Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #33 – If You Think It is a Good Idea

August 17th, 2020

There is something charming about Krishna’s relationship with the residents of Vrindavan. Almost as enlivening as hearing about the rasa of Krishna and the Brijabasis is hearing the gems of philosophical understanding that are placed within those stories. It is almost as if they have been carefully placed there just to take advantage of the receptive heart that has been opened by the sweetness of those stories itself. Today we will discuss one of those points. First the context:


Krishna’s friends forcibly, but with love, ask Krishna and Balarama to quell their hunger by going to the forest of Tālavana, where hundreds of thousands of succulent, fragrant tāla fruits are lying on the ground, guarded by the ferocious man-eating ass demon and his cohorts. After informing Krishna three times in no uncertain terms how great their desire is for these fruits, they end their entreaty by qualifying their request with two simple words: yadi rocate (“if you think it is a good idea”). Thus, hidden within this sweet story rests a powerful instruction: There is room on the path of bhakti for our own personal desires, as long as they conform to the will of God.


Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura speaks very strongly about the necessity for personal enjoyment even when on the path of bhakti: “Without enjoying the sense objects, a living entity cannot survive. As soon as the living entity gives up sense enjoyment, he leaves the body.” (Śrī Bhaktyāloka p. 2)


When I initially read Śrīla Bhaktivinoda’s comment, I was a bit surprised by how strong it was, considering that the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam seems to repeatedly espouse almost the opposite. One of my favorite verses in this regard: “My dear sons, there is no reason to labor very hard for sense pleasure while in this human form of life; such pleasures are available to the stool-eaters (hogs).” (Bhag. 5.5.1)


The simple reconciliation of the two perspectives is that sense gratification is heavily condemned when not sanctioned by the Lord and allowed if Krishna “thinks it is a good idea.” The question, then, is when does Krishna think it is a good idea?


A healthy peaceful mind facilitates meditation and devotional service. For that, different people require different levels of enjoyment. When our goal is self-realization and we sincerely take only what is prescribed to keep body and soul together, then our sense gratification is what Krishna so desires, or at least has been sanctioned by Him.


When sense pleasure, however, becomes the goal in itself, which is usually the case in this world, then it is not what Krishna thinks is a good idea. It is then utterly condemned.


This relationship between sense pleasure and devotion is clearly outlined in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.10 in response to a question that commentators imply from the previous verse: “What about sense gratification (kāma) on the path of bhakti?” Sūta Gosvāmī answers that sense gratification is not for the pleasure of the senses in itself (kāmasya nendriya-prītir). We should only take as much as we need (lābho jīveta yāvatā) to maintain a heathy life for the purpose of realizing the self (jīvasya tattva-jijñāsā). Simply put, although we may get pleasure from the senses, its purpose should only be to satisfy our need for a peaceful mind for the higher endeavor of self-realization.


The cowherd boys’ simple words, “if you think it is a good idea”, in the midst of their sweet, playful exchanges with Krishna are a powerful template for all of one’s activities. The most important consciousness for a devotee to have, therefore, is the mood and conviction that nothing I do or want should be independent of the will of God. A sincere bhakta, therefore, carefully gauges all of their activities, even their sensual and emotional needs, by sincerely petitioning Krishna in their heart with the same simple words of Krishna’s friends: “if you think it is a good idea.”


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