My brothers, there are themes so lofty that tongue of Deva would not suffice to do full justice to that which they enclose, and when we think of the music of Shrî Krishna's flute, all human music seems as discord amidst its strains. Nevertheless since bhakti grows by thought and word, it is not amiss that we should come near a subject so sacred; only in dealing with it we must needs feel our incompetency, we must needs regret our limitations, we must needs wish for greater power of expression than we can have down here. For, perhaps, amid all the divine manifestations that have glorified the world, there is none which has aroused a wider, tenderer feeling than the Avatâra which we are to study this morning.
The austerer glories of Mahâdeva, the Lord of the burning ground, attract more the hearts of those who are weary of the world and who see the futility of worldly attractions; but Shrî Krishna is the God of the household, the God of family life, the God whose manifestations attract in every phase of His Self-revelation; He is human to the very core; born in humanity, as He has said, He acts as a man. As a child, He is a real child, full of playfulness, of fun, of winsome grace. Growing up into boyhood, into manhood, He exercises the same human fascination over the hearts of men, of women, and of children; the God in whose presence there is always joy, the God in whose presence there is continual laughter and music. When we think of Shrî Krishna we seem to hear the ripple of the river, the rustling of the leaves in the forest, the lowing of the kine in the pasture, the laughter of happy children playing round their parents' knees. He is so fundamentally the God who is human in everything; who bends in human sympathy over the cradle of the babe, who sympathises with the play of the youth, who is the friend of the lover, the blesser of the bridegroom and the bride, who smiles on the young mother when her first-born lies in her arms--everywhere the God of love and of human happiness; what wonder that His winsome grace has fascinated the hearts of men!
We are to study Him, then, this morning. Now an Avatâra--I say this to clear away some preliminary difficulties--an Avatâra has two great aspects to the world. First, He is a historical fact. Do not let that be forgotten. When you are reading the story of the great Ones, you are reading history and not fable. But it is more than history; the Avatâras acts out on the stage of the world a mighty drama. He is, as it were, a player on the world's stage, and He plays a definite drama, and that drama is an exposition of spiritual truth. And though the facts are facts of history, they are also an allegory under which great spiritual truths are conveyed to the minds and to the hearts of men. If you think of it only as an allegory, you miss an aspect of the truth; if you think of it only as a history you miss an aspect of the truth. The history of an Avatâra is an exposition of spiritual verities; but though the drama be a real one, it is a drama with an object, a drama with distinct outlines laid down, as it were, by the author, and the Avatâra plays His part on the stage at the same time as He is living out His life as man in the history of the world. That must be remembered, otherwise some of the great lessons of the Avatâra will be misread.
Then He comes into the world surrounded by many who have been with Him in former births, surrounded by celestial beings, born as men, and by a vast body of beings of the opposing side born also as men. I am speaking specially of the Avatâra of Shrî Krishna, but this is true of any other human Avatâra as well. They are not born into the world alone; They are born with a great circle round Them of friends, and a great host before them of apparent foes, incarnated as human beings, to work out the world-drama that is being played.
This is most of all, perhaps, apparent in the case of the One whom we are now studying. Because of the extremely complicated nature of the Avatâra of Shrî Krishna, and the vast range that He covered as regards His manifestations of complex human life, in order to render the vast subject a little more manageable, I have divided this drama, as it were, into its separate acts. I am using for a moment the language of the stage, for I think it will make my meaning rather more clear. That is, in dealing with His life, I have taken its stages which are clearly marked out, and in each of these we shall see one great type of the teaching which the world is meant to learn from the playing of this drama before the eyes of men. To some extent the stages correspond with marked periods in the life, and to some extent they overlap each other; but by having them clearly in our minds we shall be able, I think, to grasp better the whole object of the Avatâra--we shall have as it were compartments in the mind in which the different types of teaching may be placed.
First then He comes to show forth to the world a great Object of bhakti, and the love of God to His bhakta, or devotee. That is the aim of the first act of the great drama--to stand forth as the Object of devotion, and to show forth the love with which God regards His devotees. We have there a marked stage in the life of Shrî Krishna.
Then the second act of the drama may be said to be His character as the destroyer of the opposing forces that retard evolution, and that runs through the whole of His life.
The third act is that of the statesman, the wise, politic, and intellectual actor on the world's stage of history, the guiding force of the nation by His wondrous policy and intelligence, standing forth not as king but rather as statesman.
Then we have Him as friend, the human friend, especially of the Pândavas and of Arjuna.
