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Prema-vilāsa-vivarta—Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s divine play with Śrī Rādhā – Part 1

At the request of a friend, Babaji’s editor and co-author Navadvipa Das Ji, translated Śrī Radha-Govinda-natha’s six-page Bengali commentary on the eighth Chapter of Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā, Text 150 (191 in the BBT edition), dealing with prema-vilāsa-vivarta. We are sharing it in two installments. Here is the first part, beginning with text 149.  

prabhu kahe – ei haya, āge kaha āra

rāya kahe – ihā va-i buddhi-gati nāhi āra

Mahāprabhu said: “What you have said [regarding the vilāsa of Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa] is perfectly appropriate. If anything more lies beyond this, please disclose it.”

Rāmānanda Rāya replied: “Beyond this, there is nothing that lies within the scope of my intellectual grasp (buddhi-gati).” (CC 2.8.149)

 Commentary

            It is due exclusively to the overpowering influence of prema—here signifying, the innate disposition (vāsanā) to please Śrī Kṛṣṇa in every possible manner—that the root longing (vāsanā) for the intuition of vilāsa was awakened [in Mahāprabhu], and on the pretext of this awakening of vilāsa, the glory (mahimā) of prema became manifested. On this account, Prabhu wished to hear the glory of the vilāsa of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. In the course of describing the glory of vilāsa, Rāmānanda Rāya spoke of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s feature as dhīra-lalita, “a hero in the aesthetics of amorous seduction.” All of the characteristics of the dhīra-lalita feature described by him are indicators of the glory (māhātmya) of the vilāsa arising from Rādhā’s prema.

            In examining the question of just how great (mahān) is the transcendental entity (vastu) known as vilāsa, it must first be emphasized that its influence was exerted on none other than He who is omnipresent (sarvaga), limitless (ananta), omniscient (vibhu), the womb of all existence (sarva-yoni), the ground of all being (sarvāśraya), the Source of all potencies (sarva-śaktimān), the propounder of all the Vedas, and He of infinite glory, the end of which is never reached even by the Śrutis themselves, in spite of proclaiming them continuously throughout ceaseless revolutions of the cosmic ages (yuga-yugānta). It is in this Śrī Kṛṣṇa-candra Himself, who is the Supremely Independent Reality (parama-svatantra), the Supreme Absolute (parama-brahma), and the transcendentally qualified Personal Absolute in His ownmost original identity (Svayam Bhagavān), that vilāsa impelled an irresistible urge (loluptā) for rasa and compelled Him to come under the control (vaśyatā) of His preyasīs. Having awakened the most profound state of enthrallment (mugdhatva) in this crown jewel of Omniscience (sarvajña-śiromaṇi), vilāsa bound Him, although He is the All-pervading Reality (sarva-vyāpaka tattva), to remain day and night in the secluded groves of Vṛndāvana out of greed (lobha) for the company of His preyasīs. Who then can describe the greatness of the transcendental entity (vastu) known as vilāsa and the magnitude of its majestic power (śakti-mahīyasī)?

            The glory (mahimā) of Śrī Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s vilāsa that was disclosed by Rāmānanda Rāya was of such unfathomable import, yet Prabhu remained unsatiated even by this and wished to hear something more. Effectively, Prabhu said to him: “Rāmānanda, there is no doubt that in your discussion, the extraordinary glory (asādhāraṇa-mahattva) of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s vilāsa is certainly disclosed. Yet, I wish to know all the truths regarding the glory of vilāsa of which you have not yet spoken as well as whatever confidential mystery (gūḍha rahasya) there may yet be. Please continue, Rāmānanda.”

            Hearing this, Rāmānanda Rāya replied: “Prabhu, there is nothing beyond what I have spoken that lies within the scope of my intellectual grasp (buddhi-gati).” In reality, there is not even a single topic regarding the existential truth of the aesthetics of transcendental play (līlā-rasa-tattva) that is accessible to anyone’s intellective capacity (buddhi-gamya). Such topics can be immediately intuited (anubhava-gamya) only by the grace of Bhagavān.

