Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More Than Krishna

Krishna with Radha “The mayavadi [impersonalistic] philosophers want to become one with the Lord, but our philosophy is to become more than Krishna. Why one with Krishna? More than Krishna. And, actually, Krishna does make His devotee more than Himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, Ch 3.2)

The Vaishnava preachers stand out amongst all theosophists in that they confidently assert that the ultimate aim of life is to become a devotee of God. Love God with all your heart and all your miseries will go away. The way to love God is to not remain stringently attached to a specific religious system, but rather to change one’s consciousness. Always think of God, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or what your occupation is. One of the nice side effects of adopting this attitude is that one surpasses God in brilliance, opulence, and all good qualities. This may seem hard to believe, because the very nature of God is that He is the king of all mankind. In order for someone to be a king, they must be deemed superior to everyone else. But nevertheless, the devotees do surpass the Lord, and interestingly enough, this is all due to the Lord’s mercy. Several prominent historical examples point to this fact.

Lord Vishnu Vaishnavas are followers of Lord Vishnu, who is God’s form as the all-pervading creator, maintainer, and destroyer. The name Vishnu refers to a specific entity but it is also an apt term to describe God’s features. Vedic information provides insight into God’s names, forms, and pastimes. This makes it much easier to understand who the Supreme Person is, rather than just relying on the generic term of “God”. Vishnu is actually a four-armed expansion/version of God’s original form of Krishna. In addition to these two forms, the Lord decides to personally appear on earth from time to time. This is evidence enough of the Lord’s magnanimous nature. Knowing that mankind would have a difficult time trying to decipher the good from the bad, the Lord decided that He would appear on earth periodically to reinstitute the principles of religion [dharma] and also to quell any major uprisings by the irreligionists.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

One such appearance occurred many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. In this instance, Vishnu expanded Himself into human form as a pious and handsome prince named Rama. Rama was the very same Vishnu, or Narayana, so He was the chief god, or deva-varah. Depending on how an object is shaped, we may or may not have an attraction to it. Outside factors also determine our viewpoint. Water serves as a nice example in this regard. On a hot summer day, a nice cold glass of water really hits the spot. It provides temporary relief from the suffering caused by the excessive heat. Yet the same cold glass of water becomes unappealing during the winter months. Moreover, when that same water is turned into ice, it takes on a completely different value. Throughout these various conditions, the water has not changed at all. It is still of the same quality, irrespective of our feelings towards it.

Lord Rama The Supreme Lord can be thought of in the same light. Depending on time and circumstance, we may or may not have an attraction to God’s original form. Therefore the Lord is kind enough to assume various shapes to allow mankind to develop an attachment to Him. Lord Rama was very attractive in this respect. Appearing as an ordinary human being, all of mankind could relate to His life’s activities. The Lord had to suffer through several hardships throughout the course of His lifetime, including banishment to the forest and the kidnap of His beautiful wife, Sita Devi. While God can never suffer, this appearance of suffering helped others form an attachment to Him.

Aside from reinstituting the principles of religion, the other benefit of God’s appearances on earth is that the devotees get to directly interact with the Lord, offering their prayers and obeisances. During Lord Rama’s time, a great saint by the name of Valmiki was residing in a hermitage in a forest of India. Lord Rama, Sita Devi, and His younger brother Lakshmana once visited Maharishi Valmiki at his ashrama. The accounts of this meeting are described very nicely in TulsidasRamacharitamanasa. Valmiki was a great devotee of Rama; he is the author of the Ramayana, a poem which describes Lord Rama’s life. During their meeting, Rama and His group first offered obeisances to Valmiki since he was a brahmana and Lord Rama was in the guise of a kshatriya, or warrior. Then the Lord asked the sage if he knew of any good place to set up a cottage.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana visiting sages Valmiki answered this question very cleverly. Instead of telling Rama where to set up a camp, he gave a description of the qualities of a devotee of God, telling Rama that He and Sita should reside in the heart of such a person. One of the qualities that Valmiki mentioned was that a devotee loves his guru even more than God. This is certainly a strange concept to consider, since we usually view God as the ultimate object of worship. The guru is the spiritual master, essentially a teacher of spirituality. The best guru is one who is a devotee of Vishnu, for he can then teach his students how to find Vishnu and become His devotee. It is for this reason that devotees often love their guru, who is a devotee, more than God Himself. They think, “I love God, but my guru is so nice that he brought me to God. If it wasn’t for my guru, I’d remain stuck in a lost state, not knowing what to do in life. Based on this, how can I not love my guru more than I love God?”

