“All glories to Kunja-vihari, who has fragrant sandal paste smeared on His body, whose hips are adorned with a beautiful golden belt, and who is like an elephant tied by the ropes of the raised breasts of Shri Radhika.” (Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, 6)
kuñjaro jayati kuñja-vihārī
From the Vedas we get the concept of dharma. Dharma is the closest equivalent for the modern day term of religion, but its definition points to a root property, something that never changes. To awaken that property and make it prominent within the individual is the true purpose to the principles of dharma, which can be equated to piety. That which goes against dharma is thus impious. Without even knowing these terms, it is generally understood that dancing with married women is impious. A marriage is a covenant established under religious guidelines after all, and so to dance with a person who is married to someone else is a way to break that covenant. From the Bhagavad-gita we learn the real meaning of dharma and how in the highest state of existence one actually abandons both pious and impious activities.
Isn’t this a contradiction, though? For instance, the instruction manual that comes with the new furniture piece is a kind of dharma. It tells us the components required for assembly and how to perform that assembly. If we go against the instruction manual, we are essentially acting impiously. The result is usually something negative. An improper construction will not keep the finished piece in an ideal state. In a non-ideal state, the furniture will not function properly. For instance, if it is a bookshelf, it might not be able to hold books for an extended period of time. One day in the future, maybe many years later, the bookshelf will collapse, indicating the reaction to the sin of ignoring the manual. On the other hand, if we follow the manual properly, the bookshelf will be built correctly and thus not cause any unintended problems.
Ah, but one who is truly wise can get the proper use out of the bookshelf without ever looking at the instruction manual. They aren’t explicitly defiant to the system of piety in this case. They are concerned neither with piety nor impiety because they know the ultimate characteristic of the object in question. In the same way, one who knows the soul has no need for mundane principles of religion, though they generally follow them anyway, for it is better to set a good example for others to follow.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, advises everyone, through His instruction to the devotee Arjuna, to abandon all varieties of religion, or dharma, and surrender unto Him. By so doing, the surrendered soul will be safe from sinful reaction. This promise is easier to believe with someone who behaves in a manner considered pious by most. Arjuna was a fighter, and so it was his occupational duty, his dharma within society, to defend the innocent. This requires the use of force from time to time, and the user cannot be shy. Imagine if the police were afraid to come to your home to deal with aggressors. Would that be a good thing? No, they must be assertive in their administration of justice, otherwise people will not be safe.
The priestly class behaves piously through reading the scriptures, teaching it to others, performing sacrifices, accepting charity, and in general doing everything for God. Yet from the same Vedas which the priests study we see that the height of spiritual practice is the behavior of the gopis of Vrindavana, whose chief is Shrimati Radharani. In the eyes of society, she is a simple cowherd girl. She is married, lives at home with her husband, and takes care of her duties relating to the farm community. But at night she and her friends rendezvous with Krishna in the forest, dancing with Him under the light of the full moon.
Are not both Krishna and the gopis sinful in this regard? Why would the exalted saints of the Vaishnava tradition prefer to hear about such pastimes? Indeed, in the above referenced verse from the Shri Kunja-vihary-astakam, Shrila Rupa Gosvami is celebrating Krishna as the enjoyer of pastimes in the forest. It is said that He is like an elephant tied by the ropes of the raised breasts of Radharani. In a female, a slender waist and raised breasts are considered attractive features. It is not uncommon for Hollywood actresses to have plastic surgery to lift their breasts when they start to age, as this will make them more attractive on screen.
Radharani is the embodiment of the spirit of surrender. She takes all risks to be with Krishna, as her company gives Him the most pleasure. The purpose of the principles of dharma is to reach the position of abandonment with respect to mundane rules and regulations. Hers is not an attitude to be carelessly imitated, but rather one to be appreciated and understood through steady practice in bhakti-yoga. If you think about it, transcending both piety and impiety eventually should make sense. If Krishna, or God, is beholden to mundane principles, then the principles are superior to Him. The principles must have a purpose after all, and if Krishna hasn’t already achieved that purpose He cannot be God.
“Both pious and impious activities are actually due to ignorance because a living entity, as an eternal servant of Krishna, has no need to act for his personal sense gratification. Therefore as soon as one is reclaimed to the platform of devotional service, he relinquishes his attachment for pious and impious activities and is interested only in what will satisfy Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.1.15 Purport)
The purpose is to purify consciousness to the point that you love God, that you think of Him all the time. Radharani always thinks of Him, and so she is able to tie Krishna with ropes of affection. Her body is transcendental; it does not change through the system of karma. The same goes for Krishna, and so the two divine lovers enjoy each other’s company in the intimate setting of the Vrindavana forest. If their behavior were indicative of ordinary lust, renounced ascetics like Lord Chaitanya, Rupa Gosvami, and many others of the highest standing would not take pleasure in hearing about it. Indeed, hearing of the love of Radha and Krishna in the proper mood brings the highest opulence, eternal devotion to their lotus feet.
Follow piety and avoid sin we’re taught,
Otherwise in illusion’s web to be caught.
Yet principles of dharma must have a goal,
Otherwise piety alone supreme standing to hold.
Abandon all varieties is Gita’s final instruction,
Surrender to Krishna and flee sin’s destruction.
Radha and gopis to Vrindavana forest sneak,
To dance with Krishna in pleasure they seek.
So exalted is Radha that she has Krishna bound,
In her height of devotional ecstasy is found.