This was an attempt to construct the rhythm of life, taking into account its inevitable evolutionary mutations. The mosaic of life was multifaceted, its murals of many levels. Spring and autumn were beautiful, but each gave way to summer and winter, which had their own compensations. The day could be resplendent, but it was inevitably followed by night, and if the night was unhappy, it would as surely be followed by dawn. Orgasms, however ecstatic, could not be stretched forever. The sexual urge, however legitimate, could not be sustained in permanence. The body, however beautiful, could not remain untainted by the vicissitudes of age. And desire and passion, however intense, could not forever retain the same efficacy of expression and fulfillment.
Krishna left Vrindavan to demonstrate this verity. In doing so he demonstrated too the essential nature of his own being. His involvement in Vrindavan was but an enactment of his leela. He was a participant in the rasa and in the escapades on the banks of the Yamuna with Radha and the gopis, but this participation was inherently transcendent. He was involved but it did not involve him. He was a yogi, above the joys of attachment and the sorrows of separation. Vrindavan may have been possessed by him, but he could never be possessed by Vrindavan. His rasa leelas may have proceeded for nights on end, but at another level, he was the eternal celibate, untainted by his actions, and above its consequences.
The plight of the gopis was different. Their attachment to Krishna was real. The joy they derived in the rasa was overwhelming. Their horizons were limited to Krishna and the groves of Vrindavan and the sandy banks of the Yamuna. It was essential, therefore, that they learnt to give to their desires a form and content which went beyond the physical. Krishna’s presence in Vrindavan had given sanctity to the joys of the flesh. His absence from it was meant to convey the limitations of the joys of the flesh, if pursued in isolation. Unconstrained joy was the essence of divinity. Sex was an aspect of that divine joy, but not the whole of it. The enlightened life was a balance of several goals, each rewarding only in a wholesome linkage with the other. Having revelled in the rasa, Krishna’s purpose was to teach, through viraha, the possibility of achieving the same intensity of union without physical stimulus. In doing so, he was not denying the role of the senses but merely asserting that in conjunction with the pleasure of the senses, there could be pursued, as the next stage, an equally valid and certainly more autonomous (that is, less dependent on external stimuli) path to fulfilment and joy.
In the Bhagavata, Krishna explained the process to the gopis in the following way:
As for me, even when love is showered on me, sometimes I do not return it. The reason is because I want them to love me more: to become more devoted to me: to think of me and only me: to become my bhaktas. Take, for instance, a very poor man who has found wealth suddenly. If, after having it with him he loses it, his pain will be more than when he was poor, and his thoughts will be more intense about wealth: wealth which he had found only to lose it: Even so, I vanished from your sight because I wanted to know how dear I am to you and how indispensable. Your devotion to me has become more now when you went through the agony of losing me . . .
The essential logic was simple: First I give; then I take it away; then you miss what I gave; then the contemplation of what you had enables you to have without having.
The focused intensity of vision that viraha could produce was the subject of study of both erotic and rhetorical texts in India. The gopis deprived of Krishna’s physical presence went through an identified phase of emotional and physical trauma. There was loss of sleep (nidrachcheda), loss of weight (tanuta), an aversion to any object not relating to the beloved (visayebhyo vyavritti), an unconcern for shame and modesty (lajja pranasa), delirium (unmaada) and fainting or a feeling of senselessness (murchcha). There were other symptoms: longing (abhilasha), anxiety (chinta), remembrance (smarana), telling the qualities of the beloved (gunakirtana), agitation and fear(udvega), delirium and senseless chatter (pratapa), seeing all things as consisting of the beloved (tan-maya), sickness and fever (vyadhi, jvara), stupor or stiffness (jadata), languor and displeasure (arati), and so forth’.