Chapter 2: Defining Bhakti

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 23

tad-vihīnaḿ jārāṇām iva


tat — of it (awareness of the Lord's greatness); vihīnam — devoid; jārāṇām — of illicit lovers; iva — like.


On the other hand, displays of devotion without knowledge of God's greatness are no better than the affairs of illicit lovers.


The gopīs' loving exchanges with Kṛṣṇa have nothing to do with mundane passion, but because they resemble lusty activities in the material world, those with impure minds mistake them for such. Śrīla Prabhupāda was therefore always very cautious in presenting Lord Kṛṣṇa's rāsa-līlā. Lord Caitanya was also very cautious in discussing such topics. Although He was always merged in gopī-bhāva, He discussed Kṛṣṇa's loving affairs with the gopīs only with a few intimate disciples. For the mass of people, Lord Caitanya distributed love of God by propagating the congregational chanting of the holy name.

Śrīla Prabhupāda would sometimes tell a story to show how most people mistake the transcendental loving affairs of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa as mundane dealings between an ordinary boy and girl. Once there was a fire in a barn, and one of the cows almost died of fright. Afterward, whenever that cow saw the color red, she would think a fire was burning and become panic-stricken. Similarly, as soon as an ordinary man or woman sees a picture of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, he or she immediately thinks Their relationship is just like that between an ordinary boyfriend and girlfriend or husband and wife. Unfortunately, professional reciters of the Bhāgavatam promote this misconception by jumping into Lord Kṛṣṇa's conjugal pastimes in the Tenth Canto, although neither they nor their audience are fit to hear them. The authorized approach to the Bhāgavatam is to first carefully read the first nine cantos, which establish the greatness of the Supreme Lord, His universal form, His material and spiritual energies, His creation of the cosmos, His incarnations, and so on. Reading the first two cantos is like contemplating the lotus feet of the Lord, and as one gradually progresses, one looks upon the Lord's various bodily limbs, until finally one sees His smiling face in the Tenth Canto's account of His pastimes with the gopīs.

If Kṛṣṇa's pastimes with the gopīs' were lusty affairs, neither pure brahmacārīs like Nārada and Śukadeva nor liberated sages like Uddhava and Vyāsadeva would have praised them so highly. Such great devotees are free from all mundane passion; so how could they be interested in Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa if Their love were a worldly sex affair?

From the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam we learn that all the gopīs had spiritual bodies. This is another proof that Kṛṣṇa's pastimes with the gopīs are supramundane. When Kṛṣṇa played His flute in Vṛndāvana on the full-moon night of the autumn season, the gopīs went to Him in their spiritual bodies. Many of these gopīs are eternal companions of Kṛṣṇa, and when He exhibits His transcendental pastimes within the material world, they come with Him. But some of the gopīs who joined Kṛṣṇa's pastimes within this material world came from the status of ordinary human beings. By always thinking of Kṛṣṇa as their beloved, they became purified of all material contamination and elevated to the same status as the eternally liberated gopīs. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, "All the gopīs who concentrated their minds on Kṛṣṇa in the spirit of paramour love became fully uncontaminated from all the fruitive reactions of material nature, and some of them immediately gave up their material bodies developed under the three modes of material nature" (Kṛṣṇa, p. 242). Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura explains in his commentary on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that here "giving up the material body" does not mean dying but rather purification of all material contamination and attainment of a purely spiritual body.

When Śukadeva Gosvāmī began reciting Kṛṣṇa's rāsa-līlā pastimes, Mahārāja Parīkṣit raised a doubt similar to that addressed in this sūtra. He asked, "How could the gopīs attain liberation by thinking of a paramour?" Śukadeva replied that even if one thinks that the gopīs were motivated by lust, any association with Kṛṣṇa will purify one of all material desires. Because He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, even someone like Śiśupāla, who was absorbed in thinking of Kṛṣṇa out of envy, gained salvation. As Śrīla Prabhupāda explains in Kṛṣṇa (p. 245):

The conclusion is that if one somehow or other becomes attached to Kṛṣṇa or attracted to Him, either because of His beauty, quality, opulence, fame, strength, renunciation, or knowledge, or even through lust, anger, or fear, or through affection or friendship, then one's salvation and freedom from material contamination are assured.

The society girl Kubjā is an example of how even lusty attraction to Kṛṣṇa frees one from material contamination. She approached Kṛṣṇa with lusty desire, but her lust was relieved just by smelling the fragrance of Kṛṣṇa's lotus feet.

While the word kāma (lust) is used to describe the gopīs' feelings toward Kṛṣṇa, in their case it is actually a transcendental emotion. The gopīs wanted Kṛṣṇa to be their husband, but there was no possibility of His marrying all of them in the usual sense. So they married regular husbands (though some were unmarried at the time of the rāsa dance) but retained their love for Kṛṣṇa. Therefore Kṛṣṇa's loving relationship with the gopīs is known as pārakīya-rasa (paramour love). But whereas in the material world the relationship of a married woman with a paramour is abominable, in the spiritual world it is the most exalted relationship one can have with Kṛṣṇa. Just as a tree reflected in the water appears upside down, so that which is topmost in the spiritual world — Kṛṣṇa's loving dealings with the gopīs — becomes abominable when reflected in the material world as illicit sexual affairs. When people imitate Kṛṣṇa's rāsa dance with the gopīs, they enjoy only the perverted reflection of the transcendental pārakīya-rasa. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes in Kṛṣṇa (p. 240), "It is stated in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that one should not imitate this pārakīya-rasa even in dream or imagination. Those who do so drink the most deadly poison."

Another characteristic of mundane paramour love is that it is unsteady. As soon as one's sex pleasure is disrupted, one seeks out a new partner. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam predicts that in the Age of Kali marriage will become degraded to a mere convenience for sex pleasure and will break apart as soon as that pleasure abates. But once one revives one's loving relationship with Kṛṣṇa, that relationship will remain steady and ever fresh.

The gopīs' love for Kṛṣṇa is within Śrī Kṛṣṇa's hlādinī-śakti, or internal pleasure potency. When Śrī Kṛṣṇa wants to enjoy, He associates with the gopīs, not with women of the material world. This is another indication of the gopīs' superexcellent spiritual position. In Kṛṣṇa's exchanges with the gopīs through the hlādinī-śakti, there is unlimited and unending ecstasy; this pleasure is far different from the quickly satiated lusts of sexual affairs, which are soon followed by painful entanglements and karmic reactions.

Even after Śukadeva Gosvāmī had explained the spiritual nature of the love that Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs exchanged during the rāsa dance, Mahārāja Parīkṣit questioned Śukadeva as to why Kṛṣṇa would act in a way that would make ordinary people see Him as immoral. Śukadeva replied that because Lord Kṛṣṇa is the supreme īśvara, or controller, He is independent of all social and religious principles. This is simply more evidence of His greatness. As the supreme īśvara, Lord Kṛṣṇa may sometimes violate His own instructions with impunity, but that is possible only for the supreme controller, not for us. Since no one can imitate such astounding activities of Lord Kṛṣṇa's

as creating the universe or lifting Govardhana Hill, no one should try to imitate His rāsa dance, either. To further clear up all doubts about Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs, one may read Chapter Thirty-two of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

<<< >>>

Buy Online Copyright © The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder Ācārya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Gopiparanadhana dasa Adhikari