Tackling Distresses: The Vrindavan Way
By Gauranga Darshan Das
Lord Kṛṣṇa’s associates in Vrindavan teach us by example a wonderful ‘de-stress’ mechanism to deal with ‘distresses’, big and small.
Disturbances make their presence felt everywhere in this world. Even the holy land of Vraja, ornamented with Lord Kṛṣṇa’s childhood pastimes, is no exception. Fatal ambushes launched by bloodthirsty tyrants desirous of taking little Kṛṣṇa’s life away was an ‘ordinary’ day in Vraja. The demons constantly endeavored to shatter the ‘peace’ of Vraja and its residents into ‘pieces.’ How, then, did the Vrajavāsis deal with all these demoniac intrusions and other natural turbulences?
Lord Kṛṣṇa resided in Gokul Mahavan until He turned three years and four months old’. When Kṛṣṇa was barely three days old, a great Rākṣasī named Putanā tried killing Him by feeding Him her poisoned milk. Then, another demon named Śakaṭāsura entered a handcart only to crush Kṛṣṇa when He was only three months old. Yet, at the age of one, a demon named Tṛnāvarta appeared in the form of a whirlwind. Blinding the Vrijavāsis by creating a dust-spitting tornado, dense darkness, and unbearable sound, Tṛnāvarta took hold of Kṛṣṇa and soared through the skies at an altitude of 800,000 miles above the earth.
Countless demons like these tried harming Kṛṣṇa, but were made to rest in peace in the end! In fact, the exciting timetables for each day in Vrindavan consisted of a slot dedicated to demon visits. Kṛṣṇa would exchange ‘pleasantries’ with such ‘visitors,” but at the end of each day, He would have them bite the dust of Vrindavan.
Once, Mother Yaśodā tied Kṛṣṇa with the rope of her love to a wooden grinding mortar, rewarding Kṛṣṇa for His unparalleled mischief. Kṛṣṇa dragged the mortar through two huge Arjuna trees, which then came down to the ground with a thud. This sound caused worry in the hearts of the cowherd community, for they couldn’t imagine the outcome of the trees falling on Kṛṣṇa.
This is evidence enough to indicate the inevitability of dangers in this world. But is it necessary to invite danger?
Well, it rains everywhere in the monsoons, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take an umbrella to protect ourselves, right?! Similarly, calamities are common. Yet we must take precautionary measures to avoid them, as much as far as we can. For that is exactly what the Vrajavāsis did.
ATTEMPTS TO EVADE DANGER
The leaders of the gopas had an extensive meeting discussing the safety of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma. Concluding that Gokul Mahavan was infested with numerous demons and evil forces and considering the protection of the cowherd community to be of paramount importance, they decided to relocate to Vrindavan.
As soon as they settled in Vṛndāvana, Kṛṣṇa was given the charge of calves. Kṛṣṇa was considered old enough only to tend calves in the nearby forest alongside little boys of His age. The elders were confident of the safety that Vrindavan housed. After all, such migration was solely carried out to ensure that Kṛṣṇa would remain ‘unharmed.’ Unfortunately, this didn’t stop the demons from launching further attacks!
A demon named Vatsāsura appeared in the form of an innocent calf to kill Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa noticed this deception and caught the so-called calf by his hind legs, twirling him. Then, he threw Vatsāsura on a tree. The gopas enjoyed the fruits that fell off the tree due to the demons’ weight.
Almost in quick succession, another demon named Bakāsura appeared in the form of a crane and swallowed Kṛṣṇa. This scene caused the gopas and Balarāma to faint. Several devatās like Brahmā, Śiva, Indra, Vāyu, Agni, and others appeared to kill Bakāsura but were unsuccessful. Meanwhile, Kṛṣṇa within the gullet of Bakāsura appeared like a fireball, forcing Bakāsura to spit Him out instantly. Kṛṣṇa then parted the beak of Bakāsura and nonchalantly killed the demon.
This was the nature of demons, they took innocent forms like calves, cranes, motherly ladies, and cowherd boys to attack Kṛṣṇa. However, there was a complete mismatch between their attire and attitude. The attire appeared pure, but the attitude was impure and malicious.
