Gopala-tapani Upanisad: He Resides Among the Cows

Durvasa Muni continues to explain Krishna’s nature to the gopis, headed by Sri Radha:

20. yatra vidyavidye na vidamo vidyavidyabhyam bhinnah |
vidyamayo hi yah sa katham visayi bhavatiti |

Whereas we understand neither knowledge nor ignorance, he is distinct from both knowledge and ignorance. How can one who is knowledge in essence be a sensualist?


Here Durvasa elaborates further on the position of both the conditioned souls and Krishna, whose partial manifestation is the indwelling Supersoul. The conditioned souls understand neither complete knowledge of their self nor the extent of their ignorance. However, both Krishna and those who identify with him through devotion are beyond the self-knowledge of sattva-guna as well as the ignorance of this world, both of which are functions of the material potency.

Transcending the material potencies of knowledge and ignorance is the result of knowing that Krishna is the source of the indwelling Supersoul, who in turn is the source of the knowledge and ignorance of this world. As stated in the Vishnu Purana (1.9.52), yasya yutayu tam samse visva-saktir iyam sthita: “The creative power of this universe is situated in the portion of a portion [of Vishnu].”

In the present passage of Gopala-tapani, Durvasa explains how Krishna is transcendental to knowledge and ignorance: “He is knowledge in essence.” Sri Krishna himself says it thus to Uddhava, vidyavidye mama tanu: “Both knowledge and ignorance are my potencies” (SB 11.11.3). Thus Krishna is transcendental to the knowledge arising from sattva-guna, and he never becomes bewildered by the ignorance of material identification. Therefore, he cannot fall prey to the illusory notion of being the enjoyer of what is actually misery. He is the essence of knowledge—love.

21. yo ha vai kamena kaman kamayate sa kami bhavati |
yo ha vai tv akamena kaman kamayate so ’kami bhavati |

A sensualist is one who desires sense gratification with a yearning to enjoy. A nonsensualist is one who desires sense objects without any such motivation.


Under scrutiny, it is clear from the lilas of Krishna and the gopis recorded in the Bhagavata Purana that Krishna is not a sensualist. All of his interactions with the milkmaids of Vraja are selfless acts of giving. Such is the position of the gopis as well. Durvasa’s words are meant to counter the gopis’ doubt, “Well, we seem to experience Krishna as a sensualist.”

The word kama appears in different forms in this sentence: a kami means a sensualist, or visayi; the object kaman refers to the objects of sense gratification; and the instrumental kamena means “with a desire to enjoy.” In contrast, akamena means “without a desire to enjoy,” by which we should understand a love that is exclusively dedicated to the pleasure of the other (kevalenanukulya-mayena premna). There are several statements in the Bhagavata that indicate that this attitude is true of Krishna, such as atmarama ’py ariramat: “Though completely self-fulfilled, he enjoyed [with the gopis]” (SB 10.29.42).

A person who takes pleasure in the self (atmarama) finds actual pleasure. Should he act in relation to others, he does so not to find pleasure in them but to give of himself spiritually. In this connection, sage Sukadeva describes Krishna’s interaction with the gopis thus, pramrjat karunah premna santamenanga panina: “With his gentle hand, the compassionate one lovingly wiped the gopis’ perspiring foreheads” (SB 10.33.20).


22. janma-jarabhyam bhinnah sthanur ayam acchedyo ’yam yo ’sau saurye tisthati yo ’sau gosu tisthati yo ’sau gah palayati | yo ’sau gopesu tisthati | yo ’sau sarvesu vedesu tisthati | yo ’sau sarva-vedair giyate | yo ’sau sarvesu bhutesv avisya bhutani vidadhati sa vo hi svami bhavati |

He is beyond birth and old age, immovable, and unseverable. He is situated in the effulgence of the sun. He resides among the cows, herds the cows, and associates with the cowherds. He is found in and glorified by all the Vedas. He enters into all living beings and brings them life. That person is Krishna, your husband.


Having explained that Krishna is not the enjoyer or sufferer of karma, Durvasa further explains Krishna’s transcendental position to the gopis: “Although appearing as your husband, he is not subject to the six kinds of transformations that affect ordinary living beings.” This means (1) he is not subject to birth; (2) being immovable, he is not subject to growth; (3) he is not subject to maturation; (4) he is not subject to reproduction; (5) being beyond old age, he is not subject to decline; and (6) since he cannot be cut into pieces, he is not subject to destruction.1 The gopis’ relationship with Krishna is thus not an ordinary love affair. They are wedded to God. What must their position be? Prabodhananda Sarasvati comments that Durvasa is saying to the gopis, “Because you are Krishna’s svarupa-saktis and your worship of Krishna is without material desire, it is incorrect to say that you are unfaithful wives or lusty girls.” Indeed, the gopis are wedded to the supreme object of love.

Being situated in the effulgence of the sun, Krishna is the object of veneration in the gayatri mantra, the prototype of all Vedic mantras. As explained in the first section of this book, the river Yamuna that flows through Krishna’s pastoral home is considered to be the sun’s daughter, another name for whom is Sauri. Thus as Prabodhananda Sarasvati points out, Krishna’s being situated in the effulgence of the sun (saurya) also indicates that he is situated in Vraja. The acarya remarks further, “In the Sahasra-nama, Krishna’s epithet suyamuna is found. Yamuna is explained in the commentary to mean the residents of Vraja who live on the banks of the Yamuna River.” Thus Krishna’s being “situated in the effulgence of the sun” also means that he is situated within the embrace of the inhabitants of Vraja.

After describing the truth about the name Krishna, Durvasa comments on the epithet Govinda. Out of compassion for the cows, Govinda resides among them as a cowherd, although the words bhutani vidadhati clarify that he is not an ordinary cowherd but he who enters all beings and gives them life (God).

Regarding the epithet gopi-jana-vallabha, Sri Prabodhananda comments that in saying that Krishna is the husband of the gopis, Durvasa indicates that their apparent marriage to other men is simply an illusory appearance created by the influence of yogamaya. The truth is that they are eternally wedded to Krishna but appear otherwise for the sake of the lila.

  1. Sri Jiva Gosvami cites SB 10.14.23 in this regard. See Sridhara Swami’s commentary. []

About the Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