Article by Anunay Arora
It was a pleasant day, I was hungry after the entire day in market. We were waiting for our lunch to arrive, when my he asked me – “Toh Sir aapki koi girlfriend?” I smirked, pompously suggesting my completeness without one and said “No.” He immediately replied, without dropping his smile or thinking much “Kyu Sir? Krsna bhi toh gopiyo ke saath raas karte the!“ I smiled back puzzlingly. Our food arrived. And I left – virtually in a whirlpool of thoughts.
This happened 2 years back when I was in Mysore for a short stint. I would spend days at a distributor point. The distributor and I would spend significant time together. We would often speak about our personal interests. My dietary choices and the beads on my neck were enough for him to know about my interest in spirituality and my pursuance of Krsna Consciousness.
His question left me thinking, not because I didn’t have an explanation (my understanding was weak) but also because I realized that the pastimes of God can appear so ordinary to the uninitiated.
So here is a small note which answers one commonly un-asked question. Un-asked because, these aren’t asked to avoid hurting a follower’s sentiments. Also not asked to not embarrass one who has a photo of Krsna on his office desk, but has only read or heard of pastimes, not of philosophy behind the pastimes.
So here is the unasked question – “Krsna or God (Krsna is God? That’s matter for a another article) acted immorally during the Rasa Lila. Why?” When one doesn’t find answer to this question, naturally he/she rejects the idea of God being Krsna and worse God being a person.
So in this note, we address this un-asked question about Krsna while simultaneously explaining nature of the Rasa Lila. Rasa Lila is mentioned in the 10th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. The Bhagavatam is the Summum Bonum of all Vedic Scriptures, and the Rasa Lila is the pinnacle within the Bhagavatam.
Hey, hey, hey, hang on – We started this by trying to answer the question of morality in Krsna’s Rasa Lila. And now we are saying that this very questionable pastime is the all in all, the essence of all Vedic Knowledge. Isn’t that a contradiction? A questionable act being the most supreme act. As the scriptures explain -It’s not a contradiction, it’s a paradox. The note below address the paradox – Why is the ‘immoral’ Rasa Lila so special?
Imagine that you started walking down an inverted pyramid. As you go deeper, the knowledge gets more intricate. Right at the tip of this inverted pyramid of Vedic Knowledge is the Rasa Lila. We as strangers to the Vedic Scriptures are standing miles away from the pyramid, then how can we understand the intricacies at its tip. This is like trying to understand Astrophysics while you are in nursery.
This note aims to take you closer to the tip, maybe say at the base of the pyramid or as a corollary to the understanding of 11th standard physics. If 11th standard physics starts to interest you, then sure – we could try and go towards the tip with a guide. It may take some time though. For now, let’s dive in!
Why is the ‘immoral’ Rasa Lila so special?
The apparent immorality of the Rasa Lila could be broken down into two discrete parts:
1. Why was Krsna a womanizer?
2. Why did Krsna perform Rasa Lila with married women?
We shall address both aspects, and hidden in the understanding will be what makes the Rasa Lila so special. While discussing these aspects, one may across certain aspects of the pastime that he/she was never aware of. This is because the only exposure we have had to the pastime is through the age-old television show – Krsna or Mahabharat, or through paintings hung on walls, or from a local when we visited Vrindavan or Mathura, or a line or two, here and there – from our parents, grandparents, jester friend etc. If you want to read a bit more, then you must pick up – Krsna book by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The book is a beautiful translation of the 10th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam and narrates the pastimes of Krsna 5000 years back.
Section 1 | Why was Krsna a womanizer?
Dictionary meaning: A womanizer is a person who engages in numerous casual affairs with women.
Just like in order to understand square roots, we first need to understand multiplication – to understand the answer to this question, we’ll have to understand a few spiritual concepts. Namely three – 1. Soul, 2. The reason for God’s advent to our world, 3. The inconceivability of God’s potencies. Each of these 3 topics are mammoth and have had multiple books written about them – here we just try to understand the essence of the concepts, or perhaps a contextual definition.
