From a lecture given at Śrī Keśavajī Gauḍīya Maṭha in Mathurā on March 8, 1994 by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja (Śrī Hari-kathāmṛta Volume Two)
In this world one who performs bhajana of Bhagavān is the most exalted; such a person is superior to millions of scholars. And the best of all devotees is he who is an exclusive devotee of Kṛṣṇa. Amongst millions of devotees of Nārāyaṇa you may find one such exclusive devotee of Kṛṣṇa—they are very glorious. Amongst them, those who are more glorious are those who reside in Vraja and serve Kṛṣṇa. Superior to them are the perfected mahātmās, and who is perfected? Those who have attained vastu-siddhi, being situated in one’s eternal spiritual form. Very exalted are those eternal devotees who are situated in dāsya-rasa. Amongst millions of such devotees there may be one rare devotee who serves in sakhya-rasa. In this collection of verses known as Bhakti-rasāyana, Sanātana Gosvāmī has described the glories of such devotees. Then he glorified even more the devotees in vātsalya-rasa, and in the verse we will discuss here he is describing the most exalted devotees, the devotees in mādhurya-rasa, the gopīs. If in his commentary to these verses he felt that he was unable to fully describe the glories of the cows and the cowherd boys, and if he felt he was unable to fully glorify Mother Yaśodā and her immense affection for Kṛṣṇa as her son as she breastfed him, then how will he possibly delineate the glories of the gopīs? Because what is the nature of the gopīs? Devotees like Brahmā and Nārada always desire to take the dust of their feet. In glorification of these gopīs, Sanātana Gosvāmī quotes this verse (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.30.43 and Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta 2.7.134):
tad-guṇān eva gāyantyo
“Those vraja-gopīs who had fully given their hearts to Śrī Kṛṣṇa would imitate his manner of speaking and his activities. Since they had offered their very souls to him and always sang his glories, they completely forgot themselves and their family interests.”
Śrīmatī Rādhikā is the supreme goddess. She is Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti or hlādinī-śakti, and the gopīs are her kāyā-vyūha, direct expansions. Amongst them, those who are nitya-siddha especially obtain her favour. In prema the gradations are sneha, praṇaya, māna, rāga, anurāga and mahābhāva. All gopīs possess mahābhāva—this is their exalted position. Their prema for Kṛṣṇa is so intense that they have forgotten their bodies, their bodily relations and everything. “Tan-manaskā”—their minds are absorbed in thoughts of him in such a way that they have forgotten all else.
An example of this takes place during the rāsa-līlā. From the very beginning Kṛṣṇa danced with each gopī and with his own hands Kṛṣṇa wiped the perspiration from each of their lotus faces. As a result most of them felt saubhāgya-mada, the pride which arises from awareness of their own good fortune. They thought, “Kṛṣṇa loves me more than he does the others.” Most gopīs felt this pride in their own good fortune, but one particular gopī displayed māna, jealous anger. At that time Kṛṣṇa saw that in those circumstances enjoying the rāsa pastime was no longer possible. It was Śrīmatī Rādhikā alone who displayed māna and left the arena of rāsa. Seeing that she was no longer present, Kṛṣṇa thought, “What purpose is there in continuing with the rāsa dance?” The word rāsa comes from rasa, meaning “devotional mellow,” and here it means “feeling ecstacy within the heart.” So Kṛṣṇa thought, “When she who gives me the highest ecstacy has gone away, how can there be rāsa?” So to pacify her and to eradicate the other gopīs’ saubhāgya-mada, he left the rāsa dance and went to Rādhikā. Then the gopīs also left the arena of rāsa and began searching for Kṛṣṇa. There are four classes of gopīs, and according to their specific bhāvas, all four types of gopīs were searching for him. After searching for some time, they noticed a trail of his footprints and they became very pleased. They thought that he must be just ahead. A little further on they saw another set of footprints alongside his. Those gopīs who were svapakṣa, belonging to Rādhikā’s clan, were delighted, and those who were vipakṣa, opposed to Rādhikā, were very unhappy, saying, “This particular gopī must have certainly worshipped him the best because, leaving all the rest of us behind, he is walking along with her alone.” But the svapakṣa-gopīs, recognising the footprints as those of Śrīmatī Rādhikā, were delighted.
