If God is inconceivable, as the scriptures state, can we really know anything about Him?
Sri Isopanisad states that Krsna is simultaneously very far away and very close. The Vedic scriptures encourage us: The best way to know Krsna and bring Him closer is to hear about Him.
As we open any book about Krsna, we'll immediately feel the richness of the clear and scientific knowledge it contains. We'll also come to understand that Krsna is by nature inconceivable to finite beings. Although some world religions extend that to mean that Krsna is by essence completely inconceivable (not only far away), we cannot agree. Yes, He is ultimately inconceivable, but His name, fame, and form can be known just as we know any person face-to-face. Anyone who wants to be God conscious has to understand this point.
Here's an example of a statement that ties these two concepts together. It's from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.12.38), in connection with Lord Krsna's killing and liberating the demon Aghasura, who in the form of a gigantic snake had swallowed Krsna and His friends.
Krsna is the cause of all causes. The causes and effects of the material world, both higher and lower, are all created by the Supreme Lord, the original controller. When Krsna appeared as the son of Nanda Maharaja and Yasoda, He did so by His causeless mercy. Consequently, for Him to exhibit His unlimited opulence was not at all wonderful. Indeed, he showed such great mercy that even Aghasura, the most sinful miscreant, was elevated to being one of His associates and achieving sarupya-mukti [having the same form as the Lord], which is actually impossible for materially contaminated persons to attain.
Srila Prabhupada comments:
Krsna is the cause of all causes. He is the creator of cause and effect, and He is the supreme controller. Nothing is impossible for Him. Therefore that He enabled even a living being like Aghasura to attain the salvation of sarupya-mukti is not at all wonderful for Krsna. Krsna took pleasure in entering the mouth of Aghasura in a sporting spirit, along with His associates. Therefore, when Aghasura, by that sporting association, as maintained in the spiritual world, was purified of all contamination, he attained sarupya-mukti and vimukti by the grace of Krsna. For Krsna this was not at all wonderful.
"Not at all wonderful" is Srila Prabhupada's way of saying we shouldn't be surprised or doubtful when we hear of Krsna's power and opulence. Krsna killed demons. Krsna lifted Govardhana Hill. Krsna married 16,108 wives. None of these acts is at all wonderful, because Krsna did them effortlessly. Krsna is the source of cause and effect, yet He appears as a child. Does that sound incredible, unbelievable? Well, Krsna has infinite greatness. Nothing is impossible for Him.
But we are wonderstruck. Srila Prabhupada named one chapter of his book Krsna "Wonderful Krsna." Wonderful is a tasty word if it's not used superficially; it refers to something filled with joy, a superlative experience.
In the scriptures the devotees express their appreciation of "wonderful Krsna" according to their relationship with Him. Queen Kunti prays that although Krsna is the Supreme Truth, in His childhood form He becomes subordinate to mother Yasoda. Although fear personified is afraid of Krsna, He runs in fear from His mother, who threatens Him with a stick. Kunti says that when she thinks of Krsna running fearfully, His black mascara smeared by His tears, she becomes amazed. What fortune Yasoda has to be Krsna's mother and to subordinate the supreme controller!
The acaryas, the great spiritual masters of the past, have pointed out another aspect of Krsna's inconceivable power, beyond even that of His expansions and avataras: He performed amazing feats as a small child. When Krsna killed Putana, He was only a few months old. He was seven when He lifted Govardhana Hill with the pinkie of His left hand. In other incarnations, He assumed large forms to do a large task. To kill Hiranyakasipu He appeared in a huge form as a half man, half lion. Although He begged three steps of land from Bali Maharaja in the form of a dwarf brahmana, He assumed a huge form to reclaim the universe with those steps. Krsna performed equally difficult tasks, yet He performed them in His beautiful Vrndavana form as a cowherd boy. That in itself is wonderful.
