Kṛṣṇa seated Himself beside each of the many gopīs, and it may be asked herein how He did this. There is a significant word in this verse: īśvara. As it is stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, īśvaraḥ sarva-bhūtānām (BG 18.61). Īśvara refers to the Supreme Lord as the Supersoul seated in everyone’s heart. Kṛṣṇa also manifested this potency of expansion as Paramātmā in this gathering with the gopīs. Kṛṣṇa was sitting by the side of each gopī, unseen by the others. Kṛṣṇa was so kind to the gopīs that instead of sitting in their hearts to be appreciated in yogic meditation, He seated Himself by their sides. By seating Himself outside, He showed special favor to the gopīs, who were the selected beauties of all creation. Having gotten their most beloved Lord, the gopīs began to please Him by moving their eyebrows and smiling and also by suppressing their anger. Some of them took His lotus feet in their laps and massaged them. And while smiling, they confidentially expressed their suppressed anger and said, “Dear Kṛṣṇa, we are ordinary women of Vṛndāvana, and we do not know much about Vedic knowledge—what is right and what is wrong. We therefore put a question to You, and since You are very learned, You can answer it properly. In dealings between lovers, we find that there are three classes of men. One class simply receives, another class reciprocates favorably, even if the lover is very contrary, and the third class neither acts contrary nor answers favorably in dealings of love. So out of these three classes, which do You prefer, or which do You call honest?”
In answer, Kṛṣṇa said, “My dear friends, persons who simply reciprocate the loving dealings of the other party are just like merchants. They give in loving affairs as much as they get from the other party. Practically there is no question of love. It is simply self-interested or self-centered business dealing. Even those without a tinge of loving affairs are better than these merchants. Better than the first class is the second class of men, who love in spite of the opposite party’s contrariness. Such sincere love can be seen when the father and mother love their children in spite of their children’s neglect. The third class neither reciprocate nor neglect. They can be further divided into two classes. One comprises the self-satisfied, who do not require anyone’s love. They are called ātmārāma, which means they are absorbed in the thought of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and so do not care whether one loves them or not. But another class comprises ungrateful men. They are called callous. The men in this group revolt against superior persons. For instance, a son, in spite of receiving all kinds of things from loving parents, may be callous and not reciprocate. Those in this class are generally known as guru-druhaḥ, which means they receive favors from the parents or the spiritual master and yet neglect them.”
Kṛṣṇa indirectly answered the questions of the gopīs, even those questions which implied that Kṛṣṇa did not properly reciprocate their dealings. In answer, Kṛṣṇa said that He, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is self-satisfied. He does not require anyone’s love, but at the same time He said that He is not ungrateful.
“My dear friends,” Kṛṣṇa continued, “you might be aggrieved by My words and acts, but you must know that sometimes I do not reciprocate My devotees’ dealings with Me. My devotees are very much attached to Me, but sometimes I do not reciprocate their feelings properly in order to increase their love for Me more and more. If I can very easily be approached by them, they might think, ‘Kṛṣṇa is so easily available.’ So sometimes I do not respond. If a person has no money but after some time accumulates some wealth and then loses it, he will think of the lost property twenty-four hours a day. Similarly, in order to increase the love of My devotees, sometimes I appear to be lost to them, and instead of forgetting Me, they feel their loving sentiments for Me increase. My dear friends, do not think for a moment that I have been dealing with you as I do with ordinary devotees. I know what you are. You have forsaken all kinds of social and religious obligations; you have given up all connection with your parents. Without caring for social convention and religious obligations, you have come to Me and loved Me, and I am so much obliged to you that I cannot treat you as ordinary devotees. Do not think that I was away from you. I was near to you. I was simply seeing how much you were anxious for Me in My absence. So please do not try to find fault with Me. Because you consider Me so dear to you, kindly excuse Me if I have done anything wrong. I cannot repay your continuous love for Me, even throughout the lifetimes of the demigods in the heavenly planets. It is impossible to repay you or show enough gratitude for your love; therefore please be satisfied by your own pious activities. You have displayed exemplary attraction for Me, overcoming the greatest difficulties arising from family connections. Please be satisfied with your highly exemplary character, for it is not possible for Me to repay My debt to you.”
The exemplary character of devotional service manifested by the devotees of Vṛndāvana is the purest type of devotion. It is enjoined in authoritative śāstras that devotional service must be ahaitukī and apratihatā. This means that devotional service to Kṛṣṇa cannot be checked by political or religious convention. The stage of devotional service is always transcendental. The gopīs particularly showed pure devotional service toward Kṛṣṇa, so much so that Kṛṣṇa Himself remained indebted to them. Lord Caitanya thus said that the devotional service manifested by the gopīs in Vṛndāvana excelled all other methods of approaching the Supreme Personality of Godhead.