Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #49 – To Bee or Not to Bee: The Kīrtana Verse

December 3rd, 2018

When Krishna enters the forest of Vṛndāvana, the forest is buzzing with joy. The sound of the bees, which proclaim His glories, is particularly captivating to His mind. Krishna Himself therefore describes them as the exemplars of kīrtana.


“O Original Personality, these bees must all have been great sages and most elevated devotees of Yours, for they are worshipping You by following You along the path and chanting Your glories, which are themselves a holy place for the entire world. Though You have disguised Yourself within this forest, O sinless one, they refuse to abandon You their worshipable Lord.” (Bhāg. 10.15.6)


This is one of a series of verses in the Fifteenth Chapter of the Tenth Canto describing Krishna’s entrance into the forest of Vṛndāvana along with His elder brother Balarama. As one by one the residents of the forest, such as the trees and peacocks, worship Krishna, He sets the example of one who is refined in character by deflecting that praise. When the bees therefore chant His glories, Krishna declares that their chanting is actually meant for His brother, who is at His side. He then proceeds in this way in detail to describe the glory of the bees, and thus all souls on the path of kīrtana, chanting the glories of the Lord.


The Sanskrit term “muni”, literally meaning “silent”, is used to describe great sages who dwell in the forest. The bees who are forest dwellers, however, are called not just munis by Krishna, but great munis (muni-ganah), for instead of taking vows of silence, they are loudly singing (gāyantaḥ) the Lord’s glories. And not only does chanting the Lord’s glories make them the best of the sages according to Krishna, but as they are constantly chanting the kīrtana of the Lord, they are the most intimate and elevated (mukhya) among the devotees (bhavadīya).


Śrī Krishna is non-different from His name. Those who constantly chant His glories actually never leave His side as they traverse the trail of devotion. Therefore, according to Krishna, the bees of Vṛndāvana, who are constantly singing the Lord’s glories, are intensely worshipping the Lord (bhajante) by following Him along both the pathway into the forest (anupatham) and remaining on the path of devotion.


And unlike other residents of the forest who may follow the path of Krishna, the bees who cling to His garland can also enter deep into the most protected and secret forest bowers where Krishna performs His most intimate pastimes. Those who constantly chant Krishna’s glories (kīrtana) thus not only never leave His side, but also have special entrance into the most intimate pastimes of the Lord.


As the practice of kīrtana is so powerful, Krishna describes chanting as a tīrtha, a holy place. According to its literal meaning from its root derivation tarati, tīrtha is not just a geographical location, but also the means in general for crossing the ocean of material existence. As one can chant the glories of the Lord anywhere, kīrtana is described by Krishna as a holy place for the entire world (akhila-loka). We always aspire to visit or live in the holy dhāma, but by absorbing oneself in the holy name one is always residing in a holy place!


Krishna’s dress and simple life as a cowherd disguise (ham) His majesty and position as God. Still the bees recognize His glory and thus continue to follow and worship Him through the forest of Vṛndāvana. Similarly, one who has constantly chanted the holy name of Krishna has been blessed with the depth of realization to understand that Vṛndāvana Krishna, although externally bereft of overt aiśvarya (opulence), is in fact the fullest manifestation of God.


Usually bees buzzing so close to one’s head and body can be a nuisance. Krishna therefore refers to His brother as anagha, or sinless, which indicates the quality of Krishna that doesn’t recognize the faults of His devotees. In the same way, Krishna being sinless (anagha) does not consider the deficiencies of one who constantly chants His name, but only remembers their service. And how important is that example for us to follow in relation to those who have dedicated their life to spreading the glories of the holy name?


Therefore, one who is intelligent should follow the example of the bees as described in this verse: To bee or not bee: that is the question.[1]




[1] The different points of analysis on this verse come from various commentaries of Vaiṣṇava ācāryas.



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