Another look at aropa and vatsalya

Muralisvara further writes in comments on Understanding aropa through vatsalya. This was the first thing I wrote and will perhaps  follow up with another article related to the subject that takes account of the other articles I wrote after this:

Your idea of āropa or IMAGINING ourselves (human couple, I mean) to be the Divine Couple is beyond my understanding. It is just imagination and it will remain such forever. Because imagination is the product of material mind. What does it have to do with spiritual soul, what to speak about Supersoul, what to speak about Supersoul in Its highest manifestation (nara-līlā of Sri Krishna)?

I am not quite sure where I ever said that the human couple is to imagine themselves to be the Divine Couple, at least not in a real sense. In the links below you will see the effort I have made to distinguish my sādhanas from ahaṅgrahopāsanā. Jiva Goswami himself makes this distinction in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu verse about the sambandhānuga division of rāgānugā bhakti. Look at this n the light of the Bhakti-sandarbha passage with which we concluded an earlier post.

sā sambandhānugā bhaktiḥ procyate sadbhir ātmani |
yā pitṛtvādi-sambandha-mananāropanātmikā ||
lubdhair vātsalya-sakhyādau bhaktiḥ kāryātra sādhakaiḥ |
vrajendra-subalādīnāṁ bhāva-ceṣṭita-mudrayā ||
That is called sambandhānugā bhakti when devotees meditate on their relationship with Krishna as a father, etc., and identify themselves as such (āropanātmikā). Those sādhakas who are greedy for the relations of parenthood or friendship with Krishna should perform bhakti in this way by imitating the mood and activities of Nanda Maharaj and Subala, etc. (1.2.305-306)
Jiva Goswami and after him Vishwanath discuss the meaning of āropa here and warn against identifying with the nitya parikaras as being a type of ahangrahopāsanā and to be rejected. What is important is the bhāva and the ceṣṭita, the mood and activities, which are easily applicable in practical life also. As we saw there, the feeling and its corollary actions (anubhāvas) are cultivated and applied to Krishna, like the Brahmin who worshiped the Shiva linga as a form of Nrisingha.

Here is how it works: When we think of Mother Yashoda, we are to imagine the perfect mother with the perfect love for the perfect child. The devotee mother or father then aligns him or herself with all these elements: Mother Yashoda (or Nanda Maharaj) enter into me as the āśraya of that love, i.e., as the ideal representation of vātsalya. I look upon my child, the natural viṣaya of my parental love as a manifestation of Krishna. And by dovetailing (āropa) my love in this way, my natural love for my child becomes imbued with devotion to Krishna and divine rasa. My love for my child thus becomes an inspirer (uddīpana) for my love for Krishna, and my remembrance of Krishna imbues my love for my child with a sacred power.

Of course, if there is no purification of the heart to begin with, if there is no Krishna consciousness to begin with, then this will not work. It will remain "natural" love and be subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the criticisms that the shastra makes of such relations. The idea is that we are cultivating love, for if we cannot see Krishna in the relations we are experiencing now, then it seems unrealistic to think that we can enter the world of Pure Love.

Now of course, due to karmas, saṁskāras and so on, we are often caught in conditions that make this process difficult. A situation that is totally inimical to the culture of bhakti may have to be abandoned. Other than for the most advanced sādhakas, bhakti should only be cultivated in the association of devotees. Some people think that we can just access universal love without any culture or sādhana. But human beings have devised many methods of self-purification -- religious and secular sādhanas -- that, in one way or another, are attempting to achieve the same goal.

I feel that the system I teach is most direct because of bhakti. Because it recognizes the Divine Transcendent Being, the Divine Yugala Radha and Krishna as a real entity, the archetypal manifestation of Love, and stresses the role of grace. But bhakti to God is ultimately meant to go beyond the culture of vaidhī bhakti to love in the various direct relations and from there to universal love.

