Knowledge of Kṛṣṇa’s Appearances and Activities
There are two forces of nature working in us. By one we decide that in this lifetime we will make spiritual advancement, but at the next moment the other force, māyā, or the illusory energy, says, “What is all this trouble you’re going through? Just enjoy this life and be easy with yourself.” This tendency to fall into forgetfulness is the difference between God and man. Arjuna is a companion and associate of Kṛṣṇa’s, and whenever Kṛṣṇa appears on any planet, Arjuna also takes birth and appears with Him. When Kṛṣṇa spoke the Bhagavad-gītā to the sun god, Arjuna was also present with Him. But, being a finite living entity, Arjuna could not remember. Forgetfulness is the nature of the living entity. We cannot even remember what we were doing at this exact time yesterday or a week ago. If we cannot remember this, how is it possible to remember what happened in our previous lives? At this point we may ask how it is that Kṛṣṇa can remember and we cannot, and the answer is that Kṛṣṇa does not change His body.
bhūtānām īśvaro ’pi san
prakṛtiṁ svām adhiṣṭhāya
“Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.” (Bhagavad-gītā 4.6)
The word ātma-māyayā means that Kṛṣṇa descends as He is. He does not change His body, but we, as conditioned souls, change ours, and because of this we forget. Kṛṣṇa knows not only the past, present, and future of His activities but the past, present, and future of everyone’s activities.
bhaviṣyāṇi ca bhūtāni
māṁ tu veda na kaścana
“O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities; but Me no one knows.” (Bhagavad-gītā 7.26)
In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam we also find that the Supreme Lord is defined as one who knows everything. This is not the case with even the most elevated living entities, such as Brahmā and Śiva. Only Viṣṇu, or Kṛṣṇa, knows everything. We may also ask that if the Lord does not change His body, why does He come as an incarnation? There is much difference among philosophers concerning this question. Some say that Kṛṣṇa assumes a material body when He comes, but this is not the case. If He assumed a material body like ours, He could not remember, for forgetfulness is due to the material body. The actual conclusion is that He doesn’t change His body. God is called all-powerful, and in the verse quoted above, His omnipotence is explained. Kṛṣṇa has no birth, and He is eternal. Similarly, the living entity has no birth, and he is also eternal. It is only the body with which the living entity identifies that takes birth.
At the very beginning of the Bhagavad-gītā, in the second chapter, Kṛṣṇa explains that what we accept as birth and death is due to the body, and as soon as we regain our spiritual body and get out of the contamination of birth and death, we should be qualitatively as good as Kṛṣṇa. That is the whole process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness – the revival of our original sac-cid-ānanda spiritual body. That body is eternal (sat), full of knowledge (cit), and blissful (ānanda). This material body is neither sat, cit, nor ānanda. It is perishable, whereas the person who is occupying the body is imperishable. The body is also full of ignorance, and because it is ignorant and temporary, it is full of misery. We feel severe hot or severe cold due to the material body, but as soon as we revive our spiritual body, we become unaffected by dualities. Even while within their material bodies there are yogis who are impervious to dualities such as heat and cold. As we begin to make spiritual advancement while in the material body, we begin to take on the qualities of a spiritual body. If we put iron into a fire, it becomes hot, and then it becomes red-hot, and finally it is no longer iron but fire – whatever it touches bursts into flames. As we become advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, our material body will become spiritualized and will no longer be affected by material contamination.
Kṛṣṇa’s birth – His appearance – and disappearance are likened unto the appearance and disappearance of the sun. In the morning it appears as if the sun is born from the eastern horizon, but actually it is not. The sun is neither rising nor setting; it is as it is in its position. All risings and settings are due to the rotation of the earth. Similarly, in Vedic literatures there are prescribed schedules for the appearance and disappearance of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa’s rising is just like the sun’s. The sun’s rising and setting are going on at every moment; somewhere in the world someone is witnessing sunrise or sunset. It is not that at one point Kṛṣṇa is born and at another point He is gone. He is always there somewhere, but He appears to come and go. Kṛṣṇa appears and disappears in many universes. We only have experience of this one universe, but from the Vedic literatures we can understand that this universe is but a part of the infinite manifestations of the Supreme Lord.
