“This virat-rupa of the Lord was especially manifested, not for the benefit of Arjuna, but for that unintelligent class of men who accept anyone and everyone as an incarnation of the Lord and so mislead the general mass of people. For them, the indication is that one should ask the cheap incarnation to exhibit his virat-rupa and thus be established as an incarnation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.1.24 Purport)
Want to play a quick game of “stump yourself”? Take life’s most pressing questions and try to answer them. “My days repeat on end, and sometimes I am happy and sometimes I am sad, but what does it all mean? Why do we all get up in the morning to go to work and then spend a few hours in the night relaxing just so that we can repeat the same cycle again the next day? Also, why are we training our children to follow in this line? They too will one day be dumbfounded by all of this, especially the sudden departure of a close family member. What does it all mean?”
The answers to these questions and many more are given in a short, concise and yet complete discourse known as the Bhagavad-gita. The setting for that talk was quite fitting: a battlefield featuring an expert warrior who was hesitant. He wasn’t worried about how to win. Indeed, he was famous throughout the world for his fighting prowess. He was worried about what would happen should he emerge victorious. The fear of losing is common, so spending too much time on it isn’t necessary. If you’re afraid of failing in your tasks, you just try harder. But what about if you always get what you want? Will all your problems then be solved? Will you be happy?
For Arjuna, there would be no pleasure in ruling over a kingdom if victory required killing some of his friends and family fighting for the opposing side. This begs the question of what is the meaning of life. Why did Arjuna as a warrior have to fight? Why couldn’t he just sit back and do nothing, and let everything happen on its own? Why was victory necessary? The subsequent question and answer period flowed smoothly and reached the proper conclusion. This was because both teacher and student were highly qualified. The student had the required submissive attitude and the teacher the highest knowledge. The teacher is the very origin of knowledge, the birthplace of both spirit and matter.
From the Bhagavad-gita you get lessons on duty, morality, virtue, sin, vice, lust, greed, birth and death, the true identity of the individual, and most importantly what the individual’s relationship to the higher being is. Despite the profound wisdom found in the verses of this sacred work, the speaker, the supreme teacher, still didn’t want others to mistake Him to be a hack mental speculator. The truths passed on to Arjuna and future generations were not mentally concocted, nor did they arrive as a revelation to the speaker. He knew what He was talking about because He is the origin of knowledge; He is the smartest person based on His inherent characteristics.
Arjuna didn’t need convincing of this, but future generations might, so the speaker, Lord Krishna, decided to show His universal form. Known as the virat-rupa, this vision is not exposed to the ordinary eye. Arjuna had to be given the proper set of eyes in order to see this gigantic manifestation of the entire cosmos. Picture all the stuff in the world. If you could put it into one portrait, a single image, that would be the virat-rupa. We sort of get an idea of how this works when we see pictures of the earth taken from outer space. The details aren’t so clear, but nevertheless we are included in those images. We can’t see ourselves, but we know that we are there because we live on the earth. Now take that same wide angle image and expand it to the largest possible scope, with the details included, and you get the amazing virat-rupa.
“But you cannot see Me with your present eyes. Therefore I give to you divine eyes by which you can behold My mystic opulence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.8)
The sight of the universal form is generally a requirement for the asuras, or gross materialists. This seems like a harsh thing to say, but in the absence of a connection to the divine consciousness, the tendency is to be amazed by opulence in terms of greatness. For instance, we give attention to people who have a lot of money. Their greatness comes from their net worth, what they have in the bank. Similarly, a movie star who gives a great performance, an athlete who holds many championship trophies, and an author who has written many popular books are all admired and honored because of their ability to do great things.
Since we have this tendency already, Krishna shows us that He is the greatest of the greatest. In terms of a collection of matter, nothing can be greater than the virat-rupa. “Why are only the asuras enamored by the universal form? Is there another perspective?” Krishna’s supremacy travels in both directions, the large and the small. The deluded consciousness that doesn’t see the difference between spirit and matter only thinks of greatness in terms of abundance, but the devotee knows that Krishna can be smaller than the smallest as well. While He is the virat-rupa, He is also the Supersoul within every creature. The tiny ant and the large elephant both have Krishna residing within them. Moreover, the fragments of spirit that emanate from Krishna are also infinitesimally small in size and yet can do great things on their own.
Hence the greatness we see around us lies not in the size of a collection of matter, but rather in the intrinsic properties of spirit, of which Krishna is the origin. More amazing than Krishna’s abilities to be large and small is His kindness bestowed upon the devoted souls. Even the non-devoted are beneficiaries of Krishna’s generosity, as they are allowed to continue in a state of ignorance for as long as they desire. The Bhagavad-gita is the discourse to consult when the choice is made in favor of true knowledge. The profound truths of that text cannot be found anywhere else, and though the knowledge should be good enough to accept on an initial extension of faith, the virat-rupa confirms that the speaker is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.
If you think about it, any person can offer some profound truths, receive adoration, and then claim to be God. Just read the Gita, accept some of the important facts, and then try to imitate Krishna. There are a few problems with this method, however. For starters, Krishna did not disclose His true identity to everyone. If you are the Supreme Lord, you have no need for adoration or reverential worship. Krishna’s favoritism to Arjuna was in the mood of friendship, which Arjuna preferred. The Bhagavad-gita, its profound truths, and the unveiling of the universal form were not for Arjuna’s direct benefit, though they were presented in that way. Arjuna was already in the devotional consciousness, so only through a temporary fall from the highest state of consciousness purposefully orchestrated by Krishna did the need for the discourse come about.
The charlatan posing to be God can be exposed just from their claim. Nevertheless, if others require more proof they can insist on seeing the virat-rupa. If you really are God, you should be able to show everything, the entire universe of stuff, to any person. If not, you are just a pretender, a cheater who exploits the valuable gem of Vedic wisdom for your own benefit. Krishna gives the transcendental wisdom of the Gita and the accompanying discipline of bhakti-yoga for the benefit of the worthy recipients, knowing full well that the soul is happiest when engaged in divine service. The implementation of that discipline is fine tuned through the association of the saints, and the ultimate arbiter of success or failure is Shri Krishna Himself, who looks at sincerity more than ability. To let Him know that we’re serious about making the most out of the rare human birth, we can chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Know that the virat-rupa only remains an amazing vision for as long as the concept of duality exists, where we think that we are different from Krishna and that a large collection of matter is meaningful. In the devotional consciousness, the oneness shared in the relationship to the Supreme Lord - wherein He is the benevolent master and we are the humble servant - is considered more valuable, and the divine sport of the Supreme Personality, such as His roaming around Vrindavana as a naughty child who steals butter, delights the heart.
When ignorance pertaining to matter in Arjuna had grown,
To him the virat-rupa, universal manifestation, was shown.
The battlefield of Kurukshetra was for this the perfect setting,
For afraid of highest material success Arjuna was getting.
Fear over failure quite easy to analyze,
But more interesting worry over opulence’s rise.
Krishna gave talk and to settle any doubts,
Showed supreme vision that an equal is without.
If fake incarnations their stature try to grow,
Ask them also the universal form to show.
Devotee goes beyond gross matter’s collection,
Takes higher pleasure in Krishna contemplation.