“O mighty-armed one, all the planets with their demigods are disturbed at seeing Your many faces, eyes, arms, bellies and legs and Your terrible teeth, and as they are disturbed, so am I.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.23)Download this episode (right click and save)
What Krishna had said was impressive. It certainly wasn’t typical. It wasn’t expected, either. When you’re in doubt over how to proceed, when you’re at a crossroads, and you approach a teacher, usually you’re anticipating a yes/no response for guidance. “Yes, it’s a good idea to follow your instinct.” “No, your thinking is wrong because of this and that.”
“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)
Arjuna got a lesson on life and death itself. He learned the true nature of the individual, how it is imperishable. There is action in inaction and inaction in action. Yoga is the most important thing, and it can be practiced anywhere and in any situation. These truths and more came from the all-attractive charioteer turned guru.
Any person can say anything. Any claim can be made, and to test validity there is authority. Shri Krishna is Himself the supreme authority, the adi-guru. He is the original teacher. Arjuna accepted everything, but how would others, reading what would be known as the Bhagavad-gita? One of the ways Krishna established authority was showing the universal form, the virata-rupa.
1. It included the demigods
The Sanskrit word deva means “god.” There are many devas. As a famous politician once threw out the term, “No controlling legal authority,” as an excuse for questionable behavior, the same concept but inverted can be applied to the devas. They are the controlling legal authorities of the material world. Legal is in relation to karma, which is action and reaction. Karma operates under laws, with everything incorporated into the workings of the material nature.
In the virata-rupa, Arjuna saw all the devas. Krishna is known as deva-deva. He is the god of the gods. He is the ultimate authority, the supreme controller, Ishvara. For this reason He could show all the gods in a single exhibition. The devas work at His direction, and they are His devotees. They are known as suras since they have devotional qualities. At the very least, they acknowledge His presence, though they may forget Him from time to time.
2. It included the planets
The devas are people. They are living entities like you and me, except they live for a long time and have extended enjoyment available to them. In their planetary realm, the trees can grant any material desire instantly. For this reason they are known as desire trees, kalpa-tarus.
The virata-rupa included all the planets. A planet is itself a giant collection of gross and subtle material elements, and within each planet is so much variety. You have rivers, mountains, clouds, trees, and hills. Arjuna saw all the controlling authorities and the many planets over which they have control.
3. Arjuna required special eyes to see it
The virata-rupa isn’t cheap. It’s not something you put a quarter in a vending machine to see. In fact, Arjuna required a special set of eyes granted to Him momentarily by Krishna Himself. Otherwise, the exhibition was impossible to view. It was also a unique vision, something never before seen.
“The Blessed Lord said: My dear Arjuna, happily do I show you this universal form within the material world by My internal potency. No one before you has ever seen this unlimited and glaringly effulgent form.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.47)
This fact indicates that the Supreme Lord reveals Himself based on the qualification of the viewer. Arjuna was a devotee, so he was a perfect candidate for receiving the divine set of eyes. The asuras, who are the opposite in nature from the suras, would not have benefitted from seeing the virata-rupa. The reason is that they are always creating illusions themselves. Examples include the theory of evolution, promises from politicians, and scientific research that aims to remove God from the picture.
They create these illusions to help increase godlessness. As they view God as a competitor, seeing the virata-rupa they would think that Krishna is just like them, creating some magical illusion in order to inspire fear. Arjuna got the right idea by seeing the universal form, that his dear friend and cousin was indeed the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the greatest well-wisher for every living entity.
4. It was an exhibition of things that already exist
It wasn’t like Krishna created something new. He showed the virata-rupa to Arjuna, but anyone can conceptualize the same. Take everything that exists. It’s impossible to account for everything, but include whatever the mind can think of at any particular moment. Then put that collection into a single image.
Again, this is impossible to do accurately, but we know for sure that everything does exist. Therefore, Krishna didn’t really introduce anything new. It is something that any person can accept as fact. For this reason the virata-rupa is considered impersonal. It represents the vision of the Divine as the sum collection of matter and spirit.
5. It was not a static image
There are many paintings depicting the virata-rupa shown to Arjuna. They are nice attempts at trying to portray Krishna’s greatness. Still, there is one key thing missing. Time. The virata-rupa is not static. The images are moving, as confirmed by Arjuna.
“All the sons of Dhritarashtra along with their allied kings, and Bhishma, Drona and Karna, and all our soldiers are rushing into Your mouths, their heads smashed by Your fearful teeth. I see that some are being crushed between Your teeth as well.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.26-27)
The premise of the conversation was Arjuna’s worry over the future of the loved ones fighting for the other side. Arjuna did not want to be the instrument for their destruction. In the universal form, Arjuna saw all the fighters for the other side rushing into Krishna’s mouths. This showed that destruction was already slated. Arjuna was simply to act as the instrument to fulfill Krishna’s will.
Not a static image, things to move,
Universal form authority to prove.
Of Shri Krishna, Arjuna’s friend dear,
Showing everything, His Divinity clear.
Not just for ordinary person to see,
Partha blessed with special eyes was he.
Of everything existing, impersonal considered,
By personal form, Shri Krishna delivered.