What is the difference between a woman’s love for a paramour and the gopis’ love for Krishna?

by Chaitanya CharanMay 9, 2012

From Jagad Jivan Govinda Prabhu:

A boy questioned me; In tirupati “a lady left her husband & children for the sake of her paramour” this was the news in a news paper(of course later she was killed by her husband). comparing this case with the Gopis.even the gopis left their social customs,their wills,houses,husbands,children etc…, for the sake of  Lord Bankibihari, who is the most attractive and ultimate enjoyer.The thing that he focus is that what is the difference between renounciation of the gopis of vrindavan & the lady whome he mentioned before. The answer i gave him  is “This is material and that is spiritual” still he is not satisfied.    i request you to enlighten me in this matter in great detail.

ANSWER:  Thank you for this important question.  Certainly, at first look the similarities between the Gopis leaving their home to serve Krishna and a worldly woman leaving her family responsibilities for going away with the paramour can be quite disturbing. There have been western intellectuals and Christian evangelists along with many other people who have criticized Krishna’s dealing with gopis as immoral.  At the same time, while the similarities may be striking and apparent to the casual reader, a serious reader will also consider the broader context that is involved over here. In principle, what you said, that this is material and that is spiritual,  is true still it needs a greater clarification. This pastime of Krishna with the Gopis is given in the tenth canto of Srimad Bhagvatam.  The tenth canto of Srimad Bhagvatam, which comes after nine cantos, elaborately talks about the purity and power of God, and the purity and power of His devotees. We see that in the Srimad Bhagvatam, the person who is speaking,  Sukadeva Goswami  had utterly renounced everything material. He  was so renounced, as described in the first canto of Srimad Bhagvatam, that even women who  were bathing  didn’t feel embarrassed on seeing him because they  knew that he  was not at all in  the bodily consciousness.  This is also described in other puranas, how Sukadeva  Goswami was transcendental to all material temptations. He did not even see the male-female duality at all because he saw beyond the body,  the soul.  Further, it is described that  once he was tested by king  Janak by having a lump of sugar placed on his tongue and was told to just let it be there. Normally, when we hear or even see sugar our tongue starts watering, but the lump of sugar stayed on his tongue for a long time and he was not even least disturbed.  In fact not only he was not least disturbed, he not even secreted saliva. Then Janak maharaj told him to go around his palace, carrying a milk glass which  was filled to the brim, and all over the palace young beautiful dancers were dancing and singing. Sukadev  Goswami went around  without spilling a single drop of milk. He was so  fixed internally in the remembrance of Krishna and externally on the pot of milk that there was no distraction for  him  seeing the alluring seductive forms of all these women Therefore, the point here is, that the person who is speaking Srimad Bhagvatam is utterly detached from all forms of sensual enjoyment  and is entirely unlikely to write or speak any literature that glorifies sensual enjoyment, what to  speak of any literature that glorifies immortal sensual enjoyment. For anyone to feel the tongue watering when sugar is placed on it, there is nothing immoral in it,  it is entirely natural. But  Sukadev  Goswami was even beyond this natural enjoyment, which is completely natural and not at all immoral or in other words, which is normal and entirely moral.  If he is not disturbed by such natural enjoyments then why is he ever going to say or write something immoral? Hence, in the first context we need to see that the author who is speaking this is entirely transcendental, has no material temptation and hence it is completely unreasonable to say that he will write or glorify some immoral activity. This is the first point.

