Archetypes: Remembering the Essence (sāra)

My problems in Krishna consciousness arose out of the mostly literal interpretations given to the shastras by the devotees. There is a huge caveat in the Bhagavatam about everything that is said in that text: Krishna favors indirect speech.
parokṣa-vādā ṛṣayaḥ parokṣaṁ ca mama priyam 
The sages speak indirectly for the indirect mode of teaching is dear to me. (11.21.35)

parokṣa-vādo vedo'yaṁ bālānām anuśāsanam |
karma-mokṣāya karmāṇi vidhatte hy agadaṁ yathā ||

These Vedic literatures teach by the indirect method: they are meant to control or discipline those of incomplete intelligence. They therefore teach sinless works or karma so that these people can become free of karma. (11.3.44)
Gita Press translation [based on Sridhar's commentary]: The Veda has deeper import than what the words apparently convey. The real purpose of the Veda is to secure exemption from actions and their fruit, but the temptations of gaining heaven through prescribed actions are held out to the ignorant, just as a child is tempted with sweets so he will swallow a bitter medicine.

I think the first translation is a bit clearer than the second. But the idea is similar to that in Gita 3.28 where Arjuna is told not to disturb the minds of the ignorant but to encourage them to act in detachment. The idea then is that higher realms of understanding are not accessible to someone on the lower level, but the general principle of action in detachment is the baseline of all spiritual life, and its end result.

What these two statements of the Bhagavatam in effect do is open the doors to various kinds of secondary and tertiary interpretation, which may or may not be already part of the traditional way of thinking about these statements.


On the pages of this blog I have been taking certain statements as being ruling or governing statements, paribhāṣā. Such statements do not need to be the most numerous statements in a book to still have a dominant position for interpretation in the overall rule. Many of these statements, following the above principle, open the door to different kinds of interpretation than those provided by the simplistic, literal understanding of the texts.

Indeed, the different schools of philosophy in India provide numerous techniques of interpretation that make it possible to envision the purpose of different texts in different ways. Jiva Goswami is himself a master of these different techniques, and it is through them that he arrives at some of his most significant conclusions about Radha-Krishna lila. We now accept his conclusions without question as our starting point, but it was not always so.


One of the differences in my way of thinking is based on Platonic archetypes as mediated through Jung's psychology. Jung made an effort to be as empiric as possible about psychological phenomena, but of course these are not "hard" science, in the sense that they are based on general observations about the products of the human imagination and the unconscious mind.

What is an archetype? I would define it as the ideal form of a particular universal phenomenon. If we look at Radha and Krishna as male and female archetypes, or together as the archetype of Love, then this understanding will, first of all, give us a deeper understanding of personalist theology, as well as understanding how Radha and Krishna are meant to be psychologically transforming. The humanistic aspect of Vaishnava theism is what I have called its double-mirror effect, i.e., that of mutual reflection. Radha and Krishna cannot be understood without the experience and psychological understanding of love, and human love itself is transformed by meditation on the archetypal love of the Divine Couple.

The original purpose of the rasa-shastra is to educate through transformation. Rasa is always transformative because the melting of the mind that accompanies the experience of rasa leaves samskaras on the conscious and unconscious minds, and these samskaras produce in turn instincts and desires that are, in the case of sattvika or shuddha-sattvika productions conducive to the elevation of consciousness.


The main purpose I have here is simply to look at some uses of the word sāra, or "essence." These citations are not meant to be exhaustive, and there are other words that are used to express the concept of essentiality in Sanskrit. What I would like to say is that when a reference is made to essentiality, that is an appeal to the imagination to follow the path of experience to go to a place where any limitations of the phenomenal are eliminated and only the Perfect and Pure are left.

This is a natural tendency in the human mind, and indeed, even when we speak negatively about any phenomenon whatsoever, it is due to an unstated or unspoken concept of the ideal, however understood. The presence of ideal characteristics in an ordinary human being results in an ordinary human taking on archetypal qualities, which can have far reaching consequences in human society. Transferring the archetypal qualities to a realm outside direct experience, i.e., the world of the imagination, is one way of protecting ourselves against falsely attributing transcendence to mundane phenomena.

