next investment. If you lose money, you’re desperate to find a way to regain what you lost. This kind of cycle repeats, month after month, year after year. It continues into the next lifetime, even, for the consciousness at the time of death determines the circumstances of the next birth.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
Krishna saved the residents of Vrindavana from the blazing fire, and for those about to be consumed by the fire of kama, or material desire, full reliance on Him will give protection as well. Bhakti is the answer to every problem. The principle looks simplistic on the surface, but implementation is difficult. The best way to start and stay on the path to spiritual freedom is the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Imminent death presumed,
Since fire coming to consume.
No escape, no other option to try,
Only on Shri Krishna to rely.
Soon after the danger without,
As flames easily into His mouth.
If by fire of kama now burning,
Rescue when to bhakti turning.