O my mind!
Take shelter today of this land of Vrindavan,
where some ineffable dark youth,
the wonderful treasure
of supreme transcendental bliss,
has taken form to play
in waves of eternal transcendental amorous love
with some ineffable budding young goddess,
personifying the essence of the great sweetness
that arises from the flavors of confident affection,
the mistress of his heart.
svātmeśvaryā mamādya praṇaya-rasa-mahā-mādhurī-sāra-mūrtyā
ko’pi śyāmaḥ kiśoraḥ kanaka-vara-rucā śrī-kiśoryā kayāpi |
nityānaṅgottaraṅgair yad adhi bhaja tad evādya vṛndāvanaṁ bhoḥ ||
It is almost impossible to understand the vision of Vrindavan without faith in the absolute perfection of love. We distill our experience in this world, which is fragmented and adulterated with the flaws and deficiencies of the conditioned state, and find therein something transcendent and powerful that gives meaning to our lives. If love is not real, then there is no meaning to Vrindavan.
We extract the essence of the experience of love through literature and poetry to imagine it as something both experienced and not experienced simultaneously.
Faith is the power to believe in the unbounded reality of that which is only experienced in this world fragmentally. The aspirations for completion in love cannot be had through this material body and senses, which are hampered by time and by the defectiveness of perception, but it can be imagined. It can be imagined, and it can be recognized that the unlimited and pure love that exists in shadow form in this world has its reality in transcendence.
In this verse, Prabodhananda Saraswati, as he often does, uses the indefinite pronouns ko’pi… kayāpi, which is nearly always explained by commentators as anirvacaniya, something that is beyond the capacity of words to describe. For the Upanishad says, “Words return from it with the mind, unable to grasp it.” yato vāco nivartante aprāpya manasā saha.
The goal of bhakti, like that of all yoga, is to see the presence of God everywhere. That is also the point of Vrindavan sadhana. By seeing the presence of Radha and Krishna in all things, one is taking a particular approach to the nature of God, one that facilitates this universal vision. The highest bhakti-yogi is described in the Bhagavatam.
sarva-bhūteṣu yaḥ paśyed bhagavad-bhāvam ātmanaḥ
bhūtāni bhagavaty ātmany eṣa bhāgavatottamaḥ
One who would see the Bhagavān feature (bhagavad-bhāvam) of the self (ātmanaḥ) in all beings (sarva-bhūteṣu), and in himself (ātmani) sees those beings (bhūtāni) within Bhagavān (bhagavati), is His topmost devotee or Bhāgavata. (SB 11.2.45)
The complexity of this verse and the resultant variant interpretations arise from the use of the word ātmā, which can be used as a reflexive pronoun (“one’s own”) or as “the mind” or “the Self or Soul.” The second problematic word is bhāva, which can mean “state of being” or “loving emotion.” Jiva Goswami rejects the prima facie reading that may admit a non-devotional interpretation.
This verse indicates the symptoms of the mahā-bhāgavata, the most advanced devotee, by describing his mental disposition, which is discernible through his anubhāvas, or the external expressions of his loving feelings.
A few verses earlier Kavi Yogindra described some of these anubhāvas:
jātānurāgo druta-citta uccaiḥ
hasaty atho roditi rauti gāyaty
unmāda-van nṛtyati loka-bāhyaḥ
The devotee, thus committed [to the devotional acts described in 11.2.39], endowed with love for Krishna that arises from singing his beloved names. His heart melts and, like a madman, he loudly laughs, weeps, cries out, sings and dances, without any care for the external world. (SB 11.2.40)
It is from being under the control of such love that the devotee acquires the vision described in the following verse:
khaṁ vāyum agniṁ salilaṁ mahīṁ ca
jyotīṁṣi sattvāni diśo drumādīn
sarit-samudrāṁś ca hareḥ śarīraṁ
yat kiṁ ca bhūtaṁ praṇamed ananyaḥ
With exclusive devotion he bows to the sky, air, fire, water, earth, heavenly bodies, living beings, the directions, trees, rivers, seas and all created beings, considering them to be the body of Bhagavān Hari. (SB 11.2.41)
This is the universal vision that is cultivated directly in Vrindavan. Although the goal is to see Krishna everywhere, where is it more natural than in Vrindavan, where the yoga of love was first manifest in the world? The entire world might be a manifestation of Krishna’s body and pastimes, but Vrindavan is the locus, the axis mundi, where the connection of the divine and mortal worlds is strongest.
As a direct consequence of this type of vision, the mahā-bhāgavata “would see” or directly experience “in all beings,” sentient and insentient, the Bhagavān feature (bhagavad-bhāvam) that is his own (ātmanaḥ), that is to say, that manifestation of Bhagavān that he personally cherishes.
Furthermore, the uttama-bhāgavata sees within himself (ātmani), i.e., in his own heart, all beings as existing within that very same beloved feature of Bhagavān that manifests itself to him. In other words, he experiences all beings as having taken shelter of Krishna alone.
This is how the Vrajadevīs described that for them, the entire land Vrindavan was expressing its love for Krishna by its very being :
vana-latās tarava ātmani viṣṇuṁ
vyañjayantya iva puṣpa-phalāḍhyāḥ
prema-hṛṣṭa-tanavo vavṛṣuḥ sma
The creepers of the forest and the trees, laden with fruits and flowers, are bowing low under the weight of their boughs. As if revealing Bhagavan Vishnu within themselves, they are showering streams of honey, their frames being thrilled with the ecstasy of love. (SB 10.35.9)
An alternative meaning [to the first line of SB 11.2.45] is that the mahā-bhāgavata sees his own (ātmanaḥ) specific attitude of love for Bhagavān (bhagavad-bhāvam) in all sentient and insentient beings. Therefore, regarding all beings as devotees in whom Bhagavan resides, his own devotion is aroused and he bows down to them, as stated in the verse already quoted above [SB 11.2.41]. This again is natural in Vrindavan where indeed, the names of Krishna and his eternal consort Radha are on the lips of every resident.
The Vrajadevīs saw their own mood reflected even in the insentient features of the Vraja landscape, such as their description of the Yamuna in the Venu-gita verses:
nadyas tadā tad upadhārya mukunda-gītam
āliṅgana-sthagitam ūrmi-bhujair murārer
gṛhṇanti pāda-yugalaṁ kamalopahārāḥ
When the rivers heard the music of Krishna’s flute, their flow was arrested due to an upsurge of love that manifested in the form of eddies. They clasped his feet with the arms of their waves as if embracing them and offering lotus flowers. (SB 10.21.15) [Based on Bhakti-sandarbha 188.]
Vraja-bhāva-sādhanā begins with the gopis.