“Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, quoting from the Vaisnava-tosani of Srila Sanatana Gosvami, says that the incident of Krsna’s breaking the pot of yogurt and being bound by mother Yasoda took place on the Dipavali Day, or Dipa-malika. Even today in India, this festival is generally celebrated very gorgeously in the month of Kartika.” (SB 10.9.1–2 purport)
We are now in the month of Kartika, or Damodara. It began on the full-moon night and will continue until the next full moon. Damodara is a name for Krsna. Dama means “rope,” and udara means “belly.” So Damodara means “one who is bound around the belly with ropes.” And you can see the image of Lord Damodara with Mother Yasoda: She was binding His belly with ropes. Mother Yasoda was nursing baby Krsna when suddenly some milk on the fire began to boil over. So she set aside baby Krsna to attend to the milk on the fire. But Krsna was not yet satisfied with His mother’s milk, and when she left Him He felt frustrated and angry. So to vent His anger and satisfy His desire, He broke a pot of butter that was hanging from a rafter on the ceiling. When Mother Yasoda finished attending to the milk on the fire, she came and saw that the butter pot had been broken, and she saw little footprints smeared with butter on the floor. Thus she understood that the mischief was the work of her son, baby Krsna.
According to Vedic literatures, Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So how are we talking of Krsna as if He were a baby who got frustrated and angry and made mischief and so on? The answer is that every soul, or living entity, has eternal love for Krsna within the heart, and the love for Krsna can be manifest in one of a number of relationships. The relationships we have in the material world are actually reflections of the relationships that devotees have with Krsna in the spiritual world. In the material world we have relationships of servant and master, of friends who are equals, of parents and children, and of husband and wife, or boyfriend and girlfriend. The relationships we have in the material world exist because originally they exist with Krsna in the spiritual world. Mother Yasoda has maternal love for Krsna, and her desire to serve Krsna as His mother is so pure and powerful that Krsna, in order to reciprocate with her, plays the role of her son and thus allows her to serve Him as His mother. And when Krsna plays the role of Mother Yasoda’s son, He identifies with the role so much that He actually feels as if she is His mother and He is her son.
So, after He did His mischief, baby Krsna knew that when His mother found out He would be in trouble, so He was anxiously looking here and there. And Mother Yasoda, after she put down the milk that had been boiling over on the stove, found Krsna sitting on a wooden grinding mortar. When He saw her with a stick in her hand, He began to run away from her in fear. She didn’t really intend to strike Him, but she felt that she needed to show the stick to enforce some discipline, because as His mother, she wanted her son to be well-behaved. So baby Krsna fled in fear. He was small and agile, and she had a thin waist and a large body, so He could escape her, but still she pursued Him. Mother Yasoda perspired and became tired, yet she was so determined and sincere in her desire to catch and train baby Krsna that eventually Lord Krsna felt compassion for her in her sincere efforts and He allowed her to catch Him.
After Mother Yasoda caught baby Krsna, she thought that she should tie Him up—not as a cruel punishment, but just to keep Him from getting into more trouble. So she took a length of rope and attempted to bind Him around the waist. But the rope was too short by the width of two fingers. So she got more rope and added it to the first length of rope, but still the rope was too short by two fingers. So she got more rope and added it, but still the rope was too short. Mother Yasoda became perplexed: Every morning she would dress baby Krsna and tie His ornamental belt around His waist, and she knew how big His waist was and how long the belt had to be, and the length of the ropes now was much longer, but still the ropes couldn’t reach around Krsna’s waist. Mother Yasoda was the wife of the king of the cowherd community, and she had lots of ropes for various purposes. Yet even after putting together all the rope she could gather, still she couldn’t get it to fasten around baby Krsna’s belly. Then baby Krsna, in appreciation of her sincere desire and efforts to serve Him, took compassion on Mother Yasoda and allowed her to bind Him. But actually He was bound not by her ropes, but by her love.
Srimad-Bhagavatam, describing the story of Mother Yasoda and Lord Damodara, explains that Krsna cannot be caught by the greatest yogis, but still He allowed Himself to be caught by Mother Yasoda. Krsna cannot be bound by any means, but still He allowed Himself to be bound by the ropes—by the love—of Mother Yasoda.
