Question: In the Mahābhārata is appears that Balarāma was mostly in favour of Duryodhana. Lord Balarāma abstains from the Kurukṣetra war and goes on tīrtha-yātrā. He returns at the end of the war when Bhīma and Duryodhana were engaged in fighting. He protests that Bhīma played foul by hitting Duryodhana on his thighs and He almost kills Bhīma. How do we understand this līlā of the Lord?
Śrīla Narasingha Mahārāja: Why doesn’t Balarāma 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 Balarāma 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 Balarāma like Duryodhana? Who was Duryodhana? This is a good chance to analyse 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? Bhīma also ate meat. Is Bhīma a demon? Vasiṣṭha Muni was also non-veg – do we consider him to be a demon? What is a demon? It is always good to analyse. 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 Balarāma. It is not that Duryodhana didn’t like Lord Kṛṣṇa.
The Mahābhārata is very, very complicated. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja once said that, “The Mahābhārata is mundane.” Don’t expect to see the Mahābhārata laced with transcendental truths. There is no Vaikuṇṭha where Mahābhārata-līlā is going on. There is Ayodhyā, the place of rāma-līlā; there is Vṛndāvana; there is even a Dvārakā plane – but there is only one place where Mahābhārata is still showing, and that is in some material universe. In some material plane the Mahābhārata is still going on and in that way it is a mundane līlā. It has no place in eternity and the transcendental world. I have pointed out a number of times that the purpose of Mahābhārata-līlā is simply to attract our attention because within the Mahābhārata there is the Bhagavad-gītā. That is where there is transcendental knowledge. Things don’t just end. After the Gītā 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 Mahābhārata is just one big drama. The whole purpose of it is that Kṛṣṇa will speak the Gītā. But is it that once Kṛṣṇa has spoken the Gītā we close the book? No – many different things happen years after the battle of Kurukṣetra.
One thing to note is that in the Mahābhārata Kṛṣṇa’s vṛndāvana-līlā is not discussed. Years ago in India they made a television series of the Mahābhārata and they added a section with Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana. All the upper class sadhus and people said, “What is this? This is a concoction! Kṛṣṇa’s vṛndāvana-līlā is not mentioned in Mahābhārata. Why are you putting it there?” It is a completely different plane. This is transcendental.
So firstly, we should understand that everything in the Mahābhārata isn’t transcendental. We assume that Balarāma shouldn’t side with Duryodhana because Duryodhana was a demon. But Duryodhana wasn’t a demon. He was a very righteous person. Duryodhana liked Kṛṣṇa and he very much liked Balarāma. The problem was that he didn’t like Arjuna. This is the drama. They were kṣatriyas. Now we can also look at this from the spiritual side – Balarāma is all-knowing. From the spiritual side Balarāma 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 Mahābhārata. It is mixed. Wherever the Lord is, wherever His avatāras 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 Kurukṣetra 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 Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana and we become absorbed in hearing about those līlās – if we hear about those līlās properly, then each hearing is a step back to Godhead. It is completely different because those līlās are going on eternally in the spiritual world, but the Mahābhārata-līlā is going on in the material world. So in one sense, we don’t want to hear too much about the Mahābhārata 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 tee-totalers 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, Vyāsa, Madhva, Rāmānuja 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 brāhmaṇas 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 Kṛṣṇa 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 Kṛṣṇa. However, I have seen people that are non-vegetarian who have a more positive idea about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he āśrama 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 favourable towards Kṛṣṇa, 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! Kṛṣṇa accepts so many devotees to serve Him and they undergo purification. Duryodhana’s purification was that he was finally killed by Bhīma in the presence of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma. Balarāma walked away in the end – He didn’t want to see it. But Balarāma knew what was going to happen.
In the end Duryodhana died in the presence of Kṛṣṇa, and it is also said that everybody who died at Kurukṣetra attained mokṣa. It doesn’t specify what type of mokṣa they received. They certainly didn’t go to Goloka Vṛndāvana, 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 Prabhupāda, “I am always having some problem in my mind because an astrologer told me that in my previous life, I was in the Kurukṣetra war and I fought against Kṛṣṇa.” Śrīla Prabhupāda just said, “That is not possible. Everybody that died at Kurukṣetra went back to Godhead. You are still here so obviously you weren’t there.” Prabhupāda just popped his bubble.
Ultimately, we should look at it as being all for the good. The Mahābhārata 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 Kṛṣṇa. He was envious of the Pāṇḍavas.
Bhīṣma, on the other hand, is a great devotee, but he shot Kṛṣṇa! 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 Bhīṣma fired arrows in Kṛṣṇa. But Kṛṣṇa took them to be like the flowers offered by the gopīs. How is that possible? Because they are in their kṣatriya-bhāva.
Nowadays, some people claim to be kṣatriyas, but most of them are just brutish animals. To be a kṣatriya you have to be trained in dharma-śāstras. They don’t know anything about dharma – they are just barbarians. When kṣatriyas 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 kṣatriyas. 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 kṣatriya they like a good bloody battle. Nothing makes them happier. There is nothing worse for a kṣatriya than to stop fighting. That’s boring for them. It’s like a Marwari who can’t open his shop. There is no bigger hell for a traditional Marwari 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 ācārya 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 endeavoured to speak about. In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta there is one section where Lord Nityānanda is chasing Caitanya Mahāprabhu. After the kīrtana everybody is exhausted and they can’t even stand up. Only Mahāprabhu is standing and dancing and Nityānanda chases Him into a garden. Suddenly He sees Mahāprabhu by a tree, and Mahāprabhu turns into Rādhārāṇī. This verse is there in Caitanya-caritāmṛta but there’s no purport. We would think that He’s Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa combined and at that moment He showed the svarūpa of Rādhā. 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, Nityānanda turned around and immediately stopped pursuing Mahāprabhu. In other words, if even Lord Nityānanda is not going to pursue it at this point, then why should we?
