“Mother Yashoda was able to trace Krishna by following His butter-smeared footprints. She saw that Krishna was stealing butter, and thus she smiled. Meanwhile, the crows also entered the room and came out in fear. Thus mother Yashoda found Krishna stealing butter and very anxiously looking here and there.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.8 Purport)
The all-powerful original divine being looks down on His helpless children and takes delight in their sweet and sincere motions, especially when their behavior relates to His satisfaction. Even if they are angry at Him for perceived neglect, if they should act in such a way that their attachment to Him shows in their actions, the heavenly father is pleased, warmed to the heart by the display of affection. In Vrindavana some five thousand years ago, the roles were reversed. The author of everything good in this world was playing the part of a helpless child, one who was throwing a tantrum over His mother having neglected Him. The period of neglect was not long either, as the situation at hand warranted attention being diverted. Nevertheless, to reveal their attachment, one has to show their disfavor upon separation. If there is happiness even when not in the company of a loved one, what is the difference between association and separation?
Mother Yashoda saw that her son was the culprit of a petty crime that ordinarily wouldn’t warrant much attention. Kids break things all the time. They know they’ll get in trouble too, so they like to pretend that they didn’t do anything. Since they are immature, they don’t know the ins and outs of cover ups, how to get rid of the incriminating evidence. Young Krishna broke a pot of butter and then haphazardly helped himself to the amount that poured onto the floor. So careless was He that His feet smeared the butter here and there, resulting in butter footprints on the floor as He walked away from the scene.
Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the fountainhead of all divine figures. He is superior to even His form of Lord Vishnu, who is the deva-vara, or chief of the celestials. Vishnu is in such a high position that He is not interested in affairs relating to temporary ups and downs. A devotee of a particular demigod, or deva, may reap rewards for their devotion, but the temporary rises don’t address the real needs of the spirit soul. The heavenly figure providing the rewards doesn’t have much need for them either.
For example, it is seen that some of the devotees of Lord Shiva become very opulent. Through just a little effort, perhaps offering one or two leaves to Mahadeva or pouring some water over his deity form, they gain so many rewards. The devotees attain terrific opulence in both the present life and in the heavenly planets once the soul exits the body.
An interesting thing to note, however, is that Mahadeva, the person who grants these rewards after being pleased with so little effort, doesn’t have any opulence at all. Rather, he wears skulls around his neck, holds poison in his throat, and hangs around crematoriums. He is so renounced that even though he is married to the beautiful Goddess Parvati, he is not degraded by sensual desires. He both symbolically and literally annihilated the personified form of lust known as Kamadeva, or cupid.
Mahadeva has a higher wealth, something he cherishes more than any of the material opulence he gives to others. He gives benedictions out of duty more than anything, for he knows that not everyone will take to the highest path in life right away. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the soul’s constitutional occupational duty in the past, present and future. From bhakti comes love, the divine variety. How can any emotion trump pure love, prema for the Supreme Godhead, where there is no expectation of reciprocation? Without expecting anything back, the outflow of service can continue uninterrupted.
With divine love there are no specific requirements coming in or going out. Rich or poor, young or old, hot or cold, or healthy or sick, one can stay connected to God in a mood of pure love. This dedication to devotion is Mahadeva’s real wealth, so he knows that the benedictions others take from him are not so important. Sanatana Goswami, Lord Chaitanya’s disciple and famous Vaishnava teacher, saint and poet, had a touchstone that could turn iron into gold. Since he had already abandoned the opulent life of serving in the royal order, Sanatana Goswami had no need for gold nor any amount of wealth.
In the process of taking sannyasa, or the renounced order, Sanatana discarded the touchstone, throwing it away as if it were a useless rag. Another associate later on heard about the touchstone and asked Sanatana Goswami where he kept it. Sanatana kindly informed the person where it was, but in the process of trying to find it, the person started to wonder why Sanatana had himself no interest for it. From meeting the Goswami in person, the interested party could tell that Sanatana had so much happiness and bliss that was around him all the time. Even though he lived like a mendicant, not having any possessions, Sanatana was not bereft of any essential in life. Thus the person soon abandoned the idea of acquiring the touchstone and instead petitioned Sanatana Goswami to reveal the secret to his happiness, how he was able to remain so blissful in the absence of material wealth.
The source of Sanatana’s pleasure was the association through consciousness of the person roaming in Mother Yashoda’s courtyard; the child who broke the pot of butter. Shri Krishna, Vishnu Himself, is the worshipable figure for the devotees looking for transcendental love. He is the deity for Mahadeva as well, though Lord Shiva prefers to worship Krishna’s form of Lord Rama. Nevertheless, any non-different expansion’s association brings the fruit of existence, for the bhakti spirit can only be directed towards them. In reality, everyone is a devotee, though their love isn’t always directed to Krishna’s personal presence. The Lord resides inside of everyone’s heart and within the entire creation through His all-pervading, impersonal aspect. If we want to worship God, however, we cannot just go up to any person and ask them to accept our obeisances.
