Q. Simply stated, my question is this: How are we to understand the stories of Krishna as described in the Bhagavata Purana? The lila of Krishna as described there often reads to me as legend and as the events of secular history are described with error and undergo frequent revision according to different methodologies, how are we to understand the stories of Krishna? If the stories are not verifiable as space/time events and, indeed, secular scholars imposing linguistic or other historical methodology discount them, how does the devotee understand them as true and not simply symbolic?
A. I have written an article called The Play of Violence on the nature of Krishna’s appearance in this world under the influence of his svarupa sakti in the context of the lila of Bhagavad-gita, which may be of interest to you. It is difficult to verify the lila of Krishna by empirical methods. Indeed, empirical methods offer evidence to support the idea that Krishna lila is merely mythological. However, empirical methods are not perfect in general and certainly not capable of delivering conclusive truth as to the nature of reality. The mythic realm of the mind is incapable of comforting the soul, what to speak of revealing God. Ultimate reality will only be understood on its own terms—through revelation, or transrational knowing. This is reasonable.
Among other things, Krishna’s appearance within the realm of the mind and senses is for the purpose of taking us beyond the limits of their rule. When approached properly through the spiritual practice that the lila itself articulates, Krishna lila effectively enables the sadhaka to transcend the material realm and enter the lila itself. Where does such a devotee go? He enters the realm of God’s play that is under the jurisdiction of Krishna’s svarupa sakti. In that realm all things are possible. The descent of Krishna lila within this world is also under this influence, one that causes it to appear and not appear at the same time. It appears to the eye of devotion and hides itself from the gaze of empirical inspection.
Although it is important that our tradition be presented with intellectual integrity, it is perhaps more important to remember the limits of reason. It is not reasonable to think that by giving one will receive, but this is our everyday experience. We cannot hold for inspection that which we receive when we give in self-sacrifice, but the giver knows that he received something very tangible. Life is mysterious. Love knows no reason.
Q. The scriptures say that Krishna’s realm, Goloka, is full of liberated personalities. Throughout eternity, souls have graduated from the material worlds to Goloka to join other eternally liberated servants of the Lord (nitya siddhas). How is Sri Krishna able to accommodate so many persons without anyone feeling, so to speak, left out? To elaborate, with so many inhabitants in Goloka, how is it that they are not for the most part always living in separation from Sri Radha and Sri Krishna? Does Krishna expand himself to be with everyone at once, like he did in the rasa dance?
A. When we impose our material experience and linear thinking on the environment of Goloka, that sacred realm will not make complete sense to us. It lies beyond the limits of our intellect. Therefore we are advised that the means to go there is sraddha, divine faith, not intellect. This does not mean that we should not use our intellect, but rather that we should be aware of its limitations and not allow it to rule us. After all, it is inferior to the self, what to speak of God. How can something that is inferior to God reveal God?
The Paramatma (indwelling guide) is a partial expansion of Sri Krishna. He is personally present for each and every soul. If Sri Krishna can do this in his Paramatma feature, certainly he can be personally present and more for each and every gopa and gopi in his Vraja-lila.
At the same time, the experience of Krishna, even in Goloka, is indirect. New recruits from the sector of baddha jivas (conditioned souls) enter Goloka by following in the sentiment of one of its eternal inhabitants. For example, those following in the mood of a gopa become servants of one of Krishna’s principal cowherd friends within the group of their guru, and through this service they experience the bhava of that cowherd, who sometimes arranges for them to render direct service to Balarama and Krishna.
Still, every single cowherd feels that Krishna loves him the most, and each one is correct in thinking this. This is the opinion of Sri Brhad-bhagavatamrta.
Q. If Radha is Krishna’s sakti and the gopis are in turn her saktis, isn’t it then important to study the gopis and their individual names and pastimes in great detail? How can we enter their mysteries when we don’t even understand the real meaning behind each individual gopi’s name?
A. The Srimad-Bhagavatam does not mention details about the associates of Krishna in his Vraja-lila as much as it describes their bhava, or essence. Details will come to light for each individual within the context of their personal bhajana. Otherwise, for the most part, all one needs to know about the different gopis and gopas are described in the writings of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana. This does not mean that we need to immediately run out and read all the Goswamis’ books in order to collect that information. Rather we should engage in sincere and selfless spiritual practice with emphasis on chanting Krishna nama purely. As one advances, these books will be helpful relative to one’s inner necessity.
For example, Srila Rupa Goswami’s Ujjvala-nilamani goes into considerable detail about madhurya rasa, and thus as one becomes qualified for a life of bhajana in gopi bhava this book will be helpful. Whereas one who develops strong affinity for sakhya rasa will study only the first two chapters of this book, in which the role of the gopas in Krishna’s romantic life is discussed. All of this is detailed in Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s Jaiva Dharma, the final section of which is more or less a summary of Ujjvala-nilamani related for those who have passed through all the preliminary stages detailed throughout the balance of the book.
