New version available here: vedabase.io

Chapter 12: Bewildering Pastimes

na veda kaścid bhagavaṁś cikīrṣitaṁ
tavehamānasya nṛṇāṁ viḍambanam
na yasya kaścid dayito ’sti karhicid
dveṣyaś ca yasmin viṣamā matir nṛṇām

O Lord, no one can understand Your transcendental pastimes, which appear to be human and so are misleading. You have no specific object of favor, nor do You have any object of envy. People only imagine that You are partial.

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.8.29

The Lord’s mercy upon the fallen souls is equally distributed. He has no one as the specific object of hostility. The very conception of the Personality of Godhead as a human being is misleading. His pastimes appear to be exactly like a human being’s, but actually they are transcendental and without any tinge of material contamination. He is undoubtedly known as partial to His pure devotees, but in fact He is never partial, as much as the sun is never partial to anyone. By utilizing the sun rays, sometimes even the stones become valuable, whereas a blind man cannot see the sun, although there are enough sun rays before him. Darkness and light are two opposite conceptions, but this does not mean that the sun is partial in distributing its rays. The sun rays are open to everyone, but the capacities of the receptacles differ. Foolish people think that devotional service is flattering the Lord to get special mercy. Factually the pure devotees who are engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Lord are not a mercantile community. A mercantile house renders service to someone in exchange for values. The pure devotee does not render service unto the Lord for such exchange, and therefore the full mercy of the Lord is open for him. Suffering and needy men, inquisitive persons, or philosophers make temporary connections with the Lord to serve a particular purpose. When the purpose is served, there is no more relation with the Lord. A suffering man, if he is pious at all, prays to the Lord for his recovery. But as soon as the recovery is over, in most cases the suffering man no longer cares to keep any connection with the Lord. The mercy of the Lord is open for him, but he is reluctant to receive it. That is the difference between a pure devotee and a mixed devotee. Those who are completely against the service of the Lord are considered to be in abject darkness; those who ask for the Lord’s favor only at the time of necessity are partial recipients of the mercy of the Lord; and those who are cent-percent engaged in the service of the Lord are full recipients of the mercy of the Lord. Such partiality in receiving the Lord’s mercy is relative to the recipient, and it is not due to the partiality of the all-merciful Lord.

When the Lord descends on this material world by His all-merciful energy, He plays like a human being, and therefore it appears that the Lord is partial to His devotees only, but that is not a fact. Despite such an apparent manifestation of partiality, His mercy is equally distributed. In the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra all persons who died in the fight before the presence of the Lord got salvation without the necessary qualifications, because death before the presence of the Lord purifies the passing soul from the effects of all sins, and therefore the dying man gets a place somewhere in the transcendental abode. Somehow or other if someone puts himself open in the sun rays, he is sure to get the requisite benefit both by heat and by ultraviolet rays. Therefore, the conclusion is that the Lord is never partial. It is wrong for the people in general to think of Him as partial.

The Lord says in Bhagavad-gītā (4.8):

paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁ
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
dharma-saṁsthāpanārthāya
sambhavāmi yuge yuge

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.”

When God incarnates, He has two missions – to vanquish the demons and deliver the sādhus, the faithful devotees. The word sādhūnām, which means “saintly persons,” refers to devotees. It has nothing to do with worldly honesty or dishonesty, morality or immorality; it has nothing to do with material activities. Sometimes we may think that the word sādhu refers to a person who is materially good or moral, but actually the word sādhu refers to one who is on the transcendental platform. A sādhu, therefore, is a devotee, because one who engages in devotional service is transcendental to material qualities (sa guṇān samatītyaitān).

Now, the Lord comes to deliver the devotees (paritrāṇāya sādhūnām), but it is clearly stated in Bhagavad-gītā (14.26) that a devotee transcends the material qualities (sa guṇān samatītyaitān). A devotee is in a transcendental position because he is no longer under the control of the three material modes of nature – goodness, passion, and ignorance. But if a sādhu is already delivered, being on the transcendental platform, then where is the necessity of delivering him? This question may arise. The Lord comes to deliver the devotee, but the devotee is already delivered. Therefore the word viḍambanam, meaning “bewildering,” is used in this verse because this appears contradictory.

