Janmashtami Krishna-katha 3 – How Krishna appears in Mathura
[Talk at ISKCON, Detroit, USA]
Transcribed by: Sadananda Prabhu
Janmashtami Krishna-katha 3 – How Krishna appears in Mathura
On this day I will speak briefly about the way in which Krishna appeared and what its significance is for us. The Bhagavad-gita describes that Krishna is the supreme Lord who is always present within our hearts. However, though he is present, our consciousness is not tuned to his presence. Our consciousness is turned away from him towards the many objects of this world, hoping that we will get pleasure through these objects, and because of that, although Krishna is present, it is almost as if he is not present for us. So, to remind us of life’s eternal purpose and values, he descends time and time again. He descends so that we all can understand and remember what is life’s ultimate purpose. We are also caught in doing many things in life. We are often so caught on doing many things in life, but in doing many things in life, we often tend to forget what to do with life. In life we have many decisions to make, but ultimately, what is life meant for? We live in this world and we always long for something that is lasting. If we have a house that is rented, then we want to have our own house, because it will be a permanent place for us. So, we always long for something lasting. When we want to form relationships, we want to form lasting relationships. Where does this longing for the lasting relationship come from? It actually comes from our core. If there is an African child in a remote tribe, and suddenly that African child who has no connection with the outer world goes to his mother and says, “Mom, I want a Pizza.” The first thing that the mother will ask is, “Where did you hear about Pizza?” There is nothing in the child’s neighborhood which will even give him some idea of a Pizza. Similarly, when we look at the world around us, everything here is temporary. Noting lasts forever, and yet everyone of us has a desire to live for ever and to love for ever. Where does this desire come from? If it is not coming from our externals – and nothing in our externals last forever. Then that desire must be coming not from our externals, but from our internals. So, our very longing for lasting life and lasting love points to a core within us which lasts forever, and the Bhagavad-gita explains that that coes is the atma or the soul. And this atma or the soul is eternally connected with the supreme soul. That supreme soul is Krishna. He is known by different names in different traditions. The word Krishna is a word that is an inclusive name, which indicates his attractiveness in all his dimensions; sarva akarshati iti Krishna. That supreme absolute truth or the ultimate reality who attracts everyone, is known by the name Krishna. When we are exploring various relationships in this world, we are attracted to different people because of the various qualities that they have, but Krishna has all the qualities that everyone has in fullness; yad yad bibhuti satwam… Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that whatever attractiveness that anyone has is just a spark of his splendor. We have various relationships, and we get various degrees of pleasures in those relationships, but whatever pleasure that we get in any of our relationships is like a drop, and if we can learn to love Krishna, the pleasure thereof is like an ocean. Krishna descends to show us the way to that ocean. Krishna says that he descends to this world so that we can become attracted to him, and can ultimately attain him. It is for this purpose of helping us fulfil our innate longing for lasting life and lasting love, that Krishna descends. There are two levels of reality: there is the spiritual reality and there is the material reality. We can say that it is like a two-storeyed building. We presently live at the material level of reality. We want more and more material objects, and we hope to get more and more pleasures through that. However, everything at the material level is temporary. The soul, which is what we are, belongs to the spiritual level of reality, and the soul longs for that spiritual level – for his eternal love and life. So, Krishna exists eternally at the spiritual level of reality, and from there he descends to this material level, and he descends here to attract us to the spiritual level. We often live in something like a tunnel vision of reality. At the material level we crave and slave for various things; sometimes we get them and sometimes we don’t get them. But life simply goes on, and then life ends with death. That ultimate frustration of life and all our dreams happens because we are existing at the material level which is temporary, and Krishna wants to attract us to the spiritual level.