By the light of the moon they continued to follow the trail until they reached a dense forest where the footprints could no longer be seen. They thought, “Having seen us following him, he has entered a dense forest to conceal his footprints. He may get thorns in his soft feet! Because it may cause him some pain, we should not go any further and should return now.” Being unable to find Kṛṣṇa, they thought they should return because it was also very dark and there was a frightening jungle ahead. But they were unable to return—why? “Tan-manaskā”—their hearts and minds were no longer with themselves. Where were their hearts and minds? With Kṛṣṇa. When they were together with Kṛṣṇa, their hearts would become immersed in his personal beauty and in his mood towards them. In this way they became “tan-manaskā.” They were not concerned about their homes and families because they were now tan-manaskā, and in reality they were so before this pastime took place. When they lived in their homes before the rāsa-līlā took place, what did the gopīs used to do? As it says in this verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.21.5):
barhāpīḍaṁ naṭa-vara-vapuḥ karṇayoḥ karṇikāraṁ
bibhrad vāsaḥ kanaka-kapiśaṁ vaijayantīṁ ca mālām
randhrān veṇor adhara-sudhayāpūrayan gopa-vṛndair
vṛndāraṇyaṁ sva-pada-ramaṇaṁ prāviśad gīta-kīrtiḥ
“The gopīs began to see Śrī Kṛṣṇa within their minds. Accompanied by his cowherd boyfriends, Śrī Kṛṣṇa entered the charming forest of Vṛndāvana. His head was decorated with a peacock feather. He wore yellow karṇikāra flowers over his ears, a golden yellow garment on his body and a beautiful, fragrant vaijayantī garland about his neck. Śrī Kṛṣṇa exhibited his supremely captivating appearance, just like the best of dancers performing upon a stage. He filled up the holes of his flute with the nectar of his lips. The cowherd boys followed behind him singing his glories, which purify the entire world. In this way, the forest of Vṛndāvana manifested even greater splendour than Vaikuṇṭha, due to being beautified by the marks of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet.”
When in their homes they would meditate on Kṛṣṇa as he is described in this verse and on the loving, rasa-laden words that he had spoken to them. Being tan-manaskā, they would glorify the good fortune of the deer: “dhanyāḥ sma mūḍha-gatayo ’pi hariṇya etā—how fortunate are those deer who can gaze at Kṛṣṇa with great love.” They would remember this and also how the rivers would offer their everything in the form of lotuses to Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet. Their absorption even reached up to the point where they would consider the girls of the Pulindya tribe to be highly fortunate. In this way, day and night they would be overwhelmed in remembering Kṛṣṇa. Even while living within their homes they would not be thinking of their children, their husbands, their cows, their household duties or even their own bodies. And after the rāsa-līlā they became even more tan-manaskā—how? Tad-ālāpā—they automatically composed songs that described Kṛṣṇa’s attributes and sang them to one another. People often speak of others’ special attributes, especially at the time of marriage and death. When someone dear to a woman has died, friends will glorify that person’s good qualities by composing original verses adorned with metre, rhymes and other poetic devices. Hearing it the woman will begin weeping bitterly. Also at the time of marriage new poems and songs are composed to describe the attributes of the bride and groom. One gopī describes to another about how Kṛṣṇa is beautiful, how he walks in such a charming fashion, and they sing about it in such a beautiful melody that the sweetness is further increased. As they do this, they become tan-manaskā.