Many learned scholars have commented on this particular pastime of Krsna, and Jiva Gosvami and Visvanatha Cakravarti have explained on the basis of this pastime how the Lord can be bound. Of course, Lord Krsna Himself declares that He can be conquered only by the pure love of His devotees, and the pastime here demonstrates that He was indeed bound by such love. But what exactly is the process of binding Krsna and developing pure love?
There are two factors, signified by the two fingers by which the rope was too short. One finger represents the devotee’s endeavor (parisrama). In Krsna consciousness we have certain basic practices, the most essential of which is chanting the holy names of Krsna, while following certain basic principles of purity. As one is able, one should rise early in the morning and have a program similar to the program that devotees have in the temple. But the essential process really is chanting and hearing about Krsna and endeavoring to serve Krsna according to one’s capacity and taste. So part of the two fingers’ gap can be closed by the devotee’s endeavor, hard labor, and Mother Yasoda showed such endeavor. She really tried her best to bind Krsna, to the extent that she may have put together miles and miles of rope. But still, her effort alone was not enough. The other factor that allows the devotee to bind Krsna is Krsna’s mercy (krsna-krpa). When Krsna was pleased with Mother Yasoda’s endeavors, He allowed Himself to be bound. Thus the other half of the gap, the second finger, was closed.
Recently a devotee told me that her brother, a Christian missionary, had challenged her, “How will you go to the kingdom of God?” She replied, “Well, I will go by chanting the holy names of God.” Then the brother said, “Oh, you think you can go by your own endeavor, by works. No. One cannot go by works; one can go only by grace.” And what her brother said is true. One cannot go by works alone. “Works” in this context means spiritual practices, or following the injunctions of the scriptures, the law. But it is very unusual for a person to reach the kingdom of God without making any effort, just thinking, “I’ll wait for the grace of God.” The conclusion we reach from the story of Lord Damodara, from the instructions of the acaryas and of Lord Krsna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita, is that we must work to the best of our ability but at the same time depend for our success on the mercy of the Lord.
The acaryas have given two examples. One is of the mother monkey and baby monkey. The baby monkey puts his little arms around his mother and holds on. And as the mother monkey is swinging and flying from tree to tree, the baby monkey is in a very precarious position; the baby has just his little arms and he has to hold on to his mother for dear life as she swings from tree to tree. At any moment he could lose his grip and fall down. The other example is the mother cat and the kitten. The mother cat picks up the kitten in her mouth and carries the kitten. The kitten really doesn’t have to do anything but just allows the mother to carry him or her to wherever the mother wants. In a broader context, thekarmis, jnanis, and yogis are like little monkeys, trying to hold on with their own strength, and so they are always in anxiety: they do not know if their strength will be sufficient for them to reach their destination. The devotees, however, are more like the kitten who need not worry. The kitten just surrenders to the mother, and the mother picks up the kitten and carries it to the destination.
Now, if we look closely at the life of the devotee, yes, ultimately the devotee is picked up by the grace of the Lord, but still the devotee makes every effort to serve the Lord, and then the Lord’s mercy allows the devotee to bind the Lord—the Lord comes under the control of the devotee’s pure love. So if someone thinks he can, as they say, storm the gates of heaven, or reach God by his own endeavor, that is not correct. But then again, if someone says, “Well, I am just going to sit and pray to God to deliver me, and I am not going to make any effort,” that also is not complete. We need both: parisrama and krsna-krpa.
The kingdom of God has different divisions, or sections, and the highest is Goloka Vrndavana, where the love of the devotees is completely spontaneous. There the devotees do not think, “Krsna is the Supreme Lord, therefore I must serve Him.” Rather, they are spontaneously attracted to Krsna according to their particular mood of service. The youthful cowherd boys are attracted to Krsna as their friend. They are not thinking that He is God; they just love Him as their best friend. Similarly, Mother Yasoda and Nanda Maharaja are not thinking that they have to serve Krsna because He is the Supreme Godhead. Rather, they are thinking, “Oh, Krsna is our son. We have to nourish Him and protect Him and educate Him.” And other elders in Vrndavana have the same mood of parental affection. And the young damsels of Vraja are spontaneously attracted to Krsna because they see Him as a handsome young man, and they want to make friends with Him. So, the Damodarastaka (3) says that Mother Yasoda’s binding of Krsna by her ropes of love shows that Krsna is conquered only by pure love.