Krishna descended about several thousands of years ago, on this very day, in the sacred land of the Mathura mandal. Krishna appeared in this world as the son of Vasudeva and Devaki, and he is also known as the son of Yasoda and Nanda Maharaja. So, Krishna appeared in a very dramatic and drastic situation. Generally, when our life is going on in an ordinary way, we all have our problems, and we feel that we can deal with those problems. At that time, we don’t feel the need for anyone higher or we don’t feel the need for God. But when we face problems which we realize we cant deal with, that’s when we wonder whether there is a higher being who is there towards whom we can turn, and who can help me. Such was the situation that had enveloped the earth and the universe thousands of years ago when Krishna appeared. The ferocious demon Kamsa was so atrocious that he had turned against his entire family. He had imprisoned his own father, and he had also arrested his relatives, and put them in tyrannical subjugation. And all that happened because he had a great hunger for power. And because of this hunger for power, he tried to either eliminate, incarcerate or imprison anybody who he felt was a threat to him. In fact, though his own cousin sister, Devaki was almost like his real sister and they had been so close to each other, but when he came to know that her son would become a threat to him, and would want to kill him, he completely turned against her. Devaki was married to Vasudeva, and Devaki and Vasudeva were going in their wedding procession on a chariot, and Kamsa was driving that chariot. Such was the show of affection that he exhibited; it was because he wanted the whole world to know what a wonderful and beautiful brother he was, how he was the monarch but acting like a menial charioteer for his sister, because such was his love for her. For him, his driving the chariot was not so much because of his affection for his sister, it was more for displaying his affection to the world. It as to let the whole world know what a wonderful brother he was. Sometimes people who are very big V.I.P’s come to the temple to take a darsan. That time they feel that they should take a photo of themselves so that they can put it on Facebook or Instagram, and then his followers will appreciate them for being such a nice person that they go to the temple also. But such people go to the temple not to take darshan but to give darshan. They go to the temple to show the world how pious they are. They are more of exhibitionists. Kamsa was like that. He was exhibiting his love for his sister, but actually he had very little love. And as he was driving the chariot, suddenly a celestial voice spoke, “You foolish kamsa, this very sister whom you are driving, her eight child will become the cause of your death.” Nobody could understand where from this voice came. As soon as Kamsa heard it, his disposition completely changed. He turned around and caught Devaki by her hair, pulled his sword and was about to lop off her head. He said to Devaki, your son will kill me, before that I will kill you. So, the Krishna lila itself begins by demonstrating in a very scary way how flickering relationships in this world can be. The same person who shows so much affection at one time, the next moment can completely turn against us. Devaki was just married to Vasudeva, and Vasudeva was also a powerful king. But at the same time, he didn’t want to have an open all out war against Kamsa right in the venue where the wedding had taken place. And Kamsa was also extremely powerful and very dangerous. Then Vasudev tried to persuade Kamsa in various ways, but Kamsa was not ready to listen to any philosophy. He told him, see you have no threat from Devaki. Your threat is from Devaki’s sons. I promise you that whatever children Devaki will have, we will hand them over to you, but you let Devaki go. Vasudeva realized that for him to make such a promise like this was a great sacrifice for him to make. But when a problem can’t be solved immediately, then the best thing that we can do is defer it. We may think that in the future situations will be better and we might be able to solve it. So, Vasudeva was thinking, who knows, maybe we may not have any children, and then Devaki’s life will be saved. Or maybe if it is forecast that Devaki’s son would kill Kamsa, then that’s what will happen in some inconceivable way. Let me do the best that I can right now. Vasudeva had tried to use persuasion to deter Kamsa, but when he didn’t listen, then he had to do what he had to do. After that, when Kamsa heard this word – Vasudeva was known to be very truthful person – and thus, he accepted his assurance and released Vasudeva and Devaki. Kamsa was an evil person but the cause of his ruin was not just his demoniac nature. Actually, he had associates who were even more demoniac than him. Generally, all us have our good moments and our bad moments. Sometimes some noble desire comes within us, and sometimes some terrible desires come within us. So, we all go through these emotions at various times. But it is the association around us that determines which of these moments we will act on. Sometimes we may get some good desires like going to a temple, but if our association is completely materialistic, then we will not want to go to the temple. So, even if a good desire comes, but if the association is negative, that desire gets suppressed. On the other hand, if a negative desire comes up – for example, if somebody