Q. What is the Gaudiya understanding of the gayatri mantra? What is the correlation between Srimad Bhagavatam and gayatri?
A. The gayatri mantra is explained in Sri Jiva Goswami’s Tattva and Paramatma-sandarbhas as a petition directed to the highest Deity, not to a lesser god or goddess, or an impersonal absolute. Therein Sri Jiva points his readers to the Srimad Bhagavatam for further explanation of the significance of gayatri, as the Bhagavatam is hailed as the complete and elaborate commentary on the mantra. So says the Garuda Purana:
artho ‘yam brahma-sutranam bharatartha-vinirnayah
gayatri-bhasya-rupo ‘sau vedartha-paribrmhitah
“The meaning of the Vedanta-sutra is present in Srimad-Bhagavatam. The full purport of the Mahabharata is also there. The commentary of the Brahma gayatri is also there and fully expanded with all Vedic knowledge.”
Being one with the Srimad Bhagavatam, gayatri is directed to Sri Krishna, centered on him from the vantage point of Sri Radha’s serving disposition. In its highest reach gayatri, like the Bhagavatam, leads one to Radha dasyam, the serving temperament that corresponds with svayam bhagavan. Only the Krishna who stands with Radha—whose form corresponds with her divine love (mahabhava)—is svayam bhagavan in all respects, the highest Deity. Furthermore, the Brahma-samhita identifies gayatri with the sacred sound of Sri Krishna’s flute. For whom ultimately does Krishna play his flute?
After the Govardhana-lila, Indra and a host of other gods appeared in Vrindavana. When Indra prayed to Govinda for forgiveness and crowned him the God of gods, all the principal devas gave Krishna gifts, Siva giving him a bamboo flute. Once at home, young Krishna began to practice playing this flute with a view to attract the attention of Radha. As he played he was amazed at the effects. Land turned into water and water into land; cows poured milk from their udders, flooding the ground. The sound of Krishna’s flute charmed both the animate and inanimate world. Still he could not yet attract the attention of Radha.
When he tried again, all of the gopis except Radha came under the enchanting influence of his flute. Not seeing Radha in their midst he considered his efforts unsuccessful and sent the gopis all home. He felt utterly hopeless, and his friend Madhumangala endeavored to console him, but to no avail. Later, however, during the following Sarat Purnima, he achieved his goal, consummating his relationship with Radha, his flute playing perfected. Thus he became known as Vamsidhari. This is the insight of the Gaudiya Vaisnavas. While it is also true that Gayatri devi incarnated as Kama gayatri to better taste gopi bhava, in a covert way she herself leads us there. Indeed, her incarnation as Kama gayatri serves to illustrate that her most cherished desire is Radha dasyam, and the essence of a person is but his or her dearmost desire.
Q. Srila Sridhara Deva Goswami represented gayatri with a diagram of a small circle within a larger circle of harinama. Can you explain this diagram, especially as to how it elucidates the idea that gayatri takes one to liberation (mukti) whereas harinama takes one to the lotus feet of Krishna? Wouldn’t this concept contradict the siddhanta that gayatri leads to Radha dasyam?
A. The smaller inner circle represents the scope of gayatri, and the larger outer circle represents the scope of harinama. The idea the diagram seeks to explain is that harinama reaches out to the most unqualified. Then as those under harinama’s merciful influence become more spiritually qualified, they can receive the Krishna mantra and corresponding gayatri that petitions Krishna more specifically. When gayatri mantra reveals itself in the heart of the devotee, in terms of a specific relationship with Krishna, its efficacy is reached and it retires. Harinama, however, does not retire. It never retires.
