Devotees find the deepest pleasure in their anguished longings for the company of Lord Krsna.
WHEN THE NOTED scholar and political leader Ramananda Raya asked Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to point out the most painful thing in the world, He replied that nothing in this world is unbearable except separation from the Vaisnava, the devotee of Lord Krsna.
Sri Caitanya's disciplic descendant Narottama Dasa expressed a sense of separation like this: "I will smash my head against rock and enter into fire. Where has that great dancer, Lord Gauranga [Caitanya], suddenly gone?"
Fellowship of Vaisnavas, devotees of Krsna, makes sense out of a senseless world. Vaisnavas bless our lives with Krsna consciousness. In their presence problems vanish and hurdles shrink. Having lived with such persons, how can one live without them?
Because pure devotees remind everyone about Krsna, separation from them and separation from Krsna Himself are equally distressing. Yet this distress produces ecstasy, for separation from Krsna immerses one in thoughts of Krsna the highest pleasure of the soul. Spiritual separation, in that respect, is the polar opposite of material separation, which produces only grief. In separation from Krsna one can savor the finest moods of spiritual fulfillment.
Srimad-Bhagavatam tells of Krsna's life and of His departure from this world. The following verse rendition of Srimad-Bhagavatam's First Canto, Chapters 14 and 15, portrays devotees' intense separation from Krsna.
With Krsna's help, King Yudhisthira, the eldest Pandava brother, has won the throne of the earth. Now, his reign established and his grandson Pariksit in training to eventually inherit the throne, Yudhisthira dispatches his younger brother Arjuna to consult with Krsna at Dvaraka, the Lord's coastal kingdom.
Because the sage Narada had earlier hinted about Krsna's departure, Yudhisthira feels anxious. When Arjuna does not return on time, Yudhisthira's anxiety increases. He calls another brother, Bhima, for a discussion. Then Arjuna returns with the wrenching news of Lord Krsna's departure, confessing his own shocking weakness in Krsna's absence. How will Yudhisthira respond?
Arjuna traveled westward to that kingdom by the sea,
to meet the Lord and others of the Yadu dynasty.
A string of evil omens sparked King Yudhisthira's concern
as he counted off the days and hoped Arjuna would return.
Just after Yudhisthira dispatched his trusted younger brother,
the weather due in one season turned up within another.
Good citizens transformed, becoming greedy, angry mobs
and cheated for their livelihood, neglecting honest jobs.
Beloved, trusted friends practiced deceit on one another,
and quarrels manifested between fathers, sons, and mothers.
Malicious disagreements broke the bonds of man and wife.
King Yudhisthira had never seen his subjects in such strife.
As citizens degraded to unrighteous, troubled ways,
King Yudhisthira concluded something must have gone astray.
He thought his reign was pious and this trouble undeserved,
so Yudhisthira called Bhima to his chambers and observed:
"Arjuna went for Krsna's counsel. Seven months have passed,
and in his absence many evil omens have amassed.
I wonder if Lord Krsna has departed from our lives
as Narada predicted. Has the time so soon arrived?
"The left side of my body, for the past eleven days,
has constantly been trembling in an inauspicious way.
My heart is palpitating due to vague, uneasy fear.
These signs imply an evil time is quickly drawing near.
"The jackal-bitch rebukes the moon while spewing acrid flame,
and barking dogs harass me without fear, respect, or shame!
The donkey walks around me, while my horse appears bereft.
Auspicious beasts like cows now pass me only on my left.
"Just see! The pigeon heralds news of detriment and doom,
while shrieking owls and ravens fill my heart with dread and gloom.
These birds foretell the world will fall into some great abyss.
O Bhima, have you noticed how the world all seems amiss?
"The earth and mountains throb beneath an evil, smoky sky,
while lightening bolts from cloudless thunder shock and mystify.
When clouds appear they shower blood in terrible monsoon,
while violent winds hurl dust about and dim the sky at noon.
"The sun recedes quite early, turning evening into night,
revealing stars that seem to be engaged in bitter fights.
I'm not the only one who holds such pessimistic views,
for everyone I see is shedding tears and quite confused.
"The rivers, lakes, and reservoirs rise ominously higher,
and ghee no longer sets ablaze the sacrificial fire.
My mind is weak and seems to grow increasingly disturbed.
What is this strange, perplexing time, and what is to occur?
"The cows no longer nurse their calves. They cry all day and night.
The bulls out in the pastures can no longer find delight.
The deities appear to weep and want to leave their shrines.
Our lovely towns are ugly now. Is this the end of time?"
As Yudhisthira expressed his fears to Bhima in this way,
it happened that Arjuna came back home that very day.
Arjuna came before him, and King Yudhisthira surmised
his brother was consumed with grief, for tears obscured his eyes.
The King was shocked to see Arjuna sickly, weak, and pale.
"The prophecies of Narada," he thought, "shall never fail."
As many friends arrived and sensed the dread within the room,
The King inquired of Arjuna that fateful afternoon:
"Welcome home, dear brother! Speak of Krsna. How is He
who loves the cows, the brahmanas, and His faithful devotees?
Since Krsna and His brother grace Their kingdom by the sea,
these must be days of pleasure for the Yadu dynasty!"
King Yudhisthira asked further of Lord Krsna's friends and wives.
but all could see Arjuna didn't meet his brother's eyes.
