Fulfilling our longing for love
Love is our innermost longing. Gita wisdom declares that our longing for love is best fulfilled when we learn to love Krishna. Let’s understand this central Gita teaching in five parts:
- Loving Krishna enables our love to break free from all limitations,
- Krishna is eminently lovable,
- Krishna loves all of us impartially,
- Krishna’s love for us is unconditional and
- Krishna engages his omnipotence to help us when we choose to love him.
1. Loving Krishna enables our love to break free from all limitation
Our love constantly longs to rush forth beyond all limitations. But as long as we love any material object or person, the flow of our love remains constrained by two often-subconscious fears:
- We limit the love that we offer to others due to the fear that it may be at worst rejected insensitively or at best reciprocated inadequately.
- We also fear that focusing our love on one person may limit our capacity to love others.
However, when we consciously and consistently offer our love to Krishna, we gradually discover that it breaks free from both these limitations. Here’s why:
- Krishna notices attentively every drop of love that we offer him and reciprocates perfectly by flooding our heart with fulfilling waves of love. When we experience his magnificent reciprocation, we feel inspired to offer him all the love of our heart and more still.
- Krishna being the source of everyone and everything encompasses all of existence; all living beings are his beloved children. So the love that we offer him doesn’t stay stuck with him, but returns through him to embrace as many living beings as our heart desires. That’s why, when we focus our love on Krishna, we become increasingly capable of loving more and more people. The Bhagavad-gita points to this majestic expansion of our capacity to love when it states (12.13) that devotees who love Krishna become the benefactors of all living beings.
Thus, by loving Krishna, we let our love break free from its limitations and flow freely, bringing the supreme happiness in our own lives and the lives of many others.
2. Krishna is eminently lovable
Krishna is so given to love that he renounces everything, even his godhood, for the sake of love. Of course, he always remains God, but he renounces his godhood in the sense that he conceals his godhood and acts as if he were not God just for the sake of love. His love for love makes him eminently lovable. Let’s see how.
Because Krishna performs childhood pranks like stealing butter, many people who know about Krishna through their culture or tradition consider him amusing. However, the Bhagavad-gita (04.09) declares that those who actually know Krishna attain a result far greater than mere amusement – they attain liberation.
How can knowing Krishna bestow liberation?
Because when we know him, we fall in love with him, thereby opening the door to liberation. When we actually understand Krishna, we cannot but be amazed at how he chooses to take on the role of a sweet and naughty child just to reciprocate love with those who love him.
Isn’t it amazing that God, who is the eternal and ultimate father of all, becomes a tender child for the sake of love? Isn’t it even more amazing that God renounces that which everyone in this world longs to have – the majesty of godhood – just to relish the intimacy of love? And isn’t it most amazing that God, though he has the love of billions and billions of his devotees, considers our love for him so invaluable and irreplaceable and indispensable that he personally descends to this world to invite us with his love-call?
Indeed, how can we not love the Lord who is so given to love and therefore is so supremely lovable? And when we choose to love him, how can he stop himself from fulfilling his heart’s longing to take us back to him and reinstate us in his world of love?
Thus, proper philosophical vision helps us cross the bridge from amusing to amazing in our understanding of Krishna. And when we thereby fall in love with him, he helps us cross the far greater bridge from the material world to the spiritual world.
3. Krishna loves all of us impartially
The Bhagavad-gita (9.29) reveals two paradoxical features of Krishna’s nature:
- He is equal to all and does not consider anyone to be an object of aversion or affection.
- For those who offer themselves to him and worship him with devotion, he offers himself to them in return.
These two features suggest that Krishna is both partial and impartial. How can that be?
The key to understanding Krishna’s mysterious nature is to remember that he is not an impersonal principle but a sentient person. Being a person, Krishna is neither neutral, nor partial; he is reciprocal. When we try to avoid him, he reciprocates by not interfering in our lives and by letting us stay under the supervision of the impartial law of karma. When we try to love him, he reciprocates by showering his love on us and by intervening to take special care of us.
If Krishna exhibited stone-like neutrality towards all, there would be hardly any possibility of developing a loving relationship with him. After all, how many people, if any, can love a stone?
If Krishna were not reciprocal, love for him would remain mostly an abstract intellectual conception. It is Krishna’s reciprocity that makes his personality emotionally tangible and eminently lovable. It is Krishna’s reciprocity that makes love for him real.
As Krishna is reciprocal, he is indeed partial to those who try to reciprocate love with him – his devotees. He offers them special protection and grace. But as he is universally reciprocal, he allows everyone to love him and thereby benefit from his partiality. In fact, he publically declares his partiality so that everyone will become attracted and come to benefit from it.
Thus, Krishna is impartially partial: he impartially leaves the doors to partiality open for everyone.
4. Krishna’s love for us is unconditional
At this point, we may wonder, “If Krishna loves all of us impartially, then why can’t we feel his love now? If we can feel it only after becoming pure, then doesn’t that make his love conditional, dependent on the condition of purity?”
Gita wisdom answers that Krishna’s love is unconditional; our capacity to experience his love is conditional. And the conditionality of this capacity is also an evidence of his love for us. Let’s see how.
First we need to understand the difference between the objective fact of Krishna’s love and our subjective experience of his love.
Objectively, Krishna loves all of us irrespective of whether we act piously or sinfully. No matter what misdeeds we do, he still keeps residing in our heart and helping us as much as we allow him. He never quits our heart; he never abandons us; he never gives up on us. Just as the sun gives light to everyone irrespective of their moral or immoral behavior, so does Krishna. Thus, his love is definitely unconditional,
But just as our eyes need to be open to see sunlight, our heart needs to be pure to feel Krishna’s love. So what is conditional is not Krishna’s love, but our capacity to feel his love.