The next act is that of Shrî Krishna as Teacher, the world-teacher, not the teacher of one race alone.
Then we see Him in the strange and wondrous aspect of the Searcher of the hearts of men, the trier and tester of human nature.
Finally, we may regard Him in His manifestation as the Supreme, the all-pervading life of the universe, who looks on nothing as outside Himself, who embraces in His arms evil and good, darkness and light, nothing alien to Himself.
Into these seven acts, as it were, the life-history may be divided, and each of them might serve as the study of a life-time instead of our compressing them into the lecture of a morning. We will, however, take them in turn, however inadequately; for the hints I give can be worked out by you in detail according to the constitution of your own minds. One aspect will attract one man, another aspect will attract another; all the aspects are worthy of study, all are provocative of devotion. But most of all, with regard to devotion, is the earliest stage of His life inspiring and full of benediction, those early years of the Lord as infant, as child, as young boy, when He is dwelling in Vraja, in the forest of Brindâban, when He is living with the cowherds and their wives and their children, the marvellous child who stole the hearts of men. It is noticeable--and if it had been remembered many a blasphemy would not have been uttered--that Shrî Krishna chose to show Himself as the great object of devotion, as the lover of the devotee, in the form of a child, not in that of a man.
Come then with me to the time of His birth, remembering that before that birth took place upon earth, the deities had been to Vishnu in the higher regions, and had asked Him to interfere in order that earth might be lightened of her load, that the oppression of the incarnate Daityas might be stayed; and then Vishnu said to the Gods: Go ye and incarnate yourselves in portions among men, go ye and take birth amid humanity. Great Rishis also took birth in the place where Vishnu Himself was to be born, so that ere He came, the surroundings of the drama were, as it were, made in the place of His coming, and those that we speak of as the cowherds of Vraja, Nanda and those around Him, the Gopîs and all the inhabitants of that wondrously blessed spot, were, we are told, "God-like persons"; nay more, they were "the Protectors of the worlds" who were born as men for the progress of the world. But that means that the Gods themselves had come down and taken birth as men; and when you think of all that took place throughout the wonderful childhood of the Lîlâ of Shrî Krishna, you must remember that those who played that act of the drama were the ordinary men, no ordinary women; they were the Protectors of the worlds incarnated as cowherds round Him. And the Gopîs, the graceful wives of the shepherds, they were the Rishis of ancient days, who by devotion to Vishnu had gained the blessing of being incarnated as Gopîs, in order that they might surround His childhood, and pour out their love at the tiny feet of the boy they saw as boy, of the God they worshipped as supreme.
[Footnote 10: Play.]
When all these preparations were made for the coming of the child, the child was born. I am not dwelling on all the well-known incidents that surrounded His birth, the prophecy that the destroyer of Kamsa was to be born, the futile shutting up in the dungeon, the chaining with irons, and all the other follies with which the earthly tyrant strove to make impossible of accomplishment the decree of the Supreme. You all know how his plans came to nothing, as the mounds of sand raised by the hands of children are swept into a level plain when one wave of the sea ripples over the playground of the child. He was born, born in His four-armed form, shining out for the moment in the dungeon, which before His birth had been irradiated by Him through His mother's body, who was said to be like an alabaster vase--so pure was she--with a flame within it. For the Lord Shrî Krishna was within her womb, herself the alabaster vase which was as a lamp containing Him, the world's light, so that the glory illuminated the darkness of the dungeon where she lay. At His birth he came as Vishnu, for the moment showing Himself with all the signs of the Deity on Him, with the discus, with the conch, with the shrivatsa on His breast, with all the recognised emblems of the Lord. But that form quickly vanished, and only the human child lay before His parents' eyes. And the father, you remember, taking Him up, passed through the great locked doors and all the rest of it, and carried Him in safety into his brother's house, where He was to dwell in the place prepared for His coming.
As a babe He showed forth the power that was in Him, as we shall see, when we come, to the second stage, the destroyer of the forces of evil. But for the moment only watch Him as He plays in his foster mother's house, as He gambols with children of His own age. And as He is growing into a boy, able to go alone, He begins wandering through the fields and through the forest, and the notes of His wondrous flute are heard in all the groves and over all the plains. The child, a child of five--only five years of age when He wandered with His magic flute in His hands, charming the hearts of all that heard; so that the boys left tending the cattle and followed the music of the flute; the women left their household tasks and followed where the flute was playing; the men ceased their labours that they might feast their ears on the music of the flute. Nay, not only the men, the women and the children, but the cows, it is said, stopped their grazing to listen as the notes fell on their ears, and the calves ceased suckling as the music came to them on the wind, and the river rippled up that it might hear the better, and the trees bowed down their branches that they might not lose a note, and the birds no longer sang lest their music should make discord in the melody, as the wondrous child wandered over the country, and the music of heaven flowed from His magic flute.
