In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, First Canto, 7th Chapter, Queen Kuntī is praying to Lord Kṛṣṇa at the time of His departure: "My dear Kṛṣṇa, You are so great that You are inconceivable even to great stalwart scholars and paramahaṁsas (fully liberated souls). So if such great sages, who are transcendental to all the reactions of material existence, are unable to know You, then as far as we are concerned, belonging to the less intelligent woman class, how is it possible for us to know Your glories? How can we understand You?" In this verse, the particular thing to be noted is that the Personality of Godhead is not understood by great liberated persons, but only by devotees such as Queen Kuntī in her humbleness. Although she was a woman and considered less intelligent than a man, still she realized the glories of Kṛṣṇa. That is the purport of this verse.
Another passage which is very important is in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, First Canto, 6th Chapter, 10th verse, and is called the "ātmārāma verse." In this ātmārāma verse it is stated that even those who are completely liberated from material contamination are attracted by the transcendental qualities of Lord Kṛṣṇa.* The purport of this verse is that a liberated soul has absolutely no desire at all for material enjoyment; he is wholly freed from all kinds of material desires, yet still he is irresistibly attracted by the desire to hear and understand the pastimes of the Lord. We can therefore conclude that the glories and pastimes of the Lord are not material. Otherwise, how could the liberated persons known as ātmārāmas be attracted by such pastimes? That is the important point in this verse.
- This ātmārāma verse was once nicely explained by Lord Caitanya to Sanātana Goswāmī. There is a detailed explanation of this verse in the author's Teachings of Lord Caitanya.
From the above statement it is found that a devotee is not after any of the stages of liberation. There are five stages of liberation, already explained as being 1) to become one with the Lord, 2) to live on the same planet as the Lord, 3) to obtain the same bodily features as the Lord, 4) to have the same opulences as the Lord and 5) to have constant association with the Lord. Out of these five liberated stages the one which is known as sāyujya, or to merge into the existence of the Lord, is the last to be accepted by a devotee. The other four liberations, although not desired by devotees, still are not against the devotional ideals. Some of the liberated persons who have achieved these four stages of liberation may also develop affection for Kṛṣṇa and be promoted to the Goloka Vṛndāvana planet in the spiritual sky. In other words, those who are already promoted to the Vaikuṇṭha planets and possess the four kinds of liberation may also sometimes develop affection for Kṛṣṇa and become promoted to Kṛṣṇa-loka.
So those who are in the four liberated states may still be going through different stages of existence. In the beginning they may want the opulences of Kṛṣṇa, but at the mature stage the dormant love for Kṛṣṇa exhibited in Vṛndāvana becomes prominent in their hearts. As such, the pure devotees never accept the liberation of sāyujya, to become one with the supreme, though sometimes they may accept as favorable the other four liberated states.
Out of many kinds of devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the one who is attracted to the original form of the Lord, Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana, is considered to be the foremost, first-class devotee. Such a devotee is never attracted by the opulences of Vaikuṇṭha, nor even of Dvārakā, the royal city where Kṛṣṇa ruled. The conclusion of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī is that the devotees who are attracted by the pastimes of the Lord in Gokula, or Vṛndāvana,* are the topmost devotees.