Although Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord and is unborn and unchangeable, He appears in His original transcendental nature. The word prakṛti means “nature.” In the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā it is stated that there are many kinds of nature. These have been categorized into three basic types. There is external nature, internal nature, and marginal nature. The external nature is the manifestation of this material world, and in the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā this is described as aparā, or material nature. When Kṛṣṇa appears, He accepts the higher nature (prakṛtiṁ svām), not the inferior material nature. Sometimes the head of a state may go to the prison house in order to inspect the prison and see the inmates there, but the prisoners are in error if they think, “The head of the state has come to the prison, so he is a prisoner just like us.” As pointed out before, Kṛṣṇa states that fools deride Him when He descends in human form (Bhagavad-gītā, 9.11).
Kṛṣṇa, as the Supreme Lord, can come here at any time, and we cannot object and say that He cannot come. He is fully independent, and He can come and disappear as He likes. If the head of a state goes to visit a prison, we are not to assume that he is forced to do so. Kṛṣṇa comes with a purpose, and that is to reclaim fallen conditioned souls. We do not love Kṛṣṇa, but Kṛṣṇa loves us. He claims everyone as His son.
mūrtayaḥ sambhavanti yāḥ
tāsāṁ brahma mahad yonir
ahaṁ bīja-pradaḥ pitā
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kuntī, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” (Bhagavad-gītā 14.4)
The father is always affectionate to the son. The son may forget the father, but the father can never forget the son. Kṛṣṇa comes to the material universe out of His love for us – to deliver us from the miseries of birth and death. He says, “My dear sons, why are you rotting in this miserable world? Come to Me, and I’ll give you all protection.” We are sons of the Supreme, and we can enjoy life very supremely without any misery and without any doubt. Therefore we should not think that Kṛṣṇa comes here just as we do, being obliged by the laws of nature. The Sanskrit word avatāra literally means “one who descends.” One who descends from the spiritual universe into the material universe by his own will is called an avatāra. Sometimes Śrī Kṛṣṇa descends Himself, and sometimes He sends His representative. The major religions of the world – Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam – believe in some supreme authority or personality coming down from the kingdom of God. In the Christian religion, Jesus Christ claimed to be the son of God and to be coming from the kingdom of God to reclaim conditioned souls. As followers of the Bhagavad-gītā, we admit this claim to be true. So basically there is no difference of opinion. In details there may be differences due to differences in culture, climate, and people, but the basic principle remains the same – that is, God or His representatives come to reclaim conditioned souls.
glānir bhavati bhārata
tadātmānam sṛjāmy aham
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion – at that time I descend Myself.” (Bhagavad-gītā 4.7)
God is very compassionate. He wishes to see our miseries cease, but we are trying to adjust to these miseries. Because we are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, we are not meant for these miseries, but somehow or other we have voluntarily accepted them. There are miseries arising from the body and mind, from other living entities, and from natural catastrophes. We are either suffering from all three of these miseries, or from at least one. We are always trying to make a solution to these miseries, and this attempt constitutes our struggle for existence. That solution cannot be made by our tiny brain. It can be made only when we take to the shelter of the Supreme Lord.
We can become happy when we are reinstated in our constitutional position. The Bhagavad-gītā is meant to reinstate us in that position. God and His representative also come to help. As stated previously, they descend to the material world from the superior nature and are not subject to the laws of birth, old age, disease, and death. Kṛṣṇa gives Arjuna the following reasons for His descent to the world:
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
sambhavāmi yuge yuge
“To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” (Bhagavad-gītā 4.8)
Here Kṛṣṇa says that He comes when there is a decline in dharma. The Sanskrit word dharma has been translated into English as “faith,” but faith has come to mean a religious system that goes under the name of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. But the word dharma does not have the same meaning as faith. The faith of an individual may change from Hindu to Buddhist to Christian to Muslim, etc. People have the ability to accept one faith and reject another, but dharma cannot be changed. It is the nature of every individual to render service, either to himself, his family, his community, his nation, or to humanity at large. This rendering of service cannot in any way be divorced from the living entity, and it is this that constitutes the dharma of every living being. Without rendering service, one cannot exist. The world goes on because we are all rendering and exchanging service. We must forget whether we are Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, and we must understand that we are living entities whose constitutional position is to render service to the supreme living entity. When we reach that stage of understanding, we are liberated.
