The internal meaning of rathayatra and nama-bhajana: Part 1

Jul 19 2002 - Krishna Talk 30

(A lecture given in Srila Puri Maharaja's room at Gopinatha Gaudiya Matha, Jagannatha Puri on the day of Hera Pancami, june 29th 1998)

Kaviraja Gosvami Prabhu has relished the great joy of Krsna's pastimes in Vraja. He writes:

anyera hrdaya-man, mora mana - vrndavana
mane 'vane' eka kari'jani
tahan tomara pada-dvaya, karaha yadi udaya
tabe -tomara purna krpa mani

"For others, the sensuous mind is at the heart of their being, but my mind is Vrndavana. I consider both y mind and Vrndavana to be one. Were you to place Your lotus feet there in my Vrndavana-mind, I would deem it the fullest expression of Your mercy." (Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 13.137)

"Otherwise, abandon all these attempts to deceive both us and Yourself. If You really want to be merciful to Me, then leave Your horses and elephants, these crowds of courtiers and Your kingly raiment. Don't try to show off all Your finery to Me. If You want to come to Me, then put on Your cowherder's dress! Come with Me to Vrndavana!"

krsna lana vraje jai - e bhava antara -

"I will take Krsna and go back to Vraja." This mood was always in the gopis hearts. (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 1.56)

"If You want to come with Me, then put on Your cowherder's dress! Come with Me to our old haunts by the Yamuna's banks, at the base of the keli-kadamba tree. Stand there next to Me - then I will believe You have truly blessed me. Otherwise, I consider all this to be nothing more than a gross deception."

"Do You remember Me at all? What do You think we are - yogis? Masters of the yoga system? Do You think that by performing breathing exercises and torturous asanas, meditating and concentrating on You, we will be able to capture You in our hearts? Dear friend, just think a little. Why are You behaving in this way? Today is the day of the full-moon, let's go down to the Yamuna." As soon as Radha mentioned the word purnima, She became despondent. This is Radharani's condition.

What can we understand about Radha? For a moment there I got a little emotional while describing Her mood, but we have no real power to understand the extent to which the gopis' hearts burned with desperation at not seeing Krsna. We are like children in a traveling theater party. You have never heard manohara-sahi kirtana. When I was a lad studying at school, Baruipur High School, a rasa-lila festival was held at the Raya Chauduris' house. Many excellent performers came to sing there, some in the garana-hati style, others in the manohara-sahi. Some of them were just young boys, but they had been taught so well that one time, when the audience was disorderly, one of them started to sing so beautifully that tears filled everyone's eyes. Our schoolmaster, who was an educated brahmana with an M.A. would go there and listen to the kirtana from beginning to end. We followed his example and would also attend. But this kirtana was such an amazing thing - it had such an incredible effect on everyone. Since I myself used to be able to sing a little, I would also experience the same. This often happens at plays and performances. But who amongst us, performers or audience, could truly understand what is being experienced by Radha and Krsna who are performing the lila itself?

Now today, after so long, there is a solar-eclipse here in Kuruksetra. It is as though a great holiday is taking place in our country. It has been so long since there has been a solar-eclipse. All this royalty has come to Kuruksetra on this occasion looking to fulfill their innumerable material desires. Some are seeking wealth, others are looking for sons and heirs, while others are simply seeking pious credits towards future happiness. But the Vrajavasis have come because they are burning with the desire to catch even a momentary glimpse of Krsna. "Krsna is coming. Surely I will be able to see Him."

In expectation of meeting them, Krsna had told Daruka to decorate His chariot very nicely, to make it look opulent. And now, accompanying that opulently decorated chariot and horses and elephants, Krsna's royal retinue. Krsna Himself has mounted the chariot dressed in an elaborate royal costume. As He sits there, watching and waiting, the people of Vraja approach Him and see Him for the first time in so many years.

