“Mother Yashoda wanted to bind Krishna not in order to chastise Him but because she thought that the child was so restless that He might leave the house in fear. That would be another disturbance. Therefore, because of full affection, to stop Krishna from leaving the house, she wanted to bind Him with rope.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.12)
To an onlooker, binding a child with a rope seems like a cruel type of punishment. No matter what they have done, how horrible a crime they may have committed, a child is a child after all. What can they really do? In this particular instance, the young child’s offense was that He broke a pot filled with butter that had been churned through hard labor. Did He break it out of spite? Did He want to rile up His mother? Was He after a dastardly thrill or schadenfreude, wherein He would delight in the misery of others? No. He was protesting the fact that His mother had abruptly arisen to tend to a boiling pot in the kitchen while she was feeding Him. To show that His attachment to her was real, that He loved her more than any son can love a mother, He responded by breaking the pot she had worked so hard to fill with butter, knowing that she wouldn’t like this.
The sweet, young mother, returning to the scene saw what her child had done. Though a youngster, Krishna was wise enough to know that He shouldn’t have done what He did. Therefore His act was certainly done on purpose. In addition, He fled the scene, as He was nowhere to be found. If He had broken the pot accidentally, there would have been no reason to leave. If He knew that what He did wasn’t wrong, why would He have left? In the end, His childish nature would trump His discrimination. Since He stepped in the butter, His footprints made while fleeing the scene gave away His location. Those sacred marks made of butter created the path that led to the cherished delight of Vrindavana, whom the entire world is searching after.
Why is everyone searching for Krishna specifically? Is not every person endowed with a penchant for loving service from the time of their very birth? Do we not seek pleasure? Is not that pursuit at the root of every act? To find pleasure, one needs a corresponding source that never exhausts in distributing enjoyment. As Krishna is the source of the material and spiritual energies, the sumptuous delights He provides through His presence bring the soul the happiness that it desires. Mother Yashoda was shown the way towards this treasure house of joy by the footprints He left. Even when separated from Him, she could remember His sweet form, His muffled, childish speech, and the amazing feats of bravery and heroism He had previously shown.
Though this child was in a small form and exhibited all the signs of childhood, He had a seemingly magical influence on some of the most nefarious elements. There was the enchanting witch Putana who had come to Vrindavana in the guise of a beautiful woman. Looking like a nurse, she walked into Krishna’s room and prepared to feed Him milk from her breast, which was smeared with poison. Somehow that Krishna sucked the very life out of the woman, to the point that her original, hideous form revealed itself upon her death.
There were other such miraculous events, which Mother Yashoda immortalized by describing them in song. It was while she was singing these songs that young Krishna approached her to be fed. Stopping her churning of butter, the kind mother cherished the vision of her son enjoying her company. Her brief stop in the kitchen was to prevent the milk from boiling over, but she knew that she would soon return to her son. What she didn’t expect was for Him to throw a tantrum and make Himself worthy of punishment.
What kind of mother would she be if she let this slide? A guardian is meant to guard, which involves preventing the child from doing things that are harmful. Destroying other people’s property on purpose is an act that brings negative consequences in the future. There is the effect on karma, which is the system managing fairness. We know that if we don’t take a shower in the morning, we will emit a foul odor for the rest of the day. Since we spend time with ourselves throughout the day, we may not notice the smell after a while, but others will. Regardless of what we think of the odor, the act of skipping bathing led to an undesirable consequence in the future.
There are other consequences that aren’t as easy to decipher. The reactions from stealing provide an indication of this. If I take something that doesn’t belong to me and don’t get seen by anyone else, I may think that I can get away with it. At the same time though, someone else may steal from me in the future. When that happens, I may bemoan my plight and wonder how such a horrible thing could have happened, but in reality it was just the negative reaction from my karma bearing fruit.
