Narottam Das Thakur’s classic text, Prema-bhakti-candrikā is a 16th century classic of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition in Bengali. Narottam Das spent many years in Braj-Vrindavan learning from Jiva Goswami and the other Goswamis who were still alive during the time he was there, i.e., the late 16th century. When he returned to Bengal, he preached the Vrindavan teachings of Rupa Goswami. Prema-bhakti-candrikā
The following is Hari Charan Das’ translation of verse 31 with the commentary of Ananta Das Babaji Maharaj, Mahant of Radha Kund. (editor)
pṛthak ābāsa-yoga, duḥkhamaya biṣaya-bhoga,
braja-bāsa gobinda-sebana |
kṛṣṇa-kathā kṛṣṇa-nāma, satya satya rasa-dhāma,
braja-janera saṅga anukṣaṇa || 31 ||
Live in Vraja and worship Sri Govinda. Residing anywhere else will only bring one the miseries of sense enjoyment. Truly, the abode of rasa is where at all times Sri Krishna’s pastimes are discussed and Sri Krishna’s name is chanted in the association of the residents of Vraja.
Living in Vraja and Serving Govinda
Sudhā-Kaṇikā-Vyākhyā: In this verse, Śrīla Ṭhākura Mahāśaya is describing the glories of living in Vraja and serving Sri Govinda.
pṛthak ābāsa-yoga, duḥkhamaya biṣaya-bhoga, braja-bāsa gobinda-sebana.
If a person creates a dwelling place somewhere other than Vraja, meaning in the material world, miserable sense enjoyment is the best he can expect to get. Other than the transcendental Vraja Dham, the entire world is an illusory display. Therefore, the sense objects in that place are also formed with illusory ingredients. If one tries to enjoy these sense objects, he continues to suffer the pain of birth, death and the three kinds of misery. He wanders from one kind of womb to another and endures the torment of hell. Therefore, the sādhaka is advised to live continuously in Vraja: kuryād vāsaṁ vraje sadā.
Those who only live in Vraja physically are unable to endure. Those who constantly live in Vraja with their minds get the result of actually living in Vraja, meaning they are happily engaged in śrī-kṛṣṇa-bhajana. Still, because living physically in Vraja is a primary practice for the dedicated sādhakas who desire prema, building a home in the māyika world has been described as enjoyment of misery-filled sense objects.
Specifically, living in Vraja is one of the most powerful limbs of sādhana for obtaining prema.
mathurābāsa, śrī-mūrtir śraddhāya sebana.
sakala sādhana-śreṣṭha ei pañca aṅga;
kṛṣṇa-prema janmāya ei pāñcera alpa saṅga
Associating with sādhus, chanting the Holy Names, hearing Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, living in Mathurā and serving the śrī-mūrti (deity form) with faith: these five limbs are the best of all sādhanas. Even a little contact with these five produces kṛṣṇa-prema. (CC 2.22.128-129).
durūhādbhuta-vīrye’smin śraddhā dūre’stu pañcake,
yatra svalpo’pi sambandhaḥ sad-dhiyāṁ bhāva-janmane
These five limbs of bhajana are difficult to comprehend and possess astonishing power. Just a small amount of contact with them causes bhāva to quickly appear in the minds of those who are without offense, even without them having faith. (BRS. 1.2.238)
Showing compassion to the people of the world, the spiritual Vraja Dham, the place of Sri Krishna’s eternal pastimes, has descended into this universe and remains here for all time. It is described in the Skanda Purāṇa in this way:
yā yathā bhuvi vartante puryo bhagavataḥ priyāḥ,
tās tathā santi vaikuṇṭhe tat-tal-līlārtham ādṛtāḥ.
“On earth, all the various abodes that are dear to Sri Bhagavān are honored according to the particular moods of the respective līlās enacted there. These abodes are also present in Vaikuntha.
