By Gauranga Darshan Das

Pure love manifests as the desire to serve the beloved in all circumstances, without considering personal unhappiness.

Love is Eternal

Every living entity is a part and parcel of God, and thus has an eternal relationship with Him. Although one has relationships with many others in this world, they begin when one enters a material body and end while leaving the body. But one is eternally related to the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna. The source of the love within all of us is Krsna and Krsna is the ultimate object of our love too. Therefore, everyone loves Krsna the most, and it is Krsna who loves a person the most.
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 doesn’t make one indifferent to friends and family members, but makes one love them in true spirit.
Kindness and love centered around God makes people more united and broadminded. The love of pure devotees is meant not only for themselves or their immediate family, but such love spreads everywhere and to everyone. On the other hand, love disconnected from God doesn’t ultimately have much substance to satisfy one’s self.
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 relations.
The process of bhakti-yoga is meant to reawaken that love. When one’s love for Krsna is not covered by illusion, the nourishment and pure happiness she or he experiences in heart is beyond the imagination of an ordinary mortal.
Of all those who love Krsna, the residents of Vrndavana are the topmost. They possess the most extraordinary love for Krsna. Amongst them, the gopis are endowed with the greatest love for Krsna. They have no interest in their own pleasure or removing their own pain. They render service with body, mind and words only for Krsna’s happiness.

Love is Selfless

Pure love is characterized by selflessness, service attitude and 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 the 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 through-out the lives of the mother and the child, either due to circumstances or the individuals’ changing priorities. If this is the case with mother-child relationship, what to speak of other relationships in this material world?
Thus the exchanges of love in this mortal world, although exist, are temporary and often volatile. In contrast, love on 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 Krsna, 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 Krsna without payment, and he continues his service in all conditions. That is the difference between Krsna consciousness and material consciousness.” (Krsna book, chapter 29)
The gopis of Vrndavana exemplify such pure and perfect Krsna consciousness. Their love and service are selfless and their constant meditation is how to serve Krsna and please Krsna.

Remembering the Beloved

To somehow or the other remaining always engrossed in the thoughts of Krsna is the essence of devotional service. The gopis do it so naturally and spontaneously, although engaged in many household activities.

ya dohane ‘vahanane mathanopalepa
prenkhenkhanarbha-ruditoksana-marjanadau
gayanti cainam anurakta-dhiyo ‘sru-kanthyo
dhanya vraja-striya urukrama-citta-yanah

“The ladies of Vraja are the most fortunate of women because, with their minds fully attached to Krsna 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 Krsna consciousness they automatically acquire all desirable things.” (10.44.15)
The gopis are not born in brahmana or ksatriya families, but in vaisya families, that too not in big mercantile communities but in cowherd communities. They are not well educated, although they heard all sorts of knowledge from brahmanas. Srila Prabhupada writes, “The exemplary character of devotional service manifested by the devotees of Vrndavana is the purest type of devotion. The gopis particularly showed pure devotional service toward Krsna, so much so that Krsna Himself remained indebted to them. Lord Caitanya thus said that the devotional service manifested by the gopis in Vrndavana excelled all other methods of approaching the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Krsna book, Chapter 32)
Exhibiting the topmost example of krsna-prema, the gopis display their love, youth and beauty only for increasing Krsna’s joy. Their selfless service attitude and dedication towards Krsna is worshipped even by exalted devotees such as Uddhava.

The Topmost Display of Love

The rasa dance that Lord Krsna had performed with the gopis in Vrndavana is the topmost display of such pure love between God and His energies. When the mortal beings see God as ordinary and consider Him one amongst them, they tend to misunderstand His divine activities. However, just as Krsna’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 Krsna and cannot be imitated or criticized by any ordinary man.
Srimad-Bhagavatam states that Lord Krsna’s rasa dance took place on the sarat-purnima, the full-moon night of the Autumn, the most beautiful night in the year. In the festive and cool ambience of sarat-purnima in Vrndavana, the moonrise increased Krsna’s desire to dance with the gopis. Krsna began to play His flute, and the gopis all over Vrndavana left their respective engagements and rushed towards Krsna who was standing at the Vamsivata. Some of them were forbidden by their relatives, but they disregarded them and went to Krsna. When a person becomes attracted by the Supreme Lord Krsna, one loses interest in all external obligations. Initially Krsna spoke few words to send the gopis back, but later He initiated the rasa dance with them.
This apparently immoral activity of Krsna’s dancing with others’ wives is not a display of material lust which is like iron, but of pure spiritual love which is like gold. That rasa-lila is not an ordinary activity and is transcendental is explained elaborately by the Vaisnava acaryas.
Krsna’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.
Krsna is bhagavan, the Supreme Lord endowed with all six opulences in full, and thus has no desire that needs to be fulfilled. Thus His dance cannot be like the ordinary dancing of young boys and girls.
The gopis are transcendental expansions of Krsna’s pleasure potency, and as His potency they are nondifferent from Him. The gopis are on an equal level with Krsna as His eternal associates. In the rasa-lila, Krsna looked at the gopis and touched them exactly as a child enjoys playing with the reflection of his body in a mirror. Krsna was enjoying with His own svarupa-sakti.
In pure spiritual bodies, Lord Krsna 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.
Krsna’s yogamaya orchestrated His rasa dance, and not the mahamaya, that induces dances between boys and girls on the basis of material lust which is like iron. The gopis went to Krsna with the transcendental desire to satisfy Krsna and the spiritual love between them is like gold.
Krsna is the Supersoul (paramatma) in everyone’s heart. He also manifested such expansion in this gathering with the gopis. Krsna was sitting by the side of each gopi, unseen by the others. Krsna 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.
Krsna is self-sufficient (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 Krsna as their husband, He fulfilled their desire.
Krsna is self-satisfied (apta-kama), all His desires are automatically fulfilled. He has no unfulfilled desires. He could not be lusty. Even if He were lusty, He doesn’t need to take help from others to satisfy His lusty desires.
Krsna 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 anyway. It is the purest display of love between the Lord and His devotees.
Even the devotees of Krsna like Arjuna and Haridasa Thakura didn’t succumb to material lust when approached by Urvasi and Maya herself respectively. So, how can their worshippable Lord Krsna be subjected to material lust?
Great paramahamsas in the renounced order of life like Lord Caitanya, Sukadeva Gosvami, the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana also hear and relish the loving pastimes of Krsna with the gopis. So, in no way can these exchanges be ordinary lust.

