The awe inspired by aspects of this world hints at the infinite awesomeness of its creator.
By Vishakha Devi Dasi
While acknowledging the wonders of nature, devotees want to go beyond them to understand and appreciate their source.
One of the joys of parenting is to experience the sense of innocent wonder that lights up a child’s life as he or she discovers the world day by day. Whether a pencil, a puddle, or mashed potatoes – everything stirs curiosity, everything demands further investigation and experimentation. As we grow, that sense of wonder and newness may weaken and shrivel until, as adults, we sometimes go to far-flung places in search of new sights, sounds, and tastes to stimulate us.
Like the musk deer, which is said to search far and wide for the scent that’s coming from within its own body, by insisting on external stimulation we miss the actual wonder, the atma – the particle of spirit that gives life and consciousness to our body and the bodies of all beings.
Although the atma is atomic in size, it’s moving our body and mind to act in amazing ways. Our great civilizations and cities, our inventions and industries, our philosophizing and proselytizing are all done by the minute spirit spark within the body. “Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.” (Gita 2.29) If such wonderful things can be performed by the minute spiritual spark, we cannot begin to imagine what can be accomplished by the Supreme Spirit Whole.
The world we live in, composed of physical elements governed by the laws of material nature, is wonderful in its own way, but it does not work independently. Behind the workings of this world, behind the elements and nature’s laws, there’s the supreme atma – Paramatma, God. He is the creator and controller of everything. “This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, producing all moving and nonmoving beings. Under its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Gita 9.10) Perhaps we cannot see Krishna in the background; perhaps we see only the wonderful activities of nature. But from the scriptures, and by using our common sense and logic, we can understand that behind these activities there’s the direction of God, Krishna.
We may look up at a clear night sky and, while marveling at its majesty and mystery, wonder about its origin and purpose. How is it that so many planets – such huge lumps of earth – are floating in the air just like cotton swabs? Is it possible for such wonderful creations of material nature to exist without any intelligence behind them? When we see anything wonderful, common sense should inform us that behind such a manifestation there’s a controller. Nothing can manifest without being controlled; to ignore the controller behind the manifestation is like a child thinking that a pencil has self-manifested. And if in the inferior material energy there are so many wonderful things, we can hardly imagine how great are the wonders of the spiritual energy, which is superior to the material energy.
Although many people speculate on the source and purpose of creation, devotees of Krishna, aware of the limits of the mundane mind and intelligence, appreciate nature’s wonders and also want to go beyond them to understand their source. As a person who beats an empty husk of wheat cannot get grain, those who simply speculate on the source of material nature will not come closer to actually understanding that source, and will not achieve self-realization. Their only gain is trouble.
Srila Prabhupada writes:
The Lord has employed His wonderful material energy in manifesting many, many wonderful distractions in the material world, and the conditioned souls, illusioned by the same energy, are thus unable to know the supreme cause. The most stalwart scientists and philosophers, therefore, cannot be accepted as wonderful. They only appear wonderful because they are instruments in the hands of the illusory energy of the Lord. Under illusion, the general mass of people deny the existence of the Supreme Lord and accept the foolish products of illusory energy as supreme. (Bhagavatam 3.9.1, Purport)
Material Nature’s Wondrous Covering Power
The atma is wondrous, the supreme atma is supremely wondrous, and the covering potency of the supreme atma is also wondrous. That covering potency covers our knowledge and awareness of our own actual identity as atma, and it covers our knowledge of the Supreme’s will. Even Krishna’s dear devotees are sometimes struck by how His external energy works so wonderfully.
In a well-known story in the Mahabharata, King Yudhishthira was asked, “What is the most wonderful thing in this world?” He replied, “The most wonderful thing is that everyone sees that everyone else is dying, yet he’s thinking, ‘I shall not die.’”
Of course, in one sense we all know intellectually that we won’t live forever; the death rate is a hundred percent – we’re all doomed to die. Yet we act like we won’t die in the sense that we don’t inquire into the purpose of life, we don’t know what will become of us after death, and we don’t think there’s a solution to death, which is so abhorrent to most of us.
The Bhagavatam (5.18.3) confirms,
How wonderful it is that the foolish materialist does not heed the great danger of impending death! He knows that death will surely come, yet he is nevertheless callous and neglectful. If his father dies, he wants to enjoy his father’s property, and if his son dies, he wants to enjoy his son’s possessions as well. In either case, he heedlessly tries to enjoy material happiness with the acquired money.
Boldly and decisively, the Gita declares that for the atma there’s neither birth nor death. As spiritual beings, atmas, we are in fact eternal. Death means the end of the body we currently inhabit, not the end of us. And God consciousness, or Krishna consciousness, means becoming aware of these truths.
Once a devotee asked Srila Prabhupada, “What happens to a person out on the street if we just give him one Simply Wonderful [a sweet made from powdered milk, butter, and sugar and offered to Lord Krishna]?”
