14 September 2021
Sri Radha is foremost of the gopis, Lord Krishna’s cowherd girlfriends. She is able to please Krishna with little more than a glance. Yet Radha feels that Her love for Krishna can always expand to greater heights, and therefore She manifests as the many gopis of Vrindavana, who fulfill Krishna’s desire for relationship (rasa) in a variety of ways.
The gopis are considered the kaya-vyuha of Sri Radha. There is no English equivalent for this term, but it can be explained as follows: If one person could simultaneously exist in more than one human form, those forms would be known as the kaya (“body”) vyuha (“multitude of”) of that particular individual. In other words, they are the identical person, but occupying different space and time, with different moods and emotions. As Radha and Krishna’s sole purpose is loving exchange, the gopis exist to assist Them in this love.
Essence of beauty and relationship,
Quintessence of bliss and compassion,
Embodiment of sweetness and brilliance,
Epitome of artfulness, graceful in love:
May my mind take refuge in Radha,
Quintessence of all essences.
My sister Carol has become a radical feminist in recent years. I watched this develop. As she devoured book after book on the failures of patriarchy and male-made societies, she came to see me—her brother, who worships a “male” God—as a victim of sexist philosophers, duped by men with little regard for women. In other words, she knew that I worshiped Krishna, who is clearly male, and this was enough to put me in league with those who belittled women. It confused her, though, to see that I was not full of macho double-talk, that despite my worship of a male God, I was fair and even-minded—I didn’t speak down to women. She decided I was bright enough to confront directly.
“Why do you worship that blue boy Krishna?” she asked. “Why see God as male at all? Why not envision God as female?”
“Well,” I answered quickly and annoyed, as if a two-minute conversation can sum up a person’s theological perspective, “He’s God.” “And besides,” I added, “we don’t ‘envision’ God as we like. We learn about him from authoritative sources, the scriptures, whether the Vedas, from India, or the Western scriptures, like the Bible or the Koran.”
“But how do you know?” she asked. “Maybe those books are leading you on. I would say that God would have to be the ultimate female, with all the sensitivity and nurturing that implies.”
“But isn’t that sexism, coming from the opposite direction?”
I hoped the question would make her think twice.
“If God is ultimately the supreme female, wouldn’t that leave men out of the equation? Wouldn’t that be saying that the female form is better than the male form? You’d be guilty of the very thing you claim patriarchal religion is guilty of.”
After a pause, she replied, “But you still say that God is male ”¦”
“First of all,” I broke in, “according to Krishna consciousness, God is both male and female. Isn’t that a more egalitarian vision of God?”
“Well, maybe—if it’s true,” she said, still skeptical of a tradition (and a brother) she had all but trained herself to see as sexist.
“Look,” I said, “Krishna is described as God in the Vedic literature because He has all the qualifications of God. How do you know the President of the United States is the President? Because he has the qualifications of the President. He has certain credentials. It’s not that you can just ‘envision’ that somebody is the President and then—puff!—he’s the President. No. So if you study Krishna closely, you’ll see that He is full in all opulences: strength, beauty, wealth, fame, knowledge, and renunciation. Anyone who has these qualities in full is God.”
She was getting restless. She had heard this definition of God from me before and felt I was getting off the subject of God as female.
“But Krishna consciousness goes further,” I continued. “Radharani is the female manifestation of God. She is the ultimate female. So we see God as both male and female.”
Carol smiled. She had something up her sleeve.
“If you acknowledge that God is both male and female, why does your central mantra—that prayer you’re chanting all the time—focus on Krishna, the male form of God?”