Chapter 2: Defining Bhakti

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 22

tatrāpi na māhātmya-jñāna-vismṛty-apavādaḥ


tatrain that case; api — even; na — there is not; māhātmya — of greatness; jñāna — of awareness; vismṛti — of forgetting; apavādaḥ — criticism.


Even in the case of the gopīs, one cannot criticize them for forgetting the Lord's greatness.


Nārada is replying to a possible criticism: Although all Vaiṣṇavas praise the gopīs, and though even the impersonalists join in the chorus, some philosophers think the gopīs' love is uninformed. Because the gopīs were attracted to Kṛṣṇa as a beautiful young boy, and because they ran from their homes in the dead of night to dance with Him in the moonlit Vṛndāvana forest, foolish critics think the gopīs did not know that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The accusation against the gopīs is false, says Nārada. The gopīs knew that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Person, but in their intimate rasa with Him they put aside the awe and reverence usually offered to the Supreme Lord. The Lord's internal potency, Yogamāyā, allows loving intimacy to overshadow God's majesty. But this does not mean that pure devotees like the gopīs lack spiritual advancement. Except for the gopīs Kṛṣṇa brought with Him from the spiritual world, all the gopīs came to their position of mādhurya-rasa only after many lifetimes of austerity and spiritual cultivation. Regarding the cowherd boys (gopas) who play with Kṛṣṇa, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam states that they attained their position "only after accumulating heaps of pious activities" in many lives. So although it may sometimes appear that the liberated devotees have forgotten that Lord Kṛṣṇa is God, this is actually an arrangement by Yogamāyā for increasing the pleasure of the Lord and His devotees.

For example, as Vasudeva carried his baby son Kṛṣṇa across the Yamunā River, the baby fell into the river. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, "Just to test the intense love of Vasudeva, Lord Kṛṣṇa fell down into the waters of the Yamunā while His father was crossing the river. Vasudeva became mad after his child as he tried to recover Him in the midst of the rising river" (Bhāg. 3.2.17, purport). Lord Kṛṣṇa did not want Vasudeva to think, "Oh, Kṛṣṇa will save Himself; He's God," but He wanted to evoke the paternal rasa in full intensity. In a similar way, mother Yaśodā sometimes expressed her maternal love for baby Kṛṣṇa by punishing Him. And when His mother came to punish Him, Kṛṣṇa reciprocated by running away in fear. Śrīla Prabhupāda describes this apparent contradiction as follows:

The Lord's pure devotee renders service unto the Lord out of unalloyed love only, and while discharging such devotional service the pure devotee forgets the position of the Supreme Lord. The Supreme Lord also accepts the loving service of His devotees more relishably when the service is rendered spontaneously out of pure affection, without any reverential admiration.... If mother Yaśodā had been conscious of the exalted position of the Lord, she would certainly have hesitated to punish the Lord. But she was made to forget this situation because the Lord wanted to make a complete gesture of childishness before the affectionate Yaśodā.... Mother Yaśodā is praised for her unique position of love, for she could control even the all-powerful Lord as her beloved child. [Bhāg. 1.8.31, purport]

Another prominent example is Arjuna, Kṛṣṇa's friend, who accepted the infallible Lord as his chariot driver.

As for the gopīs of Vraja, they often manifested deep knowledge of Kṛṣṇa's divinity. But they never diminished their conjugal mood in order to become scholars or meditators. Kṛṣṇa wanted to dance with the most beautiful girls in the universe, and so the gopīs, His completely surrendered servants, happily complied. When Kṛṣṇa called the gopīs to Him in the dead of night, He first began to lecture them on morality. The gopīs complained to Him about this attitude, and yet their statements indicate that they knew very well who He was. The gopīs said to Kṛṣṇa,

Within these three worlds there is no distinction between men and women in relation to You because both men and women belong to the marginal potency, or prakṛti. No one is actually the enjoyer, or male; everyone is meant to be enjoyed by You. There is no woman within these three worlds who cannot but deviate from her path of chastity when she is attracted to You because Your beauty is so sublime that not only men and women, but cows, birds, beasts, and even trees, fruits, and flowers — everyone and everything — become enchanted, and what to speak of ourselves? [Kṛṣṇa, p. 252]

After Lord Kṛṣṇa left Vṛndāvana, He sent Uddhava to deliver a message to the gopīs. When Uddhava saw the gopīs' undying devotion for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, he praised their transcendental perfection:

My dear gopīs, the mentality you have developed in relationship to Kṛṣṇa is very, very difficult to attain, even for great sages and saintly persons. You have attained the highest perfectional stage of life. It is a great boon for you that you have fixed your minds upon Kṛṣṇa and have decided to have Kṛṣṇa only, giving up your family, homes, relatives, husbands, and children for the sake of the Supreme Personality. Because your minds are now fully absorbed in Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Soul, universal love has automatically developed in you. I think myself very fortunate that I have been favored, by your grace, to see you in this situation. [Kṛṣṇa, p. 380]

The gopīs were always impatient when either Uddhava or Kṛṣṇa spoke philosophy to them, because all they wanted was to be alone with Kṛṣṇa in the Vṛndāvana mood. So when Uddhava praised them, they did not find it very pleasing. Sometimes they even denounced Kṛṣṇa's behavior, and yet they remained aware of His supreme and independent position. As one gopī said, "Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the husband of the goddess of fortune, and He is self-sufficient. He has no business either with us — the girls of Vṛndāvana forest — or with the city girls in Mathurā. He is the great Supersoul; He has nothing to do with any of us, either here or there" (Kṛṣṇa, p. 386).

It is offensive to judge the gopīs according to ordinary standards of human behavior. The intimacy Kṛṣṇa allowed them is inconceivable, and no one can understand it except those who are completely free of material desires. The gopīs' love is certainly beyond awe and reverence, and yet it is never mundane.

The impersonalist sometimes tries to jump on the bandwagon of praise for the gopīs. He says that the gopīs cannot be understood by people infected with worldly lust, but then he himself commits an even worse offense: he thinks Kṛṣṇa's affairs with the gopīs are "allegories that contain profound spiritual truths." Behind the Māyāvādī's admiration of gopī-bhāva is the desire to commit spiritual annihilation, to become one with God. In other words, the impersonalist thinks that at the last stage of perfection, a gopī will realize that her beloved Kṛṣṇa is her very self. We have already pointed out the foolishness of these claims, but we do so again just to expose the impersonalist's so-called praise of kṛṣṇa-līlā.

By contrast, Nārada Muni's praise of the gopīs' devotion to Lord Kṛṣṇa is upheld by all śāstras and sages.

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