And thus He lived and played and sported, and the hearts of all the cowherds and of their wives and daughters went out to that marvellous child. And He played with them and loved them, and they would take Him up and place His baby feet on their bosoms, and would sing to Him as the Lord of all, the Supreme, the mighty One. They recognised the Deity in the child that played round their homes, and many lessons He taught them, this child, amid His gambols and His pranks--lessons that still teach the world, and that those who know most understand best.
Let me take one instance which ignorant lips have used most in order to insult, to try to defame the majesty that they do not understand. But let me say this: that I believe that in most cases where these bitter insults are uttered, they are uttered by people who have never really read the story, and who have heard only bits of it and have supplied the rest out of their own imaginations. I therefore take a particular incident which I have heard most spoken of with bitterness as a proof of the frightful immorality of Shrî Krishna.
While the child of six was one day wandering along, as He would, a number of the Gopîs were bathing nude in the river, having cast aside their cloths--as they should not have done, that being against the law and showing carelessness of womanly modesty. Leaving their garments on the bank they had plunged into the river. The child of six saw this with the eye of insight, and He gathered up their cloths and climbed up a tree near by, carrying them with Him, and threw them round His own shoulders and waited to see what would chance. The water was bitterly cold and the Gopîs were shivering; but they did not like to come out of it before the clear steady eyes of the child. And He called them to come and get the garments they had thrown off; and as they hesitated, the baby lips told them that they had sinned against God by immodestly casting aside the garments that should have been worn, and must therefore expiate their sin by coming and taking from His hands that which they had cast aside. They came and worshipped, and He gave them back their robes. An immoral story, with a child of six as the central figure! It is spoken of as though he were a full grown man, insulting the modesty of women. The Gopîs were Rishis, and the Lord, the Supreme, as a babe is teaching them a lesson. But there is more than that; there is a profound occult lesson below the story--a story repeated over and over again in different forms--and it is this: that when the soul is approaching the supreme Lord at one great stage of initiation, it has to pass through a great ordeal; stripped of everything on which it has hitherto relied, stripped of everything that is not of its inner Self, deprived of all external aid, of all external protection, of all external covering, the soul itself, in its own inherent life, must stand naked and alone with nothing to rely on, save the life of the Self within it. If it flinches before the ordeal, if it clings to anything to which hitherto it has looked for help, if in that supreme hour it cries out for friend or helper, nay even for the Guru himself, the soul fails in that ordeal. Naked and alone it must go forth, with absolutely none to aid it save the divinity within itself. And it is that nakedness of the soul as it approaches the supreme goal, that is told of in that story of Shrî Krishna, the child, and the Gopîs, the nakedness of life before the One who gave it. You find many another similar allegory. When the Lord comes in the Kalki, the tenth, Avatâra, He fights on the battlefield and is overcome. He uses all His weapons; every weapon fails Him; and it is not till He casts every weapon aside and fights with His naked hands, that He conquers. Exactly the same idea. Intellect, everything, fails the naked soul before God.
[Footnote 11: So in the Imitation of Christ, the work of an occultist, it is written that we must "naked follow the naked Jesus."]
If I have taken up this story specially, out of hundreds of stories, to dwell upon, it is because it is one of the points of attack, and because you who are Hindus by birth ought to know enough of the inner truths of your own religion not to stand silent and ashamed when attacks are made, but should speak with knowledge and thus prevent such blasphemies.