The soul is us. You, me, your dog, your plant, every living entity. We are by nature, souls – part and parcel, energies of God. Our bodies (human, dog, plant, insect) are coverings that we keep changing life after life. Soul is us without any covering. Life after life our coverings change, and we act in accordance to the attributes of that covering. So you may have had a covering of a dog earlier, followed by that of a man, followed by that of woman. Our essence is soul, how we act or look is our covering. So on a spirit-ual platform, our coverings don’t matter, our spirit or soul does. God is all spirit, his vision too is all spirit.
2. Why does God / Krsna advent to our world?
The reason for the advent of God and his messengers as stated in the scriptures is twofold – A. To establish piety and social order when it is excessively disturbed and, B. To perform pastimes in order to please his dear ones or his devotees. Contextually speaking, who are these devotees? The many characters in Krsna’s pastimes.
3. The inconceivability of God’s Potencies
Everything around us has a creator, including the nature. Including the planets, and the undiscovered galaxies and including the only visible but not understandable stars far, far, far off. The stars or the galaxies are not man’s creation. If a man wants to understand how they are created – he speculates, he writes new theories, he hypotheses’, his theories change as he discovers more, his perceptions change, and… earth becomes a globe from a flat surface in a day. This is because man cannot understand the potencies or creations of God on his own with his speculated knowledge.
Having understood the three concepts, let us come back to the sub-question – Why did Krsna engage with so many women? Let us bring back the 3 concepts mentioned above and put them into more context now:
Krsna engaged merrily with not only women, but also men (Eg: Gopas of Vrindavan), also animals (Eg: Jambavan, Hanuman as Lord Ram), also reptiles (Eg: Kaliya, Nagapatnis), also beasts (Trinavtra) and many other living forms. He also engaged with women in different emotional capacities. Eg: Yashoda as his foster mother, Kunti as his aunt, Rukmini as his wife. With all of these living beings and women, he had many loving exchanges. At the core, all these personalities are souls. All have a wonderful covering (bodies). So, at a spiritual level – these are engagements of God with his parts and parcels or Souls or Energy, each with a different covering. As mentioned earlier, God is all spirit, his vision too is all spirit or at the level of soul. He isn’t discriminating towards any being basis their covering.
2. Krsna’s advent to the world
One of the reasons why Krsna advents is to please his dear ones or devotees – who are at the core – souls. Now, when he is here to please all those who are dear to him, why would he not please women (embodied)? If he is performing pastimes with male friends, elders, other living creatures, then why not women? Why would he discriminate?
One may say because it isn’t socially acceptable to be engaging with women his age. Otherwise, no problem. We’ll address social acceptance and norms in the answer to the second question (Why did Krsna perform Rasa Lila with married women?)
3. The inconceivability of God’s Potencies
Among many other potencies of Krsna, one is that his transcendental body is full of knowledge and bliss. In the scriptures, this is referred to as Sat-chit-anand. Although, at the outset this may appear mystical, it is obvious when thought of again. God in himself is content and ever happy. If that was not the case, then he would be dependant on other resources or beings for his happiness. If god were to be dependant on something or someone, then how would he be God? God has to be independent by definition. He must not be ruled over by any dependency. So, now that God or Krsna is independent and ever blissful, why would he need women to make him happy? Why would he be a womenizer?
So, to summarize answer to the first question [“Why was Krsna a womenizer?”]– Krsna pleased women, just as he pleased all other beings, who are all in essence energy particles or souls. So on a spiritual platform, Krsna pleased souls and not a specific gender – male or female, those are our coverings on a non-spiritual platform. Krsna is all spirit, so his engagements and vision is also all spiritual, and hence the engagements are with souls and not different genders or beings.
Further, the scriptures go onto tell us that the Gopis are the most dear to God. The dearest of all energies of God are the Gopis. Pleasing those who are dear to him is the very purpose of him coming to our world, then why would he not please the dear most.
