[For the Disciple—A Guide]
Stories about Krishna—His Youth
5,000 years ago, Krishna the eighth incarnation of Vishnu the universal preservative aspect of Great nature, was born at a time of discord, the seeds of which would flower in due karmic time into the great War of Kurukshetra.
Kansa, a wicked prince, had dethroned his father the king of Mathura, and, owing to a prophecy which threatened him with destruction at the hands of a nephew to be born by his sister, he imprisoned his sister, Devaki, and her husband the prince Vasudeva. The prophecy made known to him that their eighth child would destroy him. He accordingly arranged that each child that Devaki bore to Vasudeva would be killed in his presence on birth.
By the divine intervention of Vishnu, employing Ananta, his serpent-rest (as master of the spirals of time), or "vehicle," he arranged for their seventh child, Balarama, to be removed before Krishna's birth to the village of Gokul, across the Juma river from Mathura. Maha-Vishnu, named Krishna and Gopala (shepherd) incarnated in the eighth.
Vasudeva and Devaki were, at Krishna's birth afforded a vision of his true nature and Vasudeva was ordered by the gods to take the child to Gokul, the home of the headman Nanda, and his wife Yasodhara; and to bring back the girl-child she had just born to her. The exchange was made during a heavy rain storm at night, and to the astonishment of the villagers, Yasodhara's child was found in the morning to be, not a girl, but a boy. Neither of the foster parents were aware of the substitution, and the child-Krishna was brought up as their own.
When king Kansa, the evil uncle, came the following morning to the prison to kill his sister's new-born child, the baby girl eluded him, and transforming into a goddess, informed him that Krishna, the eighth child, had been removed, and his fate was inescapable.
The many myths and legends of ancient India were composed by Vyasa and other wise men—the Raj-Rishis—so as to keep before the minds of the people of that country, great moral ideals. Also, fundamental teachings that move all Nature, surely but invisibly, were illustrated in song and drama: Karma, reincarnation, the brotherhood of mankind and of all beings, and therefore universal causes, the victory of righteous, even after years of injustice and trials, and the solidarity of all Nature, were hinted at or explained in the stories embodied in the Maha-Bharata and the Ramayana. The Ramayana, was the older of these two epics, with an antiquity that went back at least half a million years. It treated of the lives of Rama, the righteous King, of gentle Sita, his wife, of Ravana, the demon-king of Lanka, who abducted her, of Rama's loyal and noble brother Laxmana, and of the help given by Hanuman (son of the Wind-god), the Monkey-chieftan and of all the tribes and beasts of India that assisted Rama in recovering his beloved Sita.
In India, a country of over 700,000 villages, most of them remote until of recent years from our kind of civilization, life moved at a slower pace. In those days, everyone knew the stories well, and when a troupe of actors, singers, dancers and wandering bards visited village after village in wide circuits, and spent sometimes several weeks in putting on nightly episodes of the great epic dramas, everyone who could would come.
Customarily, at around 9 or 10 p.m. these shows were begun, and the episode of the night would run up to 2:30 or 3 a.m. Then, everyone went home to sleep and prepare for the next day's work. The sequel to the great drama was looked forward to, and most children knew by heart the speeches and the unfoldment of the lives thus depicted. An entire Epic could take a week or two to complete. Then the troupe moved on to another town, and repeated the program for the villagers there.
Many are the stories of Krishna's youth. Part of these concern the attempts made by Kansa using his demonic powers to kill the boy, and how all were foiled. Many times foster mother Yasodhara was a witness to the true nature of the child Krishna, and she held him alternately in love and awe.
Krishna was fond of butter, and he raided her storehouse for this delicacy. She discovered him in the act, once and began to scold him. He opened his mouth to cry, and therein, Yasodhara, saw, to her astonishment, the whole Earth, the solar system, and the entire Universe. Filled with awe she bowed to Him, retreating, but he closed this vision and comforted her, but, never did she forget this great vision—one which was shown to Arjuna in the eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita.
