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jahur guṇa-mayaṁ dehaṁ
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī comments upon this verse as follows: “Here Śukadeva Gosvāmī speaks in a peculiar way: he presents the intimate object the gopīs attained as if it were an external idea, thus keeping its true nature secret from outsiders, while at the same time he reveals to the confidential devotees well versed in the scientific conclusions of devotional service the internal meaning that is his real purport. Thus to outsiders Śukadeva says that Kṛṣṇa gave the gopīs liberation, but to the confidential hearers Śukadeva reveals that when the gopīs experienced separation from their beloved there arose in them both immeasurable unhappiness and immeasurable happiness, and that they gradually achieved their desired goal.
“Thus the verse can be understood as follows: Because of their intolerable separation from their beloved, the gopīs felt terrible agony, by which they caused all inauspicious things to tremble. In other words, when people in general hear of the gopīs’ extreme agony in separation from their beloved, they abandon thousands of inauspicious things — things even as fearsome as the subterranean fires of millions of universes or the powerful poison swallowed by Lord Śiva. More specifically, those who hear of the gopīs’ love in separation give up their terrible false ego and, thinking themselves defeated, are shaken. When the gopīs meditated on Lord Acyuta, He became manifest and personally came to them, and they experienced great joy by embracing His body, which was full of transcendental love for them. The gopīs also experienced great joy by exhibiting personal characteristics and a sense of identification appropriate to such love. That joy made all their good fortune, both material and spiritual, seem paltry by comparison.
“The implication is that when other persons see how happy the gopīs became upon embracing Kṛṣṇa when He manifested Himself directly before them, these other persons feel that thousands of so-called auspicious objects are insignificant by comparison, including all the sense gratificatory pleasures found in millions of universes and even the supersensory pleasure of spiritual bliss (brahmānanda). Thus hearing of the gopīs’ distress and the joy that arose, respectively, out of their separation from the Supreme Lord and their union with Him, anyone can get rid of all the reactions of his past activities, both sinful and pious. Vaiṣṇavas certainly do not think that sinful and pious reactions can be destroyed only by being lived out, since, after all, neither separation from the Supreme Lord nor direct association with Him are in the category of karma. This kind of elimination of karmic reactions occurs in the stage of bhajana, for those who have come to the level of anartha-nivṛtti.
“And thus the gopīs thought of Kṛṣṇa — the Paramātmā, or supreme worthy object of all love — as their paramour. Even though such a concept is ordinarily contemptible, the gopīs realized Kṛṣṇa in an even fuller sense than did Rukmiṇī and His other queens, who thought of Him most respectfully as their husband. That thinking of the Lord as one’s paramour is superior to thinking of Him as one’s husband is proved by the fact that unbridled pure love is superior to domesticated love. This idea is borne out by the following words of Śrī Uddhava: yā dustyajaṁ sva-janam ārya-pathaṁ ca hitvā. ‘These ladies of Vraja abandoned their families and their advanced religious principles, even though to do so is very difficult.’ (Bhāg. 10.47.61)
“In His pastimes on earth Kṛṣṇa often turns the most lowly things into the most elevated. As Bhīṣma stated, Kṛṣṇa’s pastime of acting as Arjuna’s chariot driver was even more elevated than the pastimes in which He acted as a mighty King of kings: vijaya-ratha-kuṭumba ātta-totre/ dhṛta-haya-raśmini tac-chriyeskṣaṇīye. ‘I concentrate upon the chariot driver of Arjuna, who stood with a whip in His right hand and a bridle rope in His left, and who was very careful to protect Arjuna’s chariot by all means.’ (Bhāg. 1.9.39) Similarly, in the Lord’s appearance as Kṛṣṇa we see that the normally inferior conjugal rasa becomes better than the normally superior mood of śānta-rasa, as also the attitude of loving a paramour becomes superior to the loving exchange between legitimate spouses, and lowly guñjā necklaces, red oxide paste and peacock feathers become better than the most excellent jeweled ornaments.
“But, it may be objected, it is not fitting for the Supreme Lord to sport with women whose bodies have already been enjoyed by other men. This objection is replied to by the words beginning jahuḥ. The word deham is used here in the singular form to indicate unity of category, even though the gopīs are many. Some authorities say that by the power of Yoga-māyā these gopīs’ bodies disappeared in a way no one noticed, but other authorities say that the ‘body’ referred to in this context is the inferior body, composed of the modes of material nature. Thus by the prominence of the adjective guṇa-mayam, it is understood that before the gopīs heard the sound of Kṛṣṇa’s flute their bodies had been twofold, material and spiritual, and upon hearing the flute they gave up the material bodies, which their husbands had enjoyed. We may analyze this as follows:
“When devotees begin prosecuting devotional service in accordance with the instructions of a bona fide spiritual master, they engage their ears and other senses in pure devotion by hearing of the Lord, chanting His glories, remembering Him, offering obeisances to Him, giving Him personal attendance, and so forth. Thus the devotees make the Lord’s transcendental qualities the objects of their senses, as stated by the Lord Himself: nirguṇo mad-apāśrayaḥ. (Bhāg. 11.25.26) In this way the devotees’ bodies transcend the material modes. Yet sometimes the devotees may take as their sense objects mundane sounds and so on, and that is material. Thus a devotee’s body can have two aspects, transcendental and material.