The answer to this contradiction is that a sādhu, a devotee, does not require deliverance, but because he is very much anxious to see the Supreme Lord face to face, Kṛṣṇa comes not to deliver him from the clutches of matter, from which he has already been delivered, but to satisfy his inner desire. Just as a devotee wants to satisfy the Lord in all respects, the Lord even more wants to satisfy the devotee. Such are the exchanges of loving affairs. Even in our ordinary dealings, if we love someone we want to satisfy him or her, and he or she also wants to reciprocate. So if the reciprocation of loving affairs exists in this material world, in what an elevated way must it exist in the spiritual world. There is a verse in which the Lord says, “The sādhu is My heart, and I am also the sādhu’s heart.” The sādhu is always thinking of Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa is always thinking of the sādhu, His devotee.

The appearance and disappearance of the Lord within this material world are called cikīrṣitam, pastimes. It is Kṛṣṇa’s pastime that He comes. Of course, when the Lord comes He has some work to perform – to protect the sādhu and kill those who are against the sādhu – but both of these activities are His pastimes.

The Lord is not envious. The killing of the demons is also a display of His affection. Sometimes we may punish our children by giving them a very strong slap because of love. Similarly, when Kṛṣṇa kills a demon this killing is not on the platform of material jealousy or envy, but on the platform of affection. Therefore it is mentioned in the śāstras, the Vedic literatures, that even the demons killed by the Lord attain immediate salvation. Pūtanā, for example, was a demoniac witch who wanted to kill Kṛṣṇa. When Kṛṣṇa was performing pastimes as a small child, she coated the nipple of her breast with poison and approached Kṛṣṇa’s home to offer the milk of her breast. “When Kṛṣṇa sucks my nipple,” she thought, “the child will immediately die.” But that was not possible. Who can kill Kṛṣṇa? Instead she herself was killed, for Kṛṣṇa sucked the nipple and also sucked out her life altogether. But what was the result? Kṛṣṇa took the bright side. “This demoniac woman came to kill Me,” He thought, “but somehow or other I have sucked her breast milk, so she is My mother.” Thus Pūtanā attained the position of Kṛṣṇa’s mother in the spiritual world. This is explained in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, where Uddhava says to Vidura that Kṛṣṇa is so kind, God is so kind, that even the witch who wanted to kill Him with poison was accepted as His mother. “Since Kṛṣṇa is such a kind God,” he said, “whom else shall I worship but Kṛṣṇa?”

Kuntīdevī says, na yasya kaścid dayitaḥ. The word dayita means “favorite.” Kṛṣṇa favors no one. Dveṣyaś ca: and no one is His enemy. We expect some benediction or profit from a friend and harmful activities from an enemy, but Kṛṣṇa is so perfect that no one can harm Him nor can anyone give Him anything. So who can be His friend or enemy? Na yasya kaścid dayito ’sti: He doesn’t need anyone’s favor. He is complete. I may be a very poor man, and therefore I may expect some favor from a friend, but that is because I am imperfect. Because I am not full, because I am deficient in so many ways, I am always needy, and therefore I want to create some friend, and similarly I hate an enemy. But since Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme, no one can harm Kṛṣṇa, nor can anyone give Kṛṣṇa anything.

Why then are we worshiping Kṛṣṇa in the temple by offering Kṛṣṇa so many comforts, dressing Him, decorating Him, and giving Him nice food? We should try to understand that Kṛṣṇa does not need our offerings of nice garments, flowers, or food, but if we give such offerings to Kṛṣṇa, we shall benefit. Thus it is Kṛṣṇa’s favor that He accepts such offerings. If one decorates oneself, one’s reflection in a mirror will also appear decorated. Similarly, since we are reflections of Kṛṣṇa, if we decorate Kṛṣṇa we also shall be decorated. In the Bible it is said that man was made in the image of God, and this means that we are reflections of God’s image. It is not that we invent or imagine some form of God according to our own form. Those who adhere to the Māyāvāda philosophy of anthropomorphism say, “The Absolute Truth is impersonal, but because we are persons we imagine that the Absolute Truth is also a person.” This is a mistake, and in fact just the opposite is true. We have two hands, two legs, and a head because God Himself has these same features. We have personal forms because we are reflections of God. Furthermore, we should philosophically understand that if the original person benefits, the reflection also benefits. So if we decorate Kṛṣṇa, we also shall be decorated. If we satisfy Kṛṣṇa, we shall become satisfied. If we offer nice food to Kṛṣṇa, we shall also eat the same food. Those who live outside the temples of Kṛṣṇa consciousness may never have imagined such palatable food as the food we are offering to Kṛṣṇa, but because it is being offered to Kṛṣṇa, we also have the opportunity to eat it. So we should try to satisfy Kṛṣṇa in all respects, and then we shall be satisfied in all respects.

