Q. Where can I find information as to how Gaudiya Vaisnavism refutes other Vaisnava philosophies? What are the source references wherein these issues have been specifically addressed?
A. The Gaudiya position on all issues of tattva is clearly presented in Sri Jiva Goswami’s sixfold treatise known as Sat-sandarbha. However, as far as I know, to date only the first essay, Tattva-sandarbha, is available in English.
Gaudiya acaryas have a slightly different angle of vision than those of Madhva, Ramanuja, Nimbarka, and Visnu Swami. In his writings, Sri Jiva Goswami has specifically referred to Madhva and Ramanuja as venerable Vaisnavas. He embraced some of their concepts but not all of them. Unlike other Vaisnava teachers, Gaudiya acaryas have not attempted to refute other Vaisnava metanarratives, nor have they put forward extensive comparisons between their own metanarrative and those of other Vaisnava traditions. This is because Gaudiyas generally consider other Vaisnava spiritual worldviews to be particular angles of devotional vision revealed by God. These worldviews have been articulated by Vaisnava acaryas as best as possible within the limits of language, reason, and scripture. A person who looks to the philosophical essence of these Vaisnava sampradayas’ teachings will find more unity than not.
[Editor’s note: Download Swami B. V. Tripurari’s edition of Tattva-sandarbha here.
Q. Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami stated, “We are disposed to accept, as our eternal function, nothing short of the ideal of service to the milkmaids of Vraja, taught and practiced by Sri Caitanya.” Doesn’t this mean that all perfected devotees in the line of Bhaktisiddhanta will ultimately serve Krishna as milkmaids of Vraja?
A. This statement of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura represents his own sentiment and the main sentiment of the sampradaya—love like the handmaids of Radha. However, anyone who comprehensively reads his writings and those of Bhaktivinoda Thakura will clearly see that these acaryas have acknowledged that other sentiments also have a place in the Gaudiya sampradaya.
Q. Gaudiya Vaisnavas are called Rupanugas, or followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s principal disciple Srila Rupa Goswami, who in Krishna lila is understood to be Rupa Manjari. Does the fact that Rupa Goswami is understood to be Rupa Manjari mean that only Gaudiya Vaishnavas who aspire to serve as manjaris in Krishna lila can truly be called Rupanugas?
A. Those who follow Rupa Goswami in terms of his own sentiment are Rupanugas in a specific sense. Those who follow him in terms of his teaching on suddha bhakti but not in terms of his own sentiment of gopi bhava follow him also, but in a less specific sense. Both are considered Rupanugas because both follow Rupa Goswami. However the former also follow Rupa Manjari and can thus be considered a Rupanuga in every sense of the term. Rupa Manjari is a follower of Lalita sakhi. It is also worth noting that some priyanarma sakhas are also closely related to Rupa Manjari in that in terms of the madhurya aspect of their sakhya bhava they follow the bhava of Lalita Sakhi. Sri Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami writes, nija nija bhava sabe srestha kari’ mane nija-bhave kare krishna-sukha asvadane: “Each kind of devotee feels that his sentiment is the most excellent, and thus in that mood he tastes great happiness with Lord Krishna.”
Q. In Srila Rupa Goswami’s Ujjvala-nilamani various levels of prema (spiritual love) are described. Sadharani love is described as having some self-interest whereas samartha is described as being completely selfless, with the gopis of Vrindavana being the example. Samanjasa, as attributed to the queens of Dvaraka, is described as being a combination of both. This puzzles me because I always thought that all spiritual love was completely selfless. How can this be understood properly?
A. There is no material selfishness in any expression of transcendental love of God. However, in the drama of Krishna lila different degrees of selflessness in love of God are exhibited. For example, Rukmini was completely in love with Krishna but she still thought of her reputation and dharma as a princess, thus she never ran away to meet him but rather secretly sent a letter asking Krishna to kidnap her. On the other hand the gopis of Vrindavana disregarded social convention and dharma altogether and met Krishna in the dead of night. Although both Rukmini and the gopis love Krishna and are completely materially selfless, Rukmini exhibited a sense of self-concern that is not present in the gopis. Thus Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught that the gopis’ love for Krishna is the highest expression of selflessness in love of God.
Q. Uddhava prays to birth as grass to be able to receive the dust from the feet of the gopis. Is this prayer an expression of his desire to be in madhurya-rasa?
A. Uddhava is not praying to change his spiritual sentiment. He is praying to serve Krishna with the same intensity the gopis have. He wants to be blessed by them, but he does not want to be a gopi. Nevertheless, eternal associates of the Lord may serve him in different capacities in different lilas. For example Sridama, Krishna’s strong cowherd friend who often wrestles with Krishna, resulting in Krishna having to carry him on his shoulders, expands to serve Krishna in other lilas as Garuda, Krishna’s bird carrier. Another example is Narada, who bathed in Vraja and came out with a gopi deha. Siva was also granted a gopi deha. However, these examples do not pertain to the prospect of the baddha-jivas (materially bound souls), who enter the lila in a specific sentiment through spiritual practice (sadhana) or special mercy.
Q. In the scriptures there are pastimes in which people are ridiculed and derided such as in the pastimes of Garga Muni being ridiculed by the Yadavas and Pradyumna chastising his chariot driver. It seems callous and inappropriate for such transcendental personalities to engage in such derision and joking at the expense of others. How should this be understood?
