In full knowledge, I reject nectar and drink poison.
I bind myself more tightly, though it brings me nothing but distress;
I am as one with sight who blinds himself.
O Mother Vrindavan,
I have only one hope for survival:
that you, being affectionate to me,
drag my kinsfolk away from me,
and take me into your bosom.
apy ārti-vrāta-nibandhanaṁ dṛḍhataraṁ kurve sudṛk svandhavat |
śrī-vṛndāṭavi mātar ekam iha maj-jīvātur asti svayaṁ
yat tvaṁ sneha-mayī vikṛṣya janatāṁ svāṅkaṁ samāneṣyasi ||1.93||
We have been talking about the adhikāra for Braja-vāsa sādhanā and in the last commentary I said that the qualifications for Braja-vāsa are very similar to those prescribed for the jnāna-mārga. One of those qualifications being the freedom from desires for happiness in this world or the next, another being “the desire for liberation” (mumukṣutva).
I always think of Prabodhananda as a Benares sannyasi; whether he was in fact Prakashananda Saraswati is another, more difficult issue. But in either case, his life path is that of genuine renunciation, and it was so before he became a rasika Vaishnava. And even on becoming a rasika Vaishnava this did not change: he found that renunciation of all things “not That” was still a principle that he now applied to his sādhanā of Rādhā-dāsya.
In bhakti, renunciation is seen as a side effect. If one tastes the rasa of bhakti, then one loses interest in everything else. Vairāgya bubbles up in proportion to one’s growth in devotion, as does wisdom.
anyatra caiṣa trika eka-kālaḥ
prapadyamānasya yathāśnataḥ syus
tuṣṭiḥ puṣṭiḥ kṣud-apāyo’nughāsam
Devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord and indifference to material possessions and sense pleasures arrive simultaneously for someone who surrenders to the Lord, just as a person who eats feels satisfaction, nourishment and the diminishing of hunger with every mouthful. (11.2.42)
And so Prabodhananda sets the example for the aspiring renunciate, who even while leading a pious devotional life as a householder, finds it impossible to apply himself fully to total absorption in the Supreme and Eternal Object of Love. Everything seems to be an obstacle, even those whom he loves and who love him. When even God in the other human becomes a distraction.
I think this becomes especially true as one ages. There is a natural loss of energy and interest in the people and events of this world, so one turns inside. From the very beginning, the Upanishads have urged us to turn inward if we want to find true peace. Those who are wise before their time understand that death is imminent even when they are young. But most of us have to wait until the body and mind tire of the pointlessness of devoting so much time to living when death is standing right in front of us.
In sympathy, Prabodhananda here laments the weakness of a sādhanā when in a non-conducive environment. The distractions, the drinking in of mundane gossip and mindless chatter in the place of contemplating the unblemished beauty of the Divine Couple; the cultivating and strengthening of bonds that only tighten and lead to increased suffering for everyone. To not see the innate emptiness and futility of the entire endeavor is to blind oneself to reality.
When the spirit is willing but the flesh seems all too weak, what other recourse is there but prayer? To whom can we turn for succor? How can the unending spinning of samsara’s wheel be stopped?
Here, for the second time (the first in 1.88) Prabodhananda addresses Vrindavan as a mother. I am writing during the Durga Puja festival here in Vrindavan, when there is a celebration of the mother goddess, who actually took birth in Gokula at the same time as Krishna. But the energy of the mother goddess pervades all things in this world, including of course, Krishna’s Dham.
The child runs to his mother’s shelter who by giving her embrace erases all the appearances of illusion and gives the one reality of unconditional love — love that is beyond words because it preceded words. The desire for liberation is the desire to return to a primordial state that preceded that of creation.
Is this then the expression of a desire for liberation?
Actually, we must first of all be honest about the desire for liberation. Bhakti is the ultimate liberation, if not the only liberation. Knowingly or unknowingly, when you pray for liberation, you are praying for bhakti. No devotee is not liberated.
niścalā tvayi bhaktir yā saiva muktir janārdana
muktā eva hi bhaktās te tava viṣṇo yato hare
O Janardana! Only unswerving devotion to you is liberation. O Vishnu! The only truly liberated souls are your devotees, for you are Hari, the one who removes all bondage. (Skanda Purana, Bhakti Sandarbha 6)
Liberation comes with folded hands to serve the devotee, but the devotee has no interest in liberation if it means he cannot hear about Radha and Krishna, sing their glories, remember and serve them. The author of Sudhā-nidhi says that a liberation like this “frightens” him,
vṛthā śruti-kathā-śramo bata bibhemi kaivalyataḥ |
pareśa-bhajanonmadā yadi śukādayaḥ kiṁ tataḥ
paraṁ tu mama rādhikā-pada-rase mano majjatu ||
Enough of worldly subjects! I find them more horrific than a million hells. Making such great efforts to understand the Vedas and Upanishads is a waste of my time. Moreover, I fear the liberation of “isolation” (kaivalya). If Shukadeva and other great devotees are intoxicated with the worship of the Supreme Lord, what is that to me? For my part, I only pray that my mind be forever absorbed in the nectar of Radha’s lotus feet. (RRSN 84)
So this prayer to the Mother in the form of Vrindavan is not for liberation in the classical Advaitin or Yogin sense of the term. He asks that she remove his material obstacles and lovingly take him to her bosom, in other words, that she give by her grace the ability to live in Braja dhāma and to perfect the sādhanā of Braja-vāsa. The compassionate Goddess as Mother is thus the source of grace here in Vrindavan, too.
In fact, just think: Where the only purusha is Krishna, is it not appropriate to think of Vrindavan, and her adhiṣṭhātrī devīs of Vrinda and Paurnamasi, as feminine phenomena? And thus to be served and honored also as a mother? This mother in whose eternal womb Radha and Krishna’s pastimes are being played out, as if on a stage.