What’s so nice about this sentiment is that Lord Krishna is entirely okay with this. In fact, He encourages this mindset. The Lord takes it upon himself to make sure that the guru remains famous forever and in this way becomes even more exalted than the Lord. An example of this  was seen with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Shrila Prabhupada is probably the most famous devotee of Krishna of the past five hundred years. In the late 1960s, he started a worldwide movement called the International Society for Krishna Consciousness [ISKCON], which made Krishna a household word for millions around the world.

Shrila Prabhupada Shrila Prabhupada also initiated many disciples, teaching them the science of self-realization and how to worship Krishna properly. Since he wrote so many books and gave so many lectures, people are still connecting with him to this day. He is a jagad-guru in the true sense of the word. It is quite common to see Prabhupada worshiped and loved more than Krishna. This isn’t surprising because Prabhupada provided instructions which allowed so many people to find Krishna and increase their love for Him. Understanding that this was due to the swami’s tireless efforts, devotees often make Prabhupada the prime object of worship. Krishna is more than okay with this, for He prefers worship of His devotee to worship of Himself.

Another example of a devotee achieving exalted status was Arjuna, the famous Pandava warrior. Around five thousand years ago, Krishna personally appeared on this earth and enacted many wonderful pastimes. Probably the most famous incident of His life took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra just prior to the start of a great war. The war involved two families, with Krishna not taking sides. He did, however, agree to act as the charioteer to Arjuna, the lead warrior for the Pandava family. Arjuna and Krishna were cousins and good friends. Arjuna was hesitant to fight, and not knowing what action to take, he put the matter to Krishna. What followed was a discourse on the meaning of life given by Krishna; a discourse so wonderful that today it is famously known as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God.

Krishna and Arjuna As part of His instructions, Krishna informed Arjuna that everyone on the opposing side was already dead. In His form as all-pervading time, Lord Krishna eventually kills everyone. Destiny had already decided that the fighters on the opposing side would die, so Arjuna simply had to carry out the dictates of destiny. In so doing, he would become forever famous for having defeated so many fighters. Arjuna eventually heeded Krishna’s advice, and to this day, he is considered one of the greatest devotees of God.

Valmiki’s description of the qualities of a devotee serves as a great checklist, a set of personal traits that we should all hope to one day acquire. What’s interesting to note, however, is that one historical personality already possesses all of these traits and has so since the time of Lord Rama. That person is Shri Hanuman, the Vanara and eternal servant of Rama. Hanuman probably best illustrates this principle of the devotee becoming more than God. After Sita was kidnapped, Rama enlisted the help of an army of monkeys headed by their king, Sugriva. While Sugriva was the king, Hanuman was the chief warrior in this army. It was Hanuman who was able to find Sita, set fire to the demon Ravana’s city of Lanka, and relay the information back to Rama. It was Hanuman who carried Rama and Lakshmana on his back during the subsequent great battle with Ravana’s band of Rakshasas. It was Hanuman who carried Lakshmana off the battlefield after he was injured. It was Hanuman who carried a gigantic mountain full of medicinal herbs which were used to resuscitate Lakshmana.

Hanuman What was Hanuman’s reward for this great service? When Lord Rama finally returned to His kingdom of Ayodhya to be coronated, Hanuman was given a special necklace by Sita. He was also granted the boon of being forever devoted to Rama. He was also allowed to remain in his body for as long as Rama’s story continued to be told on earth. Thus we see that Hanuman is still alive today, taking great pleasure in hearing of the glories of Rama, Lakshmana, and Janaki [Sita]. In fact, Hanuman is probably the most worshiped deity in the world. Even people who aren’t necessarily Vaishnavas take to worship of Hanuman. Tulsidas’ poem, the Hanuman Chalisa, is one of the most famous prayers in the world; it is recited by millions on a daily basis.

Radha and Krishna The followers of the Vedic tradition adopt different methods of self-realization. Some take to fruitive activity, some take to mental speculation, and some take to meditational yoga. While all these processes can eventually lead to bhakti, or devotion, one can take the fast track to salvation by directly worshiping God’s devotees. The devotees teach us how to become perfect human beings, how to gain the good Lord’s favor. The impersonalist speculators want to become one with God, the fruitive workers want to acquire more possessions than God, and the meditational yogis want to achieve siddhis, or perfections, which surpass God’s powers. But from the examples mentioned above, we see that the only way to surpass God is through God’s grace. Only the Lord can make us greater than Himself. This benediction can only be acquired by those who are sincere in their love and devotion. Hanuman, Prabhupada, Arjuna, Valmiki, and countless others never coveted the fame and adoration they received, but the Lord made sure that their service was recognized. In this way, we see that no one is more magnanimous than the Lord. He never forgets the kind service that is rendered to Him.