(The following is an excerpt from a questions and answers session with Srila Narasingha Maharaja on the occasion of Baladeva Purnima at Govindaji Gardens on 16th August 2008)
Question: In the Mahabharata is appears that Balarama was mostly in favor of Duryodhana. Lord Balarama abstains from the Kuruksetra war and goes on tirtha yatra. He returns at the end of the war when Bhima and Duryodhana were engaged in fighting. He protests that Bhima played foul by hitting Duryodhana on his thighs and He almost kills Bhima. How do we understand this lila of the Lord?
Srila Narasingha Maharaja: Why doesn’t Balarama come here and kill all of us? Are we such great devotees? Do we have no fault within? Is there nothing mundane left within us? Are we so perfect? I wish we had leaders like Duryodhana in the world today. He was tens of thousands of crores better than any leader we have seen in this world for thousands of years. In actual fact he was a very righteous person. It wasn’t that Balarama just arbitrarily liked him – He liked him for good reason. He was a righteous leader and the people who lived in Duryodhana’s kingdom were all very happy. Of course, difficulties broke out due to a family affair and the family was divided. So it is a good question – why did Balarama like Duryodhana? Who was Duryodhana? This is a good chance to analyze and get our brain cells working. It’s easy just to say, "Oh, Duryodhana was a demon!" In which way was Duryodhana a demon? Did he have big teeth? Did he eat meat? Yes, but is that what made him a demon? Bhima also ate meat. Is Bhima a demon? Vasistha Muni was also non-veg – do we consider him to be a demon? What is a demon? It is always good to analyze. Generally it is all very one-sided when people think, "Duryodhana was a bad chap from the very beginning." He also had many good qualities and he liked Lord Balarama. It is not that Duryodhana didn’t like Lord Krsna.
The Mahabharata is very, very complicated. Srila Sridhara Maharaja once said that, "The Mahabharata is mundane." Don’t expect to see the Mahabharata laced with transcendental truths. There is no Vaikuntha where mahabharata-lila is going on. There is Ayodhya, the place of rama-lila; there is Vrndavana; there is even a Dvaraka plane – but there is only one place where Mahabharata is still showing, and that is in some material universe. In some material plane the Mahabharata is still going on and in that way it is a mundane lila. It has no place in eternity and the transcendental world. I have pointed out a number of times that the purpose of mahabharata-lila is simply to attract our attention because within the Mahabharata there is the Bhagavad-gita. That is where there is transcendental knowledge. Things don’t just end. After the Gita is spoken, is it all over? Is that the way a good drama is played out? No – there is a build up, a crescendo and then it finally comes to a climax. The Mahabharata is just one big drama. The whole purpose of it is that Krsna will speak the Gita. But is it that once Krsna has spoken the Gita we close the book? No – many different things happen years after the battle of Kuruksetra.
One thing to note is that in the Mahabharata Krsna’s vrndavana-lila is not discussed. Years ago in India they made a television series of the Mahabharata and they added a section with Krsna in Vrndavana. All the upper class sadhus and people said, “What is this? This is a concoction! Krsna’s vrndavana-lila is not mentioned in Mahabharata. Why are you putting it there?” It is a completely different plane. This is transcendental.
So firstly, we should understand that everything in the Mahabharata isn’t transcendental. We assume that Balarama shouldn’t side with Duryodhana because Duryodhana was a demon. But Duryodhana wasn’t a demon. He was a very righteous person. Duryodhana liked Krsna and he very much liked Balarama. The problem was that he didn’t like Arjuna. This is the drama. They were ksatriyas. Now we can also look at this from the spiritual side – Balarama is all-knowing. From the spiritual side Balarama is omniscient. He knows everything and He knows who is going to win in the end. But He is appreciating.
It is not that there is nothing spiritual about the Mahabharata. It is mixed. Wherever the Lord is, wherever His avataras are, that is spiritual. But everything that comes out of that affair is not necessarily spiritual. In other words, we can hear every day about the battle of Kuruksetra and we can hear about Arjuna’s numerous love affairs as he goes around the world marrying different women and having children etc. We can hear about these things life after life, but those narrations won’t take us back to Godhead. It may create a little piety within us because of who Arjuna ultimately is, but that doesn’t take us back to Godhead. But if we hear about Krsna in Vrndavana and we become absorbed in hearing about those lilas – if we hear about those lilas properly, then each hearing is a step back to Godhead. It is completely different because those lilas are going on eternally in the spiritual world, but the mahabharata-lila is going on in the material world. So in one sense, we don’t want to hear too much about the Mahabharata or else we’ll just remain in this material world. We have to separate something there.
