Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #7 – Do You Really Think it is OK That They Abandoned Their Babies?

February 14th, 2022

Well, who is this about? The answer is a bit bewildering. It is about Krishna’s greatest devotees. When the gopīs heard Krishna’s flute, they immediately abandoned whatever they were doing, even putting down the young babies in their arms, just to run off to the forest to see their beloved Krishna. We can say this is lila, the Lord’s play, but what about the little ones?  Somehow even couched in the concept of transcendence, it just doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t a devotee think of others before themself, what to speak of the mood of the topmost ones? To reconcile this, we need to talk about the relationship between responsibility and renunciation. What scope, if any, within the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, is there justification for the abandonment of one’s duties, even such consequential responsibilities as the protection of those dependent on our care?


The Bhagavad-gītā seems to support that one who realizes the soul is not bound by any duties at all:


“But for one what takes pleasure in the self, whose human life is one of self-realization and who is satisfied in the self only, fully satisfied—for him there is no duty.” (3.17)


That’s all fine—that one who is self-realized has no duty. However, Krishna makes it clear in the verses that follow this one that although the duties that are prescribed to purify one’s individual material condition lose rule over one who has transcended that condition, it doesn’t mean one gives those duties up. In fact, Krishna recommends not to. And the reason Krishna specifically gives is because of the harm that abandonment of duties can do, not only for those one is responsible for, but for the health of society in general.[1]  Krishna even uses Himself as an example. Although naturally there are no duties prescribed for Him, He still does them out of concern for the harm it would cause to society if He renounced them, both to those who are not qualified to transcend them, but would follow His example, and the effect people leaving their duties would have on a healthy social structure.


“If I did not perform prescribed duties, all these worlds would be put to ruination. I would be the cause of creating unwanted population, and I would thereby destroy the peace of all living beings.” (3.22-24)


Krishna couldn’t be clearer. A bhakta must never think selfishly in his transcendent pursuits. He must be cognizant about the effect of his actions, and therefore must perform certain karmic duties, even if they no longer are relevant to his personal condition and consequent purification. But is that always the case?


Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava history is filled with examples from Śrī Caitanya, who left home at the age of twenty-four, to Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, who abandoned dependents, in this case a young wife, without any issues for a seemingly higher cause. There are contemporary examples also. Śrīla Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja had two young daughters, but left his family in the middle of the night when he felt a strong calling to serve his guru’s mission. Was that wrong?


I think the answer is found in the purport of the verse I quoted above (3.17), where Śrīla Prabhupāda explains:


“By such cleaning of consciousness, one becomes fully confident of his eternal position in relationship with the Supreme. His duty thus becomes self-illuminated by the grace of the Lord, and therefore he no longer has any obligation to the Vedic injunctions.”


In other words, one who is self-realized is no longer ruled by obligatory junctions but is instead directly inspired from within. Although that self-illumination almost always directs the self-realized to continue in his duties at least until his family responsibilities are covered, as in the case of Arjuna, who was directed to fight in battle for righteous reasons, Krishna can also direct one in exceptional cases to leave home prematurely. And if that is the case, and the person is truly in communion with a higher direction, Krishna assures His unmotivated devotee that he will be protected from any sin.[2] In terms of others, one can also be assured that Krishna will also protect them, as guaranteed in the famous adage and analogy that when one waters the root of the tree (full surrender and service to God) all the leaves and branches are replenished (it is auspicious for everyone).


Back to the gopīs.[3] I explained the principle of full surrender and how Krishna fully protects those who are, and how full surrender automatically invokes auspiciousness for everyone. As a needed caution, I also explained the rarity of Krishna directing one to renounce worldly dharma, even for spiritually elevated devotees. The gopīs, however, saw Krishna face to face.[4] Therefore, in all their activities their pure love of God nourished the world and everyone in connection with them, even when renouncing their “worldly” dharma to see Krishna. By His grace, how can it be otherwise?[5]



[1] The word Krishna uses is loka-saṅgraham (keeping the world together).

[2] “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.” (Bg. 18.66)

[3] Another reason that the gopīs cannot be held responsible for the abandonment of their family is that on the level of continuous samādhi, especially the full absorption after hearing Krishna call them, has no awareness of the buddhi (intelligence), manasā (mind), or ego (external identity), and thus societal relationships.

[4] The purpose of this post is to explain the gopīs actions by discussing how one dictated by Krishna is absolved of any sin. I should note however, that it’s not always easy to perfectly port the “lessons” from Krishna-līlā into our world. The gopīs teach us absolute surrender, but not necessarily how we are supposed to absolutely surrender in our own lives. The laws of Krishna-līlā and yogamāyā are different from ours. I doubt that babies left alone in Vraja starve or are kidnapped or killed. But they can be in our world. So we take the correct lesson and inspiration from them, but that doesn’t mean we can do the same exact things.

[5] In discussing this post with another devotee, they referred me to Krishna Sandarbha Anuccheda 177 where this subject is discussed. A short excerpt from Śrī Jīva’s interesting commentary. “Though it is said they had children, it refers to the children of the husbands’ relatives. If they had children, it would produce rasābhāsa because of irregularity in the vibhāva.



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