Kṛṣṇa does not need our service, but He kindly accepts it. When Kṛṣṇa asks us to surrender unto Him (sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja), this does not mean that Kṛṣṇa is lacking servants and that if we surrender He will profit. Kṛṣṇa can create millions of servants by His mere desire. So that is not the point. But if we surrender to Kṛṣṇa, we shall be saved, for Kṛṣṇa says, ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi: “I shall free you from all sinful reactions.” We are suffering here in this material world without any shelter. We even see many people loitering in the street, with no aim in life. When we go walking by the beach in the early morning, we see many young people sleeping or loitering there, aimless, confused, and not knowing what to do. But if we take shelter of Kṛṣṇa, then we shall know, “Oh, now I have found shelter.” Then there will be no more confusion, no more hopelessness. I receive so many letters daily from people expressing how they have found hope in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Therefore, it is not a fact that Kṛṣṇa descended here merely to collect some servants. Rather, He descended for our benefit.

Unfortunately, however, instead of becoming Kṛṣṇa’s servants, we are becoming servants of so many other things. We are servants of our senses and the sensual activities of lust, anger, greed, and illusion. Actually the whole world is serving in this way. But if we engage our senses in the service of Kṛṣṇa, we shall no longer be servants of the senses, but masters of the senses. When we have the strength to refuse to allow our senses to be engaged other than in the service of Kṛṣṇa, then we shall be saved.

Here Kuntīdevī says, “Your appearance in this material world is misleading, bewildering.” We think, “Kṛṣṇa has some mission, some purpose, and therefore He has appeared.” No, it is for His pastimes that He appears. For example, sometimes a governor goes to inspect a prison. He gets reports from the prison superintendent, so he has no business going there, but still he sometimes goes, thinking, “Let me see how they are doing.” This may be called a pastime because he is going by his free will. It is not that he has become subject to the laws of the prison. But still a foolish prisoner may think, “Oh, here the governor is also in prison. So we are equal. I am also governor.” Rascals think like that. “Because Kṛṣṇa has descended as an avatāra,” they say, “I am also an avatāra.” So here it is said, na veda kaścid bhagavaṁś cikīrṣitam: “No one knows the purpose of Your appearance and disappearance.” Tavehamānasya nṛṇāṁ viḍambanam: the Lord’s pastimes are bewildering. No one can understand their real purpose.

The real purpose of the Lord’s pastimes is His free will. He thinks, “Let Me go and see.” He doesn’t need to come to kill the demons. He has so many agents in the material nature that can kill them. For example, in a moment He can kill thousands of demons merely by a strong wind. Nor does He need to come to give protection to the devotees, for He can do everything simply by His will. But He descends to enjoy pleasure pastimes. “Let Me go and see.”

Sometimes Kṛṣṇa even wants to enjoy the pleasure pastimes of fighting. The fighting spirit is also in Kṛṣṇa, otherwise wherefrom have we gotten it? Because we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, all the qualities of Kṛṣṇa are present in minute quantity within us. We are samples of Kṛṣṇa. Wherefrom do we get the fighting spirit? It is present in Kṛṣṇa. Therefore, just as a king sometimes engages a wrestler to fight with him, Kṛṣṇa also engages living entities to engage in fighting. The wrestler is paid to fight with the king. He is not the king’s enemy; rather, he gives pleasure to the king by mock fighting. But when Kṛṣṇa wants to fight, who will fight with Him? Not anyone ordinary. If a king wants to practice mock fighting, he will engage some very qualified wrestler. Similarly, Kṛṣṇa does not fight with anyone ordinary, but rather with some of His great devotees. Because Kṛṣṇa wants to fight, some of His devotees come down to this material world to become His enemies and fight with Him. For example, the Lord descended to kill Hiraṇyakaśipu and Hiraṇyākṣa. Should we think that these were ordinary living entities? No, they were the great devotees Jaya and Vijaya, who came to this world because Kṛṣṇa wanted to fight. In the Vaikuṇṭha world, the spiritual world, there is no possibility of fighting, because everyone there engages in Kṛṣṇa’s service. With whom will He fight? Therefore He sends some devotee in the garb of an enemy and comes here to this material world to fight with him. At the same time, the Lord teaches us that becoming His enemy is not very profitable and that it is better to become His friend. Kuntīdevī therefore says, na veda kaścid bhagavaṁś cikīrṣitam: “No one knows the purpose of Your appearance and disappearance.” Tavehamānasya nṛṇāṁ viḍambanam: “You are in this world just like an ordinary human being, and this is bewildering.”

