The Ten Avataras 8

A Psychological Study of the Evolution of Humankind

Swami Satyadharma Saraswati


Sri Krishna is undoubtedly the most interesting of all the incarnations of Lord Vishnu because of the numerous legends connected with his life. He was a dynamic avatara who lived a complete life in every sense, and yet was totally attuned to the supreme consciousness from birth till death. Every aspect of his life and deeds was symbolic of the highest truth.

The word Krishna means ‘dark’, shyam, indicating supreme consciousness, in the sense that it remains unseen and unknown by those who are blinded by material attachments. Krishna is depicted as blue, neela, in colour and dressed in yellow garments. Blue is associated with the sky and yellow with earth. Hence the blue form of Krishna clothed in yellow suggests the descent of infinite consciousness to earth to play in his finite form. In his life Krishna shows that although the infinite being seems to be limited by human form, it is ever free and unconditioned. The pure self, being subtler than matter, is neither affected nor bound by the body and mind.

The advent of Krishna took place around the second millennia BC and represents the dominion of buddhi over manas, higher mind over lower mind. Krishna is said to be the first poorna or complete avatara, bringing down with him the full potential of divinity. The previous avataras, including Ramachandra, were all considered as partial emanations of divinity. This indicates that during the period of Krishna, the development of human consciousness reached its full potential. Krishna came to point out the direction for developing this potential and to prepare a path for the future conscious evolution of humankind.

Krishna was not an advocate of renunciation and austerity, but spoke liberally about the transformation of individual consciousness within the context of daily life while carrying out one’s duties. He said that one should aim to experience the superconscious state while living in the world by dedicating one’s actions to the Lord. The essence of his teachings was: “See Me in everything. Surrender yourself to Me. Do all actions for My sake. Cut off all sorts of attachments. Have perfect unswerving devotion to me. Sing my glories.” And this was the example he himself gave throughout his life.

While Lord Rama was Maryada Purushottam, the ideal man, Lord Krishna was Lila Purushottam, the sportive form of God, as well as Yogeshwara, the Lord of Yoga. Right from birth, Krishna proved himself to be an adept at all roles. Even in infancy, his yogic powers became evident and were further revealed throughout the different stages of his life. He was a man of action, a history maker, a righter of wrongs, an undaunted warrior, a farseeing statesman and a wise diplomat. He was a well-meaning advisor to those who sought his counsel, always able to advise exactly what one’s duty in life should be.

Sri Krishna was also a great revolutionary, who could rise to any occasion to meet any challenge facing him. He stood for justice and righteousness above all personal and petty considerations. His policy was to defend the oppressed from the oppressor. He was a man of knowledge, an embodiment of selfless action and a world teacher. He combined in his life all that is best, highest, purest, most noble, sublime and grand. Before the gopis of Vrindavan he appeared as the Lord of love and beauty, before Kamsa as the Lord of death, before kings as Samrat, the king of kings, before sages and yogis as Parabrahman, the supreme reality.

Most people assume that Sri Krishna led an ideal and blissful life, due to his childhood stories and princely associations. However, if one looks objectively at the events of his life, it becomes evident that this was not so. Krishna was not born in a home amidst comfort and security, but in a prison where his parents had undergone tremendous suffering for many years. In his early childhood numerous attempts were made on his life by his despotic maternal uncle, Kamsa, who had usurped the throne of his grandfather, Ugrasena. Later, when Krishna was barely twelve- years-old, circumstances forced him to enter into mortal combat with Kamsa, from which he emerged victorious. This so enraged the monarch Jarasandha, father-in-law of Kamsa, that he besieged Mathura seventeen times. Each time Krishna had to repel the superior forces of Jarasandha and then rebuild the city.