The concept that gayatri leads to mukti and that Krishna nama leads to the lotus feet of Krishna comes from Caitanya-caritamrta, krishna-mantra haite habe samsara-mocana krishna-nama haite pabe krsnera carana: “While Krishna mantra delivers one from samsara, Krishna nama enables one to attain Krishna’s feet.” Here “Krishna mantra” refers to the Gopala mantra and its corresponding Kama gayatri, which is an incarnation of the Brahma gayatri. So it is Krishna mantra and its gayatri that delivers us from samsara, as the word gayatri, “song of deliverance,” (ganat, “song,” and triyate, “deliverance”) indicates. However, it does so in terms of the Bhagavatam’s twofold conception of mukti: muktir hitvanyam rupam svarupena vyavastiti. The mukti of the Bhagavata constitutes deliverance from the negative influence of our karma and an introduction to our svarupa in bhava bhakti, which could very well be that of Radha dasyam. Gayatri, having granted us liberation, retires and harinama remains in the foreground to grant us prema, taking us to the lotus feet of Krishna. Simply put, the gopas and gopis in Vraja do not chant gayatri but they do regularly chant the name of Krishna (harinama).
Brahma Gayatri and the Sacred Thread
Q. What language is spoken in the spiritual world? In Sri Caitanya’s and Krishna’s unmanifest (aprakata) lila, do the eternal residents of Navadwipa and Vrindavana speak Bengali and Brijbhasa, respectively, or do they speak Sanskrit? Is there scriptural information regarding this issue?
A. First of all, it is important to note that none of the languages you mentioned are inherently spiritual. Sanskrit is called the language of the gods, but the gods referenced reside within the material realm of experience. The world of God (Bhagavan) is said in the sruti to lie beyond the reach of words and mind, yato vaco nivartante aprapya manasa saha: “From whom speech and thought return (unable to reach him).” (Tait. U 2.9) This, of course, means that Bhagavan cannot be adequately described by words or fully understood by thought. Thus there is not enough that we can say about him. While it is said that those who sincerely chant his name capture Bhagavan, such utterance is not just a lip exercise. Rather it is a heart exercise. He is bhava grahi janardana. He accepts the spirit of our offering.
Sriman Mahaprabhu told Sri Isvara Puri that the learned say “visnave” and the ignorant “visnaya.” However, Bhagavan hears and understands the heartfelt visnaya but not the learned but heartless utterance of visnave. So, to enter the lila we must learn the language of the heart, as this is the real language of the lila, even though what is spoken may appear to be a vernacular of this world.
We do know from sastra that Sri Krishna speaks all languages, even those of the less evolved forms of life, birds and beasts. He is vividhabhuta-bhasa-vit, expert in different and astonishing languages. However, knowing another’s language does not insure actual communication. Thus here again the spirit of this quality is that Krishna knows the hearts of all, for it is our heart that we try unsuccessfully to express in words: “I wanted to tell you that I love you, but the words got in the way.”
The above notwithstanding, Sri Rupa Goswami tells us ,”Krishna expresses himself in the vernacular of the young gopis of Vraja, in Sanskrit to the respectful Indra, and in the colloquial dialect to the animals, the people of Kashmir, and the parrots. How amazing! How has he become expert in all these languages? (Brs. 2.1.66) Sri Jiva Goswami comments as follows: “This is the statement of an elderly observant resident of Vraja. Though the young girls of Vraja are mentioned, it is understood that all the residents are included. Krishna spoke to them all in a special dialect of that particular region called sauraseni, which is the language of Mathura. Vraja and Mathura, of course, were practically the same place with the same dialect. The word saurim, from the word sura, means Sanskrit, the language of the devas. Krishna also spoke to animals, including the cows and buffalos. Kiresu refers to the people of Kashmir and to parrots. Apabhramsa refers to a very low form of colloquial language. The idea is that according to the situation, he spoke the particular language.”
Sri Rupa and Jiva Goswamis are describing the prakata, or manifest, lila of Sri Krishna, but I see no reason why the same cannot apply to his aprakata-lila. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu primarily spoke Bengali in Navadwipa during his prakata-lila, and he was also a Sanskrit scholar. However, as already pointed out, such languages are not inherently spiritual anymore than any other aspect of the lila is, such as the style of clothes Mahaprabhu and Krishna wear. One may dress oneself in an approximation of the fashion of the dhama-vasis and learn the languages they appear to speak, but this will not qualify one to enter there. To enter we need to import the bhava that fuels the lila into our hearts, for in actuality the dress and language of the lila are all bhava. Learn to speak in this tongue.