The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and David Lawrence, a British schoolteacher, took place in August 1973 during an early-morning walk in London.
David Lawrence: In the Srimad-Bhagavatam there seems to be a great deal of . . . demonology, if you like. Now, I confess this raises problems for me. Are the references to, say, the demoness Putana taking Krsna on her lap and Krsna sucking her breast and killing her—is this to be taken literally or allegorically?
Srila Prabhupada: Literally.
Mr. Lawrence: Literally, as a physical fact?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Of course, in the Bhagavatam there are some figurative stories, similar to Aesop’s Fables. These are for instruction.
Mr. Lawrence: What about the reference to Krsna and the unmarried gopis [cowherd girls]? You say in your books that “He treated them like dolls, yet they were well pleased with Him.” What is the main point of that passage?
Srila Prabhupada: When the Bhagavatam says Krsna treated the gopis like dolls, that means the gopis danced just according to His desire.
Mr. Lawrence: Is that to be taken literally, or is there some symbolic meaning?
Srila Prabhupada: No, literally. The gopis are so devoted to Krsna that whatever Krsna desires, they do.
Mr. Lawrence: I must confess, these activities of Krsna’s are quite beyond my comprehension.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, they are very difficult for ordinary people to understand. That is why this portion of Krsnas life is depicted in the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Nine cantos are devoted to understanding Krsna’s supreme position. Then Krsna’s intimate lila [pastimes] are described in the Tenth Canto. But if one tries to read the life and pastimes of Krsna without understanding that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one will be misled. Therefore the Bhagavatam begins by explaining the Supreme Lord as the original source of the creation (janmady asya yatah). The Bhagavatam doesn’t abruptly introduce Krsna’s pastimes with the gopis.
In the spiritual world Krsna has unlimited varieties of activities. The activities in this material world are only a perverted reflection of those in the spiritual world.
But out of foolishness we take Krsna’s activities to be like ours. Krsna loved the gopis. The gopis were young girls, and Krsna was a young boy, and He loved them. But here the so-called love between a young boy and girl is lust. Therefore it is condemned. But in the love between Krsna and the gopis there is not a trace of lust
Here lust is going on in the name of love. And because it is not love, it doesn’t continue very long—it breaks. But in the history of the spiritual world, you don’t find that the love between the gopis and Krsna broke at any time. That is the difference between lust and love.
Mr. Lawrence: In the West, one in three marriages is destined to break up. That’s what they say now—one in three.
Srila Prabhupada: Just see! And they are trying to drag their lusty ideas into Krsna’s pastimes. Generally, rascals claim that Krsna’s pastimes with the gopis support their own lusty activities: “Krsna acts lustily, so I can also.” This is a gross misunderstanding. People who think like this do not take into account that here in the material world so-called love is lust—and it breaks. But in the love between Krsna and the gopis, there is no breaking—only increase. So how can they compare their lusty affairs to Krsna’s loving affairs with the gopis?
Mr. Lawrence: I must admit that I’ve read far enough in your books to see that they really can’t.
Srila Prabhupada: When you give an analogy, there must be many points of similarity. So where are the points of similarity between Krsna’s pastimes and the lusty affairs of this material world? These rascals are so dullheaded that they don’t even have a logical argument. They are comparing the lusty affairs of this material world to the affairs of Krsna and the gopis. But where is the similarity?
Mr. Lawrence; There’s never any mention at all of lust or animal desire, is there?
Srila Prabhupada: No. For example the Bhagavatam describes everything about Krsna’s dancing with the gopis—their kissing, their embracing, and so on. But there is no mention of contraceptives. And the gopis never became pregnant. So how can we compare Krsna’s loving affairs with the gopis to the lusty affairs of this material world?
Mr. Lawrence: It can’t be done. Another question: I was reading a book (one not put out by the Krsna consciousness movement) about Lord Caitanya, and it said that the manifestations of Krsna consciousness He showed during kirtana [chanting] and so on were manifestations of madness. Can you comment on that?
Srila Prabhupada: When a man is himself mad, he’ll find others mad. [Laughter.]
Mr. Lawrence: He’ll see a reflection of himself.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. This misunderstanding is condemned in Bhagavad-gita, where Krsna says avajananti mam mudha: “Because when I come to this world I come in a human form, rascals take Me for an ordinary human being.” (The word mudha means “rascals” or “asses.”) So, Lord Caitanya is Krsna Himself, but the fools and rascals take him for an ordinary human being.
Mr. Lawrence; They’re just talking from within their own experience. They can’t imagine what happens when God presents Himself as a man.
Srila Prabhupada: When they hear that Krsna lifted Govardhana Hill, they think, “This is mythology.” But if Krsna is actually God, is it very difficult for Him to lift a mountain? He’s floating so many heavy planets in the sky. So if Krsna can make so many planets weightless, is it very difficult for Him to make Govardhana Hill weightless?
These things are very easy for devotees to understand, but nondevotees cannot understand them. Therefore in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna clearly says, bhaktya mam abhijanati: “Only through devotional service can one understand Me.” So if you want to understand Krsna and Krsna’s pastimes in truth, you must take to the process of devotional service.