Then we learn more details of His play with the Gopîs as a child of seven: how He wandered into the forest and disappeared and all went after Him seeking Him; how they tried to imitate His own play, in order to fill up the void that was left by His absence. The child of seven, that He was at this time, disappeared for a while, but came back to those who loved Him, as God ever does with His bhaktas. And then takes place that wondrous dance, the Râsa of Shrî Krishna, part of His Lîlâ, when He multiplied Himself so that every pair of Gopîs found Him standing between them; amid the ring of women the child was there between each pair of them, giving a hand to each; and so the mystic dance was danced. This is another of these points of attack which are made by ignorant minds. What but an unclean mind can see aught that is impure in the child dancing there as lover and beloved? It is as though He looked forward down the ages, and saw what later would be said, and it is as though He kept the child form in the Lîlâ, in order that He might breathe harmlessly into men's blind unclean hearts the lesson that He would fain give. And what was the lesson? One other incident I remind you of, before I draw the lesson from the whole of this stage of His life. He sent for food, He who is the Feeder of the worlds, and some of His Brâhmanas refused to give it, and sent away the boys who came to ask for food for Him; and when the men refused, He sent them back to the women, to see if they too would refuse the food their husbands had declined to give. And the women--who have ever loved the Lord--caught up the food from every part of their houses where they could find it and went out, crowds of them, bearing food for Him, leaving house, and husband, and household duties. And all tried to stop them, but they would not be stopped; and brothers and husbands and friends tried to hold them back, but no, they must go to Him, to their Lover, Shrî Krishna; He must not be hungry, the child of their love. And so they went and gave Him food and He ate. But they say: They left their husbands! they left their homes! how wrong to leave husbands and homes and follow after Shrî Krishna! The implication always is that their love was purely physical love, as though that were possible with a child of seven. I know that words of physical love are used, and I know it is said in a curious translation that "they came under the spell of Cupid." It matters not for the words, let us look at the facts. There is not a religion in the world that has not taught that when the Supreme calls, all else must be cast aside. I have seen Shrî Krishna contrasted with Jesus of Nazareth to the detriment of Shrî Krishna, and a contrast is drawn between the purity of the one and the impurity of the other; the proof given was that the husbands were left while the wives went to play with and wait on the Lord. But I have read words that came from the lips of Jesus of Nazareth; "He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." "And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life." (Matt. x. 37, and xix. 29.) And again, yet more strongly: "If any man come to me and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." (Luke xiv. 26.) That is exactly the same idea. When Jesus calls, husband and wife, father and mother, must be forsaken, and the reward will be eternal life. Why is that right when done for Jesus, which is wrong when done for Shrî Krishna?
[Footnote 12: Dance.]
It is not only that you find the same teaching in both religions; but in every other religion of the world the terms of physical love are used to describe the relation between the soul and God. Take the "Song of Solomon." If you take the Christian Bible and read the margin you will see "The Love of Christ for His Church"; and if from the margin you look down the column, you will find the most passionate of love songs, a description of the exquisite female form in all the details of its attractive beauty; the cry of the lover to the beloved to come to him that they might take their fill of love. "Christ and His Church" is supposed to make it all right, and I am content that it should be so. I have no word to say against the "Song of Solomon," nor any complaint against its gorgeous and luxuriant imagery; but I refuse to take from the Hebrew as pure, what I am to refuse from the Hindu as impure. I ask that all may be judged by the same standard, and that if one be condemned the same condemnation may be levelled against the other. So also in the songs of the Sûfîs, the mystics of the faith of Islâm, woman's love is ever used as the best symbol of love between the soul and God. In all ages the love between husband and wife has been the symbol of union between the Supreme and His devotees; the closest of all earthly ties, the most intimate of all earthly unions, the merging of heart and body of twain into one--where will you find a better image of the merging of the soul in its God? Ever has the object of devotion been symbolised as the lover or husband, ever the devotee as wife or mistress. This symbology is universal, because it is fundamentally true. The absolute surrender of the wife to the husband is the type upon earth of the absolute surrender of the soul to God. That is the justification of the Râsa of Shrî Krishna; that is the explanation of the story of His life in Vraja.
I have dwelt specially on this, my brothers, you all know why. Let us pass from it, remembering that till the nineteenth century this story provoked only devotion not ribaldry, and it is only with the coming in of the grosser type of western thought that you have these ideas put into the Bhâgavad-Purâna. I would to God that the Rishis had taken away the Shrîmad Bhâgavata from a race that is unworthy to have it; that as They have already withdrawn the greater part of the Vedas, the greater part of the ancient books, they would take away also this story of the love of Shrî Krishna, until men are pure enough to read it without blasphemy and clean enough to read it without ideas of sexuality.
Pass from this to the next great stage, that of the Destroyer of evil, shortly, very shortly. From the time when as a babe but a few weeks old He sucked to death the Râkshasî, Pûtana; from the time He entered the great cave made by the demon, and expanding Himself shivered the whole into fragments; from the time He trampled on the head of the serpent Kalia so that it might not poison the water needed for the drinking of the people; until He left Vraja to meet Kamsa, we find Him ever chasing away every form of evil that came within the limits of His abode. We are told that when He had left Vraja and stood in the tournament field of Kamsa with His brother, His brother and Himself were mere boys, in the tender delicate bodies of youths. After the whole of the Lîlâ was over They were still children, when They went forth to fight. From that time onwards He met, one after another, the great incarnations of evil and crushed them with His resistless strength: we need not dwell on these stories, for they fill His life.
