“To the Supreme Lord, whose form embodies eternity, knowledge, and bliss, whose earrings swing to and fro, who shines beautifully in Gokula, who quickly ran from the grinding mortar in fear of mother Yashoda, and who was caught from behind by her, who ran faster than He – to that Supreme Lord, Shri Damodara, I offer my humble obeisances.” (Shri Damodarashtaka, 1)
lasat-kuṇḍalaḿ gokule bhrājamanam
parāmṛṣṭam atyantato drutya gopyā
The question may be raised, “What kinds of fear does God instill upon the innumerable children under His subjection?” But there is a flaw in the premise, as the fear is not purposefully instilled. Nevertheless, there is fear at every turn in the material world, and in the Vedas the causes for that fear get grouped into three categories.
It should be understood that the fears arise from birth itself. At birth there is an attachment formed. I accept a brand new body. I wear it for the first time, and I have to remain in it for some time. I’m not sure exactly how long. Immediately, that is a source for fear. When will I leave? Will I get to stay in it as long as my parents have? When will they leave their bodies? What will happen to me after that? How will I go on?
Death is the eventual destination for everyone, so it is naturally the greatest thing to fear. In the Ramayana, Shri Ramachandra, the Supreme Lord, the creator of this and every other universe, says that for the mature human being there is no other fear than death. He compares it to the ripened fruit on the tree, which has nothing else to wait for but falling to the ground.
“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)
In between birth and death, there are three kinds of forces which bring about fear. There is mother nature. Think of hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, and the like. These are not pleasant. Even something as simple as a small rainstorm can wreak havoc, annoying commuters rushing to work to make it on time. As these events cause misery, they are to be feared.
Then there is the force known as the body. Within the body there is the mind. So this body, though ours for the present time, can give us discomfort through disease. The mind, through worry and panic, also causes us much anxiety. We should not really worry about anything, since we already know how everything eventually ends. Still, due to the influence of the mind we get upset over things. Disease from within attacks as well, and therefore we think we have good reason to fear.
The third force is other living entities. It would be great to live in peace, but that is not the case. Not everyone is nice. Not everyone respects property belonging to others. Not everyone knows that cheating to get ahead is a bad idea. So wherever we go we have other living entities with whom to contend. Even if we live in an isolated area like a cave, we might get attacked by snakes.
A teaching unique to the Vedic tradition is that God appears and disappears within His creation many times. Whenever He feels like it actually, but in the Bhagavad-gita He says that He chooses to descend whenever there is a decline in religious practice and a rise in irreligion.
yadā yadā hi dharmasyaglānir bhavati bhārataabhyutthānam adharmasyatadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)
When He descends, He doesn’t always look the same. Not everyone knows who He is, either. He appears to be under the influence of the three causes of fear, but in fact He is not. He removes everyone’s fear, sometimes cleverly. In Vrindavana a long time ago, He ran away from mother Yashoda in fear. He had broken a pot of yogurt that was being churned into butter. He knew that she knew that He was the culprit. So He ran away afraid, thinking that she would punish Him.
That incident is one source of relief for the wise. Those who fear the material existence and the cycle of birth and death try to remember that incident. In the month of Kartika, which is based on the lunar calendar, devotees sing a song in honor of that incident. They glorify God in His form of Damodara for having ran away in fear. They remember how the mother chased Him and eventually caught Him.
Catching Him is the way to escape the clutches of rebirth. As soon as there is birth, there must be death. As soon as there is death, there must be fear. Krishna, the Supreme Lord who roamed the land of Vrindavana and got the name Damodara for being tied to a mortar in punishment by Yashoda, removes fear since He removes death. One who remembers Him while exiting this body never has to take birth again. Moreover, even while living in any type of body, by remembering Him they no longer fear anything, for they know He plays with those who love Him. He is happy among them, and since He can do anything, He can protect them from all kinds of danger.
Over death certainly to fear,
Since this body to me now dear.
Hurricanes and earthquakes coming,
Through disease weaker becoming.
One person all sources to drive away,
Breaking Yashoda’s yogurt pot made of clay.
Catch Him and by His protection be draped,
Who from mother’s affection could never escape.