Krsna's father Nanda and His uncle Upananda are standing there, waiting expectantly. They had prepared so many things to say while waiting to see Him again, but now that He is there before them, they cannot find the words to say anything. They merely repeat, "My child! Gopala!" But beyond that, they can say nothing. And even those few words are lost in a flood of tears. Nor can Krsna hold back the tears which start to flow in torrents over His cheeks. The other Vrajavasis also are overcome with emotion. Nanda Baba lets Krsna go - how much longer can he hold Him? No further words are possible. All Nanda and Krsna can do is shed tears and their tears mix as they fall. An exchange of words in which the tears falling from their eyes are the language. Nanda and Upananda finally let Krsna go and it is Mother Yasoda's turn to greet her son. But she too is only capable of saying, "Dear child, Gopala!" and is then speechless.

Now it is the turn of Krsna's friends. They had intended to chastise Krsna - to say, "Brother, why did You forget us? Don't You ever think about us at all?" this is what they had intended to say, but they are unable to speak. They think, "How can we tell our brother Kanai everything that we have gone through? What is the use of saying anything?" And so they say nothing.

Then it came to Radharani's turn to meet Krsna:
"Did You think of Me at all?"
"What are You saying? Of course I do."

This is when Krsna Dasa Kaviraja Gosvami writes what Radha says:

anyera hrdaya-man, mora mana - vrndavana
mane 'vane' eka kari'jani
tahan tomara pada-dvaya, karaha yadi udaya
tabe -tomara purna krpa mani

"For others, the sensuous mind is at the heart of their being, but my mind is Vrndavana. I consider both y mind and Vrndavana to be one. Were you to place Your lotus feet there in my Vrndavana-mind, I would deem it the fullest expression of Your mercy." (Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 13.137)

"The minds of other people are filled with the desire for riches. They desire one thing after another. They can do as they please; I have nothing to do with them. My mind is absorbed in the spirit of Vrndavana. All this mysterious deception of Yours has no place there. If You really want to be merciful to Me, put on Your cowherd garb and take Me back to Vrndavana. Throw off Your royal robes and raiment. We boil over when we see all these opulences, the royal elephants and steeds, the crowds of courtiers. We cannot bear to see them. Send them all away and come with us. Take on the appearance of a herdsman again. Wear the clothes You wore when you took the cattle to pasture and take us back home with You. Only them will we believe that You have given us Your complete blessings."

After She had finished saying this, Radharani started to cry. She continued speaking, "So You have come today to teach Me about yoga. Yogis perform various difficult breathing exercises and physical postures, meditating an concentrating so that they can hold You in their hearts. So now I have to start these practices before I can think of You? My every ingoing and outgoing breath cries out for You alone: everywhere I look, I see nothing but Your form. And now I have to learn yoga on top of this? This is what we already know about yoga. You sent Uddhava to teach us the path of knowledge, and now You have come personally to give us lessons in yoga." With these words, Radha burst into tears.

Then Krsna said, in order to console Her, "I have killed so many demons. There are still some left to be destroyed. Once they have been taken care of, I will come back to you." But Radharani was in no state to accept these assurances. She turns to Her girlfriend, addressing her as sahacari, 'companion'. Priyah so'ham sahacari - "Companion, this is the same person my beloved Krsna... " Tad idam ubhayoh sangama-sukham - "and this is the same pleasure of union." Tathapy-antah-khelan-madhura-murali-pancana-juse mano me kalindi-pulina-vipinaya sprhayati (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 1.76)

"You are the same person You were, and I the same person I was; and the joy of seeing each other is the same as that we had in the past, it is true. But still, all that I can think of are the kalindi-pulina-vipina, the banks of the Yamuna where You first stole My mind, the antah-khelan-madhura-murali-pancama-juse, the playing of Your flute on the fifth note. If You really and truly wish to console Me, then be united with Me as before on the banks of the Yamuna. Anyway, stop telling us to be this or that, to be yogis or something else that we are not."

Radharani then began to sob uncontrollably and Krsna was unable to remain silent. He tried to comfort Her once again by saying, "I have destroyed so many demons, killed so many enemies. There is only one left now. Once I have destroyed him, I will come back to You."

