While in Barsana recently, I was standing in the Ladli temple on the outside terrace portion and someone appeared to have fainted. An elderly Brijbasi Gosai, with a bushy white moustache, a colorful turban and yellow silk dhoti, a stick in his hand, was walking toward me. For some reason I was impelled to say something stupid and started to speak, but my Hindi tongue was tied and could not express, “We must all pass by that.”
At the Brajvasi’s insistence I repeated myself again without success and ended up stuttering out the words andham tamah, “the darkness of ignorance.” Which I knew the instant they came out of my mouth that they did not fit at all what I really wanted to say, pointless as it was.
The Gusai responded vehemently in a tone of chastisement, but even singing a Brijbhasha song, glorifying Braj Dham as sat-cit-ananda, and how nothing that happens here can ever be andham tamah. I stood there with my head down looking like a stupid schoolboy as he continued, his final word being, “You are only a beginning Brajvasi.”
Well better a beginner than none at all. But he is perfectly correct. It is not an easy thing, to be a Brajbasi.
The eternal glory of residence in the Dham
Taking shelter of Braja Dham is the ultimate achievement of the sādhaka devotee of Radha and Krishna. It is the culmination of many lifetimes of devotional practice and culture.
Living in Vrindavan is both the process (sādhanā) and the ultimate goal (sādhya). Of all the 64 sādhanas listed in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, five are identified as best of all:
śrīmad-bhāgavatārthānām āsvādo rasikaiḥ saha
sajātīyāśaye snigdhe sādhau saṅgaḥ svato vare
nāma-saṅkīrtanaṁ śrī-mathurā-maṇḍale sthitiḥ
(1) Faith and special love for serving the Deity,
(2) relishing the topics of the Bhāgavatam in the company of rasikas,
(3) 1keeping the company of saintly persons who share the same devotional aspirations, who are affectionate and superior to oneself,
(4) chanting the Holy Name, and
(5) living in the region of Mathura, i.e., Braja-mandal.
Only in the sādhanā of Braja-vāsa are all five sādhanās possible simultaneously.
On the one hand, it is the easiest of sādhanās, because all it requires is your physical presence in the Dham, allowing its inherent potency (vastu-śakti) to work its magic on one. In other words, you don’t really need to do anything else but be there.
On the other hand, it is the hardest of all because it truly penetrates to the very core of what all bhakti-sādhanās are about. It is about cracking the hardest nut of all — the ego, the knot that binds us to material existence. This is what I call the sādhanā of identity. Therefore, the true results of living in Braj is that one will take delight in devotional practices precisely because that is what one has become, that is what it means to be a Brajbasi.
This is why Rupa Goswami calls the instruction to reside in the Dham along with executing the other practices, “the essence of instruction.”
smṛtyoḥ krameṇa rasanā-manasī niyojya |
tiṣṭhan vraje tad-anurāgi-janānugāmī
kālaṁ nayed akhilam ity upadeśa-sāram ||
Gradually engaging the tongue in sweetly chanting and the mind in constantly remembering Krishna’s name, form, pastimes and so on, one should remain in Braj and pass the remainder of one’s days under the guidance of a passionate lover of the Lord. This is the essence of all instruction. (Upadeśāmṛta 8; See also VMA 1.30.)
Kālaṁ nayed akhilam, “to pass the remainder of one’s days”, i.e. to stay there forever, indicates that this is expected to be something that happens at the end of one’s life, as an attempt to finalize the business of bhakti-sādhanā before it is too late.
So what is the nature and meaning of Braja-vāsa sādhanā? In essence, it is integral to the culture of rāgānugā bhakti itself, since rāgānugā bhakti truly does focus on the transformation of one’s identity. Therefore it is no surprise that Rupa Goswami includes residence in Braj as one of the essential elements of rāgānugā practice:
tat-tat-kathā-rataś cāsau kuryād vāsaṁ vraje sadā ||
sevā sādhaka-rūpeṇa siddha-rūpeṇa cātra hi |
tad-bhāva-lipsunā kāryā vraja-lokānusārataḥ ||
One should live forever in Braj, remembering Krishna and the most beloved associates who surround him and remaining absorbed in hearing and chanting about them. Here in this very place, Braj, one should serve the Lord [and the Dham, which is not different from him] following the residents of Braj in both the external sādhaka-deha and well as internally in the siddha-deha, out of the desire to attain their loving mood. (BRS 1.2.295-296)
One has to follow both internal and external exemplars. That is why we often hear the words ānugatya-maya, it is based in obedience and conscious adherence. There is a very significant psychological truth involved here, because this dual culture of identity is one that is designed to converge, that is, one attains psychological harmony of the internal and external selves.
So Rupa Goswami confirms the upadeśa-sāra given by him in the Upadeśāmṛta, but he is making it a little more clear. Rāgānugā bhakti sādhanā is about identity above all. It is about becoming something which at present one is not. It is about replacing our material identities, our upādhis, with a new identity, namely that of a resident of the Supreme Lord’s own abode.
Now Jiva Goswami states here, “If one cannot live in Vrindavan physically, he or she should do so mentally.” (sāmarthye sati vraje śrīman-nanda-vrajāvāsa-sthāne śrī-vṛndāvanādau śarīreṇa vāsaṁ kuryāt, tad-abhāve manasāpīty arthaḥ).
This does not really mean that living physically in Braj is optional, but that one should not depend on living in Braj before beginning one’s rāgānugā sādhanā. But if one is given the grace to come physically to Braj, then this is the best way to perfect his or her transformation of identity into a Brajabasi. This is because that sādhanā takes place on an external as well as an internal level, and direct service to the Brijbasi who is a rāgātmika bhakta in the worldly Vrindavan is the indispensable element.
The threefold nature of residence in the Dham and its goal of is further described by Raghunath Das Goswami:
anāśritya vṛndāṭavīṁ tat-padāṅkām |
kutaḥ śyāma-sindhau rasyasyāvagāhaḥ ||
Not having worshipped the holy dust
that sprinkles from Śrīmatī’s lotus feet;
not having taken shelter of Braja Dhām,
marked with her dainty tread;
not ever having spoken with the souls
so laden with a weighty love for her,
how foolish those who think that they can plunge
into the secret sea of nectar that is Śyāma!
(Raghunath Das Goswami, Sva-saṁkalpa-prakāśa-stotra, 1, See more commentary at VMA 1.43 )
This verse was sent by Jiva Goswami to Gadadhar Bhatta Goswami precisely for the purpose of wooing him to Vrindavan, making it clear that (1) he was an adhikāri for Brajavāsa sādhanā, and (2) that it was necessary for him to act in keeping with that adhikāra if he truly wished to immerse himself in the blissful ocean of rasa that is the goal of every sādhaka. Without the complete transformation of identity, external and internal, that is impossible.
So the first thing to understand that Braja sādhanā is an essential element of a sādhanā of identity, which operates in two dimensions, as do all sādhanās, one external and one internal.
Those who have taken the long road through many lifetimes from a strictly external consciousness (bahirmukhatā) to Braja-bhāva, are impelled by the search for authenticity in both. This generally means following an authentic teacher in a tradition or paramparā that teaches such a culture.
Jai Radhe. Part II will follow soon.
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