Embracing at Times Square: Learning Love from The Gopis of Vrindavan

Article of the Month - Sep 2007

This article by Nitin Kumar.

(Viewed 58690 times since Sep 2007)

According to the seventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, all manifested world is a work of ‘prakriti’ while Krishna is the supreme ‘purusha.’ What this suggests is that everything in this world is an expression of the feminine creative principle. The scriptures further define a woman as "one who fears." Thus, only one who has no fear is a purusha. All of us have numerous fears hounding our lives, the most intense of which is the fear of death. Therefore, it remains firmly established that the only true male in this world is Krishna, while the rest all are females.

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The objective of human life is to kindle in the heart loving devotion towards god. The nature of this affection is exclusive, that is, excluding the entire world, all our attachment needs to be directed to the feet of god. The Gita says:

‘The Supreme Purusha is attainable by exclusive devotion to him alone.’ (8.22)

Thankfully, we are fully geared for this aim. Since we are all women, we are by nature possessed of possessive love and inherently tuned to offer ourselves with complete devotion, attachment and surrender. Here it must be understood that loving god is different than merely believing in him. It is another thing, for example, to appreciate his splendor in the rising sun and bow our heads before it. This does not make us a lover of god, but only a believer. Believing is different than having an overwhelming desire for union with god.

Way of Loving God – Same as We Love This World

It is also important to realize that the manner in which we love god is not different than the love we indulge in the world. Its method, technique etc is totally the same; and how otherwise could it be? It is the only way to love we know. The only difference being that in the latter case we have in our minds a worldly man or a woman, and in the former, god is enshrined in our hearts. The lamp of love is in our hands; it is up to us whom we direct it towards – the world or god. For example, attachment to money is called greed, however, the same attachment when directed towards god becomes bhakti.

Mirabai and Krishna

The Supreme Emotion in Man

Of all the emotions in man, kama, or desire, is the strongest because he is born due to it. In fact, the world came into being because in the beginning god was alone and desired to become many:

‘He desired that "Let me be many. Let me procreate." He concentrated with fervor; and having concentrated, created all that is.’ (Taittriya Upanishad 2.61)

When kama affects a man he thinks of a woman, and vice versa. Now, what one does is replace the man or woman with the image of god. Let kama remain the same, only the subject needs to be changed. It is similar to the moment of creation above. When god desired, he meditated on himself, similarly, by making god the object of our kama, we are but reflecting on our innermost selves.

From Whom Can We Learn The Art of Love?

The ancient scriptures are unanimous in declaring that the gopis of Vrindavana are the ideal teachers from whom one can learn the art of loving god. The word gopi itself explains the manner in which this love can be inculcated in our lives.

The primary meaning of the word ‘gopi’ is ‘secret.’ Thus, a gopi is one who keeps her love and lover secret. Indeed, it is never a good idea to display one’s love in front of all. Love is softer than a rose petal. When exposed to touch, the petal will shrink. Love should never come under the pressure of anybody’s gaze.

Love is a lamp lighted inside the temple of the heart. Till the gate of the mouth is closed it burns uninterrupted inside. However, once the mouth opens and the outside air enters, it flickers and dies out. A love exposed requires much more care to sustain than one kept secret. People of the world are not firmly established in any one position. When they see you secure in love in one place, they get together to shake it, trying to make it as shaky as they themselves are.

The love of the gopis with Krishna does not belong to the parks, or to the streets. Therefore, if you want to keep your love intact, don’t embrace at the Times Square in front of a thousand eyes. Leave it for those sacred moments when you are alone.

Mother Yashoda Adorns Her Baby Gopala

Objection: If we have to love god like a woman, we can nourish love for Krishna as a mother for her son, rather than the gopis’ dalliance with him.

Resolution: A mother, though extremely fond of her son, reserves priority for her husband, and, if having more than one offspring, her affection is not exclusive as mentioned above.

Also, there always will remain a thick curtain of modesty between a mother and child, preventing a union without any inhibiting screen between the two.

God and Jiva – Standing in Mutual Exposure

In the highest state of love, there is no restraining screen between lovers, all separating layers having been peeled off. Both stand vulnerable and fully exposed to each other.

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This is akin to the situation of a king who when going to his court has to dress himself up in all finery and also carry on his body a heavy armor. When the same man comes home, he frees himself of all the trappings of his office, and his wife helps him relieve himself out of these outward signs of majesty and power. He finds true rest only in front of his beloved.

Indeed, no man and woman can get intimately intimate without first standing undraped to each other’s gaze, even a mother cannot feed her child before revealing her breast to him, nor can a husband and wife reach the peak of their affection without first removing all screens concealing one body from the other.

Like Krishna who divested gopis of their clothes and exposed them fully to his gaze, a devotee in his home too indulges his god, undraping him and then draping him in his choice of clothes. Here it is the creative power of love transforming a piece of stone into god.

Objection: We can meditate on Vishnu Lakshmi or Rama and Sita as couples; why meditate on the gopis’ games with Krishna, especially since their relationship in formal terms remains ambiguous?

