“While the Lord was departing from the palace of Hastinapura, different types of drums - like the mrdanga, dhola, nagra, dhundhuri and dundubhi - and flutes of different types, the vina, gomukha and bheri, all sounded together to show Him honor.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.10.15)
It’s a magical moment. You’ve been searching your whole life for that one thing to make you happy, something which sparks an interest upon first contact. For many, the first moment when they hear about the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Krishna is remembered forever. The reservoir of beauty, the most attractive entity in the world, the origin of knowledge, the cause of the creation and its subsequent dissolution, and the protector of the surrendered souls makes an immediate impression on those who are looking for a higher taste, one which transcends the dualities present in the material realm. At the same time, once that transcendental taste is relished, the desire is to acquire it again. Should the source of that delight suddenly depart, their absence causes much distress. This was the case with the departure of Shri Krishna from the kingdom of Hastinapura.
If God is the reservoir of all good things, how can He cause pain to someone? In the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas, it is wisely pointed out that both the saint and the miscreant cause pain. The cause of distress coming from the nefarious character is easy to decipher. They steal from us, lie to us, inflict pain upon our body and mind, and leave us generally unsure of the future. Without a feeling of security, how can there be peace? And without peace, how can there be happiness?
“One who is not in transcendental consciousness can have neither a controlled mind nor steady intelligence, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.66)
The saint also causes pain, though. Their association is so wonderful that when they should happen to leave us, as is bound to happen in a world that is temporary, the pain that results is very strong. The saint doesn’t intend to cause this suffering, but with their wonderful qualities they just can’t help but create a situation where so much happiness is seen that is otherwise absent from the affected parties’ lives.
The saints get their divine qualities from their intimate connection with the Supreme Lord. Therefore we can deduce that separation from God causes the most acute pain. Indeed, that separation is the genesis of the material creation and its subsequent unpleasant conditions. How can we say with ontological certitude that the material realm is miserable? Isn’t that too broad a generalization? For starters, we know that the land we live in is temporary. If it weren’t, there would be no need to trace out history and discuss theories of origin. Whether one is a theist, an atheist, a believer in a big bang as a source, or doesn’t care at all, the creation still manifested at some point. What goes up must come down, so whatever is created must eventually be destroyed.
The illusion of the temporary realm is so strong that even things we don’t derive much value from are missed when they are gone. Think of a job that you’ve worked at for many years. Perhaps you don’t like many of the days that you have to go into the office and all the politics between the employees and the constant uncertainty over the company’s future. Yet if you should happen to lose your job there, you will feel a little sad. Through the many days of working an attachment gets formed, even though that same time could have been used to form an attachment to something more worthwhile. This also explains why despots and cruel dictators are missed and cried over when they pass on. Despite their tyrannical rule, these leaders were able to create some sort of an attachment from the citizens.
Since God’s company is the best, any time you separate from Him you head for a condition of misery. The nature of the material land supports this fact. In Krishna’s company there is no such thing as time and space as we know them. The passage of time still occurs in God’s presence, but it doesn’t have a debilitating effect. Space is still boundless, but there is no negative influence upon the temporary body. Rather, the spirit soul fully energized with devotion to God has a spiritual body, a form that is permanent in its manifestation.
If the spirit souls in God’s company are eternal and non-different from their bodies, how does anyone ever come to the material world? There is always a choice in association. Should a child desire to disobey the father, the father may try to persuade them otherwise, but the desires of the child can eventually win over. If there is forced suppression, the child will still have the seed of desire. The spirit souls desirous of lording over nature are granted residence in a temporary realm, where pain is caused by the association of thieves and the absence of saints.
Fortunately, even in the temporary realm the presence of the divine master can be had. In special circumstances, He personally appears, in a form that is both visible and spiritual. Typically there is a difference between body and soul. The body is temporary after all, constantly changing and marked for destruction at a future moment in time. With Krishna’s descents, this pattern appears to hold true, but in reality the spiritual form is identical to the owner, the individual within that form.
