The Belly of the Beast
*Faith Makes You Fearless...*
“What is it?” Sridama craned his neck, looking up as far as he could, but still unable to see an end to the enormous obstacle.
“I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a snake!” Subala shouted the last word, already skipping backwards, ready to run from danger. Another boy caught the end of Subala’s cloth wrapper, yanking him back to the group of investigative cowherd boys. Subala returned hesitantly, eyeing the cave warily.
“Don’t be foolish! A snake could never be this big. This is probably just a cave that’s been fashioned to look like a snake’s mouth by Krishna.” Charu waved away Subala’s concerns and smiled with wonder. He examined the huge, gaping hole in the road from every angle, nodding with appreciation.
“A cave that’s meant to look like a snake? Why would Krishna do that?” Subala cast a nervous glance at the mouth of the “cave”. He was still ready to run.
“To give us another amazing spot to play in, of course!” Charu spread his arms wide as though he had found the perfect explanation.
A smaller boy grabbed Subala’s cloth and tugged until Subala looked down at him. His eyes were huge, but his voice was no more than a whisper.
“Do you really think this is a creature waiting here with its mouth open to swallow us all? Is this some kind of immovable living thing? Some sort of tiger maybe? Or something even...worse?” Subala could hear the small boy’s gulp loud and clear. Subala wasn’t sure how to answer but looked to the group of older boys who were discussing the roadblock with concern.
As they were navigating the pathways of the many forests of Vrindavan, the cowherd boys and Krishna had come across a great obstacle in the road. It extended through the sky for as far as the eye could see, and it seemed as though none of them could make out what the huge blockage was. Madhumangala stepped through the group of boys, and came close to what they guessed was the mouth of the great cave. He stroked his chin while deep in thought, considering, with all of his brahminical intelligence what the huge statue could be. Speaking with authority and confidence in his deductive reasoning, Madhumangala’s voice was sure, but cautious.
“Dear friends, I think this is certainly an animal sitting here waiting to swallow us all. Look! The upper lip is touching the clouds, and the lower lip forms the base of the cave which is actually a huge mouth.” Madhu pointed as he made his points, extending his arms outward. “On the right and the left, those two deep depressions that look like mountain caves are actually the corners of its mouth, and those mountain peaks there and there, are its teeth.” Madhu looked like a scientist as he explained the anatomy of the great beast.
“This broad traffic-way must be the tongue, and inside its mouth it is very dark and grave like the cave of a mountain. The hot wind blowing from inside the cave is actually its breath, and the horrible burning smell coming off the wind must be from all of the animals it’s eaten!” Madhu held his hand in front of his face, no longer able to stomach the stench, and the rest of the boys made retching noises and sounds of disgust as they began to consider this new information.
The boys looked around them at the bigger picture. It was just as Madhu had said.
“Then I was right!. This is great beast waiting to devour us all.” Subala was now more anxious than ever and began to inch backward again. The younger boys trembled and clung to him. At the first sight of true danger they would also flee with him to safety.
“Has this creature really come to swallow us?! Ha! If that’s so then in an instant, Krishna will kill it just like all the other demons. Krishna is right there. Why should we worry?” Charu gestured toward Krishna who was standing on the far side of the road, gathering the cows who had spread out to pasture. The other cowherd boys looked to their invincible friend. Just like that, their previous concerns and fears vanished. Their best friend Gopal was playing little melodies on his flute to keep the cows gathered as they chewed happily on the sweet grass. As they set their eyes on Krishna their hearts filled with the bright sun of happiness, chasing their cloud-like fears away.
The boys remembered the strength of their friend and how he had saved them many times. Almost daily, he would save them from a different demon. They began to cheer and clap their hands, laughing excitedly amongst each other. Charu puffed his chest out and pointed a finger towards the dark entrance into the open mouth of the beast.
“So what do you say Gopas! Let’s go see what’s in that mouth!” Charu marched forward as though he were a soldier and was followed by all of the other gopas. They clapped their hands and some of them even danced a little as they formed a line like little ants marching into the deep hole of an anthill.
