Chapter 2: Defining Bhakti

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 21

yathā vraja-gopikānām


yathāas; vraja — of Vraja; gopikānām — of the cowherd women.


The cowherd women of Vraja are an example of pure bhakti.


In Sūtra 19, Nārada gave the ultimate definition of bhakti. This has led him inevitably to mention the topmost of all devotees, the gopīs of Vraja. Nārada might have mentioned other renowned bhaktas, such as Uddhava, Arjuna, Prahlāda Mahārāja, or mother Yaśodā, but he has chosen to give the singular example of the gopīs. Nārada's opinion is shared by all realized Vaiṣṇavas, because the gopīs are renowned as the best lovers of Lord Kṛṣṇa. The gopīs are most exalted because they gave everything, and sacrificed everything, for their beloved. As Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja writes in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi 4.167-69),

Social customs, scriptural injunctions, bodily demands, fruitive action, shyness, patience, bodily pleasures, self-gratification on the path of varṇāśrama-dharma, which is difficult to give up — the gopīs have forsaken all these, along with their families, and suffered their relatives' punishment and scolding, all for the sake of serving Lord Kṛṣṇa. They render loving service to Him for the sake of His enjoyment.

The gopīs' rasa with Kṛṣṇa is mādhurya, or conjugal love. But even bhaktas who worship the Lord in other rasas acknowledge the supermost place of the gopīs in the kingdom of bhakti. Nārada Muni, for example, usually associates with Lord Kṛṣṇa in His opulent features in Vaikuṇṭha or Dvārakā. In his exchanges with Lord Kṛṣṇa, Nārada often praises the Lord's inconceivable opulence. For example, once when Nārada visited Kṛṣṇa in many of His sixteen thousand palaces, he was astonished to see how the Lord had expanded Himself so He could be alone with each of His queens. "Your transcendental position is always inconceivable to everyone," said Nārada. "As far as I am concerned, I can simply offer my respectful obeisances to You again and again" (Kṛṣṇa, p. 603). Since Nārada is one of the Lord's learned and intimate devotees, he is aware that the gopīs exemplify the topmost expression of love for Kṛṣṇa. Similarly, devotees such as Śukadeva Gosvāmī, Bhīṣmadeva, and Vyāsadeva appreciate the gopīs' exalted position.

Even the impersonalists are attracted to Kṛṣṇa's loving affairs with the gopīs, although they cannot understand them. Attempting to praise the gopīs of Vṛndāvana, one impersonalist "Swami" said, "Gopī-līlā is the acme of the religion of love, in which individuality vanishes and there is communion." But it's not a fact that "individuality vanishes," either for the gopīs or for any other living entity. As we have pointed out above, Lord Kṛṣṇa clearly and repeatedly states that both His individuality and the living entities' are eternal. The gopīs did, however, completely lose their selfish interest — their interest became entirely one with Lord Kṛṣṇa's. To consider the gopīs' rāsa dance with Kṛṣṇa merely a stage leading to merging into the impersonal Brahman is a great insult to the gopīs and to gopī-līlā, even though one's intent is to praise. When they appeared before Kṛṣṇa in the moonlit forest of Vṛndāvana, the gopīs certainly did not want Him to instruct them about "merging" with Him through jñāna-yoga, nor did they see the rāsa dance in that way. Speaking in the mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī as She met with Kṛṣṇa at Kurukṣetra, Lord Caitanya once complained to Him about His attempt to teach yoga and meditation to the gopīs:

My dear Kṛṣṇa, formerly, when You were staying at Mathurā, You sent Uddhava to teach Me speculative knowledge and mystic yoga. Now You Yourself are speaking the same thing, but My mind does not accept it. There is no place in My mind for jñāna-yoga or dhyāna-yoga. Although You know Me very well, You are still instructing Me in dhyāna-yoga and jñāna-yoga. It is not right for You to do so. I would like to withdraw My consciousness from You and engage it in material activities, but even though I try, I cannot do so. I am naturally inclined to You only. Therefore Your instructions for Me to meditate on You are simply ludicrous..... It is not very good for You to think of Me as a candidate for Your instructions. [Cc. Madhya 13.139-40]

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