One thing to note is that Duryodhana, as big as a demon as we might say he is, was better than any of the present government leaders anywhere in the world. If Duryodhana returned today it would be a relief. All the slaughterhouses would be closed, there would be no killing of the cow; all the criminal politicians would be executed; all the bars, brothels and places of degradation would be shut down immediately. In that way, Duryodhana was very pious.
You may have heard of the great western philosophers like Tolstoy, Descartes, Kant etc. They all drank – there was no teetotalers in western philosophical circles. Einstein and Schopenhauer smoked cigars; they were mostly non-vegetarian, although some of them were vegetarian because they had some intelligence. They were not like the philosophers of India – Jaimini, Vyasa, Madhva, Ramanuja who had a lifestyle that lived up to the level of their philosophy. Philosophers in the west have every bad habit there is. We call them ‘armchair-philosophers’. They actually have no practicing life behind that philosophy. Sometimes a principle of vegetarianism crops up. Tolstoy became a vegetarian, but there were also many non-vegetarian Vedic brahmanas in the ancient world. It’s not all about being a vegetarian. Does being a vegetarian mean you are a saint? Actually in the vegetarian movement we find a tremendous aversion to Krsna consciousness. The vegetarian movement in the western world is very pro-abortion also, whereas a large section of the non-vegetarian world is vehemently anti-abortion. These people drink, smoke and eat meat but they protest abortion, while many of the new-age, ‘free-thinking’ people have lost the plot when it comes to freedom.
What does freedom mean? Does freedom mean that you can eat razor blades? Is that freedom? Well, yes – you are free to eat razor blades, but that’s insanity. If I want to shoot you in cold blood, is that freedom? No, that’s murder. That is a misuse of freedom and so is abortion. So you will find that many people in the vegetarian movement and yoga circles are strongly averse to Krsna. However, I have seen people that are non-vegetarian who have a more positive idea about Krsna consciousness, he asrama and devotees. We have friends in Mysore who have helped us many times, who aren’t even vegetarian. Of course we look at that as a bad quality. They should continue to be favorable towards Krsna, the devotees and devotional service, and leave foods in the mode of ignorance behind. Yet by their habit they can’t do that. But are they demons?
So it is not so easy to draw a line and state who is a demon. If you draw that line you might draw it through your own heart. We all have anarthas and what are these anarthas? They are demons. It is not that they are compared to demons – they are demons! Krsna accepts so many devotees to serve Him and they undergo purification. Duryodhana’s purification was that he was finally killed by Bhima in the presence of Krsna and Balarama. Balarama walked away in the end – He didn’t want to see it. But Balarama knew what was going to happen.
In the end Duryodhana died in the presence of Krsna, and it is also said that everybody who died at Kuruksetra attained moksa. It doesn’t specify what type of moksa they received. They certainly didn’t go to Goloka Vrndavana, but they got some form of higher position in their next life. Once there was a Hindu army officer in Amritsar. He was white-haired older gentleman and he told Prabhupada, "I am always having some problem in my mind because an astrologer told me that in my previous life, I was in the Kuruksetra war and I fought against Krsna." Srila Prabhupada just said, "That is not possible. Everybody that died at Kuruksetra went back to Godhead. You are still here so obviously you weren’t there." Prabhupada just popped his bubble.
Ultimately, we should look at it as being all for the good. The Mahabharata is a drama with many lessons in life. Although Duryodhana had all good qualities, he had one bad quality and that one bad quality brought him down. That bad quality was that he was envious of Arjuna. It’s not that if you are envious of a family member and you have all good qualities, you will be brought down – that’s not the lesson. The lesson is that he was envious of someone who was dear to Krsna. He was envious of the Pandavas.
