Friday, February 4, 2011

Body My Holding Cell

Lord Krishna “The individual soul in the body of a baby cannot show the full power and potency of a grown man, but the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna, even when lying on the lap of His mother as a baby, could exhibit His full potency and power by killing Putana and other demons who tried to attack Him. Therefore the spiritual potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is said to be eka-rasa, or without change.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

The relationship between the individual and the Supreme Controller, or God, is a subject of interest for those who have accepted the truth of God’s existence. The first realization for the spiritually conscious conditioned human being, that of understanding that man is fallible and destined to die, is not a very difficult conclusion to reach. After all, simply by observing recorded history and the current events around us we can see that no one lives forever. Perceiving the temporary nature of the visible world, the inquisitive mind ponders the justification behind forced death and the reason for life in the first place. These questions, when followed by a search for knowledge along a bona fide path, lead the sincere soul to the understanding of God’s existence. Yet simply knowing that God resides in the spiritual sky or that He is great is not enough to cause a change in activities. For the awareness of imminent death and the permanence of the spiritual sky to be acted upon, the relationship to the Lord must be defined. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide much insight about this most sublime of connections. Though many statements of scripture, including that of “eka-rasa”, tend to point to the sameness between individuals and the Divine Controller, there is still a stark difference in potencies. The dichotomy is fully exhibited in the transcendental activities performed by the Personality of Godhead while on earth, especially those feats of strength seen during His childhood.

Vasudeva carrying Krishna Can God come to earth? Can He have a childhood? These questions only exist due to the differences in qualities between individuals and the Supreme Lord. Individuals are known as atmas, or souls, whereas the Supreme Person is known as Paramatma. The prefix “para” is added to denote superiority, an absence of fallibility without even a trace of a penchant towards illusion. The individual soul is more technically known as jivatma since it has the tendency to fall down into a realm where it must assume temporary bodies. The guaranteed nature of death is attributable directly to birth; without birth there cannot be death. The jivatma, which is constitutionally spirit, has no involvement with birth or death, but since it falls down into a temporary world, it must be given a set of clothes to wear. Since the realm itself is temporary, so must be the clothes that are worn. Since death is guaranteed for anyone who takes birth, there must be a visible change to the qualities of the outfit assumed by the entity taking birth. These changes are driven by the forces of time, which make use of its two most powerful tools: old age and disease. When we combine the four factors together, we see that life in the temporary world involves birth, old age, disease and death.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Throughout the exterior changes seen in the phenomenal world, the soul does not change, for the very makeup of spirit is immutability, knowledge, bliss and eternality. These properties are inherited from the soul’s life partner, the spiritual link if you will. Each individual has an unbreakable bond to the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky. The Vedas often mention oneness in the makeup of the souls in relation with the Lord and also a oneness in the relationship. These statements are indeed true, but when not properly understood, the mind can be drawn into delusion, the greatest form of which manifests when the individual takes themselves to be Supreme. The jivatma can never become the Paramatma, yet by unharnessed mental speculation not grounded in any reality, the individual can certainly declare themselves to be God and be confident of their faulty assertion.

Krishna subduing the Kaliya serpent So how do we know that the people who claim to be God are wrong? To the sober man, the differences between God and man are obvious, but to help us break down the faulty logic in an authorized way, one that goes beyond simple sentiment and common sense, a brief compare and contrast is required. We know from our birth that our individual soul was forced to accept an outer covering. We know that this event was forced because we have no memory of ever having decided to take birth in the particular womb that we did; nor did we have any say as to what type of body we would receive and which country we would appear in. Simply from the fact that we can’t remember these critical events, the presence of fallibility is understood. The Vedas will accurately point out that these defects are products of the outer covering and not the soul itself. Nevertheless, if the soul is so powerful, why does it lack control over the most important moment in each life: birth? Our parents and grandparents protected us during the first few years of our life, but we have no memory of these incidents. We don’t remember learning how to crawl, walk, or talk, yet this education most certainly took place.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bg. 4.5)

