Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Abhisara

I am reading a nice little book called Nilachale Vraja Madhuri by Rasika Mohan Vidyabhushan. It imagines the conversations between Svarupa Damodar, Ramananda Ray and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in the Gambhira. Here is a section that I would like to share (translated from Bengali)

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Mahaprabhu: "Svarupa ! It is true that Radharani's abhisar is amazing. On the one hand, she is so eager, on the other so fearful. It seems that she is manoeuvering her way through the problems presented by these conflicting emotions to make her way toward Krishna. It is a very bold action on her part."

Svarupa Damodar: "Yes, Prabhu, you are right. This is why extreme courage is an important aspect of the abhisar. It is quite a problem, indeed. Radha is so eager to meet with Krishna, and yet the elders in her home and the neighbors in the village are all watching over her. No one's eyes are closed in sleep, so how will she ever get to see her Shyamasundar? Faced with this problem, Radha thinks over and over again about what to do until finally she cannot hold herself back, and heads out of the house to find him. Vidyapati Thakur has revealed her emotional state as she leaves for abhisar."

Fresh with her new love, Radha does not countenance any obstacle. Alone she leaves the house without even knowing whether she is on a beaten track or not. She throws off her jeweled necklace, thinking her full breasts are a burden. She lets the bracelets from her wrists and the bells from her ankles fall onto the forest path, and rushes headlong on her way.


On this dark night, Radha goes on the abhisar, desire overflowing in her heart. Vines and underbrush cover the way, but she cuts through them with the machete of her love.

Listen here to Vidyapati's opinion: I have never seen anything like this anywhere.




As soon as Svarupa had finished the song, Mahaprabhu said, "That is so beautiful, Svarupa. When Srimati Radharani goes to meet Krishna, her own body feels like a burden to her. She throws off all the ornaments that she has put on to make herself look more beautiful for him because they interfere with her getting to the trysting place more quickly. It seems that on the abhisara, she does not have the slightest regard for herself, and forgets even her body. What indescribable power there is in Radha's love."

Svarupa: "Quite so, Prabhu. Nothing can be compared to Radha's love. So eager is she to see Krishna that she does even think of how she will look to him. So she thinks, what good are her ornaments?

Desire for the pleasure of one’s own senses is known as kama, whereas the desire to please Krishna’s senses is called prema. The essential meaning of kama lies in one’s personal enjoyment, and that alone. Prema is so powerful because its essence is in seeking Krishna’s pleasure. In order to worship Krishna, the gopis disregard their worldly duties and the duties prescribed by the scriptures, as well as their religious practices, shame, composure, bodily happiness, spiritual happiness, the path of noble behavior, family and friends who chastize and criticize them. This is what I call firm anuraga for Krishna. It is like a pure laundered sheet that is free of any mark. So there is a big difference between kama and prema. One is complete darkness, the other a spotless sun. The gopis’ prema is without even a hint of kama. Its special feature is that it seeks nothing but Krishna’s pleasure. (CC 1.4)

Mahaprabhu : “Svarupa! This is a really beautiful description of the difference between kama and prema. But I have a question about this. When Srimati Radharani heads out on abhisara so eagerly, is she really thinking, ‘Oh I have to serve Krishna now. I will make him happy and I have no desire at all for my own happiness’? Is this what Radha has in her heart as she goes out on abhisar? When she seeks the ecstatic joy of meeting with Krishna, is she not experiencing the pleasure of her own senses? On the other hand, if she was truly thinking of Krishna’s happiness only, wouldn’t her actions simply be a kind of dry adherence to duty? What do you have to say about that, Svarupa?”

Svarupa: “That’s a tough question all right. My personal opinion is that Radha does not have the slightest hint of desire for her own sensual happiness. But that does not mean that she is acting out of a sense of duty alone. Srimati Radharani discounts a thousand sufferings in order to meet with Krishna, so you cannot say that she is simply acting out of a desire for her own pleasure. The efforts she makes to be with Krishna actually bring her more misery than pleasure.”

Mahaprabhu: “Then is it not a question of adherence to the duty of serving Krishna that makes her overcome all these obstacles in order to meet with him?”

Svarupa: “If that were the case, then where would the pull of her heart fit in? How would find any sweetness in her actions if that were so?”

Mahaprabhu: “Alright then, if her actions are based neither on personal sense desire nor on a spirit of selfless duty, then what drives her to this great effort despite the troubles she has to face?”

Svarupa: "I think, Prabhu, that Radharani is overcome by a pull on her heart that disrupts her normal sense of calm and pushes her to seek out Krishna. It is in her very nature to be unable to go through life without seeing Krishna. It is not a question of seeking happiness because of the even greater suffering she has to go through in order to see him. Nevertheless, she accepts this limitless suffering in her eagerness to be with him; it is as though she is bitten by a thousand scorpions. Despite this, her heart cannot remain still; she absolutely has to see her Shyamasundar. This is in the very nature of Radha’s love."

Mahaprabhu: "This conclusion is not bad, but the truth of the matter is that the nature and power of pure love for Krishna is inconceivable. You cannot understand it through enumerating its characteristics or through rational analysis. It is something that can only be understood through experience. You have to have relished it through direct experience, and not by weighing the evidence or examining all its features. When a loving mother runs into a burning house in order to save her child, despite knowing of the danger to herself, then a sense of duty or the hope of experiencing some joy after she has saved the child never enter her mind. Her action is completely spontaneous. She cannot remain inactive in such a situation and so she takes a such bold and daring action. What do you think, Svarupa?"

Svarupa: "That's right, Prabhu. That is why I said that there is nothing like Radha's love in all the three worlds."

Mahaprabhu: "Quite so, quite so. Radharani's love is the only means by which one can attain Krishna, who is the king of shringara rasa, the unlimited fount of nectar. When an ordinary jiva's heart becomes eager to see Krishna, who is the form of love, and when this eagerness reaches a critical mass, then the loving Lord sends a message to the devotee that he has arrived at the door of his heart. The devotional practitioner then becomes filled with hope and enthusiasm and, thus enlivened, runs towards Krishna. In this state, the material world falls far into the background; he rushes past the clatter of family responsibility and innumerable obstacles in order to attain the feet of his beloved Lord. This is called the devotional practitioner's abhisara. The ideal example of this mood is Srimati Radharani. Any sadhaka who seeks advancement needs to keep a brilliant exemplar before his mind's eye. No one can proceed in the darkness without a lamp. So the sadhaka who is on his own abhisara toward Krishna must keep Radha's example before him at all times."

(pages 123-125)

1 comment:

Jagat said...

It's an interesting discussion, but it doesn't go far enough. I think what is missing here is that Krishna takes pleasure in Radha's pleasure. Radha's pleasure in Krishna in itself brings him pleasure. Her desire for him enflames his desire.