Our incarnation is an incarceration — Krishna’s isn’t
At the start of its fourth chapter, the Bhagavad-gita features a striking question-answer round. When Krishna mentions (04.04) that he had shared the Gita’s wisdom long ago with the sun-god, Arjuna is perplexed. Seeing Krishna to be his contemporary, millennia younger than the sun-god, Arjuna wonders (04.05) how Krishna could have imparted this knowledge to that celestial deity.
Krishna replies (04.06) that though both of them have gone through many lives, he (Krishna) remembers all of them, whereas Arjuna doesn’t.
This reply underscores that there is infinitely more to Krishna than what meets the eye – he is present at a particular place and time, yet his existence transcends all place and time, for he is the source and sustainer of all space and time.
When we incarnate in this world, that is, when we come to embodied existence – the word “incarnate” refers essentially to come in flesh – we become incarcerated by our bodies. We don’t remember our previous lives and we often don’t remember even our essential identity, for we mistake ourselves to be our bodies. Just as incarceration is characterized by tribulation, so too is our bodily incarceration characterized by the tribulations of old age, disease and death.
Krishna is never subjected to such miseries – he remains transcendental always. Thus, his appearance is described more precisely by the word descent, which is an English cognate of the Sanskrit term avatar.
The more we appreciate his transcendence, the more we can appreciate his munificence too. He is the supreme king who has personally come to a penitentiary to urge us to reform ourselves, to realize our spiritual identity and to reclaim our right to life and love eternal in his personal abode. Indeed, the Gita (04.09) declares that those who truly understand Krishna’s position attain liberation from this worldly incarceration.
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