Our Approach to the Higher Plane

Sep 17 2021 - Krishna Talk 233
Krishna with the Gopis

(From a lecture given at Govindaji Gardens, in the year 2000)

In the current day Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, there are numerous controversies that revolve around guru tattva, jīva tattva, even bhagavat tattva itself, Kṛṣṇa tattva etc. There are many controversies revolving around these tattvas, but this is not a new thing. Actually, there has been controversy since the beginning days of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s saṅkīrtana movement. A group of students from Navadvīpa wanted to chastise Mahāprabhu with sticks, and they wanted to give him a lesson. “What does he teach? What does he say? What does he chant? What is this? This is a new thing. We have not heard about this. Please give us our old standard lessons.” But Mahāprabhu is the prema-avatāra, yuga-avatāra, and He has descended to give something which has long been forgotten.

I heard Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahāraja say that such a long time had passed since this boon had come to the earth, that no one could remember that such a thing ever existed, that such a level of divine love for Kṛṣṇa, the divine service of Kṛṣṇa ever existed. That plane which Mahāprabhu came to present, no one could remember that such a thing ever existed in the past. It had been so long that even the Vedas had forgotten that such a thing even existed. There was no śāstra that could directly recall such a thing, but only indirectly giving a hint towards such a plane. Ages and ages had passed and the Supreme Lord decided that it was time again to present this most magnanimous gift to the world, and show this illustrious plane of devotion.

So when that illustrious plane of devotion began to descend, immediately there was objection. Throughout Mahāprabhu's pastimes there were objections raised by the students, by different classes of Brāhmins, by Māyāvadis, and others. Controversies surrounded Caitanya-līla from its very beginning, and after the disappearance of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu also, various controversies arose. 

This is due to a number of things. One is due to our own individuality. We are all individuals. Therefore, individuality will be a part of so many things that we do. We will have our own individual hearing capacity. We have our own individual assimilation capacity. We'll have our own individual expression. We are not all one. All individual followers of Śaṅkara say, “It is all one.” We say, “No, it is all individual.” It starts from one supreme individual and everything exists as an individual. Every person that exists is an individual. Every atom that exists in matter is an individual. Everything has a distinct individuality.

So when there is individuality, there are differences. There are even differences in the spiritual world. Although they are harmonized by the fact that everything is for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. Still, individuality remains and differences exist. Serving camps, serving moods from Vaikuṇṭha, Ayodhya, Dwāraka, all the way up to Goloka, they all have different rasas. In a harmonious way they are sometimes competing with each other — vātsalya-rasa tucks Kṛṣṇa to sleep at night and keeps him secure there, safely within a room, but mādhurya -rasa frees him from that room. There is some competitiveness there even in the spiritual world.

There is one verse which is mentioned by Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Goswāmī, that one should not avoid philosophical controversies, thinking them troublesome or unwanted. One must rather try to understand such controversy, seeing them as an opportunity to increase one's faith and attachment to Kṛṣṇa (siddhānta baliyā citte nā kara alasa, ihā ha-ite kṛṣṇe lāge sudṛḍha mānasa —CC-Adi 2.117).

Hearing the Rāsa-līlā

One such well known controversy is regarding the following verse from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam regarding the rāsa-līla of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. 

vikrīḍitaṁ vraja-vadhūbhir idaṁ ca viṣṇoḥ
śraddhānvito ’nuśṛṇuyād atha varṇayed yaḥ
bhaktiṁ parāṁ bhagavati pratilabhya kāmaṁ
hṛd-rogam āśv apahinoty acireṇa dhīraḥ

"A transcendentally sober person with great faith and love continuously hears from a self realized soul about the activities of Lord Kṛṣṇa in his rasa-līla with the gopīs or one who describes such activities, can attain full transcendental service at the lotus feet of Supreme personality of Godhead. Thus, lusty material desires, which are the heart disease of all materialistic persons, are for him quickly and completely vanquished." (SB 10.33.39)

We don't have a purport, per se, by Śrīla Prabhupāda on this verse in the Bhāgavatam itself, but it is a well-known verse, and it has been cited since the very beginning when after the Bhāgavatam was spoken. There are particular points in this verse which have been noted by previous ācāryas

