On allegory

24 06 2021

On one of my first visits to a Hare Krishna temple, I asked a senior devotee, “Why does Krishna play the flute?” I think I may have even asked what the flute “means”. I think I was digging for an answer like, “It has five holes representing the five senses,” or some other esoteric answer. Instead, the answer I was given was, “Because He likes it.” Krishna plays the flute because He likes playing the flute, He calls His cows with the flute, He enchants the gopis with it, and so on.

That’s not all, but it’s most of it. I just finished Sanatana Goswami’s Sri Brihad Bhagavatamrita and among the last reflections on the glories of Goloka Vrindavan, Krishna’s celestial abode, there is a passage about the gopis envying the flute since it is constantly absorbing the nectar from Krishna’s lips. There is even a praise of the reeds that gave the flute birth and the River Yamuna that nourished the flute to its maturity. This is no mere anthropomorphizing of an inanimate object: the flute, like all paraphernalia associated with Krishna is “alive,” or rather the entire spiritual world is sac-cid-ananda vigraha: an eternal body full of consciousness and bliss. Krishna’s flute is not an inert object, but is aware and receives great pleasure from such an intimate association with Krishna. And Krishna relishes the gopis’ jealousy towards the flute, as well as their fitful attempts to take it away from Him out of spite. So we can say there are three energies or shaktis working between the spiritual and material worlds: the internal potency which I have mentioned above in the spiritual world, the marginal potency (living souls stuck between the material and spiritual world), and the external potency (inert matter). That’s a very simplified description of reality in the Hare Krishna mind.

Western religious thinking inherited from Neoplatonism the idea that things must start with the simple from which they evolve into the complex, only to return to the simple. God is simple, God is not a composite, and God does not have a body. The idea comes from living organisms as we experience them. Humans as we see them start out small and simple in their mothers’ wombs, grow into complex persons as they emerge from womb into fully formed human beings, and then disintegrate back into something simple again at death. This cycle is echoed in the Neoplatonic One out of which proceeds all complex composite entities: bacteria, trees, dogs, humans, angels, demigods, etc. But as these are complex, they break down again and revert to a primordial soup of simplicity. The goal is to stop the cycle and ascend to a realm of pure simplicity, pure light, where there is no change and no division. In reality, this is just inverted materialism. You can’t get to an actual idea of the spiritual from this.

The actual transcendent is not “beyond words,” it is something that contains all words and is their origin. Philosophical concepts in Vaishnavism are not for the spiritual, but for carnal people. They’re a crutch for people still attached to the material form of life. It’s not that Krishna’s name, form, quality, pastimes, entourage, and paraphernalia are indicative of something more transcendent: they are the transcendent, and everything else in an allegory for them. Where did mathematics come from, or the music of the spheres in the ancient Pythagorean doctrines? From the rasa lila, Krishna’s amorous dance with the gopis. Krsna-lila is the reality, everything else is the distorted dream-like image which is the product both of our material desires and Krishna’s illusory energy (maya). The material world is the symbol: baby Krishna drinking from the breast of mother Yasoda is the reality.

The Srimad Bhagavatam thus has a lot of “weird” passages, but there is nothing really to read into them. Above is represented the slaying of the demon Putana by the newborn Krishna. Putana came in disguise as a normal beautiful woman to offer Krishna her poisoned breast to kill the child. Instead, baby Krishna sucked the life out of her and she reverted to her monstrous form: a gigantic demon seven miles tall. Seven miles? Seems pretty far out. But again, that is the eternal lila that is going on now in numerous material universes. There is nothing else to “grab onto,” there is no deeper allegorical meaning to it. Krishna’s body, abode, and pastimes are eternal, and ours are not. Our experiences of this world can’t offer us any particular clarity on this, because we’re basically in a nightmare, and there’s no sense trying to apply nightmare logic to the daytime world.

The goal of Krishna consciousness is to return us to our eternal relationship with Krishna, our identity that we have when we’re awake, and not the one we have nightmare after nightmare, material life after life. In Kali Yuga, the primary means to develop that relationship again, the yuga dharma, is harinam sankirtan, the loud and public chanting of the Lord’s names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. This isn’t just the means to get “back to reality,” it is the only thing in this dream-state, this nightmare, that is real. Everything else is transitory and passing away, like a dream.