What wonderful language Krsna Dasa Kaviraja Gosvami uses! He can because he has true feelings arising from direct experience. We do not know how to feel these sentiments. We have only managed to get a peek, the slightest glimpse. But this is what bhajana - krsna-bhajana - is all about. Simply carrying a japa-mala around in your hand is not krsna-bhajana. True, I am carrying a japa-mala myself, but where are my thoughts? Where is my bhajana? What is the secret of bhajana? Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote the songs of Bhajana-rahasya, but we have not entered into that mystery. Of course, we were given some general directions by Srila Prabhupada to do asta-kaliya-lila-smarana, that is, remembering Krsna's pastimes in Vraja according to the different times of the day, so no one should think that this is something outside our tradition. Some, like the people in Vrndavana, says, "The members of the Gaudiya Matha are dried up, withered people. Their bhajana has no dynamism, no pizzazz." We, on the other hand, see that everything they are doing is simply for a momentary emotional experience, nothing more, what is the use of that? This is what I was trying to show when I talked about the boys in the traveling theater party. They had been taught how to do these things by their families. They had been told, "At this time you should cry. At this point you laugh, and so on." Then when they came and put on the performance, they did as they had been taught, and we who were in the audience had an emotional response to them.

But how will real spiritual experience take place? It will come as a result of chanting the Holy Name. By chanting the Holy Name, the time will come when tears automatically flow from the eyes. And if it is only a fleeting experience, or even if it doesn't happen, it is still potent. Today, I had some feeling, but what can I do? It was only momentary. How much better it would be if this was our permanent condition in service to Krsna! Not that as soon as my heart gets a little soft and a little moisture comes into my eyes that I start to think what a great bhajananandi I am. And then I start to have a low opinion of others, thinking that none of them are doing any real bhajana. That no one but me is truly chanting the Holy Name. When all these thoughts enter my mind, I have to chastise myself: this is not really bhajana.

Krsna-bhajana cannot take place without the Holy Name. Without the Holy Name it just cannot happen. Mahaprabhu glorified the Holy Name so extensively. And what is more, we need the grace of guru.

naham ijya-prajatibhyam tapasopasamena va
tusyeyam sarva-bhutanam guru-susrusraya yatha

"I, the soul of al beings, am not as pleases by sacrifices and service to the family, nor austerities and renunciation, as I am by service to the guru." (Srimad Bhagavatam 10.80.34)

This verse refers indirectly to the four asramas or stations of life. If I perform all the duties of my particular station perfectly, I will still not bring full pleasure to the Lord. You may ask, "What then will satisfy Krsna if not that?" He says, tusyeyam sarva-bhutanam guru-susrusaya yatha, "The pleasure that I get from seeing someone engage in wholehearted service to his spiritual master is greater than the fleeting satisfaction of seeing him or her fulfill the duties of their station in life, commendable though this may be."

Thus Krsna showed by His own example how to serve guru. He and His friend spent an entire night carrying bundles of firewood on their heads. Incredible! We cannot even begin to imagine. The Supreme Lord Himself! The Supreme Lord is talking with His friend Sudama and says, "Sudama, do you remember? One day, Guru Ma (the spiritual master's wife) said to us, ' Children, we have no more wood. How will I be able to cook?' then I said, 'Don't worry, Mother. We will go off to the woods immediately to gather fuel.' We went into the deepest jungle and collected firewood and made huge bundles which we helped each other place on our heads. Then suddenly, black clouds started to gather and the rain began to pour down. Before you knew it, the forest was flooded. And we two friends stood holding hands with the bundles on our heads and telling each other not to drop the wood. And the rain kept on thundering down."

So we too are disciples and that is what we would do. But is that why we came to the spiritual master? To carry bundles of wood on our head? But this is Krsna Himself, and He is not doing it just to impress people. These two friends are carrying a heavy bundle of firewood - no insignificant thing - they are standing there carrying bundles of wood in the midst of a heavy downpour, their clothes completely drenched.

