With Krishna at the Beach

Because we live in Florida, my wife and I often take our granddaughter to the ocean during the summer. She’s twelve now, and we’ve been going to the beach with her since she was about two. So we’ve spent a lot of time there (which accounts for my tanned face on BTG’s Contents pages).

I’ve always liked the “elemental” experience of the ocean beach – the feeling of being surrounded by the basic elements of earth, air, water, sky, and fire (sun). We know from the Bhagavad-gita (7.4) that these are Krishna’s energies. And for aspiring devotees, the natural opulence of the ocean tends to spark thoughts of Krishna and His teachings.

For example, the material world is compared to an ocean. This suggests, among other things, that to cross it on one’s own is impossible. Shukadeva Goswami says, however, that for one who takes shelter at Lord Krishna’s lotus feet, the ocean of material existence shrinks down to the amount of water in a calf’s hoofprint. One can easily step over it.

In Bhagavat-sandarbha Jiva Goswami uses the ocean to make a point about Brahman (the Absolute Truth) and the jiva, sometimes said to be identical to Brahman. Jiva Goswami says that when the scriptures seem to equate the jiva with God, it is like someone pointing to the ocean and saying, “This is the ocean.” Of course, what is seen is just a part of the ocean; we can’t see the whole ocean. But we can understand something about it just by seeing a small part of it. Similarly, when the Upanishads speak of the jiva as Brahman, they’re speaking only of an aspect of Krishna to give us some sense of Him.

Krishna says that of bodies of water He is the ocean, implying that because the ocean is the greatest body of water it naturally represents Him, the greatest of everything. When I’m in the ocean I often think that the short distance I’ve traveled from the shore is like the tiny distance I’ve traveled in my understanding of oceanic Krishna.

Anyone who has spent many hours at the ocean notices how the shoreline changes throughout the day. And even though the waves arrive with a rhythm that might suggest monotony, each breaker is unique, creating a dynamic beauty.

Krishna’s beauty is dynamic too, and is described in the Ninth Canto as a festival for the eyes. Many things take place during a festival, so it might seem strange to compare someone’s face, which doesn’t noticeably change from moment to moment, to the array of sights at a festival. But the gopis were angry at Lord Brahma for creating eyes that blink, causing the gopis to momentarily lose sight of Krishna. They didn’t want to miss anything at the “festival.”

Besides water (the ocean), the other elements that make up the beach experience can also inspire Krishna thoughts. For example, Krishna says that the sun is one of His eyes, and it’s easy to think of Him looking down on us during a sunny day at the beach; the vast blue sky spread out over the ocean reminds us of the hue of Krishna’s body; the countless grains of sand always make me think of various countless things we hear about in our scriptures, such as the universes emanating from the body of Maha-Vishnu or the souls inhabiting the material world, waiting for the grace of the Lord’s pure devotees for the opportunity to go to Him – and swim in the ocean of devotion.

– Nagaraja Dasa