“One should meditate upon the Supreme Person as the one who knows everything, as He who is the oldest, who is the controller, who is smaller than the smallest, who is the maintainer of everything, who is beyond all material conception, who is inconceivable, and who is always a person. He is luminous like the sun and, being transcendental, is beyond this material nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.9)
It is natural to be enchanted by things which are great. Especially if the object or ability in question is something that we can’t conceptualize, it will grab our attention. For instance, if we play a particular sport ourselves, if we should see someone else excel beyond imagination in it, we will be intrigued by their ability. During the course of our day-to-day dealings we develop frames of reference with respect to the life around us, so seeing things which surpass those reference points in magnitude will surely be considered unique and worthy of attention.
When the focus shifts to spiritual life, as is known to happen due to the guaranteed arrival of death, the same attraction towards greatness carries over. “If there is a God, He must be tremendous. He must be more amazing than anything else I have ever seen. Seeing this greatness will give evidence to His existence. Without visual proof, I can’t believe that He really exists.” This is only an immature understanding, however. The reason is that the nature of the world we live in is such that what we consider amazing really isn’t. Everything is just a gross collection of matter anyway, and for that matter to move and shift there must be a superior guiding force. The size of that force is infinitesimally small, so the truly amazing is that which can also be smaller than the smallest.
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me — the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
The turn towards spiritual life occurs when there is distress, inquisitiveness about higher truths, a desire to receive a benediction, or a thirst for information about that which we already know to be the Absolute Truth. The distress scenario is understandable, such as when there is a sudden death of a loved one. You see someone so frequently that you start to take their association for granted, but then one day they are no longer with you. “Where did they go? Why did they have to leave? I know that I’m going to die too, but why?” This automatically lessens the significance of the perceived greatness around us, for what’s the big deal if one can collect a large amount of matter for personal enjoyment if they have to quit their body eventually? In this way distress can also spark inquisitiveness about how everything works.
The desire to receive a benediction, such as the accumulation of wealth, is still rooted in ignorance, but at least you acknowledge that there is a higher authority. A personal benefit will last only for as long as your body is intact, and even then such a length of manifestation is only for rare cases. For instance, how many of the gifts we’ve sought out remained relevant in importance to us all the way up until the end of life? Most of the time the enjoyment is short-lived, for we find one toy we enjoy today but then move on to another one tomorrow.
If one actually knows that there is an Absolute Truth, finding out more about Him takes the focus away from greatness in terms of material collection and instead shifts the attention towards the true position of the Supreme Master and how He is able to be both larger than the largest and smaller than the smallest. The initial inclination towards largeness is based on ignorance of the laws of the spiritual science. The ability in all creatures is the Supreme Soul, who lives side by side with the individual soul, or atma. It is the presence of the soul that indicates life, that gives meaning to a collection of matter. When the soul departs, we consider the body to be dead, but as long as it is there, the body is alive and capable of action.
When ignorant of these scientific facts, which are so nicely presented in the Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita, the focus stays on greatness. Someone who has a lot of money is considered superior because they don’t have to worry about where to eat and where to live. They also show how to receive the highest return on their work. One person is working all day in a factory, while another is working all day in an office, so why should the fruits of labor be different? If two people output the same amount of energy, the result of that output will determine which work is superior. As a higher salary indicates a greater result, the person earning it must be considered superior in both knowledge and usage of their time.
Lost in this analysis is the fact that the animals, which are considered less intelligent, put in far less effort to find the same enjoyment. Without working in a factory or an office, they find food, clothing and shelter. They can eat, sleep, mate and defend without major hassles. They are so worry free that they don’t have any mental or emotional burdens. Sure, they can’t enjoy high culture like arts and philosophy, but if the human being only desires gross enjoyment of the senses, then the animal has the superior existence.
Without knowledge of spirit, when hearing about God the initial demand is to see greatness. Yet such is the benevolence of the Supreme Master that He accounts for this tendency in man. If you should insist on seeing how great God is, using your own ignorance of the futility of material acquisition to form a flawed barometer, the Supreme Lord can show you His virat-rupa, or universal form. Think of the full collection of everything, the biggest truck that holds the most amount of stuff. This is what the virat-rupa can be likened to. It has the total collection of identifiable living entities and their material coverings. When you see this form, you have essentially seen it all.
