O Krishna, Lord of Hindustan, I sorrowed by the lonely Jumna river bank, where Thy flute-notes thrilled the air and led the lost calves to their homes. O Lotus of Love, musing on the sad absence of Thy delusion-dispelling eyes, I saw Thine invisible Spirit take form, frozen by my devotion’s frost.
— Paramhansa Yogananda (from Whispers from Eternity)
Many people on the yogic path often refer to some of India’s most well-known deities. In this post I share basic information on Krishna. In Hindu mythology, Krishna is said to have been an avatar, or incarnation of God, who lived sometime near the end of Descending Dwapara Yuga.
It is said that Krishna was born in a prison cell, where the evil king Kamsa put his parents. But soon after Krishna was born, the door miraculously opened, and Krishna’s father escaped with him and gave him to some cow herders who were staying nearby. Krishna grew up to slay the evil king and become a great and wise leader.
In his childhood, the stories say, he was a playful and mischevious cowherd boy with blue skin. Many of the stories about Krishna revolve around him playing with the gopis and gopas (cowherd girls and boys) who were actually great yogis. He is also known for being a beautiful flute player. The complete story of Krishna’s life can be found in a scripture called the Srimad Bhagavatam.
One story from Krishna’s childhood is from when he was a toddler. His adopted mother, Yashoda, was making butter, and Krishna, well-known for his love of butter, kept trying to eat it. After a while Yashoda decided to keep him from it by tying a rope around a post and the other end around his waist, but it was just a little too short.
She kept tying on more and more rope to the original one, but it was always just a couple of inches too short. Finally she realized what was happening and said to Krishna, “I realize now what I’ve done. You are an incarnation of God and nothing can bind you.”
She set the rope down and looked dejected. Krishna, though, feeling sorry for her, encouraged her to try again. That time it worked. The moral of this story is that God can only be found (caught) by a devotee’s love.
Another story is when Krishna was a young man and went for a walk with Radha, his main devotee among the gopis. As they walked, she started to feel proud that he was with her and preferred her above the others. She started to feel as if he belonged to her.
Suddenly he disappeared! She ran around sobbing and yelling for him, panicked that she could not find him. She fell to the ground and begged for him to return, saying that she realizes now that he belongs to everyone and loves all creation equally. Seeing that she had learned her lesson, Krishna reappears.
The most well known scripture on Krishna is the Bhagavad Gita, sometimes referred to as the “Hindu Bible.” The Gita takes place just as Krishna and his friend Arjuna are about to fight in a terrible war against many of Arjuna’s relatives.
Arjuna at first refuses to fight, since they are his family, but Krishna convinces him that it is his dharma to fight, meaning that in this case, it is the right thing. Most of the Gita is Krishna’s description of the different paths of yoga and how to follow them correctly.
Often Westerners wonder, “Is Krishna real? But he has blue skin and does impossible things, etc. etc.” At Ananda we view these stories as mainly metaphorical, although our guru Paramhansa Yogananda said that Krishna really is a historical figure and he was a great king. The childhood stories, however, are probably not historicly accurate.
As far as the devotee is concerned, this isn’t important. God is every form and no form, so He appears to us in whatever way we worship Him (or Her), and if we worship God as the child Krishna, that is how He will appear to us. Loving God in this form will also help us to develop the qualities of Krishna such as love for all, childlike innocence, and playfulness.
Next time you meditate, pray to Krishna, and ask him to instill his loving qualities in you. When you go about the rest of your day, imagine him there as a friend guiding you to do the right thing in every situation.
If Krishna does not appeal to you, think of someone who does. It is very difficult to love God as formless since we have forms ourselves and cannot identify with formlessness until we are very spiritually advanced.
The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Kriyananda
Sri Krishna Lila by Vanamali Devi
Blue God by Ramesh Menon — This was the first book I ever read about Krishna. Although it does not have the spiritual depth of the two above, it makes Krishna feel very approachable and blends stories of his life with the Bhagavad Gita.