The second point is that, if you look at the way this pastime is described in the Srimad Bhagvatam, it comes in the tenth canto. Before that it is described how the devotees are ready to renounce everything for Krishna’s sake. Prahalad maharaja is ready to renounce the entire kingdom that Hiranyakashipu (his father) had, just for the sake of bhakti to Lord Krishna or Lord Narshimhadeva, more specifically. Similarly, the devotees are ready to renounce everything they possess. Srimad Bhagvatam in its progression evolution, shows how there are extraordinary kinds of love between Krishna and his devotees. Here is a tender five year old boy Prahalad and a ferocious form of the Lord as half man and half lion. Similarly, in the eighth canto there is description of Bali maharaj, who is a handsome powerful demon king, and he gives up his full kingdom for the sake of the dwarf brahman, Lord Vamana. Here we find the relationship between God and his devotee, where  the devotee is a king and the God is a mendicant beggar. Basically, the normal convention of God being up there in the sky and the worshipper being down here praying to God and God raising his hand and showering down blessing of wealth and prosperity on the devotee is completely the conception of human and divine relationship. It is completely shaken up in the Bhagvatam as one proceeds to the tenth canto.  By this it becomes clear that actually there is  similarity between the ferocious lion like giant being and a tender five year old cultured boy, the only similarity and the only link, is the link of the heart. The Bhagvatam goes on to show how this love between God and the devotee can be manifested in various forms. If we go through the Bhagvatam, from the first canto to the ninth, we will see that this love is bhakti (devotional service), between the Bhagavan and the bhakta and is the essential ultimate reality that is there in life. At the same time the Bhagvatam describes the damages caused by lust. In the ninth canto which comes just before the tenth canto, where there is the description of the three great personalities falling down to lust. There is maharaj Iyati, , maharaj Pururava, and there is ………………….. All three of them fall prey to lust. Hence, the Bhagvatam shows on one side the extraordinary nature of love between the Lord and the devotees, and on the other side it shows the great dangers of lust.

After setting this background, in the tenth canto Srimad Bhagvatam introduces us to the love between the Lord and the devotees in the most human seeming form, which means Krishna appears to be a male and the Gopis appear to be females. Now, we may think that it is just male -female relationship, but the Bhagvatam has, throughout its nine cantos, told us that actually Krishna is God, and Krishna relates with his devotees on spiritual level. At the highest understanding, if we see from the philosophical point of view, the Gopis are all devotees of Krishna.  If we see the background of the Bhagvatam, we will not see Krishna as man and Gopis as women instead we will accept Krishna as God and the Gopis as bhaktas. We will see their relationship primarily as a relationship between Bhagavan and bhaktas, not as a relationship between a boy and a girl or a man and a woman.  That’s why reading of Srimad Bhagvatam progressively is essential. Further looking at the specific context in Srimad Bhagvatam, right at the start of this description of  Rasa Lila pastime, which is in the tenth canto in chapters twenty nine to thirty three, Sukadeva Goswami uses the word yogamaya upastitah.  Here ‘yogamaya’ is a very curious word, because maya is that which makes us forget Krishna and yoga is that which is meant for us to connect with Krishna, therfore yogamaya is a very curious word; because one part of the compound word says that which is the cause of our forgetfulness of Krishna, and the other part of the compound talks about that which brings remembrance of Krishna. Such words in English grammar are referred as oxymoron.  Oxymoron means two words which have a contradictory meaning but which are brought up together in a compound word. For example, the word, intelligent-idiot. Now somebody is either intelligent or he is idiot. How can somebody be an intelligent-idiot? Hence, the Bhagvatam shakes up our misconceptions before it leads us into the Gopi-Krishna pastime. This is something extraordinary, it is the realm of yogamaya. Krishna as God has the highest realms, He does not relate to His devotees as if He is God and all His devotees are His servants and subordinates. He relates with His devotees on an almost equal level to such an extent that a devotee forgets His divinity and relate with Him as a person. At the same time, both Krishna and His devotees, remain transcendental.

