“Being beyond the range of limited sense perception [adhokshaja], You are the eternally irreproachable factor covered by the curtain of deluding energy. You are invisible to the foolish observer, exactly as an actor dressed as a player is not recognized.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.18.19)
A good actor is not recognized for who he is - an ordinary human being just like the rest of us. Rather, due to his extraordinary dramatic talents and the promotion of his different shows, films and plays, he is able to create a completely different persona, one that is respected, adored, and even sometimes worshiped by a large portion of the population. What’s interesting is that those who offer their obeisances in the form of ticket purchases, time spent following the day-to-day gossip and personal dealings, and general dedication of thoughts know full well that the target individual is simply playing a role, acting out their rehearsed lines. Yet the performance itself is so powerful that the audience willingly puts themselves under the spell of illusion, so as to enhance the enjoyment of the experience. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna, during His various personal appearances on earth puts on the greatest of performances, one that not only enchants the pure-hearted, but also keeps the miscreants far, far away. Bhagavan, the original Divine Being, when playing the role of an ordinary living entity can only be recognized for who He is by the trained eye, a purified vision that is actually able to perceive the Supreme Spirit’s adhokshaja feature for what it is. Blunt instruments, hypotheses, scientific experiments and direct perception are not enough to recognize the transcendental actor known as Krishna. But hearing from authority sources such as Kunti Devi, the mother of the famous Pandava brothers, can provide perfect information that can subsequently be used to make a flawless identification.
The idolatry directed towards famous actors and actresses can only be rooted in a flawed identification. After all, just because an individual plays a doctor on television doesn’t mean that they know how to practice medicine in real life. Yet this precise illusion envelops even members of the highest levels of government and politics, which is often humorously referred to as “showbiz for the ugly”. There have been instances in the past where actors who played a prominent role championing some social cause in a film were then later called to testify before Congress to lend their “expertise” to the matter. It is undoubtedly true that the most popular actors are treated like royalty, for they are offered great respect and attention in a wide variety of public circles. In many cases the worshipers visibly exhibit their pure ignorance by offering obeisances in a manner similar to the way worship is performed in a traditional house of spirituality, or temple.
This strange behavior is certainly indicative of the tremendous acting abilities of the celebrities in question. After all, concomitant with a successful theatrical performance is the fooling of the audience. The better the actor can convince the audience that they are the character they are portraying on stage, the more their performance will be respected. The audience members know they are witnessing a scripted and rehearsed scene, but through their willful neglect, they allow themselves to be enchanted. The senses, which are a product of the material nature, are so strong that they typically lead to misery, as the seemingly innocent soul is dragged into activities that it would otherwise avoid. Only through service, kind love offered to others, can the negative influence of the senses be mitigated. Moreover, when purified through acts of transcendental love, the senses become the greatest source of pleasure.
When the individual offers their loving service to a non-worthy recipient, the cause of the behavior is considered to be illusion, or maya. This isn’t to say that actors, actresses, family and friends aren’t worthy of being loved and adored, but rather, the ultimate object of worship should always remain a singular entity, one who is constitutionally fit to accept uninterrupted obeisances from every individual the universe over. An actor may be hailed for his ability to play the role of a noble, heroic character, but in real life he is no different than any of the rest of us, for as the saying goes, “he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else”. The Supreme Lord, who is the greatest actor, is described as the ultimate reservoir of pleasure in the Vedic tradition. Yet when cast under the spell of illusion, it’s difficult for the conditioned entity to understand this feature of the Divine. Moreover, if one’s mind can be willfully captured by actors playing on a stage, surely they will also be subject to the influences of the greatest dramatic performer, Shri Krishna.
Why would someone who is intended to be our ultimate object of worship take to acting? The cause relates directly to desire. Just as the audience member purposefully puts himself under illusion to enhance the enjoyment derived from watching their favorite actors, the conditioned entity purposefully forgets the sublime and powerful nature of the Supreme Lord to take to a lower class of enjoyment. Indeed, this really isn’t any enjoyment at all, just a perceived level of happiness brought on by forgetfulness of Supreme Spirit and association with an inferior energy. Since the entity lacking true God consciousness is fooled into thinking it will be happy in the absence of Krishna’s association, the resulting behavior is one based completely off illusion.
