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by Deepak Shimkhada, Ph.D.

Gur, gur, gur, gur…… 

Yashoda churns butter while she sings a song.  There is no one around.  It seems Yashoda is enjoying what she is doing.  Nirmala, her neighbor comes in looking for her.  As their eyes meet, Nirmala complains.  

“You better restrain your darling Kanhaiya, or else I will spank him — if I can get my hands on him.  I was away this morning to fetch water.  When I returned home I found the butter pot on the floor, broken, and the butter gone.  Who else but your Kanhaiya would do such a prank?  I am warning you for the last time that this has to stop.  This is the third time he has broken my pot, and I am running out of pots.”

Yashoda said, “My little Kanhaiya loves freshly-churned butter. That’s why I am churning more.”

“But why doesn’t he come to me to ask for it?  I would gladly give it to him.  Why does he have to break the pot in order to eat it?”

“My Kanhaiya is not destructive. The pot is too heavy for him to carry. So he may have dropped the clay pot. Not to worry, Nirmala, I will gladly replace all the pots he has broken.”

“That is not the point, Yashoda. These clay pots are quite inexpensive and I can replace them myself. But the point is stealing and breaking. Why does he do that?” 

“That’s part of his play (lila). There is more fun in stealing from another person’s home than taking it from his own home. Stealing involves planning, a certain amount of daring and the fear of getting caught. There is no excitement doing all this at home. Do you see all this butter?  It is all there for him. But he doesn’t take them. That’s why he keeps breaking into your home just for the sake of excitement. He will take my butter only if he can’t find any butter in your or Savitri’s homes.” 

Nirmala commented, “Your little Kanhaiya has made you blind to see his pranks because these pranks are not cute as you consider them.”

“Nirmala, you are true, all mothers get blinded by their love for their little children. Yes, I have to admit that I too have been blinded by my love for him. He is such a charming little boy that I find cute and funny anything that he does. You wouldn’t understand this because you have no children. You have to be a mother to understand what I am talking about. But don’t worry, it would not last long. He will stop doing these pranks as he grows older. Then I will miss his childhood pranks done innocently.”

 “No wonder your little Kanhaiya is putting on weight because he has been stealing butter from my kitchen,” Nirmala quipped.

“True, he feels heavy these days when I carry him in my arms.  But he looks darling with his puffy cheeks and puffy thighs.”

“Is this your first pot of butter that you are churning, Yashoda?”

“No, this is my second pot, and I have two more to go.”

Nirmala said, “You must be tired by all the house chores you perform daily, including churning butter. Doesn’t all that make you exhausted?”

“Not really, it gives me a great deal of joy to make my Kanhaiya happy.  As you know, he loves to eat freshly-churned butter.”

“I should know because he comes to my home to steal my butter whenever I am away,” Nirmala said.

Nirmala got the courage to ask, “Why do you enjoy churning so much butter?  Isn’t that a drudgery?”

“Not really. When you enjoy the work, any amount of labor you put in turns into delight. I really don’t realize the time going by.”

“Not me, I find churning butter a real drudgery. I wish I could say the same thing. Yashoda, you seem to be a woman in heaven.”

“Yes, the sound of churning puts me in heaven. The soothing sound of gur, gur and gur when I pull the rope to churn transports me to a place of ananda (joy). I feel relaxed by the repetitive motion and sound. So when I am at work my mind is fixed on the act rather than on the result. Each time I extract butter I pile it up in a pot. It gives me a sense of accomplishment when the pot is full.  My heart too swells with joy. Besides, its sound draws me closer to the lila of Vishnu. I do everything for him. This churning itself is a lila.”

“What’s lila, please explain

“Lila is play. I am sure you remember your childhood when we used to play, pretending to be what we were not. Didn’t that give you a great deal of joy?”

“Yes, it did. I miss it now.” Nirmala replied. 

“Indeed, Nirmala, there is time for everything. As we don’t play the same game as we did when we were young, my little Kanhaiya too will stop playing his childhood lila.”

Yashoda continued, “So you see, everything that we see is God’s lila. This earth and the cosmos are the result of that lila. In that sense, this whole world is lila. We are just the actors. We perform our roles and leave when the curtain of life comes down.”

“Please tell me more about lila as it relates to Kanhaiya’s pranks.”