Shesha Shayi Vishnu in Yoga Nidra

Resolution: No doubt Goddess Lakshmi loves Lord Vishnu very much; however, he is somewhat of an indifferent recluse and does not assert his authority nor expresses any possessiveness towards her. The initiative is totally hers in their relationship and even as she tenderly presses his feet with affection he dozes off in his yoga nidra.

Rama definitely loves Sita very much. Look at how he lamented after Ravana carried her off. However, his top priority is to establish the ideal of dharma and sacrifice in this world, for the sake of which he is ever ready to give up his personal pleasure, friendship or even his beloved Sita. Perhaps, he has not married her, but his duty. The common everyday sweetness of encounter is missing from this loving couple.

Rama Sita

In the case of Krishna however, he is but sweetness personified. His appearance on earth has the sole purpose of attracting us towards him. Leaving his grand, opulent abode ‘Vaikuntha,’ he has manifested himself in terms we can easily relate to. Indeed, one shrinks away from majesty and grandeur, being unable to open up fully in its presence. However, the same god who rules over the world runs barefoot after cows in Vrindavana making us forget his real stature as the highest and mightiest, enabling our stream of human emotions like love, affection and care to flow towards him.

The gopis, seeing him go barefoot into the forests to graze the cows, sing out in distress:

Oh loving lord, when you go to cattle graze,
Our hearts get agitated and we are in a daze,
That your lotus-feet will suffer pricks,
Pained by pebbles, grass and twigs. (Shrimad Bhagavata Purana 10.31.11)

Locking Eyes with Krishna

In Vaikuntha, the lord’s eyes are closed. Nor does he open them easily. What does Krishna do in Vrindavan however? He literally invites the gopis to lock their eyes with his, establishing a bond between them. This is what happened with a new bride. When Krishna passed her street, he saw her cleaning rice, focused totally on her job. Krishna wondered: "All the wives, daughters, mothers and mothers in laws of this village look at me (and I at them), however, surprise of surprises, this bride does not do so. So she should be made to do so."

Krishna then turned around, and to catch her attention, walked slowly in front of her with a slow and dance-like gait (thumak), moving as if to the rhythm of his anklets. When that did not work, he coughed a little which too was not sufficient to make her raise her eyes. He then threw a small pebble at her and started playing a melodious tune on his flute. Who could resist it? Her eyes met his and the bond which grants one everlasting freedom was established.

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This is one of the reasons why Krishna is dark, because he lives in the eyes of the gopis, which are lined with black kohl, leaving a permanent mark on him.

This is also an effective method of meditation. If you are unable to concentrate, close your eyes and think that your eyes are looking straight into the deity of your choice. You will be established in dhyana.

Gopi – One Who Has Married off All Her Senses to Krishna

The eyes of the gopis are married to Krishna. Indeed, our eyes cannot have anybody else as their lord.

Objection: You say that eyes are wedded to Krishna, but they go (like prostitutes), to whatever attracts their attraction. Similarly do our ears go wherever they hear a favorable sound. Thus, our sense organs do not have a single constant husband they feel attracted towards.

Resolution: It is a common experience that when we see a beautiful form it churns our mind enough to render us sleepless in the night. Meaning that our senses are unable to "sleep" with their object of interest. However, when the same senses leave the outside object, only then can they peacefully go to sleep with the Supreme Purusha resting within each of us. Thus like a wife who can only sleep with her true husband, the sense organs too find rest only with our inner being.

Krishna Meets Gopis

The word gopi also means one who drinks (pi) Krishna from all her sense organs (go). Actually, the divine principle in each of us is Nirguna, unmanifest. However, the mere knowledge that fire resides in a piece of wood is of no use to a person shivering with cold. It is only when the fire is made manifest that its heat relieves the person. Similarly, it is the intense need of the gopis to love and mate with Krishna that compels him to spring out of their hearts and take a manifest (Saguna) form. The gopis have thus unified their inner and outer vision.

Why The Love of Gopis’ Goes Beyond the Physical

The gopis’ affection for Lord Krishna is a supreme tribute to the creative power of love, which transforms a gross physical emotion (kama) into divine love (prema). Remember, this is the same love and faith which has the power to transform a piece of stone into god.

 Lord Krishna Surrounded by Gopis

When we enter the lila of Krishna with the gopis, the first reaction is purely physical. However, the effect is not tantalizing, rather, it has a calming effect on our otherwise constantly restless senses. Hence, we understand that the purpose of this lila is to make us realize that for the numerous births we have been playing with jivas in this world, we have never found peace. Only when we play with the lord alone do we gain everlasting shanti.

There are many aspects which make it amply clear that the lord’s sport with the gopis is something beyond the physical. Some of these are:

1). The story of Lord Krishna and the gopis was narrated to King Parikshit, who was destined to die within a week. The whole purpose of the exercise was to render the king fearless of his impending death enabling him to attain Moksha. Would a king on the brink of death be inclined to hear tales of lust? Could such stories in any way help his liberation?