 

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ye vā prema-vilāsa-vivarta eka haya

tāhā śuni tomāra sukha haya ki nā haya

Rāmānanda Rāya then said to Mahāprabhu: “There is, however, one other essential truth, known as prema-vilāsa-vivarta. Please hear of it and decide whether or not it meets with Your pleasure.” (CC 2.8.150)

 

Commentary

Hearing Prabhu’s words, Rāmānanda Rāya said: “Prabhu, it is true that the confidential mystery (gūḍha rahasya) of the glory of vilāsa is beyond the purview of my intellect. Yet by Your grace, I have at once realized the truth that the glory of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s vilāsa is the most confidential mystery (gūḍhatama rahasya). In the song of my own composition, I will endeavor to provide an indication of this mystery. I will sing this song and thus enable You to hear it. The mystery that is indicated in this song is known as prema-vilāsa-vivarta.”

We will now comment on Rāmānanda’s statement: “Please hear of it and decide whether or not it meets with Your pleasure” (tāhā śuni tomāra sukha haya ki nā haya). Rāmānanda said: “Yet, Prabhu, in this song of my composition, I do not know whether or not I will be able to convey the true significance of this indication, and whether or not I will be able to bring about the disclosure of the most confidential mystery of the glory of vilāsa. If I am not able to do so, then You will derive no pleasure by hearing my song. Or, if in my song there is no indication of the mystery You wish to uncover, then also it will not meet with Your pleasure—then Your root longing (vāsanā) will not be satiated. Hence, the doubt has arisen in my mind, Prabhu, as to whether or not You will be pleased by hearing my song. Nonetheless, I myself will sing my song and thus enable You to hear it. Please hear it, Prabhu, and see whether or not it contains the transcendental entity (vastu, i.e., vilāsa) that is the object of Your longing (abhilaṣita).”

This song is cited in payāras 152-156. In the midst of this song, Śrī Rādhā says: “He [Kṛṣṇa] cannot be identified as my lover (ramaṇa), nor I as His beloved (ramaṇī). The innate longing born from our hearts [manobhava, i.e., the vāsanā to please each other] has powdered our two minds into a unified substance, such that [all distinction between us has disappeared]” (CC 2.8.153). The most confidential mystery of the glory of vilāsa is implicit in this verse. But what exactly is this mystery? In order to uncover this mystery, it will be helpful to first examine the meaning of the term prema-vilāsa-vivarta.

The term prema-vilāsa means “the divine play (vilāsa, i.e., kheli) arising from prema.” The word prema means “the innate disposition (vāsanā) to please only the object (viṣaya) of one’s love, without the faintest trace of desire for personal happiness (sva-sukha-vāsanā).” On this basis, prema-vilāsa means “the divine play (vilāsa) brought into unification (saṅghaṭita) by the impelling force (preraṇā) of the innate disposition (vāsanā) arising from such prema.” This is not the vilāsa that is incited by the desire for personal happiness. Such self-interested enjoyment is known as kāma-vilāsa, which is comparable to the enjoyment of animals. Not only is it devoid of all glory, but it is also a matter of abhorrence. The word prema in prema-vilāsa refutes any possibility that the reference could be to kāma-vilāsa. Syntactically, the term prema-vilāsa-vivarta thus means “the vivarta of the divine play (vilāsa) arising from prema.” But what is the meaning of the word vivarta? The word vivarta is filled with the most profound significance (viśeṣa-gurutva-pūrṇa) and imbued with inscrutable mystery (rahasyamaya).

In his commentary on this payāra, Śrīpāda Viśvanātha Cakravartī has glossed the word vivarta as viparīta, meaning “inverted” or “reversed.” In his commentary on Ujjavala-nīlamaṇi, Uddīpana-vibhāva-prakaraṇa, verse 37, Śrīpāda Jīva Gosvāmī has glossed the word vivarta as paripākaḥ, meaning “fully ripened,” “completely evolved,” or “uniquely transformed” (i.e., viśeṣeṇa vṛttaḥ), in his comment on the phrase bakārer mādhurīṇāṁ nava-vivartaḥ, “the ever-newly completely evolved state of Bakāri’s [Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s] mellifluousness.” In addition, one common meaning of the word vivarta that is known to all is bhrama, or “perplexity.”

