More symbolism stuff

Whenever we say something like, “Krishna is rasarāja; Radha is mahābhāva.” We are speaking symbolically.

The word pratīka, usually translated as symbol, sign or representation, is discussed in VS 4.1.4. Baladeva Vidyabhushan says in his Govinda-bhāṣya that this is a reference to Vedānta statements that speak of the mind, etc. (mana-ādi) as symbols of God.

Baladeva says pratīke īśvaro na bhavati. "God is not in the symbol," i.e., he is not limited by it. The sentence goes on, kintu tasyādhiṣṭhānam eveti "but is its ground or basis". He then quotes BhP 11.2.41:

khaṁ vāyum agniṁ salilaṁ mahīṁ ca
jyotīṁṣi sattvāni diśo drumādīn |
sarit-samudrāṁś ca hareḥ śarīraṁ
yat kiṁ ca bhūtaṁ praṇamed ananyaḥ ||
The unalloyed devotee bows down to all existent things – the ether, air, fire, water and earth, the heavenly bodies, living creatures, the directions, the trees, the rivers and oceans, seeing them all as the body of the Lord. (11.2.41)
It seems to me that Baladeva is saying that in one sense EVERYTHING is a symbol of God, but God is not a part of anything, something like Gita 9.3-4: mat-sthāni sarva-bhūtāni ... na ca mat-sthāni bhūtāni "All things are in me... and all things are not in me."

This is also the meaning of the summation of the vibhūti-yoga chapter of the Gita. In that chapter of the Gita (10), Krishna goes through a litany of “bests”: “Of basketball players I am Michael Jordan, of hockey players I am Wayne Gretzky.” Which is concluded by the words,

yad yad vibhūtimat sattvaṁ
śrīmad ūrjitam eva vā
tat tad evāvagaccha tvaṁ
mama tejo’ṁśa-saṁbhavam
Whatever great opulence that you see,
whatever glories or mighty wonders,
Know that they have all arisen in truth
from but a spark of my divine splendor. (Gita 10.43)
But when Krishna says, for instance, "I am desire" (7.11), is his intention purely symbolic? Or when the Upanishad says, raso vai saḥ, is that purely symbolic? And what about other statements like satyam jñānam anantaṁ brahma? Krishna IS those things, even though we may say, “He is not JUST those things.”

Most devotees have a literal understanding of Krishna as a cowherd, etc., and make reference to the literal understanding of the realized soul. Certainly the words of the realized souls are being communicated and so on through words and so on in a way that is, we may assume, meant to be intelligible to the non-realized. Otherwise you could not assume that you know how Krishna would respond to the question, "Are you a symbol?"

The fact is that God's infinite being is only communicable to the mind of the individual, to his limited understanding, through symbols. God appears to the devotee in accordance with his desire more than in accordance with his surrender, yad yad dhiyā, etc. (3.9.11) In other words, the perception of Krishna as Nanda’s son is not so much an ontological truth as a subjective one.

There is a big difference between kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam, a dogmatic statement, and rasenokṛṣyate kṛṣṇaḥ, which is the prelude to an elaborate argument.

dhruvaṁ nikhila-mādhava-praṇayinī-kadambād alaṁ
vikṛṣya vividhaṁ vidhir madhurimāṇam atyadbhutam |
prabhoḥ parama-tuṣṭaye niramimīta rādhāṁ mudā
yad atra ramate hariḥ parihṛtānya-nārī-spṛhaḥ | |
The creator Brahma must have taken
the essence of all beauty, wonder and sweetness
from every one of Madhava's beloved gopis
and created Radha, just for his pleasure.
It must be so, for Krishna cares for none of them any more,
and seeks only to enjoy with her. (DKK 18)
nayana-yuga-vidhāne rādhikāyā vidhātrā
jagati madhura-sārāḥ sañcitāḥ sad-guṇā ye |
bhuvi patita-tad-aṁśas tena sṛṣṭāny asārair
bhramara-mṛga-cakorāmbhoja-mīnotpalāni ||
When the Creator was engaged in making Radha’s eyes, he took all the best qualities he could find in the world and distilled their essence. Then whatever portions of those qualities were left over he used to create the bees, the doe, the chakora bird, the pink lotus, fish and blue lotus [and all the other things that are used as similes for her eyes]. (GLA 11.100)
Rupa Goswami makes a distinction in the various forms of God according to rasa, but in one sense that is a symbolic hierarchy. The logic is this:

(1) God is known through love. In fact, in one sense, since love controls God, love is an even higher Truth than God himself. But that is impossible, since nothing is greater than God. Therefore we have to simply say that Love IS God as a higher manifestation.

(2) Love cannot exist in a vacuum. That is meaningless. Love is personal and relational, therefore God must have form and multiplicity in order to experience love. This love has a samaṣṭi aspect and a vyaṣṭi aspect, which we can call Radha and the jiva respectively. [Technically, I know jiva refers specifically the conditioned soul, but for distinguishing purposes I use the term.]

(3) In order to understand God, we must therefore understand love. To say that “love in the material world has no relation to love in the spiritual world” is, as mentioned above, a fallacy. The statement “God is Love” or “Love is God” would have no meaning if there were no genuine experience of love. This is the meaning of ānandād dhy eva khalv imāni bhūtāni jāyante | ānandena jātāni jīvanti | ānandaṁ prayanty abhisaṁviśantīti (Tai.U. 3.6). Without love the world would have no standing. Just like if it were without consciousness or being, it would have no standing. yayedaṁ dhāryate jagat.

(4) In order to understand love, Rupa Goswami has drawn a hierarchy of loves which is accessible to human experience, from śānta to madhura. We will talk about this in another article on "the five loves."


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