Krsna As Broadest Sense
Krsna in Myth and The Arts of India
June 1999
            There is an ancient wisdom which lies buried deep within eons and eons of subconscious memory, the memory of all existence struggling to awake from some eternal creative dream.  The key to this sacred knowledge connects all things and dissolves all apparent dualities of nature.  It is the conscious experience of existence without being able to comprehend the “one thing” which clouds and deceives one’s mind.  But surely, if one is disciplined, his sights set on the highest way, his mind reeling through infinity and beyond, he will ascend the cosmic levels of awareness toward the eternal infinite being, Visnu, waiting with open arms.  Allow him to introduce himself to you now, where the journey begins.

            “I am the Primeval Cosmic Man, Narayana.  He is the waters; he is the first being; he is the source of the universe.  I manifest myself as the holiest of holy offerings.  I am the foremost of the immortals.  I am the cycle of the year, which generates everything and again dissolves it.  I am the divine yogi, the cosmic juggler or magician, who works wonderful tricks of delusion.  The magical deceptions of the cosmic yogi are the yugas, the ages of the world.  This display of the mirage of the phenomenal process of the universe is the work of my creative aspect: but at the same time I am a whirlpool, the destructive vortex, that sucks back whatever has been displayed and puts an end to the procession of the yugas.  I put an end to everything that exists.  I am the holy order (dharma), I am the glowing fervor of ascetic endeavor (tapas), I am all those appearances and virtues through which the true essence of existence manifests itself.  I am the Lord-Creator-and-Generator-of-all-Beings (prajapati), the order of the sacrificial ritual, and I am called the Lord of Sacred Wisdom.  From me originates whatever has been, shall be, or is.  And whatever you may see, hear, or know in the whole of the universe, know me as Him who therein resides.” [1]

            This vivid description of Visnu seems to elucidate his essential nature quite well; however, further exploration is obviously necessary for a more complete conception.  What is the nature of this universe he claims to be the source of?  What are these tricks of delusion he refers to, and how are they made manifest from his essence?  What is this notion of Visnu’s divine creative aspect?  Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, what is the Sacred Wisdom which he is called Lord of?  Perhaps an endeavor into the essential core of these concepts will further our understanding of all existence.

            Visnu is fundamentally a creation of myth, a construct of early man’s desire to comprehend the universal cosmic absolute.  In the context of Hindu mythology, this absolute is known as the infinite spirit, or Brahman.  It is the ultimate reality underlying all phenomenal existence; it is vast, unqualified, and imperishable.  Visnu was conceived in an attempt to facilitate the comprehension of the absolute by the human mind.  Thus, Visnu is the anthropomorphic pure manifestation of the infinite spirit; that is we have ascribed human form and attributes to an intangible non-human concept.  He is the embodiment of the eternal, the spirit of which pervades all existence.

            What then is existence?  There are three fundamental qualities of nature (trigunas): lucidity (sattva), passion (rajas), and dark inertia (tamas).  Together they are the basis of every aspect of phenomenal existence.  In what notion of a universe do these qualities manifest themselves?  Simply put, “All the universes co-existing in space and succeeding each other in time, the planes of being and the creatures of those planes whether natural or supernatural, are manifestations from an inexhaustible, original and eternal well of being, and are made manifest by a play of maya.” [2]   I will return to the concept of maya shortly; for now, let us consider these universes, planes of being, and creatures which are manifested from the primordial energy of Visnu.

The progression of the universal cycle is eternal; thus it has no beginning, no middle, and no end.  In the following passage, Visnu, in the form of a boy, teaches Indra the nature of this cycle. 

