Four Puzzling Contradictions From Vedic Culture

[Yashoda and Krishna]“When the gopis saw little Krishna fearlessly playing on Putana’s lap, they very quickly came and picked Him up. Mother Yashoda, Rohini, and other elderly gopis immediately performed the auspicious rituals by taking the tail of a cow and circumambulating His body. The child was completely washed with the urine of a cow, and the dust created by the hooves of the cows was thrown all over His body. This was all just to save little Krishna from future inauspicious accidents.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 6)

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Don’t just accept blindly. Apply intellect, which incorporates logic and reasoning. Utilize every advantage afforded the human birth. Don’t simply fall into the ways of the animal, whose primary focus is eating, sleeping, mating and defending.

कच्चिद् एतच् छ्रुतं पार्थ
त्वयैकाग्रेण चेतसा
कच्चिद् अज्ञान-सम्मोहः
प्रणष्टस् ते धनञ्जय

kaccid etac chrutaṁ pārtha
tvayaikāgreṇa cetasā
kaccid ajñāna-sammohaḥ
praṇaṣṭas te dhanañjaya

“O conqueror of wealth, Arjuna, have you heard this attentively with your mind? And are your illusions and ignorance now dispelled?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.72)

The grand-teacher, the adi-guru, Shri Krishna, even leaves the choice up to the student. He does not force Arjuna to take the route of pure devotion, bhakti, abandoning all dharmas in favor of service to the Supreme Lord. Sure, that is the recommendation, but the superior option is the one first carefully deliberated upon.

If the mind is to be used in learning and subsequently adopting Vedic culture, how to resolve the many conflicts? Some of them are more puzzling than others.

1. Animal products are unclean and yet cow byproducts are used frequently

Don’t touch the bone of an animal. Especially don’t go anywhere near the waste left by a living being. That is only common sense, but there are strict rules enforced in order to drive the point home. If a person should happen to come in contact during the day, the recommendation is to bathe immediately thereafter.

At the same time, one of the commonly seen items amongst the paraphernalia of formal worship is the conch. This is the bone of a living being and yet it is even used by Shri Krishna to signal the beginning of hostilities on the field associated with religion, Kurukshetra.

पाञ्चजन्यं हृषीकेशो
देवदत्तं धनञ्जयः
पौण्ड्रं दध्मौ महा-शङ्खं
भीम-कर्मा वृकोदरः

pāñcajanyaṁ hṛṣīkeśo
devadattaṁ dhanañjayaḥ
pauṇḍraṁ dadhmau mahā-śaṅkhaṁ
bhīma-karmā vṛkodaraḥ

“Then, Lord Krishna blew His conchshell, called Panchajanya; Arjuna blew his, the Devadatta; and Bhima, the voracious eater and performer of Herculean tasks, blew his terrific conchshell called Paundram.” (Bhagavad-gita, 1.15)

Devotees blow the conch at the beginning and end of formal worship ceremonies in the temple. The resulting sound is considered auspicious. Everyone is called to attention, to revive their original consciousness and contemplate on the transcendental features of the Absolute. The practice resembles Krishna ascending Govardhana Hill and playing His flute in order to catch the attention of the cows and calves who had gone astray in the fields of Vrindavana.

More extreme in this direction is the use of cow dung and cow urine. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we find the story of Putana and Krishna. That horrible witch devised a plot to kill Krishna, but no one can eliminate God, no matter how hard they try. The end result was Putana’s demise, and afterwards mother Yashoda worried that her infant son might have been contaminated through contact with the witch.

[Yashoda and Krishna]In addition to chanting the names of Vishnu for Krishna’s protection, she poured cow urine over Him. Though she did not know it, the mother was actually performing an abhisheka, no different than what occurs in the temple. She was bathing the deity, and with a substance that would be considered grossly impure had it come from any other living being.

2. Told to follow dharma but Krishna is the worst offender

Incorporated in surrender to God the person is abandonment of attachment to the material world. The strongest attachment in that illusion is sex life. In truth, it is nothing more than a dream or false reality, such as that depicted on the large and small screens.

The recommendation makes sense. The more I am free from illusion, the more clearly I can contemplate the purpose of my existence. I am better situated to understand the sometimes complex truths of Vedic culture. I can further tap into the amazing potential of intelligence that is there from the time of birth.

Yet we see from Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana that He seemingly did not follow dharma to the letter. As a child He stole butter from the homes of the neighbors. Later on He danced with young, married girls in the forest under the brightest moon of the year, Sharada Purnima.

[Krishna stealing butter]On the one side we are taught to break free of illicit sex desire and on the other the object of worship is seemingly indulging it. Other possible areas of confusion are the fighting in Kurukshetra and Krishna’s fleeing the battlefield against the aggressor named Jarasandha.

3. Devotees should respect life and Arjuna is one of the greatest takers of life

Ahimsa is one of the qualities mentioned by Krishna that signals Divine life. Non-violence; do not unnecessarily cause harm to others. Respect life wherever it is found. From the world-famous politician down to the tiny ant, there is no justification to kill indiscriminately.

At the same time, Shri Krishna advised Arjuna to proceed in a war. The end result was millions of deaths, with Arjuna and his brothers leading the way in hit count. If the successful attacks transferred to a video game, the Pandavas would have the highest score.

4. God is without features and yet His eyes are everywhere

The Sanskrit descriptions are nirguna and saguna. By themselves these words are contradictory. They mean the opposite of each other. As they both apply to Shri Krishna, a person does not have to expend much effort in finding a paradox.

“The Lord is personal although impersonal, He is atomic although great, and He is blackish and has red eyes although He is colorless.” (Kurma Purana)

The idea is that the Divine side is always beyond the material world, which features logic and reasoning associated with mental capacity. Consider time and space. Both are infinite in nature, and infinity can never be properly understood.

The nirguna and saguna descriptions are for helping us understand God. He is always without material qualities, as nothing can bind Him to a temporary world. He is also with transcendental features, such as a face, hands and legs. The difference is that those features extend well beyond the typical limits. Krishna has eyes, but they are everywhere. He has ears that can hear every single prayer offered to Him.

Contradictions will surely be found, as this world is full of complex issues that are difficult to resolve. The mind is a material element, so it can be used for furthering the purpose of human life. At the same time, Divine life is beyond the material elements. The seemingly contradictory teachings get resolved through further immersion in the culture, which can be easily established today through the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

To apply intellect persuaded,

But sometimes logic evaded.

Like bone of animal unclean,

But cow urine on Krishna seen.

Follow dharma for advancement’s sake,

But Yashoda’s son butter to take.

Contradictions in world of duality sure,

Invest in culture for realization pure.

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