Did you know that long ago, the king could assure that no child died before the parents? And the subjects expected that.
I thought about this recently. News reports and videos told of miraculous rescues after the earthquake that stretched through Turkey and Syria. It killed 40 thousand people. But some even survived more than a week buried under rubble.
But then a video showed the other side: a Syrian father sobbing his heart out as he cradled the dead body of his little boy in his arms.
That got to me. You may read about 40 thousand people dying, but sometimes you feel more pain by seeing one person shedding tears of hopelessness.
Though it doesn’t have to be.
A true story from the scripture Srimad Bhagavatam shows how seriously the Vedic kings protected their subjects from this heartbreak.
The Gigantic Form of Maha-Vishnu
First, let me tell you about Lord Maha-Vishnu, an important player in the story.
To create the material universes like the one we live in, Lord Krishna assumes a form called Maha-Vishnu. He expands his body to a size more gigantic than we can imagine. Entire universes, even bigger than ours, float in and out of his pores like grains of dust through an open window. Who but God could do that?
Krishna can appear in many places at the same time. So he and Maha Vishnu, though the same person, seem to act indepently of each other.
Here begins the story:
In the city of Dvaraka, in what is now India’s Gujarat Province, a brahmana’s wife gave birth to a son. But the baby died right after he was born.
The brahmana, in great distress, strode to the palace of King Ugrasena. He stood outside and spoke against the king. The baby died, the brahmana said, because of the king’s negligence. The king should protect the citizens.
Over time, the brahmana’s wife gave birth to eight more sons. But each one died right after birth. And each time, the brahmana went to the palace and spoke out against the king.
I Will Walk into Fire
The ninth time, Arjuna heard the brahmana.
“I will save your next son,” said Arjuna.
“How can you save him when no one else could?” asked the brahmana.
“If I cannot save him, I will walk into fire,” said Arjuna.
When the time came for the next birth, Arjuna went to the brahmana’s house. But right after the birth, the baby rose into the sky and disappeared.
“I knew you could not save him,” said the brahmana.
Then Arjuna readied himself to walk into fire. But Krishna came and stopped him.
“Do not disgrace yourself,” said Krishna. “Do not kill yourself. Come with me, and we will find where the children have gone.”
Traveling through Space in a Chariot
Krishna then called for his chariot. He and Arjuna sat down on the chariot, and they proceeded north. They left earth and continued into outer space.
We may wonder, of course, how Arjuna and Krishna could travel through outer space in a horse-driven chariot. How could they survive the lack of oxygen, the absolute cold?
But no material situation, not even the most extreme, can affect the spiritual body of Krishna, the Supreme Lord. Nor the spiritual bodies of his horses.
And earthly-bodied Arjuna? The power of Krishna protected him.
They traveled on till they came to the covering of the universe. They passed through into the region of the great light known as brahma-jyoti. Arjuna could barely open his eyes in the intense brightness.
“My dear Arjuna,” said Krishna, “the transcendental light you now see, radiates from my body. O chief of the descendants of Bharata, this brahma-jyoti and I are the same.”
As Srila Prabhupada writes in Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead:
As the sun disc and the sunshine cannot be separated, Krishna and His bodily rays, the brahma-jyoti, cannot be separated. Thus Krishna claims that the brahma-jyoti is he himself.” (chapter 89)
A Palace on the Water
Arjuna and Krishna then came to the Causal Ocean, where a strong wind was raising waves in the water. By the grace of Krishna, Arjuna had the extraordinary experience of seeing the beautiful sight.
They continued across the water till they came to a large palace, still on the water, with thousands of pillars and columns made of precious jewels. And the beauty of those columns with their dazzling effulgence charmed the mind of Arjuna.
In that palace, the huge, awe-inspiring serpent Ananta Sesa (shay-sha) shone brilliantly with the radiance from the jewels shining on his thousands of hoods and reflected in the fearsome-looking eyes on his heads.
His bluish necks and tongues almost seemed to contrast with his body, white as the snow-covered top of Mount Kailash.
A Body Bigger Than All the Universes Together
Arjuna then saw the omnipresent and omnipotent Supreme Personality of Godhead, Maha-Vishnu, sitting at ease on the soft body of Ananta Sesa, his bluish complexion as dark as a new cloud in the rainy season.
We may ask, of course, how Arjuna could see of the entire body of Maha-Vishnu, bigger than all the material universes together. But the Supreme Lord can show himself in any size.
Maha-Vishnu wore beautiful yellow clothes, and the wide, attractive eyes of his charming face reminded one of lotus petals. His eight long, handsome arms reached down to his knees as did his flower garland, known as Vaijayanti.
Clusters of precious jewels decorated His crown and earrings. And the reflection of their brilliance bathed his abundant curling hair in luster.
He wore the Kaustubha jewel, and his chest bore the mark of Srivatsa, “where the goddess of fortune rests her head.”
The Lord’s attendants were serving him, as were his consort potencies, all his mystic powers, and the personal forms of the disk and other weapons.
Krishna immediately offered respects to Maha-Vishnu by bowing down, though actually, Krishna was offering obeisances to himself because Maha-Vishnu is nondifferent from him.
Arjuna Felt Fear
Krishna did not need to offer obeisances, but as the master teacher, he taught Arjuna how to offer respects to Maha-Vishnu.
As Arjuna saw the gigantic form of all that be, a vision different from any material experience, he felt fear. But when he saw Krishna offering obeisances, he followed suit. Then he stood before the Lord with palms joined.
Maha-Vishnu, greatly pleased, smiled and spoke.
“My dear Krishna and Arjuna,” he said, “I wanted to see you both, so I took the brahmana’s babies and kept them here. I have been expecting you.”
Krishna and Arjuna again offered obeisances. They took the brahmana’s sons, now grown up, and returned to Dvaraka, where they gave them to the brahmana.
Thus, by the grace of Krishna, the events ended happily for the brahmana.
What Can a Little Guy like Me Do?
That happened five thousand years ago. But today, the bereaved Syrian father did not see a happy ending.
After watching the video and re-reading the story of the brahmana, I began to wonder what one little guy like me can do for that father and the countless others like him.
Only one way: Bring Krishna back. Teach Krishna Consciousness and pray that one day humankind’s tears of despair may turn into tears of love for Krishna.
Eternally touching my head to the floor at the lotus feet of my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, for showing me all this.
~Umapati Swami, February 25, 2023
Photo top: Naughty Krishna holding a piece of candy (Jishnu Das)
(Note: The opinions expressed in this article are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organization or any other person.)
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© Umapati Swami 2023
Scriptural passages © Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
The descriptions of Arjuna and Krishna’s journey are based on Srimad Bhagavatam, 10.89. 47-61, and “Krishna the Supreme Personality of Godhead,” chapter 89. But they are not direct quotations.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the teacher who brought Krishna Consciousness from India to the West and then to the rest of the world. He is the founder of the worldwide Hare Krishna Movement as well as the author and compiler of many works of Vedic knowledge. He left this world in 1977.
One of the first American devotees of the Hare Krishna Movement, he became Srila Prabhupada’s disciple in 1966. Since then, he has preached Krishna Consciousness in many countries and is the author of “My Days with Prabhupada,” available from Amazon. Now 85 years old, he has started this blog to share what he has learned.