(Editor's Note: This essay is one of the submissions received for the Mahabharata Immersion Workshop Essay Competition conducted by Indic Academy and Indic Today. The essay was submitted by Kavita Krishna and it received a honourable mention from the judges. )
Be it in exhibiting childish pranks natural to every child like stealing butter, or in expressing sensuality as an adolescent, or reveling in beauty and music as a young adult, or transforming into a super duper king with an undefeatable army and a dashing diplomat who could not swing events to his favour, yet could not help earning everyone’s respect and adoration, to finally closing the grand act as a world teacher who shows us all how to live up to our highest potential via the Bhagavad Geeta, this is Krishna; World’s First Life-Coach.
The word Krishna etymologically means ‘that which attracts’. What can attract a human more than moksha? After all each one of us is in the process of finding happiness – either through artha or kaama or dharma - not appreciating the simple fact that we are in fact seeking, in and through all our endeavours, freedom from such incessant seeking. We seek freedom from pain, sorrow, insecurity and every temporary good. We want infinite happiness, always, forever. Who better to coach us on how to gain this but our very own Gopala?
He attracts us with his winsome smile first, his mandahaasa. Krishna identifies with the spirit consciousness at all times, and not with the body principle, hence he is always in aananda.
He then shows us how to live in the here and now, a quick glance at his posture tribhanga, bent at three joints, reveals his playful attitude vis-a-vis the world. He embodies one’s ability to bend, to go forward, backward, sideward, to sidestep, to escape. Despite being a gvaala he is happy to command, despite being a raaja he is happy to dance, sing, and enjoy life. Krishna embodies revelry with life, he is not fixated on –isms nor can he be boxed into set predictable patterns.
His peetaambara dhoti, the mayura pankha adorning his hair, kasturi tilakam on his shining forehead, vaijayanti maala garlanding his neck and chest…from him we learn how the physical being which houses the aatma is not to be neglected even if perishable. Giving importance to beauty and harmony, colour and form, aesthetics and adornment keeps us in a joyous place. Especially, when the world around us gets dark, we can take solace in the brightness of our attire, our raiments, and put our best step forward. Krishna’s ornaments that he wears and enjoys, from his yellow silk dhoti, to his flute, to his peacock feather, all are his vibhutis, glories he can enjoy, and just as easily do without, these are his preferences but he is not bound to them. Krishna coaches us on how to establish our own fashion....our own identity...not to shy away from expressing who we are, he is a man yet unashamed and unembarrassed to explore his feminine tendencies, he is a fashion icon who expects beauty from us in all our actions and thoughts as well.
Krishna then goes on to instruct via seven hundred verses on the nature of the human. On how to reach one’s greatest potential; one’s highest Self. Krishna spouts an oral road-map and manual which one could call, ‘From Man to Superman’, in the midst of 18 akshauhinis ready to annihilate one another! If this is not an indication of great managerial and leadership qualities, then what is? Who among us can keep our calm when calamity strikes, and who among us can respond with compassion and patience to repeated queries, to help another realize who he really is?
Krishna is called ‘poorNaavataara’ for a reason. In him are evident all the sixty four arts, from music, to dance, to aesthetics, to diplomacy, to statesmanship et al. He is a house-holder with a harem, but is looked upon as a brahmachaari, as he is not attached to any of his beautiful brides. During raas he multiplies himself so that he can dance with each and every Gopi, yet he has no dependency, not even on Radha. His raas is less of a dance more of a leela, a play to showcase this non-attachment.
Krishna is not afraid to escape or run away, if by doing so he saves thousands of lives. As raNcchoD, he displays certain strength of character which is not hostage to other’s comments, opinions and validation. Once he is convinced that he is on the path of dharma he has no hesitation in being called a coward, even if it means that this name is now etched on him forever in history; “coward”!
He is also a philosopher who has condensed the essence of the Upanishads into the Bhagavad Geeta. He teaches without actually teaching, he encourages questioning and critical thinking. He exemplifies via his behavior and habits who he is, and encourages others to follow suit. Thus he is our first life-coach.