Krishna Dances with Gopis

2). When Krishna wanted to dance with the gopis (rasa lila), he let forth from his flute a sweet melody. Hearing this music the gopis lost all external consciousness, left whatever they were doing and rushed out to meet Krishna. One such gopi was applying cow dung paste to the walls of her house. She too ran without even bothering to wipe her hands. Would a woman desiring physical union with her lover go in this state to meet him?

3). The gopis were intimate enough with Krishna to ask for the "nectar of his lips." (Shrimad Bhagavata Purana 10.31.14). This demand however is loaded with philosophical symbolism. The Sanskrit word here is a-dhara-amrit. The word dhara means the earth and the prefix ‘a’ negates it, i.e. what the gopis were asking for was a heavenly nectar, which did not belong to this world.

4). There have been innumerable instances of individuals, who, having studied the gopis love with Lord Krishna, have given up their homes, becoming ascetics wandering freely around the world, meditating solely on the god’s lila. Is it possible for a worldly tale made up of luscious physical love to have this kind of an effect?


God is lord of the world, which but dances to His tune. The lord of god however is love, which makes Him dance to its tune.

Radha Dancing On The Flute of Her Beloved Krishna

References and Further Reading:

  • Chinmayananda, Swami. The Holy Geeta: Mumbai, 2002.
  • Devi, Shrimati Dayakanti. Shrimad Bhagavata Mahapurana (With Word to Word Meaning in 8 Volumes): Allahabad, 1993.
  • Dongre ji, Shri Rama Chandra. Shri Gopi Geet (Discourses on the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana 10.31): Vrindavan, 2007.
  • Goswami, C.L. and Shastri, M.A. Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana (English Translation in Two Volumes) Gorakhpur, 2005.
  • Gupta, Som Raj. The Word Speaks to the Faustian Man (Volume III - Shri Shankaracharya's Commentary on the Taittriya Upanishad): Delhi, 1999.
  • Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Discourses on the Gopi Geet: Vrindavan, 2003.
  • Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda. Discourses on the Pranaya Geet: Vrindavan, 2004.
  • Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda.Narada Bhakti Darshan (Discourses on the Narada Bhakti Sutras): Vrindavana, 2003.
  • Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2004.
  • Sivananda, swami. Yoga Vedanta Dictionary Rishikesh, 2004.
  • Tagare, G.V. (tr). The Bhagavata Purana (5 Volumes (Annotated)) Delhi, 2002.
  • Tejomayananda, Swami. Gopika Gitam: The Gopis' Song Mumbai, 2001.
  • Gupta, Som Raj. The Word Speaks to the Faustian Man (Volume III - Shri Shankaracharya's Commentary on the Taittriya Upanishad) Delhi, 1999.

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  • radhey radhey i am a devotee fof jagatguru kripalu ji maharaj. We love Radha rani. radhey radhey
    minakshi December 07, 2007
  • Hare Krishna Prabhuji, acceplt my humble dandavats. I was extremely pleased to see Their Lordship Sri Sri Radhe Shyam photography on this article. Those exact dieties came to me weeks ago...remember me ?.... Their Lordship are now named: SRI SRI RADHE SHYAM SATCITANANDA SUNDARI ALOK and look even more beautiful and attractive every day. Their Lordship are the perfect friend , the perfect parents, the perfect lovers and the perfect allmighty personality of Godhead. Its the highest rasa to be with them day and night and since They arrived we are FULLY ESTATIC and allaround engaged in devotional service. Its only engaging in devotional service that we can enter the Rasa Lila the gopi experience in Vrndavan and still experience in Vrajaloka. I indeed got invited to "joining the party" so to say,by Srimati Radhika Devi. Her association is so sweet and intence. I take this opportunity to say thanks to You. In full service of Srimati Radharani and Sri Shyamasundara Dandavats RADHE RADHE BOLO ! Salagramsila devi dasi
    salagramsila devidasi EUROPE October 27, 2007
  • Sublimated and carried to lofty spiritual heights, even the physical act of "Standing in Mutual Exposure". One embraces a mother, sister, a girlfriend or a wife. The act is the same but the bhav is unique to each embrace. The topic could be a future newsletter.
    Ravi October 26, 2007
  • This is the perfect article for today! It's Radha-Astami! Let's all wish Mother Radha a happy birthday! Happy Birthday Dearest Mother!
    Radhey Radhey! September 19, 2007
  • Thank you for the article of the month September. It is so beautiful, I have been listening to Hindu wisdom for many years. I will be shopping with you shortly, I have planned to visit Mount Abu next November to visit many splendid temples etc. Please keep sending information on all your beautiful goods. Om Shanti.
    Carole September 18, 2007
  • Jai Shree Krishna, All I wanted to say is a BIG THANK YOU! I have enjoyed this wonderful edition, and could not get enough of Lord Krishna’s wonderful pastimes. God bless you, may you continue to let this nectar flow! With loving thoughts,
    Rita Lalla September 18, 2007