We come to the third stage of Statesman, a marvellously interesting feature in His life--the tact, the delicacy, the foresight, the skill in always putting the man opposed to Him in the wrong, and so winning His way and carrying others with Him. As you know, this part of His life is played out especially in connection with the Pândavas. He is the one who in every difficulty steps forward as ambassador; it is He who goes with Arjuna and Bhîma to slay the giant king Jarasandha, who was going to make a human sacrifice to Mahâdeva, a sacrifice that was put a stop to as blasphemous; it was He who went with them in order that the conflict might take place without transgressing the strictest rules of Kshattriya morality. Follow Him as He and Arjuna and his brother enter into the city of the king. They will not come by the open gate, that is the pathway of the friend. They break down a portion of the wall as a sign that they come as foes. They will not go undecorated; and challenged why they wore flowers and sandal, the answer is that they come for the celebration of a triumph, the fulfilling of a vow. Offered food, the answer of the great ambassador is that they will not take food then, that they will meet the king later and explain their purpose. When the time arrives He tells him in the most courteous but the clearest language that all these acts have been performed that he may know that they had come not as friends but as foes to challenge him to battle. So again when the question arises, after the thirteen years of exile, how shall the land be won back without struggle, without fight, you see Him standing in the assembly of Pândavas and their friends with the wisest counsel how perchance war may be averted; you see Him offering to go as ambassador that all the magic of His golden tongue may be used for the preservation of peace; you see Him going as ambassador and avoiding all the pavilions raised by the order of Duryodhana, that He may not take from one who is a foe a courtesy that might bind him as a friend. So when he pays the call on Duryodhana that courtesy demands, never failing in the perfect duty of the ambassador, fulfilling every demand of politeness, He will not touch the food that would make a bond between Himself and the one against whom He had come to struggle. See how the only food that He will take is the food of the King's brother, for that alone, He says, "is clean and worthy to be eaten by me." See how in the assembly of hostile kings He tries to pacify and tries to please. See how He apologises with the gentlest humility; how to the great king, the blind king, He speaks in the name of the Pândavas as suppliant, not as outraged and indignant foe. See how with soft words He tries to turn away words of wrath, and uses every device of oratory to win their hearts and convince their judgments. See how later again, when the battle of Kurukshetra is over, when all the sons of the blind king are slain, see how He goes once more as ambassador to meet the childless father and, still bitterer, the childless mother, that the first anger may break itself on Him, and His words may charm away the wrath and soothe the grief of the bereft. See how later on He still guides and advises till all the work is done, till His task is accomplished and His end is drawing near. A statesman of marvellous ability; a politician of keenest tact and insight; as though to say to men of the world that when they are acting as men of the world they should be careful of righteousness, but also careful of discretion and of skill, that there is nothing alien to the truth of religion in the skill of the tongue and in the use of the keen intelligence of the brain.
Then pass on again from Him as Statesman to His character as Friend. Would that I had time to dwell on it, and paint you some of the fair pictures of His relations with the family He loved so well, from the day when, standing in the midst of the self-choice of Krishna, the fair future wife of the Pândavas, He saw for the first time in that human incarnation Arjuna, His beloved of old. Think what it must have been, when the eyes of the two young men met, with memories in the one pair of the close friendship of the past, and the drawing of the other by the tie of those many births to the ancient friend whom he knew not. From that day when they first meet in this life onwards, how constant His friendship, how ceaseless His protection, how careful His thought to guard their honour and their lives; and yet how wise; at every point where His presence would have frustrated the object of His coming, He goes away. He is not present at the great game of dice, for that was necessary for the working out of the divine purpose; He was away. Had He been there, He must needs have interfered; had He been there, He could not have left His friends unaided. He remained away, until Draupadî cried in her agony for help when her modesty was threatened; then he came with Dharma and clothed her with garments as they were dragged from her; but then the game was over, the dice were cast, and destiny had gone on its appointed road.
