“To bind Him should have required only a rope not more than two feet long. All the ropes in the house combined together might have been hundreds of feet long, but still He was impossible to bind, for all the ropes together were still too short. Naturally mother Yashoda and her gopi friends thought, ‘How is this possible?’ Seeing this funny affair, all of them were smiling.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.17 Purport)
What is it like to be liberated? Enlightenment is the pinnacle of thought because of the influence it has on behavior. An enlightened individual isn’t sad over the loss of a job, the sudden downturn in the economy, or the onset of the winter season. By the same token, the truly wise don’t offer too much elation when something good happens, when something they know is only temporary should arrive and bring others so much excitement that they can’t explain it. For the spirit soul transcending the influence of the senses, there is one more step to go, one more hill to climb. In that highest state of liberation, wherein one happily falls victim to the influence of sharanagati, there is all sorts of activity with variety, but instead of bringing about a temporarily painful or pleasurable state, or even a neutral indifference, there is pure elation.
How does this work exactly? How can we say that one kind of elation is different from another? We actually see examples of this all the time. The elation and misery involved in the progression towards a culminating state are different from those temporary ups and downs that have no bearing on anything. For instance, if I’m frustrated from studying for an exam that I must pass in order to complete a certain course, that pain will prove to be beneficial if it forces me to study harder and do everything in my power to pass. On the other hand, if I’m frustrated over being unable to find a specific shirt to wear or the wallet I need for purchasing liquor, the frustration has no bearing on an ultimate progression.
It is for this reason that the Vedas, the oldest system of spirituality in existence, put behavior into three different categories. In goodness, the highest mode, all work is done under the umbrella of knowledge gathering, wherein the individual gradually learns how to see the difference between matter and spirit and their position transcendental to the ever-changing external nature. In passion, one works very hard to get a temporary reward that does not bring lasting happiness. Along the way there could be ups and downs and in the end the fruit is not guaranteed to manifest on time. Throughout the process the living being remains tied to the idea that they are their body, which is an indication of illusion.
Picture identifying yourself as a child throughout your life. As a fully grown adult you get up in the morning to watch Sesame Street or some other children’s program. In the afternoon you go out to play on the fields and at night you wait for your parents to set dinner out on the table. The next day you repeat the cycle again, not taking advantage of your adult form. Obviously the incorrect identification as a child is the cause of your misfortune.
In the larger picture, the living being’s ignorance of his true position as pure spirit leads to pain and misery not only in this life, but in future ones as well. The next life is sort of like a new day, as the passage of time has no bearing on the properties of spirit. Through the passage of time the flower may wilt away and die, but the spark of life within it, the spirit soul, is always the source of identification. When the external form decays and eventually dies, the spirit soul gets placed into a new body to begin the cycle again.
In the lowest mode of activity, there is not even a temporary fruit received. Rather, the behavior is considered stupid; it does not fulfill any tangible purpose. The individual remains in ignorance in the current life and in the next one as well. Think of driving drunk, going on a killing spree, or sleeping throughout the day. These behaviors don’t further any purpose, though in illusion the bewildered soul may think that they do.
The height of practicing the mode of goodness is the realization of Brahman, which is the impersonal spiritual force. Think of every life form that you see and what makes up its identity. Then take all those individuals and group them into a collection. That whole energy is known as Brahman, and it is very difficult to see, sort of like looking at a large number in its numeral representation without any commas. If you add some commas and take some time to study the same number, you can perhaps make out its value. The brahma-bhutah soul understands the essence of spirit and thus remains aloof to the temporary changes.
Yet this stage of liberation is not the end. The spirit soul has inherent properties, the foremost of which is its desire for ananda, or bliss. Brahman too has a source. Not surprisingly, the fountainhead of Brahman is also the reservoir of pleasure. The liberated soul cherishes this person’s association more than anyone else’s. From the knowledge of Brahman comes equanimity in demeanor, not being taken off of the righteous path regardless of what happens in external surroundings. However, in the highest state when connected with the source of Brahman, there is still activity. From activity come temporary results, so that should bring the individual back into the trap of acceptance and rejection, no? Ah, but the nature of the rewards is different. Both frustration and victory have the same effect for the spirit soul connected with the reservoir of pleasure.
