Within the boundary of Vrindavan forest, O friend,
there is a dark ocean of ambrosia,
the abode of the divine fish of Radha’s heart,
unknowable to the gods headed by Shiva and Brahma.
That ocean’s tide surge with the rising of her moon face;
it is churned by Cupid, the beautiful Mandara Mountain,
to create amrita for the eyes of her sakhis.
Worship that black ocean of rasa.
tat-kandarpa-sumandareṇa mathitaṁ sakhy-akṣi-pīyūṣadaṁ
kañcic chyāma-rasāmbudhiṁ bhaja sakhe vṛndāṭavī-sīmani ||
The churning of the ocean is a theme that is loved by Sanskrit poets for its many metaphorical possibilities. The idea that by churning one thing, its essential elements are extracted, and that there are various roles in the process that can be assigned is a part of the charm of the metaphor.
A similar metaphor is applied to Mathura itself in the Gopala-tapani Upanishad:
mathyate tu jagat sarvaṁ brahmajñānena yena vā |
tat-sāra-bhūtaṁ yad yasyāṁ mathurā sā nigadyate ||
The name Mathura has been given to this land because the manifest essence of the knowledge of Brahman by which the entire universe has been churned appears there. (GTU 2.63)
In his commentary there, Prabodhananda says, “The act of churning produces butter from cream; similarly, knowledge of the Supreme Person, the personal form of Brahman, is revealed through the churning of the entire universe.” The essence of all things is Krishna, but Krishna is also to be churned to extract his essence.
Vrindavan itself, Saraswatipada will say later in the Mahimamritam, is the essence churned from the ocean of devotion.
hari-bhakti-surasa-sindhau manthād iva sāram utthitaṁ kim api |
āśraya paramodāraṁ sakalāsāraṁ vihāya rādhikārāmam ||
Renounce everything that is without substance and take shelter of Radhika’s supremely generous pleasure garden, which is the ineffable essential extract that arises after churning the ocean of nectar that is devotion to Lord Hari. (VMA 11.35)
Here the ocean itself is Krishna. Krishna is in need of being churned in order to realize his potential as Rasaraj. So although Radha’s mind and heart dwell within this ocean, it must be churned by the passion of desire, Cupid, before it produces the rasa that brings joy to the sakhis. That churning process begins when the light of Radharani’s full moon face shines upon the water and the tide rises.
Churning means a continuous movement back and forth that has the effect of removing superficial elements and leaving only the most important part. Krishna is churned by Radha’s love, just as he churns the mind of Cupid, the mind-churner.
So it is wisely said,
rādhā-saṅge yadā bhāti tadā madana-mohanaḥ |
anyatra viśva-moho’pi svayaṁ madana-mohitaḥ ||it is
When Krishna is with Radha, then he is called the bewilderer of Cupid. But otherwise, even though he may enchant the universe, he is under Cupid’s spell. (GLA 8.32)
In the previous verse we saw it mentioned that there is a certain aspect of Radha and Krishna’s pure being that are off bounds or outside the scope of even the sakhis to experience, or adṛśya. That is the state of absolute oneness of the Divine Couple. But here in this verse it is stated that after the Shyama ocean has been churned to produce the nectar of immortality, it is sakhy-akṣi-pīyūṣadaṁ, or nectar for the eyes of the sakhis. In other words, when the lila is activated then the sakhis are the ones who get to relish it. That separation of the sakhis from the Divine Couple is in fact what makes the lila possible. What is the point of a play if there is no audience?
The sakhis are the perfection of the sat-sāmājika, the cultured audience that makes the relishing of rasa possible. We will see this in the next three verses, for which we need to understand the fundamental concept of sakhi-bhāva.
Radha, Krishna, the sakhis, and Vrindavan, form one tattva, one Whole of which no one part can exist without the others. Kaviraj Goswami says that the sakhis are the ones who expand the lila: it is their imagination that creates infinite possibilities in the expansion of rasa, of which we got some indication in the last verse,
To understand and enter this realm of Vrindavan, there is really only one pathway, and that is to follow in the footsteps of the sakhis. Thus Rupa Goswami has delineated the rasa-sādhanā, both in its theoretical, technical, as well as practical aspects. The technical aspects lie in understanding human psychology, in particular the psychology of love. The theoretical aspect is how to apply this knowledge to become a suitable receptacle for the experience of madhura-bhakti-rasa. and the practical aspect lies in poetry, literature and drama. It is to actually engage in hearing and chanting of the Divine Pastimes, and to thus place oneself in the amphitheater named Vrindavan.
The essence of Rupa Goswami’s concept of rasa-sādhanā is outlined at the beginning of the second division of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu:
premāntaraṅga-bhūtāni kṛtyāny evānutiṣṭhatām
bhaktānāṁ hṛdi rājantī saṁskāra-yugalojjvalā
ratir ānanda-rūpaiva nīyamānā tu rasyatām
kṛṣṇādibhir vibhāvādyair gatair anubhavādhvani
prauḍhānanda-camatkāra-kāṣṭhām āpadyate parām
For those whose faults have been entirely removed by the performance of devotional practices and whose minds are peaceful [making them suitable for the appearance of pure goodness’s special features] and effulgent [and thus equipped with full knowledge], who are attached to hearing the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, who find happiness in the company of rasika devotees, for whom the joy of service to Govinda has become the raison-d’être of their existence, and who are always engaged in the most confidential process of developing love for Krishna, namely hearing and chanting about his qualities and pastimes, have a love (rati) for Krishna which is effulgently manifest due to the conditioning of both the past and present lives. This love, which is an embodiment of the divine joy, is led to the state of being relished, and when combined with the direct experience of the vibhāvas like Krishna and the other ingredients, attains the very limits of mature bliss and wonder. (2.1.7-9)