tebhyo jñāna-vimukta-bhakti-paramāḥ premaika-niṣṭhās tataḥ
tebhyas tāḥ paśu-pāla-paṅkaja-dṛśas tābhyo ’pi sā rādhikā
preṣṭhā tadvad iyaṁ tadīya-sarasī tāṁ nāśrayet kaḥ kṛtī
At the present moment almost everyone is engaged in some kind of fruitive activity. Those who are desirous of gaining material proﬁts by working are called karmīs, or fruitive workers. All living entities within this material world have come under the spell of māyā. This is described in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (6.7.61):
viṣṇu-śaktiḥ parā proktā
kṣetrajñākhyā tathā parā
tṛtīyā śaktir iṣyate
Sages have divided the energies of the Supreme Personality of Godhead into three categories – namely, the spiritual energy, marginal energy and material energy. The material energy is considered to be the third-class energy (tṛtīyā śaktiḥ). Those living beings within the jurisdiction of the material energy sometimes engage themselves like dogs and hogs in working very hard simply for sense gratiﬁcation. However, in this life, or, after executing pious activities, in the next life, some karmīs become strongly attracted to performing various kinds of sacriﬁces mentioned in the Vedas. Thus on the strength of their pious merit, they are elevated to heavenly planets. Actually those who perform sacriﬁces strictly according to Vedic injunctions are elevated to the moon and planets above the moon. As mentioned in Bhagavad-gītā (9.21), kṣīṇe puṇye martya-lokaṁ viśanti: after exhausting the results of their so-called pious activities, they again return to the earth, which is called martya-loka, the place of death. Although such persons may be elevated to the heavenly planets by their pious activities and although they may enjoy life there for many thousands of years, they nonetheless must return to this planet when the results of their pious activities are exhausted.
This is the position of all karmīs, including those who act piously and those who act impiously. On this planet we ﬁnd many businessmen, politicians and others who are simply interested in material happiness. They attempt to earn money by all means, not considering whether such means are pious or impious. Such people are called karmīs, or gross materialists. Among the karmīs are some vikarmīs, people who act without the guidance of Vedic knowledge. Those who act on the basis of Vedic knowledge perform sacriﬁces for the satisfaction of Lord Viṣṇu and to receive benedictions from Him. In this way they are elevated to higher planetary systems. Such karmīs are superior to the vikarmīs, for they are faithful to the directions of the Vedas and are certainly dear to Kṛṣṇa. In Bhagavad-gītā (4.11), Kṛṣṇa says: ye yathā māṁ prapadyante tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham. “In whatever way one surrenders unto Me, I reward him accordingly.” Kṛṣṇa is so kind that He fulﬁlls the desires of the karmīs and jñānīs, not to speak of the bhaktas. Although the karmīs are sometimes elevated to higher planetary systems, as long as they remain attached to fruitive activities they must accept new material bodies after death. If one acts piously, he can attain a new body among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, or he may attain some other position in which he can enjoy a higher standard of material happiness. On the other hand, those who are engaged in impious activities are degraded and take birth as animals, trees and plants. Thus those fruitive actors who do not care for the Vedic directions (vikarmīs) are not appreciated by learned saintly persons. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.4):
nūnaṁ pramattaḥ kurute vikarma
yad indriya-prītaya āpṛṇoti
na sādhu manye yata ātmano ’yam
asann api kleśada āsa dehaḥ
“Materialists who work hard like dogs and hogs simply for sense gratiﬁcation are actually mad. They simply perform all kinds of abominable activities simply for sense gratiﬁcation. Materialistic activities are not at all worthy of an intelligent man, for as a result of such activities, one gets a material body, which is full of misery.” The purpose of human life is to get out of the threefold miserable conditions, which are concomitant with material existence. Unfortunately, fruitive workers are mad to earn money and acquire temporary material comforts by all means; therefore they risk being degraded to lower species of life. Materialists foolishly make many plans to become happy in this material world. They do not stop to consider that they will live only for a certain number of years, out of which they must spend the major portion acquiring money for sense gratiﬁcation. Ultimately such activities end in death. Materialists do not consider that after giving up the body they may become embodied as lower animals, plants or trees. Thus all their activities simply defeat the purpose of life. Not only are they born ignorant, but they act on the platform of ignorance, thinking that they are getting material beneﬁts in the shape of skyscraper buildings, big cars, honorable positions and so on. The materialists do not know that in the next life they will be degraded and that all their activities simply serve as parābhava, their defeat. This is the verdict of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.5): parābhavas tāvad abodha jātaḥ.
One should therefore be eager to understand the science of the soul (ātma-tattva). Unless one comes to the platform of ātma-tattva, by which one understands that the soul and not the body is oneself, one remains on the platform of ignorance. Out of thousands and even millions of ignorant people who are wasting their time simply gratifying their senses, one may come to the platform of knowledge and understand higher values of life. Such a person is called a jñānī. The jñānī knows that fruitive activities will bind him to material existence and cause him to transmigrate from one kind of body to another. As indicated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam by the term śarīra-bandha (bound to bodily existence), as long as one maintains any conception of sense enjoyment, his mind will be absorbed in karma, fruitive activity, and this will oblige him to transmigrate from one body to another.
Thus a jñānī is considered superior to a karmī because he at least refrains from the blind activities of sense enjoyment. This is the verdict of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. However, although a jñānī may be liberated from the ignorance of the karmīs, unless he comes to the platform of devotional service he is still considered to be in ignorance (avidyā). Although one may be accepted as a jñānī, or one advanced in knowledge, his knowledge is considered impure because he has no information of devotional service and thus neglects the direct worship of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
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 (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:
yathā rādhā priyā viṣṇos
tasyāḥ kuṇḍaṁ priyaṁ tathā
“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.”
Therefore everyone interested in Kṛṣṇa consciousness should ultimately take shelter of Rādhā-kuṇḍa and execute devotional service there throughout one’s life. This is the conclusion of Rūpa Gosvāmī in the tenth verse of Upadeśāmṛta.