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Shri Vraja Dhama

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2.35 The play at the center

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In one form, unseen even by the sakhis, 
Radha and Krishna hold each other to their hearts,
losing themselves in mutual oneness.

In another, they may be seen 
from far away in a cottage of newly blossoming vines. 
In another, they enjoy playful joking words. 
In yet another, they wander the forest of Vrindavan,
enjoying its beauty.

In one form they meet in Gokula, 
and in another are separated again.

In this way that Supreme Truth
in the form of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna 
manifests itself in many different ways.

 


ekaṁ sakhyāpi no lakṣitam urasi lasan-nitya-tādātmya-kāntaṁ
tad dṛśyaṁ dūrato’nyad vratati-nava-gṛhe’nyat tu tan-narma-śarma |
anyad vṛndāvanāntar-viharad atha paraṁ gokule prāpta-yogaṁ
vicchedy anyat tad evaṁ lasati bahu-vidhaṁ rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-rūpam ||2.35||

In one pair of forms, unseen even by the gopis, Radha and Krishna hold each other to their breasts, brilliant in a state of lustrous unity. In another, they may be seen from afar under a cover of newly blossoming vines. In yet another manifestation of their dual form as the Divine Couple, they enjoy amusing conversation and you listen in. In another, they wander in a walk through the Vrindavan forest and you can follow along and sing, and enjoy their consummate beauty. And sometimes they meet in Gokula and elsewhere they are separated again. This is how Sri Sri Radha and Krishna manifest in many different ways.

In a section of the Bhagavatam that is often cited by Jiva Goswami, Narada famously visited Dwarka and saw its opulence, how in more than 16,000 palaces Krishna was living with each of his wives, in each of these relations functioning individually and differently. The commentaries never stop telling us that Narada’s amazement came from seeing how his own powers of taking many forms, gained through yoga, did not have this power of individual personality in each.

There are many points to a story like that. Not unlike the one that is made by the residents of Mathura when they saw Krishna and Balaram enter the wrestling arena

mallānām aśanir nṝṇāṁ naravaraḥ strīṇāṁ smaro mūrtimān
gopānāṁ svajano’satāṁ kṣitibhujāṁ śāstā svapitroḥ śiśuḥ
mṛtyur bhojapater virāḍ aviduṣāṁ tattvaṁ paraṁ yogināṁ
vṛṣṇīnāṁ paradevateti vidito raṅgaṁ gataḥ sāgrajaḥ

When Krishna entered the arena of Kamsa with his elder brother, he appeared as a thunderbolt to the wrestlers, as the perfect man to other men, as the god of love to women, as a kinsman to the cowherds, as a chastiser to the wicked kings, as a child to his parents, as death personified to Kamsa, as the gross cosmic form to the ignorant, as the Absolute Truth to the yogis, and as the supreme deity to the Vrishnis. (SB 10.43.17)

The One Truth is recognized differently by each observer. So the observer is challenged to see God in different ways, in different ways of relating, in different ways of loving, in order to experience the highest happiness in love of God. This we saw in the previous verse. But each individual observer is also many in the love of experiencing variety within the frame of one’s own desires.

priyāṁse nikṣiptotpulaka-bhuja-daṇḍaḥ kvacid api
bhraman vṛndāraṇye mada-kala-karīndrādbhuta-gatiḥ |
nijāṁ vyañjann atyadbhuta-surata-śikṣāṁ kvacid aho
rahaḥ-kuñje guñjad-dhvanita-madhupe krīḍati hariḥ ||

Sometimes flinging his horripilating arm over his beloved’s shoulder, wandering through the Vrindavan forest with the charming gait of a maddened elephant, revealing his extraordinarily amazing education in amorous love, he plays in the secret groves, where the bees drone round the flowers. RRSN 234

Now comes the adbhuta or wondrous dimension with which we are asked to enter into God’s being. The Bhagavad Gita says in words that are invoked by the sages since time immemorial, He is not knowable. The infinite cannot be grasped by a finite intelligence. The only way it could grasp that infinitude it is to become one with it. But rasa means trying to know and giving up just to be amazed.