Q. I would like to hear more about priya narma sakhya bhava (intimate friendship with Krishna) and to discuss this topic with other devotees. At times I tried to discuss such topics with other devotees but Krishna showed me that it was not the right time and directed me toward you. My desire is to hear from you and to live in the constant association of devotees. In my heart I feel that under your guidance my tiny taste for devotional service and the holy name has increased. That is only by your causeless mercy. Thank you.
A. Bhajana is a private affair. One who is engaged in bhajana should not discuss his inner life and aspiration openly. Furthermore, bhajana proper is enacted on the plane of advaya-jnana tattva (non-dual consciousness) thus a neophyte devotee’s capacity to engage in bhajana is very limited. Still, it is good that you have such a high aspiration, and one day you will realize it. For the time being, I will share the following information with you to help you understand the priyanarma sakha from a theoretical standpoint.
The priyanarma sakha is the most dear of Krishna’s friends because he is involved in Krishna’s romantic life, priya-narma-vayasyas tu purvato’py abhito varah atyantika-rahasyesu yukta bhava-visesinah. He knows the secrets of Krishna’s affairs with Radha (atyantika-rahasyesu), and his bhava is a special combination of sakhya bhava augmented by conjugal love (yukta bhava-visesinah). Some have called this bhava “sakhi-bhava.” Srila Rupa Goswami describes it thus in Ujjvala-nilamani: atyantika-rahasya-jnah sakhi-bhava-samasritah, “They know the most intimate aspects of Krishna’s life and have taken shelter in the mood of sakhis.” Sri Jiva Goswami explains that when out of affection for both Krishna and Radha they desire to unite the divine couple, at that time their masculine nature is subdued and they act like sakhis. Otherwise they are fully absorbed in sakhya bhava.”
This also means that while the priyanarma sakha takes shelter of a priyanarma sakha group leader such as Subala sakha, he also takes shelter of a yuthesvari or gopi group leader such as Sri Radha. In this regard Subala sakha is described thus by Srila Rupa Goswami: radha-sandesa-vrndam kathayati subalau pasya krishnasya karne, “He whispers all of Radha’s messages into Krishna’s ear.” In the balance of this verse, different priyanarma sakhas are mentioned by Rupa Goswami along with a particular service in relation to a yuthesvari. The import is that he is revealing who the yuthesvaris of certain principal priyanarma-sakhas are. With regard to the conjugal element of the priyanarma sakha’s love for Krishna, we should only be concerned with the group of Radha under Lalita, in which group Sri Rupa Manjari resides. This is the concern of Subala-sakha, who is described thus by Srila Rupa Goswami:
tanu-ruci-vijita-hiranyam hari-dayitam harinam harid-vasanam /
subalam kuvalaya-nayanam naya-nandita-bandhavam vande //
“I glorify Subala, so beloved of Hari, whose bodily effulgence is brighter than gold. He has a garland around his neck and wears emerald green clothes. His eyes are like lotus flowers. He brings the highest pleasure to his friends by his clever insights on life.”
He is naya-nandita-bandhavam, and thus he supplies Krishna with clever advice, such as the maxims of Canakya Pandita, especially with regard to his dealings with the gopis. His relationship with Krishna is described as follows:
vayasya-gosthyam akhilengitesu visaradyam api madhavasya /
anyair duruha subalena sardham samjna-mayi kapi babhuva varta //
“All of Krishna’s friends know him well enough to be able to recognize what he means by his various signals. However, Krishna could conduct a secret conversation with Subala by various signs, which no one else could understand.”
His intimacy with the divine couple is described in Ujjvala-nilamani as follows:
pratyavartayati prasadya lalanam krida-kali-prasthitam /
sayyam kunja-grhe karoty agha-bhidah kandarpa-lilocitam //
svinnam bijayati priya-hrdi parisrastangam uccair amum /
kva sriman adhikaritam na subalah seva-vidhau vindati //
“Is there any service to Krishna that Subala has not the right to perform? When Krishna’s mistress gets angry with him and runs off, it is Subala who follows her and entreats her to come back. He prepares the flower bed for their lovemaking and even fans the lovers when their perspiring bodies are locked in embrace.”
You may consider all these insights, but practical service and preaching will call your progress towards this ideal. Please continue to preach sincerely.
Q. Your disciple is about to leave this mortal world. What are your final instructions to her?
A. Please tell her to keep a picture of Gopala Krishna with her and meditate lovingly on it as much as possible. She should try to think of him as her best friend and pass from the world with the aspiration to join him in his eternal cowherd lila. The following is a Bengali prayer that she can also learn and recite in this regard.
tomara milane bhai, abar se sukha pai, gocarane ghuri din bhora /
kota bane chutachuti, bane khai lutaputi, sei din kabe habe mora //
“O my dear brother! Meeting you again I will experience great joy. Wandering about the pastures and fields, I will pass the entire day with you tending the cows. Joking with you and frolicking throughout so many forests of Vraja, I will roll upon the ground in spiritual ecstasy. When, oh when will that day be mine?”
Tell her that her parama guru, Srila Prabhupada, wrote this prayer and that it is very dear to me.