The extraordinariness of this pastime can be seen from multiple factors. The first is that, the Bhagvatam says, Krishna is just eight years old when he performed the rasa dance with the Gopis. Now an eight year old person does not have any lust. Beyond this the Bhagvatam clearly describes that after the whole pastime is performed, the preside of hearing this pastime is that one’s lusty desires will decrease. (sloka ? ……………………………………………………..) Which means when one hears the pastime of Krishna with the gopis, what happens is that, the lust in one’s heart will decrease and one will develop a sense of intense affection and devotion for Krishna. One may ask how will this happen? If the Gopis and Krishna are just ordinary male and females and their relationship is just based on ordinary lusty desires, then how could hearing about this incident will decrease the lust within us? When people go to see romantic movies, or read romantic or exquisite novels, that do not decrease their lust, rather it increases their lusty feelings. Therefore, the conclusion is that because this pastime is transcendental it will decrease their lust. But what it means when we say it is spiritual or transcendental?  It means there is no sense of selfishness or self-centeredness in the relationship. The Vedic scriptures describe that this world is like a reflection of the spiritual world. Whatever we see in the reflection, in this world, is present in its original and pure form in the spiritual world. Here we have a mother child relationship, which is already there in the spiritual world in its original purity and eternality as  Yashoda and Krishna relationship. Also there it is completely pure because both of them love each other just for the sake of pleasing other person and  the relationship is eternal. In this world the mother child relationship is not eternal, it is temporary, and it is destroyed over a period of time. Similarly, in this world we  have the friend-friend relationship, so there is sakhya rasa relationship between Krishna and Sudama, Krishna and Madhumangal, Krishna and his sakhas (cowherd friends of Krishna). Therefore, whatever relationship we see in this world, for instance, relationship  between parents and child; between friends or between the master and the servant, they are all  there between Krishna and his devotees in the spiritual world. And the most intense relationship in this world, the relationship between man and woman is there in the spiritual world as a relationship between Krishna and the Gopis. In the spiritual world the relationship is based on pure love, but here in this material world it is based on lust. If we consider the point, of the world being a reflection, as quoted in Bhagavad gita 15.1 which mentions the upside down banyan tree,


urdhva-mulan adhah sakham, asattham prahur avyayam,

chandamsi yasya parnani, yas tam veda sa veda-vit. (BG 15.1)

  It is described that the material world is like a tree whose branches are downwards and whose roots are upwards. We usually see such an upside down tree only in the reflection in a river.  Therefore, this world is a reflection, but what is it reflection of? The spiritual world. Now that which is top most on the tree, say there is a mango at the top of the tree, it will be reflected as the bottom most in the reflection. Similarly that which is the bottom most in the reflection, will actually be the topmost in the reality. So the relationship between a man and a women in this world, especially if it is out of marriage, is based on paramour love, that is the lowest , there is no doubt about it, it is immoral. And the Bhagvatam itself repeatedly condemns this sort of immorality. But in the original reality, that which is the lowest here, in the material world, is actually the highest there, in the spiritual world. So why is the Gopis’ love considered as the highest? Because in the Vedic culture, women’s chastity is her greatest respected value. For a woman to give up her chastity herself voluntarily is considered to be a matter of great immorality and to have her chastity violated forcefully, is considered to be the greatest shame. The point is, either way, whether voluntary or forcefully, preserving the chastity is even the greatest respect in the Vedic culture. Chastity is considered to be women’s greatest value, greatest possession. Also before we understand about the  Gopis’ love for Krishna, we need to understand that the Gopis are not just girls. If we read the  puranic literature, it is told that many of the Gopis were actually sages of dandakaranya forest. These sages were attracted to Lord Rama when he was in the forest performing pastimes with Sita. They were attracted to Him in the conjugal form, and they were blessed by the Lord to be able to participate with Him in the Rasa Lila, in His next incarnation as Krishna. That means that these Gopis are not just young beautiful women, but they, try to think of it  in this way, are sages with long beard and bodies that are worn out with austerity. They are saints whose bodies are emaciated by long penances. Now consider, if  we see Krishna dancing with such sages, will we feel any objection to  it? Will we consider any immorality in it?  No, obviously not. Similarly from Krishna’s point of view, the primary aspect that attracts Him to anyone, whether  they are beautiful looking Gopis or emaciated looking sages, it’s not their looks but their devotion of their hearts which attracts Him. These great sages were given the form of the Gopis, and they performed pastimes with Krishna. Krishna is actually relating with them at a spiritual, transcendental level and one of the principles of love is, in love one is ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of one’s beloved. A mother who is ready to sacrifice a nice sleep when the baby starts crying at night, is a dutiful and loving mother because out of her love she is ready to sacrifice the nice night sleep for the sake of her baby. Similarly, one of the symptoms of love is, one sacrifices that which is most dear to a person. The gopis by going out to Krishna at night, they in one sense sacrificed their chastity. Now is that immorality? At a material level if somebody does something similar, it is not a sacrifice of chastity, rather it is slavery to lust. It is actually because of slavery to lust that one gives up his/her morality and succumbs to one’s……….. impulses. But in the case of the Gopis, they have no material desire, they are already realized evolved souls and for them to go to Krishna is expression of the loftiest surrender. As it is the expression of the loftiest surrender, it is celebrated in Srimad Bhagvatam. We should see all the Gopis not just as women but as devotees, and should see Krishna not just as an ordinary man but as Bhagavan, as supreme God.

