“Also, your Krishna and Balarama find great pleasure in stealing our stock of yogurt and butter from wherever we keep it. When Krishna and Balarama are caught stealing the yogurt and butter, They say, 'Why do you charge us with stealing? Do you think that butter and yogurt are in scarcity in our house?' Sometimes They steal butter, yogurt and milk and distribute them to the monkeys.” (Gopis lodging complaints to mother Yashoda, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8)Download this episode (right click and save)
Piety and sin. The first brings a person closer to their constitutional position of eternal servant of God. The second brings them further away. It’s like the hot and cold game. Through pious activity, proper behavior and avoidance of sin, a person advances closer towards the ultimate goal.
The original sin, if you will, is diverging from the eternal engagement of devotional service. As soon as there is a hint of envy of the Supreme, the jiva soul falls to the material world. Fortunately, booking a return trip is rather simple. Change desire. If the soul wants to return to the shelter of the Divine, eventually they will find their way back.
All forms of piety, good behavior, etiquette, and the like are derivatives of the dharma of the soul, its essential characteristic. In any endeavor, the rules and regulations are there as a way to increase the chances of meeting the goal. This raises an interesting question. Can there be piety and sin for the Supreme Lord? As He is Bhagavan, which means a distinct personality with distinguishable features, He does have activities. Sometimes those are good, and sometimes they are bad. At least that is how we see it. Since He is pure goodness, even when He follows behavior that is typically considered sinful, against dharma, there is a benefit to everyone involved.
1. Rama shooting Vali in the back
Bhagavan descended to earth as Shri Rama during the Treta Yuga, which was millions of years ago compared to the present. The descent is known as an avatara. Rama was a warrior prince, still beautiful in every way, but with emphasis on protection against aggressors and enemies to the real religion.
In His pastimes, Rama once made friends with a distressed Vanara name Sugriva. Sugriva was living on Mount Rishyamukha since he was deathly afraid of his brother Vali. The kingdom in Kishkindha once belonged to Sugriva, but due to a misunderstanding Vali became enraged and drove his brother out.
Sugriva agreed to help Rama find His missing wife Sita, but first the issue of Vali was there. The Supreme Lord is so kind that He will do anything for His devotees. Rama offered protection. Sugriva and Vali would get into a fight, and Rama would shoot Vali. That is exactly what happened, as Vali received a mortal blow in the back from Rama’s arrow.
According to the codes of conduct of a kshatriya, or warrior, you’re not supposed to shoot someone from behind. Moreover, it is sinful to attack someone who is already engaged in a conflict. Vali even mentioned some of these breaches as he was taking his last breaths. Rama, of course, is above karma, piety and sin. The extraordinary gesture to help Sugriva shows that God does not have to play by the rules. Sugriva regained his kingdom, and soon Sita would come back to Rama as well. Everyone was benefitted, as Vali’s eyes were fixed on the Divine as he departed for the next life, representing the most auspicious death.
2. Krishna stealing butter
When He descended to Vrindavana as Krishna some five thousand years ago, the Supreme Lord was quite naughty during childhood. One of His trademarks was stealing butter. The goods belonged to the neighbors. Krishna’s parents weren’t poor. The father Nanda had so many cows under his protection.
Nevertheless, Krishna would raid the stocks of the neighbors. Knowing Krishna’s ways, the mothers would try to hide their butter. That didn’t work, of course. When caught in His crimes, Krishna would adorably play innocent.
Ordinarily, stealing is wrong, but in this instance it gave the elderly gopis of Vrindavana a chance to see Krishna. The Supreme Lord is compassion personified. He enjoys the offerings of the devotees. If they are too shy to bring them to Him formally, He is not above breaking and entering to enjoy the fruits of their devotion.
3. Krishna fleeing from Jarasandha
For this the Supreme Lord earned the name Ranchor. He fled from the battlefield. Though He grew up in Vrindavana, Krishna’s birth parents were from a kshatriya family. In adulthood, Krishna moved to Mathura and stood tall as the protector.
A nearby rival named Jarasandha attacked one time. He left embarrassed in defeat. Shaking it off, Jarasandha repeated the attempt. A total of seventeen times he attacked. He needed all the attempts since he kept failing. On the final attempt, Krishna and His brother Balarama fled from the battlefield.
Jarasandha was not happy about this. According to the ways of warfare common at the time, Krishna behaved sinfully. But again, there was a benefit. The escape became the excuse to erect the beautiful city of Dvaraka. That’s where everyone moved, and since it was protected by gates on all sides, Jarasandha and others could no longer attack. Moreover, fleeing from the battlefield gave Bhima the glory of once and for all ridding the world of the king from Magadha. One of the five Pandava brothers, Bhima was very dear to Krishna. The Supreme Lord gives so many opportunities for His devotees to shine.
4. Krishna advising Arjuna to fight
Arjuna was another devotee given a wonderful opportunity to shine. Arjuna’s glory is on two fronts. First, he emerged victorious in the Bharata War. This was the culmination to a long and difficult struggle between two sets of cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas. The issue was proprietorship of the kingdom, which rightfully belonged to the Pandavas but had been unjustly usurped by the Kauravas.
“Therefore get up and prepare to fight. After conquering your enemies you will enjoy a flourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, and you, O Savyasachin, can be but an instrument in the fight.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.33)
Shri Krishna favored the Pandavas since they were devotees. Still, He didn’t directly intervene in the conflict. He agreed to be Arjuna’s charioteer. The Supreme Lord is time, or kala, so the destruction was already set to happen. Hesitant at first, Arjuna took the advice from Krishna to fight on, to carry out the prescribed duty. Arjuna would simply be the instrument of kala.
Arjuna’s glory also came from accepting Krishna as his spiritual guide and hearing from the Lord the sacred Bhagavad-gita. In that conversation of timeless importance, Krishna repeatedly urged Arjuna to fight on. According to mundane morality, this borders on sinful behavior. The Supreme Lord is urging conflict, which will see so many lose their lives. Arjuna even had some valid counterargument, such as the fact that family traditions would vanish through the deaths. With unwanted children, society would go to hell.
Nevertheless, nothing could reverse the will of the Divine. Arjuna actually behaved most piously since he followed the direct orders of the Supreme Lord. Krishna glorified His devotee Arjuna through creating that circumstance.
5. Krishna dancing with the gopis
There are the elderly gopis of Vrindavana, from whom Krishna stole butter. Then there are the younger gopis, many of whom are married. They are one hundred percent devoted to Krishna. They are the embodiment of God consciousness. They are shining examples of atma-nivedanam, worshiping God in full surrender.
The Supreme Lord is so kind that He does not deny the genuine devotee their preferred mood of interaction. With the gopis, their lone desire was to be with Krishna. In the ordinary sense, they were in kama, or lust. Since that desire was dovetailed with devotion to God, it became bhakti.
Many of the younger gopis were married. Krishna still danced with them in the forest under the bright full moon. He expanded Himself so that each gopi was dancing with Him individually. This beautiful pastime, known as the rasa-lila, has been depicted so many times in paintings.
To the less intelligent, Krishna behaved sinfully. He broke the chastity of the innocent gopis. The wise know that the real definition of chastity is having fidelity to the eternal relationship to God, a relationship based on service. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has declared the worship of the gopis to be the topmost, as they risked even their reputations and violating etiquette in order to serve Krishna.
Shri Krishna above piety and sin,
Object of all dharmas resting in Him.
The standards of etiquette can break,
Like when butter of neighbors to take.
On battlefield urging Arjuna to attack,
As Rama shooting Vali in the back.
Dancing with gopis under autumn sky clear,
Such pastimes to devotees so dear.