So we cannot question Balarāma. 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 Kṛṣṇa and ultimately say that He is not Bhagavān. This līlā is being played out in a very intriguing way. If Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma killed all the demons immediately then the drama would end very early on and the Mahābhārata 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 Mahābhārata 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 Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism we worship many aspects and forms of Kṛṣṇa such as Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, Gaura-Nitāi, Gaura-Gadādhara etc. But how significant and important is it to worship Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma together and what is Balarāma’s mood or role in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes as Kṛṣṇa’s elder brother?
Śrīla Narasingha Mahārāja: Some say that Prabhupāda established Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma because of his family lineage. Some people have indicated that this is an indication of his rasa. And others have said it was because Rāmaṇa-reti was the place of Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma. If you go to Bombay, Prabhupāda installed Sītā-Rāma. What does that mean? That doesn’t mean anything. Bombay is a place of Rāma bhaktas. Prabhupāda establishes a Rāma Deity to bring the Rāma bhaktas to the Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple, to worship Gaura-Nitāi, to do saṅkīrtana and to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. He was preaching.
After the time of Prabhupāda, many Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Deities were established. I think there is one in Mysore. This is called a ‘one-track mind.’ They have a Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma temple, and they have a Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma ratha-yātrā –everything is all about Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma. I don’t know what their idea is, but they took it upon themselves. It is not something that Prabhupāda said – to establish Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma everywhere. Rāmaṇa-reti, where the Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Temple is in Vṛndāvana is the place of the cowherd boys; it’s a place of the cowherd boy’s rasa and līlā. Personally, as a disciple of Prabhupāda, above rasa, above everything, I think it was Prabhupāda doing something very unique again and catching everybody’s attention. One more Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple in Vṛndāvana would not be much of a new contribution. That wouldn’t get anybody’s attention. So he established Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma in Rāmaṇa-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. Rāmaṇa-reti, yes! And you have Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma.”
However, it is true that if you look at the life of a great spiritual personality, there’s what is called prākṭta-līlā and aprākṛta-līlā. Prakrta-līlā are those activities that they did in this world and their aprākṛta-līlā is their eternal connection. So we would expect to see, particularly at high points and time-to-time, where that prākṛta-līlā is moved by that aprākṛta-līlā. So with Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma that also must be so.
However, in regards to Prabhupāda installing Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma in Vṛndāvana, personally, I don’t see it as the ultimate definitive proof that defines Śrīla Prabhupāda’s rasa. I see it more in light of who Gaura-Nitāi are in kṛṣṇa-līlā. I see it more in light of the saṅkīrtana movement, like Prabhupāda installing Sītā-Rāma in Bombay. But some people do take it that way; that’s a very individual thing.
In Kali-yuga Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma appear on the horizon of Gauḍa as Gaura-Nitāi. Although They are brothers, They are not born in the same family. But actually neither are Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma. Balarāma’s mother is Rohiṇī and Kṛṣṇa’s mother is Yaśodā. Nityānanda is not born from Śacī Mātā, but nonetheless, Gaura-Nitāi are considered to be brothers and are non-different from Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma.
How Balarāma became the elder brother can be traced back to rāma-līlā when Lakṣmaṇa was the younger brother. He had to do the biddings of Rāma 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 līlā but in a higher sense, from the point of kṛṣṇa-līlā, 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 Kṛṣṇa before Rāma – not Rāma before Kṛṣṇa, because the full potency must exist before the partial potency.
One time Prabhupāda was driving in the car, the first year that the Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Temple opened, and he asked, “Who is stronger, Kṛṣṇa or Balarāma?” Balarāma is the strength potency of Kṛṣṇa, so one might think that He is protecting Kṛṣṇa. He is older than Kṛṣṇa, He is bigger than Kṛṣṇa etc. Most of the time you knew that when Prabhupāda 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 Prabhupāda said that Kṛṣṇa is stronger than Balarāma. The proof is that Balarāma is leaning on Kṛṣṇa for relaxation which means that Kṛṣṇa is stronger.
Once when someone ask Śrīla Purī Mahārāja why do you worship Gaura-Gadādhara? Śrīla Purī Mahārāja said, “Because without worshipping Gaura-Gadādhara you cannot understand Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa.” 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 Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma, you cannot understand Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa” – the two are not connected there. The worship of Gaura-Gadādhara and Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa are connected. The worship of Pañca-Tattva is connected there, and even Gaura-Nitāi are connected there. But there is no connection going towards Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma. This is an individual devotee preference. It is not a stepping-stone that everyone should take in the progress of proper siddhānta and in the development of rasa. You cant just worship Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and not worship Gaura-Nitāi – this is not acceptable. You may have Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Deities in the house and no Deities of Gaura-Nitāi, but you worship Gaura-Nitāi by chanting the Pañca-Tattva mantra. The mantra you chant is more important than the vigraha that you worship.