When a jñānī takes to devotional service, he rapidly becomes superior to an ordinary jñānī. Such an advanced person is described as jñāna-vimukta-bhakti-parama. How a jñānī takes to devotional service is mentioned in Bhagavad-gītā (BG 7.19), wherein Kṛṣṇa says:
- bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
- jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
- vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
- sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ
"After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare." Actually a person is wise when he surrenders unto the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, but such a mahātmā, great soul, is very rare.
After taking to devotional service under the regulative principles, a person may come to the platform of spontaneous love of Godhead, following in the footsteps of great devotees like Nārada and Sanaka and Sanātana. The Supreme Personality of Godhead then recognizes him to be superior. The devotees who have developed love of Godhead are certainly in an exalted position.
Of all these devotees, the gopīs are recognized as superior because they do not know anything other than satisfying Kṛṣṇa. Nor do the gopīs expect any return from Kṛṣṇa. Indeed, sometimes Kṛṣṇa puts them into extreme suffering by separating Himself from them. Nonetheless, they cannot forget Kṛṣṇa. When Kṛṣṇa left Vṛndāvana for Mathurā, the gopīs became most dejected and spent the rest of their lives simply crying in separation from Kṛṣṇa. This means that in one sense they were never actually separated from Kṛṣṇa. There is no difference between thinking of Kṛṣṇa and associating with Him. Rather, vipralambha-sevā, thinking of Kṛṣṇa in separation, as Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu did, is far better than serving Kṛṣṇa directly. Thus of all the devotees who have developed unalloyed devotional love for Kṛṣṇa, the gopīs are most exalted, and out of all these exalted gopīs, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is the highest. No one can excel the devotional service of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Indeed, even Kṛṣṇa cannot understand the attitude of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī; therefore He took Her position and appeared as Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, just to understand Her transcendental feelings.
In this way Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī gradually concludes that Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is the most exalted devotee of Kṛṣṇa and that Her kuṇḍa (lake), Śrī Rādhā-kuṇḍa, is the most exalted place. This is verified in a quotation from Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta (Uttara-khaṇḍa 45), as quoted in Caitanya-caritāmṛta (CC Adi 4.215, CC Madhya 8.99 & CC Madhya 18.8):
- yathā rādhā priyā viṣṇos
- tasyāḥ kuṇḍaṁ priyaṁ tathā
- sarva-gopīṣu saivaikā
- viṣṇor atyanta-vallabhā
"Just as Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī is dear to the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa [Viṣṇu], so Her bathing place [Rādhā-kuṇḍa] is equally dear to Kṛṣṇa. Among all the gopīs, She alone stands supreme as the Lord's most beloved."