Gopala-tapani Upanisad: “Durvasa Never Eats”

8. dattvasmai brahmanaya ksira-mayam ghrta-mayam
istatamam ha vai mistatamam |
tustah sa tv abhuktva hitvasisam prayujyanvajñam tv adat |

They gave the brahmana a most desirable sweet rice pudding with clarified butter. Durvasa happily ate the sweet rice, then gave the girls his remnants and blessed them before giving them permission
to return.

The word abhuktva in this verse indicates that Durvasa ate everything the gopis offered him. The implication is that he was completely satisfied with them. Thus he thought, “These girls are Krsna’s beloveds. It is through good fortune that today I have been able to eat foodstuffs cooked by their hands, which they have brought to me personally.”

While Durvasa was well aware that Krishna was the Supreme God and that the gopis were his dearmost devotees, the gopis themselves were not conscious of these truths. Absorbed as they were in spiritual love of Krishna, the gopis experienced a kind of divine ignorance that suppressed the divinity of Krishna for the sake of intimacy. Durvasa felt honored by the gopis’ presence. He gave them permission to go, but out of great respect for them otherwise remained silent.

9. katham yasyamo ’tirtva sauryam |

[The gopis asked Durvasa:] How can we cross the Yamuna to get back?

Here the gopis seem to think that Krishna’s instruction was only valid for crossing the Yamuna to see Durvasa, but not for returning. Thus they ask Durvasa how they will return, faced with having to cross the Yamuna to do so. Durvasa’s reply in the following verse is similar to Krishna’s instruction, and as Durvasa subsequently explains, both his and Krishna’s cryptic answers address foundational spiritual truths. Realizing these truths makes all things possible.

10. sa hovaca munih | durvasinam mam smrtva margam vo dasyatiti ||

[The sage said to the gopis:] Think of me as having eaten nothing but durva grass and the river will make a path for you.

The word durvasinam means either one who has eaten durva grass or one for whom foodstuffs have remained distant (dure asanam yasya tam)—i.e., one who has fasted. Thus Durvasa replies to the gopis, “If you think of me as one who has fasted, the river will part and give you passage.”

Although the gopis were about to depart, Durvasa’s answer caused them to pause and question him about the significance of the similar instructions he and Krishna had given them. How could Durvasa be said to have fasted after eating what they had offered him? What was the mystic truth behind the apparently contradictory statements made by both Durvasa and Krishna?

11. tasam madhye hi srestha gandharvi hy uvaca
tam ha vai tabhir evam vicarya |

The best among the gopis, Gandharvi, spoke to the sage after considering several questions with the other gopis.

In this verse the best among the gopis, Gandharvi, is introduced. As will be mentioned in verse 13, all the gopis accepted the leadership of Gandharvi. The Gaudiyas consider these verses to be sruti-pramana—scriptural evidence from the Upanisads (as opposed to that found in the smrti literature such as the Puranas)—for the primacy of Radha over all the other gopis.

The idea that Radha is the best of the gopis is clearly mentioned in the Padma Purana and other smrti texts. It is also mentioned covertly in the Bhagavata Purana (10.30.28). Drawing on this text of Gopala-tapani, Sri Rupa Gosvami refers to Radha by the names Gandharva and Gandharvika in his Ujjvala-nilamani (7.51, 11.96). In Ujjvala-nilamani 4.4 he cites this Gopala-tapani text as evidence from the Upanisads that one of the gopis is considered preeminent. Gaudiya acarya Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura was fond of this epithet for Radha, as it underscores the sober Upanisadic basis of the Gaudiya doctrine, in which the divine service of Radha constitutes the zenith of spiritual attainment.

12. katham krsno brahmacari katham durvasino munih |

[Gandharvi asked:] How can Krishna be called a brahmacari? And how can you be said to be a fasting sage?

13. tam hi mukhyam vidhaya purvam anu krtva tusnim asuh ||

Having made Gandharvi their spokeswoman, the other gopis simply stood behind her and remained silent.

14-15. sabdavan akasah | sabdakasabhyam bhinnah |
tasminn akasas tisthati | akase tisthati | sa hy akasas tam na veda |
sa hy atmaham katham bhokta bhavami ||

sparsavan vayuh | sparsa-vayubhyam bhinnah |
tasmin vayau tisthati | vayur na veda tam hi
sa hy atmaham katham bhokta bhavami |

rupavad idam hi tejah | rupagnibhyam bhinnah |
tasminn agnis tisthati | agnir na veda tam hi
sa hy atmaham katham bhokta bhavami |

rasavatya apah | rasabbhyo bhinnah |
tasminn apas tisthanti | apsu tisthati | apas tam na viduh |
sa hy atmaham katham bhokta bhavami |

gandhavatiyam bhumih | gandha-bhumibhyam bhinnah |
tasmin bhumis tisthati | bhumau tisthati | bhumis tam na veda |
sa hy atmaham katham bhokta bhavami |

[Durvasa answered:] Sound is the quality present in space. The atma is distinct from both sound and space. Space is situated in that atma, and the atma is in space. That very same space, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Touch is the quality associated with the air. The atma is distinct from both touch and air. The air is situated in that atma, and the atma is in the air. The air, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Form is the quality present in fire. The atma is distinct from both form and fire. Fire is situated in that atma, and the atma is in fire. Fire, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Flavor is the attribute of water. The atma is distinct from both flavor and water. Water is situated in that atma, and the atma is in the water. The water, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Scent is the attribute of the earth. The atma is distinct from both scent and earth. The earth is situated in that atma, and the atma is in the earth. The earth, however, does not know the atma. Since I am verily that atma, how can I be considered an enjoyer?

Durvasa answers Gandharvi’s questions with Upanisadic wisdom, and thus from deep within the esoteric lila of Krishna, Gopala-tapani speaks to us about a fundamental spiritual principle: there is a categorical difference between the soul and the body, consciousness and matter. It is also noteworthy that the charm of Krishna lila is grounded in spiritual knowledge and thus has the power to bring about disenchantment with material life and extricate the soul from its worldly entanglement.

In answering Radha, Durvasa gives an example here and in the following verse to illustrate that the soul is different from the body. The example shows that the soul is not the enjoyer and experiencer of sense objects, for only the senses and the sense objects are interacting as the soul looks on. If this is true for the materially conditioned soul, how much more is it the case for self-realized souls and God himself? The distinction between self-realized souls and materially illusioned souls, as well as the distinction between the individual soul and God, lies ahead in this important section.

In the meantime, Durvasa’s example involves a comparison between matter and spirit. Because Durvasa speaks in abstract language common to the Upanisads, some explanation is required. When he mentions the material elements, he is really referring to the senses. For example, the material element of space corresponds with the sense of hearing. Air represents the sense of touch, fire the sense of sight, water the sense of taste, and earth the sense of smell. Durvasa compares these elements/senses with the position of the soul. The soul, atma, is present within each of the elements because it is present within the material body that possesses the senses. The material elements are also present within the soul because the material forms that are constituted of material elements are in one sense conceptions of the soul. When the soul desires to hear, the sense of hearing and its object of sound are manifest by material nature.

Thus material nature in the form of the body becomes the container of the soul. However, while the soul can become aware of matter and its own conditioning under the influence of matter, matter cannot know the soul. In this example, the container cannot know the contained, but the contained can know the container. The atma is therefore categorically different from matter. This being the case, how can the soul enjoy or suffer in relation to sense objects when the sense objects and the entire material experience are but a virtual reality? When the soul dons the material body, it thinks that it is suffering or enjoying in relation to sense objects. In truth, however, it is aloof from the sense objects and only witnesses the material phenomena.


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