Pure love exists only on the spiritual platform, and Lord Krishna’s dearest devotees show us what it means.
By Gauranga Darshana Dasa
Pure love manifests as the desire to serve the beloved in all circumstances, without considering one’s own happiness or unhappiness.
Every living entity is a part of God, and thus has an eternal relationship with Him. Although each of us has relationships with many others in this world, these begin when we enter a material body and end when we leave it. But we are eternally related to the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna. The source of the love within all of us is Krishna, and Krishna is also the ultimate object of our love. Therefore, everyone loves Krishna the most, and it is Krishna who loves everyone the most.
Love Is Eternal
Just as the living being is eternal, his love for God is also eternal. If we love someone, we love the things and people related to that person. Thus, understanding one’s eternal relationship with God and loving Him don’t make one indifferent to friends and family members, but make one love them in true spirit.
Kindness and love centered on God make people more united and broadminded. The love of pure devotees is meant not only for themselves or their immediate family, but spreads everywhere and to everyone. On the other hand, love disconnected from God doesn’t ultimately have much substance to satisfy even oneself.
Due to the covering of material illusion, a conditioned soul is overwhelmed by forgetfulness of his relationship with God and starves due to lack of experiencing pure love in material, temporary relationships.
The process of bhakti-yoga is meant to awaken pure love. When one’s love for Krishna is not covered by illusion, the nourishment and pure happiness one experiences in the heart is beyond the imagination of any ordinary mortal.
Of all those who love Krishna, the residents of Vrindavan are the topmost. They possess the most extraordinary love for Krishna. Amongst them, the gopis are endowed with the greatest love for Krishna. They have no interest in their own pleasure or removing their own pain. They render service with body, mind, and words only for Krishna’s happiness.
Love Is Selfless
Pure love is characterized by selflessness, a service attitude, and constant remembrance of the beloved. A glimpse of such pure love can be seen in the relationship between a mother and a small child. A mother serves her child selflessly, even compromising her own needs. She nourishes the child with milk from her own body and is ready to attend to the child at all times, even in the middle of the night. Such love, however, seems to slacken as the child grows, and often may not exist throughout the lives of the mother and the child, due either to circumstances or to the individuals’ changing priorities. If this is the case with the mother-child relationship, how much more does it apply to other relationships in this material world.
Thus, although exchanges of love exist in this mortal world, they are temporary and often volatile. In contrast, love on the spiritual platform is purely selfless and eternal. Srila Prabhupada writes, “When activities are enacted on the platform of personal sense gratification, they are called material activities, but when they are enacted for the satisfaction of Krishna, they are spiritual activities. For example, on the material platform, the servant would not serve the master if the payment is stopped. That means that the servant engages himself in the service of the master just to satisfy his own senses. On the spiritual platform, however, the servitor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead serves Krishna without payment, and he continues his service in all conditions. That is the difference between Krishna consciousness and material consciousness.” (Krishna, Chapter 29)
The gopis of Vrindavan exemplify such pure and perfect Krishna consciousness. Their love and service are selfless, and their constant meditation is how to serve Krishna and please Krishna.
Remembering the Beloved
To somehow or the other remain always engrossed in thoughts of Krishna is the essence of devotional service. The gopis do so naturally and spontaneously, although engaged in many household activities.
“The ladies of Vraja are the most fortunate of women because, with their minds fully attached to Krishna and their throats always choked up with tears, they constantly sing about Him while milking the cows, winnowing grain, churning butter, gathering cow dung for fuel, riding on swings, taking care of their crying babies, sprinkling the ground with water, cleaning their houses, and so on. By their exalted Krishna consciousness they automatically acquire all desirable things.” (Bhagavatam 10.44.15)
The gopis are not born in brahmana or kshatriya families, but in vaishya families, that too not in big mercantile communities but in cowherd communities. They are not considered well educated, although they have heard all sorts of knowledge from brahmanas. Srila Prabhupada writes, “The exemplary character of devotional service manifested by the devotees of Vrindavan is the purest type of devotion. The gopis particularly showed pure devotional service toward Krishna, so much so that Krishna Himself remained indebted to them. Lord Chaitanya thus said that the devotional service manifested by the gopis in Vrindavan excelled all other methods of approaching the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Krishna, Chapter 32)
Exhibiting the topmost example of krishna-prema, the gopis display their love, youth, and beauty only for increasing Krishna’s joy. Their attitude of selfless service and dedication to Krishna is worshiped even by exalted devotees such as Uddhava.
The Topmost Display of Love
The highest form of love between a devotee and Krishna can be seen in the selfless service of the gopis of Vrindavan. The rasa dance Lord Krishna performed with the gopis is the topmost display of such pure love between God and His energies. When mortal beings see God as ordinary and consider Him one of them, they misunderstand His divine activities. However, just as Krishna’s lifting of Govardhana Hill and His killing of great demons like Putana are all extraordinary activities, similarly, the rasa dance is also an uncommon spiritual pastime of Krishna’s and cannot be imitated or criticized by any ordinary person.
