“When it was learned that the demon was entering Gokula in an angry mood, mother Yashoda became so anxious to protect her child that her face dried up and there were tears in her eyes. These are some of the signs of the ecstasy of dread in devotional service, caused by seeing and hearing something that is dangerous to Krishna.” (The Nectar of Devotion, 48)
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is by definition the strongest, the wisest, the most beautiful, the wealthiest, the most famous and the most renounced. He is not deficient in any category of opulence, and neither are any of these opulences removed from Him at any point in time. Therefore when He appears on earth and walks along the sacred ground of Vrindavana as a small child, He is the same Bhagavan. He does show weakness on purpose sometimes, as do His most exalted servants in the final ashrama of the varnashrama system. This intentional exhibition serves to help others advance in consciousness.
Varnashrama-dharma is a kind of equivalent for the term “religion” as it applies to the Vedic tradition. Real Hinduism is varnashrama-dharma. Varna means color, and in this context it refers to the qualitative color of the living entity. Some are born with a fair complexion while others are dark. Some will grow up to be tall while others will be short. Some will be better at understanding logic and mathematics while others will be better at fighting. These differences are colors, or varnas. The colors represent the material qualitative makeup of the individual.
Ashrama is a spiritual institution. It is like a school, but one that is not limited to material manipulation. We learn computer science so that one day we can write a program for a profit. By learning programming techniques we can perhaps write apps for phones and tablet PCs. Whatever discipline we accept and apply ourselves to, the goal is to put the information to use to earn a profit later on. Profit is not exclusive to the business owner; the workers also look for a profit, i.e. a return on their work in the form of a salary. An ashrama is not tied to profit-making, as the Vedas don’t give much importance to learning how to earn a living. A man can find shelter in a cave, food from the fruits that fall off a tree, water from a nearby river, and clothing from torn rags. These things are available for any person’s survival. The more advanced may acquire some land, take to farming, and erect a house. Years of education are not required for this. Just through being around others, accepting information from hearing and observing, suffices.
A real ashrama teaches one that they are not their body. It is actual understanding of the fact, not something only regurgitated as an answer on a formal examination. To realize that one is spirit soul is very difficult. All of the prejudices assigned to birth mentioned in the shastras are related to the potential for this realization occurring. A “higher” birth is thus that which gives one a better chance for understanding their true identity of spirit. One who enters an ashrama and faithfully adheres to the principles within it has a great chance of advancing in consciousness, which is the opportunity uniquely afforded to the human being.
The final ashrama is known as sannyasa, and it means to completely give up all attachments. No attachment to family, especially the wife. This is important because the attachment to the wife is what creates all other attachments. If I have a wife, I need a place to live. If I need a place to live, I need money, which means I need a job. To get a job, I need skills, and to get skills I require education. In this way I become entangled.
The purpose of sannyasa isn’t only to give up attachments like these. I can swear off women and live by myself, but this doesn’t make me a sannyasi. Keeping in mind that it is an ashrama, or spiritual institution, sannyasa’s purpose is to free up one’s time for understanding God. That understanding comes through service, which is the real dharma, or essential characteristic, of the spirit soul. The dharma aspect of varnashrama refers to duties, which change depending on the circumstance. The highest duty is that which brings to life one’s essential characteristic. As we have difficulty accepting the fact that we are eternally servants of God, we follow other dharmas until we reach the final one.
The sannyasi typically wears a saffron cloth, wanders from home to home, and begs for all of his needs. By the material estimation, no one is weaker than the sannyasi. And yet he is still very powerful. The perceived weakness has a purpose. The sannyasi can very well get a job and earn for himself, but by staying renounced he allows others to serve him. In exchange for that service, he offers transcendental wisdom, which he has understood through so much rigorous study and practice. If he doesn’t do anything but think of God all the time, wouldn’t His knowledge be extremely helpful to others?
The guru, or spiritual master, similarly shows weakness from time to time. He may or may not be a sannyasi, but his intentional weakness allows others to serve him, which is the only way to gain the confidential knowledge that is freely available in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita. Never do we find any statements saying that one should become friends with a guru or talk to him like an equal. Everywhere the idea of service in humble submission is stressed, and if the guru is in a seemingly superior material condition, why would we want to serve him?
Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the detail behind the abstract conception of God, also shows weakness from time to time. He is not after giving transcendental knowledge so much, though He does so from time to time, like He did with Arjuna in the talk known as the Bhagavad-gita. Krishna is the object of knowledge. He is the destination for the wise souls who know Him at the time of death. His show of weakness is to bring pleasure to others. Mother Yashoda takes great delight in worrying over her foster-child, the beautiful darling of Vrindavana. Vasudeva is so energized when crossing over the Yamuna river in the middle of the night to save the newborn Krishna from the wicked King Kamsa of Mathura.
The deity in the temple also appears weak. Without the help of the pujari, it cannot change clothes. Without the offerings of food made with love, the deity cannot eat. Without the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” from the congregation, the deity cannot feel pleasure. Without the offering of fragrant flowers and the loving glances of those who approach the altar, the deity would be lonely.
This is the intended effect anyways, as Krishna is known as atmarama, or one who is self-satisfied. Though He is forever happy in the company of Shrimati Radharani, He shows helplessness for our benefit. His servants follow suit, as they are not obsessed with being the hero in all circumstances. Let others act as heroes on occasion, giving them the chance to serve Krishna both directly and indirectly. This intentional weakness is yet another example of the causeless mercy that can only emanate from the most compassionate person in the world.
The guru travelling from journey long,
How can such a person be really strong?
For food and clothing they must beg,
Without others to stand on no leg.
This is at least what we perceive,
That it’s intentional you must believe.
A chance to offer service this gives,
In divine consciousness then always to live.
Supreme Lord similar presence sometimes projects,
For their boy Yashoda and Nanda always anxious to protect.