“I have known the dreadful dissolution of the universe.  I have seen all perish, again and again, at the end of every cycle.  At that terrible time, every single atom dissolves in the primal, pure waters of eternity, whence originally all arose.  Everything goes back into the fathomless, wild infinity of the ocean, which is covered with utter darkness and is empty of every sign of animate being.  Ah, who will count the universes that have passed away, or the creations that have risen afresh, again and again, from the formless abyss of the vast waters.” [3]

            The length of the universe endures for one hundred Brahma years of Brahma days and nights (one day of Brahma, the creator aspect of the godhead, lasts 4,320,000,000 years by human reckoning; one kalpa).  Thus, in Hindu cosmology, the universe lasts 311,040,000,000,000 human years and is then dissolved, or reabsorbed into the divine, primeval Substance.  After this, the universe is essentially unmanifest nature, non-existence, for a period equal to the length of its existence.  The actual length of the universal cycle as described Hindu mythology is relatively unimportant.  The vital concept necessary for understanding the nature of the universe is that it follows an endless cycle of emanation, expansion, dissolution, and re-emanation.  It extends forth from a singularity of infinite energy, and at some point, collapses back into this infinitely small point of infinite energy. 

            This idea is comparable to modern scientific theories of the Big Bang and Big Crunch, in which the universe expands and collapses.  As the universe expands, from a point that is considered infinitely hot, the temperature of the radiation decreases.  Illustratively, one second after the emanation of the universe, the temperature would have fallen to about ten thousand million degrees.  It thus continues expanding for the next few million years or so until the temperature has dropped to a few thousand degrees, at which point atoms begin to take form within the vast sea of photons, electrons, and neutrinos.  The expansion is slowed in regions that have a slightly greater density, and thus, in time, galaxies are formed, which in turn leads to the formation of stars, planets, and molecules.  Eventually, the existence of simple forms of life are made possible which lead to the development of fish, reptiles, mammals, and any other complex life forms beyond our comprehension from any corner of the universe. [4]

            All this existence, which has come to embody our notion of physical reality, is in turn dissolved back into the absolute from whence it came into being, and from which it will be born again.  This is the universal cycle, progressing eternally without end.  Existence is made manifest and destroyed through the force of the infinite spirit, the absolute. 

“Boundless and imperishable, the cosmic waters are at once the immaculate source of all things and the dreadful grave.  Through a power of self-transformation, the energy of the abyss puts forth, or assumes, individualized forms endowed with temporary life and limited ego-consciousness.  For a time it nourishes and sustains these with a vivifying sap.  Then it dissolves them again, without mercy or distinction, back into the anonymous energy out of which they arose.” [5]

            As mentioned earlier, Visnu is the pure embodiment of the infinite spirit.  All physical manifestations of this spirit are formed and dissolved through Visnu’s supreme discipline.  Essentially, all physical existence is destroyed at the dissolution of the universe; however, the all-encompassing mental blueprint of Visnu’s spirit, the field that organizes all energy as one dynamic system, is not destroyed in the same sense.  It is swept back into an unconscious latent creative dream that is unmanifest nature.  Each ebb and flow of the universal cycle is pervaded by the Supreme Being, the eternal, Visnu. 

            Consider an endless progression of universes, each being reborn again and again, each potentially different than the others to an infinite degree.  Consider the countless number of galaxies, planets, life forms, cultures, civilizations, religions, and ideas that have already existed before now.  Through the cycle of morphogenisis (coming into being) and dissolution, there is a parallel cycle of realizing and forgetting.  It is the collective memory of all existence struggling to realize the creative dream that is the subtle fabric of the infinite spirit. This memory lies deep within our subconscious mind, potent and accessible; however, the key to this divine secret is obscured by the function of ego.  This is what is meant by sacred ancient wisdom. 

“This secret is a lamp to those groping in ignorance.  This secret lies buried in the wisdom of the ages, and is rarely revealed even to saints.  This secret is the living air of those ascetics who renounce and transcend mortal existence; but worldlings, deluded by desire and pride, it destroys.” [6]  

            Everything that is transitory, ever-changing, diverse, and associated with the physical, is maya – an illusion or mirage, a deception of the senses, the misconceived reality of a too restricted, ego-centered consciousness.  All that is maya is made manifest through Visnu’s creative aspect, through play of lila.  Maya is existence.  It is the supreme power that generates and animates the display: the dynamic aspect of the universal Substance.  In the period of non-manifestation, the interlude of the cosmic night, maya ceases to operate and the display dissolves.” [7]   In terms of our own earthly existence, maya clouds consciousness with shrouds of misconception.  Thus, the ego becomes lost within a tangled web of confusion and ignorance.

