When Black Becomes Beautiful
Sparkling lotus eyes, mesmerizing sidelong glance, enchanting curved eyebrows, rosy red lips, shining jasmine teeth, endearing gentle smile, silken curly blackish hair, peacock feather crown, effulgent yellow garment, sylvan flower garland, charming threefold bending form, silver flute at the lips, fingers deftly playing the spellbinding fifth note – does aesthetic beauty not find its culmination in Krishna? Indeed the gopis, the divine consorts of Krishna, reprimanded the creator Brahma for having fashioned eyelids that blinked; the moment of blinking appeared like a millennium of separation to them as it interrupted their incessant drinking of the nectar of Krishna’s beauty with their eyes.
Form is the most attractive object in our experience, but all forms are limited and temporary. So some people feel that God being unlimited cannot have a form. But God’s creation is replete with attractive forms and, if He is devoid of form, then He will be less attractive than His creation, which is highly illogical.
Form and formlessness are akin to the dialectic of thesis and antithesis employed in modern Hegelian philosophy. The final stage of synthesis logically necessitates the integration of the form and the formless, a feat any materialistic mind would find absurd and paradoxical. But the union emerges when we dissolve an unexamined assumption – that all form, including God’s, has to be material form. Material form is limited, but claiming that God’s form must also be limited reflects a tendency to foist material conceptions on transcendence. What causes limitation is not form per se, but matter, which is always limited, whether it has form or not. For example, a building with form is limited, but if we destroy its form, does the formless heap become unlimited? No. Therefore God is unlimited not because He is formless, but because He is spiritual. The Supreme Spirit is omnipresent, both with and without form.
This inconceivable nature of Krishna’s form is brought forth through His complexion. A dark complexion may not be considered attractive, yet spiritually, when manifest in the Supreme Transcendental Person, the same bluishblack fresh rain cloud color becomes Shyamsundara, the epitome of all attractiveness. The Bible states that God’s form is not like any form seen on land, in air or in water. Krishna’s form is unlike any seen anywhere in this world black yet beautiful. Thus the darkness of Krishna’s form is not a dushana (blemish), but a bhushana (ornament).
Krishna declares unequivocally in the Bhagavadgita (11.5354) that bhakti, not karma or jnana, is the only means to understand Him. Karma drags our attention to the diversity of this world, to the multiplicity of material forms. Jnana directs our consciousness to the unity in diversity, to the formless spiritual homogeneity underlying all material form. Bhakti catapults us highest to diversity in unity, beyond the undifferentiated brahman effulgence to the variegated spiritual world, characterized by endless love between the singular bhagavan and the plural bhaktas. The dark yet delectable form of Krishna reminds us that love lies beyond logic and that the heart probes deeper than the brawn and the brain. Srila Prabhupäda, the founder of ISKCON, who propagated krishnabhakti worldwide, expressed the profound philosophical truth of Krishna’s complexion and form in a disarmingly sweet exchange. When an African asked him somewhat facetiously,
“Do you worship a black God?” Srila Prabhupada replied, with no malice and full poise, “Yes. Krishna is black but not like you.”