The Paramatma, however, remembers everything. Since this spiritual entity is a direct expansion of the Supreme Lord, there are no defects or forced migrations in the spiritual sense. The Paramatma kindly accompanies the individual atma from body to body. The kind travel of the Supersoul, which is voluntarily accepted, allows the individual to remain connected with the Supreme Lord, their best friend and supreme object of pleasure. Whatever memory we do have only pertains to the experiences of the current life. The Paramatma, however, can remember not only all the incidents of our current life, but of previous ones as well. In addition, the Supreme Lord is conscious of the events pertaining to every single form of life on earth. This power exclusively held by the Supreme Lord speaks to His unmatched abilities, thus providing concrete evidence of the fact that man can never become God.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna Vedic information gives much detail about the nature of the soul, an entity that is highly powerful and a constant torchlight of knowledge. Flashlights and lamps need some sort of energy source to remain lit, but the soul is self-illuminating. This property is present in every single soul, regardless of the particular body type. This brings us to the most striking area of distinction between God and man. The soul, though always glowing with the light of transcendental knowledge and love, can have its properties masked by the temporary body it assumes. The best illustration of this masking effect is seen with the human infant. The small child, though possessing a high potential for intelligence, is incapable of doing anything tangible. At most it can cry as a form of communication, drink milk that it is offered, and produce waste. With these limited functions, the infant is completely dependent on the elders to protect and take care of it. The infant could not survive without the aid of others. Yet we know from the properties of the soul that the infant is very powerful. It has the torchlight of knowledge, but due to its temporary form of body, its natural potencies become temporarily masked.

The imposed limiting factors apply not only to the infant, but to every type of temporary body. Even in the mature stage, the individual is still limited in its capabilities. It may be able to understand the high philosophy of Vedanta, but it still cannot remember experiences of lives past. Even if the individual could conjure up some memories through mystic meditational practices, nothing tangible can be done with such information. No individual, regardless of their body type, is able to create, maintain, and destroy on the level of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Moreover, no individual entity can provide the same pleasure to the multitudes of spirit souls that God can. The individual soul can never expand itself into infinite forms and reside as the impartial witness in the hearts of all forms of life. There is always equality amongst life forms, but the sameness is due only to the presence of the soul. The outer dresses are always different, with some life forms being extremely powerful and some not. Even the celestials in the sky, the demigods whom many take to worshiping, are trapped in temporary bodies. Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of the famous Lord Rama, once very accurately pointed out that even Indra, the lord of the material heavenly realm, has to suffer through defeat and heartache from time to time. Lakshmana says that any entity that is dehinam, or embodied, must endure temporary losses and gains, for that is the nature of the body type assumed.

“O best of men, what to speak of demigods and even great beings [planets] – every living entity who accepts a material body becomes subject to the influence of destiny.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.12)

Lakshmana The Supreme Lord is not dehinam, so such defects are absent in His sportive exploits. Like the individual souls, the Paramatma is extremely powerful and never subject to illusion. Yet the difference is that God’s powers can be exhibited in any form. None of His abilities are ever masked by any outward dress because the Supreme Lord can never associate with a temporary nature. As the controller and creator of the material world, God has no way of succumbing to its effects. For the original Divine Being, there is never a difference between body and spirit. Even if He appears on earth in a temporary body, the outer covering remains completely spiritual. Our abilities are limited by the outward dress that we assume, but since God’s outward dress is always spiritual, it has no effect on His potencies.

As example is better than precept, understanding these concepts is made easier by seeing them in action. Due to the Lord’s causeless mercy, He not only gives us the detailed information of the Vedas, but He also comes to earth from time to time to show all the fools who think they are God that they have lost all their intelligence. It would be one thing if Krishna appeared on earth and performed all of His miraculous feats as an adult, but that still wouldn’t fully display the spiritual nature of His body. After all, we see adults do extraordinary things quite often in this world, even though their feats are still no match for the Lord’s. In order to fully convey the idea that He is eka-rasa, or without change, Krishna performs some of the most difficult tasks while in bodies that are seemingly powerless.

Lord Krishna As mentioned before, the infant is incapable of doing anything on its own. When Krishna came to earth some five thousand years ago, He also assumed the outward form of an infant right after birth. His years in this form were spent in the farm community of Vrindavana, which was headed by a heart-pleasing king named Nanda and his wife Yashoda. All the residents of the town loved Krishna very much, for they were enamored by His beauty, superexcellent features and loving nature. Just as the strength potency of the Lord is not limited to His particular form of body, so His ability to give pleasure to others is not dependent on features of His external body. Even as a child, Krishna is the most beautiful person the world has ever seen, the only source of pleasure and tranquility to those who are desperately seeking a higher taste.

