yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas
tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute
lokas tad anuvartate
Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues. Bhagavad Gita, verse 3.21
Who is great? Those who create perishable benchmarks in the material world are great for those whose goal is to enjoy (suffer!) the dangerous waters of the ocean of Maya. And there are rare people who help the world achieve the imperishable and eternal purpose whose values and results accompany them in their next journey. These rare people use the innovative but perishable creations for higher purposes. In this verse, Krishna is referring to the latter category – the rare souls.
Sports stars, film stars, industrialists are role model of a large population. We want to emulate them. We day dream and we dream in the night to become like them. Some rebellious people wish to set newer benchmarks to show how the last one was not good enough. Visionary people want to create something that no one has created so far. We follow successful people and set our success criteria according to what we see around.
Bhakti acharyas say, don’t renounce the world, but serve God with its things. Srila Prabhupada once gave an example of the mike he was speaking into. He said we could use this mike for delivering discourses on Krishna, or to speak any mundane words. The one who channels the matter and energies of this world to serve the eternal purpose of life is actually great. Wright Brothers made airplanes. Bin Laden used a couple of them to destroy peace. Srila Prabhupada flew in the airplanes to spread the message eternal love.
Krishna says be so successful in becoming selfless and Krishna-centered in our activities that the whole world follows our example. Srila Prabhupada’s life story has inspired millions of souls. Today 10 million initiated devotees chant the Hare Krishna mahamantra that he chanted day and night. And there are many millions eagerly awaiting their initiation. Devotion to Krishna doesn’t die. It may temporarily stall according to the divine plan, but it doesn’t cease. Krishna says “na me bhaktah pranasyati (9.31)” My devotee never perishes. A devotee is known by His devotion.
True greatness lies in doing something of an eternal value to the soul. Only love is eternal. Since eternity, we souls have been yearning for love that lasts forever, love that makes us euphoric each moment, love that stops cravings of any sorts. Our natural demands are centered on love. Only when these demands are not fulfilled we are digressed to lower level experiences. These experiences are centered on fame, power, and money. At a subtle and slightly mature level, the absence of true love makes one an intellectual wanderer. Nothing that satiates the mind and senses can give us an eternal experience of bliss.
Krishna says become eternally great. Become so great that you conquer Me, the unconquerable, He says. He is bhakta-vatsala. He is devoted to His devotees and easily conquered by them. In the war of Mahabharata, He promised that He won’t use weapons. But He tried to hurl a wheel at Bhishma. Why? He protects His devotees and loves to please them. He tried to protect Arjuna and fulfilled Bhishma’s will by this act. Bhishma wanted to see Krishna in that form. As a Kshatriya, He wanted to serve Krishna with His arrows. He drew transcendental blood out of Krishna and Krishna raised the wheel to attack him. Bhishma bended his knees and worshiped Krishna’s beautiful form. Krishna smiled and accepted Bhishma’s offering.
Krishna, the unconquerable, is bound only by the ropes of love. The one whom Dhuryodhana couldn’t bind was bound by Yashoda Ma. Devotees of Krishna are glorified even after annihilation. Prahlad maharaj, the son of Hiranyakashipu is glorified in every yuga, every kalpa. Even remembering Him for a moment purifies us. Krishna says those who serve my devotees actually serve Me. Krishna transfers His potency in His pure devotees. What better greatness is possible in any universe? And what better examples can one set than those who uplift humanity not only economically, emotionally, intellectually, but eternally to the platform of highest love?