One learned friend privately asked me the meaning of “gopi jana vallabhaya” (as in the mantra “क्लीं कृष्णाय गोविन्दाय गोपीजनवल्लभाय स्वाहा”). I’ll answer publicly, for the benefit of others.

First literal/superficial meaning: gopa=coherd, gopi=cowherd’s lady, jana=people, vallabha=beloved/desired. Overall expression means “to the beloved of the ladies of cowherds”. This alludes to all the ladies of cowherds running after Krishna.

Now, on to the subtle meaning. The word “go” means cows and stars and is used as the code word for “senses” in Veda. We nourish and enrich ourselves with various experiences of the world through our senses at one level. At another level, we nourish ourselves with milk, yogurt, butter, ghee etc from cows. At yet another level, our experience of the world is enabled by the light from stars and celestial bodies. Senses show us the world like stars. They feed us like the cows.

Gopa means one who controls “go”. Gopas stand for internal subtle entities that control various kinds of perceptions and sensations through outward and inward senses. Gopis stand for the energy that animates these internal subtle entities, i.e. Gopis are the energies that enable various perceptions and sensations through outward and inward senses. Jana indicates multitudes of these energies. Vallabha means one who is sought after.

When the energies that cause various experiences, perceptions and sensations of the world around us actually seek and run after the Supreme Being or Self, it brings balance and equanimity in a Yogi! Krishna is being extolled here as that Being!

Some may look at Krishna’s play with gopis as a modern playboy’s escapades with many ladies. But it is a symbol of the energies that animate all our sense experiences of this world being truly dedicated to the Supreme Being, i.e. a person offering each experience of the world to the Lord and think of Him as the enjoyer of that experience.