“How had mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja become so fortunate that they enjoyed the complete childhood pastimes of Krishna, which are still glorified by saintly persons? What had they done in the past by which they were elevated to such an exalted position?” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.8.47 Purport)
Maharaja Parikshit, as an attentive listener, was struck by the fact that the Supreme Lord, Shri Hari, the remover of the distresses of the devotees, would bless Maharaja Nanda and mother Yashoda with His sweet childhood pastimes. They were not Krishna’s biological parents during the Lord’s time on earth some five thousand years ago. Of course no one is the father or mother of God, but to enhance the delight of the exalted servants, the Supreme Lord accepts parents during His play in the phenomenal world. Just how Yashoda and Nanda were selected for these unique roles was what piqued the curiosity of the king, who was on the verge of death.
Parikshit had a week to live, and rather than spend it engaged in sense gratification, he wanted to hear what would be most beneficial to him going forward. The soul continues to live on after the body perishes, and its fate is determined by the consciousness while quitting the body. If one is able to focus on God during that time, they will gain His association in the next life. To increase the odds of the divine focus occurring, one can hear regularly about God. This hearing includes descriptions of His names, forms, pastimes and divine qualities. Each of these aspects is limitless, meaning that hearing about them can be an engagement having an infinite length.
In one part of the katha, or discourse, given by Shukadeva Gosvami to Parikshit, Lord Krishna showed the universal form to mother Yashoda. His stature as a small child at the time did not prevent that vision from being shown to the loving mother. She was led to it through her maternal affection and the accusation that Krishna had eaten dirt. To prove that He was innocent, the Lord asked her to look into His mouth. She didn’t see dirt. Instead, the entire cosmos, the largest abstract picture imaginable, was visible to her. Within the abstract were so many details as well, thus mesmerizing the mind.
That vision humbled her, and afterwards she returned to her role as affectionate mother. When this part of the discourse concluded, Parikshit wanted to know just what the mother had done to earn such an exalted status. Implied in the question is that there are different ways to gain spiritual merits. Sukriti, or meritorious behavior, is outlined in the shastras, or scriptures. This shouldn’t be a foreign concept, as even in material endeavors there are ways to earn bonus points, to make yourself better situated for a positive outcome. In school, you can do your homework on time and study at regular intervals. This will help you stay prepared for the exams and assignments, which determine your overall grade in the class. In exercise, eating properly and sleeping sufficiently help to boost your performance.
“Always engaged in serving You, keeping my senses under control and observing the vow of brahmacharya, I shall be with You, O great hero, in the forest fragrant with honey.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 27.13)
In spiritual life, two practices that relate to piety are austerity and penance. These are delineated because they are otherwise difficult to practice. The most difficult austerity measure is celibacy, which is known as the vow of brahmacharya in the Vedas. Sometimes even women make this vow, such as when Sita Devi told her husband Rama that she would abide by the principles of brahmacharya while residing in the forest with Him. He had been exiled to the forest for fourteen years one time, and in trying to convince Him to allow her to come along, she assured Him that she would follow all the strict rules and regulations of the punishment, in essence accepting the same fate, sharing in His so-called misery.
Other austerity measures also relate to sex life; gambling, intoxication and meat eating fuel the desire for illicit sexual connections. Austerity helps to clear up the consciousness, to allow it to better focus on God. You are thus benefitted in two ways: acquiring spiritual merits and developing your consciousness. The spiritual merits are guaranteed to pay dividends later on, but the consciousness can degrade at any time. Due to this deficiency, there is a higher method of practice, which has a further goal to reach, wherein the pleasure is also enhanced.
Parikshit’s questions were sort of like rewinding the tape, trying to decipher the root cause to the wonderful situation that occurred later on. Mother Yashoda was in such a unique position, one not granted to mother Devaki, from whose womb Krishna originally appeared. He was then transferred to Vrindavana because of fears pertaining to the evil King Kamsa, who was Devaki’s brother. The king wanted to kill Krishna because of a prophecy that said her eighth child would kill him. But God can never be defeated in this way, and so Kamsa’s plan to outsmart the prophecy failed.
The fruit of a developed consciousness is the ability to love God. And that love is supported by the direct intervention of the worshiped party. Thus Krishna personally came to deliver to Yashoda a level of interaction unseen anywhere else. The devoted soul can have a similar interaction in love by chanting the holy names. Krishna and His name are non-different, as are Krishna and His stories. Parikshit was already in Krishna’s company just by hearing about Him. The more questions he had, the more he got to hear. The more he got to hear, the more his consciousness was fixed in the spiritual realm, thereby increasing the odds of dying in the proper way.
The moment of death is guaranteed to occur. Know that there will be a time when you quit your body, and you will be thinking of something then. If the mind is trained to hear about Krishna, then the transcendental consciousness will be present at the most critical moment of your life. To hear about the Lord does not require austerity or penance. Hearing can take place just by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Yashoda and Nanda underwent so many austerities in past lives, and so it should also be understood that one who has come to Krishna consciousness in full sincerity has bypassed the need for strict austerity that is devoid of devotion. The pious credits are what bring one to the platform of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, so in that fortunate state the best course of action is to just move forward, as deference to pious principles is automatic in someone who has a deep love and affection for the origin of all religion, Shri Krishna.
From love for Him highest state to win,
As of all religious paths He is the origin.
Of Yashoda and Nanda’s fortune king wondered,
That how Lord Krishna their protection was under.
Parikshit in seven days about to die,
So to spiritual world he kept his eye.
About young Krishna’s pastimes He heard,
From that more questions in mind stirred.
Pious credits in previous lives already done,
So proud parents now got to watch child Krishna run.