Krishna stopped playing his flute for a moment. The receding voices of the cowherd boys had caught his attention. He watched every single one of his gopa friends walk into the mouth of the vicious demon Aghasura, who had taken the form of a large python. Krishna held out a hand to stop the boys, a huge breath held in his chest, waiting to call out to them to stop, but the last of the boys disappeared into the demon’s dark mouth. The cows, who had seen their protectors head into the distance, began to walk toward the beast to enter into its mouth as well. Krishna wanted to warn his friends. To forbid them from entering into the mouth of the demon. But now, it was too late. They were gone. They were depending on him, and he had to save them.
Although all of the boys had already entered its gigantic mouth, the mouth of the great demon remained open, as though it was waiting for something. Krishna tucked his flute into his belt before tightening the sash at his waist. There was only one thing to do. The beast was waiting. Not for something. For someone. With a nod and one angry look at the demon’s upper lip high in the sky, Krishna walked determinedly into the mouth of the demon to save his friends.
I’ve been meditating on the story of the Aghasura demon for most of this past week.*Spoiler Alert* Krishna kills the demon and saves his friends from certain death :)
The most amazing lesson in this story for me is that the cowherd boys knew without a doubt that Krishna would save them. Each day, usually just before lunch time, a demon would enter into their midst and try to destroy Krishna and all of his friends. Krishna would then perform heroic deeds and immediately save them. Once they were saved from impending doom, they would sit down with raging appetites brought on by all the excitement and eat a full lunch together, talking animatedly about the day’s activities.
One of the boys uses this as evidence to boost his argument when talking about why they SHOULD walk into the mouth of the huge, man-eating, snake demon! Why should they worry? Krishna was right there! He had always protected them, and he would always protect them. They were absolutely, positively certain. They were so sure that they laughed while marching into the belly of the beast--literally. I look at beautiful examples like the young boys of vrindavan and I know that I want to cultivate faith like theirs. Faith that will make me brave enough to march into the belly of the beast of life knowing that there is absolutely nothing that Krishna cannot save me from.
The boys saw an obstacle in the road. It was an obstacle to their playtime with Krishna, and they fearlessly overcame it, knowing that it would only enhance their relationship with Krishna. Their friend would save them, giving them something to talk about for the rest of the day. It would give them another reason to adore him more than they already did. He was their protector. He was their everything. But when will I realize that it is no different for me? There are so many obstacles that show up on the path of life, but I can choose to face them head-on, knowing that I can’t tackle them alone, but once I am carried through by the mercy of my divine friend, it will make my relationship with Govinda even sweeter.
This is a world where there is literally danger at every step. The cowherd boys knew of so many calamities that Krishna saved them from each day. They were even standing face to face with a literal demon. But what if the beast is already here, what if the demon has already taken up residence in my life, but because of the great umbrella of Krishna’s mercy that has sheltered me, I have been blissfully unaware? With no knowledge of the amazing miracles that my supreme friend has performed in my life daily, I stunt myself with the demon of my own fears. The boogey-man of my shortcomings. The beast of my own self-doubt. I wonder if the future will work out the way that I want it to. I wonder if I will be able to become the person that I have dreamt of. I wonder if all of my plans will come to fruition. When really, I could and should march through those misgivings with faith, all the while, thanking Krishna for saving me from the countless calamities that he hasn’t even let me find out about!
The vastness of these realizations brings me to my knees until my head is on the floor, touched in humble gratitude, to the tiny lotus feet of my sweet deities. They are the ones that listen to my many problems everyday, from the time that I wake up until the time that I go to sleep. They watch over me while I sleep, constantly soothing me with the shade of their amazingly merciful compassion. I yearn to understand that they have been guiding me every moment of everyday since before I can even remember. Like those cowherd boys, we are only being sustained by grace and the life-saving mercy of our dearmost friend. Somehow, every day that I realize how much Krishna has been there for me, is another day that together (but mostly Him because He’s God and I’m...well-- little me), we conquer the belly of the beast.
Just as there is danger at every step, in the same way, with Govinda there is trust at every step. There is love, commitment, and the flowers of grace softening the path of life before me. With each step forward I say: Govinda, I trust you. Guide me. Save me. Keep me forever under your shelter.
I pray that I can sow the seed of devotion in the fertile ground of a grateful heart, with the knowledge that I walk in the faith of Govinda.