Lastly, Krsna or God is complete in himself (by definition of God), then why would he need women to keep him happy? There must be some other reason to his engagement with living beings (male or female). The reason is explained in the second section/question of this note.
Section 2 | Why did Krsna perform Rasa Lila with married women?
Why did he engage with married women, women his age, and also multiple women at once? All three questions at essence have the same root question – Why did Krsna flout social norms?
Like for the last question, let us first understand a few spiritual concepts as explained in the Veidc scriptures before diving in.
1. Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga, often heard loosely as Bhakti (Desh-Bhakti, Modi-Bhakt) is the topmost system of Yoga where Yoga literally means to connect (with God). Thus, Bhakti Yoga, means the acts of loving devotional service to God which connects us to God or Krsna. In Bhagavad Gita, God or Krsna explains that Bhakti Yoga is the only way one can attain him. It is the topmost principle for any living entity. So, loving devotional service is the only way one can win over or win God. But, what is this “loving”?
2. Love and Lust
Love is the input (and output (sorry for the added complication)) of Bhakti Yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita describes that the world we live in is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world and platform. The analogy mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita is that of a Banyan Tree with fruits and flowers. The spiritual world is the actual tree, and world we live in (non-spiritual or material) is its reflection in the water beneath it.
Now, love is a spiritual concept, and its non-spiritual reflection is lust. Love is when do anything selflessly for God – as part of Bhakti (loving devotional service). And lust, is anything we do for our own sensual pleasure. Often what we perceive as love (between friends, a couple, siblings) has a tinge (if not more) of selfishness or expectation of self-pleasure. Love in truth involves no expectation of anything for the self. So loving devotional service or Bhakti Yoga implies pleasing God through service – selfless service, without any expectation or regard to oneself.
Phew, was that a lot? Hang on, it’ll all come together.
The love of Gopis for Krsna is topmost
Now, as mentioned earlier, Gopis are the most dear to Krsna. Why so? Because they have the topmost love for Krsna, and continuously engage lovingly in his service without any regard to their self. This is precisely why even the married Gopis, without any consideration to their reputation break the social norm for Krsna. When they hear Krsna play his flute at night in the forest, the love they have is evoked to such an extent that they do not consider anything – forget social norms, they don’t even dress properly. They just run to be with Krsna and somehow make him pleased. Let us read the excerpt from the Bhagavatam in this regard:
And as they rush towards Krishna, they are unmindful of everything; they are unmindful even of the thorns that are below them. Many of them are barefoot. They are unmindful of the fact that they have things to do in their homes. They are unmindful even of the fact that they are not dressed so attractively or they are not dressed so properly.
The Bhagavatam repeatedly stresses on the fact that the Gopis are not even dressed or adorned properly to indicate that they didn’t have a mundane worldly lustful consciousness. They were full of love -selfless, unalloyed love. Think of it, if a woman or man has to go to meet his or her lover, what is he/she most careful about before going – how he or she is looking? Why – to attract the other one and fulfil expectations of oneself as well as the other. But here Gopis have no concern about themselves – Not about how they look, not about what will happen when they return back home, nothing. They just want to express their unalloyed love. This is a concept we may find very tough to understand, as it is not worldly or seen around us. But it is simple, for the simple – simply put, for the Gopis, Krsna was everything, nothing else including social norms mattered to them.
Let us connect this with Bhakti Yoga (explained above).
The Gopis are the epitome of Bhakti Yoga. Epitome of love for God. And love or loving devotional service is the only way one can win over or win God – explained by God himself.
Now then, God clearly mentions that if you are selflessly engaged in my loving service, you’ll surely attain me and win over me. Krsna must abide to his own stated principal! Which principle? The principle that he will be attained if served with love.
Also, simultaneously the reason of his advent (to please his devotees) comes into action. Keeping these two reasons in mind, Krsna hands-down had to please or perform the dance with the Gopis.
So then, are social norms not important?
