“When a devotee is put into a situation of distress, his devotional activities are accelerated. Therefore, to show special favor to a devotee, the Lord sometimes puts him into distress. Besides that, it is stated that the sweetness of happiness is sweeter to those who have tasted bitterness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)
A thirsty man relishes his small cup of water a million times more than one who is accustomed to drinking loads and loads of the tastiest beverages on a daily basis. A hungry man will feel that the meal he has acquired after so much effort is the greatest tasting one he has ever had. In a similar manner, the humble sage, the purified soul, upon realizing that he has neglected the company of the Supreme Loveable Object for his entire life, will relish any and every chance he gets to associate with Supreme Spirit. Moreover, once he tastes this unmatched transcendental sweetness that can only come through a link in consciousness with the one entity who is the most attractive, the pure devotee will never want to go back to his old life of pain and misery.
Aside from the common arguments pertaining to God’s existence, there are debates as to His exact form, features and nature. Does God even come to earth or is He above that? According to the Vedic angle of vision, the eyes of the sacred texts of India, the Supreme Lord can do or say anything that pleases Him. In fact, this perpetual lack of impediment to the exercise of free will only belongs to Him, for none of us are capable of getting what we want at all times or doing whatever we want without negative consequences. The concept of consequence only applies to fruitive activity, wherein a seed is planted in the form of a specific activity and a resulting fruit hopefully comes to bear sometime in the future. Even one who strictly abides by the rules and regulations of his specific field of activity is not guaranteed of success. This is because if we take to one engagement with the hope of growing a nice fruit, we are at the same time neglecting some other task. Though consequences are usually perceived through explicit action, the absence of activity can also lead to negative effects. For instance, if we fail to pay our utility bill, the power in the home will eventually get shut off. If we don’t feed our young children, they will surely starve to death.
With the Supreme Lord, however, there is no impetus for performing action or refraining from it. As such, the Vedas describe Him as atmarama. He is both formless and full of form. For there to be an absence of form, there must originally be the tangible object which is full of form. The variegatedness, potency, and pleasure that we can perceive are but mere reflections of the original energies belonging to the eternal realm. In the absence of an original form, the concept of formlessness loses its meaning. Therefore the Lord, in His original feature, is certainly full of form, possessing a transcendental body which is ever-blissful, independent, knowledgeable, and capable of delivering the highest pleasure to every subordinate entity. Any person who is not God can be considered inferior to Him. Yet as the supremely satisfied divine entity in the spiritual sky, the Supreme Lord has no need to pump His fists or pound His chest over His dominance. Rather, His very existence is all that is required to maintain the permanent subordinate status of all other forms of life.
So does the Lord come to earth? Again, according to the Vedic angle of vision, He most certainly does. If He created all the material elements, including the innumerable solar systems and their included planets, why can’t He travel to them from time to time? Is an owner restricted from entering the workspace? The workers may not appreciate such visits, but the owner still has the prerogative to traverse any space that he owns. In the National Football League, it is not uncommon for owners to man the sidelines during important games. The players and coaches go on alert when this happens, but as the owner of the team who invested millions of dollars for the franchise’s upkeep, he never meets any opposition from anyone within the organization when patrolling the sidelines.
“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)
The original creator certainly can descend to the land of misery and heartache which manifests to facilitate the desires of those wanting a shot at imitating God’s powers. Yet since His position never changes with the constant tide of ups and downs of material fortunes, the Supreme Lord remains unaffected by the material elements even when He directly appears in the phenomenal world; such is the grand nature of Supreme Spirit. So when and why does He descend to earth? What is the purpose of His visits? To understand the behavior of the one entity who never has to explain Himself, we must first understand why we are in the material world. As fragmental sparks emanating from the gigantic fire of spiritual energy, we are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. In this sense we are also meant to be infinitely blissful and eternally situated in transcendental happiness. Yet as we know from our own experiences, life in the material world is anything but blissful. Rather than find happiness at every corner, even the gains acquired are short-lived, and it seems that the effects of misery and defeat are far more intense than the benefits derived from good fortune.
Ah, but this is by design. The wise can take great lessons from their defeats and their mistakes. Indeed, learning from defeats in sports, business and politics can certainly bring about a higher gain in the future. Winning the prized championship in a particular sport, becoming a Fortune 500 company, and being elected president of a particular country are all grand achievements that require perseverance and dedication to the tasks at hand through the toughest adversity. For one who has tasted defeat, the sweetness of victory is all that much greater. Of this there is no doubt. Roger Federer, the tennis legend and celebrated ambassador for the sport, was missing the French Open title from his resume for many years. After losing in his third consecutive final in 2008, Federer still kept hope alive that he would one day win the one major tournament that eluded him. He even mentioned that perhaps the victory, when it would come, would be that much sweeter since he had tasted defeat so many times. Indeed, the following year Federer would win the tournament, and his joyful reaction showed every indication of a man who truly understood just how difficult it was to achieve a major success. Surely such an intense reaction, which was full of tears, wouldn’t have been shown had he not struggled so much at the tournament in the past.