Consequently, the word vivarta is understood to have three meanings—namely, “inverted” (viparīta) or “inversion” (vaiparītya); “completely evolved” (paripāka) or “complete evolution” (paripakvatā); and “perplexity” (bhrama) or “confusion” (bhrānti). In the context of the analysis of the term prema-vilāsa-vivarta, these three meanings all have utility (upayogitā) and significance (sārthakatā). Among these three meanings, the sense of the word vivarta as “completely evolved” (paripāka) certainly carries the primary (mukhya) utility and significance. The meanings of vivarta as “inverted” and as “perplexity” carry concomitant (ānuṣāṅgika) utility and significance. They are external symptoms (bahir-lakṣaṇas) or indicators (sūcakas) of the primary meaning (mukhya-artha) as “completely evolved” (paripāka). The meaning as paripāka is thus the whole (aṅgī) of which viparīta and bhrama are its component parts (aṅga).

If we take the primary sense of the word vivarta, the meaning of the term prema-vilāsa-vivarta would be “the complete evolution (paripakvatā), or in other words, the state of the highest exultation (carama-utkarṣa-avasthā), of the divine play (vilāsa) arising from prema.” In this state of supreme exultation, two symptoms (lakṣaṇas) are manifested—namely, “perplexity” (bhrānti) and “inversion” (vaiparītya). An object (vastu) that is imperceptible (alakṣya) by the cognitive senses can be recognized by its external symptoms (bāhira-lakṣaṇas). The state of the highest exultation (carama-utkarṣa-avasthā) of the divine play (vilāsa) arising from prema is imperceptible by the cognitive senses. Its presence can be inferred only by all those symptoms (lakṣaṇas) that are manifested externally. Consequently, Cakravartipāda specifies one of these symptoms as “inverted” (viparīta) or “inversion” (vaiparītya). An additional symptom is “perplexity” (bhrānti), which gives rise to the state of inversion. How this is so will now be examined.

In the fourth Ullāsa of Kāvya-Prakāśa, in the commentary on the verse dhanyāsi yā kathayasi, it is written: “The supreme state (caramāvasthā) of amorous play (kāma-krīḍā) is the state of complete identity or oneness (tanmayatā) with vilāsa alone.” The state of the highest exultation of vilāsa, or in other words, of complete oneness with vilāsa alone, is one in which the lovers have no occupation (vyāpāra) whatsoever other than vilāsa. Moreover, the hero and heroine (nāyaka-nāyikā) are devoid of cognizance (anusandhāna) even of their own existence (asthitva). When this state arises, the object of the lovers’ remembrance (smṛti) and cognizance (anusandhāna) is nothing other than vilāsa. The one and only object of their attention (anusandhāna) is how the systematic unfolding (pāripāṭya), or the unique marvel (vaicitrī), of vilāsa can be brought to consummation—how the bliss (ānanda) of vilāsa can be further augmented. Moreover, when in the act of attending (anusandhāna) exclusively to vilāsa, the lovers are bereft even of the awareness (anubhuti) of who is doing so—then, under the influence of progressively evolving supreme longing (carama-utkaṇṭhā), inversion (vaiparītya) of the hero and heroine’s actions becomes possible.

An indication of this inversion is found three verses later in Rādhā’s song: “He [Kṛṣṇa] cannot be identified as my lover (ramaṇa), nor I as His beloved (ramaṇī). The innate longing born from our hearts [manobhava, i.e., the vāsanā to please each other] has powdered our two minds into a unified substance, such that [all distinction between us has disappeared].” In glossing the word vivarta as viparīta, Cakravartipāda might well have had this specific instance of inversion (vaiparītya) in mind. The immediate cause of this inversion is the state of perplexity (bhrānti)—the state of forgetfulness of themselves (ātma-vismṛti) as hero and heroine (nāyaka-nāyikā). This state of perplexity (bhrānti) is itself the result of complete identity (tanmayatā) with vilāsa alone. Thus, perfect identification with vilāsa alone is that by which the state of the highest exultation of vilāsa is recognized. Because this state is imperceptible to the senses, it is understood by the perplexity (bhrānti) that arises from it, and by the inversion (vaiparītya) of action that arises out of perplexity. In this respect, the three previously mentioned meanings of the word vivarta are admitted. The primary meaning is “complete evolution” (paripakvatā) or “the state of supreme exultation” (carama-utkarṣa-avasthā). “Perplexity” (bhrānti) is its consequence, and “inversion” is the result of the latter.