The principal archetypes are all catalogued in different ways in books like Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and other works of poetics where different kinds of heroic personality types are listed. Because of the vast number of possibilities available to the imagination for ideal personality types, they are personified in particular forms.

So, simply stated, in order to understand Radha and Krishna we are asked to find the essence of certain characteristics and qualities.
kāruṇya-sāra-madhura-cchavi-rūpa-sāre |
rādhābhidhe mama mano'khila-sāra-sāre ||26||
May my thoughts always rest in her who is named Radha, who is the essence of loveliness, the essence of rasa, the single essence of all happiness; who is the essence of compassion, the essence of all charming depictions of beauty, the essence of cleverness in the arts of love, the essence of amorous love-play, indeed who is the essence of the best of everything. (RRSN 26).

The word sāra appears 30 times in RRSN. This verse is the sāra of them all. The same word appears over 80 times in the Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta as well. Not surprisingly, we find the following there:

sakala-vibhava-sāraṁ sarva-dharmaika-sāraṁ
sakala-bhajana-sāraṁ sarva-siddhy-eka-sāram |
sakala-mahima-sāraṁ vastu vṛndāvanāntaḥ
sakala-madhurimāmbho-rāśi-sāraṁ vihāram ||17.85||
Residing in Vrindavan is the substance
that is the essence of all opulences,
it is the single essence of all religious duties,
it is the essence of all bhajan
and the single essence of all success;
it is the essence of all glory,
the essence of all the oceans of divine sweetness.
Here are a couple of nice ones from Govinda-līlāmṛta:
nayana-yuga-vidhāne rādhikāyā vidhātrā
jagati madhura-sārāḥ sañcitāḥ sad-guṇā ye |
bhuvi patita-tad-aṁśas tena sṛṣṭāny asārair
bhramara-mṛga-cakorāmbhoja-mīnotpalāni ||
The Creator collected the essence of every beautiful object in the universe to make Radha’s eyes. But when the leftover portions fell to the ground they became the bumblebees, the chakoras, the lotuses and their finest species, the blue lotus.” (Govinda-līlāmṛta 11.100)
dṛṣṭvā rādhāṁ nipuṇa-vidhinā suṣṭhu kenāpi sṛṣṭāṁ
dhātā hrīlaḥ sadṛśam anayā yauvataṁ nirmimatsuḥ |
sāraṁ cinvann asṛjad iha tat svasya sṛṣṭeḥ samāsyā
naikāpy āsīd api tu samabhūt pūrva-sṛṣṭir nirarthā ||143||
Lalita Sundari exclaims, “Seeing Radha’s exquisite form, the Creator desired to make more beautiful women like her. But after collecting his best ingredients and employing his finest artistic ability—he became depressed; not one of them could match Radha! Thus ashamed, he thought: “The lotus and the moon are in no way comparable either !” Hence, just as one crosses out a misspelled word, the creator splotched the lotus with swarms of bees, and scribbled a deer-spot over the moon !” (GLA 11.143-144)

So, what I am saying here is that meditation on Radha and Krishna is an act of the active imagination, in the sense that by searching out the ideal we search out God. In other words, the tendency to the Ideal is the tendency towards God.

I searched out the word sāra, but of course there are many other statements of the same sort using different language. In fact, if we examine the use of alaṅkāra, then we will see that practically all alaṅkāras -- not only in the literature related to Radha and Krishna, but in all Sanskrit poetry and literature -- is meant to push the imagination to an ideal beyond the best of everything, to admire a certain quality or attribute and to stretch it to infinity.


Just a couple more examples, this time in relation to bhakti itself, or to the process of extracting the essence.

Let us start with what Narottam Das calls the essence of the practice of rāgānugā bhakti:
monera smaraṇa prāṇa, madhura madhura dhāma
yugala vilāsa smṛti sāra
sādhya sādhana ei, ihāra por āra nāhi
ei tattva sarva vidhi sāra
Meditation or remembrance is the life of the mind, an abode of ever-increasing sweetness; and the Divine Jugala’s loving dalliances are the very essence of that remembrance. This is the practice, this is the goal of the practice: this tattva is the cream of all instruction. (Prema-bhakti-candrikā, 62)
Briefly: Since the essence of all meditative practices is to reduce the directedness of the mind to a single object, remembering Radha and Krishna's pastimes is the essence of devotional practice. It is at the same time the end of the practice. Practices are either direct or indirect. When the practice is not different from the goal, that is called a direct practice. Therefore there is nothing beyond this. So reducing both the practice and the goal of the practice to their essence, one comes to prema bhakti. There is nothing beyond this.