Because Kṛṣṇa sometimes appears like an ordinary man, people sometimes cannot believe or understand His activities. They wonder, “How can God become an ordinary person like us?” But although Kṛṣṇa sometimes plays like an ordinary person, in fact He is not ordinary, and whenever necessary He displays the powers of God. When sixteen thousand girls were kidnapped by the demon Bhaumāsura, they prayed to Kṛṣṇa, and therefore Kṛṣṇa went to the demon’s palace, killed the demon, and delivered all the girls. But according to the strict Vedic system, if an unmarried girl leaves her home even for one night, no one will marry her. Therefore when Kṛṣṇa told the girls, “Now you can safely return to your fathers’ homes,” they replied, “Sir, if we return to the homes of our fathers, what will be our fate? No one will marry us, because this man kidnapped us.”

“Then what do you want?” Kṛṣṇa asked. The girls replied, “We want You to become our husband.” And Kṛṣṇa is so kind that He immediately said yes and accepted them.

Now, when Kṛṣṇa brought the girls back home to His capital city, it is not that each of the sixteen thousand wives had to wait sixteen thousand nights to meet Kṛṣṇa. Rather, Kṛṣṇa expanded Himself into sixteen thousand forms, constructed sixteen thousand palaces, and lived in each palace with each wife.

Although this is described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, rascals cannot understand this. Instead they criticize Kṛṣṇa. “He was very lusty,” they say. “He married sixteen thousand wives.” But even if He is lusty, He is unlimitedly lusty. God is unlimited. Why sixteen thousand? He could marry sixteen million and still not reach the limits of His perfection. That is Kṛṣṇa. We cannot accuse Kṛṣṇa of being lusty or sensuous. No. There are so many devotees of Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa shows favor to all of them. Some ask Kṛṣṇa to become their husband, some ask Kṛṣṇa to become their friend, some ask Kṛṣṇa to become their son, and some ask Kṛṣṇa to become their playmate. In this way, there are millions and trillions of devotees all over the universe, and Kṛṣṇa has to satisfy them all. He does not need any help from these devotees, but because they want to serve Him in a particular way, the Lord reciprocates. These sixteen thousand devotees wanted Kṛṣṇa as their husband, and therefore Kṛṣṇa agreed.

Thus Kṛṣṇa may sometimes act like a common man, but as God He expanded Himself into sixteen thousand forms. Once the great sage Nārada went to visit Kṛṣṇa and His wives. “Kṛṣṇa has married sixteen thousand wives,” he thought. “Let me see how He is dealing with them.” Then he found Kṛṣṇa living differently in each of the sixteen thousand palaces. In one palace He was talking with His wife, in another He was playing with His children, in another He was arranging for the marriage of His sons and daughters, and in this way He was engaged in varied pastimes in all of the sixteen thousand palaces. Similarly, in His childhood Kṛṣṇa played just like an ordinary child, but when His mother, Yaśodā, wanted Him to open His mouth so that she could see whether He had eaten dirt, within His mouth He showed her all the universes. This is Kṛṣṇa. Although He plays just like an ordinary human being, when there is need He shows His nature as God. To give another example, Kṛṣṇa acted as the chariot driver of Arjuna, but when Arjuna wanted to see Kṛṣṇa’s universal form, Kṛṣṇa immediately showed him a cosmic form with thousands and millions of heads, legs, arms, and weapons. This is Kṛṣṇa.

Kṛṣṇa is completely independent, and He has no friends or enemies, but He plays for the benefit of both His friends and enemies, and when He acts for the benefit of either, the result is the same. That is Kṛṣṇa’s absolute nature.