Finally he grew tired of this constant warfare and decamped to Dwaraka with most of his kith and kin. There he started all over again to build up a fortified city. When Dwaraka became established and prosperous, all the third rate relatives and friends remaining in Mathura heard about it and wanted to come and take up positions. Krishna found it difficult to refuse them, so he allowed them to come. But their arrival brought unending conflict and chaos, and marked the downfall of Dwaraka. Those Yadavas who had stayed behind and came later had a negative influence. They never wanted to work and carried on drinking, carousing and disturbing the harmony of the newly built city.

When Krishna realised that he would not be able to control his relations any longer, he left the affairs of the city in their hands and went to Hastinapur to join his cousins. At Hastinapur he found the Pandavas deeply embroiled in disputes with the Kauravas, who were plotting to destroy them. There he tried to support the Pandavas, but it was all to no avail. They were tricked and exiled to the forest for fourteen years. Krishna accompanied the Pandavas during this period of travail and suffering. After the exile had ended, again there was dispute. The Pandavas requested a territory upon which to start their lives anew, but the Kauravas refused to give them even one foot of land. Sri Krishna acted as an intermediary and tried to bring about an acceptable compromise, but Duryodhana was adamant that if the Pandavas wanted any land they would have to fight for it.

In order to resolve this dispute, the great Mahabharata war took place. At the onset of the war, both sides were lined up on the battlefield of Kurukshetra awaiting orders. When Arjuna looked out over the sea of familiar faces of all his kith and kin, he suddenly lost heart and decided to withdraw from the battle. At that time Krishna, who had entered the battle indirectly as Arjuna’s charioteer, spent the whole night imparting the teachings of yoga to him on the battlefield in order to inspire him to ‘arise, perform his duty and fight’. Ultimately, the Pandavas, guided by Sri Krishna, emerged from the battle victorious. But again the victory was turned into a tragedy because both the Kaurava and Pandava clans were nearly wiped out by the extensive fighting. In the end, only the five Pandava brothers survived. So there were no victory celebrations because no one was left to celebrate.

After the war, as many years had elapsed, Krishna decided to return to Dwaraka. There he found the situation had worsened. Dwaraka seemed to be under a dark cloud of ill omen. The Yadavas were continually quarrelling amongst themselves on account of petty jealousies and a civil war broke out. Amidst the strife, they laid waste to the city and destroyed themselves. Finally, when only a handful of Yadavas remained living, mostly disabled, maimed and destitute, Krishna sent a message to Arjuna saying, “Dwaraka needs help. If you have any social welfare service, please send someone here, as I am leaving.” Then Sri Krishna walked out into the jungle, thinking that at least there he would find some peace. While sleeping under a tree in the afternoon, however, a hunter saw his heels sticking out amongst the shrubs. Mistaking them for a nest of birds, he shot an arrow tipped with poison into Krishna’s foot and the Lord died there alone at the age of 125 years.

Although faced with continual catastrophes from birth to death, Sri Krishna never succumbed to anguish or despair. If similar events were to occur in the life of others, they would die of heartbreak and depression. However, the greatness of Krishna was that he rose above the joys and sorrows of life. He always remained positive and unaffected by adversities. Being ever established in higher consciousness, he lived in the world yet above it, like a lotus leaf on the water. These qualities make Krishna one of the most endearing and enchanting personalities in Indian literature.

Sri Krishna not only lived the divine life, he brought that way of life to the ordinary person. He represents the advent of buddhi or higher mind in the world; the influence of the higher mind on the lower mind within the sphere of mundane life. He added a higher dimension of joy and brilliance to the routine activities of daily life, whether in family, social, political or economic areas, and even at the war front. Thus he stands out as one of the greatest and most inspiring expressions of divinity that have ever manifested amongst humankind.

Krishna’s life story is told in the Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana. His main teachings are found in the Bhagavad Gita, which expounds the philosophy of yoga in eighteen chapters. In this text, which is still read and respected today by millions of spiritual seekers around the world, he emphasises the teachings of karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga as a means of developing higher consciousness and communion with God. It is also in the Bhagavad Gita that Krishna proclaims, “Whenever dharma declines in the world and adharma prevails, I shall come again and again.”

Continued in the next issue