sarve bhogā bhavanti prabala-garala-vahny-udbhaṭa-jvāla-kalpāḥ |
kīṭa-prāyāḥ samasta-pravara-sura-gaṇāḥ siddhayaś cendra-jāla-
prāyāḥ saṁsvādya vṛndāvana-rasika-rasaṁ mādyate me’dya hṛdyam ||
Now that I have tasted the delights of association with the rasikas of Vrindavan, my heart is intoxicated with delight, so much so that liberation seems bitter to me, as much as the sufferings of hell, and the pleasures experienced through the sense objects seem like the fiery suffering that comes of swallowing a powerful poison; the greatest of the gods seem like nothing more than worms or insects, and the mystic perfections of the yogis like nothing more than magic tricks. (VMA 1.66)
The glories of the Vrindavan mood and the rasikas who taste it are perhaps the most important theme of the Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta. The horror of liberation is described more than once by Prabodhananda in his works. This verse reminds us in particular of another, one of Prabodhananda’s most quoted:
durdāntendriya-kāla-sarpa-paṭalī protkhāta-daṁṣṭrāyate |
viśvaṁ pūrṇa-sukhāyate vidhi-mahendrādiś ca kīṭāyate
yat-kāruṇya-kaṭākṣa-vaibhavavatāṁ taṁ gauram eva stumaḥ ||
I glorify Gauranga Mahaprabhu. For those who have been empowered his merciful glance, the liberation of isolation (kaivalya) seems like hell, the heavenly abodes seem like a sky-flower, something that has no reality, the unconquerable senses become like a nest of poisonous snakes whose fangs have been removed, the entire universe becomes filled with bliss while the great gods like Brahma and Shiva become as insignificant as worms. (Caitanya-candrāmṛta 5)
The same idea expressed in the verse, that liberation is bitter, is also found in Caitanya-candrāmṛta:
tāvac cāpi viśṛṅkhalatvam ayate no loka-veda-sthitiḥ |
tāvac chāstra-vidāṁ mithaḥ kalakalo nānā-bahir-vartmasu
śrī-caitanya-padāmbuja-priya-jano yāvan na dṛg-gocaraḥ ||
Before you have seen a beloved devotee who has taken shelter of Chaitanya’s lotus feet, talk of Brahman and impersonal liberation will not taste bitter, the shackles of social and Vedic convention will not be loosened, nor will the debate among scriptural scholars about the various external paths come to an end. (Caitanya-candrāmṛta 19)
In all these verses, it is the association of the rasika devotees of the Lord who give one the idea that liberation is hellish or bitter. The philosophy of rasa is what makes the devotees abhor the state of brahma-sāyujya. The rasa of bhakti has two dimensions: that of direct experience of the Supreme Lord and his pastimes, which has infinite varieties but is considered to reach its perfection in the madhura-rasa of the Divine Couple in Vrindavan. But hearing and chanting those same glories and experiencing the aesthetic pleasure that comes through the literary medium by which the devotees express their experience. This may be called “indirect” experience, since it is mediated by the arts, in fact, for the devotees it is experienced directly in the heart. Since love is experienced in the heart, it is never indirect.
Rupa Goswami, when introducing the subject of rasa, exults in the description of the rasa-sādhaka. Although there is no qualification for devotion, there is definitely a qualification for experiencing rasa. That qualification is called bhāva. Without being a bhāvuka, one cannot taste rasa.
premāntaraṅga-bhūtāni kṛtyāny evānutiṣṭhatām
bhaktānāṁ hṛdi rājantī saṁskāra-yugalojjvalā
ratir ānanda-rūpaiva nīyamānā tu rasyatām
For those whose faults have been entirely removed by the performance of devotional practices and whose minds are peaceful [making them suitable for the appearance of pure goodness’s special features] and effulgent [and thus equipped with full knowledge], who are attached to hearing the Bhāgavata-purāṇa, who find happiness in the company of devotees, for whom the joy of bhakti to Govinda has become the raison-d’être of their existence, and who are always engaged in the most confidential processes of developing love for Krishna, have a love (rati or bhāva) for Krishna that is [now] effulgently manifest due to the conditioning coming from both the past and present lives. This love, which is an embodiment of the divine joy, becomes experienced as rasa. (BRS 2.1.7-9)
No doubt, one becomes a rasika devotee by associating with rasika devotees. And since Vrindavan is the natural gathering place for such devotees, Vrindavan is the ideal place to meet and associate with them.
The infinite variety of God’s lilas–even including those of this world–are the basis for all rasas, even those of the mundane world. When one has tasted that rasa, then the reflected rasas in the material world are insignificant. But then, even the birth, old age, disease and death of this world are seen as ingredients in the creation of rasa, for which the Supreme Lord himself enters this world. For obstacles and dualities are necessary for drama, without which there can be no rasa at all. When one comes to this state, then liberation becomes inconsequential, or worse, because it deprives one of the opportunity to serve the Lord and to enjoy his amazing glories, it is seen as a bitter pill, a hellish destination, and certainly nothing to be aimed for or sought after.
Besides, as Bilvamangala Thakur says, the goddess of liberation stands with folded hands to serve the devotee. Whatever benefits that accrue in the liberated state, such as steadiness of mind and freedom from forgetfulness of the Lord, come to a devotee without any extraneous effort.
bhaktis tvayi sthiratarā bhagavan yadi syād
daivena naḥ phalati divya-kiśora-mūrtiḥ |
muktiḥ svayaṁ mukulitāñjaliḥ sevate’smān
dharmārtha-kāma-gatayaḥ samaya-pratīkṣāḥ ||
O Lord! Should we ever attain steady devotion to you, then your divine youthful form will be the reward that we are given by the blessings of Fate. Then Liberation will serve us with hands folded while the other goals of life–dharma, artha and kama–will stand in line, awaiting their turn. (Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta 107)
Bhakti or prema is the fifth and highest puruṣārtha, before which all the other goals of life pale into insignificance.
See previous 1.65