This is the second of a three part series. Go to Part One.
I now wish to chronicle the personal connection and involvement between Sevakji and myself. It is our cooperation and the combined sadhana-focused aspiration that was driven by an environmental integrity represented by Vrindavan. Sevakji’s own practice and work and my own pilgrimage-focused seeking and personal spiritual practice (sadhana) within India and elsewhere informs my presentation.
There are several conceptual foundations of the Vrindavan Environmental Concept (VEC). It is worth repeating an already published summation in order to inform my explication of modern environmental perspectives relevant to a more perennial conceiving of Vrindavan as an abstract model of idealized ecological thought and behavior:
1. Vrindavan is conceptualized both as the transcendental realm of Krishna and the physical environment. Both of these locations are very important ecologically, with the latter serving as a terrestrial representation of the former.
2. Religious and spiritual methods of understanding Krishna theology and its relationship to Vrindavan must involve ecological considerations.
3. The mismatch between scriptural depictions and the actual physical state of Vrindavan reflects a lack of balance in human priorities and human mismanagement.
4. Idealized stances including the idea that only the transcendental Vrindavan matters as opposed to managing and addressing the current ecological state of the terrestrial Vrindavan are not taken seriously.
5. Self-introspection (sadhana) and spiritual practice through service (seva) are integral to achieving a balanced personal state for the individual and hence a balanced ecological state with the natural and cultural world. Krishna’s personal example of self-balance and its resultant nature-world balance serves as a model of personal ecological awareness creation and environmentalism.
6. In Vrindavan, nature is inherently divine. Trees, plants and animals are our teachers, and we should become aware of their divinity and worship them.
7. Ontologically, the actual location of Vrindavan provides the understanding that any place or environment, when perceived with awareness of its inherent divinity, is Vrindavan. The raison d’être of Krishna’s incarnation as an environmentalist in Vrindavan is to teach and live this.7
Within the underlying philosophy of the VEC is the premise that nature—realized appreciably in the world as Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh—is holy and deific. The natural world of Vrindavan is an integral aspect of the posing of the four compositional elements of a devotee’s sadhana practice: nam, rupa, leela, and dham. It has been Sevakji’s position since his chintan (contemplation, meditation) about the inner meaning and role of the dham of Vrindavan began in his childhood, and which developed into more evolved philosophical and scriptural based thinking in the mid-late 1970s, that of the four elements of sadhana, dham (place, physical environment, nature) is the most available, most present, and easiest element to approach.
This stance is at odds with many of the more conventional forms of Krishna worship both in and beyond the devotional confines of modern Vrindavan, i.e., those schools that advocate chanting the holy names of Krishna (nam), worship of the deity of Krishna (rupa), and meditation on the pastimes (leela) of Krishna.
The VEC and Sevakji’s point of view is that nam-sadhana, rupa-sadhana, and leela sadhana are contained within a dham-sadhana—a self aware or what he termed a concentric dham-sadhana. When Sevakji began his environmental work in earnest in the 1970s, most Vrindavan temple traditions maintained, and still maintain today, nam-sadhana as the principal basis of leading a spiritual existence. The departure away from an explicitly focused nam-sadhana toward an inculcation of the role of dham sadhana in personal and group devotional life has several crucial implications.
First, modern environmentalism and environmental science are implied within sadhana-driven and ecologically aware spiritual practice. Second, through a reconciliation of “other-worldliness” and “this-worldliness,” the devotee’s preoccupation with “Krishna-loka” and “the spiritual world” rather than “the material world” or the “here-and-now” is appeased. The human is in the material/natural world; if the human is able to conceive, perceive, and realize nature as teacher, the source, and the representation of the Divine (Krishna) in the world and God made flesh, the trinity of Humanity-Nature-Divinity is achieved. This philosophical treatise can be typified as a mathematical equation:
Vrindavan = Nature + Divinity
That is, when/where the aspirant looks to nature with divine vision, that place becomes Vrindavan. And that place, which becomes Vrindavan, the place where there is consonance in the Humanity-Nature-Divinity trinity, becomes a Human Sanctuary, a place of sanctity, solace, and the sacred. This understanding, which came to Sevakji around the time I was first in Vrindavan, forms the fundament of the sadhana practice synthesizing a nature focused, dham-sadhana-centric process. We termed such sadhana hit-sadhana (compassionate devotional practice), with the hit element being derived from Sevakji’s family association with Hit Hari Vansh Goswami and the Radha-Vallabh Sampradaya.7
This individual and group sadhana is intended to take place in nature within what is hoped would involve vibrant environment-culture interaction. The significance of the natural and cultural environment of the terrestrial modern Vrindavan is both implicated and implied. Radha and Krishna’s land is not only our source of inspiration and vision; Vrindavan is our teacher and ecological and aesthetic sustainer.