As the best friend of every living entity, the Supreme Spirit has no desire to forcibly break the illusion. Rather, He is responsible for creating it. If an audience member wants to be lured into worshiping an actor, the person playing on stage will not stop the performance and say, “Please stop paying attention. I’m just acting after all.” Instead, he will take the audience member’s eagerness as an added impetus for putting on a good show. In a similar manner, one who is eager to forget God is allowed to do so in the greatest possible way by becoming subject to the influences of maya, the illusory energy who is a direct servant of Shri Krishna.
“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
There are two aspects to maya. The illusory force is justifiably viewed in a negative light by the elevated transcendentalists, but there is still some beauty in maya’s effects. She is so great that she can fool an individual into thinking that they are God. Taking oneself to be equal to Shri Krishna, who as the Supreme Person is known as Purushottama, represents the nadir of material existence, the lowest level the thought processes of the human being can descend to. Such an individual, being the greatest victim of illusion, works under the dictates of mahamaya. Krishna is so powerful that even His illusory forces are a sight to behold.
“Yogamaya is the internal potency of the Supreme Lord; she also works under the Lord's direction, but she works in the spiritual world. When the living entity puts himself under the direction of yogamaya instead of mahamaya, he gradually becomes a devotee of Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Ch 30)
Then there is yogamaya, which works directly under the Lord’s supervision to cast a spell over those sincere souls who want to increase their love not for actors, family members, or politicians, but rather, for the Supreme Lord Himself. Indeed, yogamaya is the original maya energy, with mahamaya being her partial manifestation aimed at deluding the non-devotees. To show His mercy upon the sincere souls looking to purify their existence, Krishna descends to earth in various non-different guises - sometimes as a fish, sometimes as a boar, and sometimes as a human being. Around five thousand years ago, He appeared in His original form, that of a personality known by names such as Krishna, Vasudeva, Govinda, Damodara, Keshava and Achyuta.
Influenced by yogamaya, most devotees were not able to accurately perceive Krishna’s unique and unmatched transcendental position during His time on earth. But Kunti Devi, the mother of the five Pandava brothers, cousins and friends of Shri Krishna, was able to see the Lord for who He was. On one occasion she offered nice prayers to the Lord, wherein she declared that He is adhokshaja, or one who is not perceptible to the external senses. We can recognize that an actor is a human being by studying the workings of the film industry and watching interviews of the actor when he is outside of his particular role. But with the Supreme Lord, we can never understand His fixed position unless we hear from devotees like Kunti Devi. No amount of experimental knowledge, theoretical or practical, will lead the human brain to properly conclude that God exists and that His original form is the all-blissful Krishna. This evidence must initially be accepted on the faith of the words of authority figures, those who know Krishna and who kindly pass down information pertaining to the Lord’s transcendental features to their descendants.
“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons, do not surrender unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.15)
Just as mahamaya’s powers of illusion are quite potent, Shri Krishna is similarly able to fool others into thinking that He is an ordinary human being. Not only was the behavior resulting from illusion exhibited by miscreant and devotee alike during the Lord’s time on earth, but it continues to this day. The devotees, working under yogamaya, understand that Krishna is God, but to enhance the enjoyment of associating with Him, they sometimes kindly take the Lord to be an ordinary figure. This doesn’t mean that they treat Krishna without respect or fail to offer love to Him. On the contrary, the intensity of the loving exchanges only increases in the service offered by bhaktas who are simply attracted to Krishna for His blissful features, not caring for His position as the Lord of the universe.
