Excerpt from a class on Baladeva Purnima by Swami B. V. Tripurari
Balarama conceives of himself first and foremost as Krishna’s friend. However, within his sense of fraternal love for Krishna, he also conceives of himself as both Krishna’s servant and Krishna’s guru. Thus he serves Krishna from above, below, and in between. His sakhya-bhava is sankula, or mixed—mixed with dasya and vatsalya-bhava.
Regarding Balarama’s vatsalya sentiment, his guru-bhava, he is Krishna’s elder brother, and in ancient Indian society, the elder brother is thought of as a guru by his younger siblings: a guru, that is, who is filled with affectionate feelings for those who have taken shelter of him. A guru feels like this toward his or her disciples. He or she rules them with love, affection, and the competence to guide them spiritually. Balarama personifies this love, affection, and competence, and thus he is sometimes referred to as akhanda-guru-tattva, the reservoir of guru-tattva. In this sense he is the adi-guru, the original guru of everyone.
While all three of Balarama’s sentiments for Krishna are portrayed in Srimad Bhagavatam, the sense that he is Krishna’s guru is mentioned in the Tenth Canto’s fifteenth chapter, the Dhenukasura lila. There we find Krishna praising Balarama in so many ways, and the Bhagavata tells us that sometimes Balarama lies down, puts his head in the lap of another cowherd, and pada-samvahanadibhih: Krishna massages his feet and expresses himself as a servant of Balarama.
So Balarama is one of Krnsa’s gurus. Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami writes at the onset of his treatise on Sri Caitanya, vande gurun: “I offer my respects to my gurus.” Krishna has different kinds of gurus: his diksa guru, the Saivaite Sandipani Muni; his rasa guru, Srimati Radhika, who teaches him how to dance and thus be all that sastra says he is; and Balarama, his family guru, who watches over him with his immense strength and sense of dharma, protecting him from irreligion, as the maryada purusa in his life.
Bala means strength, and Rama means to take pleasure, so he who takes pleasure in exhibiting spiritual strength is Balarama. This strength is the strength to do what is correct, the strength to build a foundation for one’s spiritual life on the ground of suddha-sattva, pure existence, governed as it is by Rama’s sandhini-sakti.
Whenever Krishna would do something incorrect, Balarama would show his displeasure, as he did when Krishna advised Bhima to strike Duryodhana below the belt and thus deviate from the ksatriya code. However, although Balarama is the maryada purusa of Krishna’s life, he never interfered with Krishna’s apparently illicit romantic life with Radha. Indeed, he facilitated it at every opportunity, albeit for the most part indirectly. Nonetheless, the fact remains that it was entered into on the part of Krishna without any objection from Rama. Indeed, we even find Rama helping to facilitate their love, as he did when he carried Krishna’s message to the gopis. Similarly, if we are to know anything about Krishna’s love life, we will have to get help from Baladeva. We will need his blessing.
One may think that Balarama is not involved with Krishna’s romantic life. We are told that if Radha and Krishna are on the altar, we cannot put Balarama on the same throne. He will leave the room, because in the presence of the elder brother, Radha will feel a inhibited. These are the “rules” of rasa. More than rules they are really feelings; rasa is ruled by feelings. So, if Balarama will exit, how can we say that Balarama is involved in facilitating the love life of Radha and Krishna? Don’t think that he’s not; he’s involved in every way, in this case indirectly. Otherwise, why will he excuse himself? He excuses himself to facilitate their intimacy. He pays his respect to their divine love as he did when he returned to Vrindavana and thus teaches us to do the same.
Balarama is the Deity presiding over sandhini-sakti, which is the essence of the suddha-sattva, transcendental existence. Sandhini means “existence potency.” So that which takes place in the lila is a combination of samvit and hladini, the knowing potency and the bliss potency, within suddha-sattva, or on the plane of sandhini-sakti. That is real bhakti. Balarama expands the dhama and manifests all the forms in the lila. Even Krishna’s form is a manifestation of Balarama’s sandhini sakti. Just see how he is woven into the fabric of existence like the warp and weft of a cloth; Balarama is described like this in the Bhagavatam. He is involved in everything, everywhere. We owe our existence to him. From Balarama expands the dhama and so many associates for serving Krishna. Because he has the sentiment of a guru (vatsalya-bhakti), friend (sakhya-bhakti), and servant of Krishna (dasya-bhakti), he presides over all three of these sentiments and expands personalities to participate in the lila in all of them. He is the root of the service ego–bhakta abhiman mula balarama–that underlies the entire lila.
From Baladeva comes Mula-Sankarasana for lila in Dvaraka and Mathura. From Mula-Sankarsana comes Narayana, and the second catur-vyuha. Then Sankarsana of the second catur-vyuha expands associates in Vaikuntha. Then he expands further as Karanodakasayi Visnu, and this Maha-Visnu expands so many souls for this world, the baddha-jiva.
So we owe our existence to Balarama; he is the very basis of existence. He is involved in Krishna-lila both directly and indirectly by looking the other way. We say: Hare, Krishna, Rama. These three names are in the Hare Krishna mantra. There are many ways to understand this, and this is one way: hladini, samvit, sandhini. Radha presides over hladini sakti, the pleasure potency; Krishna presides over the samvit sakti, the power to know; and Balarama presides over sandhini sakti, the existential potency. Hare, Krishna, Rama. This is Vrindavana. These three make up Vrindavana. Wherever there are Radha and Krishna, Balarama is also there in the background. So don’t think Rama is not involved in Krishna’s romantic life; he is Krishna’s dearmost friend, and there is no Krishna lila, or any lila for that matter, without Balarama.