“Krishna presented Himself as an innocent child to increase the transcendental ecstasy of maternal affection. As described in the shastra, tadana-bhayan mithyoktir vatsalya-rasa-poshika. This means that sometimes a small child speaks lies. For example, he may have stolen something or eaten something and yet deny that he has done so.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.35)
“Mom, look into My mouth. That way you’ll know that My friends are lying to you. Why would I eat dirt? That’s not something I’m fond of doing.” Everyone knows that Krishna likes to eat butter, for He has no problem taking it from places that are off-limits. The refrigerator is the place to store food items to be used in the preparation of dishes later on, but sometimes you will open it up to grab something quick to eat. But the pantry filled with flour, spices and other items not to be consumed raw is a different story. Those items are only used in prepared ingredients; they’re not meant to satisfy immediate hunger.
In Vrindavana several thousands of years ago, butter was kept safely in rooms so that it wouldn’t go bad. The butter was very important to the dishes prepared in this farm community, and since the cows provided this item, so much care and attention was given to them. The term “sacred cow” is now used to describe something that can’t be touched or something very important to a particular person, but the reference to the cow protection offered by followers of the Vedic tradition needn’t be considered strange.
In civilized nations dogs and cats are not killed and eaten. So many other varieties of animals are sent to slaughterhouses to retrieve meat to be cooked for both elaborate and not so elaborate meals. But if a cat or dog is killed without cause, the owners will take the act to be equivalent to murder. A famous athlete in recent times went to jail for hosting fighting events with dogs, but the real cause of the subsequent public outcry was the treatment of the dogs after they would lose a fight.
Is “sacred dog” or “sacred cat” a term? These animals run around the house like they live there, and the owners gladly reach down to the ground to pick up the remnants of their trips to the bathroom. So there is certainly special treatment offered, but the behavior is only considered odd when it is offered to cows, who provide so much to humankind.
The precious cows of Vrindavana were pleased when they would see their calves, and since they knew they were in peaceful circumstances they would produce so much milk as a result. There was plenty to go around, enough to feed the calves and the residents of the town. The cows also were delighted whenever they saw the beautiful boy of mother Yashoda and Maharaja Nanda. They produced milk immediately upon seeing Him, such was their love for Him.
This young child too was fond of the cows, and since He gave them pleasure, He was sometimes addressed as Govinda. He liked not only the cows but also their products, especially their milk and butter. He would raid the supplies of butter in the homes of the neighbors because the butter tasted so good. It gave Him pleasure, so why not take some? The child is known, after all, for searching after preyas, or immediate satisfaction. Maturity is the prerequisite for putting in the hard work necessary for shreyas, or long term benefit.
Yashoda’s son was also known as Krishna because of His unique attractiveness. A bluish complexion looked just right for this young child, who was so beautiful that no one wanted to take their eyes off of Him. His friends also watched His every move, so one day they approached His mother with an interesting story. In front of a higher authority, they accused Krishna of eating dirt, thinking that the naughty boy who had gotten away with so much before was now finally going to get punished for real. If not punished, at least He’d get admonished, told that what He did was wrong.
When put into this situation that He purposefully created, Krishna could have confessed to the accusation. “Yes, I ate dirt. Sorry. I didn’t know what I was doing.” But that would have served little purpose. Maybe it would have created another way to interact with the loving mother, but Krishna wanted to increase her transcendental affection even more. It is known that children sometimes lie when they get in trouble, and when they are so innocent in that way, not knowing that their lie will be exposed quickly, the parents derive so much happiness.
The ultimate reservoir of pleasure and the origin of knowledge knew this, so He carefully orchestrated events in such a way that the loving mother would feel tremendous pleasure watching her son apparently lie to get His way out of trouble. It was not known whether Krishna had actually eaten dirt; the boys could have fabricated the entire event to get Him into trouble. Regardless, Krishna’s denial of the accusation would lead Yashoda towards a divine vision, one which she deserved to see. If He had admitted to the act, the excuse for revealing that unique vision would not have come.
It’s not like Krishna was going around inviting everyone to come and look into His mouth. Why draw attention in that way? Why not let everyone love Him in their mood of choice? If there is awe and reverence, there is some veil of separation. You will likely want to keep your distance with someone that you respect so much. What if they don’t respect you back? What if they disappoint you with their words? Or worse, what if you offend them with your behavior? Better to just play it safe and worship from afar.
But the object of pleasure derives more happiness when the interaction is close. When the person offering the service does so without inhibition, the exchange of emotions is more meaningful. The innocent child apparently telling a small fib brought the mother closer, inviting her to see an enchanting vision. Krishna caused Yashoda to look into His mouth to see if He was telling the truth. When she looked inside, she saw the entire universe, with its many planets and stars. She couldn’t believe the depths of the creation. How could all this be seen inside the mouth of a tiny boy?
Krishna’s lying and Krishna’s telling the truth are on the same level. They both serve a purpose. When they are directed at the devotees, those who love the Lord, the aim is to always bring them closer, to break down the walls of politeness and etiquette and reach a new level of closeness. The vision of the universal form shook the mother for a second, reminding her that her son was not normal. At the same time, her concern for Him only increased, and she had more reasons to think about Him.
The more we can think of her beloved son, the better off we’ll be. The Vedic literatures exist to facilitate this opportunity, but even if we don’t have a Shrimad Bhagavatam or Bhagavad-gita handy, we can bring to mind that delight of Vrindavana by regularly chanting His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Was Krishna telling the truth or lying?
To get Him in trouble were His friends trying?
No matter whether He ate dirt or not,
Even for lying Krishna reasons has got.
This time for an enchanting vision to see,
The universal form, all that ever will be.
Mother Yashoda this gift was granted,
Always by Krishna’s play enchanted.
Pleasure He gives even when He’s a liar,
Devotional service His love does inspire.