Question: There is a famous temple (Radha Vallabha Mandira) in Vrndavana where the Deities of Radha Vallabha are worshipped and which is visited by many western devotees when they come to Vraja. What is the background of this temple and does it have any link with the Gaudiya sampradaya and it's philosophy?
Answer: The Radha-Vallabha Mandira belongs to the followers of Hita Harivamsa who was the founder of the Radha-Vallabha sect and of the siddhadvaita-vada philosophy. The Radha-Vallabhas should not be confused with the Vallabha sampradaya of Vallabhacarya, which is another story. The Radha-Vallabha Temple in Vrndavana has no actual connection with the Gaudiya sampradaya although Harivamsa himself originally did.
Harivamsa was born in 1502 near Mathura into a Gauda-brahmana family. Later on in life he went to Vrndavana where, according to various Gaudiya Vaishnava hagiographies and works such as the Gaudiya Vaisnava Abhidhana, he became the disciple of Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami. Unfortunately, some time after, Harivamsa was rejected by Gopala Bhatta Gosvami when he obstinately refused to stop taking betal-nut prasada on Ekadasi claiming that he was instructed to do so by Srimati Radharani. This very much displeased Gopala Bhatta Gosvami who then rejected Harivamsa as his disciple. Srila Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Deva Gosvami Maharaja comments on this subject:
"There was one disciple of Gopala Bhatta by the name Harivamsa. He was of a little different type, something like sahajiya. He was seen one day to chew betel-nut in the Ekadasi fasting day but objection was raised by other disciples of Gopala Bhatta. Harivamsa, started a section named Harivamsi. (Radha-Vallabha). Harivamsa himself was a disciple of Gopala Bhatta, but some difference. Little slackness in the strict life of faith. Srila Rupa Goswami says we must observe vaidhi-bhakti for as long as we can't get admission into the level of raga-bhakti. Das Goswami also says we shall show reverence to raga-bhakti, but we shall try to live within vaidhi-bhakti, rules and regulations, sastra regulated devotion. But the arrogant do not care for this instruction of the followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. This party (Harivamsa / Radha-vallabha) says that they have connection with the Gopala Bhatta sampradaya - Gaudiya vaisnavism with a little deviation. They want to begin with raga-bhakti, anu-raga.
"They are worse than sahajiyas! Sahajiyism formerly accepts everything, but they want easy entrance to do only what comes naturally without work, and they don't admit the necessity for formal devotion. They are lazy in their practice, preferring the enjoying mood to the serving mood, but service means sacrifice. So the atmosphere is dangerous and any theistic awakening we should mark with all attention and care so that we may not go down again to the depths of nescience. Very carefully we shall try to collect our wealth. Real progress towards the Infinite gives the idea, 'That I am nothing, I am in great danger.' Progress towards the Infinite is like that. 'Thinking I have it, I am above.' This is a foolish feeling, foolish statement. The very nature of advancement is that, 'I am low, I am undone, I am the most helpless.' The closer we are the further away we will feel, whereas the further away we actually are from divinity - we may complacently feel we are close. As much as we come into the relativity of the Infinite, we cannot but conceive ourselves to be the lowest of the low. That is the criteria.
"The very sign of real progress will show I am nothing, I am the most needy, the most wretched and the most helpless. The negative aspect must be improved to attract the positive. If one point of the negative will say, 'I am positive' then immediately it will be rejected, you are under the false control of maya. Rather to think, 'I am the meanest of the mean,' that will attract the attention of the high. This is the science of devotion proper. (Conversation, Navadvipa 1983)
So Harivamsa was definitely rejected by Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, as confirmed by Srila Sridhara Maharaja. Naturally however, it stands to reason that the followers of Harivamsa deny this story vehemently and claim that when Harivamsa was seven years old he had a dream that Radharani initiated him into the sacred yugala-mantra thus they declare that he actually took diksa directly from Radharani Herself and not Gopala Bhatta Gosvami. Such a dubious story was even contested and doubted during Harivamsa's lifetime by some of his own disciples, such as Vitthala Dasa. It would thus seem that Harivamsa's rejection by his guru Srila Gopala Bhatta resulted in his fabricating the story of his initiation by Radharani in order to cover over his embarrassing predicament and simultaneously gain some distinction from the public.
The biographies of Hita Harivamsa written by his followers go on to state that although Harivamsa was already married by the time he was in his early 30's, he left his wife and children and took two co-wives, Krsna-dasi and Manohari-dasi again claiming that he had been instructed to do so by Srimati Radharani. From such instances, it appears that Harivamsa did not exhibit proper sadacara (exemplary Vaisnava behavior) and thus cannot be considered a pure devotee in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
In 1535, with the help of a wealthy Gujarati named Lalubhai, he built the Radha-Vallabha Temple and installed the Deities of Radha-Vallabha at Purana Sahar in Vrndavana. The temple quickly gained much popularity amongst the public, but not among the pure Vaisnavas. It is said that Harivamsa died in 1609.
The difference between Harivamsa and the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya does not end in Harivamsa's rejection by Gopala Bhatta Gosvami.
