Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Making the Impossible Possible

Krishna pastimes“The activities of the Lord are always inconceivable to the tiny brain of the living entities. Nothing is impossible for the Supreme Lord, but all His actions are wonderful for us, and thus He is always beyond the range of our conceivable limits.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.16 Purport)

Perception has built in limitations. Based on what we witness ourselves, we get an idea of what is possible. Whatever does not fall within those limits goes into the “impossible” category. As the amount of experiences witnessed increases with time, the reservoir of the impossible gradually diminishes. Now just imagine someone who is older than everyone else, who has remained within their form since the beginning of time. Spirit is immutable, unchanging, undecaying and primeval, but this doesn’t mean that one’s experiences from thousands of years back are remembered. For the Supreme Person, however, there is no such thing as forgetfulness. Should it ever be shown, it is done so on purpose, to fit into the arrangement that fulfills a larger goal.

The Supreme Person’s impeccable memory holds information of every event ever to take place. Hence what is normally considered impossible for us is never out of the realm of possibility for the person who has seen it all. The oldest person’s ability to remember the complete past is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita, where in His original form the Supreme Personality of Godhead uncovers the amazing truth of the soul’s interminable existence to a hesitant yet sincere listener named Arjuna.

“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!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)

Lord KrishnaArjuna’s hesitancy was related to the bodily welfare of members of the opposing army. As a capable fighter himself, Arjuna was preparing to lead the war to end all wars, which was instigated by the rival party headed by Duryodhana. If someone should set fire to our house, hoping to kill us, what would our reaction be if we survived? Perhaps if we were really forgiving we’d think, “Oh okay, I’ll try to forget about it. Let me just live my life.” For Arjuna and his four brothers, they had followed this tact one too many times. What made matters worse was that they were the rightful heirs to the kingdom in Hastinapura, and they were all members of the royal/fighting order.

Thus it was Arjuna’s obligation to fight to take back what rightfully belonged to him. Nevertheless, as a kind-hearted soul, Arjuna was not comfortable with the cost that came with winning the war; he didn’t want to kill members of the opposing army for the purpose of ruling over a kingdom. Lord Krishna, Arjuna’s best friend and charioteer at the time, stepped in and offered profound words of wisdom, instructions which went way beyond war, family infighting, and life and death.

Krishna initially mildly rebuked Arjuna for showing such hesitancy. Can we imagine such a thing? Shouldn’t having compassion be a good thing? Are we not supposed to care for the wellbeing of our fellow man? For Arjuna the compassion was misplaced. In a world full of duality, sometimes even violence falls in line with piety. Violence to protect religious principles and to uphold the rule of law against those who openly violate it is the very definition of compassion.

There was also another issue with Arjuna’s thinking. The body is only temporary, and the spirit soul lives on despite whatever changes occur to its temporary covering. Thus to deviate from the righteous path in order to pay more concern to the bodily welfare of another living being is not very wise. In the system of varna and ashrama, or societal and spiritual divisions, the lowest class man is known as one who easily laments, a shudra. The lamentation occurs based on the body, which does not represent the identity of the individual.

ArjunaTo reinforce the idea of the eternal existence of the soul, Krishna told Arjuna that the instruction He was offering had also been given at the beginning of time to the sun-god, Vivasvan. Arjuna was a bit perplexed by this. Vivasvan was much older than Krishna at the time, so how could the Lord have provided that instruction? While the spirit soul is eternal, the consciousness it carries from one life to another doesn’t retain information completely. The disposition of the consciousness determines the next type of body received, but the experiences from the memory bank are wiped clean during the transformation. This explains why we consider so much to fall under the category of “impossible”.

Because of this forgetfulness, Arjuna thought it impossible for Krishna to have instructed the sun-god at the beginning of creation. Shri Krishna revealed that His type of spirit is not the same as any other kind. While the individual spirit soul resides within one body at a time, and thus has only a localized consciousness, Krishna is all-pervading. As the Supersoul He rests within everyone’s heart, remaining conscious of all of their actions. Not only is Krishna within everyone’s heart right now, but He has lived within every being of the past as well. Thus His knowledge of experiences is complete. He has seen it all, including what will happen in the future.