Liberation is freedom from the temporary designations we have acquired from association with material nature. Liberation is nothing more than this. Because we have material bodies, we take on so many designations; thus we call ourselves a man, a parent, an American, a Christian, a Hindu, etc. These designations should be abandoned if we at all want to become free. Under no circumstances are we masters. We are at present serving, but we are serving with designations. We’re the servants of a wife, of a family, of a job, of our own senses, of our children, and if we have no children we become servants of our cats or dogs. In any case, we must have someone or something to serve. If we have no wife or child, we have to catch some dog or other lower animal in order to serve it. That is our nature. We are compelled to do it. When we at last become free from these designations and begin to render transcendental loving service to the Lord, we attain our perfectional state. We then become established in our true dharma.
Thus Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that He appears whenever there is a discrepancy in the dharma of the living entities – that is to say, whenever the living entities cease rendering service to the Supreme. In other words, when the living entity is too busily engaged serving his senses, and there is an over-indulgence in sense gratification, the Lord comes. In India, for instance, when people were over-indulging in animal slaughter, Lord Buddha came to establish ahiṁsā, nonviolence, toward all living entities. Similarly, in the above-quoted verse, Śrī Kṛṣṇa says that He comes in order to protect the sādhus (paritrāṇāya sādhūnām). Sādhus are typified by their toleration of all other living entities. Despite all inconveniences and dangers, they try to give real knowledge to the people in general. A sādhu is not the friend of a particular society, community, or country but is a friend of all – not only of human beings but of animals and the lower forms of life. In short, the sādhu is an enemy of no one and a friend to all. Consequently he is always peaceful. Such persons who have sacrificed everything for the Lord are very, very dear to the Lord. Although the sādhus do not mind if they are insulted, Kṛṣṇa does not tolerate any insult to them. As stated in the ninth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā, Kṛṣṇa is alike to all, but He is especially inclined to His devotees:
na me dveṣyo ’sti na priyaḥ
ye bhajanti tu māṁ bhaktyā
mayi te teṣu cāpy aham
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service to Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Bhagavad-gītā 9.29)
Although Kṛṣṇa is neutral to all, for one who is constantly engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, who is spreading the message of the Bhagavad-gītā, He gives special protection. It is Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s promise that His devotee shall never perish: kaunteya pratijānīhi na me bhaktaḥ praṇaśyati (Bhagavad-gītā 9.31).
Not only does Kṛṣṇa come to protect and save His devotees, but He also comes to destroy the wicked (vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām). Kṛṣṇa wanted to establish Arjuna and the five Pāṇḍavas, who were the most pious kṣatriyas and devotees, as rulers of the world, and He also wanted to vanquish the atheistic party of Duryodhana. And as mentioned before, a third reason for His coming is to establish real religion (dharma-saṁsthāpanārthāya). Thus Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s purpose for coming is threefold: He protects His devotees, vanquishes the demonic, and establishes the real religion of the living entity. He comes not only once but many, many times (sambhavāmi yuge yuge) because this material world is such that in the course of time, after an adjustment is made, it will again deteriorate.
The world is so conceived that even if we make a very good arrangement, it will gradually deteriorate. After World War I an armistice was signed, and there was a short period of peace, but World War II soon came, and now that that is over they are making preparations for World War III. This is the function of time (kāla) in the material world. We build up a very nice house, and after fifty years it deteriorates, and after one hundred years it deteriorates even more. Similarly, when the body is young, people care for it, always lavishing affection on it and kissing it, but when it grows old no one cares for it. This is the nature of the material world: Even if a very good adjustment is made, it will in course of time be vanquished. Therefore adjustments are periodically required, and from age to age the Supreme Lord or His representative comes to make adjustments in the direction of civilization. Thus Śrī Kṛṣṇa descends many times to establish or rejuvenate many different religions.