“The Supreme Lord's pastimes are more attractive to liberated souls than to mundane people. He is of necessity not impersonal because it is only possible to carry on transcendental rasa with a person.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.3 Purport)
Shri Krishna has a complexion like the dark blue raincloud just waiting to shower the parched fields that only get to feast on their beloved rainwater but once a year. The water falling from the sky during the two months of the rainy season in India is thus relished by the crops more than any other type of food is enjoyed by any other entity. The comparison to the raincloud is a great way to describe the benevolence offered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is always smiling, holding a flute in His hands, adorned with a peacock feather in His hair and the Kaustubha gem on His chest, and wearing a lovely flower garland around His neck. Accompanying this divine vision, which is a sight for sore eyes, is a tendency for sportive exploits, activities which enthrall the onlookers. Shri Krishna’s pastimes are so enjoyable that simply hearing about them will give the sober mind the same pleasure as what would be received from being in the Lord’s direct company.
But first things first. In order to truly relish the sweetness of Krishna’s pastimes, the liberated state must be reached. To find the state beyond miseries, there are many recommended rules and practices. Though bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is about love and thus not limited to any specific practices or guidelines, the Vedic texts are still there for everyone to use, especially those looking to connect with Krishna, or God. Krishna’s crawling as a baby in Vrindavana, His stealing butter from the neighbors, His lifting a mighty hill over His head to protect the citizens from a torrential downpour of rain, His intimate dealings with the devoted cowherd women of the town and their dancing together cannot be appreciated if one is deluded by the senses attached to material existence.
What does this mean exactly? Think of sitting down at night to watch your favorite television program. You took care of your work for the day, so now you just want to relax. Your show is highly anticipated, as it is a program that you like the most. But as soon as the program starts, the phone starts to ring. Simultaneously the doorbell also sounds. Now you have someone on the phone and a house full of unexpected guests. Pretty soon you have a loud clamoring of crosstalk coupled with the responsibility of tending to your guests. The person on the phone also needs attention, but as soon as you hang up with them, the phone rings again.
With all of this commotion, is there any chance of enjoying the program airing on television? If you can’t hear what’s going on, if you’re constantly distracted, how will you focus your mind on the drama that is unfolding with your show? Obviously, to truly enjoy what you are doing, you need distractions eliminated. As more and more external impediments are removed, the primary engagement can be further relished. There are mental demons as well, worries and fears over the future and lamentations over events gone wrong in the recent past. These subtle forces weigh heavily on the mind. Because of the influence of the mind, It is actually possible to read a book, watch a movie, or have a conversation with someone and not have any idea what is going on. The mind can travel faster than the speed of light; so it can take the contemplative individual anywhere they want to go, at any time.
While hearing of the pastimes of the original form of Godhead who descended to this earth some five thousand years ago, if the consciousness is situated elsewhere, no amount of immersion in Krishna-katha will produce the most tangible fruit of an enlivened spirit. At the core of the living being is a spiritual spark that is just bursting with potential for action. During youth, action is less inhibited, but there is a lack of intelligence. Therefore the full bundle of energy found within the body is forcefully directed by higher authorities into accepting restraint and following the path of education. As the body ages, the energy within dwindles, while the knowledge level ideally increases.
This seems most unfair. If we’re getting smarter, shouldn’t we get to keep the same high energy levels so that we can utilize our time wisely? Nevertheless, the spirit soul is there, and its potential for action is unchanged. By following a regulative path authorized by bona fide teachers, the exuberance found during youth can be reawakened and channeled towards the proper destination. The soul is inherently tied to the Supersoul, which is an expansion of God that resides within every single person. God is already localized; He has a presence within every living being. His presence is there for a reason; He is not there to simply go along for the ride and suffer or enjoy the efforts of the individual soul ignorant of His presence. The Supersoul is meant to be reached. Our duty is to find Him and form a steady connection with Him that provides both sublime wisdom and satisfaction.
“The yogi who knows that I and the Supersoul within all creatures are one worships Me and remains always in Me in all circumstances.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.31)
For finding the Supersoul, the first step entails knowing who we are. The gross materialists, the foolish atheists, and those just not interested in spiritual life don’t even understand who they are. They associate with a temporary body destined for destruction. From the lack of intelligence, there is a tendency to hoard possessions and label everything as “Mine”. On the flip side, there are those who want to see God right away, preferably in His universal form, which is known as the virata-rupa, for that is the only concept they have of God. Thinking that God cannot be seen any other way, they determine that everything in the world is false and that the only way to see the Lord is through finding His invisible form, His unmanifested feature which thus encompasses all things matter and spirit.
In the Vedas God is described as being both nirguna and saguna, or without qualities and with qualities. Nirguna equates to the unmanifested feature, while saguna refers to His qualified forms that can be seen with the eyes. In either case, the Lord is free of gunas, or material qualities. The distinctions are made from the perspective of the observer not fully cognizant of God and His transcendental attributes. Unmanifested doesn’t actually mean invisible; rather, it just says that this feature of the Lord, the all-encompassing universal form, is practically impossible to understand for one who is embodied, a fact confirmed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.
