Krishna spoke a lot of bogus philosophy when trying to convince His father to worship Govardhan instead of Indra, but he also slipped in a couple of slokas that are true and free from deception. Here is one of them:
na naḥ purojanapadā
na grāmā na gṛhā vayam
vanaukasas tāta nityaṁ
I won’t copy the translation, please try to look at Sanskrit and let the meaning come to you, it’s an easy verse to parse.
Second “nah” in “na nah” means not “no” but “us”. “Puro” means “city” and “janapada” means suburbs. Okay, it’s not how it’s translated but close – areas developed (padah) by humans (jana). Second line is obvious – “na grama” means we do not live in the villages, “na griha” means we do not have houses, “vayam” means “we” again. Third line then tells us where they DO live – “vana” is forest, of course, and “okasah” means “residents of”. “Nityam” means forever, “nivasinah” means “where we live”, and we live in “vana-saila” – forests and hills. So here is the verse again, look at it and let it come to you:
na naḥ purojanapadā
na grāmā na gṛhā vayam
vanaukasas tāta nityaṁ
Earlier in this chapter Krishna addressed Nanda Maharaja as “pita” – father, but in this verse he uses a much closer, much less official term “tata”. So He turns to His father as close as He can, speaking in the most endearing way, and He lays down the foundation of their family – we do not live in cities or any developed areas, we do not live in villages and we don’t build houses for ourselves. We are people of hills and forests and we will stay this way forever. There is only us and nature, and civilization does not intrude into our lives.
A couple of verses earlier Krishna was speaking of the dharma of vaishyas and he listed four occupations:
We know these things – krishi (agriculture), vanijya (trade), with only kusidam being new and it’s translated as “banking”. Krishna says in that verse that their family, however, was doing only go-raksa – protecting the cows. Trading and banking would tie them to people, and agriculture would tie them to one place – to tilling the land, to gardening etc, and we have seen that they were not interested in that – they were strictly the people of nature.
“Go” means cow and it also means the same as English “go”. Cows are animals that wonder around, looking for things to eat. Senses are called “go” for the same reason – they are naturally attracted to consuming their objects. It’s the same “go” as in the word for the universe – jagat – something that always gives birth to something new and in this way always moves forward. This is what “following the nature” means, too – the nature always brings forth one thing or another, cows and senses naturally follow, and Krishna protects them and brings them satisfaction as “Govinda”.
Why is civilization excluded? I’d say it’s because “nature” is dumb, in a sense that living beings that support it (“dharyate jagat” from BG 7.5) are too conditioned to spoil it with their own ideas. Nature follows the Lord, especially in Vrindavana, without abusing its free will. It’s a perfect example of “mama vartmanuvartante” from BG 4.11. Whatever comes down as a good idea from the spiritual world is fulfilled by nature here perfectly. It’s the humans that screw things up, relatively speaking – because people also do vartmanuvartante.
Now I have an explanation why I was always suspicious of agriculture and gardening, too. On one hand it brings people closer to nature, but on the other hand it lets people override God’s design for it and shape it in their own ways, which are not at all better. I was stunned by this realization once, ages ago, when I was asked to comment on a lawn. Lawns definitely look nice and are pleasure to walk on, but they lack this natural spontaneity, the wilderness that sets in when humans are not around. Lawns have only one type of grass but if you leave the same patch unattended for a month and all kinds of plants and creatures will take shelter there and transform it in unpredictable ways, always in competition and cooperation with each other. It’s not as pretty but a lot more inclusive, a lot more supporting, and a lot more forgiving environment than a lawn. Lawns are not places of love but forests are. In forests every creature is loved and every creature overflows with love for the world, too. Not exactly for the world but with honest and earnest appreciation for whatever opportunities are given. No twig and no leave would ever turn its face away from the chance to grow and shine forth. Only people can do that. Nature embraces life, people control and often deny it, and therefore Krishna follows nature.
Let’s go back to that verse again – Krishna declares what is most important for their lives. It’s connection to nature, the commitment to follow it, wherever it takes them. Vraja is not a place, it’s a style of life. An outlook on the world where you are not tied down to anything but to progress. An attitude where you never say “but we have to stay here” when the opportunity presents itself. I need a little clarification here.
We know nature is cyclical, that there are seasons and in winter everything goes to sleep. There are bigger cycles, too, however, and it’s very obvious when nature comes in touch with people. At first it brings forth fruits and honey and grass for the cows but eventually forest resources becomes depleted and that’s when Vraja has to get a move on and find a new place where nature is fresh and bountiful again while the old place is given a rest and recharges itself. This was the reason given for moving from Gokula to Vrindavan in Hari Vamsa. The old place, Gokula, became depleted, too many cows ate too much grass, too many people collected too many fruits, nuts, and honey. It had to be given a rest. It also attracted wolves, Hari Vamsa says. Bhagavatam doesn’t talk about this but it does say that city people started noticing it – Kamsa’s demons discovered where it was and raided it several times, and that was also a reason to move on, away from civilization.
So here it is, Krishna’s sweet sweet description of their lives: “There is only you and me, Tata, our cows, and the forest, and that’s all we ever need”. Why did I call it “bedrock of rasa”? Because all rasas find nourishment in this arrangement. Gopis meet Krishna in the forest. Cowherd boys can’t wait to get away from their homes and spend time with Krishna in the forest. Nanda Maharaja, as the protector of the realm, rules over forest and cows and makes sure Krishna is alright – this is the object of his vatsalya, too. Also, in the chapter about the autumn in Vrindavana the reason for giving this description is that because nature in autumn automatically produces sringara rasa in both Krishna and the gopis and so Sukadeva Goswami had to describe it to set the mood as the narration changed its course, setting its sights on rasa lila.
As I said earlier – nature is surcharged with love and nature accepts everything, which are distinctive characteristics of madhurya. Neither in nature nor in madhurya can a devotee say “I’m sorry, I can’t do that”. Mother Yasoda and cowherd boys excuse themselves from conjugal pastimes but there is absolutely nothing gopis won’t do for Krishna. They can bathe Him and they can play sports with Him, maybe not as well as Yasoda or Sudama, but they would never say “no, it’s not for us”. Similarly, no one ever says “no” in nature. Every shrub has a right to express itself. It might not be accommodated because of competition for sunlight and such, but it would never say “No, I don’t want to grow”.
In this way the forests of Vrindavana are on the lowest stage of devotion by one count – in santa rasa, as they say (though everything in permeated with madhurya there and so pure santa rasa doesn’t exist). But from another perspective the nature gives impetus to sringara and sringara becomes totally dependent on it. Thus, if we start counting from sringara and go down we will get to nature’s santa but then santa would link to sringara again, completing the circle.
I intentionally inserted a couple of Sanskrit words in the previous paragraph to make it sound theoretical. Let the theorists proceed in that direction if they want. The main point is that talking about gopi-bhava is theoretical without seeing it in the nature around us. Granted, it’s not Vrindvana, but nature is still nature and all the rasas are still there, either as seeds or as reflections, and nature is available to us – we all can go out and embrace it. I think it would be a much better and much more useful exercise than sitting around talking about gopi bhava. If one can’t see it nature he won’t see it in these conversations either.