            The ego (ahamkara) represents the most specific sense.  It is the “I” in individuality.  It is the narrowest mode of perception, attachment to which leads one into an inescapable maze of desire, suffering, greed, passion, confusion, and ultimate misconception.  “Actions are all effected by the qualities of nature; but deluded by individuality, the self thinks, ‘I am the actor’.” [8]   The ego sense is stupefied and bewildered by the countless dichotomies and paradoxical diversity generated by maya because it sees all of nature as external.  The way out of this dark and incomprehensible maze of existence is through the broadest sense.  The ego and the broadest sense represent two opposite poles of awareness within which lie infinite levels, or states of awareness.  Consider a number of ascending levels, spheres, radiating from the most specific point, the ego.  Each sphere is thus broader than the one directly within it.  As the ego is dissolved, the sphere of one’s conscious awareness expands. It is inconsequential to consider which direction from the ego one travels within this nested hierarchy of broader and broader spheres, if one ascends outward through the spheres long enough he is sure to reach the broadest level, the highest way.  There are infinite paths, all leading to the same one thing.

            The illusion of maya functions, in a range of infinite degree, on all but the broadest level.  Essentially, the broadest level is the realm of the Supreme Being, the all-encompassing entity that is Visnu’s eternal existence.  In the broadest sense, as opposed to the ego sense, there is no longer anything in nature which exists externally.  All of nature, including all universes, all forms animate and inanimate, and all possible perceptions thereof, is known to exist within, as one being.  In other words, the illusion of separateness disappears, and everything, universally, is seen as one.  To realize the broadest sense of all reality is to attain union with the infinite spirit, Brahman, the divine absolute.  “When he perceives the unity existing in separate creatures and how they expand from unity, he attains the infinite spirit.” [9]

            The power of the broadest sense, fundamentally, resides in the ability to create reality through conscious intention.  It is, therefore, somewhat of a relative concept.  The broadest sense of two individuals, is the summation of their individual perceptions integrated into one mind; as is the case between three individuals, or fifty, or a million.  Each case can be considered the broadest sense relative to the number of individuals within each collective.  The broader the group mind (i.e. the more perceptions that are yoked together), the more influence that mind has in manifesting reality.  Tying this back into the previous paragraph, to resonate with the broadest sense of infinity is to resonate with the Ultimate Being.  In other words, to resonate with Visnu is to be Visnu, and thus transcend all universal existence.  This is the embodiment of the Hindu concept of moksa, liberation from samsara, the painful cycle of endless rebirths.  When one realizes himself as a pure manifestation of the infinite spirit, the ego has been completely dissolved, and the mind is freed from all illusory effects of maya.

            Unfortunately, the path to liberation is obviously more difficult than simply thinking broad.  In order to illuminate this path, Hindu mythology incorporates the Krsna concept to serve as an example.  Krsna, an avatar or manifestation of Visnu, is essentially the broadest sense of all reality realized within one human individual.  Whereas Visnu, the eternal Supreme Being, is seemingly so incomprehensible to the human mind, Krsna is much more tangible and can be directly related to human existence.  Essentially, the aspect of Krsna which allows us to relate to him is that he experiences all aspects and stages of human existence.  He is born, experiences childhood, adolescence, lovemaking, adulthood, and ultimately death.  Still, it is important to remember at all times that Krsna is Visnu; essentially, he is the physical manifestation of Visnu’s infinite spirit.