is an alcoholic and they want to give up alcohol, but if all their friends are alcoholic, and this person says that he wants to be sober, it will never happen. Sometimes people say, Drink but don’t become a drunkard.” That’s like saying, “Go to the edge of cliff, but don’t fall down.” So, Kamsa had his evil moments and his good moments, but his associates fanned his lower side. When Kamsa told his friends about Vasudeva’s promise to him, they told him that he has to very careful. Kamsa had his eye on Vasudeva, but still had his trust in him. When Vasudeva had his first child, he brought his son to Kamsa with a heavy heart. Kamsa was amazed to see the truthfulness of Vasudeva, and he said, the sacrifice that you are doing here is inconceivable. I am pleased to see how truthful you are, but I have no need for the first son. The danger that I have is from your eight son. So, take him back. Vasudeva went away, but he knew that Kamsa’s mind was so fickle that he could not be trusted. So, although he took his son away, he was apprehensive, and then Kamsa’s friends came along, and he told them that Vasudeva had brought his sons. He was actually speaking appreciatively, “Just see how virtuous Vasudeva is.” But his friends said, “How can you be so foolish? Actually, these gods are not at all trustworthy. They said that the eight son will kill you, but who knows the first son may also kill you.” Kamsa was a little skeptical. At that time another of his associates picked up a flower, and he said, “Look at this flower. How many petals are there?” Kamsa looked at it and counted. He found that there were eight petals. The friend asked, “Which is the first petal among this? You can call it the first, but I can count from here and this will be the eight. Like that the God’s will fool you; the first son can become the eight son, and the eight son can become the first son.” So, Kamsa said, “Just finish off all the sons.” When Kamsa was maddened like this, he just went on a rampage. He went to Vasudeva’s house and grabbed the sons, brutally slammed them on the ground and killed them. Devaki was horrified. Vasudeva was filled with anger, but at the same time was helpless. Before he came there, Kamsa orchestrated a plan and overthrew his father, grabbed power and brought the whole royal might to bear on Vasudeva. Not only was Vasudeva’s son killed, but then Kamsa put Vasudeva in jail, and Vasudeva and Devaki were imprisoned; and he waited. The god’s had incited his associates in such a way that the god’s had made a prophecy that Devaki’s eight son would kill him. But Kamsa said that he will show his prowess by proving the god’s wrong. Earlier he had thought of killing Devaki but Vasudev had stopped him, but now his arrogance had become such that – Kamsa had fought and defeated the god’s earlier, but now he said, “You can falsify their verse.” Now he didn’t try to kill Devaki. He thought, let Devaki have her child and I will kill the child. So, he let Vasudeva and Devaki stay together, and while they lived together, they begot one child. They knew that as soon as the son would be born, that son would be grabbed by Kamsa and brutally killed. Now why would they go on begetting children like this if they knew that the children are going to die? They did that because they knew that at the end of that dark tunnel there was light, they knew that if a celestial voice had spoken that through the eight child there would be deliverance, then surely that deliverance would occur. So, they knew that their sons would be killed, but they agreed to that. Every son that would be born, Kamsa would ruthlessly kill that child. Six years they were in jail. They would have a child and the child would be killed, and then finally this seventh child was to be born. At that time something mysterious happened. Kamsa had kept them under house arrest, and at the same time he had kept a constant vigilant watch. So, when he knew that Devaki was going to beget a child, at that time he was waiting for the time when the son will be born. In the seventh month of her pregnancy, one night, Devaki was sleeping, and suddenly she felt as if the child from her womb is disappearing. She woke up and she felt her belly was empty. She looked around and realized that the child had disappeared. That child by the arrangement of the Lord was transported. The world thought that she simply had a miscarriage and her child was lost, but this child was Balaram, and Balaram, the elder brother of Krishna, was mystically transported from the womb of Devaki to the womb of Rohini. Vasudeva had several queens, and Rohini was another one of his queens. Because Kamsa felt that the threat was from Devaki, he had arrested Vasudeva and Devaki. Rohini had been staying in a palace, but Vasudeva send a message to Rohini that this Kamsa cannot be trusted. Therefore, he arranged for one of his trusted associates to provide her a horse, and before Vasudeva had been arrested, at that time, Rohini had become pregnant. When she was a few months pregnant, one night, as per Vasudeva’s guidance, she secretly got on a horse and left Mathura. She travelled through the night and she came to to Gokula Mahavana in Vrindavana where Nanda Maharaja was staying. Nanda Maharaja and Vasudeva were cousins. Nanda Maharaja welcomed Rohini, and when the child left the womb of Devaki, he was transported to the womb of Rohini, and he stayed in the womb of Rohini for many months. Thus, Balaram was born in Vrindavana. But in the meanwhile, it