Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Caught Butter-Handed

Krishna's lotus hand“Mother Yashoda wanted to impress upon Krishna that since He was afraid merely to see her stick, He should not perform such disturbing activities as breaking the container of yogurt and butter and distributing its contents to the monkeys.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.12 Purport)

Feeding butter and yogurt churned for the family to stray monkeys is not a good thing. That this lesson was imparted to the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the form of a small child makes the situation all the more amusing. Imagine walking into a room and seeing your beloved son feeding food to monkeys that are known to come by and steal whatever you have. The monkey does not have a dharma to follow; it does not have rules and regulations guiding its behavior. When a human being behaves erratically, eating whatever food is available and not controlling their sexual urges, they outwardly resemble a monkey. Mother Yashoda sternly warned her child against taking something that didn’t belong to Him and giving it away to those who weren’t deserving of it. Through her instruction she delights the hearts of the souls who want nothing but the Supreme Lord’s association in life.

Krishna and Mother YashodaWhy is that company desired? In every turn in a temporary world there is a chance for destruction, the total loss of what has been accumulated. The material amenities are available in such abundance in the modern age that a common game played amongst friends involves what you would renounce and what you would keep. The game starts with the hypothetical scenario of being trapped on a deserted island. You neither have an abundance of possessions nor the ability to easily procure them. In our home we may be lacking a certain film on DVD, a computer to do work on, some food items required for preparing dinner, an appliance to cook with, or some other ancillary item. The lack of that item isn’t a cause for despair, for one can go out to the nearby store and grab whatever is needed without too much of a hassle.

On the deserted island there is no such ability. As resources are limited, the crux of the game is deciding what important items you would take with you. For instance, if you could only take one book, which one would it be? From the rules of the game there is the underlying assumption that there are already many books to choose from in the person’s life. The fact that you would pare down the list to just one shows that there are multiple books that you try to derive enjoyment from. For the game, pick just one book that you can read over and over again. If you could only have a single book, one set of words to read, which would it be?

Obviously, the resulting choice would indicate the player’s favorite book. The same principle applies to picking a movie, a set of clothes, or a type of food. The hypothetical scenario in the game also creates a sense of dependence. If you can only read one book, you will rely on those pages for your entertainment, for the stimulation of the mind. That reliance on the book will make you so much more appreciative of the content. If you have something in abundance, you can take it for granted, so much so that you might not even connect with it. For instance, if you have relatives living close by, you may think to yourself, “Oh, I can see them any time. There is no urgency in spending time with them.” On the other hand, if relatives from far away come for a visit, you try to maximize the amount of time spent with them. As such, there is the likelihood that over the course of the year you spend more time with the people that live further away than you do with those who are close by.

The topmost transcendentalists play the deserted island game without even knowing it. They pick one subject matter to focus on exclusively, and since they weed everything else out, they have full reliance on those works and the sound vibrations that come from them. A yogi is a transcendentalist who controls their senses to realize the self. Of all the yogis, he who always thinks of Krishna, or God, is the best.

“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47)

Lord KrishnaThe yogi immersed in Krishna consciousness is the best because Bhagavan is the most complete representation of the Absolute Truth. The more features that are defined in the worshipable object, the more pleasure the worshiping individual will derive. With increased pleasure comes a desire to repeat the activity. A repeat of the activity gradually turns into a routine and pretty soon a way of life. If I spend my time basking in the sweet association of Krishna’s name, form, attributes and pastimes, what time will there be left for misery, despair, chaos, tumult, angst, hopelessness, and fear of total loss?

What specifically do the yogis practicing bhakti, or divine love, hold on to for sustenance? What is it that they carry with them to the deserted island scenario created within the mind? The holy name of the Lord is non-different from Him, so all that is required is a sequence of powerful words that can be remembered, repeated, heard, and contemplated on over and over again. Thankfully for us, Lord Chaitanya, Krishna in the form of a preacher, revealed the most sacred mantra, one that can be recited by the most number of people and thus revive the dormant love for Godhead within society at large.

Chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the lifeblood for the devoted soul immersed in bhakti-yoga. Seems rather strange that chanting could be the only requirement, but it is sort of like a foundational practice, one that feeds the other outlets of transcendental interaction. Just as the food we eat is the fuel for the activities we take on throughout the day, the chanting of the holy names is the spiritual food for the soul enlivened by the bhakti spirit.

For reading material, the yogi in bhakti relies solely on those works which describe the sacred pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since the pastimes are unlimited, the wise pick out just the holy name to hold on to, as its recitation is superior to witnessing the Lord’s actions and even being in His personal company. As an example, we know from the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the foremost bhakti-shastra, or scripture on devotion, that Shri Krishna descended to this earth some five thousand years ago and played as a child in the holy land of Vrindavana. One of Krishna’s pastimes involved breaking a pot of butter in anger. Mother Yashoda had temporarily stepped away from feeding Krishna to tend to a pot of boiling milk on the stove. Unhappy that His mother diverted her attention, Krishna broke the pot of butter she had just churned, grabbed some of the goods and then ran away. While He was eating some of the butter Himself and distributing the rest to monkeys, mother Yashoda went looking for her young boy.

Krishna with butterCaught “butter-handed” in another room, after delighting in the vision mother Yashoda chased after her naughty child with a whipping stick. When she finally caught Him, she saw fake tears rolling down from the eyes of her beloved son, who was afraid that the mother would punish Him. Mother Yashoda instead decided to tie Krishna to a mortar, so that He wouldn’t run away from home out of fear. At the same time, she wanted Him to know that taking butter and giving it to monkeys was not sanctioned behavior.

The yogi who contemplates on this scene is actually in a superior position, though it may seem otherwise. From the descriptions of this event found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the sincere soul holding on to the holy name for dear life can repeatedly take a dip in the ocean of bliss that is Krishna’s sweet pastime of breaking Yashoda’s pot of butter. If we have a portrait of the event, it is nice to look at, but with a defined portrayal there are some limits introduced. If we just hear of the event and picture it within our mind, however, we can repeatedly contemplate on that image and continue to derive tremendous pleasure.

The yogi following bhakti thinks of such pastimes every single day. You can remember Krishna as the butter thief always and never grow tired. Day after day you can remember Yashoda’s instruction and laugh at how she had to explain such a common sense rule to her son. There are many other such pastimes described in the Bhagavatam, and they come to the mind of the soul who constantly hears the holy name of Krishna. That name can be heard at any time by reciting the maha-mantra, which is a set of words we should never leave home without. Whether in opulence or in squalor, any person can take the holy name as their most valuable possession.

In Closing:

If to a deserted island you should go,

Not many possessions there you know.

So take only those things you really need,

Automatically choose favorite items indeed.

Appreciation augmented by full reliance,

Nothing else around, on object full dependence.

For the yogi keep always one person in mind,

Who in her courtyard feeding monkeys mother did find.

Think of Yashoda telling Krishna that break pots He can’t,

Sweetest mental portrait drawn through holy name’s chant.