At last the King inquired, "Dear Arjuna, are you sick?
Did somebody mistreat you as you made your lengthy trip?
"Did someone speak unkindly words or dare to threaten you?
Could you not give in charity or pay some sort of dues?
You always guard the cows, the priests, the women, and the weak;
have you now disappointed them? Arjuna, can you speak?"
Arjuna barely heard the King spell out his speculations
for he was numb and struck with grief from Krsna's separation.
His handsome mouth and fluid heart appeared to have gone dry.
His body pale, Arjuna failed to utter a reply.
Arjuna smeared his hands across his reddened, teary eyes
and thought of Krsna's love as he released a heavy sigh.
Remembering how Krsna toughened him when he was weak,
Arjuna calmed himself, inhaled, and raised his head to speak.
"Lord Krsna has departed. We're alone now, Yudhisthira.
My strength in war, which stunned the gods, has also disappeared.
I must discuss Lord Krsna first, for I feel such remorse,
the universe seems empty and as lifeless as a corpse.
"O Yudhisthira, I see His face, His warm, enchanting smile!
I hear His voice addressing me in sweet, informal style:
'O son of Kunti, my dear friend, great hero of the realm.'
As I remember Krsna now, my heart is overwhelmed.
"Lord Krsna dined, relaxed, and spoke with me, His friend, each day.
As I felt quite familiar, I would tease the Lord and say,
'Oh, You are very truthful!' as He made some clever ploy.
He'd smile at me exactly as a father to his boy.
"I am 'the great Arjuna,' so-called hero of such fame!
My bow and arrows, chariot and horses are the same!
Without Lord Krsna, I've become as useless, in a flash,
as seeds cast over barren land or ghee poured over ash.
"When I gave up my duty in the Kuruksetra war,
Lord Krsna kindly counseled me until I felt restored.
The sweet and holy lessons that I heard the Lord impart
still fascinate my shattered mind and ease my burning heart."
Recalling Krsna's sacred words with loving dedication,
Arjuna stopped abruptly and slipped into meditation.
By contemplating deeply what Lord Krsna did and said,
Arjuna seemed to calm the storm that raged within his head.
Arjuna's pain appeared to be unbearably intense
till Krsna's words returned to him, restoring common sense.
By consciousness of Krsna, he transcended any doubt.
He saw the wheel of birth and death and readied to get out.
To Yudhisthira, the shocking news was worse than he had feared,
but he had long prepared to act when Krsna disappeared.
That very instant he resolved to leave his worldly throne
and follow Krsna back to His eternal, blissful home.
The Kali-age set in the day that Krsna disappeared,
engulfing earth with hatred, lies, and poisoned atmosphere.
Unlike those modern leaders who hang on until they rot,
King Yudhisthira renounced his throne without a further thought.
For Yudhisthira had tutored young Pariksit like a son
to carry on the monarchy, and now that time had come.
Completing years of duty to his subjects, friends, and wife,
now Yudhisthira held rituals to give up family life.
Relinquishing his splendid jewels, silk, and royal belt,
and feeling more disinterested than he had ever felt,
the former king surrendered his whole body unto death
and blended, with the greater air, his body's living breath.
Then Yudhisthira concluded, as a soul he had acquired
his earth-and-water body as the fruit of his desires.
Returning all these elements he'd borrowed for this spree,
he merged his life in spirit and behaved accordingly.
He dressed in ragged garments and untied his splendid hair,
and showed upon his face only a silent, vacant stare.
Without consulting anyone, he started walking north,
and thought only of Krsna as he aimlessly went forth.
Observing what the king had done to greet the Kali age,
his younger brothers chose to do the same, for they could gauge
that irreligious Kali would extract a heavy toll,
infecting all the citizens with selfish, evil goals.
The saintly sons of Pandu had encountered many trials.
They always followed scripture and did everything worthwhile.
That day they took the final step that makes a life complete
and fixed their minds entirely on Krsna's lotus feet.
Thus purified, the sons of Pandu kept themselves absorbed
in flawless meditation on their sweet, beloved Lord.
Lord Krsna gave all five a gift not usually attained:
admission, in their bodies, to His personal domain.
The pastime of the Pandavas departing from this world
compares with Krsna's pastimes, for it's absolutely pure.
A faithful soul who listens to it well from start to end
arouses pure devotion to Lord Krsna deep within.
EPILOGUE In the renowned Bhagavad-gita, when Arjuna struggled on the battlefield Krsna urged him to do his duty, but with detachment. This final act of the Pandavas renouncing the world of ordinary responsibility does not contradict Krsna's order. Such renunciation is itself a human duty, especially at the end of life. We may not be able to die to this world as thoroughly and abruptly as Yudhisthira and his brothers did. But we can die to it a little each day as we are born into loving separation from Lord Krsna and His great devotees such as Srila Prabhupada. For it is this materially bitter but spiritually sweet sense of separation that opens the door for us to Lord Krsna's eternal, blissful abode.
Kalakantha Dasa is the author of The Song Divine (a lyrical rendition of the Bhagavad-gita). He is the resource development director for the Mayapur Project. He and his wife and their two daughters are members of the Hare Krsna community in Alachua, Florida.
Disciples and followers of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada will celebrate the twenty-fifty anniversary of his passing on November 8. (The date may vary by one day in various parts of the world. Consult your local Vaisnava calendar or Hare Krsna center.)