Pure Devotion to Krishna Enables His Devotees to see Him Directly.
When I was eight years old, my eyes strained to see what my teacher wrote on the blackboard. My mother brought me to an eye doctor, who prescribed glasses. Lenses in eyeglasses correct a physical imperfection by bending light. Scientists use more powerful lenses in microscopes and telescopes to “correct” their vision and enable them to see small or distant objects.
No lens technology will ever allow us to see Krishna, the Supreme Lord. He is beyond our material senses. Since He is transcendental to the three modes of material nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance), no soul subjected to the interactions of the modes can see Krishna and may be considered spiritually blind. Since this visual imperfection exists on a spiritual plane, the remedy must be spiritual. We can become eligible to see Krishna only by performing devotional service under the proper guidance. As Srila Prabhupada says, “Yes, you can see God but first you have to have the eyes.”
Sometimes people say that seeing is believing, and because they can’t see God, they don’t accept His existence. Srila Prabhupada called atheistic people “spiritually blind suffering from cataracts, ignorance.” Ignorance is just like cataracts that cloud the eyes and prevent people from seeing the truth.
In the Bhagavad-gita, the spiritual blindness of Dhrtarashtra (who was also physically blind) prevented him and his sons from reaching an understanding with the Pandavas, who were all devotees of the Supreme Lord. Since Dhrtarashtra was a king, his spiritual blindness was also socially irresponsible, leading to the Kurukshetra War. His blindness affected his followers as well. As Srila Prabhupada often quoted, “When the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch.”
Despite Dhrtarashtra’s blindness, he had the opportunity to “see” the events on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra through the descriptions of Sanjaya, his secretary. Vyasadeva had granted mystic vision to Sanjaya that allowed him to see the entire Kurukshetra War, including the discussion between Krishna and Arjuna known as Bhagavad-gita. Unfortunately, however, Dhrtarashtra’s spiritual blindness and his attachment to a wicked son prevented him from understanding Krishna’s teachings.
Like Dhrtarashtra, souls caught up in material nature are spiritually blind and can be cured only by surrendering to a bona fide spiritual master. Krishna instructs in Bhagavad-gita (4.34): “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” The blind cannot help the blind, but one who has the vision of transcendental knowledge can impart that “sight” to others. The Lord Himself has sanctioned this process, passed down directly from Him through the disciplic succession.
Just as a student who wants to learn medicine goes to an expert physician to study, an inquisitive person must go to a spiritual master to learn spiritual science. As Krishna’s representative, the spiritual master removes the blindness of the conditioned souls by giving the sight of true knowledge. Thus, we pray: om ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana- salakaya / caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri-gurave namah: “I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, who with the torchlight of knowledge has opened my eyes, which were blinded by the darkness of ignorance.” By imparting spiritual knowledge or vision, the spiritual master cures the blindness of material attachment.
The “darkness of ignorance” is ignorance of our constitutional position as spirit souls and our false identification with the body. A pure devotee fixed in Krishna consciousness, however, realizes that the body is temporary and stops differentiating living entities by body. Knowing all living beings to be parts of Krishna, the learned sage “sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater.” (Bg. 5.18) Krishna tells Arjuna that this spiritual perspective to see the soul beyond the body is the “vision of eternity.” (Bg. 13.32)
Since living entities are constitutionally related to Krishna, devotees who advance in the spirit of loving service eventually become qualified to see Krishna. Krishna is nayana abhiramam, very pleasing to the eyes. He is supreme in beauty, one of the six main opulences (beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, and renunciation). The sight of Krishna is a priceless gift that surpasses everything.
