Union and Separation on the River of Love

By Swāmī Śrī Bhaktivedānta Tripurāri, excerpted from Aesthetic Vedanta: The Sacred Path of Passionate Love.

Some of the gopīs were milking cows when they heard Kṛṣṇa’s flute, yet they stopped in the midst of milking and ran to Kṛṣṇa. Others left milk boiling on the stove, while still others left their baked goods in the oven. Some were dressing, others feeding children, others rendering service to their husbands. Still, others were bathing, taking their meal, or applying cosmetics, but all of them stopped what they were doing and ran to Kṛṣṇa, even with their clothes and ornaments in disarray.1

In Vedic society, women were cared for in all stages of life so that they could be free to render their essential service to society without being burdened with the task of seeing to their own maintenance. The importance of womanhood, it’s chastity and motherhood, was understood in terms of its being vital to the health of society. Thus, as children, women were cared for by their fathers, as young women by their husbands, as widows by their sons and relatives. In this case, the gopīs were charmed by the only true protector of all souls. Having heard his flute calling them to unite with him in passionate love, they left the relative protection of socio-religiosity to enter the homeland of the soul.

In this world, all protectors are only relatively so. Although the importance of an ordered society is not to be underestimated, even when that order is aimed at leading all souls in the progressive march toward transcendence, the apparent transgression of socio-religious customs that sometimes occurs as a byproduct of transcendental love can never be condemned. The gopīs, while appearing to transgress the socio-religious guidelines, had realized the goal of such guidelines. Their passion was perfection because it was directed to the perfect object of love—Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

Another group of gopīs, however, could not escape the prison of their home life. They were gopīs who in their previous lives as the Upaniṣads personified had cultivated a transcendental relationship with Kṛṣṇa but had not yet achieved the perfection of that culture. Although they could not physically go to meet Kṛṣṇa, the fire of their separation from him burned away the last remaining traces of material influence in their consciousness.2 Thus freed from karma, they attained transcendental bodies like those of Kṛṣṇa and the other gopīs. These gopīs then became qualified to associate with Kṛṣṇa directly on future nights.

Śrī Caitanya taught the doctrine of love in separation as a means of union with the Absolute. The yearning that is characteristic of separation from one’s beloved is the intensity with which one must cultivate spiritual life. The group of gopīs who were checked from union with Kṛṣṇa exemplify this teaching. Separation and union are two banks of the river of love. Separation serves to accent union, and union holds within itself the fear of future separation. Thus in the union of the gopīs with Kṛṣṇa, separation loomed. This eternal play of union and separation represents a dynamic concept of union much different from that of monistic Vedānta. As the union presented in the Bhāgavata is different from static monistic union, the concept of separation from Kṛṣṇa is different from the separation between lovers in the material world. In the material experience, although separation often makes the heart grow fonder, this is not always the case. Moreover, there is no material pain to transcendental separation. This is so because Kṛṣṇa līlā moves around the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa. Wherever he wants to go, his devotees are satisfied, for their only objective is his pleasure. Furthermore, the separation of the gopīs intensifies their devotion to him. When they feel transcendental suffering, it is because they know he cannot be fully happy without them.

  1. This is an example of the anubhāva of vibhrama, bewilderment. []
  2. Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura cites Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.47.38-
    39 to establish that the gopīs who were stopped from meeting Kṛṣṇa did not physically die but acquired spiritual bodies and continued to participate in Kṛṣṇa’s earthly līlā. The gopīs mentioned in these verses who had “their memories revived” were those gopīs who had been initially stopped from meeting Kṛṣṇa. []

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