Many of our friends do not follow the exact same path of devotion to Kṛṣṇa that we follow. In general, they follow the same path, but they don't follow exactly in the same way. The reason we discuss this verse is because certain groups quote this to mean, “Let everyone hear of Kṛṣṇa’s līla, particularly Kṛṣṇa's rāsa-līla. Let everyone hear Kṛṣṇa's love with the gopīs, because according to this verse, such hearing will purify all their lusty desires. Doesn't matter if they are foolish, fallen, and lusty. Let them hear about Kṛṣṇa and there will be no harm. They will become purified by that hearing process and become free from lust. They will become great souls.”

When there is controversy, we go to the higher authority. There are two ways to go to higher authority. One is, you can go to the old scriptures and read what the previous ācāryas have said about that particular point, and you can also go to the current ācāryas, who are senior personalities, and you can hear from them. For this particular controversy, we have done both. We have gone to the previous ācāryas, and heard what they had to say about this, and we have gone to the living senior ācāryas, and heard them too (Our position on this controversy has been exhaustively presented in our article—Hearing from A Rasika Ācārya). The conclusion is —

  • These topics are not meant for the public. 
  • Secondly, these topics are not even meant for the general group of devotees. 
  • Lastly, these topics are actually meant for the paramahaṁsas

These topics are not meant as a process of purification, even though it is mentioned that if you hear rāsa-līla, your kāma (lust) will get purified. Still, we hold our ground—this is not the process to eliminate that lust. There are other processes that have been given to eliminate that lust. And when that lust is eliminated and when one’s heart is purified (ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ), one has come to a point to be relatively free from the majority of the anarthas that obstruct progress in devotion. When one has developed niṣṭha, his faith is rock solid and it won’t go away. Śraddhā proper has descended and has now firmly established. When one has niṣṭha, then one may very selectively hear about higher topics in a proper company, but not before.

Not to minimise the rāsa-līla of Kṛṣṇa, but one should not jump over all that Kṛṣṇa has said, and all that Kṛṣṇa has done, and arrive at the most esoteric part of Kṛṣṇa's līla. If one does this, then one will face problems and even possible destruction. Prabhupāda says that you must cross all nine cantos, and particularly begin from the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, which is canto one and canto two. Crossing nine cantos of Bhāgavatam, doesn't mean you just read them, it means you progress from one stage to the next, up to the transcendental platform. This is only for sannyāsīs, not for others, because you will find in first cantos, second canto so many instructions, including leaving home. The first step in God-realization is to leave home. It is not for people who are still absorbed in worldly matters. The high līla of Kṛṣṇa is not for those who work a job, and once in six months go to gurudev to hear rāsa-kathā, then again returning to work as a salesman, or mothering children and so forth. It is not for them.

But then again, you go back to the question, why does it say that even a lusty man becomes purified by hearing Kṛṣṇa's pastimes? So why not let the lusty man hear these things. One must understand that the emphasis here is not on the kāma of the conditioned soul, but the emphasis is on the transcendence of the Lord's pastimes.

The Transcendence of Kṛṣṇa’s Pastimes

Upto the point of rāsa-līla, what does Kṛṣṇa do in the Bhāgavatam? He simply kills so many demons, and they all receive mokṣa. Pūtana came to poison Kṛṣṇa, but Kṛṣṇa killed her, and she became purified of all her evilness and filthiness. Whenever Kṛṣṇa kills a demon, then this purification follows. Then suddenly, Kṛṣṇa is not killing the demons, Kṛṣṇa is performing his transcendental love pastimes.

Love pastimes in this world, even when they are vedic and authorized, are the root cause of material existence. The heart becomes tighter and tighter by the so-called love of this world, particularly between man and woman. The heart just gets hard, super-glued solid, even with the vedic form of marriage. That means, even if you marry according to the rules authorized by śāstra, the heart becomes very hard and tainted. The material conception becomes fixed up there. What to speak of illicit activity? Frivolous boys and girls running here and there, going disco dancing, having illicit sex and all these things, will not only make one hard hearted, but so much sinful reaction will be inflicted upon such people. 

