The curve that sets everything straight.
Nowadays I find myself increasingly cautious when sending emails or pinging my friends on messengers. This is not because I’m worried about privacy or security, but because of the danger of misinterpretation. Occasionally I’ve messed up a relationship because of a reckless choice of words or an inconsiderate presentation of thoughts. The written word is a serious form of communication. It’s archived, allowing us to revisit it. But it’s limited, since it lacks the aid of one’s body language. Small grammatical or spelling mistakes can altogether change the meaning of sentences. And clarification of the written word may not be requested or available immediately.
The use of smileys and other emoticons over the Internet makes it possible to incorporate feelings or moods in a few keystrokes. They are extremely popular. A smiley conveys a lighter note in an instruction or a critique that could otherwise risk feelings of provocation, enmity, or worry. Someone appropriately said, “A smile confuses an approaching frown.” You may want somebody to act in a certain manner, but don’t want to push it; you may be unsure about the validity of something you want to say to someone; or you may want to say something serious with a light tone – just add a smiley, and it’s all right. The comedienne Phyllis Diller once said, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”
When we please someone, the person smiles in reciprocation. A smile is attractive. When someone takes a photo of you, they say, Smile!” because when you smile you look nice and everyone is attracted. Politicians and celebrities smile when they come to platforms, and everybody thinks “Oh! He is very nice – look at how he is smiling.” When a woman wants to attract a man, she smiles, and the man thinks “Oh! She likes me!”
Our natural tendency to smile when we are pleased is within us because of Krishna's tendency to smile when He is pleased. Many Vedic scriptures and songs by Krishna's devotees celebrate His enchanting smile.
Characteristics of Krishna’s Smile
I’ll use the acronym SMILE to try to elucidate some characteristics of Krishna's smile.
S: Satisfying. Because we are spiritual in nature, nothing of this material world can satisfy our hearts. In the Bhagavad-gita (17.16) Lord Krishna lists satisfaction of the mind as one of the austerities in the mode of goodness. The more we try to find satisfaction in objects of this world, the more our mind becomes dissatisfied and craves for more. But we can experience satisfaction as soon as we turn our face towards Krishna in the attitude of bhakti, devotional service. Srila Prabhupada explains, “The exceptional beauty of the laughter of Lord Viṣṇu is that when He smiles His small teeth, which resemble the buds of jasmine flowers, at once become reddish, reflecting His rosy lips. If the yogi is able to place the beautiful face of the Lord in the core of his heart, he will be completely satisfied.” (Srimad- Bhagavatam 3.28.33, Purport)
M: Mystical, and motherly affection. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.8.44) Sūta Gosvami describes Lord Krishna's response to the prayers of Queen Kunti in this way:
mandaṁ jahasa vaikuṇṭho
mohayann iva mayaya
“The Lord, thus hearing the prayers of Kuntidevi, composed in choice words for His glorification, mildly smiled. That smile was as enchanting as His mystic power.” Krishna is known as yogeSvara, the supreme master of all mystic powers. By His mystic potency He resides in countless spiritual Vaikuṇṭha planets, He creates and annihilates countless material universes, and He expands into countless spiritual forms to reside simultaneously in every universe. There is no limit to Krishna's mystic potency. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.1.31) “the most alluring illusory material energy” is said to be the smile of the Lord’s universal form. In the spiritual world Krishna's smile is the most attractive spiritual energy. When pervertedly reflected in this world, it takes the form of the material energy, which keeps living entities who are trying to lord over material nature in delusion and binds them with the shackles of lust. But when the living entity wants to serve Krishna , the word mayaya in the verse quoted above, which may refer to His mystic power that bewilders the nondevotee, means “affection.” Srila Prabhupada explains that Krishna smiles with affection for His devotees as a mother smiles with affection for her baby, and Krishna's smile makes devotees very happy and satisfied.