Bhisma, on the other hand, is a great devotee, but he shot Krsna! He shot Him with arrows! Have you ever been shot with an arrow? It’s not like in the movies – in a film, a man is shot and he keeps running and fighting. That doesn’t usually happen. When a hole is made in you, you go down. Not once, not twice, but many times Bhisma fired arrows in Krsna. But Krsna took them to be like the flowers offered by the Gopis. How is that possible? Because they are in their ksatriya bhava.
Nowadays, some people claim to be ksatriyas, but most of them are just brutish animals. To be a ksatriya you have to be trained in dharma-sastras. They don’t know anything about dharma – they are just barbarians. When ksatriyas spar with each other, they really fight. They still practice like this in Kerala even today. They don’t train with sticks, they use knives. Any master of martial arts in Kerala has at least ten knife wounds; otherwise he wasn’t trained very well. It’s most likely that his guru put half the scars on his body while training him. Every once in a while they would practice and one of them would die – now that’s real practice!
We are not ksatriyas. For us, we sit round with the devotees after a nice bhajana program with a big bowl of sweet rice and some hot puris. But for a ksatriya they like a good bloody battle. Nothing makes them happier. There is nothing worse for a ksatriya than to stop fighting. That’s boring for them. It’s like a Marwadi who can’t open his shop. There is no bigger hell for a traditional Marwadi than the day that the market’s closed.
An answer to a question is not always linear. That is not how everything goes. We may wish that it was a little straighter, a little clearer and a little easier to understand, but sometimes it’s a lot more complicated than that. Once in a while we may find a quote by an acarya who, seeing a particular situation, sheds some light on a particular point. But ultimately it’s not that every single point has an explanation. There are some points that nobody has even endeavored to speak about. In the Caitanya-caritamrta there is one section where Lord Nityananda is chasing Caitanya Mahaprabhu. After the kirtana everybody is exhausted and they can’t even stand up. Only Mahaprabhu is standing and dancing and Nityananda chases Him into a garden. Suddenly He sees Mahaprabhu by a tree, and Mahaprabhu turns into Radharani. This verse is there in Caitanya-caritamrta but there’s no purport. We would think that He’s Radha and Krsna combined and at that moment He showed the svarupa of Radha. But there is no commentary. One of the meanings is that we don’t need to voice our opinions about everything. The next verse says that seeing this, Nityananda turned around and immediately stopped pursuing Mahaprabhu. In other words, if even Lord Nityananda is not going to pursue it at this point, then why should we?
So we cannot question Balarama. We may ask, “Why did He do that?” Some mundane scholars may do that and try to find some discrepancy. In the same way they will also question Krsna and ultimately say that He is not Bhagavan. This lila is being played out in a very intriguing way. If Krsna and Balarama killed all the demons immediately then the drama would end very early on and the Mahabharata would not be a very popular book. Even in modern movies, there’s always a point where it looks like the hero might get killed, but he never does. The heroes never get killed. In Ancient Greek tragedies however, you can expect the hero to get killed. They had a different way. In fact, if you where a hero in a Greek drama, you were definitely going to be killed! The Mahabharata is the ultimate drama. Its complexities go beyond the possibility for someone to have imagined it. When imagination takes over it cannot become too complex. At a point it just loses the plot. The cursing, the counter-cursing, the relations with the family and other people – an ordinary mind could not present such a story.
Question: in Gaudiya Vaisnavism we worship many aspects and forms of Krsna such as Radha-Krsna, Gaura-Nitai, Gaura-Gadadhara etc. But how significant and important is it to worship Krsna and Balarama together and what is Balarama’s mood or role in Krsna’s pastimes as Krsna’s elder brother?
Srila Narasingha Maharaja: Some say that Prabhupada established Krsna-Balarama because of his family lineage. Some people have indicated that this is an indication of his rasa. And others have said it was because Ramana-reti was the place of Krsna and Balarama. If you go to Bombay, Prabhupada installed Sita-Rama. What does that mean? That doesn’t mean anything. Bombay is a place of Rama bhaktas. Prabhupada establishes a Rama Deity to bring the Rama bhaktas to the Radha-Krsna temple, to worship Gaura-Nitai, to do sankirtana and to chant Hare Krsna. He was preaching.