This inversion of action (vaiparītya), or inverted play (viparīta-vihāra), is, however, only an external symptom (bāhira-lakṣaṇa) of the state of the highest exultation of prema-vilāsa. Of its own accord, it is not the state of highest exultation. Moreover, this type of inversion is not even the prime symptom (viśea-lakṣaṇa) of prema-vilāsa-vivarta. This inversion does not indicate the state of the highest exultation of prema-vilāsa in all situations. If this inversion occurs through active involvement of the will on the part of the hero and heroine, then it is not an indicator (paricāyaka) of the state of the highest exultation of vilāsa. Rather, if this inversion (vaiparītya) manifests of its own accord (svata sphūrta) unknown to the lovers under the influence of complete self-forgetfulness (sampūra ātma-vismti), or in other words, out of the perplexity (bhrama) that arises from the state of perfect identity or oneness (tanmayatā) with vilāsa alone, then only inversion (vaiparītya) is a true indicator (paricāyaka) of prema-vilāsa-vivarta, and not otherwise. In the introductory volume of the six volume edition of Caitanya-caritāmta (p. 222-237), there is an elaborate essay on the topic of prema-vilāsa-vivarta, which may also be consulted. The nature of this inversion (vaiparītya) will be described a little further ahead with reference to the statements of Gopāla-campu.

In the state of the highest exultation of the divine play (vilāsa) arising from prema, due to the compelling force of complete identity with vilāsa alone, the crown jewel of heroes (nāyaka-śiromaṇi), Śrī Kṛṣṇa, and the crown jewel of heroines (nāyikā-śiromaṇi), Śrī Rādhā, have only one root longing (vāsanā) in their hearts—namely, the longing to expand the bliss of vilāsa. At such times, their two minds become as if one. This is the import of Rādhā’s upcoming statement (verse 153): “The innate longing born from our hearts [manobhava, i.e., the vāsanā to please each other] has powdered our two minds into a unified substance, such that [all distinction between us has disappeared].”

In stating that their two minds had become one, the implication is that they no longer held any awareness (jñāna) of the distinction (bheda) between them. The state of the highest exultation of prema-vilāsa occurs only in the absence of the awareness of this distinction (bheda-jñāna-rāhitya), which itself arises out of complete identification (tanmayatā) with vilāsa alone. Śrīpāda Kavi Karṇapūra has also confirmed the same point in his Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Mahākāvya: “Having disclosed the state of the highest exultation of prema implicit in the exceptionally skilled hero and heroine (vidagdha-nāgara-nāgarī) [Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa], Rāmānanda Rāya sang a song that is relished by their love-laden companions (sarasāli-pītam) and that brings to light the state of supreme oneness (paraikya) of the two lovers” (Sarga 13.45).

End of part 1. Translation by Navadvipa Das

The Vrajavasis’ Special Love for Krishna

Question: After the Govardhana episode, the Bhāgavatam makes several statements that the Vrajavāsīs (vrajaukasaḥ) were aware of Kṛṣṇa as Īśvara:

  • “They worshipped Kṛṣṇa with great respect”ānarcuḥ kṛṣṇaṁ ca gata-vismayāḥ (SB 10.26.24);
  • The cowherd men desired to see the abode of Kṛṣṇanaḥ sva-gatiṁ sūkṣmām upādhāsyad adhīśvaraḥ (SB 10.28.11).

Gauḍīya ācāryas in their commentaries mention that the Vrajavāsīs did identify Kṛṣṇa as Īśvara but that did not diminish their relationship with Him as a lover, son, or friendna tu vasudevārjunādaya iva aiśvarya-jñānoparāgāt sva-sambandha-śaithilyavanto babhūvur and adhīśvaratā-jñāne’pi svābhāvika-putratādi-vijñānānupamardāt.

Is such cognition of Kṛṣṇa as Īśvara intermittent as per Kṛṣṇa’s will or was it totally absent in the Vrajavāsīs? I’m assuming that such cognition could never diminish the love they have for Him.