Although everywhere is Vrindavan (provided the sadhak or pilgrim has the correct vision to make the Vrindavan = Nature + Divinity scenario a reality), the actual town’s physical environment and devotional culture have a vital role to play. If nothing else, according to scriptures from all of the prevalent temple traditions, Vrindavan should render the epitome of environmental awareness and thus divine awareness real. Those who have seen the modern state of the town would most likely agree that its physical environmental condition has little of the bucolic scriptural descriptions that we expect of Radha-Krishna’s cosmic stadium of delight, especially of the sort we hear in, for example, Hari Vansh Goswami’s Hit Chaurasi Pad:
1. Come, wise Radhika! For your sake Shyam has arranged a round dance, a store of joy, on the bank of the Yamuna:
2. groups of young girls dance in great eagerness at the music and merriment as the joyful flute, source of delight, is playing.
3 . In that most pleasing place near the Vamshi vata a soft breeze blows from the [sandal-clad] Malaya mountain, yielding all joys.
4. the forest is strongly fragrant with half-blown jasmine, and there is bright moonlight in the full-moon autumn night.
5. Cowherd girl, feast your eyes on Naravahana’s Lord, whose head-to-toe beauty removes the agony of desire;
6. lady! Experience this ocean of delight, rejoice with your arms joined around his neck. For Shyama’s sport in the fresh bower is worthy of the world’s praise!8
There is obviously a large chasm between an idealized Vrindavan and how the town appears today. Because I have not visited the town since July 2011, I am unable to comment on any subsequent changes to the physical, social, and religious environment since this time. Still, my position in this section is more philosophical than empirical, less actual and more abstracted and hopeful. Because of its place in the theological and cultural literature of northern India and particularly the Radha-Vallabh and Gaudiya temple traditions that are so prominent, one could proffer that Vrindavan should and would be held in the highest ecological esteem, a place where the sanctity of nature, humanity, and the Divine could be realized, lived, and experienced.
Although this equation does not exist in the way modern Vrindavan subsists to my eyes, this zero kelvin-cum-ground zero posing of Vrindavan does not offer much to thought experiments and actual pilot studies of religion and ecology. While the actual town of Vrindavan is being developed, sub-divided, and the last remaining tracts of nature are all but gone, Vrindavan consciousness or the essence of Vrindavan remains.
As sad as it may be that the present town is in such a degraded ecological state, lesson can definitely be learned: Vrindavan is not only a place in western Uttar Pradesh, India, but is, with the right self, other, and nature consciousness, everywhere.
It is this point of view that led to the reconciliation of what is apparently a large contradiction in theological and manifested precepts: if Krishna, the Divine, is “all powerful,” “all knowing,” and is actually Bhagavan, the possessor of all opulences and powers, why would He let His earthly abode, which is so important when considered a part of the nam-rupa-leela-dham rubric of ecological awareness and consciousness, fall into such a denuded state?
The answer that has arisen out of many years of experimentation appears quite simple but has a deep purport: because Vrindavan is actually not only a geographical place but is everywhere as long as we humans and seekers are able to see or have the drishti (vision) to see and experience Vrindavan. And this revelation comes from looking at and perceiving nature with a divine vision and through being introverted and personally reflective. In brief, through living a life full of chintan.
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