Remember, the story of a great person runs counter to our own. The story of an ordinary person begins with his birth and ends with his death; it has a sequence of events running from birth to death. But the story of a great one is written retrospectively for the simple reason that his greatness comes to be recognized much later and then his story is written. It takes years, nearly forty to fifty years, to recognize the greatness of a person like Krishna. Then a legend, a story begins to be formed around this glorious and unique person. And then we choose relevant pieces from his story, his life, and reinterpret them. Therefore I tell you that the story of a great person can never be historical, it is always poetic, mythical, mythological. It is so because it is written retrospectively.
When we look back on an event, when something is seen in retrospect, it becomes symbolic and takes on another meaning it never had at the time of its birth. And then the story of a person like Krishna is not written once and for all; every age writes and rewrites it. Moreover, thousands of writers write about him, and hence a thousand and one interpretations of a single life follow. And by and by Krishna’s story ceases to be the story of an individual, Krishna turns into an institution. Krishna becomes the quintessence of all births, and all lives. In fact, his biography becomes the biography of all mankind.
Therefore I don’t attach any importance to it in the sense of its being the story of a person, of an individual. A man like Krishna ceases to be an individual, he becomes the symbol, the archetype of our collective mind.
Let us understand it by way of an anecdote.
A great painter has made a portrait of a woman, a very beautiful woman. When his friends want to know who this woman is, he tells them, “This is not a picture of any one woman; she is the quintessence of thousands of beautiful women I have seen in the course of my life. Her eyes belong to one and her nose belongs to another and her lips to a third. I have taken different things from different women. Go all over the world, nowhere you will find a woman like her.” So I tell you, don’t believe a painter’s picture of a woman and go out in search of her. Go where you will, you will not find her, you will only find ordinary women.
For this reason we often get into trouble; we are in search of women that don’t exist except in paintings and poetry. The woman in a painting represents the cumulative beauty, the essence of thousands of women that a painter comes across. She is really thousands of women rolled into one; you can’t find her in flesh and blood. She is the keynote of the song of countless women the painter came across in the course of his search for beauty.
So when a person like Krishna happens to be among us, the substance, the essence of millions of men and women is incorporated in him. So don’t take him to be a single individual, separate from the rest of mankind. If someone looks for him in history he will not find him there. He is the symbol of mankind – a particular segment of mankind born in this country. And all that this mankind has ever experienced has become part of Krishna.