In all great religions of the world whether it is Christianity or Islam, or Judaism, it is recognized that the sexual desire is the greatest distraction from an individual’s journey towards God. All the religions ask one to curb this sexual desire, to control it, to discipline it, either through marriage and regulation therein or complete absenteeism by taking monkhood. At the same time although all the religions talk about the need for controlling sex desire, none of the religions apart from Sanatana dharma describes where this sex desire comes from, where does sex desire originate from?  It originates from Krishna’s  relationship with the gopis. When Krishna comes to this world and performs the Rasa Lila, He actually shows us variety,  and multiple relationships (rasas) of the spiritual world. These rasas also include the relationship  of Krishna, being the supremely attractive young boy, and the gopis, being extremely attractive young girls. Still in their case the relationship, as none of them are motivated by selfish lust, is completely pure and transcendental. But the point is, this relationship is there in the spiritual world and all of us come to the material world because we want to imitate Krishna. One may ask, what does it means by ‘imitating Krishna’? It means that we want to enjoy male-female relationship in this world by imitating the position of Krishna as the enjoyer. Also if the soul gets the female body that soul still wants  to be self centered enjoyer, which is the same desire to imitate Krishna, ultimately. Krishna is not self centered, but we mistake him to be self centered and justify our self centeredness by citing this example. Krishna is completely selfless and pure hearted in His relationship with everyone. The Rasa Lila driven by Krishna demonstrates us, Stop Imitating Me!  Why to imitate when you can participate? Krishna played flute to invite the Gopis. Krishna is playing His flute in the deity form, constantly, to call all of us back to the spiritual world and to join with Him in His eternal pastimes. When we understand that this world is just a mere reflection of the spiritual world and that there is conjugal relationship in the spiritual world, then we can actually understand why there is male-female relationship at all existing in the material world? When we understand, the relationship in this world is actually the reflection of the spiritual world, these are attempts to imitate God, we will realize that just as the mango, which is there on the tree cannot be found in its reflection, we can’t be happy in this world. Then we can become detached from the reflection and can become attached to the reality. Krishna reveals His pastimes, with the Gopis, the madhurya rasa pastimes, to help us differentiate between reflection and reality; so that we can give up the attraction of the reflection and return back to the reality. Unfortunately we do not have proper philosophical understanding, we mistake the reflection to be the reality and the actual reality to be similar to the reflection. Which means we think that the male-female relationship here is the greatest source of pleasure and think that Krishna is also doing the same thing. But Krishna is not doing the same thing. We need to philosophically understand properly what Krishna’s position is, and then look at Krishna’s actions. Otherwise  it’s like a tribal, living in a village, who has never heard of any concept like surgery,  comes from tribal jungles to a city where a doctor is performing a complicated surgery. As soon as he comes near the operating room and sees that this well dressed person, whom everybody else is respecting, comes in front of  the man who is lying unconscious, and starts cutting him thinks  what is this? Stop! Stop! He is killing the  man on the bed. Everyone else will say ‘shut up, don’t interrupt’. Later on he comes back and tells his experience to the relative of that person. The doctor comes out, after the surgery, and the tribal man tells the relatives, ‘This is the person who actually wounded your relative’ catch him, punish him, beat him’. And the relatives pay no attention to this person; instead the relatives take out money and give it to the doctor. The village man will think, ‘these people are totally crazy, that fellow cut the stomach of this person who was unconscious and his relatives are paying the person who wounded their relative, what kind of crazy nuts they are? But in reality they are not crazy nuts, he is almost like crazy because he is entirely uninformed about what is happening. The point here is, before we can understand the action of anyone we need to understand the position of that person.  Before we can understand what a surgeon is doing, we need to know what it means to be a surgeon. Similarly, before we can understand what Krishna and the Gopis are doing, we need to understand who Krishna and the Gopis are? First understand the position, and then understand the action. So we will very curiously say Krishna and gopis if at all they were, their relationship was something materialistic, then why is it? We first of all should consider that, as I mentioned Sukadeva Goswami, such a great renounced sage, he is talking about their activities when he has no interest in anything material. At the same time not that he only is talking about it but there are great sages throughout history, for instance, Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who was such a strict sannyasi (renunciate),used to discuss about Krishna’s activities with the Gopis. So are the six Goswamis of Vrindavan (headed by Srila Rupa Goswami). Apart from them there are great saints in all the Vaishnava sampradayas who have glorified the pastimes of Radha and Krishna as the highest expression of divine love. Not only that, all of us can practically experience that by chanting Hare Krishna, by fixing our minds on Krishna, the lust from our hearts departs. We are just occasionally and partially fixing our minds on Krishna and the lust from our hearts is decreasing and disappearing gradually. Then how can Krishna be lusty? The Gopis are fixing their minds on Krishna, how can they be lusty? We will also see that those who are renunciates in this world, they too are inspired and attracted by Krishna. When they see Krishna performing pastime with the Gopis, these people, don’t want to imitate Krishna, rather they want to, renounce the worldly relationship of this world and dedicate their lives to Krishna by becoming brahmacharis or sannyasis or, in other words, monks. There are others who don’t become brahmacharis, sannyasis and monks, still they also become devoted to God and often give up excess indulgence in worldly pleasures. So if Krishna was engaging in worldly pleasures then how hearing His pastimes could inspire His devotees to give up worldly pleasures? The way we can make sense of all this is by the reflection-reality metaphor. The devotees, who hear about Krishna’s pastimes, understand that these relationships are the real relationships. They are eternal pure transcendental relationships based on selfless love and we need to enter into these relationships rather than cultivating relationships independent of Krishna in this world. They also understand that the male-female relationship here is the highest expression of illusion and therefore they want to give up these relationships. They have understood that Krishna’s relationship with gopis is like the real mango, and the relationship between man and women in this world is like the reflection. Rather than getting attracted to the reflection they know the reflection, what it is, and they turn away from it to turn towards Krishna.  They try to purify themselves more and more of lust so that they can enter into Krishna’s pastimes and participate in eternal loving joy in the spiritual world.

