In this beginningless world of repeated birth and death,
how often have you not been condemned to suffer hell?
And how many times have you not relished pleasures
that eclipse even those of Brahma, Indra and the other gods?
My friend, for just this one lifetime,
give up all consideration of happiness or distress,
and forever worship Sri Vrindavan,
the essence of all things.
anādau saṁsāre kati naraka-bhogā na vihitāḥ
kiyanto brahmendrādy-atula-sukha-bhogāś ca nyakkṛtāḥ |
tadāsminn ekasmin vapuṣi sukha-duḥkhe na gaṇayan
sadaiva śrī-vṛndāvanam akhila-sāraṁ bhaja sakhe ||
In the previous verse, we traced the concept of Nature as manifest in Vrindavan, i.e., Vrindavan as archetypal Nature, seen as existing in the service of God, and thereby itself partaking of the sacred. The essence of the Vaishnava view is that of the non-difference of the Energy or Nature, and the Energetic, or God.
As such, Nature is never looked at as separate from God, and the relation of humanity to nature is that of servant employing the things of world, the world itself, in the service of God.
God’s pleasure is understood in terms of the realization of human fulfillment in all respects, but especially the realization of human spiritual potential in love. After all, the foundation of the Hindu approach to life is to recognize that the limited duration of human life in this world and to seek transcendence, and in bhakti, love (prema) is said to be both the vehicle and the destination.
The word sāra, or “essence” used in this verse is important for understanding the idea of archetypes. Whenever this word is used, it is an attempt at defining the ideal or archetypal characteristics of a thing. In the previous verse, Vrindavan was said to be the abode of the sylvan virtues, which is to say that the essence of the best things about a forest are to be found there. Thus it is the archetype of a forest. But here Prabodhananda Saraswati is said that it is the essence of all (akhila) things.
sakala-bhajana-sāraṁ sarva-siddhy-eka-sāram |
sakala-mahima-sāraṁ vastu vṛndāvanāntaḥ
sakala-madhurimāmbho-rāśi-sāraṁ vihāram ||
Residence in Vrindavan is the substance
that is the essence of all opulences,
it is the single essence of all religious duties,
it is the essence of all bhajan
and the single essence of all success;
it is the essence of all glory,
the essence of all the oceans of divine sweetness. (VMA 17.85)
Whenever a reference is made to essentiality, it should be understood as an appeal to the imagination to follow the path of experience to go to a place where any limitations of the phenomenal are eliminated and only the Perfect and Pure is left.
This is a natural tendency in the human mind, and indeed, even when we speak negatively about any phenomenon whatsoever, recounting its imperfections, it is due to an unstated, unspoken, unconscious or inchoate concept of some ideal.
The presence of ideal characteristics in an ordinary human being results in the ordinary human taking on archetypal qualities, which can have far reaching consequences in human society.
Transferring the archetypal qualities to a realm outside direct experience, i.e., the world of the imagination, is one way of protecting ourselves against falsely attributing transcendence to mundane phenomena.
The principal archetypes are all cataloged in different ways in books like Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi and other works of poetics where, for example, different kinds of heroic personality types are listed. Because of the vast number of possibilities available to the imagination for ideal personality types, they are personified in particular forms.
So, simply stated, in order to understand Radha and Krishna we are asked to find the essence of certain characteristics and qualities. Look at this verse from Govinda-līlāmṛta where Kaviraj Goswami uses the ornament known as viśeṣa to show how it works. When the essential qualities are so uniquely present in one object, it becomes more than just a general example of that thing, but takes on its own individual, archetypal character.
jagati madhura-sārāḥ sañcitāḥ sad-guṇā ye |
bhuvi patita-tad-aṁśas tena sṛṣṭāny asārair
Bumblebees, chakoras, etc., are all used as similes for the beauty of eyes.
Here is another GLA verse in the same vein:
dhātā hrīlaḥ sadṛśam anayā yauvataṁ nirmimatsuḥ |
sāraṁ cinvann asṛjad iha tat svasya sṛṣṭeḥ samāsyā
naikāpy āsīd api tu samabhūt pūrva-sṛṣṭir nirarthā ||143||
The word sāra appears over 80 times in the Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta. It also appears 30 times in Sudhā-nidhi (RRSN). In the following verse, which might be considered the sāra of them all, Saraswatipada summarizes the description of Radha as the essence of essences (akhila-sāra-sāra):
rādhābhidhe mama mano’khila-sāra-sāre ||
Meditation on Radha and Krishna, or on Vrindavan, is an act of the active imagination. By searching out the ideal, we in fact search out God. The tendency towards the Ideal is the tendency towards God.
We have focused here on the word sāra, but of course there are many other statements of the same sort using different language. In fact, if we examine the use of alaṅkāra, then we will see that practically all alaṅkāras — not only in the literature related to Radha and Krishna, but in all Sanskrit poetry and literature — are meant to push the imagination to an ideal beyond the best of everything, to admire a certain quality or attribute and to stretch it to infinity.
Here are a couple more examples, this time in relation to bhakti itself, which is the process of extracting the essence.
Let us start with what Narottam Das calls the essence of the practice of rāgānugā bhakti:
yugala vilāsa smṛti sāra
sādhya sādhana ei, ihāra por āra nāhi
ei tattva sarva vidhi sāra
Briefly: Since the essence of all meditative practices is to reduce the directedness of the mind to a single object, remembering Radha and Krishna’s pastimes is the essence of devotional practice. It is at the same time the end of the practice. Practices are either direct or indirect. When the practice is not different from the goal, that is called a direct practice. Therefore there is nothing beyond this. So reducing both the practice and the goal of the practice to their essence, one comes to prema bhakti. There is nothing beyond this.