What is the nature of their ālāpa, singing? “Kṛṣṇa deceived us and being very cruel he abandoned us”—forgetting all of this they only remembered his good qualities such as how he is kind and beautiful and how much he loves them. In the company of other gopīs they sing in beautiful voices and melodies about how sweetly Kṛṣṇa plays the flute, how beautifully he speaks with them and how he attracts their hearts towards him. Tad-viceṣṭās—they also became absorbed in Kṛṣṇa’s activities. How? They began imitating Kṛṣṇa’s gait, and lifting a stick and holding it to their lips, they stood in a threefold bending posture as he does and began imitating his playing of the flute. One imitated how Kṛṣṇa lifted Govardhana by holding her cloth aloft in her left hand in a particular way. As these kinds of feelings came to them, they would imitate a particular pastime and then experience that very pastime within themselves. In this they became completely immersed, thinking “I am Kṛṣṇa.” And just as Kṛṣṇa performs his activities, they would start behaving in precisely the same manner. One gopī grabbed another gopī who was standing nearby and, imitating Kṛṣṇa’s pastime with Pūtanā, began drinking her breast milk. Forgetting how Kṛṣṇa had committed an injustice to them by having cruelly abandoned them, they imitated his numerous charming activities.
Tad-ātmikāḥ—they became one with Kṛṣṇa’s ātmā. His body, his speaking, his movements—all are his ātmā. His bhāva is also his ātmā, and the gopīs became immersed in imitating that bhāva. Tad-guṇān eva gāyantyo nātmāgārāṇi sasmaruḥ—they sang of his attributes more and more, and not his faults such as being a thief, debauchee and so on. Singing of his qualities in this way, they forgot their homes, their bodies and even their own ātmās. In this way they became completely absorbed in Kṛṣṇa by describing his qualities and imitating his activities.
Previously in this collection of verses Sanātana Gosvāmī glorified the sakhās but this tadātmikā-bhāva doesn’t exist even within them; it is very difficult to attain this stage. Yaśodā feels intense separation from Kṛṣṇa, but we have never heard anywhere that she becomes tadātmikā and begins imitating Kṛṣṇa’s activities. She sings of Kṛṣṇa when separated from him, but she doesn’t imitate Kṛṣṇa as the gopīs do in their maddened state of separation from him. This prema is so elevated that it doesn’t exist even in vātsalya-rasa. Those in vātsalya-rasa can only experience up to anurāga. Anurāga is also very special; it is not ordinary by any means. The sakhās in sakhya-rasa also experience anurāga, but some special sakhās such as Subala, Arjuna and Lavaṅga also sometimes experience mahābhāva. Even Rukmiṇī and the other queens of Dvārakā don’t experience this. Sometimes they may experience a shadow of it, but they will never completely forget their homes and families and begin imitating Kṛṣṇa as the gopīs do. In separation from Kṛṣṇa, Yaśodā will fall unconscious, but in a conscious state she will not experience this bhāva. This exists solely within the gopīs, and that is what Sanātana Gosvāmī is showing here.
In their state of absorption the gopīs wouldn’t see any fault in Kṛṣṇa. Real prema is such that you don’t see the faults in those you love. In the upper stages of mahābhāva like prema-vaicitya and so on, this is visible in some places, but not in ordinary prema. We see this elevated standard only in the gopīs. Śrīmatī Rādhikā says (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā 20.52):
- nā gaṇi āpana-duḥkha, sabe vāñchi tāṅra sukha,
- tāṅra sukha—āmāra tātparya
- more yadi diyā duḥkha, tāṅra haila mahā-sukha,
- sei duḥkha—mora sukha-varya
“I do not mind my personal distress. I only wish for the happiness of Kṛṣṇa, for his happiness is the goal of my life. However, if he feels great happiness in giving me distress, that distress is the best of my happiness.”
While speaking amongst themselves the gopīs say, “If he left us, then why can we not leave him? Certainly we can leave him.” But the gopīs cannot imagine that they would ever really leave him. They understand that a possible reason for his having abandoned them is that perhaps he doesn’t love them as much as he loves others. The gopīs understand that he may love someone more than he loves them. Women of this world cannot tolerate this; upon discovering this they would douse themselves with petrol and set themselves afire. For women the greatest unhappiness is for their husband to leave them and love another. The gopīs feel that it doesn’t matter even if they die so long as Kṛṣṇa is happy. They say, “Even if he loves another before our eyes, he is still our prāṇanātha, the Lord of our lives.”
