“Just then the child inhaled, drawing Markandeya within His body like a mosquito. There the sage found the entire universe arrayed as it had been before its dissolution. Seeing this, Markandeya was most astonished and perplexed.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 12.9.27)Download this episode (right click and save)
tāvac chiśor vai śvasitena bhārgavaḥ
so ’ntaḥ śarīraṁ maśako yathāviśat
tatrāpy ado nyastam acaṣṭa kṛtsnaśo
yathā purāmuhyad atīva vismitaḥ
Pride is a product of the subtle material element known as false ego; ahankara in Sanskrit. There is always ego. Each person has the right to say, “I am.” The determination on the kind of ego is based on the object of identification. Am I this body? If I think in the affirmative then I am under ahankara. From there I am vulnerable to feeling excessive pride over my accomplishments, not realizing that so many other factors must cooperate in order for me to achieve anything. Something as simple as waking up in the morning requires that the acts of god, the body and mind, and other living entities be favorable upon me.
When the identification is with the spirit within, the ego that was false starts to become real and pure. Those who are in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, have this proper identification. Still, sometimes there is pride in devotion. Ahankara is nevertheless absent, as the result of that temporary swelling of ego is always beneficial. The Supreme Lord performs His magic to curb the pride, to make sure ahankara stays far away, giving so much delight to the devotee in the process.
One way He curbs pride is showing the universal form. This is the vision of the complete everything. It takes on great significance in the Bhagavad-gita, a work from which so many paintings have been drawn, in an attempt to somehow put the vision of everything in a two-dimensional image. A variation of that vision has been shown several times in history, and for different reasons.
1. To mother Yashoda, after killing the demon Trinavarta
The Supreme Lord is one. He is both formless and with form. The distinction is only from the human perspective. Just as during the nighttime we think the sun has disappeared, when there is no proper understanding of spiritual attributes we conclude that God is without form. He in fact has a spiritual body, or vigraha. The exact vision of that body varies slightly, suited to time and circumstance and the Lord’s desires.
One time God appeared on earth in the form of a child named Krishna. The wise know this to be the original form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the spiritual region, there is no conflict. If a person desires to see God victorious over bad guys, they must look to the avataras who descend to earth.
“After this incident, when Yashoda once was nursing her child and patting Him with great affection, there streamed a profuse supply of milk from her breast, and when she opened the mouth of the child with her fingers, she suddenly saw the universal manifestation within His mouth. She saw within the mouth of Krishna the whole sky, including the luminaries, stars in all directions, the sun, moon, fire, air, seas, islands, mountains, rivers, forests, and all other movable and immovable entities.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 7)
One time a demon in the form of a whirlwind came to Vrindavana and tried to kill baby Krishna. Taking Yashoda’s son high into the sky, Trinavarta thought he would make quick work of the helpless boy. Krishna instantly became heavy, though, causing the demon to drop to the ground and die. Soon thereafter, mother Yashoda took her son in her lap and was ready to feed Him breast milk. In preparation, she opened up Krishna’s mouth. Lo and behold, she received a vision of the universal form. It included all the creatures of this and every other world.
2. To mother Yashoda, after being accused of eating dirt
Mother Yashoda is so special that she twice had interaction with a version of the universal form. The second time was after Krishna came home and was accused by His friends of having eaten dirt. Like with the other incident, the purpose here was to delight the mother, to remind her that her son was something special. She looked into Krishna’s mouth and again beheld an amazing vision. It included all the planets and the stars. It was a wonderful thing that such vastness could exist within the mouth of a small child. Shri Krishna is always infinity, irrespective of the form in which He appears.
3. To Markandeya Rishi
As he explains to the Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata, Markandeya Rishi has the amazing boon of being able to remain in his body for kalpa after kalpa. These are the cycles of creation and destruction. During one such destruction, he came upon a small boy resting on a banyan tree leaf. The vision was odd since nothing else existed on the earth, which was being covered by the flood of devastation.
This boy was Narayana, who is non-different from Krishna. Markandeya entered Narayana’s mouth and saw endless variety. All the creatures were there and there was no end. Though he was a sage highly respected for his wisdom and renunciation, Markandeya became bewildered by the Lord’s potency. Narayana then released the sage, explaining that the vision seen inside the stomach was for teaching about the Absolute. After telling this story, Markandeya informed the Pandava brothers that the Krishna who was with them was the same Narayana, the source of the entire creation.
4. To Kakabhushundi
The deeds of the Supreme Lord are so blissful to hear about that there are many people who relay the stories. One of them is a crow named Kakabhushundi, who famously describes the life and pastimes of Shri Rama to Garuda, the feathered carrier of Narayana. Rama is an avatara of Vishnu, appearing on earth in the Treta Yuga in the body of a warrior prince.
Bhakti towards any Vishnu form is identical; just the mood of the devotee varies. Kakabhushundi’s ishta-deva, or deity of choice, is Rama during His childhood in Ayodhya. Kakabhushundi comes to that area during every one of Rama’s advents to delight in the pastimes. This one fact reveals the true nature of liberation. It is not that everything comes to an end when a person achieves mukti, or final emancipation. What happens is that they are guaranteed to continue in service to God through the vision of their ishta-deva.
Kakabhushundi would play with the child Rama, flying near Him and then going away. One time Rama seemed to be bewildered by the fact that the crow kept flying away. Rama was spinning in circles, unable to catch His old friend. Kakabhushundi then had a small hint of pride, doubting how someone could be knowledge personified and act in such childish ways.
Sensing this feeling, Rama then tried to catch the crow. Kakabhushundi flew as far away as he could, but whenever he turned back he saw that Rama’s hand was two finger-widths away. Having no choice left, the crow was caught and then put into Rama’s mouth. There he saw a version of the universal form, which is mystifying and awe-inspiring. When he couldn’t take it anymore, when his bewilderment reached its apex, Rama released Kakabhushundi out of His mouth. The crow never forgot the lesson, and delighted in retelling the incident to Garuda.
5. To Arjuna
The famed Pandava bow-warrior wasn’t necessarily full of pride, but he was in doubt. Just as with Kakabhushundi and Markandeya gazing at the infinite variety in the Lord’s stomach, this was all due to Krishna’s potency. The Lord intentionally put Arjuna into doubt so as to have a platform for speaking the sacred Bhagavad-gita.
paśyādityān vasūn rudrān
aśvinau marutas tathā
“O best of the Bharatas, see here the different manifestations of Adityas, Rudras, and all the demigods. Behold the many things which no one has ever seen or heard before.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.6)
At one point Krishna showed the universal form to Arjuna, who had the benediction of seeing a version never before shown. Arjuna had to receive a special set of eyes, divine in fact, in order to behold this wonderful and awe-inspiring vision. The display was really for the future doubters, those who wouldn’t have faith in the testimony of Arjuna and other authorities as to the divinity of the son of Yashoda.
It should be noted that not in any of the instances did things end with the vision of the universal form. The virata-rupa is in one sense a way to see God. The devotees don’t put much importance in this vision, which is more or less impersonal. They would rather continue in service to their worshipable form of choice; a fact which once again proves that in liberation there is endless activity.
When hint of pride to be,
From Lord universal form to see.
For Yashoda twice was shown,
For Markandeya at end when all alone.
Kakabhushundi crow with Rama playing,
Within His stomach full creation displaying.
Not the end, still further to go,
Infinite service in liberation to know.