“When mother Yashoda and the other ladies finally saw that Krishna, although decorated with many bangles and other jeweled ornaments, could not be bound with all the ropes available in the house, they decided that Krishna was so fortunate that He could not be bound by any material condition. Thus they gave up the idea of binding Him. But in competition between Krishna and His devotee, Krishna sometimes agrees to be defeated.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.18 Purport)
“Alright, I’ve had my fun. My dear mother is trying so hard, but everyone should know that I cannot be bound by any material condition. But my affection for her is so strong that I will allow her to carry out her motherly duties. Her sincerity is spotless; not a hint of sin in her. What a shame it would be if she could not succeed in this act?” Thus Lord Krishna, the origin of the creation, the person who is without a material form and full of spiritual attributes, allowed His beloved mother to complete her task, only after she had given up in frustration. The ishvara that is the living being can choose to act, but the results to action are never in their hands, even if they may think otherwise.
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.47)
How does this work exactly? If I decide to get up in the morning, am I not responsible for the outcome of standing up? Is it not my effort that is responsible for the change in condition? Obviously one would think that the living being is the controller in these situations, but we know that the controller does not have absolute authority. For instance, what if we have some injury to our hands or legs? Will our decision to get up bear fruit? What if there is a heavy weight on top of us or other shackles placed on the body that prevent us from moving?
The opposing argument is that the impediments are extenuating circumstances and not the norm, but for an authority to be absolute it must be able to do whatever it wants at any time. No excuses. As soon as there is an excuse, the authority is diminished. If you take the same principle and apply it to every single behavior of every single living being, you’ll see that no one person is the absolute controller. They have some say so in what the body does, but the end result is not in their hands. The material nature controls every living being, causing them to take shelter of the heat in the winter months and desperately look for cool conditions in the summer.
The material elements are controlled by elevated living beings put in charge of them; sort of like how the stop lights that guide traffic are operated by the administrators of the highways and streets. Though the lights may operate off of a computer program, someone must initially write the routines and then monitor the execution of those programs. In the case of nature, elevated beings known as devas, or demigods, each have a responsibility with respect to a specific section of the gross collection of material elements.
“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.19)
In the Bhagavad-gita, it is revealed that God, whose original form is the personality known as Krishna, controls the heat and the rain. His influence is not always direct, but nevertheless He is the origin. The owner of the company may direct a subordinate to make a statement to the workers. The messenger reveals the statement, but the owner is the controller. He is the origin of the message distributed to others. In a similar manner, Krishna’s deputies act on His behalf to maintain the system of fairness known as karma.
There is little control over outcomes at the individual level; a fact very difficult to realize and remember. If one studies the Vedas from a bona fide spiritual master, especially one who takes the Bhagavad-gita as their life and soul, they will be daily reminded that the living being is not the doer, that they are seated as on a machine that is controlled by higher forces.
“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.61)
At the same time, it is said that anyone who thinks of Krishna at the time of death no longer has to suffer through birth and death. If we’re just seated on a machine, how can any single action we take bring a specific result? The results do follow action, but the responsibility for those results is not in the worker’s hands. For instance, dropping an object from the hand will cause it to fall, but the higher authorities instituted this law. Therefore they are responsible for distributing the result, not the person who dropped the object.
In the case of thinking of Krishna at the time of death, the result of the pardon from the cycle of birth and death is granted by the Lord, the object of service. The purpose to action thus becomes quite evident. You have obligations to fulfill, but do them for the satisfaction of the origin of action and reaction. Follow behavior that will please Him, and He will reciprocate by making sure that the results of your actions are what they should be.
How do we find out what Krishna would like us to do? One person is praying for a field goal kicker to miss a game winning kick in a football game, while another person is praying for the same kicker to make it. How do we know which side God favors? Fruitive activity is not within the realm of bhakti, or divine love. The Supreme Lord Krishna has many times stated that He particularly favors those who wish to connect with Him. Not that He’s mean or unfavorable to others, He just knows that His personal intervention will be meaningless to someone who is suffering from the fever of material existence, which is fed by the desire to imitate God and surpass His abilities.
More than just saying what pleases Him, Krishna sometimes descends to earth to show what gives Him happiness. Such was the case during a famous incident in Yashoda’s courtyard. Krishna will not descend to earth and announce His divinity to everyone. This would serve no purpose, and it would break the laws of the material nature for no reason. Material nature exists to facilitate the desire to imitate God. If the Lord came down and told everyone that they’re stupid for doing this, who would actually listen? It’d be like going into a playground sandbox and telling all the young kids that they’re wasting their time making pretend sand castles. What will the children know about meeting mortgage payments, building skyscrapers, or getting an education to earn a high salary?
“In the course of traversing the universal creation of Brahma, some fortunate soul may receive the seed of bhakti-lata, the creeper of devotional service. This is all by the grace of guru and Krishna.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.151)
This doesn’t mean that the world is bereft of people desirous for divine association. Those select few individuals who are sincere in their interest in connecting with God are granted the good fortune of meeting a bona fide spiritual master, an arrangement made by Krishna Himself. The guru then leads the disciple towards Krishna, completing the circle. In more special circumstances, Krishna Himself descends, but not everyone is granted entry into this magical kingdom of pastimes. At the same time, however, they don’t need to. Even if you weren’t roaming the earth in a human form during the time of Krishna’s descents, you can still connect with those pastimes by hearing about them.
In a lot of ways, this sort of connection is superior to the personal association. If I miss a big music concert because I couldn’t get tickets, I won’t be able to experience the live show, the interaction between the band and the fans. But if I can get a recording of that concert, I will be able to listen to the same show over and over again, relishing the interaction with the music longer than by being at an event and just feeling a one-time thrill.
With the Shrimad Bhagavatam, those who weren’t in Yashoda’s courtyard can delight in what happened there one day. Shri Krishna as a young child had broken a pot of butter out of anger. The dear mother had churned yogurt into butter through difficult effort, but she needed to quickly step away to deal with a pot of boiling milk in the kitchen. Krishna did not like this diversion, so He broke the pot of butter in anger and ran away, taking some of the goods with Him.
The mother finally caught Him and decided to tie Him to a rope as punishment. For the adults this wasn’t that severe a punishment, for it would keep the darling Shyamasundara within their sights. This wasn’t a punishment for Krishna either, as there was no physical harm done through the ropes. There was one slight problem, though. Yashoda couldn’t find a rope long enough to bind Krishna. The first rope ended up two finger widths short. No problem, right? Just tie another rope to the culprit? Ah, but even that ended up being two finger widths short. Rope after rope was added, with the result unchanged.
Finally, Yashoda relented. She had worked so hard that the flowers nicely placed in her hair were falling off, and she was perspiring. The effort was so sincere that Krishna finally decided to let her bind Him, ending the display of transcendental magic. No material condition can bind the person who is above the influence of matter, but through divine love, any outcome is made possible by Krishna’s direct influence. In a helpless condition, through finally surrendering, Krishna came to the rescue and gave the devotee Yashoda the delight she deserved. Therefore anyone who regularly tries to connect with Krishna, such as through chanting His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, will not have to worry about the outcome to their actions, for the beneficial end will be delivered by the object of that attention.
As ishvara over body you have control,
Fate of outcomes in your hands hold.
Through illusion this is the mistaken thought,
But from material nature lessons always taught.
Krishna is the hand that controls all,
Determines when fire and where rainfall.
Yashoda and friends finally white flag waived,
Krishna couldn’t be bound, though naughty He behaved.
Rope long enough only when Krishna agreed,
Gives outcomes to devotees when He’s pleased.