But in the case of Kṛṣṇa, those things which are very despicable here in this world, that hurl one down to a plane of suffering and cause repeated birth and death, that same type of thing — paramour rasa, when it is done by Kṛṣṇa, it has the effect to purify even the lowest born and purify the most contaminated. It has such an effect.

Just like the sun. You can throw filthy things at the sun. The sun is never contaminated, it cannot become impure, but it will purify anything which it comes in contact with. However, it may also destroy what it comes in contact with. 

Guru-pādāśraya

An example is given of the guru, the disciple and Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is compared to the sun, He is the Supreme Lord. Disciple is compared to a lotus and the guru is compared to water. The lotus is very delicate, yet, it is nourished by that sun, so long as it has its connection with water. It will stand for days under the blazing sun when in the lake, but as soon as you pluck it out, within a few minutes it begins to wither away. So, gurudev is compared to the water, the āśraya-tattva. When the lotus is sheltered in the water, then it is nurtured by Kṛṣṇa. But when it directly approaches Kṛṣṇa, the so-called bhakti of any jīva will be destroyed. It cannot sustain the potency of Kṛṣṇa directly. This means that one should not venture beyond one's plane without proper shelter, without proper guidance.

Emphasis on Separation

When you go through the whole Kṛṣṇa līla in Bhāgavatam with a marker to circle the verses of intimate dealings, you won't be able to circle anything but two or three verses out of the whole five chapters. But, what you find there is something very different. You'll find there that most of this section is all the description when Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs are separated. It's all about the devotees, the gopīs anxiety, their feelings of separation, to the point of their madness in separation. Very little description is found about their sambhoga (union). Nothing much is said there. And even the name of the most dear devotees is not directly mentioned there. Just a general category—the gopīs, is mentioned. 

Even when this confidential subject matter is spoken to the sages, there are many classes of sages on the bank of the Ganga. Later in Naimiśāraṇya also, many classes of sages — brahmavādīs, paramātma realized yogīs, munīs, jñānīs had come there to hear. And therefore the subject matter was dealt in a very general way and always pointing to this one thing, that the pastimes of the Supreme Lord are always transcendental to the activities of this material world. So much so, that from any plane of the material world, if one contacts any part of Kṛṣṇa, he becomes purified. Again and again this point is being established, that the Supreme Lord is always transcendental. He is not to be confused with the things of this world. Here in India, people object. Why is Kṛṣṇa dancing with so many gopīs? They have not taken the trouble to find out what gopīs are. The gopīs are not ladies of this world, neither is Kṛṣṇa a man of this world. They don't take the trouble to find out what is the plane of these things.

Mahāmantra is Kṛṣṇa-kathā

It is said that one should follow in the footsteps of the gopīs. What does that mean? Gopīs are always talking about Kṛṣṇa. So should we always talk about Kṛṣṇa? Yes, in the form of Mahāmantra. This is how we always talk about Kṛṣṇa, by chanting the Mahāmantra. Following Namācārya Haridāsa Ṭhākura and such persons, or nāma-saṅkīrtana of Nityānanda prabhu. 

Following that, we should always hear the Bhāgavatam. But which part of the Bhāgavatam should we always hear? Seventh canto. This is what Gadādhara Paṇḍita used to read to Mahāprabhu when they would meet in Tota Gopīnātha temple, not tenth canto rāsa-līla. Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya, Rāmānanda Rāya, Nityānanda prabhu, and some sannyāsīs would come and sit, and Gadādhara Paṇḍita would sit and speak from the seventh canto of Bhāgavatam. Śrīla Purī Goswāmi Mahāraja said, Mahāprabhu did this particularly to give a lesson to the students of the bhāgavata school. Even though He's the most qualified to understand Kṛṣṇa-līla, mādhurya rasa and all the higher things of that nature, still, to instruct, He's sitting with the most qualified devotees and hearing Prāhlāda caritra, “Let us hear what Prāhlāda has to say.” Then in a confidential place, the supreme Lord Śrī Caitanyadeva is hearing more confidential illustrious topics with two devotees only — Svarūpa Dāmodara and Rāmānanda Rāya, who are Lalita and Viśākha. And who is Mahāprabhu? Mahāprabhu śrī caitanya rādhā kṛṣṇa nāhe anya. So even with so many qualified devotees being there, we do not see Mahāprabhu simply entertaining rāsa-līla topics. It is such a rare thing and it is not an objective experience. 