A. There are many things that take place in Krishna lila that do not serve as examples of saintly character. Therefore we follow the example of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and more, the example of Sri Rupa and the Six Goswamis of Vrindavana. First become a saint by honoring all, and then you can enter the lila with a pure heart and understand the nature of the interactions that take place therein.
Q. You wrote that Balarama manifests the forms of the parsadas (eternal associates) of Sri Krishna in all the rasas other than srngara (conjugal love). Does this mean that Mother Yasoda in vatsalya rasa is considered a manifestation of Balarama?
A. Actually all forms of the parsadas of Sri Krishna are manifestations of Balarama because he presides over the sandhini sakti. This sakti expands the dhama and all forms therein. Even Krishna’s form is a manifestation of the sandhini sakti. However even though their forms are constituted of his sandhini sakti, the principal gopis are nonetheless manifestations of Radha’s desire to serve Krishna.
In addition to Balarama’s presiding over the sandhini sakti, he presides over vatsalya, sakhya, and dasya rasa and serves Krishna in all of these sentiments, as guru, friend, and servant—kabhu guru, kabhu sakha, kabhu bhrtya-lila purve yena tina-bhave vraje kaila khela.
Q. The Vallabha sampradaya seems to emphasize parental love for Krishna (vatsalya rasa) much more than the Gaudiya sampradaya does. Why is this and where does the spiritual sentiment of dasya bhakti fit into Gaudiya Vaisnavism?
A. Vallabhacarya was a contemporary of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Sri Rupa Goswami acknowledges the Vallabha sampradaya twice in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, saying that Vallabha’s teaching of maryada and pusti are similar to the Gaudiya teachings of vaidhi and raganuga. At one time these two sampradayas were more interactive and generally it is believed that Caitanya Mahaprabhu ultimately blessed Vallabha to continue his own sampradaya—an extension of the Visnu Swami sampradaya.
The Vallabha sampradaya emphasizes vatsalya rasa and gopi bhava following the gopi Candravali, whereas the Gaudiya sampradaya follows gopi bhava with emphasis on Sri Radha. It seems that Vallabha, with the blessing of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, provides a more direct channel to vatsalya prema than the Gaudiya sampradaya does, as he also does for certain types of gopi bhava other than Radha-dasyam. In Krishna lila Candravali and Radha are competitors in service to Sri Krishna.
As for dasya bhakti (servitorship), in Vraja this emotion is tinged with sakhya (friendship). At least it is much different than the dasya bhakti of Vaikuntha. Thus it is sometimes said that Vraja prema begins with sakhya. The Gaudiya sampradaya emphasizes sakhya and madhurya, and a type of sakhya that is tinged with madhurya (priyanarma sakha) has been emphasized over the other varieties of sakhya rati.
Q. Vatsalya-rasa is often listed as superior to sakhya-rasa, yet we see in the writings of the Goswamis many instances in which the priya-narma-sakhas serve Radha and Krishna in very intimate pastimes of conjugal love that is not offered for those in vatsalya-rasa. How can this be understood? Would sakhya-rasa mixed with madhurya-rasa be considered superior to vatsalya-rasa?
A. When sakhya rasa is mixed with madhurya rasa, it affords one aesthetic experience not found in the highly exalted parental love of God, vatsalya rasa. Priyanarma sakhas like Subala taste mahabhava in a way similar to the gopis. Thus their development of prema exceeds that of devotees in vatsalya rasa. In this regard Mahaprabhu instructed Sri Sanatana Goswami, sakhya-vatsalya-rati paya ‘anuraga’-sima, subaladyera ‘bhava’ paryanta premera mahima:
“After the mellow of servitorship, there are the mellows of friendship and parental love, which increase to subordinate spontaneous love (anuraga). The greatness of the love found in friends like Subala extends to the standard of ecstatic love of Godhead (bhava/mahabhava).”
Furthermore, Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.24.65) states: “No one in Vrindavana, male or female, who drank in the festival of the eyes that is Krishna’s beautiful face, with its playful smile and cheeks adorned with dolphin-shaped earrings was satisfied. Though they felt joy, it was mixed with anger arising from the momentary blinking of their eyes.”
Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti comments, “This verse shows how, among the Vrajavasis, the gopis and Krishna’s priyanarma sakhas have the most intense experience of Krishna’s beauty. Of all the parts of the body, the face is the seat of greatest beauty. The face is divided into the upper and lower half, of which the lower, where the supreme sweetness of Krishna’s smile radiates, is the greater beauty. Anyone who sees the Lord’s smile, with His glowing cheeks made even more splendorous by the dolphin earrings dangling beside them, is enchanted. The effulgence emanating from his body extinguishes all the world’s miseries. The devotees’ minds are like the cakora birds that are nourished by the moon’s rays. Thus it is no surprise that his beauty stirs up sensual desires in the gopis, driving them so mad that they are ready to sacrifice their duty, their families, and their lives in their impatience to be with him. Drinking in this beauty, they are left unsatiated. Unable to tolerate even the interruption that comes of blinking, they become angry. This is one of the signs of the highest reaches of love, known as mahabhava, which is only found in the gopis and nowhere else except perhaps in Krishna’s most intimate companions like Subala.”