To summarize,  I have made six points in this answer, to understand the difference between worldly woman’s love for the paramour and the Gopi’s love for Krishna.

(1) Look who is the person, who is speaking these pastimes and how utterly renounced he is. He is Sukdeva Goswami.

(2) Look at how, in the first nine cantos, Srimad Bhagvatam glorifies bhakti for Bhagavan, and the bhaktas in extraordinary settings to show us what actually love is, as the only ultimate reality. It prepares us for focusing the essential reality of bhakti so that when we see the relationship between Krishna and the Gopis what we will focus on is – bhakti and not the apparent male-female relationship. Not only this, Bhagvatam also talks about lust. It condemns captivations by lust and cautions spiritual seekers to stay away from it. After glorifying bhakti and condemning Kama (lust) then, when it talks about the pastimes between Krishna and the Gopis there also, it repeatedly keeps on warning us. Firstly it starts with yogamaya, which means – maya is that which makes us forget God and yoga is which helps us to remember God. So it means, that when the devotees relate with Krishna they forget that He is God, but they remember Krishna because he is so beautiful, so attractive, although He still remains God.

(3) The Bhagvatam specifically describes that Krishna was just eight years old. Children at this age are not very lusty and nothing more than dance happened in the Rasa Lila pastimes. For instance, the  Gopis did not become pregnant, there was nothing of that sort happened (or mentioned) in the relationship between Krishna and the Gopis.

