“When Krishna and Balarama were crawling about Vrajabhumi, They were enchanted by the sound of ankle bells. Thus They sometimes followed other people, who would enjoy the crawling of Krishna and Balarama and exclaim, ‘Oh, see how Krishna and Balarama are crawling!’ Upon hearing this, Krishna and Balarama could understand that these were not Their mothers They were following, and They would return to Their actual mothers.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.22 Purport)
The difficulty in worshiping something that is seemingly inanimate is that there is no immediate recognition of the attention offered. Whether we sit in quiet meditation and worship the entity we know to be God or stare at the archa-vigraha, or deity manifestation, which has the Supreme Lord’s features more fully drawn out, there isn’t a visible response to our dedicated efforts, something to indicate that the beneficiary recognizes the attention. If we think of our beloved friends and family members when they are not in our presence, they have no idea that we are trying to connect with them. If this is true of dealings with worldly entities, how can someone we can’t even really see hear our prayers and recognize our devotion to Him? To clear the doubts, that worshipable figure in question descends to earth every now and then and shows everyone that not only is He listening, but He very much appreciates the most heartfelt devotional sentiments.
How do we know that God can come to earth? If He is all-pervading, if He is so powerful, how can there ever be a moment when He is not on this planet? The distinctions can be likened to the way specific energies diffuse their influence. If we start a business, we don’t necessarily have to go to the office to have our influence recognized. Our decisions, the people we hire as workers, and the establishment infrastructure we create are always present, thereby acting as extensions of our original effort. The Supreme Lord is more powerful than we are, so His extensions have much more potency. He is present within every atom and also within every living being. This presence is not easily recognized; therefore it is considered formless, or bereft of attributes, according to our vision. But we know that just because we can’t see in a dark room, it doesn’t mean that there is nothing there. Similarly, just because we can’t recognize the nirguna feature dispersed across the creation, including in the spiritual sky, it doesn’t mean that the all-pervading witness is absent.
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.22)
To give a glimpse into His transcendental features, to show what it means to be a worshipable figure and to reveal just how much He recognizes devotional efforts, the seemingly invisible entity becomes visible during various descents to earth. His impersonal feature, the one which we either cannot recognize immediately or think is devoid of spiritual influence, is coupled with His personal feature, which consists of spiritual attributes that are identifiable and not limited in their abilities.
Since the Supreme Lord is the most attractive entity, the Sanskrit word Krishna is used to address Him. This word is considered the best fit for the supreme divine being, who is addressed by many names across the plethora of spiritual traditions in place around the world. Even those opposed to spirituality have a name for Krishna. They refer to the Supreme Lord as “death” or “nature”. As these forces are considered bereft of intelligence, operating under a perceived randomness, the benefit of the spiritual attributes of the Personality they actually represent is not gained.
Krishna descends to earth in forms which are considered saguna to the conditioned eye. Saguna means with qualities, or attributes, and through these forms the living entities can actually see God. The trained eye sees Krishna’s influence everywhere, but since this training is difficult to follow and accept, the distinctions between nirguna and saguna are made, though there is really no difference between the two. Nirguna can be likened to the numeral representation of a specific number, while saguna is the written out version, the word that represents the numeral. Both are equivalent in value, but the numeral can be easily misidentified, not understood through a quick glance. With the written out version, there is practically no chance for mistake. Therefore saguna worship is always superior, as it greatly reduces the chances for the living entity to mistakenly think that they are God or that the Supreme Lord is bereft of a spiritual form.
Shri Krishna descended to earth five thousand years ago and showed off His transcendental features. Normally the Lord comes as an avatara, which can be likened to a saguna manifestation that is an expansion of the original Personality of Godhead. With Krishna’s appearance, however, the original Personality comes to earth and shows off His spiritual attributes. He assumes a body that looks ordinary, but the effect He has on others reveals that He is not conditioned in the same way that others are.
Is this done as a magic trick then? Why give the appearance of being ordinary if you’re not? Why not just show up and tell everyone that you’re God? For starters, part of being God means that you never have to support your position through declarations of supremacy. Only those who are challenged in their authority and not secure in their position require constant praise and veneration to feel like they mean something. The Supreme Lord accepts heartfelt sentiments rooted in the desire to remain connected with Him. The desire for this connection is ideally sourced in attraction to the transcendental features of the Supreme Personality. If we force someone to love us based on the threat of punishment, how can we enjoy the resulting association? In these instances, if the coercion wasn’t there, the person associating with us would be doing something else.