“According to one’s level of devotional service, to that degree the transcendental aspects of one’s body become prominent and the material aspects diminish. This transformation is described in the following verse from the Bhāgavatam (11.2.42):
bhaktiḥ pareśānubhavo viraktir
anyatra caiṣa trika eka-kālaḥ
prapadyamānasya yathāśnataḥ syus
tuṣṭiḥ puṣṭiḥ kṣud-apāyo ’nu-ghāsam
‘Devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from other things — these three occur simultaneously for one who has taken shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the same way that pleasure, nourishment and relief from hunger come simultaneously and increasingly, with each bite, for a person engaged in eating.’ When one achieves totally pure love of God, the material portions of the body disappear and the body becomes completely spiritual. Nonetheless, so as not to disturb the false opinions of atheists and so as to protect the confidentiality of devotional service, the Supreme Lord usually has His illusory energy exhibit the demise of the gross body. An example of this is the disappearance of the Yādavas during the Mauṣala-līlā.
“Sometimes, however, to proclaim the excellence of bhakti-yoga, Kṛṣṇa will allow a devotee to go back to Godhead in his selfsame body, as in the case of Dhruva Mahārāja. We can cite evidence for this point from the Twenty-fifth Chapter of the Eleventh Canto, text 32:
yeneme nirjitāḥ saumya
guṇā jīvena citta-jāḥ
‘A living entity who conquers the modes of material nature, which are manifested from the mind, can dedicate himself to Me [Kṛṣṇa] by the process of devotional service and thus attain pure love for Me.’ Here the Lord states that the defeat and destruction of that which is composed of the modes of material nature can be brought about only by the process of devotional service.
“Therefore, what we should understand from the present verse of the Bhāgavatam is that the gopīs who could not go to see Kṛṣṇa had their inauspicious, material bodies removed or burned up, while their auspicious, spiritual bodies, far from being destroyed, simply grew more prominent because of the ecstasy the gopīs felt by embracing Kṛṣṇa in meditation. Thus their bondage was completely destroyed: by the help of Yoga-māyā they got free from ignorance and also from the prohibitions of their husbands and other relatives.
“We should not make the mistake of explaining this falling away of the gopīs’ bodies as being a result of their dying. As the Lord Himself states (Bhāg. 10.47.37):
yā mayā krīḍatā rātryāṁ
vane ’smin vraja āsthitāḥ
‘Some of those all-auspcious gopīs could not directly join Me in enjoying the rāsa dance on that night in this Vṛndāvana forest, yet still they achieved My association by remembering My transcendental pastimes.’ By using the word kalyāṇyaḥ in this verse, the Lord implies, ‘Even though these gopīs wanted to give up their bodies because of their husbands’ prohibitions and the torment of separation from Me, for them to die at the very beginning of the most auspicious festival of the rāsa dance would have been displeasing to Me and thus inauspicious. So they did not die.’
“More evidence that the gopīs who were prevented from going to see Kṛṣṇa did not physically die is provided by a statement of Śrī Śukadeva’s later in this canto (10.47.38): tā ūcur uddhavaṁ prītās tat-sandeśāgata-smṛtīḥ. ‘Then they [the gopīs] replied to Uddhava, feeling satisfied because His message had reminded them of Kṛṣṇa.’ Here we understand that the gopīs speaking to Uddhava were the ones who had not had the chance to participate directly in the rāsa dance because of being held captive in their homes. Thus the conclusion is that they gave up their material bodies without dying. Parched by the intense heat of separation, their material bodies gave up their materiality and became purely spiritual, just like the bodies of such great devotees as Dhruva Mahārāja. This is the meaning of the gopīs’ ‘giving up their bodies.’
“The following analogy illustrates the statuses of the various gopīs: By observing seven or eight ripe mangoes on a tree, we can ascertain that all the fruits on the tree are ripe. Then we can pick them all and bring them home, where in due course the sun’s rays and other agents will make them fine-looking, fragrant and delicious — fit to be offered to the king for his enjoyment. When the time comes for the king to take his meal, a discriminating servant can choose those fruits ready to offer him. From the appearance of the fruits the servant can tell which are ripe in the middle but still raw on the outside and thus not yet fit for the king. By the application of a special heating process, these remaining fruits will become ripe in two or three days, and then they too will be ready to offer to the king.
“Similarly, among the muni-cārī gopīs who took birth in Gokula, those who completely gave up the materiality of their bodies and very early in life achieved purely spiritual bodies were able to remain untouched by any other man; thus Yoga-māyā allowed them to join the nitya-siddha and other advanced gopīs when they went to meet Kṛṣṇa. Other muni-cārī gopīs still retained some connection with the external material body, but even they, after being parched by the heat of separation from Śrī Kṛṣṇa, gave up the materiality of their bodies and assumed perfectly transcendental bodies, purified of all taint of contact with other men. On the night of the rāsa dance, Yoga-māyā sent some of these gopīs out behind those who had already gone out; others, who Yoga-māyā saw still had a slight amount of contamination, she kept back to further purify with the heat of separation, and then she sent them out on some other night.
“After enjoying the pleasures of the rāsa dance and other pastimes with Kṛṣṇa, the muni-cārī gopīs who had participated went back to their homes when the night was over, as did the nitya-siddha and other advanced gopīs. But now Yoga-māyā protected these muni-cārī gopīs from the material association of their husbands; in other words, these gopīs were devoid of any selfish attachment for husband, children and so on. Since these gopīs were thoroughly immersed in the great ocean of love for Kṛṣṇa, their breasts dried up so that they could not feed their infants, and to their family members they appeared as if haunted by ghosts. In conclusion, it is not unseemly that the gopīs who were previously in material association joined in the rāsa dance.
“Some authorities, however, maintain that the gopīs who were kept back in their houses did not have children. According to them, whenever such words as apatya (‘children’) are used in verses yet to come, these words refer to the children of co-wives, to adopted children or to nephews and nieces.”