Because of Krishna’s supreme standing, His all-pervading consciousness, doing something as simple as entering a womb and saving a child from a fiery weapon is not that difficult. Based on our paltry knowledge, we think it is ridiculous for the womb to even be attacked by such a weapon. At the same time, however, people living in the past would have thought receiving the latest news from around the world on a device held within your pocket was impossible. How two people separated by a distance of thousands of miles could speak with each other as if they were in the same room also could not be understood. Yet just because no one had ever experienced these things didn’t mean that they weren’t possible.

Maharaja Parikshit was the posthumous child of Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu, who was killed in the ensuing battle of Kurukshetra. As Parikshit was the only descendant left of the great family, one of the opposing fighters, Ashvatthama, released a brahmastra weapon targeted for the embryo within the womb of Uttara, who was Abhimanyu’s wife. Lord Krishna, who protected Arjuna by providing him the proper instruction in a discourse to be subsequently known as the Bhagavad-gita, came to the rescue by amazingly entering Uttara’s womb and counteracting the brahmastra weapon. Thus Parikshit was saved by the Lord’s direct intervention.

Lord KrishnaIn the description of this event in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, a warning is given to the listeners to not be so amazed by Krishna’s actions. The idea is that just because we can’t picture something described in shastra, or scripture, doesn’t mean that it cannot happen. The young child has no idea how a baby is created and how it can come out of the womb, but after enough education and experience, the same ignorance one day dissipates. With the history of the creation, there is no way for us to experience everything that has previously occurred or even all that is happening now. This defect explains why the theories based on ignorance of the laws of spiritual science will always be flawed. Even if you took the wisest scientist on earth and gave them the opportunity to read through and understand every scientific experiment ever conducted, perfect knowledge would still be lacking, so inconceivable is the breadth and scope of this creation and its history.

Fortunately, we don’t need to acquire complete knowledge to meet the perfect end. The Vedas, which act as Shri Krishna’s mouthpiece, provide just enough information and instruction to help us live our lives the right way. The right way to do something ideally brings the successful outcome. Life has many different stages, along with variety in assumed material qualities. Therefore the scriptural recommendations aren’t always the same for every person, but the many pieces of information are like pearls strung on a thread that is devotion to Shri Krishna. Without the thread, the pearls cannot possibly bring one to the proper destination of the Lord’s abode.

The warning given to those who doubt the seemingly miraculous events described in shastra is reiterated in many other places as well. Goswami Tulsidas touches on it in the introductory verses to his Ramacharitamanasa, which is a poem that sings the glories and pastimes of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna who roamed this earth during the Treta Yuga. The amazing feats of strength exhibited by Krishna and His avataras during their times on earth are but a small representation of the Supreme Lord’s true potency. Krishna is larger than the largest and smaller than the smallest. He is the harshest punisher of the miscreants and the kindest friend to the pious. He creates the wall of darkness for those who desire to remain shut off from spiritual life, and He creates the light of knowledge that is the combination of sadhu, shastra and guru for the devotees wanting to relish the transcendental taste.

Those who take the descriptions in the Ramayana, Puranas and Bhagavad-gita to be mythology deep down don’t really think it so. How do we know this? Known fiction stories already receive so much patronage. The science fiction movies and books are very popular, so much so that people dress up as the characters and attend public showings and fan conventions. If this much attention goes to admitted fictional stories, why wouldn’t it also be there for the purported mythology of the Vedas?

“But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.40)

Krishna and ArjunaIt is the content and the overall message of the Vedic literature that keeps it at another level. Those who don’t want to serve Krishna take His saving of Parikshit in the womb to be mythology on purpose, for otherwise they would have to believe in the eternal nature of the soul, its flight through reincarnation, and the inferiority of material association. The doubting soul is shut off from the transcendental sweetness that is Krishna’s association. During Krishna’s advent as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, there were nightly sankirtana events held in various homes. The participants would chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in devotional ecstasy. Those who were inimical to Krishna, who had no attraction for reciting the holy name, were shut out from the fun.

But Mahaprabhu was so merciful that He would later spread the same sankirtana movement to everyone, even to people unwilling to hear it. The power of the holy name is such that it can soften the hardest heart. That which was previously thought to be impossible becomes possible through the divine association.

In Closing:

Parikshit, son of Abhimanyu the fighter brave,

In the womb him did Krishna really save?

Amazing events, how could they be?

With our own eyes these things we must see.

Leverage of experience learn to harness,

Impossible dwindles with more that we witness.

To God’s divine acts don’t apply the same test,

Doubts about His existence put to rest.

Chant holy name, for God and His name are one,

Soon watch impossible possible become.