Bhakta-vashyata: Bound by Love

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The greatest servants of the all-powerful supreme controller please Him by putting Him under their control.

God is defined as the Supreme Being and understood to be the source, master, and controller of everything that be. Thus many people worship Him in reverence and depend on Him for protection. Even God, however, sometimes desires to be controlled by someone else. That controller can only be His pure devotee, who conquers Him by the power of his or her loving devotional service. Various devotees and poets like Srila Shukadeva Goswami describe this quality of the Supreme Godhead, Krishna, with words like bhakta-vashyata (controlled by devotees), bhritya-vashyata (controlled by servitors), bhaktair-jitatvam (conquered by devotees), bhakti-baddham (bound by loving devotion), and bhakta-paradhina (dependent on devotees).

The entire universe, with its great, exalted demigods like Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, and Lord Indra, is under the control of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. Yet one of His transcendental attributes is that He comes under the control of His servitors (bhritya-vashyata). Krishna reveals this quality vividly in His various dealings with the Vrajavasis, the residents of Vrindavana, who consider Him their life and soul, and who dedicate their bodies, minds, and words for His pleasure alone. Krishna takes great pleasure in being bound by their loving service through moods like friendship, parental affection, and romantic love.

The Supreme Proprietor Steals

Lord Krishna is the supreme unrivalled proprietor and master of all the material and spiritual worlds, and He is served by thousands of goddesses of fortune. Nonetheless, He steals butter in the houses of the ladies of Vrindavana, the vraja-gopis, as if He were poverty-stricken. Knowing that Krishna steals butter in their houses, the gopis invent various means to hide the butter from Him, such as hanging the butter pots from the ceiling or keeping them in dark rooms. But Krishna cleverly reaches them by inventing new methods of stealing (steya-yogaih). The gopis relish these activities of Krishna, but externally they rebuke Him. These simple gopis are very much appreciative of Yashoda’s fortune in being Krishna’s mother. But they think she must be bereft of the pleasure of witnessing Krishna’s stealing pastimes, for He wouldn’t steal butter in her house.

To give the same pleasure to Yashoda, the gopis go to her house to narrate Krishna’s stealing acts by criticizing and complaining against Him. Krishna’s pastimes are very enchanting, but when His pure devotees like the gopis or Shukadeva Goswami in the Bhagavatam narrate them, they taste more nectarean, being mixed with the love of the devotee. Thus Mother Yashoda experienced a greater pleasure upon hearing about Krishna’s stealing from the gopis than the gopis did by witnessing them. The gopis’ apparent angry complaints are nothing but expressions of their loving affection for Krishna.

The Absolute Truth Lies

When the gopis complain, Krishna often doesn’t admit His naughty activities. Instead, He speaks many lies against them and claims innocence in front of Mother Yashoda. Krishna is the Supreme Absolute Truth (satyam param), whose eternal existence is beyond the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of this material cosmos, of which He is the ultimate cause. Yet He often lies to the gopis, cheats them, tricks them, bewilders them, and in this way captivates their hearts. Krishna steals butter and performs much mischief in Yashoda’s house, but when questioned by her, He cleverly makes false statements that fascinatingly have deeper and truer meanings. For instance, when Yashoda asked Krishna, “Who distributed butter to the monkeys?” Krishna cleverly replied, “The one who created them!”

The Cause Behind the Contradictions

The "lies" of the Absolute Truth are a special ornament of His character that charms His devotees. By acting in many contradictory ways, Krishna relishes the love of His devotees and expresses His love for them. To manifest this quality of bhakta-vashyata, Krishna sometimes relinquishes His other opulences and attributes and proudly declares to everyone the glories of His devotees who have full control over Him (darshayams tad-vidam loka atmano bhakta-vashyatam, Bhagavatam 10.11.9). The damodara-lila, the episode in which Krishna's mother ties Him up, is an unparalleled example of Krishna’s behaving in such contradictory ways to exhibit His quality of bhakta-vashyata.

The Self-Satisfied Becomes Hungry

One early Dipavali (Diwali) morning, after assigning her maidservants various activities, Mother Yashoda started churning butter for Krishna. She engaged her body in churning, her mind in thinking of her beloved son, and her words in singing about His activities. Her complete absorption attracted Krishna, who is all-attractive and self-satisfied in all respects (atmarama). Krishna got up from sleep and eagerly came to her, hungry for her milk (stanya-kama). He climbed on her lap, His own property, and she started to breast-feed Him. A transcendental competition between Yashoda’s love in the form of her milk and Krishna’s hunger for it started. Both knew no bounds, yet the milk sometimes overflowed from His mouth, forming small rivulets. This feeding went on for a good while, and He lost all sense of time.