In the meantime, at the asrama, neither Sandipani Muni nor his wife, the guru-patni, were able to sleep a wink the whole night. She was thinking, "I sent the children out to fetch wood and now they are undergoing such difficulties." In the middle of the night, Sandipani Muni got up and started looking for them. He cried out, "Where is Krsna? Where is Sudama? O Gopala, where are You?" Then he saw before him that wondrous sight. Oh, the tears from his eyes suddenly let loose and began to wash over his chest. Sandipani Muni praised the two disciples, "What can I say? You have set the standard for service to the standard of service to the spiritual master." Then he gave them a benediction: "I bless you that you will never forget anything that I have taught you, neither in this life or the next." Their spiritual master then further blessed them.

So, if this mood was permanent, if it were a sthayi-bhava, that would be better. But tell me, what process do you advise to attain it? Chant the Holy Name without offenses.

nama vina kali-kale nahi naya dharma
sarva-mnatra-sara nama ei sastra-marma

"In the age of Kali, there is no religion other than the chanting of the Holy Names. The Holy Name is the essence of all sacred utterances - this is the conclusion of all the scriptures." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 7.74)

We do not have to memorize a large number of different mantras. There are just a few things to pay attention to with this, our essential mantra: you must chant it properly, avoiding offenses. But that will not happen simply by carrying a japa-mala around in your hand. Many people carry a mala but are busy gossiping with one another. Our motto is aviksepena satatyam - 'chant constantly, without distraction.' That is why when people ask me, 'Are we to never meditate on Krsna's pastimes? Are we to be bereft of this nectar forever?' I answer, 'Go ahead. Meditate on them. And instruct others to do the same. But the price of that meditation is steadfastness (nistha) in the Holy Name' This is stated in the Bhakti-rasmarta-sindhu (1.4.15-17):

Adau sraddha tatah sadhu-sangah - at the stage of sadhu-sanga you take shelter of the spiritual master's lotus feet. Then bhajana-kriya follows -

kona bhagya kona jivera sraddha yadi haya
tabe sei jiva sadhu-sanga je karaya
sadhu-sanga haite haya sravana-kirtana
sadhana-bhaktye haya sarvanartha-nivartana
anartha-nivrtti haile bhaktaye nistha haya
nistha haite sravanadye ruci upajaya
ruci haite bhaktye haya asakti pracura
asakti haite cite janme krsne prity-ankura
sei bhava gadha haile dhare prema-nama
sei prema prayojana sravanananda dhama

"If, by good fortune, a living entity develops faith (sraddha) in Krsna, then he begins to associate with devotees (sadhu-sanga). From the association of devotees, one begins devotional service by hearing and chanting about Krsna. This is called sadhana-bhakti and through it one becomes free from all unwanted contaminations (anartha-nivrtti). When one is freed from all unwanted contamination, he becomes steadfast in his devotional practices (nistha). When fixed in devotional practice, a taste (ruci) is awakened. After such taste is awakened, a deep attachment (asakti) arises, and from that attachment the seed of love for Krsna grows in the heart. When the ecstatic emotional stage intensifies, it is called love of Godhead. Such love is life's ultimate goal and the reservoir of all pleasure." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 23.9-13)

Here the process is given in its entirety. Examine these steps carefully. So what is nistha, naisthiki bhakti? Jiva Gosvami defines it in his commentary to Bhakti-rasmarta-sindhu (1.4.15): aviksepena satatyam 'consistency without distraction' citta-viksepa-rahita jei nairantarya. I have observed that as I am meditating on the Holy Name, other thoughts come and go. I will start to thinking about who knows what. I see a crow and I start thinking about crows. I see a stork and I start thinking about storks. How many different ways there are for the mind to get diverted. But where is the constancy without distraction? Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote in his Harimana-cintamani, "I have counted a hundred thousand Names, but krsna-prema eka bindu na haila guna-mani - not a drop of love for Krsna has manifested in me." So where is that intense love? All I am concerned with is a number, a counting game. Ah! Hare Krsna.

