Today we are coming together to celebrate Sri Krishna Janmastami, the appearance of Lord Krishna in the material world. On special occasions such as this—we’ll soon be celebrating the pastime of Mother Yasoda binding Krishna with ropes, and then Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill—unless we know who Krishna is, we won’t know what to make of these seemingly fantastic stories.
The scriptures give different explanations of why Krishna, the all-loving, ever-blissful, Supreme Person appears. The Bhagavad-gita (4.8) states, paritranaya sadhunam, vinasaya ca duskrtam/ dharma-samsthapanarthaya, that He appears to deliver the devotees and to annihilate the miscreants and to reestablish the principles of religion. Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.33.36) explains further, anugrahaya bhaktanam, manusam deham asthitah/ bhajate tadrsih kridah, yah srutva tat-parobhavet: “When the Lord assumes a humanlike body to show mercy to His devotees, He engages in such pastimes as will attract those who hear about them to become dedicated to Him.”
So, who is this Krishna? Is Krishna just a concept or, as some people think, is it that the impersonal One assumes the form of Krishna, or Rama or Shiva or Ganesh or Durga, and you can worship any form and in the end merge into the oneness? To avoid such misunderstandings, we have to know who Krishna is, and that begins with the Bhagavad-gita and then the first cantos of the Bhagavatam. Ultimately, Srimad-Bhagavatam gives us a picture of the spiritual world, what life with God in the spiritual world is like. We read about Krishna, how He comes home from tending the cows, and we read that we can live with Him forever in a loving relationship in the most splendorous land of Vrndavana. And we become attracted and think, “Oh, I want to go there; I want to experience that life.”
That is why Krishna comes, specifically in His humanlike form—to show mercy to His devotees so that by hearing about life with Krishna, we become attracted to Him and inspired to dedicate our lives to Him.
But we should not think that Krishna is there only in the spiritual world; Krishna is everywhere, and if we surrender to Him, we can get the same benefit here in the material world that the pure devotees get in the spiritual world.
If you read the Krsna book or otherwise hear about the pastimes of Krishna, you’ll find that almost every day some demon was coming to Vrndavana to cause trouble. But did the residents of Vrndavana come rushing out with their ploughs and sticks to attack the demons? No. What did they do? They took shelter of Krishna. And what did Krishna do? He protected them. So when we hear these stories, we should think, “Wow—Krishna is so kind to His devotees. Even in the midst of the worst calamity, if we just take shelter of Him, He will protect us. All I need to do is surrender to Krishna.”
So Krishna appears for that reason, and we can make the purpose of His appearance successful by hearing about His pastimes and dedicating ourselves to Him.