Thus, demoniac invasions continued even after the Kṛṣṇa and the cowherds moved into Vrindavan. After all, this material world is a place of tribulations. There is no relaxation in this world. No matter where we are. Be it America, London, or India, calamities are common. Dangers and distresses exist! But are the devotees too subject to them?
PEACE AMIDST CHAOS
In the evenings, Kṛṣṇa, along with His friends, would return home after spending the day in Vrindavan’s forests. Then, with sheer excitement mixed with natural innocence and appreciation for Kṛṣṇa, the gopas would begin narrating Kṛṣṇa’s heroic deeds to the elders of their house. The elderly gopas headed by Nanda Mahārāja used to listen to the boys attentively and would be wonderstruck upon hearing about Kṛṣṇa’s heartening adventures of despatching deadly demons.
A change in location from Gokul-Mahavan to Vṛndāvana didn’t really address the impending peril. But, absorption in the loving narrations of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes overwhelmed the Vrajavāsis with an unparalleled bliss that made their distresses practically melt away. Would a danger still be called a danger although the endangered remains unaffected by it?! That’s not possible, right?
Getting to this stage is what the Śrīmad Bhagavatam (10.11.58) unravels.
iti nandādayo gopāḥ
kurvanto ramamāṇāś ca
“In this way, all the cowherd men, headed by Nanda Mahārāja, enjoyed topics about the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma with great transcendental pleasure, and they could not even perceive material tribulations.”
The younger gopas, who witnessed Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes of killing the demons, narrated these pastimes to the elder gopas. The elder gopas headed by Nanda Mahārāja heard and relished those pastimes. Simply by discussing Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes regularly and joyously, the cowherd community did not experience material tribulations.
The Vrajavāsis experienced great peace and spiritual bliss amidst great chaos due to their absorption in Kṛṣṇa-centred discussions. Similarly, when we absorb our minds in the pastimes and qualities of Kṛṣṇa, in the company of other devotees, we will be protected from all tribulations in this material world.
The following Bhagavatam shloka (1.6.34) is yet another proof for this:
etad dhy atura-cittanam
“It is personally experienced by me that those who are always full of cares and anxieties due to desiring contact of the senses with their objects can cross the ocean of nescience on a most suitable boat—the constant chanting of the transcendental activities of the Personality of Godhead.”
INEVITABLE BUT NOT UNAVOIDABLE
In the purport to the previous sloka (10.11.58), Srila Prabhupada writes, “Here is an instruction about the result of studying or discussing the krsna-lilas that appear in Srimad-Bhagavatam… Nanda Maharaja and Yasoda in Vrindavan appeared like ordinary persons of this material world, but they never felt the tribulations of this world, although they sometimes met many dangerous situations created by the demons. This is a practical example. If we follow in the footsteps of Nanda Mahäräja and the gopas, we can all be happy simply by discussing the activities of Krsna.”
Just like the ripples on a flowing river never come to an end, difficulties in this material world never cease. Frigid cold in the winters, piercing sunshine during summers, a mosquito bite, or trouble from another living being, all of these are not under the control of any mere mortal. We may employ countermeasures to safeguard ourselves from the adhyātmika, adhidaivika, and adhibhautika miseries of this material world, but we wouldn’t be able to eradicate them altogether from our lives, for they are ceaseless. Still, there’s no reason for lamentation because we have the solution, and here it is for you to apply.
“We can equip our intelligence with scriptural wisdom, nourish our hearts with the sweetness of Krishna’s pastimes, focus our minds on Krishna’s holy names, and engage our senses in Krishna’s services, and thus remain unaffected by the temptations and tribulations in this material world.”
A life with its nucleus made up of the principles depicted by the pastimes of the Bhagavatam is a life free of troubles and temptations. Therefore Srila Prabhupada further comments, “Vyasadeva has given this literature so that everyone may understand one’s transcendental position simply by discussing bhagavata-katha. Even at the present moment, everyone everywhere can be happy and free from material tribulations by following Srimad-Bhagavatam. There is no need for austerities and penances, which in this age are very difficult to perform. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has therefore declared, sarvatma-snapanam param vijayate sri-krsna-sankirtanam. Through our Krsna consciousness movement, we are trying to distribute Srimad-Bhagavatam so that anyone in any part of the world can be absorbed in the Krsna consciousness movement by chanting and hearing about the activities of Krsna and be free from all material tribulations.”