(4) The Bhagvatam mentions that by hearing these pastimes one will become free from lust. If we look at the thread of events in the Bhagvatam, what comes in it before the Rasa Lila, what comes through out it and what comes at the end of the Rasa Lila, is that God’s acting, this event is transcendental and it will decrease lust in our hearts, which indicates that there is nothing ordinary or material in it. How do we understand it? I gave the example of the reflection and the reality.  All the religions of the world tell us that sex is the greatest obstacle in the spiritual path, but none of them tells us where does sex desire originates from?  Only the Vedic literatures tell us that  it is the original pure relationship between Krishna and His devotees in the spiritual world which is the source of sex life. When we want to imitate Krishna and replace Him as the enjoyer, we come to this world to seek pleasure, which is like the reflection of the reality.  The reflected mango has no happiness and searching for that mango under water will cause only frustration or even injury. If we will jump into the water to taste the reflected mongo we will break our heads against an underwater rock. Similarly when we try to enjoy immoral pleasures here in this material world, we will get diseases or we may even get caught in legal complications. Like you said in the incident, which you mentioned, the husband killed his unchaste wife.  In this way by the understanding of the reflection and the reality, Krishna reveals to us that actually we should give up our attraction towards the reflection and turn towards the reality. This is the heart of the answer, primarily from the philosophical point, of why Krishna performs pastimes like this?

(5) I mentioned that we need to see the position before understanding the action.  For the position of Krishna,  I gave the example of the surgeon who will be misunderstood by an uninformed uneducated tribal.  Similarly we may misunderstand Krishna. But if we understand the position and then look at the action, then we will understand that Krishna is purely and selflessly motivated.

(6)  At last we need to understand the position of the Gopis. We need to see them not just as young girls but as great sages from the antiquity as exalted devotees who are expressing the pinnacle of surrender by sacrificing which is the most cherished possession of a woman, her chastity, to express their love for Krishna. The caliber of the people who were glorifying these pastimes, because they  understood it and accepted it as  the reality, was that they gave up attraction of the reflection and they turned towards Krishna. They offered their lives to Krishna and practiced morality and spirituality.

The Gopis are never to be imitated even by devotee women who are attracted to Krishna.  They are meant to serve Krishna faithfully, by faithfully serving their husbands and by cultivating devotion to Krishna doing their household domestic and other duties that they may have. This is exemplified by Krishna himself, telling the yagyic brahman patnis (in the twenty-forth and twenty-fifth chapters of the tenth canto), who came to Him, to go back home, because although they were devotees they were not at that level of devotion as the Gopis. He told them to go back home and remember Him, while at the same time serving their husbands. This is the moral that Krishna sets for His devotees in general, and only for the Gopis who are devotees at the pinnacle of devotion, can they  transcend mundane morality in their devotion to Krishna.  Devotees, in general, are not meant to break morality then what to speak of materialistic people, who simply want to gratify their senses. They are not even looking at God. They are just attracted to other person’s skin. They are going after one another. Therefore this pastime is never to be imitated. This pastime is to be carefully understood and we should never just use it to justify any immorality on our part nor should we compare it with any immorality in this world Rather we should understand it as the revelation of the highest spiritual love that helps us make sense of all that happens in this world, and helps us redirect our affection towards Krishna.

Thank you.

About The Author
Chaitanya Charan
  • amrta madhavi devi dasi
    January 26, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Prabhu, Amazing deatiled stuff! Unbeatable law points! Thank you. I have already spoken on a Kannada TV channels your answers to O My God! People are liking your explanations when i repeat. All glories to you Prabhu.

  • kiran kumar epari
    December 22, 2013 at 11:45 am

    wonderful, wonderful and really really wonderful..

  • Ravikant Jagtap
    December 29, 2013 at 10:04 pm

    Thank you prabhuji for excellent answer for more insight devotees may refer your lectures on Gopi Geet part 1&2 & How Krishna stealing the garments of gopis is not immoral but transmoral.

  • Swathi
    December 30, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    Hare Krishna !!
    Wonderful points !! Thank you so much for the excellent answer !!

  • jayakumar
    February 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Very relevant in the present day where pseudospiritualists misinterpret Rasaleela to indulge in sexual orgies

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