āśliṣya vā pāda-ratāṁ pinaṣṭu mām
adarśanān marma-hatāṁ karotu vā
yathā tathā vā vidadhātu lampaṭo
mat-prāṇa-nāthas tu sa eva nāparaḥ
“Let that debauchee (Kṛṣṇa) delight this maidservant who is attached to the service of his lotus feet by tightly embracing me. Or let him trample me, or break my heart by not being present before me. He may do whatever he likes. Even if he sports with other lovers directly in front of me, he is still my Prāṇanātha. There is no one other than him.”
There is no other example of this in any scripture, any literature or anywhere else in this world. Caitanya Mahāprabhu is saying this himself; not even his most intimate devotees such as Svarūpa Dāmodara or Rāyā Rāmananda are saying this. If Mahāprabhu had not descended into this world, these feelings would have remained hidden within Śrīmatī Rādhikā and would have never been broadcast in this world.
The gopīs say, “If Kṛṣṇa becomes attached to another and we come to know of it, what will we do? We will go to that person, become her maidservant, please her and arrange for her to meet with Kṛṣṇa.” This is possible only for the gopīs and not for any others. Even if anyone else were to do it, they would do it begrudgingly, understanding it to be their duty. Uddhava says to the gopīs, “In separation from you Kṛṣṇa is very unhappy. Tell me what message you want me to deliver to him?” When the gopīs didn’t answer, again Uddhava said, “What message should I deliver to Kṛṣṇa for you?” He expected them to say, “In separation from Kṛṣṇa we are dying, so Kṛṣṇa should come here quickly.” But the gopīs didn’t say this. In the end Uddhava said, “It is alright, I have understood your feelings. I will go to Kṛṣṇa and say that in the agony of separation from you, the gopīs are dying and having forgotten them, cruelly you are residing here, enjoying the love of Kubjā and the other residents of Mathurā. Please go there quickly, otherwise no calf, cow, vraja-vāsī or gopī will be saved.”
But the gopīs forbade him: “Don’t say that to him!”
Uddhava said, “Why? You are practically dying, yet you won’t let me tell him?”
The gopīs said, “We have heard that Kṛṣṇa is crying in the pain of separation from us, but having heard this, we are so hard-hearted that still we haven’t died. But Kṛṣṇa is different; he is softer than butter. If he hears that in separation from him his calves, cows, mother, father and gopīs are suffering terribly, what will he do? He will not be able to live any longer and he will immediately give up his life. So don’t say it. What should you say? Say this: ‘The gopīs are very happily passing their lives. Eating, drinking, laughing and dressing nicely, they are not unhappy in the least. They are living in great comfort. If you can forget us, we can forget you also.’ Go there and say this—why? So he won’t worry for us and will continue loving those others there in Mathurā. So he can live freely and peacefully, and so that no suffering will come to him and he won’t worry. If you must say more than this, then say a little today, a little tomorrow, a little the next day—why? If after washing an old piece of cloth you forcefully wring it out, it will tear. In the same way, Kṛṣṇa’s heartbeat has practically stopped in separation from us. If you tell him of our condition, his heartbeat will certainly stop. So beware, don’t tell him. Tell him a little today, a little tomorrow, a little the next day, in a gradual way so that he will be able to tolerate it.”
Upon seeing and hearing all of this, Uddhava became astonished. He thought, “Their prema is such a beautiful sentiment and such an elevated bhāva! Before today I have never even heard of such a thing. It seems that Kṛṣṇa has sent me here to Vraja to learn this, and in reality Kṛṣṇa recently said to me, “What is prema? This you should understand.”