āścaryavat paśyati kaścid enam
āścaryavad vadati tathaiva cānyaḥ |
āścaryavac cainam anyaḥ śṛṇoti
śrutvāpy enaṁ veda na caiva kaścit ||29||

Someone sees it as being wondrous,
similarly, others speak of it as wondrous,
and others hear of it as wondrous,
and others, even hearing from authority,
are unable to know it.
 (2.29)

This is the absolute union of the Divine Couple that not even the sakhis can know, because if they were to know it, they would lose their separate existence altogether. That which is unknowable through the human body and senses can only know that by becoming it. The greater pleasure is in rasa, the manifestation of the multiple. It is all God’s play.

It is the intensity with which one is permitted to observe the perfection of Love and Beauty in the heart of meditation. An infinity of the manifestations of that Love that can be observed, the panoply of the emotions of love, all being expressed as if simultaneously in the eternal Vrindavan.

This is how the word āścarya indicates the principal quality that characterizes rasa. It is not the satisfaction of knowing, but the astonishment that comes when you realize it is yet far beyond being known. This is stated in the Sāhitya-darpaṇa (3.3)- :

rase sāraś camatkāro yaṁ vinā na raso rasaḥ |
tac camatkāra-sāratve sarvatraivādbhuto rasaḥ ||

In the experience of rasa, the essence is wonder, for without astonishment, rasa is not rasa. Since surprise or astonishment is its principal characteristic, the adbhuta-rasa or sentiment of wonder is omnipresent throughout [effective works of drama].

The last part of this verse speaks of union and separation in Gokula, which is an interesting use of phrasing. By specifying Gokula, it would appear that Saraswatipada is going so far as to say that the separation of Krishna to Mathura is taking place here as one of the many manifestations of rasa going on in the nitya-lila.

Generally speaking, Prabodhananda Saraswati is categorized as a nitya-vihari, or someone who believes in absolute meditation on the beauties of the innermost sanctum of the Divine Lila. There is almost nothing to which a nitya-vihari is averse than the concept of separation. Krishna never sets foot out of Braj, they exclaim.

There is a spectrum of visions of the meaning of union and separation and their importance in the experience of rasa. The Ujjvala-nilamani ends with a reminder that uninterrupted union is not as amusing as union interrupted with a little drama. To succumb to the Grand Dramatist is the road to experiencing amazement and rasa. The One craves to be many, and once being many tries to remember and recover and rediscover its Oneness.

The nitya-viharis do not generally contemplate even the painful separation of Krishna from the gopis at the time of his departure for Mathura, though this is an integral element of the Bhagavata’s story of this particular aspect of the avatar, a secret that stands at the center of the Bhgavatam. The Gaudiya Goswami school is a little more varied in their visions of the nitya-lila. The idea here appears to be a little more like that described in Sanatan Goswami’s Brihad-Bhagavatamritam, where these lilas are played in eternal repetition, the devotees reliving those same emotions in real time over and over again in eternity. The different approaches to separation in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, even with the six Goswamis, is a subject of some interest, which we will perhaps be able to return to again in this endeavor of relishing the Vrindavana-mahimamrita.

vṛndāraṇya-nikuñja-sīmasu sadā svānaṅga-raṅgotsavair
mādyanty adbhuta-mādhavādhara-sudhā-mādhvīka-saṁsvādanaiḥ |
govinda-priya-varga-durgama-sakhī-vṛndair anālakṣitā
dāsyaṁ dāsyati me kadā nu kṛpayā vṛndāvanādhīśvarī ||

When will the queen of Vrindavan,
who deep in the hidden forest groves
intoxicated by drinking the succulent nectar of Krishna’s lips,
the festival of undulating amorous pastimes,
who is invisible to even the dearest devotees and friends of Krishna
be pleased to make me her maidservant? RRSN 128

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