[Advaita-l] Re: Dasa Avatara

ShankarPll at aol.com ShankarPll at aol.com
Mon May 19 05:05:15 CDT 2003


In response to Sri Jaldhar Vyas's comments:
> While tidying up I found some pictures from a while back when I said
>Bhagavata katha at my local mandir. I was asked a question, Why does it
>say that Krishna Bhagavan stole butter and ate dirt? After some thinking
>my reply was:
>"Because He was a naughty boy."
>Let me explain. To worship God as Lord of the universe is easy. Who
>would not fail to be dazzled when e.g. Krishna Bhagavan displayed His
>Vishwarupa to Arjuna? However one of the tenets of Advaita Vedanta is
>that names and forms (namarupa) are Maya. We worship Bhagavan by
>Sahasranamas but He is not exhhausted in 1000 names or even one billion
>names. So too with forms. We may favor some particular forms for the
>purpose of upasana but actually all things moving and still are His forms
>-- the naughty boy who exasparates his mother as much as the universal
>ruler. But as Humans we tend to be heedless of the usual noticing only
>the unusual. Ma Yashoda got so fed up at one point, she tied Krishna
>Bhagavan to a tree so she could get her work done. But He easily broke
>free. But when she began watching Him like a hawk, fixated on his every
>move, immediately noticing even when he surreptiously put some dirt in His
>mouth, He rewarded her with the vision of His mouth containing not some
>dirt but the entire universe. Thus even ordinary parental duties became
>upasana when directed to God.
>The relevance to this current conversation is that we should realize not
>the extraordinariness of the avatars but their ordinariness. Bhagavan in
>so many names and forms repeatedly fights against Adharma and restores
>Dharma. Although untainted by action Himself, he constantly pervades the
>universe in the form of action (See Gita 3.22) And we too are avatars.
>We too must fight against Adharma and restore Dharma. This in my
>opinion is the message the Puranic kathas attempt to convey. One
>shouldn't get hung up in accounting.

I agree with you of course as far as Dharma/ Adharma is concerned. (The Gita 
states this symbolically, starting and ending as it does with Dh and Ma 
respectively). I personally, however, cannot agree with you with regards the 
"ordinariness of avatars". At the level of the Ajnani, humans are governed by 
their karma but this is not true of the Avatar. As you put it yourself He is 
untainted by action Himself but constantly pervades the universe in the form 
of action - this differentiates the Avatar from the Ajnani.

I also believe that the purpose of Puranic kathas is demonstrated when viewed 
at multiple levels. It is a fundamental property of their greatness. Thus, if 
one expands one of the Puranic Kathas you refer to:

Bhagwan Krishna breaks a butter-pot and distributes the butter to a crowd of 
monkeys. As a punishment Yasoda Devi ties Him to a mortar with the rope wound 
round His belly and then tied to two trees. The trees were sons of Kubera - 
Nalakubera and Manigriva, who had been cursed and turned into trees in the 
past. The said curse was to hold until the Lord rescued them. The Lord 
uproots the trees and releases the Devas, who after receiving the Lord's 
blessing leave. On hearing the noise, Yasoda Devi runs to the spot, and 
thanks the Lord that her child is unhurt. Therein the name Damodhara 
(Rope-bellied). Wherever Sri Krishna steals butter from, the remaining butter 
was said to be more valuable - such that the Gopis in the village ultimately 
began to complain if Krishna did not steal their butter. The butter then 
represents an offering - as it does even now under various Abhishekha.

>From the viewpoint of Yasoda Devi (as mother) her child has miraculously 
survived, and she has a sense of relief and gratitude to God, and in addition 
there is undoubtedly the recognition of the inappropriateness of the 

>From the viewpoint of the Devas involved, it is a sense relief in the release 
and gratitude to the Bhagwan Krishna, as manifestation of the Supreme.

>From the viewpoint of Krishna (as mortal child) it is the recognition that 
the hoard of monkeys have an equal right to partake of the butter as His 
other friends - the ethical underpinning to His behaviour. Note that, prior 
to the incident, His mother had already allowed Him to take as much butter as 
Sri Krishna needs but He states that this is insufficient for His friends. 
And so forth.

The Lord allows His "mother" to wind a rope around the Infinite, an 
impossible act, but duty and devotion to His mother allows Yasoda Devi to 
accomplish the action. Thus each time Yasoda Devi attempts to encircle 
Krishna's belly she finds that it is insufficient. Ultimately the Lord 
relents and allows His mother to tie Him to the mortar. Note that this itself 
has a purpose - it suggests that Yashoda Devi is circumnavigating Sri Krishna 
- an (admittedly unwitting but nonetheless) Act of worship. 

There is also the symbolic element(s), which feeds into the psychological. It 
shows the futility of Yasoda Devi's attempt to confine her child through 
anger but that her love succeeds. Thus, Yasoda Devi attempts to tie the Lord 
to the Mortar (symbol of harvest fortune) with a rope across the belly 
(widely used symbol) to the trees of mortal prosperity. The Divine nature of 
man is suppressed by the ignorance of mortal attachment. It is only by 
breaking through these ropes that one can recognise Divinity. Similarly, the 
enforced (or voluntary fixture) to the spot, analogous to yogic states (and a 
universal symbol also found in other faiths), may also be relevant. 

As Campbell put it:

"..To grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to 
us…(they) are not only symptoms of the unconscious…but also controlled and 
intended statements of certain spiritual principles…the universal doctrine 
teaches that all visible structures of the world are the effects of a 
ubiquitous power out of which they arise, which supports and fills them 
during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must 
ultimately dissolve…(a power known to Hindus as Shakti)… The apprehension of 
the source of this undifferentiated yet everywhere substratum of being is 
rendered frustrate by the very organs through which the apprehension must be 
accomplished. The forms of sensibility and the categories of human thought, 
which are themselves manifestations of this power, so confine the mind that 
it is normally impossible not only to see, but even to conceive, beyond the 
colourful, fluid, infinitely various and bewildering phenomenal spectacle. 
The function of the ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to 
facilitate the jump - by analogy". Campbell, "Hero with a Thousand Faces" 

The Puranic Kathas may be reduced to metaphysics and from metaphysics to 
psychology and vice versa. However, its import transcends even this for the 
bhakti induced is perhaps the primary purpose.  To put in another way, for me 
there are multiple ways of looking at the Puranas because they "occurred" 
with multiple designs. By this I mean that each view does not preclude 
another but occur simultaneously and naturally. And yet at the same time 
viewing it in the historical sense was perhaps how it was primarily intended 
- for it is by this means that bhakti could be propagated and the vast mass 
of humanity could progress to higher spiritual states.



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