The purport is that within the universe, there are fourteen worlds comprised of seven heavens and seven hells. Beyond that are eight layers of prakṛti, and beyond that is the Causal Ocean or the Virajā River.* Above that is Siddhaloka, the place of sāyujya-mukti, the effulgent, absolute Brahman. Above Siddhaloka or Muktiloka is Paravyoma, the boundless Vaikuntha, where the respective dhāmas or abodes of the unlimited forms of Sri Bhagavān exist. When a particular form of Bhagavān desires to manifest himself in the world to display his pastimes, he appears along with hisdhāma and his companions. For this reason, the simultaneous existence of the dhāmas in both Vaikuntha and on the earth has been described in the Skanda Purāṇa.
Sri Krishna is svayaṁ bhagavān, the cause of all causes. Similarly, his dhāma is also above all other spiritual abodes. By the influence of his inconceivable power, Sri Vrindavan Dham, which exists above all others, is also present on earth. The same dhāma exists simultaneously in both places. The following is written in Śrī Caitanya-Caritāmṛta :
sarba-ga, ananta, bibhu–baikuṇṭhādi dhāma | kṛṣṇa, kṛṣṇa-abatārera tāhāñi biśrāma ||
tāhāra upari-bhāge–kṛṣṇaloka-khyāti | dvārakā-mathurā-gokula–tribidhatve sthiti ||
sarbopari śrī-gokula–brajaloka-dhāma | śrī-goloka, śvetadvīpa, bṛndābana nāma ||
sarba-ga, ananta, bibhu, kṛṣṇa-tanu-sama | upary adho byāpiyāche–nāhika niyama ||
brahmāṇḍe prakāśa tāra kṛṣṇera icchāya | ekai svarūpa tāra nāhi dui kāya ||
cintāmaṇi-bhūmi, kalpa-bṛkṣamaya bana | carma-cakṣe dekhe tāre prapañcera sama ||
prema-netre dekhe tāra svarūpa-prakāśa | gopa-gopī-saṅge yāṅhā kṛṣṇera bilāsa ||
Beyond the material nature (prakṛti) lies a dhāma called Paravyoma which, like the form of Sri Krishna, possesses qualities such as omnipotence and so on. The Vaikuntha dhāmas existing in this spiritual sky are omnipresent, eternal and omnipotent, and are the abodes of Sri Krishna and his avatāras. In the upper part of this lies the realm known as Kṛṣṇaloka, which is divided into Dvārakā, Mathurā and Gokula. Above all lies Sri Gokula, also known as Vraja Dham, Sri Goloka, Śvetadvīpa and Vrindavan. Like Sri Krishna’s body, it is omnipresent, eternal and omnipotent, and it extends above and below without limitation. It is manifested in the material world by Sri Krishna’s desire and is one with the original Gokula; they are not two different bodies. The land is made of cintāmaṇi (desire-yielding gems), the forests are full of kalpa-vṛkṣas (desire-yielding trees). Physical eyes see it as part of the ordinary world. Eyes of love see it as a manifestation of Sri Krishna’s form engaged in pastimes with the gopas and gopīs.” (CC 1.5.14-21)
The transcendental Sri Vraja Dham has accepted the form of the phenomenal world for the benefit of the worldly people and is declared to be the visible manifestation of the dhāma. If not for this, the illusion-bound person would be unable to visit or reside in the holy dhāma. Having taken up residence in Sri Vraja Dham, a place abounding in stimulation for sādhana-bhajana, the sādhakas can soon be blessed with prema. Therefore, the most merciful transcendental Sri Dham has accepted the form of the māyika world and thus remains.
Does any proficient sādhaka not desire to live in the great meeting place of sādhana and siddhi and be blessed with prema? While living in Vraja in the physical body, the sādhaka shall perform govinda-sevana or worship of Sri Govinda: braja-bāsa gobinda-sebana. Though living in Vraja in bodily form, if one does not get the great fortune of śrī-govinda-bhajana, then one does not become happy.