Peace Personified Becomes Angry

Suddenly, the milk of the special Padma-gandha cows boiling in the kitchen started overflowing, and to save it, Yashoda immediately set Krishna down and ran there. Upon being deprived of His mother’s milk, greedy Krishna became very dissatisfied. He is known as vishuddha-sattva-vigraha, or one in pure goodness devoid of any tinges of passion and ignorance. Yet He shed tears and now manifested anger, breaking a pot and stealing the butter in it. He started distributing the butter to monkeys, restlessly looking around, anxious that His mother might come and punish Him at any time.

Time Personified Flees in Fear

As it is common for a thief to leave some clue, Krishna left a clue for Mother Yashoda to catch Him – His buttery footprints. Following them, Yashoda, desiring to teach a lesson to her naughty child Krishna, the all-knowledgeable, reached there calmly, with a stick in her hand. Krishna was shocked. Although fear personified and even Yamaraja, the lord of death, fear Krishna, He was now fearful of Yashoda’s stick. He ran towards the main gate, hoping that Yashoda wouldn’t punish Him in public.

The Fastest Gets Caught

Despite her fatigue, Mother Yashoda chased Krishna with great determination, but He looked behind often and always kept Himself at a safe distance, at least a hand’s-length away from her. At times she almost caught Him, but just missed. Yogis cannot capture Krishna within their hearts, and the Upanishads declare that He can run faster than the mind, but now a simple gopi of Vrindavana, Yashoda, finally captured Him, although He wanted to avoid being arrested by her. This is the greatness of her pure love.

The Condensed Bliss Cries

Although she did not intend to beat Him, Yashoda threatened Krishna by raising her stick. He became more afraid, and He cried, His genuine tears mixing with the black ointment around His eyes. Usually when Krishna cried, Yashoda would wipe His tears with her cloth, but now He rubbed His eyes with His own hands, and thus smeared the ointment all over His face. He trembled in fear and breathed heavily as He cried. Although His soothing smile dries up the ocean of tears created by the lamentation of the conditioned souls, He was now crying in fear of His mother. And although the breathing of His expansion Maha-Vishnu generates millions of universes, He was Himself now breathing heavily in anxiety.

The Object of Prayers Gets Scolded

Yashoda scolded Krishna for all His offenses – breaking a pot, stealing butter, distributing it to the monkeys, and fleeing away while making her run behind Him. Considering Him her son out of intense maternal affection, she was eager to discipline Him and train Him as a good human being. She rebuked Him by calling Him a restless, greedy, hot-tempered boy, a monkey-lover, and a house-plunderer. She threatened Him, saying that she wouldn’t feed Him milk products or give Him toys or allow Him to play with His playmates.

The Supreme Judge Awaits Judgment

Krishna was guilty. His fate was completely in His mother’s hands. She might punish Him, bind Him, or release Him at her will. He bent His head low in front of Yashoda and promised her that He wouldn’t do such mischief anymore and anxiously pleaded for her to drop the stick. Because of her intense affection, Yashoda became worried to see His distress and suspected that He might run away due to fear, anger, and fickleness. Unaware of His prowess, she thought it wise to bind Him and keep Him home while she was busy with her household chores. Thus she ordered her servants to get some soft ropes.

An Attempt to Bind the All-Pervading

The Supreme Lord Krishna pervades all time and space. He has no beginning or end, no exterior or interior, no front or rear, and is beyond sense perception (adhokshaja). Mother Yashoda, considering Him her own child, tried to bind Him to a wooden grinding mortar with a rope. In other words, she tried to tie up with her cords of strong prema the all-pervading Lord of all, who binds up with the ropes of maya everyone from Brahma to the blade of grass.

Krishna didn’t want to be bound. He wanted to do His daily routine of stealing yogurt and playing with His friends. So His satya-sankalpa-shakti (power to fulfill His every desire) inspired His vibhuti-shakti (power to show His opulence) to manifest in His body. Thus Mother Yashoda's rope became two fingers too short in binding Him. She got more and more ropes and tied them together, but the rope was always two fingers too short.

