Monday Morning Greetings 2021 #47 – Are the Gopīs the Greatest Renunciates?

November 22nd, 2021

I think most bhaktas are not aware that when one takes sannyāsa (the renounced order of life) in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, one receives the gopī-bhāva mantra from their guru to chant. There’s almost an irony here. How can the simple cowherd damsels of Vraja, adorned with their gold and silver anklets, wrapped in fine silk, absorbed in dancing and singing rasa, be the exemplars for renunciation? Isn’t sannyāsa meant to inspire people to devalue those things? Yes, everyone in society should be inspired by the gopīs’ devotion, but the question remains: Why do the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava ācāryas connect gopī-bhāva, meditating on the gopīs, to the inspiration for renunciation when a member of their sect takes the varṇāśrama social position of sannyāsa?


I think the question is best answered when one first understands what a proper standard of renunciation is. For that I will refer to the Yoga Sūtras where dispassion is elaborately discussed as one of the foundations of yoga. There Patañjali defines renunciation as not just remaining aloof from the objects of the senses, but being free from a thirst or craving for them (viṣaya-vitṛṣṇasya). The commentators on Patañjali further espouse that upon attaining this level of renunciation, one doesn’t even spend too much energy overly rejecting sense objects in one’s presence because of one’s full inner disinterest in them. Finally, one’s level of renunciation should go beyond just the lack of craving for external likings to the platform of total indifference to even internal attachments, like a desire for respect or reputation.


It should be easy now to see why the gopīs are the exemplars of renunciation for those devotees who take Vaiṣṇava sannyāsa. Although leading the life of ordinary milkmaids when called to the forest by the sound of Krishna’s flute, in a second they renounced all personal societal attachment for the cause of selfless service. The well adorned gopīs, in contrast to people who are externally renounced and austere but attached to their prestige, even sacrificed their honor and reputation for the mission of devotion.


I am in the sannyāsa order myself. Being freed of any family or occupational commitments, I am expected to fully sacrifice every moment of my day for the service of Krishna and to attain unalloyed devotion to Krishna completely free from any personal motive or distraction. In other words, my order is a call to service beyond any other material commitments or conditions, no matter what that means to my life. I am not there yet, but it is obvious why I should aspire for the bhāva (mood) of the gopīs.


Last Wednesday, it seemed I reached a block in completing this week’s post. Although the next morning I was conscious to concentrate on the holy name and leave that quandary for later, still some inspiration came seemingly out of nowhere, solidifying my thoughts corelating the mood of the gopīs and the order of Vaiṣṇava sannyāsa. I became inspired to continue to write. In the fourth verse of the Ṣaḍ-gosvāmy-aṣṭakam, Śrīnivāsa Ācārya glorifes the six Gosvāmīs of Vrindavan both for their adoption of the renounced order and their absorption in the mood of the gopīs. Furthermore, he makes clear that imbibing the mood of the gopīs ecstatic love for Krishna is itself the most powerful force to invoke complete disinterest in that which has no value to the service of Krishna:


“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Six Gosvāmīs namely Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, and Śrī Gopala Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, who kicked off all association or aristocracy as insignificant. In order to deliver the poor conditioned souls, they accepted loincloths, treating themselves as mendicants, but they are always merged in the ecstatic ocean of the gopīs’ love for Krishna [gopī-bhāva] and bathe always and repeatedly in the waves of that ocean.” (Ṣaḍ-gosvāmy-aṣṭakam, v. 4, translation)




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