In real love one will not want any inconvenience or difficulty whatsoever to come to his lover. Prema that is devoid of this attribute is not real prema. The prema of today that we see with all these weddings taking place—when the wife leaves the husband and falls in love with someone else, the husband shoots her dead and then kills himself also. Is there any prema in this? In the gopīs’ prema there is not even the slightest scent of selfishness. “If I die, it is nothing. My only concern is that no unhappiness comes to him.” This is pure prema. So prema for Kṛṣṇa should come from the ātmā; prema cannot take place within the body. In this world there is no such thing as prema, love.
So Uddhava returned to Kṛṣṇa and for one or two days he didn’t say anything. Then each time they met he told Kṛṣṇa a little more, and upon hearing it Kṛṣṇa became unsteady. This is real prema. Even in the stage of sādhana we should be unselfish. If we reach the point where we are doing bhajana without any selfish desires, then prema will come. Prema is also bhagavat-svarūpa, a transcendental entity endowed with free will, and in our present condition it will not enter our hearts because we would not appreciate its true value. So when no type of selfishness remains within us, then we will be practising uttamā-bhakti. At that time we will be engaged in the sādhana of uttamā-bhakti, then eventually bhāva will come, and finally prema will come. In our present condition, being situated near Kṛṣṇa and rendering direct service to him is something that is very far away from us. We can’t even imagine what is real unselfishness; we are unable to understand it. But we are doing sādhana so that this mood of true unselfishness towards Kṛṣṇa will come to us. While remaining within this world, we should continue practising sādhana in the association of those great personalities who have actually become devoid of selfishness. Then we will be able to imagine at least something of the nature of true unselfishness.
No one can say that Kṛṣṇa is cruel. When the gopīs met Kṛṣṇa at Kurukṣetra, Kṛṣṇa said, “I understand and you also understand that I am very, very cruel. I abandoned all of you. You renounced the shackles of household life and everything else just for me, but being so cruel I abandoned all of you and went to such a distant land, Dvārakā. Not even once did I inquire after your welfare. I am very ungrateful, you should understand this.” At first the gopīs simply remained silent. They could not say, “You are cruel.” Then they said, “This is simply fate, so why do you say that you are cruel? You have a very soft nature. The prema that exists within you is real prema. You are not at all cruel. Whatever virtues there are within this entire universe exist within you. You are very benevolent, kind, everything. It is our great misfortune that such a virtuous person as yourself abandoned us. This is the fault of our karma and our great misfortune. You are not at fault.”
There are two possibilities in these words being spoken by the gopīs here. They may be taunting him with sarcastic words or it could be that they are speaking in this way because they have such simple hearts. But in any condition whatsoever there is no possibility of cruelty ever entering Kṛṣṇa’s heart. As we examine this instance from our low position in sādhana, what can we understand? Why did Kṛṣṇa abandon the gopīs and go away, leaving this land of love, Vṛndāvana? Abandoning his mother Yaśodā and making everyone unhappy—why? We cannot understand this now. By practising sādhana more and more and eventually attaining an understanding of what is true selflessness, and after that understanding Kṛṣṇa’s selfishness, then only will we be able to understand kṛṣṇa-prema.
Insects are attracted to a lamp and give up their lives on the hot bulb. Why do they do it? Remove a fish from water and it cannot remain alive for long. The gopīs are precisely like this. This is called the bhāva of tan-manaskā and that is what is being described here. See how the insect gives its own life in the light and how the fish cannot live out of water; similarly a premī devotee offers his very self to Kṛṣṇa. This is the real definition of prema, so it is not such an easy thing. When by doing bhajana more and more we completely overcome our bodily identification and our many bad qualities such as lust, anger, greed, delusion, envy and madness, which are actually the symptoms of selfishness, and when we accept the thoughts and sentiments of the gopīs and meditate upon Kṛṣṇa and sing about his attributes as they do, then that prema will enter our hearts and we will be able to understand all these things. Then we will have selfless love for Kṛṣṇa. There is no doubt that by attentively hearing these narrations and by following this path of bhakti sincerely, the result will be very beautiful indeed.
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