When Black Becomes Beautiful

by February 13, 2012

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.

Why is Krishna’s complexion dark, not fair? Why this defect in the paragon of beauty?

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.

The impersonal formless brahmajyoti, the efful­gence from the form of God, is all­pervasive, and so is God, Krishna. Krishna’s form, though seem­ingly localized, exists in omni­dimension and so is all­pervasive, not restricted by space or time. This extraordinary nature of Krishna’s form is seen in many of His pastimes, especially His showing the universe in His mouth to His mother Yoshoda and His showing the universal form to Arjuna and Duryodhana.

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.”

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