Along similar lines, those who have been bereft of the Lord’s association for so long, should they have the wonderful opportunity of meeting Him face to face, then cherish every minute they get to be in His association. The ebullience and gratefulness of the spiritually enlightened devotee provides the real answer to explain the Lord’s periodic advents to the perishable land. When the spirit soul, the autonomous life spark residing within the body, desires to separate from Krishna, the parting of ways is begrudgingly agreed to by God. Yet when the individual fragment of spirit leaves the Lord’s association, all the protections provided and the bliss felt through divine association vanish. In the absence of God’s direct presence, one is left to fend for themselves. As mentioned before, only the Supreme Lord is undefeated and incapable of suffering pain and heartache. As such, we see that misery and pain begin right from the very moment that the separation from God occurs.
For the fortunate soul, there comes a time in life when they realize the source of their misery. Regaining their full cognitive powers, they realize that the previous defeats they suffered at the hands of the forces of material nature only served to help them along in the ultimate goal in life, that of becoming God conscious. Let’s try to imagine never having suffered defeat. Obviously this is a difficult exercise, as we are not God. Man is prone to four defects, with the propensity to commit mistakes being one of them. Either way, let’s assume that we go through life with minimal defeats in every area of endeavor. We get to marry whoever we fall in love with, we make millions of dollars a year in income, and we have every material amenity available to us. In whatever passionate activity we take up, we are successful. Now, would such a high success rate be good for us or harmful? The governing agent of the material world is known as maya, which means “that which is not”. Pure spirit, which includes God and His internal energy expansions, is the only entity that “is what it is”. Hence any successes that we achieve pertaining to maya are by definition unrelated to God. As such, the bliss derived from unending victory cannot compare to the thrill one receives from seeing the sweet smile of the original Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.
“Dear Krishna, You are the killer of all the fears of the inhabitants of Vrindavana. You are the supremely powerful hero, and we know that You can kill the unnecessary pride of Your devotee as well as the pride of women like us simply by Your beautiful smile.” (Songs of the gopis, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 31)
On the flip side, one who is regularly accustomed to defeat will have to reassess their strategies in life. After making material adjustments here and there, they can taste tremendous sweetness in their subsequent victories. But one who is constantly defeated, over and over again, to the point that they abandon all hope for happiness through maya’s association, will have the greatest opportunity for finding real pleasure, “that which is”. For such individuals, the Supreme Lord personally descends and gives credence to the truth that only He can provide supreme bliss. Therefore it is seen that the pure devotees, the bhaktas who always engage in chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, often aren’t very successful in material endeavors. Prior to purifying their consciousness, they may have been drug addicts, thieves, lazy, or just plain delusional. Even those who have every material amenity available to them, such as famous musicians and movie stars, are not immune to finding depression and misery. Often times their stardom makes them even more prone to such fall downs.
“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.61)
Downturns in mood can turn out to be the greatest blessings, provided that the downtrodden know where to turn for upliftment. As part and parcel of God, the soul’s only permanent source of bliss is Krishna’s association. Fortunately, the Supreme Lord accompanies the jiva in his descent to the material world. The spirit soul, the functional unit of life, resides within the heart, and adjacent to this potent spiritual force is the most knowledgeable and all-pervading entity, a direct copy of the Supreme Lord, the Supersoul. Why would God expand Himself and reside within our hearts? Just as a fire cannot exist without heat and light, the individual spirit soul can never be truly separated from the Supreme Lord. Even if we outwardly reject spiritual life and turn into the staunchest of atheists, someone who cringes at the very mention of religion or God, the Supreme Lord still remains with us. Where separation can occur is in the area of consciousness.
This brings us to the final conclusion, the real justification for the Lord’s advents in various visible forms such as Lord Rama, Narasimha, and Varaha. To find real pleasure, the defeated and fatigued individual simply has to turn inward and shift their consciousness towards the Supreme Soul residing within the heart. To aid this process along, the same Paramatma, in a more complete feature known as the avatara, comes to earth and provides direct association, person-to-person interaction. Obviously the benefits to such direct association will not be available to those who don’t want it. Even when looking directly into the eyes of the most blissful, powerful and benevolent Lord, many demons of the past such as Hiranyakashipu and Ravana, who were overly puffed up with their material fame, fortune and prowess, refused to acknowledge God’s supremacy and His intimate friendship. In this respect, defeat in material life becomes all the more important, serving as a qualification, a pre-requisite, for having a direct meeting with Krishna that produces the most tasteful fruit.