The sincere souls worship God constantly. They may only know Him as being nirguna; hence they will meditate on the abstract concept of God, praying but not necessarily knowing what the worshipable entity’s position is. Then there are those who know of the Supreme Lord and His transcendental features, worshiping His deity manifestation and chanting His names found in sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. In either case, there is no guarantee that the personality being worshiped is being pleased. How do we know that Krishna hears us and that He is pleased with our efforts?
To reveal the image of who is being worshiped by those attached to the nirguna feature and to settle the doubts relating to whether or not He hears the prayers of the saguna worshipers, Krishna takes part in specific pastimes that teach so many lessons. Even as a small baby crawling on the sacred earth of Vrindavana, He can teach so much. After His initial descent, Krishna grew up in the farm community of Vrindavana, where He and His elder brother Balarama, who is the servitor God, the closest associate to the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky, were raised on the love of the mothers, who were known as gopis.
Vrindavana was a community that survived on cow protection, so there were many cows around. The residents lived in the mode of pure goodness, which meant that their activities were not material. Through their love for God, they harbored affection for one another and took even their neighbors to be close family members. Balarama accepted Mother Rohini as a foster mother and Krishna Mother Yashoda. That Krishna and Balarama were God and His immediate expansion was not known to the residents. They were naturally drawn to the qualities of the two boys.
The two glorious mothers would tie bells around the children’s ankles when they reached the age that they started to crawl. Thus Krishna and Balarama would move about on the dirt where the many cows had walked over. When they would crawl, their ankle bells would make noise, which would delight the hearts of the residents. Sometimes the other mothers in the community would be so thrilled by the sight that they would remark on how Krishna and Balarama were crawling. Hearing this, the two boys would crawl towards the women, but when they saw that they weren’t Yashoda and Rohini, they would become afraid and turn the other way.
Now, isn’t this a little mean? Why were they afraid of these other women, especially when they loved God so much? It was their enthusiasm that made them call out to the young children, so why would Krishna and Balarama reject them so abruptly? Witnessing a sincere display of affection is so heartwarming for a human being, giving justification for having eyes. The displays of affection from a child are the most sincere because children are considered innocent, not mature enough to harbor ulterior motives. Since Krishna and Balarama turned away to find their real mothers, it showed everyone just how much they loved Yashoda and Rohini. There was no insult taken by the women; rather, they were so touched by how much attachment the young children had towards those who took care of them.
Yashoda and Rohini had no other business in life except tending to their little bundles of joy. Though they didn’t neglect their household duties, the two mothers remained in perfect yoga by singing of the glories of their children. Mother Yashoda would compose songs about Krishna’s activities and then sing them while doing routine work like churning butter. A good parent essentially worships their child through offerings of love. When you make funny faces at your son or daughter, you hope to see some reaction. If they show that they are pleased with the attention you show them, you feel as if your efforts are worth it.
Krishna and Balarama showed that the love their mothers offered was accepted and fully appreciated. The boys could not speak, nor could they even walk, yet they managed to somehow affirm their mothers’ commitment anyway. By showing that they were looking for their mothers when they heard different sounds, they revealed their transcendental attachment. The Supreme Lord thus hears every prayer offered to Him and accepts every kind of authorized service performed in His honor. Just as the devotee remains attached to Him, Krishna seeks out the devotee and always stays by their side.
Even if Krishna is not personally present before us, if we can’t recognize His influence, He still hears our prayers and can remain attached to us. He proved this many times during His short stay on this earth. Once Krishna grew up and had to leave Vrindavana for Mathura, the gopis had to spend their days separated from their beloved. They would have to worship Him in separation, but the auspicious results were the same. By remaining in their minds, Krishna showed that He was pleased with their devotion. The proof that our devotional efforts are fruitful comes in the form of Krishna’s association, which can arrive through simply chanting His name or looking at His form. Not only will the devoted soul who makes bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, their way of life gain that association, but Krishna will be so pleased that He will guide the sincere soul from within, telling them how to behave so that the divine association remains with them in every circumstance.
The sound of ankle bells so delightful to hear,
The movements of two young crawling boys they steer.
From their movements happiness mothers found,
Krishna and Balarama then followed the talking sound.
Became afraid when they looked up from the ground,
Not their mothers, thus they suddenly turned around.
Looked for Rohini and Yashoda did the bell shakers,
Emblems of motherly affection, best caretakers.
Seeing love for their mothers, women offended were not,
To see recognition of affection from Krishna they got.
Every sincere prayer offered the Lord does hear,
Though we may not see Him, in bhakti nothing to fear.