When I first discovered Krishna consciousness, I gave a coworker a copy of Srila Prabhupada’s translation and commentary for Sri Ishopanishad. The next day, my coworker let me know that he objected to the idea that God could be immoral.

Here’s what he’d read in Prabhupada’s commentary on Mantra 15: “When He played the role of a naughty butter thief, all His associates enjoyed celestial bliss by His stealing. The Lord’s fame as a butter thief is not reproachable, for by stealing butter the Lord gave pleasure to His pure devotees.”

Apparently, Prabhupada’s justification for Krishna’s thievery wasn’t enough to satisfy my coworker. But I find it persuasive. Stealing is immoral for us because we make someone else a victim. But no one is hurt when Krishna steals butter. Rather, the residents of Vrindavan feel great ecstasy by witnessing Krishna’s pranks. Adults often delight in catching a child innocently doing mischief. When that child is God, the joy is boundless.

Besides, God can’t really steal anyway – everything belongs to Him because He created it all.

Krishna can’t do anything immoral either, because He’s the Absolute Truth. The word absolute is common in Srila Prabhupada’s books and teachings, and we followers of his use it, for example, to explain why Krishna and His names are identical: It’s because Krishna is absolute, we say. An astute listener might ask, “What do you mean by absolute?” The Oxford English Dictionary gives quite a few meanings of the word, including these, which I find relevant to our purposes: “disengaged or free from imperfection or qualification; from interference, connexion, relation, comparison, dependence.”

The implication of all of this is that because Krishna is absolute – as the Vedic literature confirms – His actions are beyond the scrutiny of our relative perspective. Whatever He does is good by definition; He is the Supreme Good, or goodness itself.

Prabhupada presented another perspective on this idea when He would quote a proverb that says that the king is above the law. Why is that? Because he makes the laws and can simply exempt himself from following them. In the memorable words of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Krishna is “the transcendental autocrat.” He’s beyond judgment.

Parikshit Maharaja raised the question of Krishna’s seeming immorality after he’d heard Shukadeva Goswami’s narration of the rasa-lila, during which Krishna dances with other men’s wives.

King Parikshit asked, “O faithful upholder of vows, please destroy our doubt by explaining to us what purpose the self-satisfied Lord of the Yadus had in mind when He behaved so contemptibly.”

Shukadeva Goswami replied, “The status of powerful controllers is not harmed by any apparently audacious transgression of morality we may see in them, for they are just like fire, which devours everything fed into it and remains unpolluted.” (Bhag. 10.33.28–29)

Krishna is not just one of many “powerful controllers”; He’s the source of everyone else’s power, His own being limitless.

As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, one reason He descends to this world is to establish religious principles. So He is certainly concerned about morality. But He also descends to show that He is God. And one way He does that is by doing extraordinary things, including extraordinary acts of “immorality” that attest to His omnipotence.

– Nagaraja Dasa