Krishna’s beautiful outward features certainly showed that He was God, but the fact that He gave others pleasure as an infant didn’t necessarily point to anything extraordinary. Even the Mayavadi, one who thinks himself to be equal to God, can claim to have been the source of pleasure to elders when they were a child. To show that He is not limited by His outward dress, Krishna arranged for demon after demon to come to Vrindavana to try to kill Him. Externally, the impetus for these ill-fated attempts came from the demoniac king of the neighboring town of Mathura named Kamsa. After a prophecy had warned Kamsa that his sister Devaki’s eighth son would kill him, Kamsa had his sister and her husband Vasudeva locked up. After killing Devaki’s first seven children, Kamsa was unable to get his hands on her eighth child, Krishna. Immediately after His appearing from the womb of Mother Devaki, the Lord managed to leave Mathura through the help of Vasudeva. Hearing that Devaki’s eighth child had been born and taken away, Kamsa’s counselors advised him to have all children born within the previous ten days in the neighboring towns killed. Heeding their advice, Kamsa dispatched various demons to carry out the cruel deed.

One such demon was Putana, who was essentially a female witch. She assumed the form of a beautiful woman and entered Vrindavana. During those times, it was not uncommon for various mothers to nurse newborn children. In a close-knit community like Vrindavana, all the neighbors were considered extended family, so if a mother needed help raising a child, there were plenty of people around to help. The closeness of the residents of Vrindavana reinforces the fact that country life is in the mode of goodness, or the most pure material quality. When people live in peace in the country, with life sustained by farming and cow protection, there is generally less strife and minimal competition for resources. Since there is ample property to play on, children are quite happy. Instead of being skeptical of unknown visitors coming on your property, strangers are generally welcomed with open arms.

Krishna killing Putana Due to her exquisite beauty and the kind-hearted nature of the residents of Vrindavana, who were all drowned in an ocean of bliss due to direct association with Krishna, no one objected to Putana’s coming right into Krishna’s room and taking Him on her lap. No one knew who this woman was, but since she was so nicely dressed and in the form of a beautiful woman, they all assumed that she was a member of the community or closely related to Krishna. Putana had prepared beforehand by smearing poison on her breast. Taking Krishna in her lap, she began to feed Him her milk. Lord Krishna, even while in the form of a helpless child, can never succumb to the effects of any outward lethal object. Instead of rejecting the breast of Putana, Krishna gladly sucked whatever milk she was offering. In fact, Krishna began to force the milk out so hard that Putana soon felt great discomfort. Wanting to remove the baby from her breast, she was unable to do so. In the ensuing frantic struggle, she assumed her true hideous witch form and begged for Krishna to let go of her breast. Krishna, of course, would not let go of His vice grip. Finally, Putana’s life force escaped her and entered the mouth of Krishna. Her massive body then tumbled onto the pasturing ground, knocking down many trees. Throughout this tumultuous event, Krishna was just fine, pretending as if nothing had happened. The women quickly scooped Him up off of Putana’s dead body and prayed for His protection. They couldn’t believe that He could survive such an incident without injury.  They loved Krishna so much that they never took Him to be the Supreme Lord.

For the individual souls, such a feat of strength and invincibility is impossible. Not only was Krishna not hurt from this incident, but Putana was immediately granted liberation, the end of the cycle of birth and death; such is the mercy of the Lord that even a horrible female demon like Putana was granted the wonderful benediction of acting as the Lord’s mother. Though after hearing of this incident others may be surprised by Krishna’s activities, for devotees there is no difficulty in believing of His astonishing powers. When the Vedas say that Krishna’s hands and legs are everywhere, it means that His reach and His abilities are too far for anyone to fathom. Even in the form of a tiny infant, He is capable of the most amazing feats. By regularly hearing of such incidents, we can better understand the differences that exist between the individual souls and God. Moreover, we can slowly but surely regain our firm attachment to the Lord through the bond of transcendental love. When pure love for God remains tightly secured around our consciousness at the time of death, we will be rewarded with the greatest benediction: eternal association with Krishna in the Supreme Sky.

Krishna and His pastimes In the spiritual land, there is always oneness in the relationship between God and His exalted associates. Each side forever remains respectful to their role, with God acting as the reservoir of pleasure, and the individuals serving as the source of that pleasure. Though the roles are different, there is an equality shared by both parties, as they are equally as responsible for the blissful nature of the exchanges. As individuals, our duty is to remain firmly established in the role of transcendental loving servitor, without change. Irrespective of the type of body we assume, devotional service to Krishna should never be renounced, for as soon as it is, every unwanted condition imaginable results. Even if we forget our natural role, it is ours to reassume at any time should we choose to. In this way, not only is Krishna the most powerful and pleasurable, but the most merciful as well.