Sri Krishna to Uddhava on Lust vs. Love

[The following conversation between Krishna and Uddhava was taken from Sri K.M.Munshi's Krishnavatara, an excellent book narrating Sri Krishna's life overlapping with the Mahabharata story. This comes in about 7 volumes (~250 pages each) of very simple, lucid english offering edge-of-the-seat entertainment. We strongly recommend it if you want to know more about the awesome personality of Sri Krishna even after playing down his Superhuman magic. We got these books at the Sacramento Vedanta Society bookstore (published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan). It must be available in all their bookstores. Your understanding and appreciation of Krishna and the Mahabharata itself will improve manyfold after reading this excellent work by Sri K.M. Munshi (a disciple of Sri Aurobindo, BTW).

Uddhava was the closest friend and righthand man of Krishna since childhood. He was Krishna's cousin, born at around the same time as Krishna and sent from Mathura to Vrindavan as an infant to be a playmate to Krishna. From then, Uddhava became the most intimate friend and follower of Krishna.

The following episode happens when Uddhava, sent on a mission by Krishna to Srigaalava Vaasudeva of Karavirapura (an impostor king claiming to be the only Lord Vaasudeva (Vishnu) on earth and forcing everybody to worship him), falls in love with the impostor's niece Shaibya, a gorgeous young woman thoroughly devoted to her uncle. But Krishna goes and beheads him in front of her eyes and she is enraged at both Krishna and Uddhava. Before all this, Acharya Shvetaketu, the foremost disciple of Saandiipani (guru of Krishna and Uddhava) sees Shaibya near his guru's Ashram and gets thoroughly infatuated with Shaibya, so much that he even leaves his Ashram to go after her to eventually become impostor Vasudeva's sidekick, just for her sake. But she keeps waiting for her uncle's permission to marry him, which never comes. After killing the impostor uncle, Krishna brings Shvetaketu to his senses by persuasion. That is the time when Uddhava also gets infatuated with Shaibya. Krishna was around 21 years old at that time. Now read on...
- Sarada & Sai Susarla

That night Krishna felt very concerned about Uddhava. During all the time that they had lived together from the days of their infancy, he had never seen Uddhava so constrained, and so absent-minded, behaving so strangely. Though a man of a few words, he had been open-hearted, quiet, self-effacing, always radiating warmth.

With Damaghosha and Balarama, Krishna had travelled in the first chariot; Shaibya and her maids were in the next. The Acharyas followed in other chariots or on foot, while Uddhava, being in charge of the caravan, rode around all the time on the horse-back. At night, however, he came as usual to wherever Krishna happened to be waiting for him and, walking arm in arm or lying side by side as was their wont, they would exchange their impressions of the day. But a little after they began their journey, Krishna had sensed the change, though not clearly at first. As the days went by, a new mood seemed to possess Uddhava, and, during the last two nights, he had purposely kept away from Krishna, invariably avoiding his gaze even during the day-time.

Because Krishna had insisted, Uddhava had promised to come that night and had done so. After a short conversation, both retired to sleep. Balarama was already fast asleep, breathing with heavy evenness. But Krishna, who usually went to sleep as soon as he closed his eyes, kept awake, for he found that his friend was tossing uneasily from side to side in his sleep. After some time, he sat up, drew closer to Uddhava and placed a hand on his friend's shoulder with a gesture of infinite tenderness. Uddhava woke up with a start; Krishna enveloped him in his arms.

A late moon was in the sky, throwing varied patterns of light and shade on the earth throughout the leafy branches of the trees.

'Uddhava, I want to talk to you. Come,' he said.

Uddhava got up and following his friend to a platform of earth which surrounded a tree in the neighborhood. Krishna pulled Uddhava to his side and silently watched him for a few moments. He could see that Uddhava was nervous.

'My brother, you have become different these days,' Krishna said softly.

Uddhava gave an imperceptible start, which Krishna did not fail to notice. 'Do I look different? You are mistaken' he said with a forced smile.

'Uddhava, what has come between us? Have I done anything to offend you?' asked Krishna.

'You to offend me!' said Uddhava, clinging to Krishna like a drowning man. 'You would never offend me, and whatever you do, I will never take offence. Have you any doubt, Krishna?,' he asked anxiously.

'No, Uddhava. That is why I want to know what troubles you.' Krishna felt a tremor passing through Uddhava's frame. 'Tell me, my brother.'

'What can I say? I don't understand it myself,' said Uddhava looking away from Krishna.

'I will try to understand it for you,' said Krishna. 'Since we left Karavirapura something has happened to you - something which had not happened to you before.'

'Nothing has happened to me. I was with you all the time,' replied Uddhava with a forced smile.