Srimad-Bhagavatam states that Lord Krishna’s rasa dance took place on the sharat-purnima, the full-moon night of autumn, the most beautiful night in the year. In the festive and cool ambience of sharat-purnima in Vrindavan, the moonrise increased Krishna’s desire to dance with the gopis. Krishna began to play His flute, and the gopis all over Vrindavan left their respective engagements and rushed to Krishna, who was standing at Vamshivata. Some of them were forbidden by their relatives to leave home, but they disregarded them and went to Krishna. A person who becomes attracted by the Supreme Lord Krishna loses interest in all external obligations. Initially Krishna spoke a few words to send the gopis back, but later He initiated the rasa dance with them.
The apparently immoral activity of Krishna’s dancing with the gopis of Vrindavan is not a display of material lust, which is like iron, but of pure spiritual love, which is like gold. The rasa-lila is not an ordinary activity but is transcendental, as explained elaborately by the Vaishnava acharyas. Here are various reasons to understand the divinity of the rasa-lila.
- Krishna’s age when He enjoyed the rasa dance with the gopis was eight years. Even from an external perspective, a child of that age cannot be lusty for women.
- Krishna is Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord endowed with all six opulences in full, and thus has no desire that needs to be fulfilled. Therefore His dance cannot be like the ordinary dancing of young boys and girls.
- The gopis are transcendental expansions of Krishna’s pleasure potency, and as His potency they are nondifferent from Him. The gopis are on an equal level with Krishna as His eternal associates. In the rasa-lila, Krishna looked at the gopis and touched them exactly as a child enjoys playing with the reflection of his body in a mirror.
- Krishna was enjoying with His own internal energy, svarupa-shakti.
- In pure spiritual bodies, Lord Krishna and the gopis exchanged transcendental love in the rasa-lila. They don’t have material bodies, and thus there is no question of material lust.
- Krishna’s yogamaya orchestrated His rasa dance, and not mahamaya, which induces dances between boys and girls on the basis of material lust. The gopis went to Krishna with the transcendental desire to satisfy Him with their spiritual love.
- Krishna is the Supersoul (Paramatma) in everyone’s heart. During the rasa-lila, Krishna was beside each gopi, unseen by the others. He was so kind to the gopis that instead of sitting in their hearts to be appreciated in yogic meditation, He seated Himself by their sides and showed them special favor in pure love.
- Krishna is self-satisfied (atmarama); He does not require anything beyond Himself for His satisfaction. At the same time, He is not ungrateful. But because the gopis desired to have Krishna as their husband, He fulfilled their desire.
- Krishna is self-sufficient (apta-kama); all His desires are automatically fulfilled. He has no unfulfilled desires. He cannot be lusty. Even if He were lusty, He doesn’t need to take help from others to satisfy His lusty desires.
- Krishna is the supreme creator and proprietor of this entire cosmic manifestation, and everything belongs to Him. Thus if He dances with the gopis, He cannot be accused in any way. It is the purest display of love between the Lord and His devotees.
- Even devotees of Krishna like Arjuna and Haridasa Thakura didn’t succumb to material lust when approached by Urvashi and Maya herself, respectively. So how can their worshipable Lord Krishna be subjected to material lust?
- Lord Chaitanya and great paramahamsas in the renounced order of life like Shukadeva Gosvami and the six Gosvamis of Vrindavan hear and relish the loving pastimes of Krishna with the gopis. So in no way can these exchanges be ordinary lust.
Testimony for the Purest Love
Once, after going to Mathura, Lord Krishna sent His dear associate Uddhava to Vrindavan with a message for the gopis. When the Vraja-gopis met Uddhava, who resembled Krishna, they remembered Krishna’s pastimes and loudly wept in separation from Krishna. Uddhava tried to console the gopis and related to them Krishna’s message.
Uddhava stayed in Vraja for several months reminding the Vraja-vasis about Krishna in various ways. Seeing how the gopis were totally absorbed in Krishna, Uddhava was supremely pleased. He was an exalted minister in Dwarka and a dear associate of Krishna. Yet he felt the spiritual urge to worship the glorious gopis, although externally they were mere cowherd girls in a small village called Vrindavan. Desiring to offer them all respect, he sang their glories in five verses (Bhagavatam 10.47.58–62). Uddhava sang these verses daily while he was in Vrindavan.
Aspired for Even by Great Souls
[Uddhava sang:] “Among all persons on earth, these cowherd women alone have actually perfected their embodied lives, for they have achieved the perfection of unalloyed love for Lord Govinda. Their pure love is hankered after by those who fear material existence, by great sages, and by ourselves as well. For one who has tasted the narrations of the infinite Lord, what is the use of taking birth as a high-class brahmana, or even as Lord Brahma himself?” (10.47.58)
High births as brahmanas or even as Brahma cannot compare to pure Krishna consciousness.
