“The kissing of the Lord, either by His wives or His young girl friends who aspired to have the Lord as their fiancé, is not of any mundane perverted quality. Had such things been mundane, a liberated soul like Shukadeva would not have taken the trouble to relish them, nor would Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu have been inclined to participate in those subjects after renouncing worldly life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.10.28 Purport)
If you’re on a diet or if you’re bedridden with an illness, will you want to hear about how others are enjoying themselves? Especially if they are eating nice food and going out here and there, the stories will make you long for the day that you can get out of your depressed condition and resume the pursuit of happiness. If you take the same concept and apply it to the exalted rishis of the Vedic tradition, you’ll see that they had no interest in hearing about the loving affairs of the Supreme Personality of Godhead from the perspective of normal amorous relations. These respected personalities were fully renounced from material life, so what would they have to gain from hearing about a boy kissing a girl or a husband kissing his wife? Rather, when these activities are enacted by the Supreme Person they take on a spiritual nature and thus enthrall the hearts of the liberated souls.
Why do the rishis renounce material life? Typically, renunciation is done to fix a broken condition. For instance, if I have an injury to my arm or foot, I will refrain from using those body parts until they are healed. If I have overeaten on a particular day, I will try to take it easy with food intake the next day. If I have worked too hard on a particular day, I will try to rest in the immediate aftermath. In this way restraint helps to avoid activities which caused some type of harm or which further exacerbate an existing ailment.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
In the larger scheme, contact with material nature has an inhibiting influence on the development of consciousness. The steady stream of thoughts doesn’t begin with the time of birth nor does it cease at the time of death. Try to stop thinking for even a second. You can’t do it. The mind has been working nonstop since you can remember and it will continue to act going forward. Purifying those thoughts, targeting them in the proper direction, can only lead to benefits. Thoughts are formed off of experiences, so if I adopt the right set of activities, my mind will have sweet nectar on which to contemplate while it continues to operate.
So why the mode of renunciation specifically? Why do famous spiritualists give up home and family to live as mendicants? The initial reason is to give up thoughts relating to illusion. We are illusioned by something if we take it to be something that it is not, sort of like a mirage in the desert. It’s so hot that we want to drink some water, so when we see the mirage we think it’s an oasis. But it’s really just the heat waves rising from the surface of the ground. If we anticipate drinking so much water while approaching this image, we will obviously be affected by illusion.
The illusion engulfing the spirit soul at the time of birth relates to identity. My hands, legs and other bodily features had to develop over time, yet somehow I always take my identification off of them. The abilities of these features also serve as the foundation of my self-esteem. If I can do complex math equations and write intricate computer programs, I will think that I am very smart. If I can hit a baseball very far or run a marathon I will think that my physical abilities are better than average. While these attributes are certainly noteworthy, they don’t relate to the real identity of the individual. The bodily features are aspects of matter, which can only act when directed by the superior force of spirit.
To better understand spirit and its purpose is the real justification for renunciation. As long as I am deluded by false concepts, my steady immersion in a world full of duality will not help to develop my consciousness. What is so bad about having an attachment to family? What is wrong with remaining in the world instead of renouncing it? As long as the mind’s progress is halted, the human being remains no different than the animal. We don’t think the animal to be a superior species, do we? Yet in the life of material sense gratification they are more efficient. In terms of a machine they require less energy and specific conditions to meet their sense demands, whereas the human being has to suffer through so much mental turmoil to enjoy what are the equivalent of morsels of stale food thrown in the trash.
Just as money is the mother’s milk of politics, so sex life fuels the forces of illusion. Attraction to the opposite sex is borne strictly off of bodily features, which we know don’t form the identity of the individual. Indeed, with the passage of time, those same attractive features will cease to be appealing, a fact known to the observer at the time of infatuation. Nevertheless, sex life and the lack of control within it form the largest impediment towards spiritual enlightenment. Therefore in the renounced order the number one requirement is to abstain from any kind of sexual relations.
Famous personalities like Shukadeva Goswami and Lord Chaitanya renounced material life and lived like mendicants. They had no ties whatsoever to sex life, yet the subject matter they relished the most dealt with a young boy kissing young girls and a young prince happily enjoying the company of His many wives. How can this be? Did these saints miss material life and all that it has to offer? Did they want to think about sex life just for the fun of it?
On the contrary, the subject matter they enjoyed had nothing to do with ordinary sexual affairs. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is the origin of both spirit and matter, and so His actions are the very embodiment of truth. There is no illusion in His direct dealings, so when one hears about His pastimes through authorized sources, even interactions which outwardly appear material have a positive influence on the consciousness. For instance, under the influence of illusion, hearing about sexual affairs leads the mind to contemplate illicit connection with women. On the other hand, hearing about the same subject matter in relation to Krishna’s dealings keeps the mind focused on thoughts of the all-attractive Shyamasundara, who will do anything to please those who are fully surrendered to Him.
Krishna’s many girlfriends in the town of Vrindavana are considered the topmost yogis. Though they didn’t outwardly renounce the world, mentally they were totally given over to Krishna. Since they loved Him so much, the Lord would give them whatever they wanted. If they desired to dance with Him individually, Krishna would expand Himself into many forms just so that each gopi could feel the pleasure they desired. If 16,000 princesses were rescued by Krishna and desired to have Him as their husband, Krishna would oblige. Why would He let the mundane rules of society get in the way of divine love? In fact, the established law codes of dharma are meant for creating conditions where eventually the mind always thinks of Krishna. One who has already reached the highest platform of thought isn’t required to follow the ordinary rules and regulations, though they make every effort to for setting a good example.
Those who are not renounced from material attachment will often try to hear about Krishna’s intimate pastimes with the gopis. But since they are not fit for understanding, they will be guided by illusion and consider Krishna to be one of them. Either that or they will consider Krishna’s example to be a license to follow the same behavior in their own lives. Yet from the joy felt by Shukadeva Gosvami and Lord Chaitanya we know that Krishna’s intimate pastimes are meant for the ears of the liberated souls, those who have no desire for material association. Lord Chaitanya was Krishna Himself in the form of a preacher, so He set the example to follow in bhakti. He spread the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, throughout the world and declared the sacred Shrimad Bhagavatam to be the crown jewel of Vedic literature.
Not meant for the passers by interested in steamy details, the intimate pastimes of Shri Krishna are safely placed in the tenth canto of the Bhagavatam, with the first nine cantos describing Krishna’s position as the Supreme Lord. From the words of this sacred work and the quality of the people who take it to be their life and soul we can understand just how wonderful Krishna’s pastimes are and how everything He does is for the benefit of the devotees.
When Krishna and His beloved Radha meet,
Their happiness and affectionate dealings so sweet.
Mode of renunciation the Vaishnava saints choose,
The paths of karma, jnana and yoga they eschew.
For sannyasi, controlling sex desire is key,
A woman alone he should not even see.
Then why about Krishna and gopis would they like to hear?
Did not rise of illicit desires Chaitanya fear?
Not like ordinary affairs, from hearing kama does perish,
Thus liberated souls Krishna’s pastimes they cherish.