When Krishna was present on earth, He granted that blessing to many living entities, but not everyone saw Him in the same way. Krishna explains: “As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly.” (Bg. 4.11) So some could see Krishna as the Supreme Lord, while others saw Him as an ordinary person a simple cowherd boy, the envoy of the Pandavas, or the humble charioteer of Arjuna. He revealed His universal form on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, but that vision was granted to Arjuna, Krishna’s great devotee and dear friend. Srila Prabhupada describes Arjuna as having “transcendental eyes” because of his devotion to the Lord. (Bg. 11.54, Purport)
Krishna is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha, the form of eternity, knowledge, and bliss. Pure devotees see Him as He is and interact with Him in different moods according to their natural tendency. Blinded by ignorance, the materially contaminated and demoniac cannot perceive Krishna’s supremacy. Krishna says of them: “Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Bg. 9.11) Srila Prabhupada explains that those who were able to see Krishna’s original form were able to go back with Him to His kingdom but those “who were unable to see the Lord as He is remained attached to material hankerings” and the material cycle of birth and death. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.2.11, Purport) On the other hand, seeing Krishna is so purifying that even the demons He killed achieved liberation. After Krishna’s departure Uddhava told Vidura that all those who saw Krishna’s face on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra regardless of which side they fought on achieved Krishna’s abode after death. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.2.20) Brihad-Bhagavatamrta (2.1.164) states that one’s life becomes successful by seeing the Lord.
Achieving the Most Precious Gem
Ultimately, the opportunity to see Krishna depends on Krishna’s mercy, attained by pleasing Him through devotional service. The Fourth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam gives the important example of Krishna’s favoring the child Dhruva with His audience. The story shows how devotional service purifies those who practice it and changes their material desires into transcendental realization.
Dhruva’s father, King Uttanapada, was the emperor of the world and had two queens, Suruci and Suniti. As a child, Dhruva wanted to sit on his father’s lap, but his stepmother, Suruci, the king’s favorite queen, told Dhruva that he was not qualified to sit on the throne or lap of the king because he was not born from her womb. She informed him that he was “trying to fulfill a desire which is impossible to fulfill.” Because she was the king’s favorite queen, she became proud of her position, at the expense of others.
Dhruva’s mother, Suniti, consoled her son and advised him to worship the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord to fulfill his desire. Somewhat sarcastically, Suruci had given Dhruva a similar instruction. Therefore, Dhruva went to the forest and performed many austerities to achieve the Lord’s favor.
The sage Narada arrived and became Dhruva’s spiritual master. Dhruva asked how to achieve a greater position than anyone else, even his father, the emperor of the world, or his grandfather, Lord Brahma. To fulfill this seemingly impossible demand, Narada Muni recommended that Dhruva become absorbed in devotional service, especially in a holy place. He directed Dhruva to Madhuvana, one of the twelve forests of Vrindavana, on the bank of the Yamuna River. Narada then described the beautiful bodily features of the Lord and told Dhruva to meditate upon the Lord sitting in his heart, a process that would purify his consciousness. He also gave Dhruva a mantra to glorify the Lord and requested that he worship a simple deity with fruits, flowers, and tulasi leaves.
Dhruva followed Narada Muni’s instructions perfectly and eventually “captured the Supreme Personality of Godhead” by his devotion. Although Dhruva was a young boy, his austerities were so severe that the devas, who manage the material world, approached the Supreme Lord in distress because they worried that the universe would become imbalanced. The Lord pacified them, saying He would stop the boy’s austerities.
Meanwhile, Dhruva Maharaja continued his meditation upon the form of the Lord in his heart. Suddenly, that form disappeared, and Dhruva’s intense concentration broke. He opened his eyes and saw the Lord Himself standing directly in front of him.
Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.9.3) describes the intensity of this darsana (audience): “Dhruva Maharaja, in ecstasy, looked upon the Lord as if he were drinking the Lord with his eyes, kissing the lotus feet of the Lord with his mouth, and embracing the Lord with his arms.” He wanted to offer prayers but was inexperienced, so the Lord blessed him by touching His conch shell to Dhruva’s forehead. Dhruva thus received the conclusion of all Vedic knowledge and was able to glorify the Lord properly.