A coach or a leader has to embody what s/he preaches; forgiving hundred paapaas of Shishupala and finally slaying him, keeping his word and coming to Draupadi's aide when she needed him the most, all the while challenging status quo, improving upon status quo as one sees in the Indra/ Govardhan mountain episode wherein he challenges the authority of Indra and shelters his people from Indra’s wrath by lifting up the mountain….it is essential that all the activists among us ponder over this point before upsetting the apple-cart. Are we offering any alternatives or are we just shaking things up, questioning for the sake of appearing radical and trendy? A coach brings out the best in us, gives us a daily routine or practice to follow per our ability and qualification, and observes our growth, our potential and encourages us to work accordingly. Krishna does all this and more in the Bhagavad Geeta.
Although Sri Krishna’s diplomatic effort, his raayabaaram failed, his attempts at convincing Duryodhana to hand over if not the whole kingdom at least five villages to Pandavas might have not resulted in anything, but his various attempts to prevent war at all costs earned him the admiration of many, the process itself is considered a must for any diplomat or international relations’ personnel. Krishna tries to talk sense with Duryodhana but some people can never change despite knowing what is right, what is good, what is dharma! Once it was clear that what drove Duryodhana was blind hate for his cousins and not just insecurity about his future or desire for a large kingdom, Krishna called his bluff and declared war.
Our smiling life-coach taught life-lessons to many others before and after he instructed Arjuna with the life-empowering plan of the Bhagavad Geeta. Bhagavatam is full of such stories and symbolisms which throw light on how Krishna teaches with each and every incident in his life. There was Sudama/ Kuchela whom he welcomed with love and respect as a long lost school friend into his palace and treated him with utmost respect. Showering his childhood mate with riches and unasked for gifts, showing us how to behave with those among us who are less fortunate, there was Uddhava another friend, whom he taught ‘Uddhava Geeta or Hamsa Geeta’ just before departing from this world, on how to achieve complete personal consciousness. He was also the first coach to his mother Devaki teaching her non-attachment, to his foster mother Yashoda whom he taught patience and acceptance of a precocious kid, to teaching Kamsa his uncle that no one is invincible except bhagawaan, teaching Satyabhama what devotion and loyalty really meant by conducting the tulaabhaaram wherein just one tulasi leaf kept on the balance with devotion by Rukmini outweighs all the wealth of Satyabhama, thus breaking the latter’s pride and arrogance.
Delving into Bhagavatam we see that in the world of male libido, masculine machismo and hyper-sexuality; real sexuality, sensuality and amorousness lies in surrendering oneself at the feet of one’s lover, as a man he had no inhibition in falling at his beloved Radha's feet. Reading Geeta Govindam one is in awe of such behavior, a chieftain’s son, a would-be king, revered by one and all pleading with Radha for a smile, for a look....apologizing....what does he coach us? Such profound grandiose love sees no barriers or hierarchies in gender. It is focused on the subject of its love above all.
Krishna does not hesitate to use cunning in dealing with certain elements of society, in observing such behavior we notice that in today’s world we cannot get by with being like Raama, not only a very high benchmark to aspire to, but also not the best attitude to confront scheming characters. Here we can easily emulate Krishna, who without letting go of dharma, shows us how to be pliable when needed, and also coaches us on how to study people’s psychology and use it for the greater good depending on the situation. By sticking to a straightforward method sometimes things don't get done. By asking Duryodhana to choose between the invincible Narayani Sena and Himself he was not just testing the faith that Duryodhana and Arjuna had in him, but also showing us how each time we pick dharma over adharma, dharma will win, each time we take bhagawaan into confidence bhagawaan will shower us with bountiful blessings.
By illustrating who wins in this war between dharma and adharma our coach shows us a mirror, the reality of things to come; stick to me, stick to dharma, says He, and you will win!
Whenever we are faced with confusion and doubt, when we are not sure of which road to take, Krishna says we must choose shreyas, the highest good and the path of dharma, tuning ourselves to eeshwara, we must tap into the source directly, once we identify with it, we are unstoppable. Our doubts will disappear and we will be able to perform all our duties and responsibilities with full vigour and focus. Since he is not a rigid man like Raama (embodiment of one who upholds dharma at all cost), Krishna attracts EVERYONE - why is that? Freedom from fear and insecurity nee moksha is every human’s secret desire, making us all into mumukshus, hence Krishna attracts so much....as he represents the ultimate truth, the aananda that comes from such a freedom.
