Obviously, we could go into a great deal more detail on practically every level of this story, but we have to stop somewhere for the sake of drawing some conclusions from this tale.
I wanted to start from the parallels were already made with the Bhagavatam. According to Sanatan Goswami, there were only some 30 years between Krishna’s departure from Vrindavan and the meeting in Kurukshetra. Even so, I guess that what I am saying is that this story has hit a few archetypal bells, themes that are the stuff of myth and legend—the love that does not die.
So that is the angle that I see this memoir—a tragic love story in the great tradition. Radha and Krishna were also childhood lovers who were separated--forever, if we accept the Bhagavata version. On reading the book, I came to feel that this was an archetypal tragic love story with interesting parallels to the Bhagavata's account of Krishna and the gopis, and it seems worthwhile to try to make a bit of sense out of this parallel, as well as of Maitreyi's observations about love and its spiritual dimension.
yad bhāva-bandhanaṁ yūnoḥ sa prema parikīrtitaḥ
That affectionate bond between two persons which is not destroyed even when there are all good reasons for its destruction is called love. (Ujjvala-nilamani 14.63)First of all, I guess we have to try to understand her experience psychologically. The only way I can do that is to try to explain it in Jungian terms. There is an archetype of the ideal man (animus) that she saw in Mircea Eliade when she was young. She then got married to someone else and suppressed the need she felt for the ideal for all those years, but that archetypal complex was never really resolved. If she had really been fulfilled by the life she had led, she would never have been so overcome by this nostalgia and revival of intense feeling.
According to Jung, archetypal experiences have a numinous aspect. And this is exactly what Maitreyi has been describing—the psychic reality takes precedence over the physical. Although I don’t think any psychologist today would agree with her that this necessarily translates into a belief in a spiritual existence, I think that we can say that it is a clue of the ultimate precedence of the subjective, which on its deepest level is experienced in the relation with God.
If we look to the Bhagavatam, in the Uddhava-sandesh sequence (10.47), we find the way that the author saw this mystery. In the Bhagavatam, Krishna gives "adhyatmika" teachings to the gopis three times, telling them on various levels that their concentration, their single-pointed meditation on him is really all they need. It is, in other words, such meditation is as real as the apparently concrete being with him in union.
In a most delightful coincidence, one of the most famous in all the Upanishads is spoken by Yajnavalkya to his wife Maitreyi. Indeed, it is surprising that our author never drew on this passage to interpret her experience, since she must have been familiar with it, as it is almost certainly the source of her own name.—
ātmanas tu kāmāya patiḥ priyo bhavati
na vā are jāyāyai kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati,
ātmanas tu kāmāya jāyā priyā bhavati
na vā are sarvasya kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati,
ātmanas tu kāmāya sarvam priyam bhavati
Truly, it is not for the sake of the husband that the husband is dear,In other words, one is not really interested in the happiness of one’s wife or husband when one loves them. Ultimately, one is really interested in pleasing oneself. Jung would take this a step further and say that we are projecting ourselves, our indwelling archetypes, on the world outside and thereby recreating the world in our own psychological image. And that this is the way Maya works. But when it feels like an invasion by the Other, that is particularly significant, and a call for self-understanding.
but it is for the sake of the self that the husband is dear.
Truly, it is not for the wife’s sake that one’s wife is dear,
but it is for the sake of the self that the wife is dear.
Children, wealth, brahmin, kshatriya, worlds, gods, creatures…
Truly, it is not for the sake of anything else that those things are dear, but it is for the sake of the self that all things are dear.
Therefore, Yajnavalkya concludes,
Therefore, Maitreyi, the self is what you must seek out. You must hear about the self, reflect on the self and meditate in depth on the self. O Maitreyi, when you have seen the self, heard it, reflected on it, and come to know it perfectly, then you shall know all things. (2.4.5)In other words, if it is for the self or atma that one loves anything in this world, then it should be the principle thing that we attempt to understand. We must learn what will truly please the self. The thing that is truly most dear to the ātmā is the Paramatma, or “beyond self,” what we often call the Supersoul, or God.
sarvasmād antarataram yad ayam ātmā.
That which is the innermost thing of all is the Self. It is dearer to us than our children, dearer to us than our possessions, and dearer to us than any other thing. (1.4.8)
What seems to be the message here in the Upanishad is that because we are looking for the self in the other, such numinous experiences whereby the self is revealed in the other are significant markers in spiritual progress. Where erotic love is concerned, there are three degrees--sādhāraṇi, samañjasā and samarthā. All three are no doubt a consequence of bodily identification, sādhāraṇi being most sexual and least revealing, samañjasā still confined to material goals, samarthā the most opportune for spiritual awakening. (See Gita 3.38)
In Maitreyi's case, what was a potential samarthā relationship (and here we would need to discuss the kind of symbolic language that she and Mircea were using to see how far that potential could have been realized in contrast with the kind of symbolic language I am proposing), was vetoed as sadharani by her father and then condemned (!) her to a samañjasā relationship, with its limited potential for the kind of spiritual attainments that are possible. Certainly in her case, mature as she was in her outlook, it is clear that limitations were there. If not, how can we explain the "return of the repressed"?
Not quite finished with this one yet.
See also Samanjasa