Testimony for the Purest Love

Once, after going to Mathura, Lord Krsna had sent His dear associate Uddhava to Vrndavana with a message for the gopis. When the Vraja-gopis met Uddhava, who resembled Krsna, the gopis remembered Krsna’s pastimes, and loudly wept in separation from Krsna. Uddhava tried to console the gopis and related to them Krsna’s message.

Uddhava stayed in Vraja for several months reminding the Vraja-vasis about Krsna in various ways. Seeing how the gopis were totally absorbed in Krsna, Uddhava was supremely pleased. Uddhava was an exalted minister in Dvaraka and a dear associate of Krsna. Yet he felt the spiritual urge to worship the glorious gopis, although externally they were mere cowherd girls in a small village called Vrndavana. Desiring to offer them all respect, he sang their glories in five verses (10.47.58-62). Uddhava sang these verses daily while he was in Vrndavana.

Aspired even by great souls

etah param tanu-bhrto bhuvi gopa-vadhvo
govinda eva nikhilatmani rudha-bhavah
vanchanti yad bhava-bhiyo munayo vayam ca
kim brahma-janmabhir ananta-katha-rasasya

[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)
The high births as brahmanas or even Brahma cannot compare to pure Krsna consciousness. In fact, Sri Uddhava, who spoke this verse, took birth as a pure brahmana, but he deprecates this position in comparison to that of the exalted gopis, who had pure love for Krsna.
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 Krsna! 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 Krsna 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 remained 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 of associating with Krsna. But these gopis constituted of the Lord’s pleasure potency (hladini sakti) 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

nayam sriyo ‘nga u nitanta-rateh prasadah
svar-yositam nalina-gandha-rucam kuto ‘nyah
rasotsave ‘sya bhuja-danda-grhita-kantha-
labdhasisam ya udagad vraja-vallabhinam

“When Lord Sri Krsna 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:

asam aho carana-renu-jusam aham syam
vrndavane kim api gulma-latausadhinam
ya dustyajam sva-janam arya-patham ca hitva
bhejur mukunda-padavim srutibhir vimrgyam

“The gopis of Vrndavana 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, Krsna, which one should search for by Vedic knowledge. Oh, let me be fortunate enough to be one of the bushes, creepers or herbs in Vrndavana, because the gopis trample them and bless them with the dust of their lotus feet.” (10.47.61)
Being a humble Vaisnava, 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 Vrndavana so that when they walk upon 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 Vrndavana.
Even Lord Brahma also prayed for the good fortune of taking any birth in Gokula and have 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 for a service attitude like the gopis, with special bhava for Krsna, yet thinking himself unqualified for it, he humbly prayed for the dust of the gopis.

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 Krsna only within her mind. But during the rasa dance Lord Krsna 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 such a bhava.

My fervent prayer

vande nanda-vraja-strinam
pada-renum abhiksnasah
yasam hari-kathodgitam
punati bhuvana-trayam

“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 Krsna, the vibration purifies the three worlds.” (10.47.63)
Among all the devotees, those who worship Krsna are the best, since Krsna is Svayam Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead endowed with all the six opulences in full. Among those devotees, Krsna’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 Krsna 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 Krsna. Among all the gopis, Srimati Radharani is the highest.
Uddhava then took permission to leave from the gopis and from mother Yasoda and Nanda Maharaja. He bade farewell to the Vraja-vasis and departed for Mathura.

Conclusion

One who faithfully hears Krsna’s pastimes with the gopis from the right sources will become completely freed from the lusty desire and elevated to the highest level of spiritual understanding.

vikriditam vraja-vadhubhir idam ca visnoh
sraddhanvito ‘nusrnuyad atha varnayed yah
bhaktim param bhagavati pratilabhya kamam
hrd-rogam asv apahinoty acirena dhirah

“Anyone who faithfully hears or describes the Lord’s playful affairs with the young gopis of Vrndavana 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)

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