An example is always helpful in this situation. To see how even frustration is pleasurable to the liberated soul, we can go back to a famous incident that occurred in the courtyard of a cowherd woman named Yashoda. This event took place some five thousand years ago in the farm community of Vrindavana, so the people were generally more pious than they are today. As further time elapses from the beginning of creation, dharma, or virtue, represented as a table or stool loses its legs. In the beginning it stands on all four legs, but with the passage of time dharma dwindles to the point that it only stands on one leg, as is the case today.
On this day Yashoda was involved in punishing her young son. In defiance, in anger over her having gotten up to tend to boiling milk in the kitchen, the son purposefully broke a pot of butter and then took some of the goods to a neighboring room. He ate some of the butter that was so difficult to churn and then also shared some with the monkeys. When Yashoda found out what happened, she chased her son with a whipping stick, finally catching Him.
The boy cried crocodile tears of remorse, and to make sure that He didn’t run away, the mother decided to tie Him to a mortar. This should have been a pretty simple chore. The boy was rather small and the mother was a mature adult. Yet after the first attempt, the rope came up two finger widths short. Okay, so this means that the rope was just too short. Not a big deal; you just get another rope to compensate for the short length. Adding another rope, Yashoda began tying again. Uh oh. The same problem. The rope was just short by the same length. She kept trying rope after rope and each time the problem was the same.
Now, normally this frustration would not be pleasurable. The child needed to be punished and something strange was occurring to stop it from happening. Yet mother Yashoda was smiling after each failure, as were the neighboring cowherd women watching the apparent magic. They didn’t step up to show the mother how to correct the situation, for they were enjoying this display from her young son. You see He had this effect on people and situations. The many nefarious characters that had come to Vrindavana to kill the boy could not escape with their lives intact. Though they were much more powerful than Yashoda’s son, they could not kill Him as they were ordered to do.
On this wonderful day the sweet child could not be tied up, no matter how hard Yashoda tried. Since the boy that was caught was the reservoir of pleasure, the source of Brahman, the connection with Him in love was on the highest platform of activity, even above the mode of goodness. This automatically made Yashoda and her friends liberated souls, the most enlightened. Though they weren’t outwardly acknowledged as such, since they got to interact with the young boy in this way, they felt the bliss that can only come through God’s association.
In this liberated state, even the frustration of being unable to tie Him up brought Yashoda and others so much pleasure. That same happiness is available to every person should they harbor the same level of affection for the young boy, who has an eternally existing form that is full of bliss and knowledge. His sach-chid-ananda-vigraha can be worshiped with the mind through thoughts, with the body through offerings to the deity, and with words through the regular recitation of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
So what would happen? Would Yashoda’s son named Krishna get away? The Lord can never be caught by yoga, austerity, sacrifice, or knowledge alone. Only through love will He agree to be caught, to stay within the vision of the people who truly relish it. Therefore He allowed Yashoda to finally tie Him up, to perform her motherly duties with dedication. Whether He was playing with His friends, breaking pots of butter, sneaking into the neighbors’ homes to steal their food, or frustrating His mother by making the rope always too short, Krishna was a delight to everyone. With connection to Him through the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, even frustration turns into fun.
Yashoda’s naughty son is on the run,
Chasing after Him for mother good fun.
Breaking pot of butter He did something bad,
But deep down the affectionate mother was glad.
Chase reached culmination when Krishna was caught,
For tying Him up to mortar Yashoda brought.
Despite best efforts, rope was short on its reach,
Through this magic God divine lessons did teach.
Only through divine love this delight can you find,
Worship Him with body, speech and mind.