itidrk sva-lilabhir ananda-kunde
sva-ghosam nimajjantam akhyapayanta
tadiyesita-jnesu bhaktair jitatvam
punah prematas tam satavrtti vande
“By such pastimes He is drowning the inhabitants of Gokula in pools of ecstasy and revealing to those devotees absorbed in knowledge of His supreme majesty and opulence that He is conquered only by devotees whose pure love is imbued with intimacy and is free from all conceptions of awe and reverence. To this Supreme Lord, Sri Damodara, whose belly is bound not with ropes but with His devotee’s pure love, I offer my humble obeisances.”
Here “pure love” means not just without any material motivation, but without any conception that Krsna is the Supreme Lord and without any attraction for the opulence of the other section of the kingdom of God called Vaikuntha, where the Lord’s opulence is prominent. Only in Goloka Vrndavana do the devotees have such pure love that they forget that Krsna is God. And thus they are not bound by any restrictions or barriers, thinking, “Oh, Krsna is God. He is great, and I am small.” And so they can treat Him as an equal, as a friend; or even as their dependent, as their son or pupil.
In the other section of God’s kingdom, Vaikuntha, the devotees are aware of the Lord’s opulence, majesty, and greatness. Therefore they serve Him in a mood of awe and reverence. At most, there may be a sense of friendship, but even the friendship is mixed with awe and reverence, and although that love is pure in that it is without any material desire, it is not pure, natural, spontaneous attraction but is mixed with the knowledge of Krsna’s supreme opulences. That love is not sufficient to bind Krsna, to bring Krsna under the control of the devotee. Not that Krsna actually ever comes under the control of the devotee, but He comes under the control of the devotee’s love. So the Damodara pastime also proclaims to the world that Krsna can be conquered only by pure love, which is not mixed with the conception of Krsna’s supreme opulence and Godhood.
There is a class of transcendentalists called impersonalists, who desire to merge and become one with God. As Srila Prabhupada said, “The impersonalists want to become one with God, but the devotees can become greater than God.” They can bring God under their control by their pure love. Thus the achievement of the impersonalists cannot be compared to the achievement of the devotees. The devotees relish ecstatic love for God, and the happiness they experience in their loving relationships with God is millions and trillions of times greater than the happiness the impersonalists relish if they merge and become one with the effulgence of God. And the mystery, or the charm, is that one can develop one’s pure love, which is already there within one’s heart, just by intensely chanting the holy names—so beautiful, so pleasant, so congenial—just chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And as Prabhupada said, “You chant, and when you feel tired you take a little prasada.”
Are there any questions or comments?
Devotee: Can you tell me if a person who after so many lifetimes on earth eventually departs to Vaikuntha can make further advancement from Vaikuntha to Krsnaloka?
Giriraj Swami: Each devotee has eternal love for Krsna within the heart, and by a devotee chanting Hare Krsna, the eternal love is manifest. Whatever one’s particular type of love is, it is just right for the individual, and the individual will feel fully satisfied in that particular relationship with the Lord. For example, if you tell Hanuman that his mood of service to Rama is not the highest, that he should give up the service of Rama and come to Krsna, he’ll say, “No way!” because he is fully satisfied in his service to Lord Rama and wouldn’t want to exchange it for anything. But there are rare instances, such as the case of Gopa Kumara described in Sri Brhad-bhagavatamrta, when a devotee moves on. Gopa Kumara went to Vaikuntha, and although Vaikuntha is the spiritual kingdom of God and everything there is eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss and everyone there is absorbed in the same mood of opulent service to the Lord with awe and reverence, still somewhere within his heart he didn’t feel completely satisfied, and ultimately he came back to earth, to Bhauma Vrndavana, the best place to perform practices to go to Goloka Vrndavana. And from there he was promoted to Goloka Vrndavana. So it may be that one reaches Vaikuntha but hasn’t really developed one’s full love for Godhead. Then one may, as you say, make further advancement to Goloka.