We certainly cannot avoid the calamities that life offers, but we can choose to remain unaffected by those calamities by armouring ourselves with the “Vrindavan-way” of tackling distresses.
Easier said (or maybe read!) than done, isn’t it? So how can I stay unaffected by the calamities simply by hearing and speaking Krsna’s pastimes, like the Vrajavasis? If this is bothering you, here are a few handy tips that help us move in this direction.
A SPIRITUAL SKYRIDE
Perspective: A person walking in the middle of a road would see a twenty-story building as gigantic, but to a person in an aircraft, even huge skyscrapers, pathways, roads, rivers, and lakes appear to be tiny. Similarly, when we are absorbed in material consciousness, material problems seem to be colossal. But when we begin traveling in an airship made of spiritual intelligence and Krsna consciousness, fuelled by scriptures like the Gita and the Bhagavatam, material calamities begin to appear insignificant and minuscule.
Identity: When we overly identify ourselves with external designations like men, women, Indians, Americans, teachers, students, doctors, corporates, clerks, and so on and so forth, we become overwhelmed with happiness and distress pertaining to those identities. All these identities are impermanent. A doctor may become a patient the next day, and a kṣatriya may be born as a brāhmaṇa in the next life. But we do have a permanent identity beyond these fleeting identities. We are all amshas, servants, and lovers of Lord Krsna (BG 15.7). When we identify ourselves as servants of the Lord and absorb ourselves in His names, pastimes, qualities, and services, then the problems caused by other identities that we have assumed are all nullified.
Consciousness: Scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita and Srimad Bhagavatam remind us of our original identities as lovers of God. Being amshas of God, we are spiritual in nature. But, somehow, we are engaged in material consciousness, encaged in the material world, and thus experience material distresses. Understanding this, let’s endeavor to rise above impure material consciousness and situate ourselves in pure spiritual consciousness. This would be possible only by incessantly hearing Krsna’s pastimes, as exemplified by the Vraja-vasis. Regular nourishment from spiritual discussions about Lord Hari (hari caryanuvarnanam) will shield us from the obstacles and indulgences in this world and thus shape our consciousness spiritually.
Attitude: Spiritual discussions in line with the Vraja-vasis, must be carried out in an appropriate mood. While hearing, reading, or discussing the pastimes of the Lord, the mood shouldn’t be that of an “information-seeker” rather, it should be that of a “transformation-seeker.” Information-seeking involves knowing things, but transformation-seeking involves making an honest attempt to apply the teachings one has learned practically.
Absorption: The degree of transformation one experiences is proportional to the degree of absorption in the process of hearing. Until we internalize, absorb, and realize these principles, we can’t really say that we’ve capitalized. Therefore, we shouldn’t simply become passive information collectors or hearers. Instead, we should hear, internalize and action our hearings. That will lead to great spiritual bliss that would enable us to transcend material tribulations. Krsna says:
kathayantaś ca māṁ nityaṁ
tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca
“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.” (BG 10.9)
Devotees are those who constantly absorb their minds in the pastimes of Kåñëa, and the best example of that are the Vrajaväsis. Absorption in spiritual discussions of the Lord’s näma, rupa, guëa, and lélas, in the association of devotees makes one blissfully contented and transcendental to the unending material tribulations. Therefore, let us shelter ourselves from ‘distresses’, big and small, by using our ‘de-stress’ mechanism that works best the ‘Vrndavana Way’!
Gauranga Darshan Das (www.gaurangadarshan.com), a disciple of His Holiness Radhanatah Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He is the author of 27 books including the Subodhini series of study guides, children’s books like the Bhagavatam Tales, and other self-enrichment books. He regularly conducts online and residential scriptural courses for both children and adults. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.
Note: This article is based on Çrémad Bhägavatam Tenth Canto Chapters 6-11, and the commentaries of Çréla Prabhupäda, Çréla Viçvanätha Cakravarti, and Çréla Jéva Gosvämi for those chapters. Some details of Kåñëa’s pastimes are also taken from Änanda Våndävana Campu, Gopäla Campu, Hari Vaàça and Garga-saàhita.