Volume IX - The Unity of Religious Ideals
The life of Krishna is an ideal. It gives the picture of the life of a perfect man. The real meaning of the word Krishna is God. The man who was identified with that name was the God-conscious one who fulfilled his message in the period in which he was destined to give it.
The story of Krishna, apart from its historical value and interest, is of great importance to the seeker after Truth. Nothing is known about the father and mother of Krishna. Some say he was of royal birth, and this means of kingly origin, from that King who is the king of all. Then he was given to the care of Yeshoda, who brought him us as his foster-mother. This is symbolical of the fact that the earthly parents are only the guardians, the real father and mother being God. It is said that in his childhood Krishna was fond of butter, and that he learned as a child to steal butter from everywhere. And the meaning of this is that wisdom is the butter of the whole of life. When life is churned through a wheel, then out of it comes butter; wisdom is gained by it. Krishna was stealing it, which means that wherever he found wisdom he learned it, and thus he benefited by everybody's experience.
There are two ways of learning wisdom. One way is that a person goes and drinks to excess, and falls down in the mud, and then the police take him to the police station and when he recovers from his drunkenness he cannot find his clothes and is horrified at his own appearance. This makes him realize what he has done. This is one way of learning, but it is possible that he does not learn. The other way of learning is that a young man is going along the street; he sees a drunken man, and realizes how terrible it is to be in this state; and from that he learns. That is stealing the butter.
Then the latter part of Krishna's life has two very important aspects. One aspect teaches us that life is a continual battle and the earth is the battlefield where every soul has to struggle, and the one who wants to own the kingdom of the earth must be well acquainted with the law of warfare. He must learn the secret of an offensive, the mystery of defense, how to hold his position, how to retreat, how to advance, and how to change position; how to protect and control all that has been won, how to abandon that which must be given up, the manner of sending an ultimatum, the way of making an armistice, and the method by which peace is made. In the battle of life man's position is most difficult. He has to fight on two fronts at the same time: one enemy is himself, and the other is before him. If he is successful on one front and fails on the other front, then his success is not complete.
The battle of each individual has a different character; it depends upon a man's particular grade of evolution. Therefore every person's battle in life is different, and of a peculiar character. No one in the world is exempt from that battle; only, one is more prepared for it while the other is perhaps ignorant of the law of warfare. And in the success of this battle lies the fulfillment of life. The Bhagavad-Gita, the Song Celestial, from the beginning to end is a teaching on the law of life's warfare.
The other aspect of Krishna's life shows that every soul is striving to attain God – not God, as Judge or King, but as the Beloved. Every soul seeks God, the God of love, in the form it is capable of imagining, and thus the story of Krishna and the Gopis signifies God and the various souls seeking perfection.
The life and teaching of Krishna have helped the pious people of India very much in broadening their outlook. The religious man full of dogmas is often apt to make these too rigid and he expects the godly or God-conscious to fit in with his standard of goodness. If they do not fit in with his particular idea of piety he is ready to criticize them. But the thought and life of Krishna were used by the artist, the poet and the musician; and out of this came a new religion, a religion of recognizing the divine in natural human life. And the idea of considering a spiritual person as someone exclusive, remote, stone-like, and lifeless ceased to exist. The people of India became much more tolerant towards all the different aspects of life, at the same time looking at the whole of life as an immanence of God.
Some Hindus are called worshippers of Krishna, for although all Hindus belong to one religion, yet different gods and goddesses are worshipped by different members of it. Among them the worship of Krishna is most prevalent, and it is as full of ceremony as the ancient Church of Rome, and even more so. This teaches us that ceremony is a concrete expression of thought, and it has suited the masses better than a religion of thought alone.
In the temple of Krishna there is an image of Krishna lying in a cradle. Women who go there for worship will sing lullabies in a prayerful attitude. Then in the same temple there is an image of Krishna grown up, and with him the image of Radha, his consort. Men and women will go there and worship both. They will take flowers and sandalwood and a few grains of rice, in order to make an offering to the god. Then there is an image of Krishna with a sword, cutting off the head of Kamsa, the monster-man. There are also images of Krishna driving the chariot of Arjuna, the exiled Pandava prince, on his way to wage war against the Kurus, the rulers of the time.
At first sight it surprises a stranger to think that God is worshipped in the form of a man, and that God is considered small enough to be rocked in a cradle; that God Most High should be pictured standing with his wife; or going to war, is something which any kind-hearted person would abhor. But to a Sufi it gives a different impression, since he sees God in every form. First, he says that if the worshipper cultivates his patience by standing, in joy or trouble, before a heedless god of stone that never answers or stretches out a helping hand, he will prove to be a steady worshipper of the true God; he will not fail, as many do when they see no help coming from God, and who then begin to disbelieve or at least to doubt His existence. The Sufi thinks that when God is all and in all, what does it matter if one person looks at heaven and the other looks at earth? To him both are looking at the same thing.
In ancient times, many thought that spirituality meant being alone in a forest; this thought is dispelled by seeing Krishna and Radha together, thus showing that both mean God, not one alone.
Many people today ask why, if there is a God, should
wars and disasters take place. And many give up their belief
when they think more about it. The image of Krishna with
a sword, going to war, shows that God who is in heaven,
and who is most kind, is yet the same God who stands with
a sword in his hand; that there is no name, no form, no
place, no occupation, which is devoid of God. It is a lesson
that we should recognize God in all, instead of limiting
Him only to the good and keeping Him away from what we call
evil; for this contradicts the saying: 'In God we live and
move and have our being.'