            Krsna’s message to us is powerfully illustrated in the Bhagavad-Gita, a dialogue between Krsna and Arjuna given on the battlefield of the great Mahabharata War.  Krsna explains to Arjuna many concepts essential for spiritual freedom.  Within the dialogue, Krsna relates the Ancient Wisdom of the ages, the secret to dissolving the illusion of maya.  He defines the path to enlightenment through the ideas of devotion (bahkti), discipline (yoga), renunciation (sannyasa), and relinquishment (tyaga).  He also, brings into play the nature of duty (dharma), action (karma), understanding (buddi), and desire (kama)

            Krsna demonstrates that the only way to attain moksa is by detaching one’s self from the ego, and all that we experience as physical existence.  He addresses desire as the blinding force that enslaves us within misconception.  It is the root of all suffering, greed, hate, and anger.  He stresses that in taking into account and realizing the broad scale of the universal cycle one is freed from the bondage of existence and the endless cycle of painful rebirths.

            Two important tools to be used in this context are renunciation and relinquishment.  Although these are often used interchangeably, there is a subtle difference. Renunciation is defined as being without hate, desire, and giving up all actions based on desire. Relinquishment is defined in the Gita as relinquishing all fruits of action.  Basically, it means that action is to be performed, but without concern for the rewards that action may have for the individual.  “Be intent on action; not on the fruits of action. Perform actions, firm in discipline, relinquishing attachment; be impartial to failure and success.” [10]

            In order to tame the senses and avoid desire, one must exercise extreme discipline.  The three most important modes of discipline, ways of reaching liberation, are the discipline of action (karmayoga), the discipline of knowledge (jnanayoga), and the discipline of devotion (bhaktiyoga).  Discipline of action is to act without being attached to the consequences of one’s action.  Discipline of knowledge is achieved by expanding one’s knowledge and understanding to the broadest possible level.  Discipline of devotion involves acting without personal attachments as well as devoting all actions to Krsna. Through devotion, the self expands toward the infinite. 

“When suffering does not disturb his mind, when his craving for pleasures has vanished, when attraction, fear, and anger are gone, he is called a sage whose thought is sure. When he shows no preference in fortune or misfortune, when he renounces all desires and acts without possessiveness, or individuality, he finds peace.  This is the place of the infinite spirit; achieving it, one is freed from delusion; abiding in it even at the time of death, one finds the pure calm of infinity.” [11]

            Krsna is calling us to realize the broadest sense.  Through his example and teachings, he places the key necessary to unlock the secrets of the universe within our reach.  He stresses that this brief and temporary physical existence is not worthy of attachment.  Liberation can only be achieved by detaching one’s self from all desire and fruits of action.  Understanding controls the senses through the mind, and can guide a human being toward his self-fulfillment.  The object of devotion to which all our existence should be focused is Krsna.

“Whatever you do – what you take, what you offer, what you give, what penances you perform – do as an offering to me.  You will be freed from the bonds of action, from the fruit of fortune and misfortune, your self liberated, you will join me.  If am in your thought, you will transcend all dangers, but if you are deafened by individuality, you will be lost.  Keep me in your mind and devotion, sacrifice to me, bow to me, discipline your self toward me and you will reach me.” [12]  

            To reach Krsna is to attain union with the infinite spirit, Brahman.  Krsna is in all of us.  When one realizes that the self (atman) is indestructible and eternal, one realizes that he is Krsna.  He who knows himself to be Krsna sees himself in all existence.  In the broadest sense, there is one thing, Visnu.  Everything within him can be seen as levels of specificity in context with manifestations of the infinite spirit.  The universal cycle is eternal, creating and destroying everything without distinction, indifferent to any one individual.  There are infinite states of awareness.  There is no separateness.  There are no boundaries.  Krsna’s message is clear for all who dare to listen: to know god you must be god, and to be god you must let go of who you thought you were.


[1]  Zimmer, Heinrich. (1974). Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization. pgs. 44-7.

[2]   Ibid. pg. 25.

[3]   Ibid. pg. 5.

[4]   Hawking, Stephen W. (1988). A Brief History of Time. pgs. 117-21.

[5]   Zimmer. pg. 34.

[6]   Ibid. pg. 7.

[7] Ibid. pg. 25.

[8]   The Bhagavad-Gita. Trans. Barbara Stoler Miller. (1986). pg. 45

[9]   Ibid. pg. 119.

[10]   Ibid. pg. 36

[11]   Ibid. pg. 37-9

[12]   Ibid. pgs. 86-7, 151.

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