Krishna smiled indulgently. 'That is what I want to know. What happens to you and why, when I am with you? I see you feel a want, a sense of loss, a self-defeat - which you never did before. Tell me, Uddhava. Don't try to conceal it.' Krishna pressed Uddhava to his heart.

Uddhava hesitated a while, sighed, and then spoke in a voice which trembled a little. 'If you want to know, I will tell you. I am tired of life. I want to give up this life and return to Badari Ashram,' he said and paused as he found he was unable to express himself clearly.

'Why turn an ascetic? We are here to affirm life, to rise above it, not to deny it,' said Krishna.

'You can do so, for you are a god. You are born to dominate life,' said Uddhava helplessly. 'I am not.'

'Life was meant to be lived. Even the venerable Parashurama said so. And both of us have lived it well so far,' said Krishna.

'I have no desire to live well, Krishna. Don't make me more unhappy by having to confess it. I have made up my mind,' said Uddhava, his eyes full of a silent pathetic appeal to Krishna not to probe into his heart any further.

'Brother, you can't be unhappy just because I want you to share your unhappiness with me,' Krishna suddenly stood up and gathered Uddhava to his breast as a thought struck him. 'Have you become infatuated with Shaibya?' he asked.

Uddhava hid his face on Krishna's breast. 'Krishna, don't ask me.'

'Now I know. Kamadeva's arrows have hit you, Uddhava. I now understand what you feel,' said Krishna sympathetically. 'She is pledged to Shvetaketu; you won't take her away from him; you cannot live without her; you cannot have her; you, therefore, want to renounce life.'

'Don't, don't,' piteously sobbed Uddhava, 'I have gone mad. I have sinned. I have been untrue to you.'

'Don't be so harsh on yourself. What you suffer is only natural. Woman, when the darts of Kamadeva pierce your hearts, is like fire; whoever then touches her gets singed (i.e., burnt superficially or lightly, scorched),' said Krishna.

'I don't want only to be singed by the fire. I want to throw myself into it and be reduced to ashes. You cannot understand what I feel. You can love the Gopis and leave them without a sigh,' said Uddhava.

'You are wrong, Uddhava,' said Krishna quietly.

'You are so different from all of us, Krishna,' said Uddhava, heaving a sigh. Then his reserve broke down. 'Now that you have asked me, Krishna, let me make a clean breast of it. I was wanting to do it all these days, for I cannot live as a stranger to you. You do not know what I have suffered since we left Karavirapura. Awake or asleep, I have seen her beautiful eyes full of tears before me. I see her in my dreams. Oh, she is so wonderful!' He paused. 'And I feel like a thief when I think how Shvetaketu and Shaibya are pledged to each other.'

'How did it happen so suddenly?' asked Krishna sympathetically.

'The day we started, I went to her to see that she was well looked after. She was sitting in the chariot, her face between her knees. When I asked her whether she wanted anything, her eyes, Krishna, flashed an angry look at me. They looked so wonderful. Then my eyes fell on her neck, her shoulder, her figure - and I was struck dumb as Shvetaketu was once. My blood appeared to be on fire. I felt like fainting,' said Uddhava.

'That is Kamadeva fanning the fire,' said Krishna indulgently.

'Call it what you will,' said Uddhava. 'I then asked her to take some milk which the maid had brought. She took the earthen cup from her hands and threw it at me.'

Uddhava hesitated for a while, sighed and continued. 'I felt that I must make her eat and drink something, otherwise she would die. So I stood there obstinately holding out another cup of milk for her to take. She glared at me. I continued to smile. At last she took the cup from me and said in disgust, 'You want me to take it. Very well, I will.' She drank the milk and handed back the cup to the maid. 'Now please go and don't make me more miserable,' she said.'

'I came away, but could not forget even for a moment how she had looked at me. Then day after day I went to her twice, sometimes three times a day, and offered her food. Everytime she would stare at me, take the food from me, and after eating it, would fold her hands and beg me to leave her alone. Doing this day after day, I felt myself floating in the air. The colour of earth and heaven changed. You became distant too - almost unreal.'

Krishna smiled with understanding. 'I became a dim star in the distant sky?' he asked with a sly wink.

Uddhava ignored the irrelevant question. 'At night whether I am awake or alseep, they are before me - the angry eyes, the arching bows, the defiant nose, the long tapering fingers, the gait of voluptuous grace....,' he paused.

'If you like, I will complete the description: - of a fascinating leopardess, growling in suppressed ferocity at my poor Uddhava,' said Krishna, mischievously.

'Don't tease me, Krishna. You don't know how miserable I am. You don't know what happens to me night after night,' said Uddhava.

'I know you have disturbed sleep these days,' said Krishna.