Social norms and order is the fabric on which any society rests. These social orders may change with time, place and circumstances, but if there is no order, then there will never be prosperity. There will always be chaos and no scope to create and grow.
This can be easily understood by looking at countries or economies with no or very little social order today. War inflicted geographies, duo-claimed geographies (POK, IOK), crime-infested economies – all these are slow to grow and much behind rest of the world. Thus, there is no questioning the importance of the social order and norms.
Krsna himself mentions in the Bhagavad Gita that he is the designer of the authorized system of social order. Why did Krsna then transgress what he authorized? Why did he choose love over social norms?
The more important principle is the principle of love (Bhakti)
The Rasa Lila pastime is a tension between two principles – of social order and of love. And clearly, one principle won over the other.
An example that may help us understand this is the recent Corona Virus crisis. Now it is the government’s principle responsibility to ensure growth of the economy and prosperity. However, in the light of Corona Virus – the government has shut virtually the entire economy. This is because the principle of physical well-being of citizens supersedes the principle of economic well-being. So, one principle may supersede another depending on time, place and circumstances. Especially in this case, where Krsna defines Bhakti Yoga or Loving devotional service repeatedly in the Bhagavad Gita as the most important principle and the topmost act for a living entity, the principle of social norms becomes secondary.
So that allows all of us to transgress Social order to pursue love for God? That’s a recipe for anarchy, no?
Let us get into a few details to answer this question:
Krsna doesn’t trivialize Social Order.
As soon as the Gopis came to Krsna, this is what happened (mentioned in the Bhagavatam):
Krishna has played the flute and sees all the gopis come over there and he is asking them, “What have you come here for? Is everything well in Vraja? Is there anything wrong in Vrindavana that you have come to inform me about me?” Krishna is not rude towards them, but he is formal towards them.
“Actually this time of the night is not a very safe place for woman to be alone like this. Maybe because the night was so attractive that you wanted to see the beauty of Vrindavana. Now that you have seen the beauty of Vrindavan, please go back.”
“Sometimes something may be so attractive that you put the danger to the side and you go on to look at it. But now that you have seen it, please go back to the safety of your homes.” And still the gopis are reluctant, and then Krishna says, “Actually, for a woman her duty to her family, her brother, to her mother etc. is most important.”
Krsna at no point trivializes the social norms. Here and at many other places, (Yagnik Brahmans, King Nrga) Krsna places inordinate emphasis on the social order and norms. He repeatedly states the importance of abiding by them. The entire war of Mahabharata (in which Krsna played the most significant part) was fought to maintain Social order and justice in the society.
Then why the exception with Gopis during the Rasa Lila?
Exceptions are usually made because of one of two reasons – A. To give benefit of doubt (Capital Punishment’s exemption by the President), or B. To show the greatness of someone or something (Promotion of a not-so-senior executive to the Members of Board of the company). Over here, B applies – the exception was made to show the most-exalted position of the gopis (as most dear to the lord and perfect examples of devotion).
While in this world (non-spiritual), not following social order is harmful (stated multiple times by Krsna and in the scriptures), but in the spiritual world where all is spirit and there is no envy, anger or greed, social order is automatically maintained – and the only ask is love for God.
Summarizing the answer to the second question now – Krsna engaged in the pastime with Gopis to abide by his principle of loving devotional service and the fulfil the reason for his advent to our world. He let himself lose to the Gopis who loved him selflessly, and pleased them thereby abiding by the principle and fulfilling the reason of his advent. In the process, he made an exception – to allow the higher principle to sustain.
That brings us to the end of a long but simple answer to a short but not-so-simple question. Hope you have a perspective if not the answer to the question. For anymore questions, reach out to a good teacher. A tough mathematics question will not finds its answer on Quora, only an advanced and learned mathematician will give you the answer. Similarly, matters of spirituality find their depth and answers with the learned spiritualists.
Hope you reached the base of the pyramid after this long 7-page journey. Don’t stop!