How strange to watch that working! One object followed without change, without hesitation: but every means used that might give people an opportunity of escaping if only they would. He came to bring about that battle on Kurukshetra. He came, as we shall see in a moment, in order to carry out that one object in preparation for the centuries that stretched in front; but in the carrying of it out, He would give every chance to men who were entangled in that evil by their own past, so that if one of them would answer to His pleading he might come over to the side of light against the forces of darkness. He never wavered in His object; yet He never left unused one means that man could use to prevent that object taking place. A lesson full of significance! The will of the Supreme must be done, but the doing of that will is no excuse for any individual man who does not carry out the law to the fullest of his power. Although the will must be carried out, everything should be done that righteousness permits and that compassion suggests in order that men may choose light rather than darkness, and that only the resolutely obstinate may at last be, whelmed in the ruin that falls upon the land.
As Teacher--need I speak of Him as teacher who gave the Bhagavad-Gîtâ between the contending armies on Kurukshetra? Teacher not of Arjuna alone, not of India alone, but of every human heart which can listen to spiritual instruction, and understand a little of the profound wisdom there clothed in the words of man. Remember a later saying: "I, O Arjuna, am the Teacher and the mind is my pupil;" the mind of every man who is willing to be taught; the mind of every one who is ready to be instructed. Never does the spiritual teacher withhold knowledge because he grudges the giving. He is hampered in the giving by the want of receptivity in those to whom his message is addressed. Ill do men judge the divine heart of the great Teachers, or the faint reflection of that love in the mouth of Their messengers, when they think that knowledge is withheld because it is a precious possession to be grudgingly dealt out, that has to be given in as small a share as possible. It is not the withholding of the teacher but the closing of the heart of the hearer; not the hesitation of the teacher but the want of the ear that hears; not the dearth of teachers but the dearth of pupils who are willing and ready to be taught. I hear men say: "Why not an Avatâra now, or if not an Avatâra, why do not the great Rishis come forward to speak Their golden wisdom in the ears of men? Why do They desert us? Why do They leave us? Why should this world in this age not have the wisdom as They gave it of old?" The answer is that They are waiting, waiting, waiting, with tireless patience, in order to find some one willing to be taught, and when one human heart opens itself out and says: "O Lord, teach me," then the teaching comes down in a stream of divine energy and floods the heart. And if you have not the teaching, it is because your hearts are locked with the key of gold, with the key of fame, with the key of power, and with the key of desire for the enjoyments of this world. While those keys lock your hearts, the teachers of wisdom cannot enter in; but unlock the heart and throw away the key, and you will find yourselves flooded with a wisdom which is ever waiting to come in.
As Searcher of hearts--Ah! here again He is so difficult to understand, this Lord of Mâyâ, this Master of illusion. He tests the hearts of His beloved, not so much the world at large. To them is the teaching that shall guide them aright. For Arjuna, for Bhîma, for Yudhishthira, for them the keener touch, the sharper trial, in order to see if within the heart one grain of evil still remains, that will prevent their union with Himself. For what does he seek? That they shall be His very own, that they shall enter into His being. But they cannot enter therein while one seed of evil remains in their hearts. They cannot enter therein while one sin is left in their nature. And so in tenderness and not in anger, in wisest love and not with a desire to mislead, the Lord of Love tries the hearts of His beloved, so that any evil that is in them may be wrung out by the grip that He places on them. Two or three occasions of it I remember. I may mention perhaps a couple of them to show you the method of the trial. The battle of Kurukshetra had been raging many a day; thousands and tens of thousands of the dead lay scattered on that terrible field, and every day when the sun rose Bhîshma came forth, generalissimo of the army of the Kurus, carrying before him everything, save where Arjuna barred his way; but Arjuna could not be everywhere; he was called away, with the horses guided by the Charioteer Shrî Krishna sweeping across the field like a whirlwind, carrying victory in their course; and where the Charioteer and Arjuna were not there Bhîshma had his way. The hearts of the Pândavas sank low within them, and at last one night under their tents, resting ere the next day's struggle, the bitter despondency of King Yudhishthira broke out in words, and he declared that until Bhîshma was slain nothing could be done. Then came the test from the lips of the searcher of hearts. "Behold, I will go forth and slay him on the morrow." Would Yudhishthira consent? A promise stood in his way. You may remember that when Duryodhana and Arjuna went to Shrî Krishna who lay sleeping, the question arose as to what each should take. Alone, unarmed, Shrî Krishna would go with one, He would not fight; a mighty battalion of troops He would give to the other. Arjuna chose the unarmed Krishna; Duryodhana, the mighty army ready to fight; so the word of the Avatâra was pledged that He would not fight. Unarmed He went into the battle, clad in his yellow silken robe, and only with the whip of the charioteer in His hand; twice, in order to stimulate Arjuna into combat, He