Srila Prabhupada replied:
Then it is wonderful – simply wonderful. He has not tasted such a wonderful sweet in his life. Therefore, you give him Wonderful, and because he is eating that wonderful sweet, one day he will come to your temple and become wonderful. Therefore it is simply wonderful. So go on distributing this simply wonderful. Your philosophy is simply wonderful, your prasadam is simply wonderful, you are simply wonderful. And your Krishna is simply wonderful. The whole process is simply wonderful. Krishna acts wonderfully, and it is acting wonderfully. Who can deny it? (Lecture, July 20, 1971, New York City)
Those fortunate persons who taste the uncommon sweetness and fragrance of Simply Wonderful prasadam – or any prasadam – are themselves struck with wonder. Further explaining how each one of us can become wonderful, Srila Prabhupada said,
I am wonderful so long I serve Krishna. Otherwise useless; no value. If I can serve Krishna, then I am wonderful certainly. We don’t want to become cheap wonderful. We want to become really wonderful by serving Krishna. That is our mission. Krishna is wonderful undoubtedly. Who can become more wonderful than Krishna? Mattah parataram nanyat [Gita 7.7]. Always remember, Krishna is wonderful. Don’t take Krishna very slightly, like one of you. That is foolishness. Krishna is wonderful, always. He’s the most wonderful person, and He can do anything wonderful. (Conversation, March 20, 1977, Mayapur)
We become wonderful and revive our sense of wonder by connecting ourselves favorably to the supreme wonder, Krishna. And then we discover His wondrously kind nature. Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya said to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, “My dear Sir, You have delivered the entire world, but that is not a very great task. However, You have also delivered me, and that is certainly the work of very wonderful powers.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya 6.213)
I may think, correctly, that I have no qualification for such an exalted goal as connecting with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If, however, I show my sincere desire for that goal by following the rules and regulations of bhakti-yoga – “the regulative principles of freedom,” in Prabhupada’s words – Krishna may grace me by allowing me to do wonderful things. A contemporary example of Krishna’s grace in a person’s life is Srila Prabhupada himself.
Srila Prabhupada: “We are speaking – we are not perfect; we are also ordinary human being – but people are taking that ‘Bhaktivedanta Swami has done wonder.’ What is that wonder? I am speaking Bhagavad-gita as it is, that’s all.” (Conversation, January 8, 1976, Nellore, India) And at another time, Prabhupada said, “People say that ‘Swamiji, you have done wonder, you have . . .’ so on, so on, so on. But I do not know what is the wonder. I know it is certain that I have not adulterated. That much I know.” (Conversation with Dr. Shaligram Shukla, July 5, 1976, Washington, D.C.)
When we associate with the wonderful, our own innate, wonderful nature and potency are revealed, and we’re able to do extraordinary things.
Growing in Wonder
At the end of the Bhagavad-gita (18.76–77) the narrator, Sanjaya, says to Dhritarashtra, “O King, as I repeatedly recall this wondrous and holy dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, I take pleasure, being thrilled at every moment. O King, as I remember the wonderful form of Lord Krishna, I am struck with wonder more and more, and I rejoice again and again.”
As we hear about Krishna with faith, we’ll naturally be amazed by His qualities and activities – how He married and royally provided for His 16,108 queens, how He’s aware of and responding to the desires of all living beings, how He has created and is maintaining the material world, how He’s enjoying with His devotees in His transcendental abode. Discussing Krishna will reawaken our own sense of appreciation and wonder, and that sense will be fully aroused when we ourselves reawaken – even to a small degree – our personal loving relationship with Krishna.
One of the many endearing aspects of Srila Prabhupada was the almost childlike sense of innocent wonder he sometimes expressed. His heart, shining with pure goodness and completely free of envy, relished hearing about and relating Krishna’s pastimes, His extraordinary powers, and His loving exchanges with His devotees. Once, when Srila Prabhupada was taking his students on a tour of holy places in Vrindavan, as he related how Krishna showed His mother all the universes within His mouth his eyes widened and his face became animated.
Srila Prabhupada also relished seeing the powerful effects on his students of the chanting and other practices of bhakti; he relished the unlimited and causeless mercy of Sri Krishna. And the more his students heard about wonderful Krishna and perceived Srila Prabhupada’s wonderful activities, the more their love for these personalities increased.
After all, it’s truly wonderful that the unlimited Personality of Godhead, the controller of the entire universe, the person upon whom the entire cosmos rests just as a woven cloth rests upon its own horizontal and vertical threads, the one who is sought by great sages for the sake of liberation and transcendental bliss, acts as a best well-wisher, as a friend, and as the spiritual master of His dear devotees.
After Lord Krishna granted Akrura a vision of His majestic four-armed form of Vasudeva, Akrura prayed to Him: “Whatever wonderful things the earth, sky or water contain, all exist in You. Since You encompass everything, when I am seeing You, what have I not seen? And now that I am seeing You, O Supreme Absolute Truth, in whom reside all the amazing things on the earth, in the sky and in the water, what other amazing things could I see in this world?” (Bhagavatam 10.41.4–5)
It’s a tragedy when our worldly lives become formulaic, rote, and dull. A deadened life is a life close to death. Let’s not allow that to happen; rather, whatever intelligence we have, whatever abilities we have, let us apply those to understanding and serving Krishna. Then, if by His grace we can experience just a drop of His presence in our lives, our appreciation of Him will blossom, and with it, our sense of wonder.
In regard to Lord Krishna’s appearance as Lord Chaitanya – considered Krishna’s most merciful form – Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami writes, “If you are indeed interested in logic and argument, kindly apply it to the mercy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If you do so, you will find it to be strikingly wonderful.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi 8.15)
If we feel far from appreciating Krishna’s and His devotees’ transcendental activities, we can still wonder at Krishna’s marvelous creation all around us. Consider, for example, Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling’s famous statement “Just one living cell in the human body is more complex than New York City.” As a former resident of that teeming city, I can say that thought is overwhelmingly wondrous.
Vishakha Devi Dasi has been writing for BTG since 1973. The author of six books, she is the temple president at Bhaktivedanta Manor in the UK. She and her husband, Yadubara Dasa, produce and direct films, most recently the biopic on the life of Srila Prabhupada Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement, and the Swami Who Started It All. Visit her website at OurSpiritualJourney.com.