To see proof of this, we can look to the incident of Krishna leaving the kingdom of Hastinapura. In His adult aged years, Krishna spent a lot of time with a group of five brothers who were known as the Pandavas. They were of the royal order and had the rightful claim to the throne in the city of elephants. Yet through the nefarious attempts of a rival cousin and his family, the brothers faced hardship after hardship. Many attempts were made on their lives, but somehow they managed to survive through them all. Eventually, they were able to win the war of wars and regain their kingdom.
The brothers were not mystics adept in magic nor were they so powerful that they could do all of this on their own. Rather, their only wealth was the kind support of Shri Krishna, who was especially fond of Arjuna, the best bow warrior of the group. After the dust settled, Krishna stayed in Hastinapura as the exalted guest of the eldest Pandava brother, King Yudhishthira. Everyone enjoyed the Lord’s company so much, including the mother of the Pandavas, Kunti Devi. Draupadi, the wife of the five brothers, also remembered Krishna fondly and cherished His personal presence in the town.
Alas, the Lord finally had to leave for His kingdom in Dvaraka. As He was set to embark, He received a royal treatment, with much fanfare, sort of like how the President of the United States hears Hail to the Chief wherever he goes. The pomp of the egress could not dampen the sorrow of the residents, who were feeling the separation from their beloved Krishna.
Under normal circumstances, once a person leaves our company, they are not with us. That is what it means to be separated, after all. The soul is capable of residing anywhere, but within a material form its influence is limited to the direct sphere, the area where the eyes, ears, nose, hands and legs can take action. For the residents in Hastinapura, Krishna’s separation should have meant that they no longer could be with Him. Ah, but in fact the Lord never left them; He never abandons the devotees who always think of Him.
As the Supreme Absolute Truth, Krishna’s name is identical with Krishna the person. Thoughts of His pastimes and the mental picture of His adorable form, holding the flute and wearing a peacock feather in the hair, bring the same association, as if Krishna were standing right before the individual. Proof of this fact is given in the behavior of the residents in Hastinapura that day and also in the devotional activities of the countless generations of mankind subsequent to that time. The fact that Krishna is still talked about, honored, and glorified to this day shows that His spirit is not different from His body.
That same quality of oneness can be achieved by the surrendered souls. Once they quit their body, they attain a nature similar to Krishna’s, that is they get a spiritual body that is not different from the soul. This particular body has the notable distinction of being able to directly carry out service to Shri Krishna without exhaustion. A taste of that service is granted in the material world through regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and it continues onwards to wherever fate may lead the individual.
Question: If everyone is so sad when Krishna leaves, why doesn’t He just stay with us all the time?
The Lord actually never separates from the individual. What causes the distinction between material and spiritual life is the forgetfulness of that link on the part of the individual. That forgetfulness is totally desired, for it is said in the Bhagavad-gita that Shri Krishna is the remembrance and forgetfulness of man.
“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, Bg. 15.15)
The individual wanting to imitate God desires that temporary lack of knowledge, though they may not remember making that decision. The purpose of chanting and hearing about Krishna’s pastimes is to reawaken that remembrance, to let the individual know that Krishna has never left them. The manifested form before the eyes only reminds everyone of who is already pervading the entire space. The unmanifested form is very difficult to realize, as it is not immediately attractive, nor does it provide a pleasurable interaction. The unmanifested form is like the beam of light coming off of the sun. The sun is always more splendorous, so the Personality of Godhead Himself is the reservoir of pleasure, the entity who is fit to accept an endless amount of service from all the people of the world simultaneously.
As soon as the predominant desire is to have Krishna in your life all the time, the wish is granted. The Pandavas didn’t necessarily stay by the Lord’s side all the time, but never could they forget Him. Even during times of turmoil and despair, such as when Arjuna would later realize that his fighting powers had vanished, the remembrance of the Lord and His influence was still there. That heightened level of thinking is known as Krishna consciousness, and its fruitful growth indicates that the auspicious human birth was taken full advantage of.
Obeisances offered for Krishna love shows,
Drums and horns make sounds wherever He goes.
Finally had to leave the city of elephants,
To Pandava family brief was Krishna’s stint.
Upon His departure Kunti and family in pain,
Their loss would soon be Dvaraka’s gain.
Even when not in presence God you can still see,
No difference between body and spirit, everywhere is He.
Never forgot Krishna though all were certainly sad,
Memory of Shyamasundara and His presence they had.