Many a time during the Kurukshetra war Krishna saves Arjuna from near death, even as a charioteer who has sworn not to fight, he uses skill, smarts, life-lessons to bring victory to Arjuna. By pressing his foot lightly on the chariot so that the wheels sink in a bit and Karna's naagaastra does not lob off Arjuna’s head, to side-stepping Jayadrata's wrath by covering up the sun, to advising Yudhishtra to lie to Dronacharya regarding Ashwatthama’s death, to encouraging Arjuna to kill an unarmed Karna, there are innumerable incidents where Krishna acts in a way that might seem adharmik or unseemly when compared with Raama’s impeccable behavior especially in war.
This is precisely why Krishna is our coach and not Raama! Krishna urges us to deal with evil in an unorthodox manner, by following dharma in dealing with those who do not care for it or understand its nuances, we will be annihilated in no time. Krishna wants us to survive, he wants dharma to survive, he wants us to do good, but for that we must first be alive!! There are many who belittle Krishna as a war-monger but Krishna never encouraged war, when it became inevitable he taught us how to fight in it, to the best of our ability. And that is why he is our life-coach.
Krishna’s crowning glory is when he brings Arjuna between the two warring armies, especially before the venerable Bheeshma and his beloved aachaarya Drona, knowingly, not willing to spare Arjuna’s feelings, to test him, to push him a bit more, raising the bar to expose him to vulnerability....and yes! Arjuna does not disappoint, true to his human nature he loses all confidence and desire to fight when faced with the idea of killing his ‘own’ people. This is when Krishna resorts to teaching arguably the world’s first human resources manual.
The Song of the Lord, the poem with a profound message is all of eighteen chapters and is a conversation between Sri Krishna, now in his most glorious form of supreme coach and guide, friend and philosopher, and Arjuna, now despondent, unsure and totally lacking in confidence and direction. We can all identify with this weak and desperate Arjuna, can’t we? So many times in our lives we are loathe to carry on, not wanting to upset the status quo, not wanting to hurt our loved ones, or to disappoint someone we like, and we end up taking the easy way out… only to feel a niggling sense of loss, at not sticking to our principles, to what we felt was right…
Krishna clears all such ambiguity once and for all, in the three sections of karma, upaasana and dhyaana, with six chapters each, he steadily progresses from action oriented ‘can do’ items, to various ways one can focus and direct one’s energies to connect with the supreme consciousness, to finally showing us how we can actually become that sat chit aananda!
Starting with pancha mahaa yagna, wherein we give back to those who have made us who we are; our gurus, pitris, family, friends and nature, by sharing what we have with those around us, by participating in this grand scheme of things on a daily basis, we can be in touch with every being and express our attitude of gratitude, making us contributors rather than consumers. As Pujya Swamiji Dayananda Saraswatiji often said, the mark of being a mature individual is when one contributes more than one consumes!
Being prayerful and thankful will follow naturally when the above is taken care of, we will be grateful for all the wonderful things that happen to us, for all the normal daily unobserved incidents that shape us. We will develop eeshwaraarpaNa buddhi, and will be able to dedicate all that we think, say and do to bhagawaan. In a similar vein all that comes as a result of what we think, say and do we will accept as prasaada buddhi. Graduating from wanting sense gratification at all costs to doing what it takes, performing one’s duty with sincerity and vigour despite all odds is the next step, where our prejudices and preferences do not play any role in our decision making, where we are not invested in the results of our actions as much as in how we do something. We move slowly from the action part to the meditative part, we learn how to sit with ourselves, how to manage our thoughts, how to engineer our behavior to bloom to the best of our ability instead of cribbing, criticizing and whining about how unfair the world is, or how we have been victimized by one and all. This process puts us firmly in charge of our destiny and we can no longer play the victim card. It empowers us to take responsibility for all that which happens to us.
Finally, we are shown how we can become like Sri Krishna himself! Nay, how to become Sri Krishna himself. Inculcating the daivi sampat in us, qualities that make us better people, raising the sattva guNa – character traits that are God-like versus the natural normal asuri sampat, with its more tamasic or even rajasic characteristics. While sattva denotes knowledge and the path of learning and Brahman, rajas denotes action and tamas is indolence. Our endeavour at all times ought to be to act out of this higher impulse of sattva, increase our good behavior and ultimately to rise beyond even good and bad to become one with the Lord.
The Lord is a stand-in for the supreme consciousness of sat-chit-aananda, as per our First Coach, this is our reality, our right, and we ought to live in such a way that this grand reality is reflected in all that we think, say or do.
Om Tat Sat!
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