had sprung down from the chariot and gone forth with His whip in His hand as though He would attack Bhîshma and slay him where he fought. Each time Arjuna stopped Him, reminding Him of His words. Now came the trial for the blameless King, as he is often called; should Shrî Krishna break His word to give him victory? He stood firm. "Thy promise is given," was his answer; "that promise may not be broken." He passed the trial; he stood the test. But still one weakness was left in that noble heart; one underlying weakness that threatened to keep him away from his Lord. The lack of power to stand absolutely alone in the moment of trial, the ever clinging to some one stronger than himself, in order that his own decision might be upheld. That last weakness had to be burnt out as by fire. In a critical moment of the battle the word came that the success of Drona was carrying everything before him; that Drona was resistless and that the only way to slay him was to spread the report that his son was dead, and then he would no longer fight. Bhîma slew an elephant of the same name as Drona's son, and he said in the hearing of Drona: "Ashvatthâma is dead." But Drona would not believe unless King Yudhishthira said so. Then the test came. Will he tell a practical lie but a nominal truth, in order to win the battle? He refused; not for his brother's pleadings would he do it. Would he stand firm by truth quite alone when all he revered seemed to be on the other side? The great One said: "Say that Ashvatthâma is slain." Ought he to have done it because He, Shrî Krishna, bade him? Ought he to have told the lie because the revered One counselled it? Ah no! neither for the voice of God nor man, may the human soul do a thing which he knows to be against God and His law; and alone he must stand in the universe, rather than sin against right. And when the lie was told under cover of that excuse, Yudhishthira doing what he wished in his heart under cover of the command from one he revered, then he fell, his chariot descended to the ground, and suffering and misery followed him from that day till the day of his ending, until in the face of the King of the celestials he stood alone, holding the duty of protection even to a dog higher than divine command and joy of heaven. And then he showed that the lesson had worked out in his purification, and that the heart was clean from the slightest taint of weakness. Oh, but men say, Shrî Krishna counselled the telling of a lie! My brothers, can you not see beneath the illusion? What is there in this world that the Supreme does not do? There is no life but His, no Self but His, nothing save His life through all His universe; and every act is His act, when you go back to the ultimates. He had warned them of that truth. "I" He said, "am the gambling of the cheat," as well as the chants of the Veda. Strange lesson, and hard to learn, and yet true. For at every stage of evolution there is a lesson to be learnt. He teaches all the lessons; at each point of growth the next step is to be taken, and very often that step is the experiencing of evil, in order that suffering may burn the desire for evil out of the very heart. And just as the knife of the surgeon is different from the knife of the murderer, although both may pierce the human flesh, the one cutting to cure, the other to slay; so is the sharp knife of the Supreme, when by experience of evil and consequent pain He purifies the man, different, because the motive is other than the doing of evil to gratify passion, the stepping aside from righteousness in order to please the lower nature.
Last of all He shows himself as the Supreme; there is the Vaishnava form, the universal form, the form that contains the universe. But still more is the Supreme seen in the profound wisdom of the teaching, in the steadfastness of His walk through life. Does it sound strange to say that God is seen more in the latter than the former, that the outer form that contains the universe is less divine than the perfect steadfast nature, swerving neither to the right hand nor the left? Read that life again with this thought in your mind, of one purpose followed to its end no matter what forces might play on the other side, and its greatness may appear.
What did He come to do? He came to give the last lesson to the Kshattriya caste of India, and to open India to the world. Many lessons had been given to that great caste. We know that twenty-one times they had been cut off, and yet re-established. We know that Shrî Râma had shown the perfect life of Kshattriya, as an example that they might follow. They would not learn the lesson, either by destruction or by love. They would not follow the example either from fear or from admiration. Then their hour struck on the bell of Heaven, the knell of the Kshattriya caste. He came to sweep away that caste and to leave only scattered remnants of it, dotted over the Indian soil. It had been the sword of India, the iron wall that ringed her round. He came to shiver that wall into pieces, and to break the sword that it might not strike again. It had been used to oppress instead of to protect. It had been used for tyranny instead of for justice. Therefore he who gave it brake it, till men should learn by suffering what they would not learn by precept. And on the field of Kuru, the Kshattriya caste fought its last great battle; none were left of all that mighty host save a handful, when the fighting was over. Never has the caste recovered from Kurukshetra. It has not utterly disappeared. In some districts we find families belonging to it; but you know well enough that as a caste in most parts of modern India, you are hard put to find it. Why in the great counsels of the world's welfare was this done? Not only to teach a lesson for all time to kings and rulers, that if they would not govern aright they should not govern at all; but also to lay India open to the world.