At the same time, while open eyes may be a prerequisite for seeing the sunshine, that is also the natural state of the eyes. Similarly, while a pure heart is the prerequisite for feeling Krishna’s love, that does not make it conditional, for purity is the heart’s natural state.
To understand this point better, let’s get a sense of two related but distinct meanings of the word “condition.” Firstly, it can refer to a demand that needs to be met for something to be valid, as in “Your job appointment is conditional to your passing the graduation exam.” Secondly, it can refer to the state of a thing, as in “People can’t think straight when they are in a condition of great joy or great grief.”
Is Krishna’s love conditional in the demand sense of the word? No because he doesn’t place any demands that we have to first meet before he starts loving us. He loves us, always.
Is Krishna’s love conditional in the state sense of the word? No and yes. No because Krishna loves us irrespective of the state of our heart. Yes because we can feel his love only when our heart is in a particular state, the state of purity.
Still, we might argue, “Krishna, unlike the sun, is omnipotent. So he can make me feel his love even when my heart is not in the right state. Why doesn’t he do that?”
Because he loves us. That Krishna doesn’t force us to feel his love in our present state is a sign of his love. Out of his love for us, he has given us free will. By our past misuse of free will, we have chosen to replace him as the object of our love with various substitutes. When we have thus shown our apathy or even antipathy towards him, for him to force us to feel his love would be to disrespect our free will. And respect is a basic pre-requisite for love. Due to his respect for us as individuals with independent will, he never forces us to feel his love. Thus, Krishna’s respecting our free will is also a sign of his love for us.
5. Krishna engages his omnipotence to help us when we choose to love him
At the same time, Krishna does use his omnipotence to help us if we express the desire to love him. Let’s understand how Krishna helps us in two ways:
- He makes himself constantly available to us
- He accommodates us when we falter in our attempts to love him
- i. Krishna makes himself constantly available to us
In the Bhagavad-gita (15.15), Krishna states that he personally resides in the hearts of all of us for guiding us to our ultimate good. He uses his omnipotence to manifest himself in innumerable expansions as the Supersoul, who resides in the heart of every living being. The Supersoul acts like Krishna’s personalized incarnation for each and every one of us. There, he waits for us to voluntarily express our love for him or at least our desire to love him. We can express this desire by rendering devotional service according to scriptural guidelines. When he sees our sincere desire, he reciprocates by using his omnipotence to remove the roadblocks on our path to purity.
From his strategic vantage point in our heart, Krishna observes our misadventures in material existence and strives to bring them to an adventurous, auspicious ending. Let’s see how:
Krishna is ever-waiting: In a friendship, if one friend neglects the other for a long time, it’s natural and reasonable for the neglected friend to give up the neglecting friend. But Krishna’s love for us far exceeds the bounds of the natural and the reasonable; although we have neglected him for so many lifetimes, he neglects our neglect and waits patiently for us to renew our friendship with him.
Krishna is ever-willing: If a person not only neglects but also offends a friend, that friend would be entirely justified to severe the friendship. But Krishna is such an unfailing and unflinching friend that, despite our many misdeeds through which we have repeatedly offended him, he remains ever-willing to resume our relationship with him.
Krishna is ever-working: Krishna being God is perfect and complete. He has no work to do and has nothing to gain from his relationship with us. Yet due to his selfless and tireless love for us, he voluntarily and constantly works to help us return to him and thereby become eternally happy. Srimad Bhagavatam (8.3.17) states that Krishna is tireless (alayaaya) in his endeavors to help us. Srila Prabhupada elucidates this in his commentary, “He [Krishna] is within our hearts and is not at all inattentive. His only aim is to deliver us from material life. It is not that He becomes attentive to us only when we offer prayers to Him. Even before we offer our prayers, He incessantly tries to deliver us. He is never lazy in regard to our deliverance.”
When we understand how much Krishna loves us and to what lengths he is ready to go in his love for us, how can we not reciprocate?
- ii. Krishna accommodates us when we falter in our attempts to love him
When we strive to love Krishna, we often falter and fall due to our attachments and weaknesses. Krishna accommodates us despite our lapses, as is movingly demonstrated through a two-verse sequence in the Bhagavad-gita (9.30-31).
First (9.30), Krishna urges us to recognize as saintly a devotee who, though guilty of grievous misconduct, is still determined to serve him. Next (9.31) he assures that such a devotee will soon get reformed and then proclaims that due to his unfailing love he will forever protect such a devotee.
The first verse offers a glimpse of the unconditional nature of Krishna’s love: there is nothing that we can ever do, no matter how vicious, that can stop Krishna from loving us.
At the same time, though love can be unilateral, a loving relationship cannot; it must always be bilateral. That’s why the second verse (9.31) indirectly urges one who has made a mistake to return to a virtuous, devotional lifestyle that will engender a pure heart receptive to Krishna’s love. It does so by first unequivocally reassuring us that such a change of heart is definitely possible, even inevitable and imminent (kshipram bhavati dharmatma). Then, knowing that an inner battle is necessary for attaining that state, it inspires us to fight by declaring that Krishna with all his omnipotence will protect us (na me bhaktah pranashyati).
If we just let Krishna help us by expressing our desire to love him, he will expertly guide us to overcome all inner and outer obstacles, and grow and go towards his eternal abode, the world of endless love.
To summarize, when we choose to love Krishna, our love breaks free of all limitations and finds the most eminently lovable object of love, who loves us impartially and unconditionally and who engages his omnipotence to help us love him.
No wonder Srimad Bhagavatam (1.2.6) declares that when we learn to love Krishna purely, the result is yayatma suprasidati: our heart and soul become content fully and forever.