Answer: Yes, it is by Kṛṣṇa’s will, and this further increases their love for Kṛṣṇa. The real intention of these types of descriptions however is for us to understand this pointthat their love is so great that even if they cognize Kṛṣṇa as Iśvara, their mood does not change. As you know, Kṛṣṇa has two sides to His personality—aiśvarya and mādhurya. Aiśvarya refers to His super-human activities such as lifting Govardhana Hill. Such an act cannot be performed by any human being. Mādhurya refers to His human-like behavior such as tending cows. What we have to keep in mind is that His mādhurya exists based on His aiśvarya but it remains concealed. However, at times it may manifest because it is needed to protect His devotees. When that happens, the devotees of Vraja appreciate it and do not lose their prema for Him. Rather, they think, “How wonderful it is that our Kṛṣṇa is so majestic that He is honored by great devas like Indra and Varuṇa. He is the master of the universe.” This is the supremacy of their prema. Kṛṣṇa does not use His aiśvarya to impress the Vrajavāsīs but to protect them. This increases their prema. Kṛṣṇa loves the Vrajavāsīs as much as they love Him. Therefore, when the need arises, His aiśvarya becomes manifest. Without aiśvarya, He would not be able to give protection.

One may raise a doubt—then why did He manifest His aiśvarya when mother Yaśodā asked Him to open His mouth to see if He has eaten clay, or when she wanted to bind Him. This was not done to protect His devotees. The reply is that in these instances, Yogamāyā made Kṛṣṇa’s aiśvarya become manifest to protect Kṛṣṇa.    

Question: The superior position of the Vrajavāsīs was depicted in Bṛhad Bhāgavatāmṛta as those who never aspired “to attain something different than what/who they were,” in contrast to devotees who may aspire to be like another devotee or to attain a specific place for performing bhakti. Even the sixteen thousand queens of Kṛṣṇa in Dvārakā aspired for the dust of Vrajabhūmi; hence Vraja is extraordinary. However, the commentators mention that the gopas experienced more bliss in seeing Kṛṣṇaloka, after the pastime where Varuṇa kidnapped Nanda Mahārāja. How are we to understand their bliss at seeing the spiritual world?

Answer: The bliss of the gopas was not so much from seeing Kṛṣṇaloka but from knowing that in their next lives, they will all be together with Kṛṣṇa. That is the implied sense. The only reason they asked Kṛṣṇa to show them their destination in the next life was to make sure they would not be separated from Him. Once they realized that they will be together, they were joyous.

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Question: Are the secondary rasas experienced in Goloka Vṛndavana? For example, with whom does Kṛṣṇa experience chivalry, wonder, and ghastliness? Could it be understood that a primary reason for the material world is to facilitate Kṛṣṇa’s experience of these secondary rasas, as opposed to the idea that the material realm is a ‘prison house’ for baddha jīvas?

Answer: Yes, that is right. 

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Question: There are many cows, trees, and plants in Goloka. Are there jīvas in such bodies? My understanding was that upon liberation, we would obtain spiritual bodies in one of the five primary rasas, not animal or plant bodies.

Answer: They are eternal residents of eternal Goloka. If we accept that this Vṛndāvana is non-different from Goloka Vṛndāvana, then it is proper to think that the cows etc. here are also residents of Goloka.

On another note, it is also described that if a sādhaka in Vṛndāvana commits an offense, then he may be born as a plant etc. in Vṛndāvan as an outcome of the offense.

Stages of Bhakti, Doubts and Offenses

Question: It seems that anyone who has doubts cannot completely “believe” in the words of śāstra. In SB 1.2.21 it is said that doubts are destroyed upon seeing Paramātmā at the jivan-mukta stage. It follows that there must be doubts at the anartha nivrtti stage. How should I understand this?

Answer:  A doubt can be of various types.  You have assumed that doubt is only about śāstra being true or false. The doubt may be about one’s own capability. One may have doubts such as, “Am I capable of realizing the goal?”  “Is the process I follow proper or am I missing something?” “Is Kṛṣṇa really the way He is described (such as having a yellow dress, blackish color, etc.)?” In other words, it is not that the sādhaka is harboring doubts about the validity of śāstra, but rather doubts about oneself, one’s practice and one’s own understanding.  Moreover, it is not certain that everyone will have such doubts. The doubt may not be about whether something is right or wrong. One may simply not be very clear about a concept although one accepts it to be true. Please read the very definition of śraddhā in Bhakti-rasāmṛta sindhu, Eastern Division, second chapter (Sādhana-bhakti).