'Often after midnight I wake up. My body then trembles like a leaf in a breeze; flames course along my veins; bells ring in my ears,' said Uddhava and looked down almost shamefacedly and continued in low, halting accents. 'I see her.... I cling to her.... oh, Krishna, I am fallen beyond redemption. I have no right to your love. When I am half asleep, sometimes I see myself carrying her away, stabbing Shvetaketu.'

'I know you dislike the brutish ways of our Kshatriyas - raiding and capturing women like cattle against their will,' added Uddhava.

'Yes it is adharma to do so,' said Krishna.

Clinging to Krishna like a drowning man, Uddhava repeated, 'I am fallen. I am sunk in vile passion, lust and greed and jealousy.'

'And when I realised that I had fallen, I felt a shock, Krishna,' continued Uddhava. 'I could not take away what was Shvetaketu's. I could not give her up. So I decided to renounce the world,'

'Only a few, whom the Gods bless, can renounce women and live a life of vigour. But that is not given to us all. If you go to Badari Ashram, Shaibya - in one form or other - will follow you. She will haunt your loneliness. You can't live in vigour and forget women,' said Krishna.

'I want to forget women - at least Shaibya. Otherwise I will go mad. How can I do it?' asked Uddhava.

'Control yourself,' replied Krishna.

'I don't know how I can do it,' said Uddhava in an appealing voice. 'I have never felt this way before.'

Krishna was silent for a while and then in a quiet, affectionate voice resumed. 'I told you, to us, whenever wounded by Kamadeva's arrows, woman becomes fire. We are first inclined to make of her a wayside fire to give a fleeting warmth and then pass by it on our way. Then the breezes fan the fire; the flames set fire to the grass under our feet and the dry branches overhead.'

'Very little is left of me, and whatever is left will soon be reduced to ashes,' said Uddhava bitterly.

'There is one way, the only way. Keep the warmth, but stay away from the flames,' said Krishna.

'It is easy to say so, but how? I have nothing of me left which would let me stay away,' Uddhava pleaded helplessly.

'Try. Do you really want Shaibya?' asked Krishna.

'I want her, but I will not be untrue to my friend, Shvetaketu,' replied Uddhava.

'You can weave any women into your life - may be not as you wish - if you convert the wayside fire into the sacrificial fire on a vedi, an altar (a devata for aaraadhana/worship).

'Why a wayside fire?' asked Uddhava.

'Because you don't wait to inquire of what it is made; you don't care who warmed himself at it before you did, or what will happen to it after you have left. You are only selfish; you want a passing warmth. You don't consider how it will affect you later. You don't want it to lead you to strength,' said Krishna.

'Oh!' said Uddhava.

'A passing fancy for a wayside fire will only singe (i.e., burn superficially or lightly, scorch); lifelong worship at the altar will give warmth - always.' Krishna placed his hands on Uddhava's shoulders and his voice, as on all such occasions, had the ring of certitude, of authority.

'Don't talk to me in riddles. Tell me clearly, please, I beg of you, Krishna,' said Uddhava helplessly.

'You want Shaibya for your life and hers?' asked Krishna.

'I want her, but do not want to be untrue to Shvetaketu - nor to you,' Uddhava shook his head.

'Then stand true to yourself; build an altar of devotion around her; offer her the most precious thing you can offer; then she will give you the warmth and strength of the sacrificial fire,' said Krishna.

'But in that way, Krishna, she will never be mine as I want her to be,' said Uddhava, unconvinced.

'And if you throw yourself into the fire, will you become the Lord of the fire? No, Uddhava. The sacrificial fire gives blessings only to the one who offers all, not to the one who demands all,' said Krishna.

'The thought that Shaibya will not be mine sends me mad,' said Uddhava shaking his head in utter helplessness.

'Do I not know how wonderful Shaibya is? She has the fiery spirit of a half-tamed mare. She is a woman of great ability and devotion. Only she is at war with the world - that is the trouble with her. No sooner had I seen her than I was drawn to her myself - and constructed an altar around her. I do it with every woman who enters my life. I did the same with Mother Yashoda, with the Gopis, with Vishakha, with Radha, with Mother Devaki, and even with Trivakra (Kamsa's palace maid whom Krishna cured of disfigurement),' said Krishna.

'I cannot do what you can. I could only build an altar round you, and that is now defiled,' said Uddhava.

'I will show you the way to build the altar, Uddhava. It is not difficult. Are you ready to bear the thousand thorns which would afflict you as you lived with Shaibya day by day?' asked Krishna.

'Why do you ask these questions, Krishna? They hurt me. I want her for ever and ever, but I am never going to obtain her,' said Uddhava.

'Answer my question,' said Krishna. 'Would you like her to be the mother of your children, the kula stree, the presiding goddess of your family, who would surround you and your children with love and transmit your family traditions to you children?'

'I don't know,' Uddhava confessed. 'I have never thought of those things,'

'Then you are selfish; you have no devotion to offer her, you only want her as a passing glow,' said Krishna.