And what did the Namacarya, Haridasa Thakura do? He would chant his lakhs of Names sometimes silently, sometimes aloud, throughout the entire night. When the sun rose in the morning, he would say to himself, "What, the sun has already risen?" no one knew when he would close his eyes, day or night. Can we imagine that? So study the matter, this is naisthiki bhakti - aviksepena satatyam. So I am telling you all: 'Do it! Do bhajana. Perform your bhajana and hopefully this mood, this emotional attitude, will come. But wait until you have achieved naisthiki-bhakti and then come and ask me. If you don't have naisthiki-bhakti then how can you expect it to come?'

I will explain naisthiki-bhakti further. The Bhagavata says:

tada rajas tamo bhavah kama lobhadayas ca ye
ceta etair anabiddham sthitam sattve prasidati

Tada: When naisthiki-bhakti has arisen, then all the characteristics of passion and ignorance and other defects will disappear from the heart. When one is situated in the mode of pure goodness, then the mind is clear and contented. The contentment of the soul is not long in following. And if we don't reach this point, then how can we attain something as pure as divine emotion?

What is our goal? In order to make it clear to us what our ultimate destination is, Srila Prabhupada gave us general directions for the asta-kaliya-lila-smarana one Karttika month. He said, do it. But first chant the Holy Name. Let a little nistha in chanting arise first. aviksepena satatyam. Let that condition where the mind is fixed and free from distractions arise to some extent. All I see are distractions, the mind being distracted - citta viksepa. On the other hand, if through meditating on the Lord's pastimes some benefit is derived, then that is another way of going about it. But if our mind is constantly being diverted to other things, then how can the intense eagerness for the esoteric realms of bhajana awaken? Therefore when my disciples become unhappy and ask, "Maharaja, are we going to continue in this dry, emotionless condition forever?" I answer, "If you have reached the stage of naisthiki-bhakti, then you can do as you will. And you can also instruct others to do the same. But if you have not arrived at the state of naisthiki-bhakti, then how do you expect to be able to advise others in that way? And other than the Holy Name, there is no other way of reaching that state."

It just doesn't happen that your consciousness is purified by any method other than the Holy Name. You must have steadfastness in the Holy Name, you must have developed a fixed devotional attitude - naisthiki-bhakti. Do you understand what I am getting at? Are you going to insist, "We need to relish the nectar of Krsna's lila?" Your heart has first to reach a certain level of purity before you can reach Krsna's pastimes. As long as it is filled with many different kinds of desires, lust, anger and greed, do you think that you will be able to experience the transcendental mellows? Have you arrived at the platform of pure goodness, suddha-sattva? That is why the Bhagavatam has stated: tada rajas-tamo bhavah - consider this point carefully. Have you seen this verse?

adau sraddha...
sraddha-sabde visvasa kahe sudrdha niscaya
krsna-bhakti kaile sarva-karma krta haya

"The word sraddha or faith means the firm conviction that all things are accomplished through devotion to Krsna." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 22.32)

This is where firm conviction comes in. First you need this faith, then you will get association with devotees. Through this association you come to take shelter of a pure devotee. Visvanatha Cakravarti has given two categories of association of devotees, one of which is service to the great saints. One starts with faith and then goes on to devotional association. This is followed by bhajana-kriya or engagement in devotional service. This consists of hearing and chanting and so on.

kona bhagya kona jivera sraddha yadi haya
tabe sei jiva sadhu-sanga je karaya
sadhu-sanga haite haya sravana-kirtana
sadhana-bhaktye haya sarvanartha-nivartana
anartha-nivrtti haile bhaktaye nistha haya
(Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 23.9-11)

When a devotee reaches the stage called jata-ruci, then he experiences certain ecstatic symptoms like tears in the eyes etc. In the Bhagavata, there is a verse - tad asma-saram hrdayam batedam (Srimad Bhagavatam 2.3.14). Asma-sara -nothing but stone, as hard as a thunderbolt.