If you don’t believe in God you can still imagine this form, as it certainly exists. Let’s say that we work inside of a factory. Just because we stay in a room the entire time doesn’t mean that there are not other areas to the building. The entire collection of rooms and objects that make up the factory does exist. Similarly, everything in the universe belongs to a singular collection, and that sum total is one way to think of God. The universal form is thus geared towards those who value greatness in terms of large collections. The Supreme Lord is wonderful because He is everything.
But the advanced transcendentalists don’t focus on the virat-rupa. That’s because to them there are aspects to the Supreme Lord which are more noteworthy. What significance does a collection of matter have anyway, especially if we are to quit our body at the end of life? The soul is the same when it is in an ant’s body as it is in a human’s body, so the greatness with respect to ability and possessions is relatively immaterial. Spiritual ability is more amazing, the fact that from one person so many fragments of spirit have come. In addition, there is an inherent relationship between the source and the expansions. There is a simultaneous oneness and difference between the Supreme Lord and the living entities.
More amazing than God’s universal manifestation is His ability to take on the tiniest form that runs through the courtyard in the home of mother Yashoda and Maharaja Nanda. The devoted souls focus on this aspect of the Supreme Lord because it is more delightful, and it gives further insight into His true nature, of how He is a personality with qualities meant to provide pleasure. A learned yogi is not interested in maya, or that which is not Brahman. Brahman is truth; it is spirit. Maya is the matter around us which we mistake for our identity and source of happiness. Yet God, the origin of Brahman, associates with His maya when He appears on earth, all through His own will. That maya doesn’t affect Him the way it does us, and thus His personal forms are not considered to be part of the material energy. That ability to transcend duality is far more amazing than His ability to display the universal form, which is the height of greatness.
The transcendentalist who sees with the vision of devotional love marvels at God’s willingness to appear in Vrindavana and roam around as a small child, playing childish pranks and acting as one dependent on the elders, who love Him without conditions. Known as Krishna, this tiny bundle of joy is the creator of this and every other universe and is the Supersoul resting within every creature. Yet He appears from without periodically to delight those who will cherish His association. Though the residents of Vrindavana from time to time see Krishna’s greatness in terms of His ability to defeat powerful atheists and the lowest among mankind, they are more interested in getting to interact with Him, in basking in the sweetness of His vision and His play.
This is a more advanced stage reserved for the more intelligent, for only in ignorance of the material and spiritual energies do we consider supremacy to relate to only the accumulation of matter. Only in that ignorance would we insist on seeing the universal form from God when such a manifestation already exists both theoretically and practically. The non-devoted will always ask God to show them how large He is, but the devotees are more amazed at how small the Lord can become, how His abilities travel in both directions. Likely the most important feature in Krishna is that He can accept an unlimited amount of service from an unlimited number of sons and daughters. Thus the valuable human effort that was previously directed at producing increased association with maya can be used to further develop an attachment to Krishna, which in turn brings His favor more and more. The highest favor He grants is His personal association, which manifests in the immediate vicinity in a manner that has nothing to do with gross matter.
With greatness in terms of ability and possessions, there is awe and reverence, but love will be difficult to offer in such circumstances. With Krishna the personal association is always in a manner conducive to the release of transcendental love, which is known as bhakti. In bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, Krishna’s name is all that is required, for from that sacred sound vibration the jewel of Vrindavana enters the mind and happily plays in front of the mental vision. God’s greatness is such that even within the mind He can delight, whereas the material energy even within our immediate external vision still causes so much pain. Turn your mind into Vrindavana by always chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and let the naughty child of Yashoda play in its courtyard.
All that is, was and will be,
From God you’ll demand to see.
Greatness with matter is all that you know,
Aim is for possessions and abilities to grow.
But know that matter not your identity does represent,
For a higher purpose to a human form you were sent.
With proper understanding, amazing is the tall,
And also that which is unbelievably small.
In Yashoda’s courtyard God you’ll want to see playing,
For His devotees always delightful pastimes displaying.