Many other stories concerned his rescues of the forest folk and cowherds, and the pranks that he played with and on his companions. In one story, he multiplied himself so as to dance with each of the cow-girls of the village, who had all fallen in love with him, but they became proud of this, and as they did, he vanished from their side. Only Radha, chief of the gopis (cow-girls) who loved him unselfishly and truly, remained untouched. Shielded by such true love, he recognized that gift, and took her with him. But even she at last succumbed to a moment of pride and lost him for a while. Many a lovely poem has been written of their love and life together. The Bhakta (devotional) movement, focused on the love of Krishna as the universal guide and protector of the kine of Earth developed years later from these stories. Great poets, such as Tukaram and Tulsidas, and philosphers such as Dhyaneshwar and Mirabai formed part of this movement and are honored to this day in devotional songs and drama.
As a youth Krishna went with other children to herd the cows of the village, and was called by them: Gopala, or Govinda. Nanda, the Chief, had, at some time, moved the village to the forest of Brindaban to escape Kansa's many unwelcome attentions, but, even there they were eventually discovered and he attacked.
When the boy had grown to manhood, and Kansa's attacks at a distance, all proving ineffectual, the evil king decided that he would kill Krishna himself. Accordingly he summoned Nanda and all his village to court. Krishna accompanied by Balarama, his older brother, went with the villagers of Brindavan to the capital Mathura, ostensibly to attend a tournament that had been arranged to welcome the return of the "lost" nephew.
In the Court, on exhibit as proof of Kansa's power, there hung an ancient bow, said to have been Siva's. Seeing this, Krishna lifted, bent and broke it. The resulting thunder-clap sent fear over the city and deep into Kansa's heart. Krishna was vigorously attacked in several seemingly accidental ways, and in defending himself, he and Balarama, performed other extraordinary feats. Kansa persisted in attempts, and finally, when the open court, the Durbar was held, where all was to be peaceful, he tried to kill him using a maddened elephant. His patience at an end, and the time of the prophecy having come, Krishna sprang to the royal dais, and, confronting Kansa destroyed him. Kansa's Soul, being thus freed from such an evil body, saluted Krishna before all, and thanked him for its delivery from such an evil prison-house as its last incarnation had been. The kingdom was then restored to Kansa's father who had been forcefully cast into a dungeon for the past 18 years. Krishna then set the kingdom to right, he comforted the bereaved queens of Kansa, and set his own parents free. Nanda, Yasodhara, and the gopas and gopis all returned after the festivities to Brindavan, thinking each one, that Krishna went with them, and so he did, separating himself as before into the many hearts of these his devotees, so that they went happy and comforted, knowing that He dwelt in them as they were all parts of Him. And so it is always with all of us, Krishna dwells ever in our own hearts. He is the Higher Self.
For some years the epic continues, Krishna served the kingdom of Mathura as its general. Attacks from surrounding regions multiplied, until Krishna using his divine power, asked Visvakarma, the architect of the gods to build for them an invulnerable city near the Western Sea, and thus Dwaraka (thereafter known as Krishna's city) was established at the tip of the Kathiawar peninsula on the Arabian Sea, and the whole population of Mathura (the Yadus) was transported and resettled there by Krishna's might in a single night.
Krishna is said in myth to have married many thousands of wives. Understood esoterically, Krishna is the active male essence, which ever active, balances the passive dormant energies of physical nature, and gives it life. Nature is represented as female, and the two acting in harmony produce their effects—a son. The sage Narada, master of cycles, is said to have visited Krishna in Dwaraka to see how he managed to keep peace with all those wives, and to his amazement he found that every home had Krishna with his wife there, and contentment and happiness reigned among all.
The work and power of Krishna is to be found embedded in hundreds of stories, but the Bhagavad-Gita, is the culmination.
Krishna was visited by the exiled Pandavas in Dwaraka, during their long exile for 13 years. He befriended them, knowing who they were, and later when they needed help, he supported them in the Council of Kings that assembled around Bishma, Dhritarashtra, and Duryodhana in the Kuru kingdom. Seven times he attempted to bring reconciliation between the cousins of opposite natures. The final war on Kurukshetra was the eighth and final result.