“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.5)
It’s understandable that the invisible/unmanifested aspect would be difficult to comprehend. The living entity can’t even see that he is spirit soul, that he is not his body, so how is he going to be able to see God within the creation? If we can’t see something right in front of us, that which is situated right before our very eyes, how are we going to see something that is miles away? Therefore in the Vedic discipline, those wishing to see the impersonal aspect of the Lord are advised to first understand who they are. Aham brahmasmi, or “I am Brahman”, is the first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists. If I know who I am, I can then gradually expand on that knowledge and realize my position in the world and why I am placed into it.
Just being told that we are spirit soul is rare enough, but actually taking the steps to practically realize the fact is even more difficult. If after suffering tremendous heartbreak someone tells us not to worry, that we’ll get over the pain eventually, their words of comfort are hard to take seriously. “I don’t want to feel better in the future. I want the pain to go away now!” Eventually it turns out that they are correct, that we can get through the tough times. Similarly, someone may tell us that we are Brahman, or pure spirit, and that we shouldn’t be attached to anything relating to the body, but if our activities aren’t tailored to meet that understanding, the words of wisdom will just go in one ear and out the other.
Therefore, central to any real yoga discipline are knowledge and austerity. Regularly study from the Vedic scriptures to learn about the science of self-realization - how the soul transmigrates from body to body based on desires, how karma works, why the material existence comes into being, and what is needed to gain moksha, or release. At the same time, practice austerity. Limit your interaction with the senses, for they are like twisted vines that grow, hiding the true nature of the living entity and swallowing up their bliss and knowledge with each entry into pursuits to find material satisfaction.
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.54)
Though renunciation, knowledge, sacrifice, austerity and other principles of self-realization are important, they are meant to further a goal. They are not the goal in and of themselves. They are not even meant for just understanding the impersonal feature of the Supreme Absolute Truth. When one realizes who they are and renounces activity that keeps them attached to that which is not Brahman, maya, they attain the liberated platform.
What is the point to reaching this state? In addition to seeing that God’s presence is everywhere, the true fruit of the existence is tasted. The sweetness of the lila of the Supreme Person is relished fully by the liberated souls, who know that life is not about amassing wealth, finding false happiness in intoxication, or enjoying unrestricted sex life. These activities have a beginning and an end, so they are guaranteed to lead to unhappiness. As soon as there is separation, there is an unpleasant situation. Yet as soon as something is accepted, it must be rejected at some point in the future.
This holds true with everything except the relationship to Krishna, or God. The liberated soul transcends the influence of the senses and thus does not have to worry about reincarnation or finding unhappiness in the future. At the same time, the active propensity in the soul is there. If anything, this potential for the outpouring of service, which is the soul’s dharma, is more fully stocked when one is liberated. Without the inhibiting influence of material nature, the consciousness is ready to fully enjoy the proper set of activities. If the material world is maya, or false, however, what could the liberated soul possibly do? Shouldn’t they just sit in quiet meditation and await the time of merging into Brahman?
The manifested feature of the Supreme Lord is always superior, for even the liberated souls derive tremendous pleasure from interacting with it. With the visibly manifest forms of the Lord, the non-liberated souls get an idea of what God looks like, what His tendencies are, and how to interact with Him, but only the liberated souls truly relish the pastimes of the Supreme Person. Even if they are not in touch with those pastimes, or if they want to invoke the memory of them within the mind, they simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
A person would have to be liberated to repeat this sacred formula day after day, with increased attention given with each successive utterance. No other set of words could be repeated regularly and still provide happiness to the chanter. This shows that Krishna and His names are non-different. The holy name is as good as Krishna Himself, as it carries with it Krishna’s forms, pastimes and qualities. In the conditioned state, the mantra can also be chanted, but it won’t be relished as much. Moreover, the equality between Krishna and His names won’t be realized.
The Vedic seers compiled the wonderful texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam for the pleasure of the liberated souls, to give something to focus their minds on. Transcendental mellows, or rasas, can only be tasted with the personal feature of the Lord. This doesn’t invalidate the purpose of the impersonal manifestation, as it serves as a wonderful target for those unable to appreciate the form belonging to Krishna or His direct incarnations. Nevertheless, the highest transcendental taste will be found when the consciousness becomes immersed in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, whose most potent practice is hearing.
As chanting creates a nearby, audible version of Krishna, hearing is taken care of at the same time. Thus the same person that was previously distracted by material affairs and didn’t appreciate hearing about Krishna will soon not be able to go a single day without transporting the mind to Goloka Vrindavana, where Krishna at this very minute is playing His flute and enchanting the hearts of His friends, and even the cows. That sound can’t be received by one who is embodied or one who is tainted by desires rooted in attachment to a temporary form. Only the liberated souls know how to hear and process the sound waves coming from Krishna and delight in them.
From Krishna’s flute comes the sound,
That fills soul with pleasure nowhere else found.
To relish this taste, remove every distraction,
So that to Krishna you can give full attention.
Try to watch television program with others around,
Preoccupied mind can’t hear show even with loudest sound.
Follow sacrifice, penance and austerity,
To remove maya’s influence and give mind clarity.
Position as spirit soul does one need to know,
From realization knowledge and renunciation do grow.
Thus when distractions are finally removed,
To mind sweetness of Krishna’s lila is proved.
Liberated souls try to remember Krishna every day,
Chant His names so that in their minds He will always stay.