The miscreants, on the other hand, are under the influence of mahamaya, so their misidentification of Krishna is based solely on their desire to compete with God. Even with all the evidence provided by the authority figures and Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita, the non-devotee will not see the Lord for who He is. Indeed, if such an acknowledgment were present, it would be an open admission that a painful death was on the horizon, for the deviant soul’s heart remains always set on ascending to the top of the materialistic platform, something which has no relation to the personal aspect of the Lord. As the Supreme Person, God supplies orders and accepts worship from subordinates. The grossly foolish think that by acquiring enough material objects and amassing enough power, they can usurp this position, one that is never even up for grabs. In a democratic country, the head positions are always up for election, which means that any person can ascend to the top post of the government. As soon as an individual assumes the top post, they get treated completely differently. The President of the United States is just an ordinary man after all, for before being elected to office, he wasn’t treated all that well. Yet as soon as he gets sworn in, he travels on Air Force One and hears Hail to the Chief wherever he goes, and he gets wide respect from people around the world.
Bhagavan’s position bears no similarity to any role of importance in the mundane world. The post of God is not up for grabs, nor is it possible for anyone to properly imitate the behavior of the Supreme Person. Krishna is not only the greatest order supplier, but He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. As the best friend of the living entity, His pleasure has a direct effect on the happiness of others. Though he is adhokshaja, He can be personally approached by kind and humble service, including that offered to one of His representatives, the spiritual master. Kunti Devi recognized Krishna for who He was, yet she still appreciated His acting abilities. If we recognize the actor on stage for who he is, the enjoyment derived from the performance goes away. Yet for even the devotees who possess full knowledge of Krishna’s position, there is still great enjoyment derived from His childhood activities, those incidents that included naughty behavior and the killing of demons. In fact, hearing of any of Krishna’s activities, be they of the violent or peaceful variety, is enjoyable to those who understand His blissful nature.
“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.8)
The Lord is always present in this universe, even when His original form remains in the spiritual sky. As the greatest actor, Krishna conceals Himself through His energies. The sunshine, the wind, and nature are all Krishna. Even the taste of water is a manifestation of the Lord’s energy. Though there is only one energetic, the reservoir of all potency, there is still no difference between the energetic and the energy. Krishna’s energies are all around us. Even the most illusioned person, one who is addicted to intoxication, can slowly but surely perceive of Krishna’s presence, greatness and worthiness of worship by just understanding that the Lord is the taste of their intoxicant. If one is accustomed to drinking wine, if they simply remember Krishna as the taste of their beloved beverage, they can start to conceive of His supreme nature.
The Lord is certainly everywhere, including within the heart, but if one’s consciousness is not purified, they will not be able to understand Krishna’s position. One who tries to worship God without understanding who He is, in spite of the greatest outward acknowledgments and professions of faith, will be more prone to worshiping worldly objects, those things which do have a form perceptible to the blunt senses. Therefore, the key is to understand Krishna from the authorized words of the sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, and by taking direct instruction from the Vaishnavas, the exalted devotees of the Lord. Worshipable figures like Kunti Devi, who know of Krishna’s acting talents, think of the Lord at all times. When He is not directly in their company, they remember and honor Him within the heart and mind. Knowing full well Krishna’s omnipresent nature, such individuals also worship the Lord’s external, manifested forms, such as the archa-vigraha and the numerous avataras like Lord Rama and Narasimhadeva.
One who tries to worship the Lord in His seemingly invisible form, alakshya, which is imperceptible to the blunt senses [adhokshaja], while willfully neglecting the worship of His outward forms, such as the deities, incarnations and original form in the spiritual land of Goloka Vrindavana, is certainly a great fool. Indeed, Krishna’s invisible aspect is actually the same as the visible for those on the highest platform of consciousness. The visible form is not illusion; it is the very essence of reality. Krishna’s form is completely transcendental and free from any of the debilitating effects of material nature. With the ordinary actor, there is a difference between the personality and the role, but in Krishna’s case, everything is the same. There is no difference between the Lord and His body, so anyone who associates with any direct feature belonging to the Personality of Godhead will surely be benefitted.