“O Lord Damodara, I first of all offer my obeisances to the brilliantly effulgent rope which binds Your belly. I then offer my obeisances to Your belly, which is the abode of the entire universe. I humbly bow down to Your most beloved Shrimati Radharani, and I offer all obeisances to You, the Supreme Lord, who displays unlimited pastimes.” (Shri Damodarashtaka, 8)
namas te ‘stu dāmne sphurad-dīpti-dhāmne
tvadīyodarāyātha viśvasya dhāmne
namo rādhikāyai tvadīya-priyāyai
namo ‘nanta-līlāya devāya tubhyam
If you could define an existence in one word what would it be? What is the fundamental difference between an object that is animate and one that is not? Both the moving and nonmoving would have to be included in the category of animate beings. Though it takes a long time for the tree to change shape, we can still tell the difference between one that is alive and one that is not.
mayādhyakṣeṇa prakṛtiḥsūyate sa-carācaramhetunānena kaunteyajagad viparivartate
“This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.10)
According to the Bhagavad-gita, all beings come from the same source. That which we see manifest before us gets created and annihilated again and again, repeating in cycles. Through outward symptoms we can perceive that both the moving and the nonmoving have spirit inside of them. It is this spirit which defines their existence, and that spirit is rooted in the Supreme Spirit, the source of everything.
Spirit is what makes an existence, but how do you define the living experience? Is there one word that can accurately describe it? Consciousness seems to fit nicely. There are varying degrees of it for sure. The consciousness of a cat is different from the consciousness of a human being. The tree apparently lacks consciousness, but we’re not entirely sure, since we can’t measure it. We know for sure that the living being is conscious all the time, even while sleeping.
“At night we forget about the gross body, and the subtle body alone works. As we dream we are taken away from our home, from our bed, to some other place, and we completely forget the gross body. When our sleep is over we forget about the dream and become attached again to the gross body. This is going on in our daily experience.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, 6.3)
If we go another step, we see that to have consciousness means to always be thinking of something. That’s right, no matter where you are, no matter what your surroundings look like, no matter which portion of the timeline of life you choose to analyze, there will always be thought. The knowledge acquiring senses help to shape, direct and manipulate consciousness, but the thinking factor is a constant.
The thoughts in the head determine how one copes with a situation. Internally, there is no difference between the person staying in a room all day versus the person who is outside taking in different scenery. In both situations the mind is constantly working. The same goes for the situation of watching television versus sitting in the same room with the television off. Thoughts are there in each; just the surroundings are different. The surroundings, i.e. the visible objects that can potentially shape thought, are different.
The person afraid of being left alone with their thoughts does not like to be stuck in the same surroundings. They like to go outside at least once a day. They like to have an escape, a physical place to go that takes them away mentally at the same time. It would seem in bhakti-yoga, then, that the surroundings make enjoyment a reward lying far away in the distance. After all, the term “yoga” brings to mind some type of concentration. You’re either sitting in a weird position on the floor or breathing and focusing on something for an extended period of time. How are you going to be happy? How are you going to keep from going crazy? How are you going to fill your head with pleasant thoughts if you’re not moving?
Ah, we have now stumbled upon the secret to bhakti-yoga. There are many ways to define the Sanskrit term, and one of them can be “the discipline that leaves you with an overabundance of pleasant thoughts.” That is correct; there are too many pleasing things to think about. You are overrun. Your mind works constantly, and thus needs so much to ponder, and in bhakti-yoga you get many lifetimes’ worth of subject matter. And even then the mind is not fully satisfied.
The Damodarashtaka of Satyavrata Muni shows how this works. In the last verse, the muni offers praise to the rope that was used by mother Yashoda to tie Krishna to a mortar as punishment for having broken a pot of yogurt. Krishna is the speaker of the aforementioned Gita, and while His words reveal His unmatched wisdom, you might be surprised to know that prior to His speaking that famous work He was a seemingly helpless child in the farm community of Vrindavana. Yashoda did not care for His intelligence, nor His strength. She did not care for His protests, either. She was the loving mother and she was not going to get bullied by her son. She knew better what was good for Him.
Part of parenting is punishing. If you don’t show your authority from time to time, what good are you to the child who needs to learn about how life works? Krishna broke a pot of yogurt on purpose, out of anger, and then ran away since He knew that He had done something wrong. Yashoda chased after Him and finally tied Him to a mortar. The ropes were not tightly bound, and in fact it was only due to Krishna’s sanction that they finally fit around Him.
The muni also gives praise to the belly of Krishna. Since that belly was used in this famous pastime, the new name He earned was Damodara. The muni also praises Shrimati Radharani, who is Krishna’s eternal consort. We’re starting to see the pattern. Krishna is God. He is the abstract behind the vague notion that every person has of a supreme deity, though they may not be willing to acknowledge it. He is the person behind the seemingly impersonal material nature. He is the person who hears and sees everything.
As a person, He can come and go, doing things along the way. So in bhakti-yoga you have so many thoughts of God the person and what He does. But it doesn’t stop there. Since God the person does so many things, there are associates too. Yashoda is one of them. She does many things. From a single incident, a muni got a lifetime’s worth of thoughts. Krishna being tied to the mortar gave him thoughts of Yashoda, of Vrindavana, of the personal side to God, of the cycle of birth and death, of the living entity’s position with respect to all that is around them, of the highest reward in life, and of other things as well.
The single incident elicited thoughts of the people who love Krishna so much. Radharani, who also lives in Vrindavana, excels in this love. One could spend a lifetime thinking of her alone. Then there is the time that Krishna and Radha spend together. There is Krishna’s Bhagavad-gita, which is spoken on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to the warrior named Arjuna. There are Krishna’s personal incarnations who also appear on earth, who have their own pastimes and corresponding associates. Thus the mind which must think at every second can be overrun with pleasant thoughts, should the choice in favor of bhakti-yoga be made. The wise always make this choice, and they make things easier for others through the works they author and distribute.
Whether sitting alone or to other place brought,
No matter time, mind never without a thought.
From change or entertainment one thing to expect,
Pleasing the mind, the consciousness to affect.
In bhakti-yoga a plethora find,
Of pleasant things for contemplating mind.
In Vrindavana from single Damodara’s play,
To thoughts of Yashoda, Radha and bhakti gave way.