The good parent molds their child’s behavior in such a way that they stick to prescribed duties, those which are outlined in a system of dharma. A defining characteristic is the definition of dharma, and when applied to the soul, which is the identifying agent within any life form, the term extends to incorporate the set of rules and regulations aimed at releasing the defining characteristic, bringing it to its most active state. The aim of human life is to achieve the constitutional state by following dharma, which never changes. Our essential characteristic may be hidden from time to time, but it can never be removed. Hence religion in the Vedic tradition is known as sanatana-dharma.
Mother Yashoda chased after the culprit Krishna with a whipping stick in her hand. Finally catching Him, she noticed that He was starting to cry tears of contrition. He knew that what He did was wrong, so He admitted His guilt and sorrow through His tears. She noticed that He was showing signs of fear due to the presence of the stick, so she immediately tossed it aside. Thinking that He may run away in fear, the blessed mother decided to tie young Krishna to a mortar. Little did she know that this famous act would earn her son, who has glorious features unlimited in their brilliance, a new name: Damodara. That sweet form of Krishna bound to a mortar is celebrated annually in the month of Kartika through the offering of a light.
In the same way that Yashoda bound Krishna to keep Him within her sight, the Supreme Lord binds the sincere devotees with His enchanting vision, which ensures that they won’t look for transcendental pleasure anywhere else. Why does He not grant this vision to others? If deep down someone is intent on searching for rotten food amidst garbage, what can be done to stop their pursuit? The pure hearted souls, on the other hand, try their best to remain with Krishna, for they know that He is deserving of their attention and that such a practice will benefit them in the future.
Sincerity thus forms the determining factor in one’s success in spiritual pursuits. One who regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, increases the likelihood of remembering the Lord at the time of death. The purpose of human life is to remember Narayana [another name for Krishna] while quitting the body. That remembrance will bring the best destination in the next life, for the spirit soul never dies. Indeed, a lifetime is but a demarcation of time, a way to conceptualize the duration of time a spirit soul spends within a particular form of body.
With sincerity in the practice of bhakti-yoga, remembrance of God becomes almost second nature. For example, say you’re driving to work on a typical morning when all of a sudden you hear what sounds like a large truck nearby. The sound is foreign because the highway you’re travelling on doesn’t allow trucks. You’re also in the left-lane of the highway, which means that the only cars to your left side - the side where the sound is coming from - are those travelling in the opposite direction. Despite the fact that you can’t see the truck anywhere, the sound seems to get louder and louder. You’re travelling at an average highway speed, so you know that getting close to a truck is not a good thing.
In a split second, the sound gets so loud that you start to panic. So stunned that you feel like you’re heart just jolted out of your chest, you unknowingly start chanting the holy names of the Lord. It turns out that the truck sound was actually an airplane flying directly above your car. The part of the highway you just passed through was situated right next to an airport, which frequently has planes landing and taking off from that spot. Though the situation wasn’t that dangerous, the minor scare makes you feel comforted knowing that in a time of distress, the holy name was right there to be held on to for safety.
Such good fortune comes only through sincerity, for Krishna stays with anyone who wants His association. Mother Yashoda felt that security when she bound her son, using the pretense of a punishment to keep the elusive Supreme Lord within her sights. The same Krishna can’t be caught by the faithless or those who don’t know of His personal features. Therefore texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and the preachers who teach the glories found within these works try to evoke a sincere dedication to bhakti-yoga in as many people as possible. That dedication brings Krishna’s association and His promise to bind you in a net of transcendental love, one from which happily you can never break free.
Using a rope and a mortar her son would stay,
Though in fear, He could not thus run away.
He broke pot of butter so He needed to be punished,
But seeing His tears mother’s use of stick finished.
Paths of yoga without devotion with difficulty fraught,
Not without divine love can Shri Krishna be caught.
Best practice is to make remembrance of God automatic,
That’s why in teaching bhakti Vaishnavas so emphatic.
In Yashoda’s courtyard reservoir of pleasure found,
Shri Damodara, who with ropes of affection is bound.