In the spiritual moonlight ocean
of perfect love and bliss
is an island of wondrous form.
Upon that island appears
this wondrous wood, Vrindavan,
where are manifest a wondrous duo,
in the spring of youth, one fair and dark.
madhye dvīpaṁ kiñcid āścarya-rūpam|
tatrāścaryau gaura-nīla-kiśorau ||
Here again the dual nature of the Divine Couple, opposites not only of male and femaleness, but in color of darkness and fairness, stressing that here exists the union of opposites. Where? In the midst of an island in the middle of an ocean that itself is formed of complete spiritual ecstatic love, a cooling ocean of moonlight.
This image of an island is universal symbol that recurs throughout mythology, and stands for the primordial spiritual center, a supreme sanctuary beyond the world of experience. It appears in India, for instance, in the following famous verse from Saundarya-laharī, attributed to Bhagavatpada Shankaracharya, which has some similarity to this one by Prabodhananda.
sudhā-sindhor madhye sura-viṭapi-vāṭī-parivṛte
maṇi-dvīpe nīpopavanavati cintāmaṇi-gṛhe |
śivākāre mañce parama-śiva-paryaṅka-nilayāṁ
bhajanti tvāṁ dhanyāḥ katicana cid-ānanda-laharīm ||
Fortunate indeed are the few who worship you, the wave of consciousness and bliss, whose abode is the couch that is Parama-Śiva, the support whereof is Śiva, in the mansion of wish-fulfilling jewels, within a garden of kadamba trees, on an isle of gems, surrounded by groves of celestial trees in the midst of the ocean of nectar. (Saundarya-laharī 8)
Similarly, the Vaishnava scriptures use the imagery of the “white island” or Śvetadvīpa, the earliest descriptions of which are found in the Nārāyaṇīya portion of the Mahābhārata, i.e. Śānti-parva(Chapters 336 and 344). It is also specifically mentioned in the Bhāgavatam as the abode of Viṣṇu Nārāyaṇa, (8.4.17-18) where it is also described as a paradisiacal island of great natural beauty. In the Brahma-saṁhitā Śvetadvīpa is specifically the abode of Krishna:
śriyaḥ kāntāḥ kāntaḥ parama puruṣaḥ kalpa taravo
drumā bhūmiś cintāmaṇi gaṇa mayī toyam amṛtam |
kathā gānaṁ nāṭyaṁ gamanam api vaṁśī priya sakhī
cid ānandaṁ jyotiḥ param api tad āsvādyam api ca ||
sa yatra kṣīrābdhiḥ sravati surabhībhyaś ca sumahān
nimeṣārdhākhyo vā vrajati na hi yatrāpi samayaḥ |
bhaje śvetadvīpaṁ tam aham iha golokam iti yaṁ
vidantas te santaḥ kṣiti virala cārāḥ katipaye ||
I venerate the white island [Śvetadvīpa] which is also known to only a few rare holy persons in this world as Goloka. There, the beloved girls are all goddesses of fortune, and their lover is the supreme male; the trees are wish-fulfilling trees, the earth is filled with the philosopher’s stone, and the water is ambrosia. All spoken words are songs, all movement is dancing, and the flute is the dear girlfriend. It is the light of spiritual ecstasy, which though beyond [mundane sensual perception] is also relishable. There, a great ocean of milk pours forth from the cows, and furthermore, not even half the blink of an eye is ever lost in that place.[BrS 5.67-8]
The Brahma-saṁhitā states that Gokula, the highest region of the kingdom of God, resembles a lotus flower with thousands of petals. The outer portion of that lotus-like planet is a quadrangle known as Śvetadvīpa. In other words, the abode known as Vrindavan or Gokula is also known as Goloka.
These verses and others from the Brahma-saṁhitā are explained in some detail in the first chapter of the Gopāla-campū, in which Jiva Goswami differentiates the various terms used to name Krishna’s abode, coming to the following conclusion:
That quadrangle which lies on all sides of the lotus, which is the dwelling place of those who are nearest to Krishna, is known as Vrindavan. Taken in its entirety, this beautifully structured land which is like all lamps taken together, like a great continent, is called Śvetadvīpa as well as Goloka, both beyond as well as within [the quadrangle of Vrindavan]. The outer portion of this Śvetadvīpa, however, is limitless like the ocean, and there live all sorts of wonderful people in a heavenly state [being in the same world as Krishna], like unto their earthly counterparts except that they are free from worldly distresses. The woods situated on the petals are known as keli-vṛndāvanāni, as stated in the Pañcarātra, “There [in Goloka] are found the great forest of Vṛndā and the [other] play-forests called keli-vṛndāvanas.”
Prabodhananda’s concept is a little more simplified as he does not seem to care so much for synthesizing the various conflicting statements of the scripture. For him, the play-forest abode, where Krishna enjoys with Radha, is the innermost zone of the divine abode where one finds the Yoga-pitha, where Radha and Krishna are joined in eternal union. This is the ultimate inner sanctum of the soul, the thousand-petalled lotus
It is our intention to publish in serial form Sri Jiva Goswami’s Gopāla-campū and excerpts from Kṛṣṇa-sandarbha (106) in Vrindavan Today where these matters will be further elucidated.