appeared as if Vasudeva had lost the seventh child through miscarriage, and then, when the eight child was to be born, at that time Devaki suddenly became effulgent. Her whole body lit because all this time all of her sons had been killed one after another. Therefore, she had been very morose. She was just a newly married bride, and just as she was about to begin her new life, instead of going to the palace with her husband, she was sent to a prison, and she was morose. But even without understanding why this happened, suddenly jubilation started coming within her. She started feeling cheerful and jubilant, and when she was jubilant likes this, at that time she started understanding that there is the promised Lord or child that is going to appear and he is going to be their deliverer. When Kamsa would come to see her, he was surprised. Earlier she was so fearful, but now her whole complexion had changed. Kamsa started becoming even more apprehensive, and at that time, as the pregnancy came towards the delivery, it was deep in the night. Krishna was in that dark cellar. That is where at midnight he appeared. Now God is the supreme light. This world is a place of darkness, but Krishna appeared in that dark of that prison cell, and not just in the dark of the prison cell, he appeared at midnight, in the darkness of the night. Actually, as soon as Krishna appeared, the whole prison cell became effulgent by his light, and he appeared not like a child who is crying. Devaki was just observing as if in a dream, and suddenly the child appeared fully dressed, decorated and ornamented. He had fully grown hair, and he appeared not with two arms, but with four arms. He appeared in the form of Visnu, and as Devaki and Vasudeva saw this child, they were astonished and stuck with amazement and wonder. Then Vasudeva and Devaki started offering their prayers to Krishna. Normally when a child is born, the parents offers prayers to God and say, “Please protect this child.” But here God had himself appeared, and when he appeared people were so astounded that although they were still in the prison cell all the darkness dissipated. At that time the guards who were there in the prison cell – when a child would appear, the first thing that the child would do is, he will cry, but this child did not cry at all. Krishna appeared in the middle of the night illumining the night and the cell where it was completely dark. Devaki at one level was jubilant to see this child, and when she saw this child in this magnificent form – it was Visnu himself with all the shanka, chakra, gada and padma. When she saw that, she was astonished, but then she had her maternal affection thinking how she will protect and hide the child. If Kamsa sees that this is a celestial or a divine child, he will surely kill him. She said, “O divine child Krishna, please make this form unmanifest. Please appear like an ordinary child, and then I will be able to hide you.” She out of her motherly affection was thinking that she will protect Krishna, although it was Krishna who was going to protect her and everyone. Still to oblige her, he spoke to her. He said, “Have no fear. In previous life both of you had performed great austerities and you wanted to have me as your son, and I told you that I will appear to you in the future life. Our relationship goes on for many lifetimes. In many previous lives you had been my parents and I have been you son. Have no fear. Just as in the past I freed you from anxiety, now also I will free your from anxiety, and as he spoke like this, he changed his form, and that Lord who was in a divine four handed form suddenly became like a small, helpless child, and before changing his form to a small and helpless child, he turned towards Vasudeva and told him, “It is your responsibility. You are my father.” At that time, Vasudeva within his heart got an idea, let me take Krishna to Vrindavana where my other wife Rohini is there, let me take Krishna there. And thus, as soon as Krishna came in his two-handed form as a small baby, Vasudeva took Krishna and decided to go to Vrindavana. Now for Vasudeva it was very difficult thing to do. This was the child who was going to be the deliverer, and he has finally appeared. But now he has to take this child away. By Krishna’s mystical potency the guards who were supposed to be awake fell asleep, and not only the guards fell asleep but his shackles opened. The prison doors opened and Vasudeva started going out marching to the night, and as he was marching, suddenly rain started coming. Now we are just having gentle rains. That time there was heavy rains, and Vasudeva was concerned about what would happen to a new born child in a stormy night. But the child started moving and he came towards the river named Yamuna which is in between Mathura and Vrindavana. He was thinking how he will go through the river. As he was about to enter into the river, suddenly he found that the rain had stopped. He looked around and the rain seem to be there, but when he looked up, he saw as if a huge umbrella appeared. Actually, Ananta Sesa who is the bed of Vishnu, and on whom Vishnu rests, had appeared over there. Krishna never comes alone. Although he appears alone, but his associates are always there with him. So, Sesa naga sheltered Krishna through the stormy weather. Now Vasudeva did not understand that this is Sesa. He thought that somehow the rains had stopped. He was so much focused on getting to Vrindavana that he thought, “as long as I am able