How strange that sounds! To lay her open to invasion? He who loved her to lay her open to conquest? He who had consecrated her, He who had hallowed her plains and forests by His treading, and whose voice had rung through her land? Aye, for He judges not as man judges, and He sees the end from the beginning. India as she was of old, kept isolated from all the world, was so kept that she might have the treasure of spiritual knowledge poured into her and make a vessel for the containing. But when you fill the vessel, you do not then put that vessel high away on a shelf, and leave men thirsting for the liquid that it contains. The mighty One filled His Indian vessel with the water of spiritual knowledge, and at last the time came when that water should be poured out for the quenching of the thirst of the world, and should not be left only for the quenching of the thirst of a single nation, for the use of a single people. Therefore the Lover of men came, in order that the water of life might be poured out; He broke down the wall, so that the foreigner might overstep her borders. The Greeks swept in, the Mussulmâns swept in, invasion after invasion, invasion after invasion, until the conquerors who now rule India were the latest in time. Do you see in that only decay, only misery, only that India is under a curse? Ah no, my brothers! That which seems a curse for the time is for the world's healing and the world's blessing; and India may well suffer for a time in order that the world may be redeemed.
What does it mean? I am not speaking politically, but from the standpoint of a spiritual student, who is trying to understand how the evolution of the race goes on. The people who last conquered India, who now rule her as governors, are the people whose language is the most widely spread of all the languages of the world, and it is likely to become the world's language. It belongs not only to that little island of Britain, it belongs also to the great continent of America, to the great continent of Australia. It has spread from land to land, until that one tongue is the tongue most widely understood amongst all the peoples of the world. Other nations are beginning to learn it, because business and trade and even diplomacy are beginning to be carried on in that English speech. What wonder then that the Supreme should send to India this nation whose language is becoming the world-language, and lay her open to be held as part of that world-wide empire, in order that her Scriptures, translated into the most widely spoken language, may help the whole human family and purify and spiritualise the hearts of all His sons.
There is the deepest object of His coming, to prepare the spiritualisation of the world. It is not enough that one nation shall be spiritual; it is not enough that one country shall have wisdom; it is not enough that one land, however mighty and however beloved--and do not I love India as few of you love her?--it is not enough that she should have the gold of spiritual truth, and the rest of the world be paupers begging for a coin. No; far better that for a time she should sink in the scale of nations, in order that what she cannot do for herself may be done by divine agencies that are ever guiding the evolution of the world. Thus what from outside looks as conquest and subjection, to the eye of the spirit looks as the opening of the spiritual temple, so that all the nations may come in and learn.
Only that leaves to you a duty, a responsibility. I hear so much, I have spoken so often, of the descendants of Rishis and of the blood of the Rishis in your veins. True, but not enough. If you are again to be what Shrî Krishna means you to be in His eternal counsels, the Brâhmana of nations, the teacher of divine truth, the mouth through which the Gods speak in the ears of men, then the Indian nation must purify itself, then the Indian nation must spiritualise itself. Shall your Scriptures spiritualise the whole world while you remain unspiritual? Shall the wisdom of the Rishis go out to Mlechchas in every part of the world, and they learn and profit by it, while you, the physical descendants of the Rishis, know not your own literature and love it even less than you know? That is the great lesson with which I would fain close. So true is this, that, in order to gain teachers of the Brahmavidyâ which belongs to this land by right of birth, the great Rishis have had to send some of their children to other lands in order that they may come back to teach your own religion amidst your people. Shall it not be that this shame shall come to an end? Shall it not be that there are some among you that shall lead again the old spiritual life, and follow and love the Lord? Shall it not be, not only here and there, but at last that the whole nation shall show the power of Shrî Krishna in His life incarnated amongst you, which would really be greater than any special Avatâra? May we not hope and pray that His Avatâra shall be the nation that incarnates His knowledge, His love, His universal brotherliness to every man that treads the soil of earth? Away with the walls of separation, with the disdain and contempt and hatred that divide Indian from Indian, and India from the rest of the world. Let our motto from this time forward be the motto of Shrî Krishna, that as He meets men on any road, so we will walk beside them on any road as well, for all roads are His. There is no road which He does not tread, and if we follow the Beloved who leads us, we must walk as He walks.
Peace To All Beings.