“Whatever you wish to see can be seen all at once in this body. This universal form can show you all that you now desire, as well as whatever you may desire in the future. Everything is here completely.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.7)Download this episode (right click and save)
ihaika-sthaṁ jagat kṛtsnaṁ
mama dehe guḍākeśa
yac cānyad draṣṭum icchasi
The complete everything. All that is in existence, not just on this planet, but on every planet, in every universe. Every creature, both moving and nonmoving, small and large, intelligent and animalistic, in the water and in the air, with two hands and four. The outer space of not only this galaxy, but every other one too. Every presiding deity, should you be inclined to that belief system. The past, present and future.
Imagine if you could see all of this in a single image. In Sanskrit it is known as the virata-rupa, which translates to “the universal form” in English. Variations of it have been shown several times in the past, with the most notable viewing occurring on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago.
Shri Krishna, the guru, charioteer and best friend of the warrior named Arjuna, put on this amazing exhibition. He first had to bless Arjuna with a pair of divine eyes. Only then could the humble disciple see it. As amazing as this vision is, for those with higher intelligence it is not so significant.
1. It is more of a concept than something tangible
The universal form is one way to prove the existence of God. The wise describe it as impersonal. It has no separate identity of its own. It doesn’t necessarily move. There is no way to communicate with it. It is not like it has a separate appearance and disappearance triggered by personal action.
It is proof of the Divine for those who insist on seeing. “Can you show me God? Prove to me that He exists.” The virata-rupa answers these questions. Nevertheless, it is kind of an abstract. You don’t necessarily need to see it to understand that it exists. Just put everything that you can think of into a single collection.
As an example to help explain, you know that there is a certain number of teams in professional baseball. The number changes with time, as there is expansion. Nevertheless, there is something called Major League Baseball, or MLB. Each team has their own stadium they play their home games in. Now put every stadium into a single collection. Imagine if you could see the nuances within every stadium at one time.
That is a rough equivalent to the virata-rupa, but with the viewing involving everything in the manifest world. To the wise, an existence is about more than viewing an abstract image that they know to already exist. They don’t require the vision of the virata-rupa, since they already understand that it exists. By definition, every object in existence can be placed into a single image for viewing. Whether one is blessed to get that vision or not is immaterial.
2. It has not been shown for long
The several times it has been seen by a person are documented in Vedic literature. One thing to note is that the vision hasn’t lasted for long. It is not that the fortunate viewer asked to remain staring at the vision forever and ever. If an object has lasting value, you would want to hold on to it, no? You would want to keep it somewhere safe. You would want to derive as much enjoyment as possible.
Kakabhushundi, Markandeya Rishi, Yashoda Mata, Arjuna - none of them desired to continue the association with the universal form. Rather, they were awestruck by it. Arjuna asked to again see the two-handed form of Krishna. He would rather associate with His friend than some amazing image. Kakabhushundi would rather enjoy the childhood pastimes of Shri Rama. Yashoda feels the greatest delight from serving Shri Krishna as a parent.
3. It is not anyone’s ishta-deva
The ishta-deva is the worshipable deity of choice. Vedic culture, which today is known as Hinduism, is not polytheistic. In the government of the United States, there are several Cabinet departments, each having its own head. This doesn’t mean that within the Executive Branch there is an oligarchy. There is the autocratic leader known as the President.
Similarly, just because there are many divine figures to whom worship can be offered, it doesn’t mean that a supreme leader is lacking. The other figures are like deputies to run the affairs of the material world. The person at the top is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan.
Though He is one, He is kind enough to expand into many non-different forms. The devotees don’t all worship the same form. They devote thought, word and deed to their form of choice, known as the ishta-deva. Some worship the original form known as Krishna. This is the person who showed the universal form to Arjuna. Others worship Rama. Some worship Narasimha. Many worship Vishnu, who always has the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, by His side.
The virata-rupa is not the ishta-deva for anyone. This is because it is not a person; it is a concept. As the universal form cannot hear your prayers, cannot offer you protection, and cannot steer you in the proper direction, it is much less significant than the person behind it.
4. There is a person behind it
The astute observer notices an interesting thing with each showing of the universal form. There is always the vision accompanied by someone showing it. For instance, Kakabhushundi saw a version of the universal form while within the stomach of Shri Rama. Markandeya saw it within Narayana. Yashoda saw it within the mouth of Shri Krishna.
If the universal form is everything, how can there be anything separate from it? How is the Supreme Lord able to show this vision? It means that He is superior to it. This is how we know the vision to be impersonal. The impersonal feature of the Supreme Lord is incomplete, as it does not include His personal presence. The person responsible for showing the universal form is automatically superior to that form.
5. There is a higher taste to be experienced
Arjuna asked to once again see Krishna with His two hands because that is more desirable. Bhakti-rasa is known as the taste of devotion. Devotion can only be offered to a person; not an object. You can try worshiping your car. People say they love theirs. Yet the car is an inanimate object. It cannot reciprocate love. The result of such worship is continued rebirth, association with the material energy.
Worship of God the person purifies consciousness. It leads to a point where there is no longer a desire to see everything. Confident that His creation runs smoothly enough through the deputies placed in charge, the devotee, experiencing a higher taste, wishes only to remain with the Supreme Lord in a mood of love. That love can be offered forever, in lifetime after lifetime, allowing the taste of devotion to be relished more and more.
Krishna showing universal form of His,
Still more an abstract, not a person it is.
That there is something beyond to mean,
More to life than awe-inspiring scene.
For each case not very long was shown,
Returning to worship of choice their own.
Supreme Lord, person standing behind,
Bhakti-rasa in devotion to Him find.