I: Infectious. The Lord’s smile infectiously makes His devotees smile even amid the trying situations of life. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.28.32) Lord Kapila says,
hasaṁ harer avanatakhila-loka-tivrasokaSru-
A yogi should meditate on “the most benevolent smile of Lord Sri Hari [Krishna ], a smile which, for all those who bow to Him, dries up the ocean of tears caused by intense grief.” In our lives, too, there are lots of difficulties, uncertainties, and ups and downs, which can make us hopeless or pessimistic. In such a state – when even kith and kin may flee from us, making our whole situation appear gloomy – we need to look at the smiling face of the Lord for hope and redemption. His smile never fades. He has a unique plan for each one of us.
In Bhagavad-gita Arjuna stands on the battlefield and sees his relatives armed against him. Feeling weakness of heart, he loses his composure. But in that grief-stricken state he accepts Lord Krishna as his spiritual master and submits himself before Him. In Lord Krishna's prelude to His counsel, He smiles to show His compassion, and to show that no problem is too big for Him to solve.
Meditation on examples like this one can help us remember the Lord’s promises to His devotees and His inconceivable plan to bring us all closer to Him even in trying situations. We find in the Srimad-Bhagavatam the history of the prostitute Piṅgala, in whose heart detachment arose from frustration. Acknowledging the Lord’s mercy, she became happy in her situation and composed beautiful prayers to Him.
By the infectious nature of Krishna consciousness, the smiles of His pure devotees become so powerful, Srila Prabhupada explained, that simply by smiling they win many disciples, admirers, and followers.
L: Lasting forever: Krishna , along with His most enchanting smile, is always prepared to reciprocate with his devotees. The plastic smiles of this world for fulfilling personal interests do not last forever. When pleased with the service of His devotees, Krishna becomes their debtor. In reciprocation, He smiles. Srila Prabhupada writes,
Devotees do not ask anything from the Lord in exchange for their service. Even the most desirable liberation is refused by devotees, although offered by the Lord. Thus the Lord becomes a kind of debtor to the devotees, and He can only try to repay the devotees’ service with His everenchanting smile. The devotees are ever satisfied by the smiling face of the Lord, and they become enlivened. And by seeing the devotees so enlivened, the Lord Himself is further satisfied. So there is continuous transcendental competition between the Lord and His devotees by such reciprocation of service and acknowledgement. – Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.8.27, Purport
The Lord in His deity form smiles at everyone who comes before Him. And when He becomes pleased with our service and surrender – with our willingness to dedicate our entire being to please Him – then His smile touches our heart and satisfies our self completely.
E: Enchanting. In Sri Caitanyacaritamṛta (Madhya 21.138) Lord Caitanya tells Sanatana Gosvami, “Krishna's body is a city of attractive features, and it is sweeter than sweet. His face, which is like the moon, is sweeter still. And the supremely sweet gentle smile on that moonlike face is like rays of moonshine.” This supremely attractive smile enchants not only devotees, but even nondevotees.
My Experience With Krishna's Smile
In my own life when I faced difficulties and went before the Lord in the temple to complain or demand an explanation, I was disarmed by His sweet smile. His smile made my problem, which seemed so tough to endure, like a trifle that could be easily overcome. I felt conviction that He knows everything and is orchestrating things to pull me closer to Him.
Lord Krishna is known as Mukunda, one meaning of which is “He whose face (mukha) is as beautiful as the ever-smiling kunda flower.” The mild, gorgeous smile on the Lord’s face attracts devotees’ hearts, and at the same time it slays their anxieties and pride, making them utterly dependent on Him.
By seeing Lord Krishna's smile in hard times, I always got a new ray of hope. It strengthened my understanding that the Lord is eternal, I am eternal, our relationship is eternal, and nothing matters in this world beyond these realities. This conviction has helped me continue to rediscover and cultivate my relationship with Him even in troubling times.
Toṣaṇa Nimai Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, joined ISKCON in 2007. After earning a bachelor of engineering degree in information technology and working for a few years for multinational IT companies, he became a resident brahmacari at ISKCON Pune. He serves in the temple’s information department and teaches Krishna consciousness at various colleges.