“Krishna is extreme.”
I was part of a weekly satsang taking place at a nearby temple, a branch of a branch of the Gaudiya Math tree that had set down roots in the neighborhood next to mine, when this bit of truth was dropped on me. Something about it, the way it was said, and why it came up in conversation lodged in my heart and I felt like a dart had struck me.
Unpacking this incident has been on my mind since it took place a few days ago. I truly don’t know where to begin.
I have long found myself surrounded by gods associated with extreme natures, so much so that people have taken on themselves the supreme trouble of telling me just how extreme Loki or Hela or Odin – or Kali – actually is. But never has anyone mentioned Krishna. Of course, now that someone who knows Lord Krishna much better than I do points out this extreme nature I can’t help but see it.
What leads us to characterize gods as extreme? Can we perhaps think of a Power that is *not* extreme? Is extremity part of what makes gods who and what They are?
Why does the particular sort of extremity manifested by a deity lead us to warn others away, while the extremity of another Power comes with no disclaimer whatsoever? Shouldn’t we be warning more people – be careful, Kwan Yin will fuck your shit up. And you know what? She will. I’ve seen it. People who scoff at the exercise of compassion have never been on the receiving end of its expression, not in the way She can express it.
I have always resented being told about how dangerous my gods are; indeed, running with a rough crowd can become a point of (unnecessary, misplaced) pride. We have this idea that there are categories labeled “Extreme” or “Fluffy” into which the Holy Powers can be conveniently sorted. This informs the way we talk about them, the way we think about them, and the way we treat each believers and devotees.
Could it perhaps be that these categories actually don’t tell us very much about the actual nature of the Holy Powers? Certainly they haven’t given me much information – not about Loki or Hela or Odin or Kali – or Krishna.
If these categories contain only misinformation, should we persist in using them?
Alright, well – maybe the Holy Powers are separated into “extreme” and “not-extreme” categories based on the sort of influence they have in our lives or the sphere(s) of experience they are most interested in.
To be sure, the gods can have all kinds of influence in our lives. From healing to breaking, from falling in love to walking away, and from failure to success back to failure, They seem to trigger all kinds of transformations. Transformation and change is Their gift – but such things are part of life anyway and are bound to happen anyway. Therefore blaming (or crediting) the Gods for life’s extremes may be somewhat missing the mark.
(I say this and *know* that They have delivered the strangest and most profound transformations to me but for all our sakes I hope that such things are aberrations.)
Life is extreme with and without the gods. They are not, perhaps, required for satisfying, fulfilling, and meaningful lives but for those of us who find a form of satisfaction unique to religious engagement, the gods will always be part of our deepest and most formative experiences. Such experiences are going to be extreme. All gods, therefore, seem to have extreme natures.
I don’t like talking about Loki as an extreme god. He is, I suppose. But what else do I expect? What else do I expect from any god? I’m not sure. This is part of why I was so upset. I came face to face with a set of expectations that I didn’t even know I had.
While I might know enough to now examine my expectations regarding deities that enter my sphere of experience, I am not always so good at applying new lessons to old gods. Who do I truly expect Loki to be?
Truthfully, I try very hard to expect nothing of Him. He’s not good at conforming to expectations, and frustrated expectation on my part always leads to suffering. I’ve found it better to accept what is offered when it is offered; Loki is very much a god of the present moment, and I’m not so good at that. Maybe this was the same logic I applied to Krishna. Not knowing what to expect, I simply accepted. Maybe this was why I felt strangely betrayed – because I should have expected extremity and was then disturbed when someone pointed this out to me.
(To the members of the many Gaudiya Math traditions, Krishna is the lord of rasa, the lord of profound emotive spiritual experience. Rasa encompasses all flavors of emotive spiritual experiences, both sweet and bitter; Krishna-lila is said to exemplify each facet of spiritual emotional experience. This is certainly not everyone’s understanding of Him.)
I think I was also troubled that I expected the gods to be something other than what they are; this goes back to acceptance. Holding a sort of false god in one’s mind, a preconception of who Loki (or whoever) might be, interferes with spiritual engagement. Recognizing the false god and then rooting it out from the mental landscape and emotional complexes is truly the work of a lifetime. I’m grateful to have been shown a blind spot in my self-knowledge. I have much to learn.