According to the Radha-Vallabha sect, Harivamsa dictated the book 'Radha-rasa Sudha Nidhi' when he was only six months old and it was written down by his uncle Nrsimhasrama. This fantastical story is disputed by the Gaudiyas who declare that it was actually Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati who composed the Radha-rasa Sudha Nidhi. Almost all of Harivamsa's works are written in the local Vraja-bhasya dialect of Vrndavana except his Yamunastakam (and it is still debated by many scholars whether this was written by him at all). However, if one compares the works of Harivamsa and Srila Prabodhananda one will observe that the same linguistic style is prevalent throughout all of Prabodhananda's works such as Ascarya-rasa-prabandha, Navadvipa-satakam, Sangita-madhava, Caitanya-candramrtam and Vrndavana-mahimamrta. Thus it is most likely that the followers of Harivamsa plagiarized the Radha-rasa Sudha Nidhi and attributed it to their founder by concocting the implausible tale of Harivamsa composing this work when he was only six-months old.
Another important point that separates the Gaudiyas from the Radha-Vallabha sect is that Harivamsa rejected the injunctions of the scriptures. He rejected the rules of Deity worship, the ten samskaras (purificatory rites), the importance of fasting on Ekadasi, the worship of Salagrama-sila and the worship of Tulasi-devi. These aspects of sadhana rejected by Harivamsa are all in the realm of vaidhi-bhakti. Persons such as Harivamsa and other pseudo-Vaisnavas state that there is no need of following these regulations because the residents of Goloka do not follow them. Since one must take shelter (anugatya) of an eternal resident of Vraja-dhama, we should follow in their footsteps and reject the angas of vaidhi-bhakti that hinder our attempts to perform raganuga-sadhana. This is the misguided opinion of the Radha-vallabha sect.
Furthermore, they opine that since Krsna loves His devotees, He becomes happier when they live a life of luxury and material comfort than when they perform devotional austerities (such as fasting on Ekadasi, Janmastami etc). Thus the Radha-Vallabha sect belittles any type of asceticism and uphold their founder's lifestyle of sensuality as superior to that of the lifestyle of Sri Rupa and Sri Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami.
That one must take shelter of an eternal resident of Vraja is also accepted by the Gaudiyas, but it is not accepted that one should arbitrarily reject practices favorable for cultivating proper devotional sentiments. Srila Rupa Gosvami Prabhupada has written thus:
krsnam smarana janancasya prestham nijasamihitam
tattat katha-ratascasau kuryadvasam vraje sada
"One (who treads the path of raganuga-bhakti) always resides in Vraja by constantly remembering his most beloved Sri Krsna and His dear associates and by following their sentiments one has a burning desire for the service of one's beloved Lord.
seva sadhaka-rupena siddha-rupena catra ca
tad bhava lipsuna karya vraja-lokanusaratah
In Vraja, one engaged in spiritual practices under the guidance of a resident of Vraja with an eager desire in the wake of bhavas (feelings and sentiments towards the Divine Couple) should serve Them both, whether at the stage of a sadhaka or at the stage of a siddha." (Bhaktirasamrta-sindhu 2:294-5)
However, in his commentary to these verses, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has explained that even in ones sadhaka-deha one must follow the various angas of vaidhi-bhakti:
etena braja-loka padena vrajastha sri radha-lalitadya eva grahyas tasam anusarenaiva sadhaka dehena kayikyadi-sevapi karttavya. evam sati tabhir guru-padasrayanaikadasi-vrata salagrama tulasi sevadayo na krtastad anugater asmabhir api na karttavya ityadhunikanam vimatam api nirastam.
ataeva sri jiva gosvami-caranair api asya granthasya tikayam tathaivoktam. yatha-vraja-lokas tat tat krsna prestha-janas tad anugatas ca iti. atha raganugayah paripatimaha krsnam ityadina. prestham sva-priyatamam kisoram nandanandanam smaran evam asya krsnasya tadrsa-bhakta-janam. athaca svasya samyag-ihitam sva-samana-vasanam iti yavat. tathaca tadrsam janam smaran vraje vasam sada kuryat. samarthye sati sriman nanda-vrajavasa-sthana-vrndavanadau sarirena vasam kuryat. tad abhave manasapity arthah.
"Someone may argue that the word 'vraja-loka' only refers to Srimati Radharani, Lalita etc, then with the sadhaka-deha one should perform bodily services following in their foot-steps. If this were so, then the followers of the Lord's dear-most associates would find it unnecessary to perform the angas of devotion such as taking shelter of a spiritual master (sri guru padasraya), observing Ekadasi-vrata, worship of Salagrama, worship of tulasi etc, since it is not mentioned anywhere that Radharani and Lalita ever performed these activities. This mistaken conclusion accepted by those who have taken shelter of modern heretical opinions is also refuted by the word vraja-loka.
