When form and substance are different — and when they aren’t

All that glitters is not gold. Such sayings which are present in almost every human culture, highlight a vital reality in this world: form doesn’t always reflect substance; things aren’t the way they appear to be. Attraction to form can distract us from substance and leave us deluded. When we get attracted to good-looking people, we often overlook how they actually are in terms of character and nature. To really know a person we need to see beyond the form to the substance. 

But for the ultimate reality, Krishna. form and substance are nondifferent. If we conceive some substance beyond his form, we gravitate toward an impersonal conception. Pursuing that conception leads to two less-than desirable results. Sub-optimally, we may neglect Krishna’s form and seek a characteristic-less substance that is incredibly difficult to know, leave alone love (12,05). Or far more damagingly, we may dismiss the form as ultimately insubstantial (09.11-12), treating it as just a temporary embodiment for some higher  substance (07.24). When we are misled (09.11), our spiritual aspirations end up frustrated (09.12).

How can we best approach Krishna’s form and substance? Initially, when we perceive his as his deities, the form is the way to the substance — it helps us visualize and remember and worship the ultimate reality. And as we evolve spiritually, we realize and relish that the form is the substance. Appreciating Krishna as both form and substance enables us to direct our longing for beauty, love and joy toward him, thereby finding the greatest fulfillment (10;09) and the highest enlightenment (15.19). 

One-sentence summary:

In the material domain, we need to go beyond the form to perceive the substance; in the spiritual domain, the form is the substance and is also the way to the substance. 

Think it over:

  • In the material domain, why do we need to go beyond form to substance?
  • In the spiritual domain, what may happen if we seek a form beyond the substance?
  • In the spiritual domain, how can we approach form and substance?


09.11: Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be.

Author: Chaitanya Charan

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