The Plane of Seva

Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākura asked a man, “Why have you came to Mayapur?” He said, “I came for darśana of Mahāprabhu.” “Did you see Mahāprabhu? Did you have darśana of Mahāprabhu?” Śrīla Saraswatī Ṭhākura asked him in a very real way. So when they say they heard the rāsa-līla, did they really hear it? Did they see that rāsa-līla? And if they did, they will never go back to the material world again. It’s not that you will go back again to your daily kārmic duties in this world, back to your material families. This is not the result of one who has even come to the door of rāsa-līla. He will never go back.

Long back some foreigner moved to Rādhākuṇḍa. We called him Rādhākuṇḍa Richard. When Prabhupāda went to Rādhākuṇḍa, he met this Richard. Rādhākuṇḍa Richard approached, and Prabhupāda told him, “Never leave this place. He didn't say that he shouldn't be here. He said that he has come here, and now he must never leave the place. So if you come to that plane to stay there, then what does it mean if you go back? It means you reject that place because you couldn’t stay there. Rādhākuṇḍa is not a place of residence. It is a place of bhajana. One can only be called there on the direct order of the guru. No one is fit to live there, and no one lives there. Anybody who stays there can only do so on the order of the guru in the plane of seva, not in the plane of living as in residence.

If someone spent much time in their guru's house, does that mean they live there? No, you don't live there. They have a place somewhere else. They may be found in their guru’s house for seva — day and night. Still, it cannot be said that they live there. They're there on another calling, another plane. So our ācāryas always teach that the highest subject matter must be dealt with in a very special way.

Advancement in Bhakti

In the beginning of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, whether you think there are three modes of material nature or six modes of material nature, really doesn't affect your bhajana very much. But there are things that do affect the growth of the bhakti creeper both in the beginning and in the end. In the beginning, sense enjoyment is very bad for your bhakti creeper. Any little deviation of morality and principles, it is bad. It slows us down. We do get past that, but nonetheless, that's a problem. In a higher stage that is not a problem. You'll find this in Bhagavad Gīta and other places. Of course, people take advantage of this. They say, “I’m a highly advanced devotee. I can do any nonsense I want.” But that is a cheating business. The fact is that practicing self-control is not to the merit or to the credit of any highly advanced devotee. Highly advanced devotee's credit is that he has awakened his natural love for Kṛṣṇa. It is simply that love, and that love alone that Kṛṣṇa is focused on. But in the beginning, that love is so little, we have to control our senses, improve ourselves, and be sincere students on the path. If we neglect all the rules and regulations considering them simply a botheration, in the beginning, we will fall from the path. 

But the fact is, it is seen that higher devotees may not be attentive to every little rule and regulation. So devotion in the beginning, and devotion in the end are dependent on two different things — One is simply dependent on the rule, while in the end, it is simply dependent on if we have awakened our natural love for Kṛṣṇa. However, to do good to the world, those who have awakened their natural love of Kṛṣṇa, they also very strictly follow all the rules and regulations. But it should not be confused that they are dependent on such rules and regulations. They have mastered a higher principle, which you cannot catch in the lower stage. You have to go with the step by step training. Then you may in due course, become a qualified master yourself.

And then the problem comes in the form of pratiṣṭha (false pride). Once I heard from my god brother, one very learned devotee was speaking during the appearance day of Śrīla Śrīdhar Maharaja. He said, “I don't want to stand here and show my pāṇḍitya (learning), but I simply want to humbly mention to all the devotees that by the grace of Guru Maharaja, I am saved from this material existence.” And he folded his hands and sat down. That was his vyāsa-pūjā offering. But he was a very learned devotee.

So we may become very learned, but we have to save ourselves from pratiṣṭha — false pride and position. We may know something, we may be shown something of great transcendental value, but then, which way will we use that? We are shown that thing for the purpose of our advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. And we may share that wealth with others, certainly. But here comes the fine line—we should not take these things and use them just to increase our prestige, our name and fame or even to attract followers.