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A Devotee of Lord Krishna, Rather than an Animal...

Why Yamaraja?
Question: In their prayers, our acaryas are often expressing their disappointment of not feeling any attraction for Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda, and that consequently, they are being punished by Yamaraja, due to their attraction to sense gratification. Why are they specifically mentioning Yamaraja?

Answer: I think it is a rhetorical question, an expression. It is in a spirit of ecstatic desperation, the feeling of how it’s possible that I am in this unfortunate condition. I should be so fortunate, and yet I am so unfortunate. How is it possible? There can be only one explanation: I am being punished by Yamaraja. And also of course the idea is there that acaryas… There is a paradox… Acaryas generally feel this way and simultaneously teach what is an appropriate feeling to have. So, there is a didactic purpose, because again, and again, and again these songs are emphasizing humility, feeling low, and looking high.

—His Holiness Krishna Kshetra Swami at the Saturday Sanga (online) on 14.01.2023


A Devotee of Lord Krishna, Rather than an Animal: an Ideal Case of Species Boundary-crossing as Human-Nonhuman Animal Cooperation
In 2008, at the Care For Cows goshala in Vrindavan, the ox (of Kankrej breed) named Krishna died. It had been seven years since Krishna had twice walked a circuit around the entire coast of India and across the north, from east to west, over a period of ten years, together with his counterpart ox, Balaram. These journeys were with a padayatra—a walking procession, enacted as part of the Chaitanya-ite Vaishnava mission to bring Krishna- bhakti (the message of devotion to Lord Krishna) to villages throughout the country.

On being suddenly retired from his service of pulling the padayatra cart “(Krishna, the ox) protested by being irritated and unruly for almost a year. We brushed him for hours, took him for long walks and built him a cart, but nothing seemed to pacify him.”Eventually, he was calm again (possibly because of “bonding” with a goshala co-resident cow, Vanamali). Thereafter, the ox contracted cancer in his horns, gradually lost interest in eating, and lost his ability to stand. After a peaceful death, several friends of Care For Cows gathered to help bury him. The newsletter report continues,

After being placed in the grave, about twenty-five devotees [Krishna- bhaktas] offered Ganges water, flowers and incense and began to circum- ambulate him in kirtan [singing divine names]. With moist eyes we all filled our hands with Vrindavan dust and showered it all over his body.

[Sanak-Sanatan Das, from Germany, recalled with wonder the ox’s death, and the fact that he happened to be present at that moment, feeling that the ox had “called” him. “After I arrived, Krishna started stirring as if wanting to stand, lifted his head to the sky, opened his mouth, and expired”.... We, Krishna - the ox, and myself, had been really, really good friends. I had purchased him together with Balaram, I had donated him to the padayatra project, I grew up with him for almost ten years.” Regarding his experience of friendship with the ox, Sanak-Sanatan Das goes on to tell of the ox’s remarkable friendship with his counterpart, Balaram. “They were more like lovers, Krishna taking the feminine role and Balaram the masculine role. We used to call them Mr. and Mrs. Patel.”]

This strikingly handsome ox, with the very large horns of the Kankrej breed and his ten years of padayatra cart-pulling service, made him much admired—so much so that letters of condolence were received from around the world. Further, the family sponsoring his maintenance after retirement also sponsored the construction of a permanent memorial structure, a samadhi, in his honor. The final paragraph of the newsletter article speaks of him as a devotee of Lord Krishna, rather than as an animal:

Krishna is an inspiring example of one who served selflessly to spread the Holy Name to every town and village. His passing in Vrindavan at an auspicious moment, in the company of well-wishers and without excessive suffering attests to his greatness. May he remember us favorably as we continue to struggle in this material world.

“May he remember us favorably” is a telling reminder of the pan-Indic notion that the atemporal self continues after the body dies. There is also an indication of the conviction that this particular being, temporarily in a bovine body, had attained after death the much coveted destination of Goloka Vrindavan, by virtue of having died in the earthly land of Vrindavan.

I call attention to this account because it articulates a Vaishnava Hindu understanding of what the perfect future for an individual being—bovine or otherwise—would be, following death. Another way of putting it, I suggest, is that this particular bovine was regarded as having attained what we might call “full citizenship,” in the only realm where it is possible, namely, beyond the realm of temporality. In the temporal realm, any citizenship status for any beings, including humans, can at best be an approximation, for it is contingent upon changing factors. Also to be noted is the sense of satisfaction that the human carers for this particular ox had, that they had properly done their parts in facilitating the best possible conditions for the remainder of his life. In this case, a sense of perfect human–animal cooperation reached a summit secured by bhakti—dedication in sharing lives across the species boundary to please the supreme person.

[In the CFC newsletter, it is also mentioned that after Krishna’s second tour of India, three senior persons who felt responsible for him discussed at length whether he should be allowed to go on a third tour. Knowing that he was getting older, they decided not to risk that his life might end outside Vrindavan, instead having him remain where they saw he would be best cared for.]

Finally, this is an example of what as seen as an ideal case of species boundary-crossing as human/nonhuman animal cooperation. As such, it is seen as a demonstration that it is possible to transcend the “discourse of lines,” the discourse that permits humans to see nonhuman animal bodies as parsable, or divisible, to serve human ends (in a doomed attempt of humans to make themselves whole, de-alienated). This, then, becomes dharma in the deeper sense: The dharmic sensibility is a recognition of agency and choice that enables us humans to “access hidden possibilities and bring them under our control”. In this case, the “hidden possibility” is the potential to transcend the species boundary as well as the boundary of death by caring for a being in a dying bovine body in hopes of ushering him towards a permanent life beyond suffering.

—From “Cow Care in Hindu Animal Ethics” by Kenneth R. Valpey, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020