So philosophically, it is our job to extract the essence. Therefore Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad has the following:
mathyate tu jagat sarvaṁ brahma-jñānena yena vā |
tat-sāra-bhūtaṁ yad yasyāṁ mathurā sā nigadyate ||
The name Mathurā has been given to this land because the manifest essence of the knowledge of Brahman by which the entire universe has been churned appears there. (Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad, 2.63)
Commentaries (VV):
Nārāyaṇa now explains the meaning of the word Mathurā.[1] That by which the entire universe is churned is called matha, or knowledge of Brahman. That knowledge of Brahman is the person of Gopāla. Alternatively, the word found in the verse suggests that the universe is also churned by Madanagopāla.[2] Mathurā is the site where pure knowledge, i.e., where erroneous understanding of the universe comes to an end, is manifest in its essential form.

Prabodhananda and Jiva Goswami [exactly same in both]: By giving the etymology of the word Mathurā, Brahmā reveals more of the glories of the location where one should perform the meditation described in the previous verses. The act of churning produces butter from cream; similarly, knowledge of the supreme person, the personal form of Brahman, is revealed through the churning of the entire universe. The word (“or”) indicates an alternative which is not openly mentioned in the verse, namely bhakti-yoga. The place where both these (i.e., knowledge of the Lord and bhakti-yoga) are revealed in their fullest, most perfect manifestation, is known as Mathurā, i.e., the word mathura refers to the practices of knowledge and devotion (jñāna-bhakti-sādhanam). This meaning can be established from the Uṇādi-sütra.
[1]The following verses (63-72) give an explanation of the meditation found in 58b-62, identifying the form of the Lord with the
viśva-rūpa or virāṭ-rüpa.

[2]Scholars have not been able to find any definite etymology for Mathurā. A word matha with this meaning is not found in the dictionary and there is no suffix -urā in usage in Sanskrit. As such the etymology must be considered fanciful. Manmatha a name for Cupid that means that he churns the minds of everyone in the world. Thus the reference to Madana-gopāla.


Prem Prakash said…
Westerners come from cultures fairly bereft of religious mythology. The Abrahamic religions claim their deity and their tales are ontological truths, not myths. This might explain why, even in the 21st century, we find literate people believing the universe was created in seven days sometime within the past several thousand years. India seems to have been infected by the Muslim and British occupiers with a similar failure to appreciate the nature of myth. In my personal opinion, the failure to love and appreciate the nature of the Radha-Krishna mythology is why so few devotees seem to actually enjoy the bhava the scriptures promise.
Jagadananda Das said…

I think the same applies to texts like the Bhagavatam. There is a literalism, but the literalism _follows_ the figurative meaning. That is, God responds to our imagining of him, just like the world of external experience itself is to be seen as a product of samskaras and vasanas.

So why not cultivate a world of the imagination which is ruled by love, and attempt to live that in the "wrong" world of empirical experience? That is how the false is turned into the true.

Jai Radhe. Nice to hear from you after so long, Prem. Hard to keep up with everyone. I hope you and yours are well.
Prem Prakash said…
Very well stated. You point to the proper use of mythology, and one I believe was intended by the ancient ages. We humans are going to use our imagination, it's part of the hard drive, so let's use it consciously, deliberately, and productively.

Things are really quite well here, Jagadanandaji, except you are too far away...
Anonymous said…

1.164.46a índram mitráṃ váruṇam agním āhur
1.164.46b átho divyáḥ sá suparṇó garútmān
1.164.46c ékaṃ sád víprā bahudhā́ vadanti
1.164.46d agníṃ yamám mātaríśvānam āhuḥ

Rig-veda, Hymn 164, verse 46.


prahlādaś cāsmi daityānāṁ kālaḥ kalayatām aham ।
mṛgāṇāṁ ca mṛgendro ’haṁ vainateyaś ca pakṣiṇām ॥१०-३०॥

Bhagavad-gītā, Chapter 10, Verse 30.


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