Lord Krishna excels everyone in everything, including service to others.

By Vishakha Devi Dasi

Lord Krishna makes promises, obliging Himself to fulfill them.

A volunteer freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task. In other words, a volunteer chooses to do something as opposed to being obliged or mandated to do it. I may not want to go to school or work, but I’m obliged to by the state and my parents, in the case of school, or financial obligations and family pressure in the case of work. In my free time, however, I may volunteer at a thrift store or church, the Salvation Army, or a youth soccer league. Then I’m doing something because I want to do it; I’m a volunteer.

Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is not obliged to act. Since no one is equal or superior to Him, no one can mandate that He take part in any enterprise or undertake any task.  So why does He come to this world and perform pastimes? Because He voluntarily chooses to. He makes Vrindavan His residence, and there He has sweet relationships and activities with His friends and relatives, with the cows, and even with the trees and other nonmoving entities. In this way Krishna is the supreme volunteer, as He is neither obliged nor mandated to do anything He does.

Krishna’s Self-Prescribed Duties

This, however, is only one of several ways to view Krishna’s activities. Krishna makes two famous statements in the Bhagavad-gita that relate to whether or not He is the supreme volunteer. One is the following:

paritranaya sadhunam
vinashaya cha dushkritam
sambhavami yuge yuge

“To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium.” (Gita 4.8)

Krishna gives Himself several tasks and responsibilities. In His own estimation He is duty-bound to protect saintly persons, to overwhelm the godless, and to redirect society toward abiding by dharma, or God-given laws.

Moments later in the Gita He says,

ye yatha mam prapadyante
tams tathaiva bhajamy aham
mama vartmanuvartante
manushyah partha sarvashah

“As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” (Gita 4.11)

Krishna fully reciprocates with each of us. The more we turn to Him for shelter and inspiration, the more He turns to us to give that shelter and inspiration. In fact, Krishna manifests Himself to His devotee in a way that exactly corresponds to that devotee’s affection for Him. Lord Chaitanya said, “Different forms are manifested due to different attachments of different devotees. Actually the Lord is one, but He appears in different forms just to satisfy His devotees.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 9.155) By appearing in these diverse ways, is Krishna acting voluntarily or involuntarily?

Voluntarily, because Krishna has made an independent choice to be bound by the love of His devotees. Again from Lord Chaitanya: “Lord Krishna’s mercy is dependent only on affection. Being obliged only by affection, Lord Krishna acts very independently.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 10.139) Srila Prabhupada comments, “Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is merciful, but His mercy does not depend on mundane rules and regulations. He is dependent only on affection and nothing else.”

Sanatana Goswami corroborates this understanding a number of times in his own commentary on his Brihad-bhagavatamrita:

  • “Krishna’s most wonderful qualities are His concern for His devotees and His submission to their control.” (1.7.3–4, Commentary)
  • “Krishna’s love for the gopis deliberately shows to everyone the greatest feature of His transcendental personality – His voluntary submission to the control of His dearest devotees.” (1.7.84, Commentary)
  • Krishna says, “I am ruled by their [the Vraja-vasis] desires.” Commentary: “He is proud of Himself for having the great treasure of the Vraja-vasis’ love.” (1.7.91)
  • And He says, “I can never fully repay these devotees, and so I am utterly indebted to them.” Commentary: “Krishna is the all-powerful Supreme Lord. At His command are boundless energies, ready to fulfill His every desire. But He cannot repay His debt of gratitude to His devotees in Sri Vrindavana. Thus He constantly looks for small favors He can do for them as tokens of His affection.” (1.7.93)

Krishna feels so obliged to His devotees that not only does He come to this world to protect them, but He comes in the particular form they desire. Sanatana Goswami writes, “God in His original from is a young, playful cowherd, and in this form He enjoys His original pleasure. When the Supreme Lord appears in any other form, that appearance is secondary, manifested to satisfy particular devotees.” (1.7.154–155, Commentary)

Krishna’s Promise

Reading of Krishna’s powerful declarations of love for and voluntary submission to His devotees, I think, “Krishna’s reciprocation of His devotees’ love is glorious and wondrous. But I’m not much of a devotee, I don’t love Krishna, so all these statements don’t apply to me.”

How much do these statements apply to beginners on the devotional path? Narada Muni addresses this question in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.17): “One who has forsaken his material occupations to engage in the devotional service of the Lord may sometimes fall down while in an immature stage, yet there is no danger of his being unsuccessful.” From Srila Prabhupada’s purport: “Even though one falls down from the prescribed duties of devotional service, he will never forget the lotus feet of the Lord.” If the fallen devotee doesn’t forget Krishna, then Krishna won’t forget His devotee, for that’s His promise: His relationships are fully reciprocal.

In other words, the more I voluntarily and wholeheartedly engage in devotional service to Krishna, free of interruptions and material motivations, the more He will voluntarily come closer to me, reciprocating my efforts and fulfilling my heart’s deepest yearning. He will do that because, voluntarily, He has promised to do so. And He is bound by His promises to His devotees. He cannot but fulfill those promises.