When we think of Krsna's opulence, we see the paradoxes. He is the master, yet He's subordinate to His devotees. He's inconceivable, yet He allows us to know Him. In the Third Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the great devotee Uddhava expresses bewilderment at Krsna's being unborn yet apparently being born, at Krsna's being fearless yet leaving Vrndavana out of fear of Kamsa. The contradictions are bewildering, and Uddhava's separation from such a wonderful Krsna also bewilders him. And of course, the nondevotees are bewildered because they cannot accept Krsna with His apparent paradoxes. Their mundane morality can never accommodate the inconceivable opulence of Krsna.
Krsna's Most Attractive Feature
Krsna is wonderful, amazing inconceivably so but we have not touched on the most mysterious and inconceivable of all His qualities: His ability to express love. He is powerful, He is wise, He is strong and famous, but His inclination to love all living beings, and His expression of that love in a variety of ways, is His most attractive feature. And even more attractive than that is His special love for His devotees. Therefore, a devotee, while recognizing Krsna's mastership over his or her life, does not ever forget this greatest glory of Krsna's love.
I recently heard Srila Prabhupada on tape speaking about suffering. A devotee asked Prabhupada how we should understand that even though we are devotees, we still have to suffer. Prabhupada took a strong position. He said it was not our right to question that we have to suffer. And we should never think that we would love Krsna more if we didn't suffer. Nor does Krsna have to explain to us why we are suffering. A devotee sees Krsna unquestionably as master. In the mood of a devotee, Lord Caitanya prays, "Whether You make me broken-hearted or You handle me roughly in Your embrace, You are always my worshipful Lord, birth after birth." A devotee never doubts Krsna's loving intention toward him.
I was raised in a nominally Catholic family. We never discussed faith or the reality of God, never broached doubts. As soon as I entered the larger world of college and was exposed to doubts, I had no answers. I remember one teacher saying, "How can there be God if there is so much suffering in the world?" This is a classic theological puzzle: If God is all-good and all-powerful, why are we suffering? How can He be all-loving if His creatures are feeling pain?
A devotee is not bewildered by these apparent contradictions. We may not understand His purposes, but we are never bewildered by them. A devotee has ultimate trust in Krsna's most wonderful quality.
Therefore, don't ask Krsna for sense gratification, and don't bargain with Krsna for something less than love of God. While we acknowledge that Krsna is far away from us, we also feel His closeness and our ability to address Him, just as a child will go to the father to have his desires fulfilled. On the higher stages of Krsna consciousness, devotees may very well express their own desires, but their desires are always for Krsna's pleasure. Devotees also express a variety of moods, some submissive and some contrary. Krsna enjoys them all.
We can't imitate those types of expressions, and if we try, we may end up asking for something not in our ultimate interest. Krsna, as the kind father, will provide the "toy." In the end we may find ourselves telling Krsna we didn't want what we received, and Krsna saying, "Well, you asked for it, so now you play with it until it breaks." How sad when we go to Krsna for such things. And how sad that it may take thousands of years of action and reaction to live out the gift He gave us.
The Gopis' Example
How pleased Krsna must be when He sees a pure devotee who cares only for Him. Srila Prabhupada was ecstatic to hear that the gopis, Krsna's cowherd girlfriends, never asked Krsna for anything. Prabhupada offered their behavior as an example of real bhakti. Usually, in a conjugal relationship men and women want something from each other. Women usually want security, and even Krsna's queens in Dvaraka had that. But the gopis had nothing. They never asked for anything. They went to the forest in the middle of the night at the risk of losing their families and reputations, and Krsna did not provide them with any guarantee or indemnity. Therefore, they are considered the highest devotees; they wanted only to give Krsna happiness, to please wonderful Krsna.
After Krsna lifted Govardhana Hill, the cowherd men were bewildered. Who is this wonderful boy? Nanda Maharaja repeated what the priest Gargamuni had told him at Krsna's name-giving ceremony. Krsna is narayana-sama, "equal to Narayana, or God," Gargamuni had said. Although the cowherd men understood, they didn't abandon their parental affection for Krsna. Rather, they said, "Just let us always live in the protection of wonderful Krsna."
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, one of Srila Prabhupada's first disciples, is a former editor of Back to Godhead and the author of many books on Krsna consciousness, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.