The Gopis’ Love for Kṛṣṇa

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

The flowers were in bloom, but their fruits were yet to come. Reddened by the moonlight, the flowers suggested that this was the perfect time for love. By mentioning the fullness of the moon, Kṛṣṇa indicated that where there is fullness one should stay. Those who have only partial devotion, clinging still to the world of illusion, can never be full and thus never stay with him. The evening breeze was cool and favorable. All of these signs of nature indicated that the gopīs should delay, and not go for some time (tad yāta mā ciraṁ goṣṭhaṁ). Regarding their children and calves, Kṛṣṇa indicated that those interested in happiness should not go where there is suffering.

Kṛṣṇa then told the gopīs, “Perhaps you have come here out of great love for me, compelled by this alone. This, of course, is laudable, for all living beings love me.” All living beings may not love God directly and acknowledge his proprietorship, but they all love that which he alone provides. Kṛṣṇa told the gopīs that if love was their motive, it was proper. However, even in stating this, Kṛṣṇa continued to speak indirectly, for it is not artful to engage in direct speech, and thus he appeared to continue to encourage the gopīs to return home. Kṛṣṇa told the gopīs that they did not understand how to properly execute devotional life. There was no need for them to stay there with him, but they should continue to execute their religious duties toward husband, family, and children even while cultivating their love for God. Thus Kṛṣṇa preached to them regarding the worship of God. Yet this kind of worship of God is not the kind of love the gopīs had for Kṛṣṇa.

Thus Kṛṣṇa differentiated here between the gopīs’ love for him and the love all other living entities feel toward him. He described the gopīs’ love as yan-tritāśayāḥ, with hearts subjugated, compelled by love, while he described the love all other living beings feel as general affection, prīyante mayī. Thus he indicated that the gopīs must stay with him.

In telling the gopīs that it is a woman’s duty to serve her husband, Kṛṣṇa was also instructing them to stay with him, for he alone is the real husband. Kṛṣṇa said that the wife should serve her husband without duplicity. Yet the word amāyayā also means without illusion. To serve the husband (bhartuḥ, the protector) without illusion is to serve Kṛṣṇa.

Kṛṣṇa continued, “Women who desire a better life in the future should never abandon a husband, even if he is of bad character, unfortunate, old, stupid, sick, or poor, as long as he is not fallen.” Here Kṛṣṇa indicates that because he has six opulences in full, as long as a person has devotion to him, even if such a person has the six faults mentioned or worse, he is to be considered saintly.1 Such is the value of devotion to Kṛṣṇa, by which one eventually develops all the good qualities of the gods. If a person has no devotion to Kṛṣṇa, however, he has little, even if he has all good qualities.2

Kṛṣṇa then condemned adultery, stating that such acts bar one from higher planets in the next life and ruin one’s reputation in this life. Furthermore, adulterous acts are accompanied by fear and performed only with difficulty. Thus he makes it clear that what he is actually proposing regarding their meeting is not what it appears to be on the surface. The meeting of Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs is transcendental to both pious and impious acts.

Concluding his speech, Kṛṣṇa told the gopīs that transcendental love for him is not dependent upon physical proximity. It grows out of directives found in sacred literature that recommend hearing about Kṛṣṇa, seeing his form in the temple, meditating upon him, and chanting his glories. Kṛṣṇa anticipated that the gopīs might respond to his suggestions about chastity by differentiating between their love for him and ordinary love. Thus he pointed out to them the scriptural path of regulated ritualistic devotion (vaidhi-bhakti), in which the notion of passionate love for God does not arise. There is, however, another path, that of spontaneous devotion (rāgānuga-bhakti). It was this path that the gopīs had chosen, and entering Kṛṣṇa’s circle of intimate love is the goal that the gopīs realized. On the rāga mārga, the devotee adheres to scriptural injunctions, performing devotional activities such as hearing, chanting, viewing the temple deity, and meditation, yet with a motive to enter the circle of intimate, and even passionate, transcendental love. This was the gopīs’ chosen path, one that should not be misconstrued to advocate mere physical proximity to Kṛṣṇa.
The gopīs heard what Kṛṣṇa said to them, but they assumed that he was rejecting them. They thought that their desires were contrary to Kṛṣṇa’s will; they thus felt embarrassed and dejected, their dreams shattered. They looked to the ground as if it were about to swallow them. Their breathing became heavy and their lips parched. With their toes they scribbled in the dust, and the tears from their eyes washed away their mascara and mixed with the saffron they had smeared on their breasts.3 Standing in silence, their grief knew no bounds. Yet they noticed that Kṛṣṇa too had become silent. They had forsaken everything for him. They had withdrawn their passion for every other person or thing, yet he had spoken to them as if he were another person, not the one who a year ago had accepted their proposal for amorous love. His apparent rejection, however, did not affect their love in the slightest. This again is a symptom of real devotion, as is the fact that their passion for Kṛṣṇa involved the loss of passion or desire for anything else. They were not about to turn back, even at the formidable obstacle presented by Kṛṣṇa’s apparent rejection and orders to return home. Thus they collected themselves and with faltering voices began to speak.4 They stammered in their speech, both because they were upset and because they were about to oppose the orders of the Absolute Truth personified.

  1. These six opulences are wealth, strength, beauty, fame, knowledge, and renunciation. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.5.47) []
  2. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 5.18.21 []
  3. This is an example of the vyabhicārī-bhāva of cintā, anxiety, symptoms of which are drawing lines on the ground, breathing deeply, lowering one’s head, etc. []
  4. This is an example of the sāttvika-bhāva, or involuntary expression, of svara-bheda, faltering of the voice. []

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