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Krishna’s Absence

Besides the experience of success, all serious practitioners on the spiritual path know the painful void that spreads when Krishna seems to be far away. Yet precisely by temporarily withholding the spiritual gifts of mercy (with their overwhelming moments of happiness) Krishna grants an even greater gift: a deep longing is awakened in the heart, which – as long as we don’t try to cover it up with superficial substitute satisfaction such as television, indulgence foods etc. – burns and removes everything from the heart that doesn’t belong there.

Narada Muni’s Story

One of the best stories illustrating this is the story of Narada Muni. One day, at the end of a long journey, Narada sat down beneath a banyan tree to meditate. What happened next changed his life forever. In deep samadhi he saw Krishna’s wonderful form, which overwhelmed him with unprecedented feelings of happiness. First he smelled Krishna’s captivating scent, then he heard the tinkle of His ankle bells and finally he saw His face and enchanting smile. Narada’s every notion born of duality cleared away with this darshan.

At some point Narada lost sight of this transcendental form from his inner vision. It vanished – and he was devastated! It was as if he had lost the most precious thing imaginable. Desperately, he tried focusing within his heart, just as he had done before, so he could call back the unforgettable vision. But whatever way he tried to see Krishna again – the Lord did not show Himself. When Krishna did finally communicate, He did it unexpectedly through transcendental sound in kirtan.

This is the message the Lord disclosed to the perplexed Narada:

I regret that during this lifetime you will not be able to see Me anymore. Those who are incomplete in service and who are not completely free from all material taints can hardly see Me.
O virtuous one, you have only once seen My person, and this is just to increase your desire for Me, because the more you hanker for Me, the more you will be freed from all material desires.
” (Krishna in Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.21-22)

Specifically important is the instruction: the more you hanker for Me, the more you will be freed from all that stands between you and Me – your material desires.

Narada took the advice: he followed his longing for the Lord. Chanting the Holy Names of the Lord and speaking about Krishna’s divine pastimes, Narada remained on the spiritual platform, a consciousness in which the devotee doesn’t feel separate from Krishna. Satisfied, humble and free from envy he travelled all over the earth.

Since Narada was always absorbed in thoughts of Krishna in this way, what is called “death” in the case of ordinary people, was only a transformation of the material body into an eternal spiritual body, full of knowledge and bliss, for him. It was no dramatic event coined by fear and horror, but a continuation of what he had already experienced on earth: complete absorption in Krishna – Krishna-samadhi.

Narada described how his experience of kirtan on earth remained the same when he was liberated:

The Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, whose glories and activities are pleasing to hear, at once appears on the seat of my heart, as if called for, as soon as I begin to chant His holy activities.” (Narada in Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.33)

How Divine Gifts of Mercy Can Be Received

What are the divine gifts of mercy? Most certainly not only His personal darshan!

A divine gift of mercy can be something “indeterminable” – for example, when things suddenly start to work out in a project or situation. Or it can be a blossoming of enthusiasm, clarity, endurance or inner strength within the devotee.

Even moments where Krishna seems to be far away, in which we see ourselves confronted with our weaknesses and have again received a lesson in humility, can be considered as gifts of mercy. Even experiences that seem like suffering are seen as mercy by a devotee.

I just used the word “indeterminable” with a slight smile; just because these gifts don’t have a clear sender label, doesn’t mean the sender needs to remain unknown. By being mindful or by talking about it with others, it is definitely possible to recognize when something is given by divine arrangement. It is also always helpful to consult the guru, sadhus [wise persons] or the shastras [holy scriptures].

How then, is it possible to experience Krishna’s presence when he is absent? By singing His Holy Names! Narada himself teaches us how kirtan brings the Lord back:

The Supreme Lord at once appears – as if called for – as soon as I begin to chant.”

Everyone can experience that Krishna appears, if you absorb yourself in kirtan. When the options in life get “wedged” and nothing works out, there is always a reliable resort: chanting the Holy Names – done best in association of many chanting together.

Sometimes life seems void and Krishna or His arrangements seem to be far away. It is best not to despair in these moments – or worse – to distract oneself, but to call for Him by chanting His Holy Names. And I mean really call for Him! Perhaps He is only waiting for you to sincerely turn to Him.

When Krishna returned to His dearest friends – the maidens of Vrindavana, the gopis – after they had been frantically searching for Him – He explained to them why He sometimes disappears from His devotees:

If it were nothing special to attain Me, my devotees might start thinking: Krishna is easy to have. This is the only reason I sometimes don’t appear before them. When a poor person suddenly gains wealth, but shortly after loses it again, he will not be able to think about anything but else for twenty-four hours a day. In the same way, it sometimes seems as if My devotees have lost Me, but instead of forgetting Me, they feel their love to Me increasing more and more.” (Krishna speaking to the gopis in Srimad Bhagavatam, canto 10)

I wish all of us the unswerving faith we need to sincerely turn to Krishna through kirtan, the singing of His Holy Names, especially at those times when Krishna seems to be absent.
 

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