In Bhagavad Gita 11.50 we finally come to the end of the terribly mesmerizing vision of God’s form within the all-devouring unstoppable powers of material nature – what we call the “Universal Form” or virāṭa-rūpa in Sanskrit.
I will give my own translation of the original Sanskrit shloka, with an emphasis of expressing the essence in English without distorting the pure meaning revealed in Guru-Parampara. You may ask why I do so. Isn’t there already a fine translation? What is the need for another one?
Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja answered a very similar question once, in his Caitanya Caritāmṛta (311 pada of the last chapter of Adi Lila):
likhita granthera yadi kari anuvaada
tabe se granthera artha paaiye aasvaada
Which means: If I repeat in my own words what has already been written, then I can better taste the true merit and meaning of it.
I find that by endeavoring to re-express the words of the acaryas in my own words I come to much more fully understand what they are saying. Indeed, I think this is the whole point of discussing the scriptures rather than just reciting them. Here is my own translation of Gita 11.50. It is nothing special, but it helps me understand the meaning of the text much better because I take the effort to write it.
After Vāsudeva said that to Arjuna
He returned the vision of his natural form
To encourage Arjuna, who had become fearful.
Then the great soul again returned to his most beautiful, pleasing form.
Now let’s examine why Prabhupāda mentions “four-armed forms” and “two-armed forms” in his translation. There are three forms that Kṛṣṇa displays in the 11th Chapter of Bhagavad Gita. One is the “Universal Form” – which is terrifying. Then in 11.46 Arjuna specifically asks to see the four-armed form of Kṛṣṇa as Viṣṇu. Kṛṣṇa granted this wish. Sanjaya is now describing it. He says that Kṛṣṇa returned Arjuna the darśan (audience or vision) of his svakam rūpa (natural form).
Now you can justifiably ask, “Why do you say that ‘natural form’ is the Vishnu form and not Kṛṣṇa himself?”
The answer is that Arjuna asked to see the Vishnu form, and Kṛṣṇa is prema-karṣiṇī (controlled by the wishes of his beloveds). Therefore Kṛṣṇa most certainly showed Arjuna the form he requested to see. So this must be what is happening here – this must be what Sanjaya is referring to as svakam-rūpa.
The explanation of this verse by our great predecessor Teacher, Śrīla Viśvanātha Chakravarti, states without a shadow of uncertainty that this svakam-rūpa is the four-handed Vishnu form that Arjuna desired to see. Our Founding Guru, A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Prabhupāda wrote his Bhagavad Gita As It Is by following the commentary of Śrīla Viśvanātha Chakravarti. He included in the translations the clarification that Śrīla Viśvanātha Chakravarti made in his commentary. That is why the translation Prabhupāda wrote includes the mention of four-armed forms and two armed forms.
The four armed form is very sweet compared to the terrible power of the horrible Universal Form. But in the ultimate picture Vishnu is a mixture of sweetness and majesty. Not pure sweetness.
The form of Godhead exhibiting pure sweetness, unbound by the connotations of majesty and grandeur, is Śrī Kṛṣṇa – the son of the Maharaja Nanda and Maharani Yashoda. This form is called saumya-vapuh. This is the two armed form of Kṛṣṇa, who plays wonderously upon a flute, expressing his love to all his beloved associates with the honey-thick ragas he produces from it.
In jyotish (Vedic Astrology) there are two categories of planets: saumya and krura. The saumya planets are gentle, pleasing, generous, and soft. The krura planets are rough, strong, stern, and relentless. The Universal Form of God exhibits the krura nature of Absolute Reality. It is unyieldingly powerful and absolutely more powerful than us. Many world religions try to instill appreciation for this terrifying and fearful power of God in a krura form. I don’t really know why. Maybe they feel that most people respond well to fear? Or maybe they are so inclined to use fear as a tool to empower their ulterior political motives. I have no idea. I am not that interested to find out either.
Vishnu is the form of Godhead who is mostly saumya, but still has a little krura. Vishnu is very kind, humble, generous, helpful, etc. Therefore his nature is saumya. But still he is distant and very, very powerful at all times. Therefore there is still some of the krura aspect mixed into this manifestation of Godhead.
Kṛṣṇa, is Godhead manifesting in a completely pure state, not having to exert any power to accomplish any ulterior aims, interested only in his primary objective: the bliss of sharing divine love. Thus Kṛṣṇa is the purely saumya Godhead. Purely gentle, giving, sweet, open, inviting, approachable, and kind.
Now let’s review Śrīla Prabhupāda’s brief purport on this text.
“When Kṛṣṇa appeared as the son of Vasudeva and Devakī, He first of all appeared as four-armed Nārāyaṇa…” Here Prabhupāda suggests to us that Kṛṣṇa many times first appears as Vishnu and then reveals his more intimate nature as Kṛṣṇa. This sequence of events is not unique to the Bhagavad Gita.
“The word saumya-vapuḥ is very significant. Saumya-vapuḥ is a very beautiful form; it is known as the most beautiful form.” Prabhupāda is here telling you to pay attention to Sankrit and learn it, if you want to really appreciate the Gita and appreciate how Prabhupāda wants to give it to you.
Now Prabhupāda will talk about just how saumya sweet is Kṛṣṇa’s vapuh (form).
“When He was present, everyone was attracted simply by Kṛṣṇa’s form.” Recently I heard my Gurudev, Śrīpad Dhanurdhara Swāmī express this very beautifully. He said, “Kṛṣṇa is so attractive. We cannot even imagine how attractive Kṛṣṇa is. We cannot even imagine how attractive are the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa. We cannot even imagine how wonderful it would be if even a drop of that attractiveness would enter for a moment into our chanting. We cannot even image what it would feel like for even a drop of hankering for that would come into our chanting.”
Prabhupāda concludes his discussion of the verse by saying, “In the Brahma-saḿhitā (5.38) it is stated, premāñjana-cchurita-bhakti-vilocanena: only a person whose eyes are smeared with the ointment of love can see the beautiful form of Śrī Kṛṣṇa.”
Have you seen Kṛṣṇa? I cannot see Kṛṣṇa. Because if I were to see Kṛṣṇa all of my attractions to anyone and anything besides Kṛṣṇa would be pulverized and vaporized. Therefore I actually have my vision recognition brain centers closed and blinded to seeing Kṛṣṇa.
But to some small extent I do desire that all my attractions to anything besides Kṛṣṇa be destroyed. It is a small desire, but that small desire has reopened the vision recognition centers in my consciousness a small amount. Therefore I can see pictures of Kṛṣṇa. I can see my lovely saumya-rūpa deities, Śrī Śrī Nandinī Nandana. And now and then I can have images of Kṛṣṇa placed into my heart by hearing the descriptions of Kṛṣṇa from the mouths of those who are in love with him.
The extent to which we want to be attracted FULLY to Kṛṣṇa is exactly the extent to which we can see Kṛṣṇa. Therefore full vision of Kṛṣṇa, directly with ones senses, face to face, does not come until Prema Bhakti arises in perfection.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak about Śrī Kṛṣṇa. I pray that the speaker and the listener will increase their interest in the topic.
Gaura Hari Bol.