In even more special circumstances, the Supreme Lord, in His original form of Krishna, descends to earth and enacts wonderful pastimes. Since the Supersoul resides within the heart of every living entity, it is understood that God’s presence is felt everywhere. One simply has to have the eyes to see Divine influence. In the conditioned state, where temporary victories further advance the illusion of material life, the eyes are not trained to see things as they are. But for one who has tasted defeat innumerable times, there is the greatest opportunity to take to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is the only discipline that can permanently remove the cloud of ignorance that we inherited at the time of birth.
Purification of vision only comes to those who regularly remain connected with Krishna in the forms of His transcendental sound vibrations, the words describing His glorious pastimes, and the exalted spiritual masters, the gurus and devotees who kindly take to rescuing the fallen souls of the material world. When one finally does see God everywhere and in every being, they become perfectly eligible to see Krishna in His original form. One who has tasted the bitterness of defeat and eaten the humble pie served up by material existence will relish every opportunity to even be able to think of the Lord, let alone chant His names and worship His deity.
When the devotee is purified in this way, they can understand that their previous misfortunes were due specifically to Krishna’s influence. Hearing this, one may ask, “Why doesn’t God just put everyone into distress? After all, that would be a way to secure purification of vision for everyone.” Though it sounds like we’re presented with a “chicken or the egg” scenario, it must be noted that the desire for yoga, or complete connection with God, must originate with the jiva. This inkling towards divine connection may have been aroused in a previous life or been ignited through taking the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee. Either way, even without Krishna’s direct intervention misery is already readily available to those who reside in the material world, as no fruitive endeavor can successfully result in the usurpation of the Supreme Lord’s fixed position. For one who is sincere about advancing in consciousness, one who has an earnest desire to associate with God, the Lord accelerates their advancement by specifically placing obstacles in their path of material sense gratification. A famous country singer once thanked God for not answering his previous prayers because if He had, the singer would have actually been more miserable. The cause and effect is similar to how a good parent will deny the harmful requests of their child. When we are young, we don’t know what’s good for us, so we rely on the discretion of our parents to protect us from ourselves.
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.29)
Misery is found at every corner in the perishable land, so in this sense there is no protection available to anyone. Yet for those who are sincere in their desire for Krishna’s company, while remaining free of any hankering to attain mystic perfection, alleviation of distress resulting from sinful activities, or material opulence, the Lord takes charge of their fortunes, just as a good parent protects their loved one from danger throughout their life. This is not simply a theory concocted by the Vaishnavas, for God, in His form of Lord Rama, validated this truth one time when discussing transcendental subject matters with His dear devotee Narada Muni. Previously, Narada, who derives the greatest pleasure by travelling from planet to planet and chanting the glories of Narayana [another name for Krishna], had temporarily fallen down from his high position through a desire to marry a beautiful princess. He prayed to Lord Hari, yet another sweet name for God, to make sure that the beautiful woman in question would want to marry him. Yet Hari only pretended to grant his request, while in fact only doing what was good for Narada. Indeed, Narayana made sure that the woman specifically didn’t choose Narada at her svayamvara, or self-choice marriage ceremony. Being rejected by the woman and realizing that his apparent ill-fate was due to Hari’s influence, Narada became very angry and cursed the Lord to appear on earth in human form. Surely no one can curse God, but since Narada was a pure soul, the Lord wholeheartedly accepted the perceived punishment without any opposition.
Acceding to Narada’s angry demands, Lord Rama, appearing on earth, met with the saint one time while in a forest, and the two discussed the previous incident. Narada couldn’t understand why the Lord hadn’t granted his request to marry the princess. Shri Rama replied that for the purest of devotees, He personally tends to their well-being throughout life, never letting them go. As such, it is impossible for souls like Narada Muni to be led astray, even if their desires lure them in every which direction. As Narada is a sannyasi, or one in the renounced order, he is not meant to be married, for his devotional activities would then be hampered. From this example, we see that the ultimate desire within the heart is what counts, the overarching hankering for a purification of consciousness. One who is sincere in their kind sentiments towards Supreme Spirit will always be guaranteed of conditions favorable for the execution of their devotional practices. Sometimes these conditions involve defeat, heartache and poverty, but in the realm of spirituality, there are no absolute laws pertaining to good and bad. In the spiritual world, one minus one can equal two, and surely poverty and defeat can equate to the greatest gain, that of Krishna’s association.