stealing butter

over toast & butter, swami gopalananda reflects on the hidden agenda of his not-so-innocent namesake

illustration by sam weber,

excerpted from the print magazine…

It’s late, rather late, after evening satsang. I just came to the ashram’s kitchen for some toast and cocoa. This is a usual occurrence for me and one that I rather enjoy; heating the milk for the cocoa, spreading lots of butter onto the toast and maybe dribbling a little honey on top.

I sit in the dining room in the half-light, the moon shining in the window, and contemplate while I eat. The room is absolutely still and quiet like the night. I savour the moment.

I have been a swami for fourteen years now. Swami can mean many things, but in my case it means one who has been initiated into an order of sanyas, the path of renunciation. Actually my sanyas birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks so I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I am named after the butter thief – Gopala.

Gopala means “protector of the cows” and is one of the thousand names of Krishna, the blue-skinned Indian god. You could say he has a name to suit every mind that beholds him, which when you think about it is rather considerate. But why would that be? If the power that we call god (or Consciousness with a capital “C” as I like to call it) is beyond name and form, and much more than our minds can grasp, then we think of god according to our own idea of what god is – in our own image of god. But these images can be difficult to relate to unless they are somehow engaging and emotionally satisfying. It is the emotions that build a bridge to god in whatever form we are drawn to.

In time, the Light of understanding and love will begin to glow in the heart and the need for a concrete image of god lessens. Until that happens, though, an image can be very helpful. An image of god or Consciousness that is very endearing to me is baby Gopala. Yes, I have an affinity with a butter thief.

Swami Gopalananda started yoga 23 years ago when he moved to Yasodhara Ashram in British Columbia. His book, Can you Listen to a Woman (timeless books, 1999) describes his meeting with Swami Radha, and the experiences that gave him a taste for the sweetness of spiritual life in yoga.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life