Forever Young

When people accustomed to the Judeo-Christian worldview encounter the claim that God is not a bearded, gray-haired old man but a charming youth, their response is usually one of skepticism. An elder person just seems a better fit for the position of creator and ruler of all that be. Granted, the Bible doesn’t describe God as having the form of an old man. But because He’s often depicted that way, that image influences how people think of Him.

We Krishna devotees’ conviction that Krishna is God rests especially on the authority of sadhu, shastra, and guru, or the teachings of self-realized souls, the conclusions of the Vedic scriptures, and the corroborative testimony of the guru who represents those pure souls and scriptures. The scriptures are the primary source of evidence, and from them we learn not only about Krishna’s activities as God, but also exactly what He looks like. And the first striking feature of His appearance is that He looks young.

The Brahma-samhita and other scriptures describe Krishna as nava-yauvana, or a “new youth.” Srila Prabhupada would generally characterize Krishna as a youth of fifteen or sixteen years of age. Traditionally, a child’s ages are divided into three periods: kaumara (first five years), pauganda (next five years), and kaishora (next five years). Then, at age fifteen, the child enters his or her sixteenth year and become a yauvana, or youth. Though Krishna, to reciprocate the love of His pure devotees, exists in all His ages at once, we might call His eternal age early adolescence.

The scriptures proclaim the unequalled beauty of Krishna, and for millennia great devotee-poets have searched their minds and hearts for suitable metaphors to convey their appreciation of it. Intrinsic to His overwhelming beauty is His youthfulness.

When we think of Krishna enjoying with His devotees as a cowherd in the village of Vrindavana, His young age seems especially appropriate. But even elsewhere, such as Mathura, Dwarka, or even on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, after about ninety years on earth, He appears as a fresh youth.

What’s even more surprising is that Krishna as Narayana (Vishnu), worshiped in majesty as the mighty ruler on innumerable Vaikuntha planets, is also of youthful appearance. Imagine that you arrive in Vaikuntha, a place of indescribable opulence, and are escorted through seven astonishing gates before arriving at the palace where the Lord sits on a splendorous throne – and He looks like a teenager. Actually, by the time you gain the Lord’s audience you’ve already noticed that everyone in Vaikuntha is young. With forms that resemble the Lord’s, they are “just the age of growing youths” (Bhagavatam 2.9.11). No one is old in the spiritual world. Youth rules!

A simple explanation for the eternal youthfulness of the inhabitants of the spiritual world is that they all have spiritual bodies, which, unlike material bodies, are not subject to dwindling, death, and decay. Their eternal, fully conscious forms are made of spiritual bliss, exempt from the laws of material nature. Even if certain devotees there wish to display the forms of old people to serve Krishna or any of His expansions or avatars, their old age is only a show and has none of the drawbacks of an old material body.

Krishna is the supreme resident of the spiritual world, and nurturing our devotion to His eternal youthful form will carry us beyond the world of inherently miserable bodies, young or old, to His lotus feet, the true fountain of youth.

– Nagaraja Dasa