The one and only place
where the divine youthful couple,
of complexions dark and fair,
the two treasure-oceans of beauty
and other divine qualities,
enjoy their pastimes;
that place, where alone are found
all the divine sylvan virtues
manifest to the most extreme degree,
Ah when, with sweet transcendental love,
will I properly worship Vrindavan?
saundaryādi-mahā-camatkṛti-nidhī divyau kiśorau mahā-
gaura-śyāma-tanu-cchavī niśi-divā yatraiva cākrīḍataḥ |
yatraivākhila-divya-kānana-guṇotkarṣo’ti kāṣṭhāṁ gatas
tad vṛndā-vipinaṁ kadānu madhura-premānuvṛttyā bhaje ||2.25||
Vrindavan is the appropriate site of Radha and Krishna’s pastimes because it alone possesses all the divine sylvan virtues manifest to the most extreme degree.
If we look at the historical development of the concept of Vrindavan by looking at the Puranas and then the Vaishnava poets of the medieval period, we can see how the awareness of Nature and the concept of the Dham are related.
When Krishna was speaking [in Harivamsa] to Balaram about moving from Gokul to Vrindavan, he praised the pristine forest as follows:
“I have heard there is a lovely forest named Vrindavan that has a very full covering of grass and delectable trees and waters. It is free of thorns and troubling insects and is decorated with all the sylvan virtues.
“Situated on the banks of the Yamuna, it is filled primarily with kadamba trees. The wood is an auspicious place, blessed with pleasant and cooling breezes, and every season there is beautiful. The charming change in forest dwelling will bring happiness to the gopis.
“The great mountain Govardhan is also not far away, ornamenting the land with its high peaks like Mount Mandara in Indra’s heavenly garden. In the midst of Vrindavan is a great banyan tree named Bhandira, spreading over an area of twelve kilometers, decorating the land like a blue cloud in the sky. We will see Govardhan hill, the Bhandira tree, and the beautiful Kalindi river and that will bring us great happiness.” [HV 52.22-26,28]
When the cowherds arrived in the beautiful natural setting of Vrindavan, the Bhagavatam describes the two brothers’ pleasure,
vṛndāvanaṁ govardhanaṁ yamunā-pulināni ca |
vīkṣyāsīd uttamā prītī rāma-mādhavayor nṛpa ||
“O King, seeing Vrindavan, Govardhana and the banks of the Yamuna, a supreme delight arose in both Balaram and Krishna.” (10.11.36)
And then we find several panegyrics to the the forest itself and the trees. This is where Krishna himself glorifies the “sylvan virtues.”
gandha-niryāsa-bhasmāsthi-tokmaiḥ kāmān vitanvate
"The trees fulfill everyone’s desires with their leaves, flowers, fruits, their shade, roots, bark, wood, their fragrance and essential oils, charcoal, and young shoots." (10.22.34)
paśyaitān mahā-bhāgān parārthaikānta-jīvitān
vāta-varṣātapa-himān sahanto vārayanti naḥ
aho eṣāṁ varaṁ janma sarva-prāṇy-upajīvanam
sujanasyeva yeṣāṁ vai vimukhā yānti nārthinaḥ
"Look at these greatly fortunate trees, which live exclusively for the benefit of others, not only tolerating the wind, rain, heat and frost themselves, but also protecting us from them. Ah, their lives are most exemplary for they nourish the lives of all the other creatures. They reject no one, just as a kind and charitable person never turns away any supplicant." (32-33)
gandha-niryāsa-bhasmāsthi-tokmaiḥ kāmān vitanvate
"The trees fulfill everyone’s needs with their leaves, flowers, fruits, their shade, roots, bark, wood, their fragrance and essential oils, charcoal, and young shoots." (10.22.34)
What is interesting here is how the selfless action of the tree becomes exemplary for human beings. It is not just that the trees are a part of nature and human beings are not. Human beings fall into the same cycle of sacrifice as the natural world, but whereas nature mindlessly or automatically follows the law of sacrifice, human beings need to be told about the sacrificial nature of life.
yajñārthāt karmaṇo’nyatra loko’yaḿ karma-bandhanaḥ
tad-arthaḿ karma kaunteya mukta-sańgaḥ samācara
"This world is a place of bondage to work and its reactions if work is done as something other than a sacrifice. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your work for the purpose of sacrifice, remaining free of attachment." (Gita 3.9)
The rest of the Gita’s explanation of the cycle of sacrifice is worth studying here. The trees then become the exemplar of this giving of self.
etāvaj janma sāphalyaṁ dehinām iha dehiṣu
prāṇair arthair dhiyā vācā śreya evācaret sadā
"The extent of an embodied being’s success in life can be measured by how he acts constantly and exclusively for the benefit of others, using his life energy, his wealth, his intelligence and his words."(10.22.35)
And this example subsequently becomes central to the entire vision of the Vaishnava way of life, as stated by Kaviraj Goswami in his explanation of “as tolerant as the tree” (taror api sahiṣṇunā):
vṛkṣa yena kāṭileha kichu nā bolaya
śukāñā maileha kāre pānī nā māgaya
"When a tree is cut down, it does not protest, and even when drying up, it does not ask anyone for water." (CC 3.20.23)
jei je māgaye, tāre deya āpana dhana
gharma vṛṣṭi sahe, ānera karaye rakṣaṇa
"The tree delivers its fruits, flowers and whatever it possesses to anyone and everyone. It tolerates scorching heat and torrents of rain, yet it still gives shelter to others." (CC 3.20.23)
uttama hañā vaiṣṇava habe nirabhimāna
jīve sammāna dibe jāni’ ‘kṛṣṇa’ adhiṣṭhāna
"Although a Vaishnava is the most exalted person, he is prideless and gives all respect to everyone, knowing them to be each one the habitation of Krishna." (CC 3.20.24)
ei mata hañā yei kṛṣṇa nāma laya
śrī kṛṣṇa caraṇe tāṅra prema upajaya
"If one chants the holy name of Lord Krishna in this manner, he will certainly awaken his dormant love for Krishna’s lotus feet." (CC 3.20.25)
In the next step, the trees and forest, Vrindavan itself, become even more than simply sources of livelihood, or even more than moral exemplars in life, they become sacred in their own right. Their sacredness may be rooted in their value for life and so on, but as participants in Radha and Krishna’s play as their playground, as their servants, they are treated as divine. The ideal manifestation of human life requires this ideal manifestation of nature.
In the way of imagining Vrindavan in the Age of Bhakti, in the Vani writings in Braj, the forest is a central and active part of the divine prema drama:
vṛndāvana ke vṛkṣa ko marama na jāne koya
ḍāra pāta phala phūla pai śrī rādherādhe hoya
"No one knows the secret of the trees of Vrindavan. On every piece of wood, every leaf and flower is written the name of Radha, over and over."
Vrindavan is the natural world seen in the light of devotion to the Supreme Person. Vrindavan consciousness means living in this world with love for God and reverence for the natural world. Not as a place to be exploited for short term pleasures, but as the harmonizing context for Divine Love.