Divinity's Desire vs. the Devotee's Determination

Yashoda’s determination didn’t slacken despite her failure. So Krishna had to transform His desire. Seeing her loving endeavor (parishrama), Krishna became merciful (kripa). His kripa-shakti, which reigns as the king of all His potencies and illuminates them, melts His heart and turns it into butter. It made His satya-sankalpa-shakti and vibhuti-shakti immediately disappear. The distance of two fingers was filled by the devotee’s endeavor and the Lord’s causeless mercy. The bhakta-nishtha, or the firm faith of the devotee seen in his or her tireless endeavors to serve and worship Krishna, and the sva-nishtha, or the steady quality in Krishna that brings forth His mercy upon seeing the devotee’s efforts, causes Krishna to be bound. In the absence of these two, the rope will remain two fingers too short.

sva-matuh svinna-gatraya
visrasta-kabara-srajah
drishtva parishramam krishnah
kripayasit sva-bandhane

"Because of Mother Yashoda's hard labor, her whole body became covered with perspiration, and the flowers and comb were falling from her hair. When child Krishna saw His mother thus fatigued, He became merciful to her and agreed to be bound." (Bhagavatam 10.9.18)

The Liberator in Bondage

Thus Krishna, who can liberate everyone from material bondage, is Himself bound by the love of His devotee. The rope with which Yashoda bound Him is the rope of her pure love. In this damodara-lila, Krishna shows Yashoda and the whole world that only love can bind Him. And even in that bound state, He retains His quality of liberating others. Therefore He was able to liberate the sons of Kuvera by pulling down the Yamalarjuna trees. (See Canto Ten, Chapter Ten.) In His liberating them, He again exhibited His quality of being controlled by His devotee, because it was His devotee Narada who desired that the sons of Kuvera be liberated by Krishna.

The Possessor of All Qualities and Their Opposites

To show the quality of being controlled by His devotees, Krishna may sometimes act in ways that go against some of His other qualities. There is no contradiction in this, because Krishna possesses all the qualities and all their opposites too. He is smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest. He is within everything and apart from everything. His quality of being merciful to His devotees, because He is controlled by their loving devotional service, stands as the epitome of all His attributes. Thus the process of bhakti is glorified in the damodara-lila.

nayam sukhapo bhagavan
dehinam gopika-sutah
jnaninam chatma-bhutanam
yatha bhaktimatam iha

"Lord Krishna, the son of Mother Yashoda, is easily accessible to devotees engaged in spontaneous loving service, but not to mental speculators, aspirants of self-realization, or those in bodily identification." (Bhagavatam 10.9.21)

The Devotee Becomes Greater than God

Krishna is asamordhva – no one is equal to Him or greater than Him. Some philosophers may want to become one with God, but in Vaishnava philosophy the devotee becomes so much more powerful than God that he or she can control God. The Supreme Godhead Krishna elevates His devotee beyond His own position, just as Arjuna became the hero at Kurukshetra while Krishna was simply his chariot driver. Mother Yashoda is the epitome of vatsalya-rasa, or parental love for Krishna. The word yashoda means “giver of fame.” By binding Krishna with her ropes of love, Yashoda gave Krishna the fame of being controlled by His devotees. The glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are proclaimed throughout the Vedas, the Upanishads, the literature of sankhya-yoga, and other Vaishnava literature, yet Mother Yashoda considered that Supreme Person her ordinary child out of Her intense affection for Him (trayya copanishadbhish cha . . . , Bhagavatam 10.8.45). Shukadeva Goswami glorifies her, saying that neither Lord Brahma, nor Lord Shiva, nor even the goddess of fortune, who is always the better half of the Supreme Lord, can obtain from the Supreme Lord, the deliverer from this material world, such mercy as received by Mother Yashoda. (nemam virinco na bhavo . . . , Bhagavatam 10.9.20).

To love and be loved is the need and innate nature of every person, not to speak of the Supreme Person, Krishna. Krishna loves every individual soul, who is part of Him, and He desires that every soul also love Him. But only His unalloyed devotees completely realize their relationship with Him and love Him unconditionally. Love includes being controlled and dominated by one's beloved and thus presenting oneself as a subordinate to such love. Thus Krishna finds great pleasure in being controlled by His unalloyed devotees and is purchased by their love. This quality of Krishna’s is celebrated as bhakta-vashyata.

About the Author: 

Gauranga Darshana Dasa

Gauranga Darshana Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He has written study guides, including Bhagavata Subodhini and Chaitanya Subodhini, and teaches Bhagavatam courses at several places in India. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.