“Suppose for a moment that an adult came into your home while you were away and stole your butter and broke your pots. You wouldn’t find that an innocent prank, do you? You wouldn’t consider that to be a lila, either. In fact, you would consider that a crime—although a  minor one. But when Kanhaiya does it, he does it for his entertainment with no malice or with no intention of making a profit. That’s lila in which he involves his friends and you and me as well.”

“I see your point, Kanhaiya’s innocent play performed for his own sake and for others is then lila. For choosing my house as his playground I am honored. I am now part of his lila because I came to you to complain about his pranks. From now on, I will not complain about his stealing. I would like to watch him enjoy my butter by hiding from a corner. His enjoyment would give me a great delight (ananda). I am sure.”

“I am rather curious to hear from you, Yashoda, how the sound of churning puts you in a state of bliss. I too churn butter, but it has never put me in that state you describe.”

Yashoda said, “Maybe you take your work as drudgery and hence you don’t enjoy it. To make it lila you must listen to the sound of churning, you should pay attention to how the rudder moves. You should also move your body with the rhythm of the rudder as you pull the rope. The sound it produces is the sound of the cosmos at the time of creation. The cosmos too churns on an unimaginable scale. The churning of the butter is thus the same cosmic churning on a micro scale.  Without churning nothing happens, nothing is created. You must churn to create.”

“Nirmala, you have heard the story of Samundramanthana, haven’t you?  The gods and demons churned the ocean of milk for a thousand years to obtain many good things. But out of that cosmic churning a deadly poison also came.” 

“I heard the story from Pundit Ramananda last year when my uncle held the Bhagavata Purana Saptah at his home. But people were more interested in singing and dancing during the intervals than listening to the stories. So, what happened when the amrita was finally produced from the ocean of milk?” 

“Well, Nirmala, that is an interesting story. As soon as Dhanvantari emerged from the bottom of the ocean carrying a pot of amrita, he was attacked by the danavas (demons) trying to take the amrita away for themselves.”

“Did they manage to do that?”

“Fortunately, no. Vishnu intervened and saved the day.”

“How? Please tell me more.”

“If the danavas had managed to drink amrita, they would have become stronger and more powerful and that would be the death of goodness and truth. More suffering would prevail the earth. Hence, to stop danavas from drinking amrita, Vishnu took the form of Mohini, a very beautiful and enchanting lady. The danavas were so mesmerized with Mohini’s beauty that they forgot about amrita. While they were smitten by Mohini’s beauty, she took the amrita from Dhanvantari and asked the assembly of gods and danavas to sit down in a circle. She then promised to distribute amrita to all the individuals present. Ingeniously, however, Mohini began to distribute amrita to the gods first. Half way through the process, Rahu—one of the danavas—realized that the amrita would be finished by the time Mohini arrived where the danavas were seated. So he, with the help of magical power, assumed the form of a deva and sat between Chandra (Moon) and Surya (Sun). Taking him as a god, Mohini placed a drop of amrita in his mouth. But at that moment Chandra and Surya realized Rahu’s true identity and reported it to Mohini who instantly cut Rahu’s head off. Although Rahu’s head was cut off, he became immortal since he had already ingested the vital elixir called amrita.”

“No wonder the danavas were so determined to drink it. But why didn’t the gods want to share amrita with the demons?”

 “That’s a good question, Nirmala. Amrita is an elixir that gives gods vigor to do good. But the same amrita will make the danavas immortal, and as you can see, Nirmala, if the danavas became immortal that would change the dynamics of the world. The evil would prevail and that would only give the danavas the perennial power to cause more suffering to humanity with their atrocities. Our world already has evil and more of it would make the lives of all living beings miserable and unbearable.”  

“Please tell me, Yashoda, is everything we do a kind of churning?” 

“Yes, Nirmala.  Churning comes in many forms. Let me explain, when we villagers come together to discuss an issue, we churn our minds and thoughts to seek solutions. Out of that collective churning emerges the right solution. When our neighbor Ravi Das writes a poem, his mind churns to find the right words to make his poem beautiful. And when your friend Savitri draws beautiful rangoli in front of her house, she focuses her mind on applying colors in the right places without making any mistakes. This too is a kind of churning.”

“Thank you, Yashoda, for educating me. Today I learned a great deal about lila and churning. Now let me return to my home to churn my butter. I don’t want to disappoint our little Kanhaiya when he comes to my kitchen looking for butter. There are so many things to do, but so little time.”

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