tīrthe vāsayituḥ svayaṁ hi tarati dvau tau sa yat tārayet |
premānanda-rasātma-dhāmani pare vṛndāvana-vāsakas tv
āścaryāṁ vṛṣabhānujā-priya-ratiṁ prāpnoty anāyāsataḥ ||
It is said that one who serves those who live in a holy place by giving them housing, clothing and food has millions more pious activities to his credit than one who simply lives there. And one who helps others to live in sacred Vrindavan, the abode that has the nectar bliss of pure love as its essence, easily attains the amazing feeling for the beloved of King Vrishabhanu’s daughter, for he not only crosses over himself, but helps those two others cross over. (1.73)
The etymological meaning of tīrtha is “ford” or “place of crossing.” It is the place where one crosses over to the other side. As we have noted before, tīrthas were places where one went to die, for they were believed to have a special connection to the other world. They were places where the sins of a lifetime could be washed away in an instant and one’s consciousness turned towards the Absolute, in whatever way one conceived of it.
But though the Puranic texts are full of magical tales of absolution, these are mostly aimed at people with childish intelligence. Behind all magic is method, and the salvation that comes from the holy places is not simply a matter of bathing or cleansing the external surface of one’s mundane being, but the cleansing of all of the upādhis in order to realize one’s true identity as a spiritual being. The principal process for attaining such a goal is hearing spiritual truths from individuals who are situated in knowledge. Therefore Krishna makes the powerful statement in the Bhāgavatam,
svadhīḥ kalatrādiṣu bhauma ijya-dhīḥ |
yat tīrtha-buddhiḥ salile na karhicij
janeṣv abhijñeṣu sa eva go-kharaḥ ||
One who thinks that the self is this body made of mucus, wind and bile, who thinks his wife and relations belong to him, and that the land of his birth is worshipable, and moreover thinks that the holy places are meant for bathing and not for associating with those who have experience of spiritual matters, is nothing better than a cow or mule. (10.84.13)
The glory of such saintly residents of the tīrthas is further stated by Maharaj Yudhisthir to his uncle Vidura,
tīrtha-bhūtāḥ svayaṁ vibho
Great devotees like yourself are yourselves places of pilgrimage. Indeed, you make the places of pilgrimages truly holy, for you carry the Lord in your heart. (1.13.10)
All the above applies in even greater measure to Vrindavan. Vrindavan is the abode from which all other holy places get their power. This is the meaning behind stories such as the appearance of Radha Kund, where all the sacred rivers gathered to enter into the holy waters. Where there is a higher truth, all lesser truths participate in it and derive their own truth from it.
We have been hearing from Prabodhananda of the alternatives to a life of austerity and total commitment to bhajan in the Dham. Now here he glorifies one additional service to the saints living there. Vrindavan stands above all other tirthas, the glories of which are amply spoken of in the scriptures. The holy places all have a special status because they are where saints congregate and dwell to perform their spiritual practices in the company of like-minded sādhakas.
The holy places have traditionally not only provided shelter for such dedicated men, but also for women who whether out of misfortune or out of genuine spiritual desire come to receive charity. The widows who live in Vrindavan should not be seen as ordinary mortals, for the glories of the Dham are such that one is not permitted to discriminate between superior and inferior residents of the Dham. There are no doubt more and less spiritually serious sādhakas in the Dham, more and less honest or determined sadhus, but it is one of the functions of the Dham that it is a place for people to give and to receive charity. And here Prabodhananda glorifies those who given in charity to the residents of the Dham, those who make residence there possible, as being eligible for rati or bhāva for Krishna, the lover of Radha.
So for those who are not able to live in the Dham itself, this is certainly a golden opportunity, a way to serve the Dham.
See previous 1.72.