Question: You had mentioned in a lecture that there is no possibility of offense at the stage described in SB 1.2.21:

bhidyate hṛdaya-granthiś chidyante sarva-saṁśayāḥ
kṣīyante cāsya karmāṇi dṛṣṭa evātmanīśvare

“Precisely coinciding with the immediate perception of Īśvara within the core of being of such a realized person, the knot of ego in the heart is pierced, all doubts are cut asunder, and the reaction to all karma is nullified.  Any suffering is an arrangement of Kṛṣṇa.”

Am I correct in assuming that this is a description of the bhāva stage? If yes, how to reconcile this with Bhakti-rasāmṛta Sindhu, where Śrī Rupa Gosvāmī mentions that one can descend from the bhāva stage if one commits offenses? 

Answer: This is the prema stage, and at this stage, there is no possibility of offense. Even otherwise when Śrī Rupa Gosvāmī says that one can descend from bhāva stage, it is not a common thing. Rather I would say that such a thing will also happen by the special will of Kṛṣṇa—either to teach others something or to make the bhāva of the devotee very intense. Otherwise, at the bhāva platform, offense is almost impossible. 

Question: Śrī Visvanātha suggests that Bharat Mahāraja fell from the bhāva platform on account of the deer only because of Kṛṣṇa’s will. Could Dvivida be considered as an example where someone fell from the bhāva platform due to their own offenses?

Answer: As I said above such a thing is almost an impossibility. Dvivida is given as an example, but I would say even his situation was only by the Lord’s will. 

Question: The bhakti lata bīja is explained as nirguṇa śraddhā in bhaktiśāstra. Śrī Visvanātha in his writings likens the bīja to a raw mango, and prema to a ripe mango. It would seem that the bhakti lata bīja is made of the antaraṅga śakti. If yes, it seems that when one has the raw mango in the mind (i.e. prema in an unripe or immature stage), one can be covered by māyā (as a sādhaka is susceptible to offenses) but when one possesses the ripe mango of prema, one can never be overcome by māyā. Is it that when one has nirguṇa śraddhā, that śraddhā will never ‘actually’ leave that person in any future lifetime owing to any offense or māyic action, and that is proof that the bhakti lata bīja also is beyond the effect of māyā?

Answer: Yes, it can be covered but generally speaking it will not be lost, unless one commits some very heinous offense. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī says that by great offense one can lose bhāva or one’s bhāva can be downgraded (see BRS Chapter 1.3.54).

Question: The concept of dormant prema is clearly unsupported by śāstra. Prema has to be given, and it is given at the bhāva stage as a ‘ray’ of the sun of prema. How to understand then that after one gets bhāva—the sudurlabha ray of prema—one’s bhāva can become bhāvaābhāsa of different types according to the severity of offenses as mentioned in BRS. Is the person losing the bhāva after having obtained it? Would that go against the principle that the antaraṅga śakti is independent of māyā?

Answer: No, it would not go against the antaraṅga śakti being independent of māyā, but rather it proves that it is independent. When we think of antaraṅga śakti, we tend to think of it as some impersonal energy, because we equate śakti to energy. But śakti is also a person and can make decisions. Therefore, when one is offensive, then the antaraṅga śakti leaves that person. After all, what is an offense? It is acting in a manner that is not commensurate with one’s bhāva. If such is the case, then why should one continue to have that bhāva?

Gradations of Prema

Question: In his tika on Ujjvala Nilamani 8.137 Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur appears to grade the prema of five groups of sakhis with the parama-prestha sakhis having the best prema for Radha Krsna. Both they and the priya-sakhis are said to have greater prema than the prema of the prana and nitya-sakhis (manjaris). How has the tradition that so strongly asserts that manjari bhava is the fullest measure of unnatojjvala rasa dealt VCT’s comments?

Purva raga / Vrindavan Arts
Purva raga / Vrindavan Arts

Answer:  Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur himself writes in the commentary to this verse that the ‘follower’ gopis are lesser than those they follow; and without following there is no raganuga bhakti. This is one consideration. The other consideration is that the parama-preshta sakhis are the kaya-vyuhas of Srimati Radhika. Sri Radhika expands to give pleasure to Sri Rasaraja in different moods. Thus they are supreme. No one can take their place. They are followed priya-sakhis which make the latter also supreme.

I think when it is said that ‘manjari-bhava is the fullest measure of unnatojjvala rasa’ it means that this is the highest a jiva can attain, not that it is highest in the absolute sense. Highest manifestation of this rasa is in Sri Radhika. No one would argue against that. Next come the parama-presthas who are expansions of Sri Radhika, and then their followers, the priya-sakhis.