“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)
As an example to see the distinction, Hiranyakashipu, a famous demon king, once asked his son Prahlada what the source of his unimaginable strength was. Hiranyakashipu tried to kill Prahlada so many times because of his devotion to Vishnu, but the five year old boy survived each and every attack. Prahlada tried to explain to his father that the source of his strength was also the source of everyone else’s. The Vishnu that Prahlada was worshiping was inside of everyone’s heart, including Hiranyakashipu’s.
Yet this didn’t mean that Prahlada worshiped his father as Vishnu, for neither the impersonal feature nor even the Supersoul expansion within the heart brings God’s blissful association. Indeed, the Personality of Godhead and His avataras are the entities who actually accept authorized worship, the desire for association in transcendental mellows by the devotees. Hiranyakashipu rhetorically asked if Vishnu were in the pillar next to him, and Prahlada replied that the Lord certainly was. When Hiranyakashipu started to hit the pillar, Narasimhadeva, Vishnu’s half-man/half-lion avatara, emerged onto the scene.
The accounts of this wonderful incident are relished by so many famous saints and preachers. Goswami Tulsidas especially liked the incident because it showed the superiority of the avatara/personal form of the Lord. Narasimhadeva didn’t emerge from anyone’s heart, for the impersonal aspect was not what Prahlada was devoted to. Rather, to show Hiranyakashipu and the rest of the doubting souls that God is a person who hears the cries for help of His sincere servants, the Lord emerged from a pillar of all places. By protecting Prahlada, Krishna showed the simultaneous oneness and difference that exists between Himself and the living entities. The all-pervading feature is within all of us, but this doesn’t mean that we are God. Material nature is also the Lord’s expansion, but devotion to it doesn’t bring any type of lasting happiness, especially the kind that results from prema, which is our birthright.
Krishna appeared in His original form in Vrindavana to interact with the sweetheart residents in their devotional mood of choice. Mother Yashoda got to love God as her son, and part of that love involved witnessing the childish acts of young Krishna. The Lord played the role perfectly, ensuring that the motherly love could flow uninhibited. Mother Yashoda, even when she had the right to be angry over her son’s naughty behavior, couldn’t help but smile. She was breastfeeding Him to make Him happy when a pot of milk started to boil over in the kitchen. She momentarily stepped away to fix the situation and Krishna did not like this at all.
In defiance, Krishna broke the pot of yogurt Yashoda had just spent so much time churning into butter. Knowing that He did something bad, young Krishna left the scene, taking some butter and yogurt with Him. Rather than just enjoy it Himself, He started distributing it to the neighboring monkeys. Through this one incident the Supreme Lord showed how much attachment He has to those who love Him. He knew that Yashoda’s motherly affection would increase by seeing His act of breaking the pot, so He lured her into a net of transcendental love, one that would keep her firmly wrapped in consciousness fixed on her beloved Shyamasundara.
By distributing the ample stock of butter, Krishna purified the actions of the cows. Through their motherly love for their calves the cows provided ample supply of milk products to the residents, who were thus never bereft of sumptuous food. Instead of hogging everything to themselves and worrying over whether or not they would eat nicely in the future, the residents were keen on distributing their surplus, sometimes selling the extra supply in the neighboring towns. Krishna showed that the monkeys and other animals of Vrindavana were equal residents. They were fed directly by Krishna the butter that Yashoda had churned. Thus from His behavior Krishna showed that respect is due all animals, no matter how ignorant they might be or what vile acts they may take up. Just because a fish eats other fish doesn’t mean that we should needlessly drag them out of their habitat that they need to survive. Just because a tiger kills animals and eats their flesh doesn’t mean that we are meant to imitate that. Love is the guiding force for human behavior, and through connecting with Krishna, that loving attitude extends universally.
Just as Krishna played with Mother Yashoda by deliberately trying to make her angry, Mother Yashoda validated Krishna’s external apprehension by chasing after Him while He was anxiously looking around. He was afraid of getting caught, so Mother Yashoda made sure that she would try to catch Him. What fun would it have been if she just allayed her son’s fears and pretended not to love Him? A good mother will punish the child when they have done something wrong. If there is no punishment for bad behavior then from the child’s perspective what is the difference between the mother and any other person?
Shri Krishna, the reservoir of kindness, compassion, and every other divine quality, purposefully creates situations where transcendental love can flow. For the kind souls sincerely interested in bhakti today, the devotional spirit is packed fully into the holy name, a sound vibration which carries the Lord’s attributes, pastimes and forms. Just regularly reciting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can keep the vision of that darling of Vrindavana who was trying to hide from His mother after having stolen the butter. His footprints gave His location away to Mother Yashoda, and similarly the sound vibration of the maha-mantra leads us towards the most auspicious destination, the spiritual sky, where the butter thief is anxiously awaiting our arrival.
Yashoda able to find son by butter’s dint,
Smeared over Krishna’s feet, left many a footprint.
Her son fed butter to monkeys in stealth,
Precious sight for devotees their real wealth.
Follow Mahadeva who lives very renounced,
Focused on God, not on opulence pronounced.
Bountiful gifts produced by earth meant for all,
Have love for God’s creatures, both short and tall.
Yashoda’s son’s holy name leads the way,
Towards spiritual sky where devotees stay.