aparadha-phale mama, citta bhela vajra-sama
tuwa name na labhe vikara
hatasa haiye hari, tava nama ucca kari
bara duhkhe daki bara bara

"Due to offenses my heart is as hard as a thunderbolt, so when I chant I experience no emotional transport. O Hari, I have lost hope and so I loudly cry out Your Name again and again in my great distress."
(Gitavali, Siksastaka 6)

So a certain amount of distress is necessary, don't you think?

dina-daya-maya karuna-nidan
bhava-bindu dei rakhaha paran
kabe tuwa nama uccarane mora
nayane jharaba dara dara lora

"O Lord, you are filled with mercy for the pitiful, You are a treasure house of compassion. Please keep me alive by giving me a drop of divine feeling. When will tears pour from my eyes as I utter Your Holy Name?"
(Gitavali, Siksastaka 6)

So where then can we find this spirit?

tad asma-saram hrdayam batedam
yad grhyamanair hari-nama-dheyaih
na vikriyetatha yada vikaro
netre jalam gatra-ruhesu harsah

"Certainly that heart is made of stone when, in spite of one's chanting the Lord's Holy Names, it is not transformed upon the advent of ecstasies when tears fill the eyes and the hairs stand on end."
(Srimad Bhagavatam 2.3.14)

Consider this for a moment. If you haven't attained ruci and you fake it; you manage to wring an itsy-bitsy tear out of your eye somehow. Once it has been shed, you think, "Oh! Now I can perform bhajana. Now I can relish the Lord's pastimes."

When I was in Bagh Bazaar Gaudiya Matha, I used to give evening lectures on the Bhagavatam to which many cultured people came to listen. In the course of doing so, I started lecturing on Krsna's childhood pastimes from the Tenth Canto. My godbrother Madhusudana Maharaja was in the audience and there were many others too, who came and relished all these topics. But word of these readings reached Srila Prabhupada - he was in Puri-dhama at the time. Prabhupada then said that relishing Krsna's pastimes should not be done in all times and circumstances.

prathamam namnah sravanam antahkarana-suddhy-artham apeksyam. suddhe cantah-karane rupa-sravanena tad-udaya-yoyata bhavati. samyag-udite ca rupe gunanam sphuranam sampadyate. sampanne ca gunanam sphurane parikara-vaisistyena tad-vaisistyam sampadyate. tatas tesu nama-rupa-guna-parikaresu samyak sphuritesu lilanam sphuranam susthu bhavati

"First it is expected that one should hear the Lord's names in order to purify the heart. Once the mind and intelligence have been purified in this way, one can hear about Krsna's form, through which one's qualification to visualize it is obtained. When the form of the Lord has been clearly visualized, one can experience His qualities. Once these have been clearly understood, one develops one's own individual spiritual characteristics through the particular characteristics of the Lord's associates. Thus, once the name, form, qualities and associates of the Lord have been realized, a clear realization of Krsna's activities will follow."
(Krama-sandarbha commentary to Srimad Bhagavatam 7.5.18)

Prathamam namnah sravanam antahkarana-suddhyartham. One has to first engage in hearing the Names of the Lord so that the mind and intelligence are purified. After this one can begin hearing about Krsna's form through which one's qualifications to visualize it becomes possible. I have heard about His form - Syamasundara. That is one of Krsna's Names. So what is this syama, this blackish form? Once I know about Krsna's form, I can start to hear about His qualities. What are His characteristics? For instance, he is affectionate to His devotees, and so on. We hear about His glorious nature. Only after this do we come to lila-katha. First rupa, then guna, and only afterwards lila. If we don't follow this sequence and attempt to relish Krsna's lila prematurely, then we might feel some temporary emotion, but it will not be permanent, fixed bhava. That is why Prabhupada told us, Mahaprabhu repeatedly heard the life-stories of Dhruva and Prahlada from Gadadhara Pandita Gosvami. Why did He set this kind of example? The reason was that He wanted us to renounce false emotion and become capable of experiencing the real mood. That is why He told us to do things this way. Part II