There are different aspects to compare. A manjari is on top of the plant, so it is the highest. But it cannot subsist without the branch below it, and in that aspect, the branch is superior, being the support of the manjari above it.

Manjari is a ‘follower’ category, while parama-prestha is a ‘followed’ category.  Therefore the latter is superior. This is my understanding of Sri VCT’s comment. Others may have a different understanding from a different aspect of comparison.

Question: One of the reasons I raised this question was because someone has written a book stressing on the basis of this commentary that by following the parama-prestha-sakhi one can attain the status of a priya-sakhi. Whereas by following a prana-sakhi one can attain the status of a nitya-sakhi. Thus both are points of entry into tad-bhavechamayi madhurya rasa and both are followers, but the priya-sakhi has more prema in following the parama-prestha-sakhi than the nitya-sakhi has in following the prana-sakhi. If this is accurate, it takes away from some of the reasoning in your reply, while going against hundreds of years of tradition it seems.

Answer: The fact is that people write books on these topics without having a clear concept themselves. It is not a matter of reading books and commentaries by oneself. Books are an aid in studying under a qualified teacher. Recently an e-book was also sent to me. The author has worked diligently with profuse quotes from scriptures. But unfortunately it is full of misconceptions which are being supported by quotes and are meant to remove misconceptions.

I was asked to give my comments but frankly i do not want to be part of any controversy. I respect all Vaishnavas. Now the book is written and is available openly. What is the point in pointing out mistakes now?

I see three common problems at present.

  1. Anyone can write books, no one bothers if one is qualified or not. Such was not the case in the past.
    2. Hardly anyone who writes has studied properly under a living qualified teacher.
    3. There is no one to check whether a book should be published or not. In the past there used to be pandit samaj to approve.

These are the problem of the modern age. It is for this reason that in the past in India books were not easily available and knowledge was not given openly lest unqualified people make mess out of it. Now that is gone. Everything is available on the net.

Coming to your specific question. The flaw with this argument is that the author assumes that it is up to the sadhaka to choose whom to follow. Just because something is written in Ujjvala Nilamani or Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu or Caitanya Caritamrita does not mean that it is the recommendation of the author. To make this more clear: There are various types of statements in shastra i.e. descriptive, injunctive etc. Descriptive statements are not recommendations to follow. For example, there are statements such as if you chant the name of the Lord jokingly, indicatively, as a refrain, or even with disrespect, you become free of all sins. (SB 6.2.14). This is not a recommendation to chant like this but a description of the power of the name. But someone can take this statement as authority and chant in the described way and also recommend so to others. In fact this goes on. Similarly there are statements about dying in Vrindavana.

So we have to see what is recommended by Mahaprabhu, and Gosvamis. Do they recommend following paramaprestha-sakhis or this sakhi or sakha? The author himself writes that Rupa, Visvanatha, Gopal Guru, Dhyanacandra, Bhaktivinoda etc are all Manjaris. Even Advaita Acharya and Nityananda are Manjaris, as per their followers, yet [he says that] UN etc recommend to follow parama-prestha sakhis. It means that author is smarter than every one else who preceded him up to Rupa Gosvami. This is a new discovery. A new siddhanta appears.

People are making siddhantas not even reading the books in their original language. Simply based on translations. These books are difficult to understand even when you study them in original under a teacher. What to speak of doing self-study using translations which may be even faulty. We understand according to our samskaras. Bhakti is not in our samskaras, otherwise we would not be here. That is why Krishna recommends, pranipata, pariprasna, and seva to know the truth (Gita 4.34) The meaning of this is to surrender mind, body, speech and ego, which means dump one’s samskaras and just listen. It is to be checked if the particular author has gone thru this process.

I do not argue against anyone because it is none of my business who believes in what. It is not my capacity to correct anyone, and why should I expect anyone to take my answer. I write this because you have raised the question and I needed to go the root cause of the misconception.

This is the age of “How To-Do-It Yourself”. The traditional style of education is out of fashion now. No one can put the humpty dumpty back on the wall. So I am working on a book “How to Understand Sastra”. This book will give some basic principles which will assist a self-reader in knowing the meaning of shastra.