Some people seem to think that I am saying that Radha and Krishna are some kind of "role model" for human lovers. That is not what I think. The question is complex and one has to have a real close understanding of the psychology of myth, symbol and archetype and their relation to spiritual experience.
We start from the premise, based on our faith, experience, and reason, of the reality of God. God is represented psychologically in many ways as an archetypal reality. People think that you can reduce psychological realities, like myths and stories, to the realm of falsehood or fiction, but in fact they are functioning realities and remain so even when repressed. For Jung, archetypes are equivalent to the instincts.
The archetype of God, according to Jung, is simply the "Self", a realization that no doubt came to him from Indian thought. But Jung also recognized the Syzygy, or Divine Couple, as an archetype of psychological integration, the union of opposites. These two archetypal constellations are of great interest to us as devotees of Radha and Krishna.
Jung recognized the numinosity of archetypes. In other words, unconscious archetypes can either be projected externally or experience internally, through which they attain a special aura that imbues them with a meaning that is outside the common everyday experience. These experiences are generally associated with strong emotions. Indeed numinosity and intense emotional experience go hand in hand.
In the Indian tradition, the rasas are such emotional experiences and are signs of archetypal experiences.
Jung claimed to be agnostic about the ontological reality of any transcendent being, i.e. God, and to only be interested in the psychological significance of these archetypal revelations. I have to say that he was right to take this position, because people are in the gunas, and archetypal experiences in sattva, rajas and tamas are going to be quite different. They are not in and of themselves "good". A symbol of "Self" that is produced from the tamasic collective unconscious leads to evil consequences of Hitlerian proportions.
Archetypes are thus general concepts or categories to which attach the infinite varieties of possibility and are repeated in infinite variety, but have no specific content. Nevertheless, they always have meaning, like the archetype of a tree has meaning, even though the infinite varieties of tree are all distinct from it, or only approach it as an ideal.
In our concept, Love itself is a transcendent archetype that is founded in the reality of experience, but, more importantly, is instinctual. Since the desire for love is the most profound of our desires, it emanates from the soul and not from the body.
Sexual desire is only the physical manifestation of that desire, and as one descends the gunas of nature, what is innately the desire for love becomes perverted into a combination of sexuality and hate or violence. Nevertheless, the connection of sexual desire to love is something that Freud recognized and we accept, in the manner of the yogis and tantrics, that the purification and proper channeling or sublimation of sexual desire is an essential element in the search for Love.
The archetypal Reality of Love is Radha-Krishna.
Love itself is an existing reality, which may otherwise be called God. The desire for love also exists in the psyche as an archetypal complex. At the same time, because we need to incorporate that Reality into our capacity for communication, we use Radha-Krishna as shorthand, so that we can love Love, so to speak.
The mystery of love is that there is no difference between the Reality and the symbol, just like there is no difference between Krishna and Krishna's name. It is only degrees of revelation.
This comes from a confusion of understanding about the difference between sign and symbol. A sign is a pointer to something else, but does not participate in its nature. The street sign that indicates a place name is not the place itself. Once the reality indicated by a sign is attained, then, it can be discarded, having done its job.
In the case of symbols, this is not the case. A symbol participates in that which it symbolizes. For example, the spinning wheel came to symbolize Gandhi’s movement for Indian self-sufficiency; it took on a wider meaning without losing its own participatory role in that wider meaning.
A religious symbol in itself carries a universal meaning. This is why we say that symbols are fountains of unlimited meaning. Radha and Krishna do more than simply participate in love; they are not just literary lovers like Romeo and Juliet or historical lovers who have ascended to legend like Pierre and Héloise. They fully represent love as the necessary divine poles of love, since love of necessity is manifested between two persons.
Thus Jiva Goswami says:
sphurat-tat-tad-vastrāv iti budha-janair niścitam idam |
sa ko’py accha-premā vilasad-ubhaya-sphūrtikatayā
dadhan-mūrtībhāvaṁ pṛthag-apṛthyag apy āvirudabhūt ||
Wise persons have determined thatThe infinite, transcendent God's personal revelation to the finite individual soul will always be mediated by symbolic representations, which are non different from him. They are like compact, condensed forms of infinite meaning.
though these two are of a black and golden hue,
in their minds they are of the opposite colors,
as externally, so too are their clothes.
This is some pure, unblemished love become incarnate,
taking on this form with a dual manifestation
which is both divided and a unity.
Therefore I say, Radha and Krishna are simultaneously Love and the symbol of love. Inasmuch as love is real, Radha and Krisha are real.
For those to whom Love has been revealed through the medium of Radha and Krishna, there is NO difference. But by the same token, if you only have the symbol, but don't have the Love, you really have neither.
Where myth and symbol are in apparent conflict, symbol always overrides myth.
Historically, myths have always been adjusted to fit the symbol as its meanings are revealed and understood in greater profundity.
This is as true in Vaishnavism as it is in all world religions.
Failure to recognize this principal means religious fundamentalism and spiritual atrophy. This is as true in Vaishnavism as it is in all world religions. If it were not so, there would be no meaning to a verse like the following:
anarpita-carīṁ cirāt karuṇayāvatīrṇaḥ kalau
samarpayitum unnatojjvala-rasāṁ sva-bhakti-śriyam
sadā hṛdaya-kandare sphuratu vaḥ śacī-nandanaḥ
The Lord has never at any time given the treasure of devotional love, this most elevated, effulgent taste of sacred rapture. Nevertheless, out of His mercy, He has incarnated in this age of quarrel in a golden form to distribute that treasure freely to the world. May Lord Chaitanya, the son of Sachi, dwell in the cave of your heart like a lion forever. (ViM 1.2) (CC 1.1.4)
Refusal to accept that symbols and myths change meaning and form, that the evolutionary principle also applies in the revelation of archetypal truths, is a major cause of religious fundamentalism and spiritual stagnation.
Myths and symbols can both be discarded if they lose meaning or are perceived to have no meaning. But archetypes cannot be discarded. Archetypes simply dress up in different symbolic and mythic forms.
Archetype is the underlying meaning of the symbol; they are related as content to form. Archetype is always the subtext of any story, whether presented as fact or fiction, and it is the subtext for all perception and interpretation of reality.
Archetypes are colored by the gunas of prakriti, which gives rise to the multiplicity of symbolic and mythic forms. Those symbols and myths that most closely communicate the numinosity of the archetype are those that take on a sacred character.
Even so, the gunas are always a factor in coloring perception. In sattva-guna, a clearer perception of the true meaning of the archetype becomes apparent, which usually results in transformations of religious forms through new symbols and myths.
Rajas and tamas can also result in new, destructive forms of myth and symbol. Even so, the implicit position of the religious-minded is that archetypes in themselves are beneficial, their sattvika perception resulting in the attainment of their fullest beneficial effects.
pārthivād dāruṇo dhūmas
tasmād agnis trayīmayaḥ |
tamasas tu rajas tasmāt
sattvaṁ yad brahma-darśanam ||
Just as smoke is better than wood which is a product of earth, and fire is superior to smoke because one can perform Vedic sacrifice with it, similarly rajas is superior to tamas. Sattva, which leads to the realization of the Absolute, is superior to rajas. (BhP 1.2.24)
The pure archetype itself is always the goal, whether perceived through rajas, tamas or sattva, or through bhakti. Ultimately, it is only when it is recognized as the end rather than as a means that the archetype is fully revealed in all its transcendent glory. Even though it is then still mediated through symbols, this is the closest we can really come to full unmediated direct perception of God, the symbol's full numinosity and experience its transformative power.