Yogurt is one of the staples of Indian cuisine. Known as dahi in Hindi, it is used in hundreds of dishes and is most often prepared directly at home. Aside from being included in palatable dishes, yogurt plays an essential role in the most important Vedic religious traditions.
Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has laid out the process of worshipping Him in the original Vedas. This religious tradition was instituted at the beginning of creation and it has been passed down ever since by the great sages of India. One of the integral components in the worship of Lord Krishna is the process of archana, or deity worship. The deity is the physical representation of God, and by worshiping Him this way, we purify ourselves and increase our God consciousness. Just as we bathe ourselves daily, deity care involves the bathing of the deity, known as abhishek, with various preparations. Yogurt plays a prominent role in these preparations. Yogurt mixtures, along with other preparations known as panchamrita, are poured onto the deity and then collected for consumption. These preparations are considered holy since they have directly touched the deity, so devotees partake of them afterwards.
One of Lord Krishna’s many names is Govinda, meaning one who gives pleasure to the cows. When He advented on this earth some five thousand years ago, Krishna spent his childhood in Vrindavana, living with his foster parents, who were cowherders. Lord Krishna, along with His brother Balarama, performed many naughty childish activities as part of their pastimes. In Vrindavan, the cowherd women, known as gopis, would prepare butter and yogurt in their homes. Lord Krishna would often steal the butter and yogurt. The gopi friends of Krishna’s mother, Yashoda, would often go to her and complain.
“…Also, your Krishna and Balarama find great pleasure in stealing our stock of yogurt and butter from wherever we keep it. When Krishna and Balarama are caught stealing the yogurt and butter, They say, 'Why do you charge us with stealing? Do you think that butter and yogurt are in scarcity in our house?' Sometimes They steal butter, yogurt and milk and distribute them to the monkeys. When the monkeys are well fed and do not take any more, then your boys chide, 'This milk and butter and yogurt are useless—even the monkeys won't take it.' And They break the pots and throw them hither and thither. If we keep our stock of yogurt, butter and milk in a solitary dark place, your Krishna and Balarama find it in the darkness by the glaring effulgence of the ornaments and jewels on Their bodies. If by chance They cannot find the hidden butter and yogurt, They go to our little babies and pinch their bodies so that they cry, and then They go away. If we keep our stock of butter and yogurt high on the ceiling, hanging on a swing, although it is beyond Their reach, They arrange to reach it by piling all kinds of wooden crates over the grinding machine. And if They cannot reach, They make a hole in the pot. We think therefore that you better take all the jeweled ornaments from the bodies of your children." (Gopis complaining to Mother Yashoda, Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8)
So from Krishna’s pastimes, we can understand just how much he likes butter and yogurt. He is the protector of the cows, so any milk preparation greatly pleases Him. This is one of the many reasons that cows are held in such high regard in Vedic culture.
Analyzing yogurt scientifically, we find that it is made by introducing a special form of bacteria into milk. This bacteria plays such an important role, that we see companies prominently advertising the presence of “live active cultures” in their yogurt as a way to persuade people to buy it. The presence of bacteria in yogurt appears to present a dilemma in the issue of morals and ethics according the rules of Vedic culture. The Vedas teach us that man should not be addicted to animal killing, or killing any living entity for that matter. We are all spirit souls at our core, but we are placed in various bodies according to our desires and work, or karma. Since we all have different karmas, God has created 8,400,000 different material bodies, or species, for our souls to be placed in. Since bacteria lives and grows, aren’t we committing a sin by using it in yogurt?
All religions have the concept of “sins” and various ways for people to be absolved from having committed them. The Vedas are no different. The Mahabharata lays out every kind of sin in detail, ranging from lying, drinking, to even getting married before one’s older brother has been married. There are many specific processes laid out for absolution, which usually involve some sort of austerity. While these processes are nice for people with limited spiritual understanding, the actual definition of a sin is little different. Any activity which has karma related to it, which keeps us bound to this material, which forces us to accept another material body after this life, that activity is sinful. Conversely, any activity that is performed for the satisfaction of Lord Krishna, God, that activity is completely spiritual and above any effects of karma. Sin cannot touch a pure devotional service to Krishna.
So in this vain, we see that almost any material activity can be made spiritual by dovetailing it with service to Krishna. Yogurt preparation and consumption is a material activity if we use it simply to satisfy our sense of taste. If we offer it to Krishna prior to eating, then we incur no sin. Lord Krishna states this Himself in the Bhagavad-gita.
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Bhagavad-gita, 3.13)
When using yogurt in the abhishek of the Lord’s deity or in an offering to Krishna, we are performing a completely spiritual activity. We incur no sin whatsoever. Bacteria generally has a negative image associated with it, but if we use the bacteria in yogurt to serve Krishna, then we are giving the highest benediction to the living entity inside it. The “live active cultures” are guaranteed at least a human birth in the next life.
So the next time we eat yogurt, let us remember Krishna and His love for cows and for His devotees. In this way, we increase our God consciousness and take a step closer to going back home after this life, back to Godhead.
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