to move on, let me move on.” And as he was moving through the Yamuna, suddenly it happened that the Yamuna’s waves started rising more and more. Now he was carrying the child with him holding on tightly to his bosom, but now as the water started rising, he picked up the child and put him on his head high up, and thought, “even if I get wet, let my child not get wet.” But as the waves started rising and started hitting him, he started shaking. And now he was holding on to Krishna and was scared to think, “what if Krishna falls off?” Waves were forcefully coming, and he was holding on and steadying himself; but another wave would hit. The waves were rising and rising. Now he was raising his head high up trying to make sure that Krishna was protected, but the waves were rising. The Acharyas explained that, “Yamuna is also a devotee of Krishna, and she recognized that it was her Lord over here. So, she wanted to touch the feet of Krishna, and the more Vasudeva raised his hand, Yamuna stared rising higher and higher, and when Vasudeva was in anxiety, somehow trying to raise Krishna as high as he could – now Yamuna didn’t want to submerge Vasudeva. So, she suddenly produced a huge and forceful wave, and that wave hit Vasudeva, and as that wave hit Vasudeva with a huge force, Krishna slipped from his hands. Vasudeva was grasping in the water but was not able to find Krishna anywhere. He was horrified thinking where he must have gone. Thinking like this he just became panicky. He had endured so many years of austerities just so that Krishna would appear, and now because of his carelessness Krishna was lost. He was beating himself within his mind thinking how he could have let Krishna slip. But in the meanwhile, Yamuna was doing the Abhisekh of Krishna. she was bathing Krishna beautifully. She wanted to touch Krishna’s feet, but now she was touching the whole body of Krishna, and as she completed her abhisekh of Krishna, suddenly she made Krishna visible. Then Vasudeva suddenly saw that Krishna was peacefully floating on the top of Yamuna. He immediately grabbed Krishna, and Krishna seemed to be perfectly fine. Then he picked him up and took him to Vrindavana, and there he delivered Krishna in the care of Nanda Maharaja and Yasoda. Because at that time it was night, they did not understand what had happened. In that way, that same Lord who appeared in Mathura went to Vrindavan. On the day of his birth there was this traumatic journey, and Vasudeva would have to wait for nearly a decade more before Krishna would come back and would deliver him from the tyranny of Kamsa. But the day Krishna appeared, from that day, whatever fear and apprehension that Vasudeva had, that disappeared. That apprehension was replaced by the anticipation that Krishna was going to come and deliver Devaki and reinstate everyone in their glory. Although they were his parents, they knew that Krishna was the Lord and was delivering them. So, all this happened tonight. Thousands of years ago Krishna appeared in the prison cell, and it was at the night itself that Vasudeva had made his journey.
The Krishna lila is described primarily in the Srimad Bhagavatam. Bhagavatam is an Itihas. That means that it is narrative which is based on the history. However, it is not just historical, it is also eternal. And what happens in Krishna lila is also meant to happen in our own hearts. Devaki had six sons, and those six sons were killed brutally. After that there was the seventh son, and then Krishna was the eight son. The Acharyas describe that these six sons who were killed were like the sad ripus or the six enemies that are there within our heart. Though Krishna is in our heart, our consciousness is turned away from Krishna, and it is turned away because of six inner forces. They are lust, anger, greed, envy, pride and illusion, and this act like a wall between us and Krishna, and this needs to be removed from the heart. Like Krishna eventually appeared in Devaki’s womb and heart, similarly, Krishna will appear in our hearts also. But for that Devaki had to lost those six sons. Similarly, the six enemies – lust, anger, greed, envy, pride and illusion when are removed from our heart, then the heart becomes ready for Krishna to manifest. Before that it was Balaram who appeared over there. Balaram is the Guru tattva. He is the spiritual master. The spiritual master appears in our heart and gives us guidance, and by that guidance when we practice bhakti and make our heart devotional – just as Balaram prepared the womb of Devaki for Krishna to appear, similarly, the spiritual master prepares our heart by which Krishna can appear. We don’t have to go through such extreme difficulties like Devaki, but whatever difficulties that we have to face in our life, we should know that at the end of it all Krishna is going to appear in our hearts, and is going to enrich our lives. And then he is going to elevate us to a life of love eternal. So, that appearance of Krishna is not just a historical event. That happened a long ago. The appearance of Krishna is an event that is meant to happen within our own hearts also. On this day of Janmasthami we pray to Krishna, “Please O Lord, appear within my heart, purify my heart of everything else and let me become devoted to you alone.” Then Krishna will appear within our hearts, and he will enrich us with the devotion that will satisfy all our longings for love and joy. That is life’s supreme perfection.
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