After the time of Prabhupada, many Krsna-Balarama Deities were established. I think there is one in Mysore. This is called a ‘one-track mind.’ They have a Krsna-Balarama temple, and they have a Krsna-Balarama ratha-yatra –everything is all about Krsna and Balarama. I don’t know what their idea is, but they took it upon themselves. It is not something that Prabhupada said – to establish Krsna-Balarama everywhere. Ramana-reti, where the Krsna-Balarama Temple is in Vrndavana is the place of the cowherd boys; it’s a place of the cowherd boy’s rasa and lila. Personally, as a disciple of Prabhupada, above rasa, above everything, I think it was Prabhupada doing something very unique again and catching everybody’s attention. One more Radha-Krsna temple in Vrndavana would not be much of a new contribution. That wouldn’t get anybody’s attention. So he established Krsna and Balarama in Ramana-reti and everybody was so happy. Nobody was saying, "Wait a minute! This isn’t the highest rasa!” Instead, everybody was saying, "This is amazing, this is fantastic, this is wonderful. Ramana-reti, yes! And you have Krsna-Balarama.”
However, it is true that if you look at the life of a great spiritual personality, there’s what is called prakrta-lila and aprakrta-lila. Prakrta-lila are those activities that they did in this world and their aprakrta-lila is their eternal connection. So we would expect to see, particularly at high points and time-to-time, where that prakrta-lila is moved by that aprakrta-lila. So with Krsna-Balarama that also must be so.
However, in regards to Prabhupada installing Krsna-Balarama in Vrndavana, personally, I don’t see it as the ultimate definitive proof that defines Srila Prabhupada’s rasa. I see it more in light of who Gaura-Nitai are in krsna-lila. I see it more in light of the sankirtana movement, like Prabhupada installing Sita-Rama in Bombay. But some people do take it that way; that’s a very individual thing.
In Kali-yuga Krsna and Balarama appear on the horizon of Gauda as Gaura-Nitai. Although They are brothers, They are not born in the same family. But actually neither are Krsna and Balarama. Balarama’s mother is Rohini and Krsna’s mother is Yasoda. Nityananda is not born from Saci-mata, but nonetheless, Gaura-Nitai are considered to be brothers and are non-different from Krsna and Balarama.
How Balarama became the elder brother can be traced back to rama-lila when Laksmana was the younger brother. He had to do the biddings of Rama that he didn’t really like and finally He said, "This is the last time I am going to be Your younger brother. Next time I’m going to be the older brother and You will listen to Me! I will be looking after You!” The older brother is always protecting the younger brother. Of course, all this is just in the lila but in a higher sense, from the point of krsna-lila, these eternal worlds eternally exist, so it is not that one comes before the other. But if there had to be one before the other, it is Krsna before Rama – not Rama before Krsna, because the full potency must exist before the partial potency.
One time Prabhupada was driving in the car, the first year that the Krsna-Balarama Temple opened, and he asked, "Who is stronger, Krsna or Balarama?" Balarama is the strength potency of Krsna, so one might think that He is protecting Krsna. He is older than Krsna, He is bigger than Krsna etc. Most of the time you knew that when Prabhupada asks a question you are not going to get it right, so it was better to shut up and wait for him to give the answer. Finally Prabhupada said that Krsna is stronger than Balarama. The proof is that Balarama is leaning on Krsna for relaxation which means that Krsna is stronger.
Once when someone ask Srila Puri Maharaja why do you worship Gaura-Gadadhara? Srila Puri Maharaja said, “Because without worshipping Gaura-Gadadhara you cannot understand Radha-Krsna.” Of course, about half the devotees in the room almost fell on the floor with shock! But no such statement could be made that, “If you don’t worship Krsna and Balarama, you cannot understand Radha-Krsna” – the two are not connected there. The worship of Gaura-Gadadhara and Radha-Krsna are connected. The worship of Panca-tattva is connected there, and even Gaura-Nitai are connected there. But there is no connection going towards Krsna-Balarama. This is an individual devotee preference. It is not a stepping-stone that everyone should take in the progress of proper siddhanta and in the development of rasa. You cant just worship Radha-Krsna and not worship Gaura-Nitai – this is not acceptable. You may have Radha-Krsna Deities in the house and no Deities of Gaura-Nitai, but you worship Gaura-Nitai by chanting the Panca-tattva mantra. The mantra you chant is more important than the vigraha that you worship.