Found in Sanga, Sanga 2001.

Rasa-Tattva and Rasabhasa

October 26th, 2001 | No Comments

Q. What is the difference between the gopis’ love for Krishna and the manjaris’ love for Radharani? I would also like to know about Lord Caitanya’s love for the Divine Couple and the relationship between the guru and the disciple. Is there any devotion like the love that Radha and Krishna have for each other and how do we maintain a rational mind and sober service mood when discussing such advanced rasa?

A. Krishna is the supreme nayaka (hero) and Radha is the supreme heroine (nayika). Radha’s love for Krishna is nayika-bhava. Her eight expansions (asta sakhis), while competent to be nayikas of Krishna, do not desire this, and thus gopis like Lalita and Visaka relish sakhi-bhava, in which they assist in bringing about the union of Radha and Krishna. Those who assist these gopis are called manjaris. Attaching themselves to sakhis such as Lalita sakhi, they relish the bhava of Radha vicariously. Thus manjari-bhava is subservient to nayika- and sakhi-bhava, yet it is considered the primary expression of kamanuga/raganuga-bhakti.

Acaryas differ on their assessment of sambhogecchamayi, in which one aspires for a direct conjugal relationship with Krishna. For the most part such an aspiration is considered kamapraya, or “not quite” kamanuga/raganuga, as is exemplified by Kubja, who desired direct union with Krishna in Mathura. Her love contains elements of spiritual selfishness, whereas the Vraja gopis’ love does not, and thus although they themselves are competent to be nayikas of Krishna, Lalita and Visakha subordinate themselves to the supreme nayika, Sri Radha. If, however, sambhogecchamayi is taken to refer to the aspiration for becoming a direct mistress of Krishna in Vraja, as in the case of Radha or Candravali, such a desire is still a secondary expression of kamanuga/raganuga bhakti, as it would involve competing with those such as Candravali and especially Radha, who are more competent to satisfy Krishna. In this scenario, such kamanuga would be possessed of a degree of spiritual selfishness.

The idea is that the more selfless one’s desire is, the higher one’s corresponding experience in transcendence is. This is why sakhis such as Lalita sakhi, who are competent to be nayikas of Krishna, choose not to be, and instead seek to assist Radha in uniting with Krishna. In our sampradaya, those eligible for conjugal love aspire for the primary form of madhurya rasa known as tadbhavicchamayi, in which one aspires to experience the bhava of Sri Radha vicariously, as an assistant of Radha under the guidance of Lalita sakhi and Sri Rupa manjari. This is also called bhavollasa or simply manjari-bhava, and this is what Sri Caitanya experienced in fulfilling his desire to taste the love of Radha for himself. It is the special gift of Sri Caitanya to the world, which he tasted in his lilas such as falling into the ocean at Jagannatha Puri (See Cc. Antya 18.80-84).

Bhavollasa-rati is peculiar in that it involves love for Radha in a dominant mood (sthayibhava). In Vraja all of the devotees have a dominant mood of love for Krishna. He is the object of their devotion in moods of servitude, friendship, paternal, and conjugal love. Devotees of Vraja also have love for one another, yet these sentiments of love are not dominant moods but represent a particular type of sancari, or transitory, bhava. This sancari-bhava never overpowers the devotee’s dominant love for Krishna, but serves to increase it. In the case of bhavollasa-rati, however, the manjaris’ love directed towards Radha does take precedence over their feelings of love for Krishna on an ongoing basis. Thus it is not a sancari-bhava, yet because it is directed towards Radha rather than Krishna one would not expect it to be classified as a stayibhava either! The resolution of this dilemma is that the manjaris’ love, while more intense for Radha than Krishna, is nonetheless for Krishna as well. The manjaris love both Radha-Krishna combined with emphasis on Radha, and thus they are in a unique position in which Radha-Krishna combined become the object of their romantic love. Representing bhavollasa-rati Narottama dasa sings jivane marane gati, radha-krishna prana pati, “In life or death my ideal is Radha-Krishna.” Prana pati means “Lord of my life” and refers to one’s lover. Here the “lover” is Radha-Krishna.

You should be aware that in reality these topics are over your head. Nonetheless, it is important to understand theoretically that in our sampradaya attaining conjugal love means attaining manjari-bhava in the service of Radha and Krishna. Otherwise, at this time you should be more concerned with the basic practices of sadhana bhakti. Focus your energy on that which will call your immediate spiritual progress and serve your guru with complete faith and affection like a servant bordering on friendship.

Q. Can you say something about writing transcendental literature and avoiding rasabhasa?

A. Svarupa Damodara Goswami has advised us as follows with regard to writing on transcendental topics and rasa sastra in particular.

yaha, bhagavata pada vaisnavera sthane
ekanta asraya kara caitanya-carane
caitanyera bhakta-ganera nitya kara ‘sanga’
tabeta janiba siddhanta-samudra-taranga
tabeta panditya tomara ha-ibe saphala
krsnera svarupa-lila varniba nirmala

“If you want to study Srimad-Bhagavatam, you must approach an advanced Vaisnava surrendering exclusively at the feet of Sri Caitanya. Always associate with the devotees of Sri Caitanya, for then only will you understand the siddhanta of the waves of the ocean of bhakti. Then your learning will be fruitful, and you will be able to describe (write about) the transcendental pastimes of Krishna without material contamination.”

