The following is adapted from a class on Bhagavad-gītā 8.9 which I gave at Bhaktivedanta Manor on 30th April 2019:
kaviṁ purāṇam anuśāsitāram
aṇor aṇīyāṁsam anusmared yaḥ
sarvasya dhātāram acintya-rūpam
āditya-varṇaṁ tamasaḥ parastāt
“One should meditate upon the Supreme Person as the one who knows everything, as He who is the oldest, who is the controller, who is smaller than the smallest, who is the maintainer of everything, who is beyond all material conception, who is inconceivable, and who is always a person. He is luminous like the sun, and He is transcendental, beyond this material nature.”
In this verse, Kṛṣṇa is described in many ways, but Śrīla Prabhupāda states in his Purport that the most important thing is that Kṛṣṇa is a person – the word rūpam indicates that the Lord has a form. He is not a formless, impersonal entity. However, His form is described as acintya, or inconceivable.
Because we only have experience of what people are like in the material world, many find it difficult to accept that the Lord is a person. Their argument is that people are imperfect – they have faults and make mistakes – but the Supreme being is perfect, so He cannot be a person. However, this argument is refuted in this verse. Kṛṣṇa is beyond all material conception, so we cannot understand Him based on such conceptions. The Lord has a form, but that form is not made of matter – it is completely spiritual. It is sac-cid-ānanda, which means that it is eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss.
In a lecture which Śrīla Prabhupāda gave in London on 26th August 1973, he said, “Unless we accept this principle that Kṛṣṇa, or God, has got inconceivable power, acintya-śakti, we cannot understand. If we put Kṛṣṇa within the jurisdiction of my limited understanding, that is not understanding of Kṛṣṇa.”
In other words, real understanding of Kṛṣṇa means accepting that there are things about Him which can never be fully understood.
Another interesting point that I took from this verse is that Kṛṣṇa doesn’t have to match our expectations of what He should be like or how He should act. After all, He is a person, not a mindless machine. Śacīnandana Swami says that “Kṛṣṇa is known again and again to jump out of all the limited conceptions we humans impose upon Him.” If we try to put Kṛṣṇa in a box, we will become bewildered or confused. These days, we are all told to think outside the box – well, Kṛṣṇa is so far beyond the box that you can’t even see where the box is!
A simple example of this is given in today’s verse. Kṛṣṇa is described as purāṇam, meaning the oldest, and Prabhupāda explains in his Purport that this is because He is “the origin of everything,” so He was already present before everything else came into being. Yet despite being the oldest person, Kṛṣṇa is nothing like the stereotypical image of an ancient, white-haired God. Instead, He is an eternally youthful cowherd boy who enjoys playing with His friends. So, even though He is the oldest, He doesn’t match people’s expectations of what an old person is like.
This is vividly illustrated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.11.39-40, which states, “Sometimes Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma would play on Their flutes, sometimes They would throw ropes and stones devised for getting fruits from the trees, sometimes They would throw only stones, and sometimes, Their ankle bells tinkling, They would play football with fruits like bael and āmalakī. Sometimes They would cover Themselves with blankets and imitate cows and bulls and fight with one another, roaring loudly, and sometimes They would imitate the voices of the animals. In this way They enjoyed sporting, exactly like two ordinary human children.”
We often have expectations of what Kṛṣṇa should do for us, and we become frustrated or even angry when those expectations are not met. In our prayers, we may tell the Lord that we are doing such and such for Him, so He should allow us to pass our exams or get a new car or be successful in an interview. But this is not how it works – Kṛṣṇa is not obliged to supply us with whatever we demand from Him. He is a person, so we should treat Him as such.
Kṛṣṇa is always helping us, but that help may not come in the form that we expect. So, if things don’t go the way we hoped that they would, we shouldn’t become angry towards Him. Instead, we should have faith that Kṛṣṇa has something better in store for us.
It’s also important to note that what we desire may not be what is best for us from a spiritual point of view. We may have many material desires, but Kṛṣṇa will only fulfil such desires if doing so will help us in our spiritual life. In my own life, I have found that Kṛṣṇa sometimes gives us everything that we thought we wanted, simply to teach us that it isn’t what we need. It is often the case that we have a strong desire for something material, but when we actually get it, we become disappointed because it doesn’t give us the pleasure that we thought it would.
So, Kṛṣṇa may sometimes fulfil a material desire because He knows that we will become disappointed and lose our attachment for that thing. Our aim in life should be to decrease our attachment to material things and increase our attachment to Kṛṣṇa, because only Kṛṣṇa can give us the happiness that we are looking for.
In today’s verse, Kṛṣṇa is described as āditya-varṇaṁ, which means that He is luminous like the sun. On this matter, Śacīnandana Swami says that if we “meditate about Kṛṣṇa being supremely effulgent,” then “the inner darkness that gives us so many problems will easily disperse.” The root cause of all our problems is forgetfulness of Kṛṣṇa and our relationship with Him, so if we sincerely try to connect with Kṛṣṇa and revive that relationship, He will appear in our heart like the rising sun and drive away all the darkness inside.