There is a popular saying, Shreyáḿsi bahuvighnáni [“The path of spiritual excellence is strewn with numerous obstacles”]. When one sets out to complete a great task, innumerable difficulties must be confronted. The greater the task, the mightier the obstacles. That is why the person who wants to perform noble deeds must be ready to face opposition from the very outset. Those who are not prepared for these mighty obstacles begin to falter and ultimately surrender in the face of opposition. Thus it is aptly said:
Nindantu niitinipuńáh yadi vá stuvantu
Lakśmii samávishatu grhaḿ gacchatu vá yatheśt́am;
Adyaeva marańamastu yagántare vá
Nyáyát pathah praticalanti padaḿ na dhiiráh.
“Let those well-versed in ethics criticize me or praise me, as they so desire; let Lakśmii, the goddess of wealth, either be gracious enough (because of my activities) to reside in my house, or, if she prefers, go elsewhere; let death visit me today or decades later. It makes little difference to me. Wise people will never withdraw from the path of ideology, the path which they accept as their ideal.”
Prárabhyate na khalu vighnabhayena niicaeh;
Prárabhya vighnavihatáh viramanti madhyáh.
Prárabhya uttamáh janáh na parityajanti.
“Inferior people do not even start any noble activity because of the mere anticipation of opposition. Mediocre people no doubt start their work, but, when confronted with opposition, leave it unfinished. The best type of people never leave any work unfinished. Even if they are confronted with enormous difficulties at every step, they persist until the work is successfully completed.”
Hence the popular saying Shreyáḿsi bahuvighnáni.
Our topic of discussion was Vraja Krśńa and Párthasárathi Krśńa – the same Krśńa playing two distinctly different roles. Párthasárathi’s was a very tough role. The opposition was tremendous, as mountain-high as the goal was great.
In prehistoric times people were no better than animals. There was no difference between primitive humans living in caves and ape-men and proto-apes living in caves. But one branch of primitive humans made significant advances in knowledge and intellect. The other branches, moving at their normal speed, failed to keep pace with the accelerated movement of that branch, so they trailed far behind. Apes could not evolve beyond the animal stage, whereas humans felt that they were something new, something different, from other species.
While advancing, human beings gradually learned how to cultivate land and build houses, but still retained some animal traits. For example, animals and monkeys would dance, peacocks would dance, and those primitive humans would also dance. However, whereas animals continued to eat their food raw, humans gradually learned how to roast and otherwise cook their food.
It was Lord Shiva who trained those ancient humans – who were neither fully human nor completely animal – to live a harmonious and systematic life. Since those people liked to dance, Shiva taught them the art of dancing. He introduced a fixed system in every sphere of life. Shiva observed that the people of His age were contemplative, so He formulated a particular discipline to help them attain psychic progress and spiritual elevation. He introduced a rhythm and a systematic lifestyle into the lives of those primitive people and showed them the path that leads towards subtlety. The highest and greatest contribution of Lord Shiva was that He helped develop every aspect of human life and guided human beings from the animal stage to the domain of subtlety. That tradition has continued for many thousands of years.
However, that was not enough for human society. Society had not yet realized the need or significance of beautiful collective living. It was an imperative necessity for people to feel, to realize, that they needed to build a society which guaranteed the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, education and medical treatment to all its members. It was essential for those advancing along the paths of their individual lives to realize that others should have equal opportunities to follow the same broad highway of morality and spirituality in collective life. Otherwise, with the degeneration of the collectivity, the degeneration of the individual is inevitable.
The kingdoms of Anga, Banga, Kalinga, Saurastra, Magadha, etc., had small populations. If any problem of unprecedented magnitude were ever to confront them, they would be unable to grapple with it individually, and could only succeed in overcoming it if they formed a united front. Teaching society this lesson was the onerous responsibility of Krśńa, and to make the lesson crystal clear to His contemporaries, He had no other choice but to assume the role of Párthasárathi.
This was a prodigious task, beset with difficulties and obstacles. Society in those days, the entire ancient India, was fragmented into a large number of small kingdoms. Krśńa fervently hoped that all the petty kingdoms would unite and construct a well-knit society, a stable, greater India. In a strong and united India, coordinated cooperation among the federated units would bring stability to socio-economic life and improvement in the moral standard, enabling people to progress spiritually. His mission extended from individuals to the collectivity. Such was the aspiration of Krśńa.
The role of Vraja Krśńa was to guide people along the path of bhakti [devotion]. He was the very embodiment of softness and sweetness, never showing the severity needed in battle. Of course, struggle was present, but the primary factor was devotion. To guide people along the devotional path was the main theme, and the realization they received as a result was aparokśa anubhúti [direct experience]. But in the case of Párthasárathi Krśńa, the realization they received was both direct and indirect. For instance, people developed superior intellect. They built a happy and prosperous society, and cultivated higher knowledge, whereby they could determine the dos and don’ts of social life. They learned the secrets of action by cultivating the science of yoga and learning the practical process for finishing any action adroitly. These lessons fall within the scope of parokśa anubhúti [indirect experience]. Párthasárathi Krśńa showed humanity the path of knowledge which is in itself an invaluable aid for aparokśa anubhúti. Likewise, He demonstrated the art of karma yoga, which is an aspect of parokśa anubhúti, yet a most valuable aid for aparokśa ánubhúti. He also taught sharańágati [the cult of surrender] to enable people to surrender to Parama Puruśa and come within His supreme shelter. This is the stage where parokśa and aparokśa anubhúti become one.
The Foremost Difference
Vraja Krśńa showed humanity the way to attain aparokśa anubhúti. Jiivas [unit beings] come closest to Parama Puruśa through devotion, through sweet love for Him (Rádhá bháva). Vraja Krśńa taught His devotees that they must realize the sweetness of the world – for everything in this world is sweet – and make it their own through love. Párthasárathi, on the other hand, said that although everything in this world is sweet, people have to taste that supreme sweetness through severity, harshness, struggle and bitterness. Struggle in life is inevitable. This is the first and foremost difference between the two roles of Krśńa. The one wished to lead humanity to the highest realization through aparokśa anubhúti, while the other wished to lead humanity to that highest state of human excellence first through parokśa anubhúti and only then through aparokśa anubhúti. The difference is very vast indeed. The resoluteness, the firmness, that is found in Párthasárathi Krśńa is conspicuously absent in Vraja Krśńa. Similarly, virtues that are found in Vraja Krśńa are totally absent in Párthasárathi Krśńa. Párthasárathi Krśńa is ever ready to take up arms for the protection of those who have come under His shelter, whereas Vraja Krśńa protected His followers with softness and charming sweetness. He never exhibited His toughness, His firmness, to anyone.
Can anyone say which is the greater of the two? My reply is this: the question of who is superior or inferior does not arise at all; it is irrelevant. The fact is that Krśńa had to assume different roles out of necessity. In one role, He converted an ordinary community of people into a God-loving and highly devotional group, and in the other role, He goaded that same community to greater and nobler deeds, and established them in the highest excellence of human glory. Both roles were equally necessary then and both are necessary even today.
31 August 1980, Calcutta