This is the principle involved in writing on transcendental subjects. The detail of being educated in the rules of Indian aesthetic theory must also be in place if one is to write transcendental poetry, or rasa sastra, in our sampradaya. In this regard, Mahaprabhu said the following about Sri Rupa and his poetry: madhura prasanna ihara kavya salankara aiche kavitva vinu nahe rasera pracara, “His poetry is sweet, pleasing, and replete with literary ornaments. Without such poetic qualifications there is no possibility of disseminating rasa.”

This does not mean that one needs to be a poet in order to be a medium through which others experience rasananda. It means that writing original poetic works concerning Krishna-lila as the Goswamis did requires this kind of education as well as the necessary realization derived from taking shelter of a Vaisnava of consequence.

Thus only very qualified persons with proper spiritual and material training can write rasa sastra. The Goswamis of Vrindavana represent this standard. Our task is to explain and comment on their work. Actual insight into the lilas of Krishna will be apparent in the writing of those who can draw down the theological and philosophical implications of these narratives and help others apply them in their practice. Those who appear to write about lilas that they themselves are experiencing are suspect at best. We need not worry about writing rasa sastra ourselves, nor do we need to worry about what to read when it comes to rasa sastra—we should read Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrita, and the granthas of the Goswamis relative to our guru-determined eligibility.

Otherwise, in general there are two things to be avoided when writing about Krishna, rasabhasa and siddhanta-virodha. Mahaprabhu could not tolerate these two discrepancies, rasabhasa haya yadi siddhanta-virodha sahite na pare prabhu, mane haya krodha. We do not find these things in the Goswamis’ writings.

Siddhanta-virodha is a discrepancy in tattva, or the metaphysical truth of devotional conclusions. Technically speaking rasabhasa is a discrepancy with regard to elemental constituents of rasa that results in a semblance (abhasa) of rasa. Rasabhasa is not undesirable in every respect. However, when two incompatible sentiments interact under certain circumstances, this is called virasata, and this virasata results in something less than the full experience of rasa. Because it results in only a semblance of the full and spiritually satisfying experience of sacred aesthetic rapture (bhakti-rasa), it can also be called rasabhasa, and because this virasata causes an undesirable distasteful effect it is to be avoided. When Krishnadasa Kaviraja cautions us to avoid rasabhasa, he is primarily speaking about this sense of rasabhasa arising out of virasata and secondarily about the predominant expressions of rasabhasa involving discrepancies with regard to the fivefold elemental constituents necessary for rasa to occur.

However, the mixing of incompatible sentiments (virasata) does not always produce an undesirable effect, and Rupa Goswami describes the conditions under which this does and does not occur. Detailed information on this complicated topic can be found in the last two waves of the Northern division of Rupa Goswami’s Ocean of bhakti-rasa. These are the final chapters of his treatise, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu.

Therein, Rupa Goswami gives examples of rasabhasa found in sacred literature that are not necessarily distasteful, but as the term rasabhasa suggests, they involve emotional exchanges that do not rise to the aesthetic height of rasa. Aside from virasata resulting in rasabhasa there are three types of rasabhasa: uparasa, anurasa, and aparasa. Uparasa-rasabhasa occurs when one of the fivefold ingredients of rasa (sthayibhava, vibhava, anubhava, sancari-bhava, and sattvika-bhava) is distorted. For example, when the sthayibhava of conjugal love is not mutual between two parties, this does not allow the emotional experience to rise to the condition of madhura-rasa. The wives of the yajnika brahmanas expressed romantic sentiments for Krishna like those of the gopis, but Krishna did not have the same sentiments for them because they were brahmanas rather than vaisyas like himself. Thus instead of tasting madhura-rasa, they experienced a semblance of it, or madhura-uparasa-rasabhasa, due to the absence of mutual sthayibhavas between themselves and Krishna. Madhura-rasa-uparasa can also occur when the vibhava or anubhava are distorted. In each of the other four primary rasas, uparasa can also occur under certain conditions.

Anurasa-rasabhasa involves a semblance of rasa appearing rather than aesthetic rapture of rasa itself due to the fact that the sentiment experienced is not related to Krishna. When Narada saw two parrots in Vrindavana reciting Vedanta he was astonished (adbhuta), but because his astonishment was not in relation to Krishna it amounted to anurasa-rasabhasa.

Aparasa-rasabhasa occurs when those who are not devotees experience a semblance of rasa, as when demons in Krishna-lila appear to taste rasas such as laughter (hasya/Jarasandha), fear (bhayanaka/Kamsa), etc. Only devotees can experience bhakti-rasa.

Of the above three forms of rasabhasa, uparasa comes closest to actual rasa, followed by anurasa and aparasa. It appears that all three of these forms of rasabhasa are for the most part relative to the manifest lila of Krishna and not to the unmanifest lila of Goloka. In this sense they may also be considered undesirable. Otherwise, uparasa-rasabhasa in particular has some utility because it brings one in touch with ecstatic love of Krishna. As you can see, this is an enormous topic that cannot be done justice in this medium, but I hope the above is helpful.

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