Śrīla Kavirāja Gosvāmipāda has written,
vṛndāvane kim athavā nija-mandire vā
kārāgṛhe kim athavā kanakāsane vā |
aindraṁ bhaje kim athavā narakaṁ bhajāmi
śrī-kṛṣṇa-sevanam ṛte na sukhaṁ kadāpi ||
Whether I reside in Sri Vrindavan or in my own home,
in a prison, or am seated on a golden throne,
whether I have the position of Indra or reside in hell,
there is no happiness for me anywhere but in śrī-kṛṣṇa-bhajana.
Residence in Vraja is meant for leading a virtuous life engaged in śrī-govinda-bhajana. Vraja is the most sacred place for performing sādhana-bhajana or tasting vraja-rasa. Truly pitiable are those who, though residing in Vraja, continue their living their lives devoid of bhajana, like worldly-minded people engrossed in the happiness of eating and sleeping. Perhaps for unfortunate persons like them these great words were one day proclaimed from the bower of Vidyāpati, the poet of Mithilā: sindhu nikaṭe yadi kaṇṭha śukhāyaba, ko dūra karaba piyāsā? “If from an ocean of nectar one cannot allay his thirst, then where in the world can that thirst be quenched?”
After ascertaining that Vraja Dham is the ultimate place for tasting bhajana-rasa, Narottama says, kṛṣṇa-kathā kṛṣṇa-nāma, satya satya rasa-dhāma, braja-janera saṅga anukṣaṇa. If one lives in Vrindavan, he will always engage in kṛṣṇa-kathā and kṛṣṇa-nāma in the association of the vrajavāsī-bhaktas. Vrindavan is the abode of rasa, the sweetest and most enjoyable, the greatest truth of all.
If one hears about Sri Krishna’s sweet form, qualities, pastimes and so on, which are an elixir for the heart and ears, he will very quickly develop prema-bhakti or devotion to Sri Krishna’s lotus feet. In addition, if one hears these things in Vraja Dham, Sri Krishna’s direct līlā-bhūmi, the place where his pastimes are most highly developed, that rasa-dhāma is realized in the most delicious way. Moreover, after settling in Vraja Dham, the hearers of Sri Krishna’s līlā-kathā as expressed by the great souls consider it to be the ultimate delight. This is not possible anywhere else.
Again, as a result of the constant association of the great devotees living in Vraja, the hearts and minds of the people receiving this saṅga are infused with humility, modesty, freedom from pride, virtuous behavior and other qualities, and they very quickly become fit for tasting rasa. Sri Krishna and his name are identical; therefore endless rasa or enjoyment of Sri Krishna, the ocean of sweetness, lies hidden in his name.
On the other hand, just as the sweetness of sugar-candy is not experienced on a tongue polluted by bile, in a mind polluted by ignorance or on a tongue polluted by aparādha, no enjoyment of śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāma is experienced. When the sādhaka performs śravaṇa, kīrtana and other forms of bhajana in the association of sādhus, śrī-kṛṣṇa-nāma gradually manifests himself in the sādhaka’s heart and mind and reveals his own sweetness according to the degree the sādhaka’s heart and mind have become pure or aparādhas have disappeared. By living in Vraja and associating with the bhaktas there, thesādhaka quickly rids himself of aparādhas and other obstacles and is blessed with a taste of Sri Nāma’s rasa-mādhurī. In verse eight of his Upadeśāmṛta,
Śrīmad Rūpa Gosvāmipāda has therefore explained the essential teachings of all the veda-śāstras and the mahājanas:
smṛtyoḥ krameṇa rasanā-manasī niyojya |
tiṣṭhan vraje tad-anurāgi-janānugāmī
kālaṁ nayed akhilam ity upadeśa-sāram ||
“Reside in Vraja and spend all your time faithfully following the kṛṣṇa-bhaktas there. Gradually engage your tongue and mind in enthusiastically celebrating and constantly remembering Sri Krishna’s name, form, qualities, pastimes and so on. This is the essence of all advice.”
*According to Vaiṣṇava doctrine, the Virajā is a river that the souls of the dead have to cross in order to reach Vaikuntha, the blissful abode of Viṣṇu. (Samsad)