In his commentary to this verse of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Srila Jiva Gosvamipada has explained the same thing; namely, that the word vraja-loka not only refers to the dear-most associates of Sri Krsna but to their followers such as Sri Rupa Gosvami and others. Thus, one should perform internal service (manasi-seva) through one's siddha-deha by following in accordance with Sri Rupa Manjari and other Vraja-vasis. With the sadhaka-deha, one should perform bodily service by following Sri Rupa Gosvami and others." (Bhakti-rasamrta Sindhu Bindu)
Srila Rupa Gosvami, Srila Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami and other great Vaisnava saints observed Ekadasi, tulasi-puja, salagrama-puja etc. though such activities of vaidhi-bhakti are not performed by the vraja-gopis. Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti explains in his Bhaktirasamrta-Sindhu-bindu that various angas of vaidhi-bhakti which are compatible for the cultivation of raganuga-bhakti should not be discarded, such favorable angas of vaidhi-bhakti are classified as bhavamaya, bhava-sambandhi, bhavanukula and bhavaviruddha. However, some of the angas of vaidhi-bhakti are antagonistic to developing spontaneous love for the Lord (bhava-pratikula) such as nyasa (placing various mystic syllables on the body for purification), mudra (hand-gestures used in Deity worship), ahamgrahopasana (identifying oneself with one's worshipful Deity), dvaraka-dhyanam (meditation upon Krsna's pastimes in Dvaraka) and rukminyadi-puja (worship of Rukmini-devi and the other queens of Dvaraka).
Unless one accepts this concept and method of raganuga-sadhana, it is certain that one will become bewildered and fall into a quagmire of mental concoction in the unripe stage of his spiritual life. So long as one is conditioned and under the influence of the modes of nature, it is imperative to follow the path of vaidhi-bhakti-sadhana. Initially the neophyte must clear his anarthas, and only then can he develop a spontaneous taste for devotional service through the medium of chanting the Holy Name etc. Then an intense desire automatically appears in the heart to follow in the footsteps of the eternal associates of Sri Sri Radha-Govinda. When such an intense and genuine desire appears, the aspirant is no longer bound by the rules of the scriptures, yet he does not abandon the scriptural rules either.
However, this is not a simple achievement and caution must be taken at every step. To achieve such a rare gift one must first receive the special grace of Sri Guru and the other residents of Vraja-dhama. If one is misled and simply imitates those who are real relishers of raganuga-bhajana, discarding the preliminary path of vaidhi-bhakti capriciously, then the result will only be confusion and ruination.
The story of Harivamsa's dismissal by Srila Gopala Bhatta due to his willingness to break the Ekadasi vrata seems highly plausible when one reads the Radha-vallabha work 'Seva-sakhi vani'. In there it is mentioned that Harivamsa rejected all fast-days because it denied him the pleasure of taking prasadam. Concerning Ekadasi, it would be poignant here to compare Harivamsa's contrast of mood to that of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu:
"Lord Caitanya said, "To not observe complete fasting on Ekadasi will greatly endanger one's spiritual life. Honour prasadam on Ekadasi only by offering it obeisances and eating it the next day. In this way, one can easily cross this material ocean. The fast is any way over on the following day. The non-Vaisnavas gormandize without control, offering only lame excuses that they are honoring maha-prasadam. They do this on Ekadasi, because they are engrossed day and night in sense enjoyment. They enjoy grains and rice on Ekadasi and thereby eat the sins that enter grains on such days, disregarding the sanctity of Ekadasi vrata. You must diligently execute devotional service and respect the process of devotion. You will then surely receive the blessings of Bhakti-devi Herself. Avoid the association of non-devotees and properly observe the Ekadasi vrata by constantly chanting the holy name." (Chapter 18, Prema-vivarta, by Sri Jagadananda Pandita).
The holy day of Ekadasi was considered to be so important by the Gaudiya smrti-acarya, Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, that he dedicated an entire chapter to it in his Hari-bhakti-vilasa. Little wonder then that he was highly disappointed with the negligent behavior of his errant disciple, Harivamsa.
Some sections of the Radha-vallabhis consider Harivamsa to be the joint incarnation of Sri Krsna and His flute (hence the name 'hari-vamsa'), whereas others opine that he is the incarnation of Sri Lalita-sakhi. If this indeed was the case, it seems unlikely that Harivamsa would encourage the general populace to directly oppose the injunctions of the scriptures and claim that one's own 'spiritual revelations' carry more relevance. If there is no scriptural boundary set, then anyone can claim that their own 'spiritual revelations' carry more weight than the scriptures. Anyone can claim anything as a genuine path to attain the highest goal. Thus, the sastras and their laws become immaterial and society is cast into chaos. By following such a contrived mode of sadhana one will only find himself in darkness. Therefore, in Bhagavad-gita (16:23-24) Sri Krsna tells Arjuna:
yah sastra-vidhim utsrjya vartate kama-karatah
na sa sidddhim avapnoti nasukham param gatim
tasmac-chastram pramanam te karyakarya-vyavasthtitau
jnatva sastra-vidhanoktam karma kartum iharhasi
"One who acts whimsically, rejecting the scriptural injunctions, attains neither perfection, happiness nor the supreme goal of life. Thus the scriptures are your authority in deciding what is to be done and what is not to be done. Understanding their injunctions, you should act accordingly in this world."