Dhruva Maharaja’s darsana of the Lord was just like seeing a rare and precious gem. The material desires that had originally inspired his performance of austerities seemed unimportant compared to pure devotion. Now understanding the real purpose of his life, he felt remorseful for having prayed for “such useless things” as a kingdom and prestige. In On the Way to Krishna, Srila Prabhupada cites a verse from the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (7.28) that quotes Dhruva Maharaja’s words to the Lord: “I was undergoing such severe penances simply for my father’s kingdom and land, but now I have seen You. Even the great sages and saints cannot see You. What is my profit? I left my home to find merely some scraps of glass and rubbish, and instead I have found a very valuable diamond. Now I am satisfied. I have no need to ask anything of You.” Audience with the Lord is just like a precious jewel compared to “glass and rubbish” material desires the conditioned souls consider their ultimate goal. Searching after trifles instead of true value illustrates the blindness of materialism.
Dhruva Maharaja’s devotional service cured his spiritual blindness, and the Lord blessed him by appearing before Him. Even though Dhruva’s original desire was material, devotional service under the guidance of his spiritual master purified him and qualified him to see the Lord. Because of Dhruva’s pure Krishna consciousness, he became fully satisfied just by seeing the Lord.
Seeing God Now
Pure devotees of the Lord possess transcendental vision that allows them to always see Krishna. According to Brahma-samhita (5.38): “Those who are in the ecstasy of love with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shyamasundara (Krishna), see Him always in their hearts due to love and devotional service rendered to the Lord.”
This kind of vision requires purity of devotion, which is rare, but even neophyte devotees can appreciate Krishna’s form in a different way. Since Krishna is transcendental to our material senses, He cannot be seen with our present eyes. To aid the devotional progress of His devotees, however, He appears in the deity form in the temple. Although material senses perceive the form as made of stone, metal, wood, or paint, the deity, or arca-murti, is an actual form of the Lord. The arca-murti is neither an idol nor a symbol, but the Lord Himself, who shows Himself so that anyone can see Him. Out of His mercy He appears in this way and reveals Himself according to the devotee’s degree of surrender. The ability to see Him reflects “the proportion to which our lives are freed from sins,” as Srila Prabhupada explains. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.1.17, Purport) In other words, our ability to see Krishna reflects the degree of our immersion in Krishna consciousness.
Thus, devotees pray to the deity of Lord Jagannatha (Krishna) for the spiritual vision to see His true form: jagannatha-svami nayana-pathagami bhavatu me “O Lord of the Universe, kindly reveal Yourself to me.” It might seem ironic that a devotee standing in front of Jagannatha asks to see Him, but the prayer really asks for the spiritual vision to see the Lord properly.
Since the deity and Krishna are the same, His appearance in the deity form has the same purpose as His own appearance. Krishna descends millennium after millennium “to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants” (Bg. 4.8), which means He appears to kill the demons and give pleasure to the devotees. Similarly, the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 20.219) explains, sarvatra prakasa tanra bhakte sukha dite/ jagatera adharma nasi’ dharma sthapite: “The Lord is situated in all the universes in different forms just to please His devotees. Thus the Lord destroys irreligious principles and establishes religious principles.”
Our senses may be imperfect and materially contaminated, but they will be purified by devotional service to the Lord, as shown by Dhruva Maharaja’s example. Devotional service means engaging all of our senses in the service of the Lord to gradually purify them. Srila Prabhupada recommends that the eyes “should not be allowed to see anything but the beautiful form of Krishna.” (Bg. 13.8–12, Purport). Krishna is called Govinda He who enlivens the cows and the senses. In response to our spiritual determination and our devotional service to Him, He will grant us the transcendental ability to see Him face to face. That’s something we can never hope to achieve with the corrective lenses of eyeglasses, microscopes, or telescopes.
Mohini Radha Devi Dasi graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature in 2004. She is a disciple of His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami and lives with her husband, Narada Rishi Dasa, in New York City