Often Criticized, Yet Most Perfect
Uddhava continued singing, “How amazing it is that these simple women who wander about the forest, seemingly spoiled by improper behavior, have achieved the perfection of unalloyed love for Krishna, the Supreme Soul! Still, it is true that the Supreme Lord Himself awards His blessings even to an ignorant worshiper, just as the best medicine works even when taken by a person ignorant of its ingredients.” (10.47.59)
Lord Krishna is criticized by worldly people for His stealing butter, tending cows, wandering in the forest, eating with monkeys, dancing with others’ wives, and so on. Yet He, as the Supreme Lord, exists on the highest platform of purity and morality, and always remains praiseworthy by sensible people.
Similarly, some people criticize the gopis for being mere cowherd women living in the forest and behaving in an apparently improper way by associating with Krishna. But these gopis, constituted of the Lord’s pleasure potency (hladini-shakti), and are on the highest standard of purity and auspiciousness, even in comparison to the goddesses of fortune, and thus they are supremely glorious.
Surpasses Everyone Else’s Position
“When Lord Sri Krishna was dancing with the gopis in the rasa-lila, the gopis were embraced by the arms of the Lord. This transcendental favor was never bestowed upon the goddess of fortune or other consorts in the spiritual world. Indeed, never was such a thing even imagined by the most beautiful girls in the heavenly planets, whose bodily luster and aroma resemble the lotus flower. And what to speak of worldly women who are very beautiful according to material estimation?” (10.47.60)
“May I Get Their Dust, If Not Their Mood”
Having glorified the superiority of the gopis over all others, Uddhava desires their service attitude, but thinks of its extreme rarity. Thus he desires only a particle of dust from their lotus feet:
“The gopis of Vrindavan have given up the association of their husbands, sons and other family members, who are very difficult to give up, and they have forsaken the path of chastity to take shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, Krishna, which one should search for by Vedic knowledge. Oh, let me be fortunate enough to be one of the bushes, creepers or herbs in Vrindavan, because the gopis trample them and bless them with the dust of their lotus feet.” (10.47.61)
Being a humble Vaishnava, Uddhava does not pray to be equal to the gopis in their exalted stage of love, but rather to take birth as a bush or creeper in Vrindavan so that when they walk on him he will get their dust and be blessed. The shy gopis would never agree to give their dust to a great personality like Uddhava; therefore he cleverly sought to get such mercy by taking birth as a plant in Vrindavan.
Even Lord Brahma also prayed for the good fortune of taking any birth in Gokula and having his head bathed by the dust falling from the lotus feet of any of its residents. Uddhava’s prayer is considered even more exalted. Uddhava desired a service attitude like the gopis, with special bhava, or feelings, for Krishna, yet thinking himself unqualified for it, he humbly prayed for the dust of the gopis’ feet.
Attained the Rarest Privilege
Uddhava sang further, “The goddess of fortune herself, along with Lord Brahma and all the other demigods, who are masters of yogic perfection, can worship the lotus feet of Krishna only within her mind. But during the rasa dance Lord Krishna placed His feet upon these gopis’ bodies, and by embracing those feet the gopis gave up all distress.” (10.47.62)
Having established the glories of the gopis in these five verses, Sri Uddhava now directly offers his obeisances to them. Considering himself completely unqualified for such direct service to the Lord, Uddhava simply offers respects to the gopis to attain their devotional mood.
My Fervent Prayer
“I repeatedly offer my respects to the dust from the feet of the women of Nanda Maharaja’s cowherd village. When these gopis loudly chant the glories of Sri Krishna, the vibration purifies the three worlds.” (10.47.63)
Srila Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura comments:
Among all the devotees, those who worship Krishna are the best, since Krishna is Svayam Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead endowed with all the six opulences in full. Among those devotees, Krishna’s immediate assistants in His pastimes are more intimate, because of their loyalty in following Him. Among these intimate associates, Uddhava is the best, for Krishna Himself said, “Among the devotees I am Uddhava; Uddhava is not less than Myself.” Uddhava, however, desired the dust and the service attitude of the gopis, and had the greatest regard for them. He did not give such regard even to the queens of Krishna. Among all the gopis, Srimati Radharani is the highest. This is the opinion of Vaishnava-toshani [Srila Sanatana Gosvami’s commentary].
Uddhava then asked the gopis, mother Yashoda, and Nanda Maharaja for permission to leave Vrindavan. He bade farewell to the Vraja-vasis and departed for Mathura.
One who faithfully hears Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis from the right sources will become completely freed from lusty desires and elevated to the highest level of spiritual understanding.
shraddhanvito ’nushrinuyad atha varnayed yah/div>
“Anyone who faithfully hears or describes the Lord’s playful affairs with the young gopis of Vrindavan will attain the Lord’s pure devotional service. Thus he will quickly become sober and conquer lust, the disease of the heart.” (10.33.39)
Gauranga Darshana Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He is the author of thirty books, including the Subodhini series of study guides, children’s books such as Bhagavatam Tales, and other self-enrichment books. He regularly conducts online and residential courses for both children and adults, and also oversees the temple worship at GEV.