Some explain Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s līlās as follows. Śrī Kṛṣṇa simply acts in His līlās like in a play. He also wrote the script of the play – so the whole līlā is just an act supervised by Him.
Śrī Viśvanātha does not agree with such explanations, as we shall see below.
In the famous Dāmodara līlā, we see that Śrī Kṛṣṇa becomes afraid of Yaśoda. Is His fear just an act? Consider the verse 10.9.19 toward the end of the Dāmodara līlā from the Bhāgavata:
evaṁ sandarśitā hy aṅga hariṇā bhṛtya-vaśyatā | sva-vaśenāpi kṛṣṇena yasyedaṁ seśvaraṁ vaśe ||
O King, The entire world along with its controllers is under His control. Even though He is independent, Hari showed in this manner that He possesses the nature of being under the control of His servants.
Śrī Viśvanātha comments in a rather long sentence which we translate below.
evaṁ hariṇā svasya ātmārāmatvepi bubhukṣayā pūrṇa-kāmatvepy atṛptyā śuddha-satva-svarūpatvepi kopena svārājya-lakṣmīvatvepi cauryeṇa mahā-kāla-yamādi-bhayadatvepi bhaya-palāyanābhyāṁ manograyānatvepi mātrā balād-grahaṇena ānandamayatvepi duḥkha-rodanena sarva-vyāpakatvepi bandhanena bhakta-vaśyatā svābhāviky eva svasya samyak darśitā ajñān prati darśanāya upayogābhāvāt brahma-bhava-sanatkumārādīn vijñānam apy aticamatkāraṁ prāpayyānubhāviteti nedam anukaraṇa-mātratvena vyākhyeyaṁ.
Hari showed that He possesses the nature of being under the control of His servants (bhakta-vaśyatā). [This bhakta-vaśyatā is seen in the fact that] He is an ātmārāma (self-satisfied) but still gets hungry, all his desires are completely fulfilled but still He is unsatisfied, His essence is śuddha-satva but He still gets angry, He is the master of all transcendental abodes but He steals, He is the source of fear for Mahā-kāla, Yama and others, but He is fearful and runs [from His mother], He is faster than the speed of the mind, but He is caught forcibly by His mother, He is bliss personified but cries out of distress, He pervades everything but is bound. [The tā suffix on bhakta-vaśyatā implies that] His being under the control of His bhaktas is natural (svābhāvikī). He showed this natural subordination to His devotees, that is to say, He caused the Kumāras starting with Sanat Kumāra, the sons of Brahma, to achieve this knowledge and to experience His greatly astonishing nature. This [knowledge and experience] is not meant for the ignorant as they are incapable of understanding it [so it was meant specifically for great people like the Kumāras]. One should not explain His behavior as mere acting.
The essence of Śrī Viśvanātha’s explanation is that Śrī Kṛṣṇa displays bewildering and contradictory behavior which is in His very nature. For example, He is apta-kāma- fully self-satisfied, but still He got angry when His mother put Him aside while feeding Him milk; He was not yet satisfied with drinking the milk. Śrī Viśvanātha specifically writes that His contradictory behavior should not be misconstrued to be acting.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa is truly afraid of Yaśoda when she chases after Him with a stick. If He was just pretending that He was afraid, then the Dāmodara līlā becomes meaningless. That He who can know no fear, is afraid, is the very cause of camatkāra – extreme astonishment – in the Dāmodara līlā! This is why the līlā causes astonishment to all those great souls like the Kumāras who hear it. The Kumāras know who Śrī Kṛṣṇa is, and therefore they are amazed and they derive great bliss from hearing the līlā.
Indeed, the fact that His bhaktas control Him is precisely what makes Kṛṣṇa-līlā relishable for the great bhaktas. It is also what makes Kṛṣṇa-līlā impenetrable to the vast majority of people who cannot understand the fuss. What’s the greatness in being afraid of being punished by one’s mother? Everyone has experienced that!