Perfection in Imperfection
By Prema-bhakti dasi
When the Japanese mend broken objects, they augment the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. This Japanese art is called kintsugi. In a similar way, Krsna highlights the devotional feeling of his devotee when the offering itself is not externally perfect. The name for the lord who shows this type of generosity and affection is bhava grahi janardana.
The concept that God should be impartial, generous and compassionate to all beings is not uncommon. Gaudiya Vaisnava theology, however, takes this conception one step further. The acaryas elucidate the breadth of God’s generosity by describing him as impartial and kind to all beings, as well as partial to the devotees who possess a deep attachment and affection for him (BG 9.29). Therefore, the Gaudiyas worship God as “Krsna”, svayam bhagavan, who is raso vai sah. Krsna is filled with relational affection for his devotees. As a result of such affection, God behaves in a way that may be faulted for its partiality. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur writes in Madhurya Kadambini, “If one then argues that the cause of bhakti must be the Lord’s unconditional or causeless mercy, it must be asked why this mercy is not seen everywhere, implying that the Lord shows favoritism. However, when the Lord destroys the demons in order to protect the devotees, his favoritism is not seen as a fault, but a glory. This is because the Lord’s affection for his devotees is his Supreme quality ruling over all his other attributes like a king over his subjects.” In this sense, Krsna has an imperfection; however, it is by love for his devotees that such an apparent fault is turned into an ornament.
The sadhaka’s journey can be compared to the art of carving out perfection from an imperfect slab of stone, which when placed in a skilled artisan’s hands has unlimited potential. Similarly, one’s external practitioner’s body, sadhaka-deha, has absolute potential and in the hands of a qualified guru that potential gradually emerges. The sadhaka-deha is neither completely worldly nor yet fully spiritual. It is in a state of transformation wherein one may navigate both the worlds of the divine and the temporal. To the extent a devotee uses their mind and body to serve Bhagavan they are in one sense perfect, albeit to varying degrees and despite lingering conditioned habits. The sadhaka-deha gradually becomes spiritualized through service and dedication. The practitioner, after having completed the course of sadhana-bhakti, then becomes eligible to participate in meditative seva as a result of attaining an internal spiritual body. Before then, a practitioner may still vacillate at times succumbing to mundane desires of the external body and mind. However, Krsna does not dismiss a devotee as a result of his or her struggles; he appreciates us and derives great satisfaction from our eventual overcoming of such obstacles.
In Brhad Bhagavatamrta, Sanatana Goswami glorifies Prahlada as a sadhana-siddha (one who has attained perfection through devotional practice) and asserts the relative advantage of such a position because unlike the eternally perfect jivas (nitya-siddhas), the perfected practitioner’s love has been tested. The life of a sadhaka is filled with trials and tribulation on the path to perfection and therefore the attainment of entrance into eternal lila by such a sadhaka gives Krsna great satisfaction. Just like the damaged ceramic bowl which becomes more beautiful after filling its cracks with gold, the sadhana-siddha becomes more beautiful and satisfying in the eyes of Krsna upon finally attaining him.
Absolute perfection within seeming imperfection is demonstrated in Krsna’s pastoral lila in Vraja. The backdrop for the lila is the semblance of a varnasrama based culture. However, within that context, a myriad of seeming imperfections exist which are amplified in the intensity of the love exhibited by the gopis, who although married, shamelessly chase after their lover Krsna in the night. Such a moral transgression in a worldly dharmic paradigm would be strongly admonished, yet in the context of God’s divine play transgression is the pinnacle of complete surrender. In this way, the lila is covert and unfolds like poetry in motion; God is human-like and therefore charming and accessible.
In Gaudiya Vaisnavism, God attracts us with his sweet cowherd form meeting us where time and eternity simultaneously exist. He eventually greets us in his land of infinite possibilities as a result of the sadhaka-deha being completely absorbed in service. This exchange of love is made possible by the bond of transcendental affection which naturally and mutually exists between Bhagavan and his devotee. Krsna reveals to his friend Arjuna, “ye bhajanti tu mam bhaktya, mayi te tesu capy aham, whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.”