Uddhava was indignant, but speechless.

'Do think again and tell me. Do you want her to be a divinity to her children, loved, honoured and worshipped by them?' asked Krishna.

'Certainly, I do,' replied Uddhava.

'Well, then when she grows old, ailing, decrepit, will you still be able to warm yourself? Or, when your life is running out, will you still be able to warm yourself at the dying fire?' Krishna insisted on an answer.

'How can I say? I am bewildered,' said Uddhava.

'If you cannot say it clearly, how can you enshrine Shaibya on an altar?' Krishna said slowly and became dreamily reminiscent.

'Uddhava, both you and my Big Brother have always upbraided me for leaving Radha behind in Vrindavan. But I did it because I want her to be my sacred fire. I would never have loved Radha had I not felt sure that I was going to be in Vrindavan as a cowherd for ever. But when I was called to Mathura as Vasudeva's son, it would have been wicked to bring her with me. She was born to be an exquisite flower in the spring and would never have survived the hot winds of the life I was called upon to face. She would have never found her "Kahn" in Krishna Vaasudeva. And I, with my mission to fulfil, could not have played the gay cowherd, who was the very breath of her life. So I parted from her. She has always remained an altar fire for me and I have remained the altar fire for her. It was the only way,' said Krishna, a little sadly.

'I wish we all had your wisdom,' said Uddhava.

'If you feel so, why not let me tell you what I think wisdom is?' Krishna was now speaking with authority. 'Man and wife, Uddhava, living in mutual lifelong devotion, are at the root of Dharma. The creation springs from them. Don't destroy Dharma for a fleeting comfort at a wayside fire.'

'Remember what the Gods did in the days of old,' continued Krishna. 'They had to offer sacred Purusha to make creating possible. Without a sacrificial offering, you cannot create anything,' said Krishna as if speaking to himself. 'If you want a woman, you have to offer something: a present, a house to live in, lifelong protection. But in that way you will only get a woman, her body, her services. The offering however is like sacrificing ghee or barley or a lamb to obtain a place in heaven. If you want a divinity to inspire you to Dharma and multiply your strength a hundredfold, you must offer something vastly greater. Have not the Gods said: 'By the spirit of sacrifice alone shall sacrifice prosper?'

'Don't confuse me, Krishna,' said Uddhava. 'Tell me what I should do. I have always lived in and for you, always obeyed you. In this case too, I will follow your advice. You have the Power to see, but I have not.'

'Then my brother, find out for yourself whether Shaibya is a wayside fire for you or worth enshrining on an altar. She is a wonder of a woman - a splendorous creature, not exactly made for a devoted wife or a self-effacing mother, unless she has learnt to give you the devotion which she gave to her uncle. She is at present a raging wild fire. She cannot be even a wayside fire, much less an altar fire - either for you or for Shvetaketu. Shvetaketu has accepted my advice and will wait till the darting flames - which are Shaibya today - subside,' said Krishna.

'Do you give me the same advice?' asked Uddhava.

'Yes. In the meantime, let each one of you build his own altar around her.... and who knows if the fire will be tamed and declare its own guardian god,' said Krishna.

'It is a hard, hard way,' said Uddhava.

'The hardest way is the best - for it is the way of Tapas, of the strength which comes of purifying the body and the mind. If Tapas does not purify passion, women themselves will think it an amusing game to become wayside fires; roaring like Rudras, they will sweep Dharma away. Then the unity of man and wife will be dissolved; the family bond will be snapped; the ways of our Fathers will be forgotten and the bonds which keep the worlds together will break. Men and women, lusting and irresponsible, incapable of Tapas, will forswear Rita, to which even the Gods conform. In the end, Dharma will die and men and women will be worse than beasts,' said Krishna.

Uddhava kept looking down, listening to the words of his friend.

'I have never spoken to you so freely about this, for no occasion has arisen so far,' continued Krishna. 'But, Uddhava, listen. We cannot desert Dharma. We have still very far to go. I say we - for without you, I am helpless. Your faith in me keeps me on the path of Dharma. Don't forget it.'

'Lord, forgive me,' said Uddhava, overborne by such love and kindness. 'I am not worthy of such affection. Tell me what to do, and I will do it.'

'Tomorrow or the day after, my Big Brother is going with King Kukudmin to capture Kushasthali (future Dwaraka). Go with them. Nothing makes it easier to prepare a good altar than being away from the fire. By the time you come back, the raging flame, which is Shaibya today, will have subsided; perhaps by then Shvetaketu may have returned to Mathura,' said Krishna.

'It is a terrible thing that you ask me to do. But I swear, I will carry it out - even at the cost of my life,' said Uddhava.

'Great things, Uddhava, are always done at the cost of one's life,' said Krishna.

Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Sai Susarla.