Try to understand: whatever we do is based on our imagination. Rāgānugā bhaktas are clearly imagining themselves to be participants in the līlā. We are told that this is real, but that is up to the sādhaka to decide. From the external point of view, it is an act of the imagination. The extent to which deep saṁskāras enter into the citta through the performance of such bhakti sādhanas -- either the vaidhī or rāgānugā mixed with vaidhī -- is fairly limited without the experience or culture of personal loving relationships in bhakti-yoga. In particular that of madhura-rasa, which is the ādi-rasa, or original rasa which contains all the rest.

Most devotees do not have a problem with the concept of friendship with other devotees, but they rarely actually do āropa, i.e., recognize the presence of the Lord in their friendships and, even though the relationships may be free of
aiśvarya, still attempt to practice pure sakhya rasa. How will you understand sakhya rasa without making friends with the devotees and seeing how friendship works within the context of real life situations, where your purity and honesty are tested from moment to moment?

In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu there are many divisions of friendship given, and one can study from other sources also to understand how human beings have tried to understand human friendship and how to perfect it. The difference for us is that we see it as a religious practice in its own right. My love for my devotee friend is an act of conscious devotion to Krishna Himself.

Whatever sādhanas we perform is based on the āropa of a certain world view, which we accept as being most correct to our understanding. Someone may say it is an objective truth, and we may feel that way, but it is an act of āropa nevertheless.

Furthermore, the experience of rasa itself is based on a natural kind of āropa which is called sādhāraṇī-karaṇa. You can look up these concepts on this blog. Understanding the psychology of āropa or identification and its varieties in literature and sādhanas bhakti are an important element in understanding rāgānugā bhakti.

When we feel the natural loves, then we experience them as real, but defective in some way. They are defective in the sense that we ourselves and the object of love are contaminated by ego desires, or kāma. Nevertheless, the sentiment of something as a real experience is different from merely wishing it to be so.

Of course, a devoted bhakta feels something real in the Holy Name and other practices, and through self-purification in sattva-guna and so on strengthens that feeling. This is also the case with a sādhaka of any yoga practice or religion.

Now what I am really saying is that the natural loves need to be dovetailed with love of God. And that this process is facilitated by our particular concept of Krishna in Vrindavan. It is not that love in this world replaces love for Krishna, but that the two become one. One's love for a child IS vātsalya. In its purest form it is similar to the feeling of Nanda and Yashoda for Krishna. Therefore one who is feeling natural vātsalya should attempt to harmonize the two.

And so it is for other natural loves. Of course, the whole process centers around bhakti sādhanas. A parent wishes for the child to grow and become a good human being, or a pure devotee. So the process of training in love, accompanied by the vision of the Divine Lord, the object of vātsalya, residing within and manifesting as the child or student, is an act of DIRECT devotion to Krishna. And the reciprocation that is felt through the medium of the object of vātsalya is not different from the experience of vātsalya in the spiritual world.

Of course, in the material world, everything comes to an end. Children grow up, husbands and wives die. Sometimes love itself disappears for some reason when the object of love fails some test. But the experience as it has been directly felt then becomes the fuel for meditating on the eternal bhakti relation.

If this were not so, then the various metaphors and analogies comparing Krishna and the devotee's love to worldly love would have no meaning. Without integrating the experience of natural loves into bhakti sādhanas, it is unlikely that the higher realms of rāgānugā bhakti will be attained. This is true even though the relation with God is eternal.
God manifests in our human loving relationships. This is true whether one is a devotee or not. But for a devotee, these loving relationships combined with sādhanas bhakti become a direct route to transcending kāma. Think of it as prasāda.

And you should understand that until kāma has been purified completely it is not prema. This applies to your bhajan to Krishna also. Just because you claim to be worshiping Krishna does not mean you have prema. Just because you have a quotation from Chaitanya Charitamrita that says this is kāma, that is prema, does not mean you have prema or that you have understood prema.

Material relationships are kāma-maya. But for a devotee who sees everything in relation to Krishna, even the so-called material relationships with other devotees and even non-devotees become Krishna-ized. And that is a higher level of sādhanas because it directly addresses the question of kāma as it raises its ugly head exactly where we would expect it to -- in our relationships with other human beings. The ecstatic experience of union, which is the characteristic of love, in the love between devotees is the direct presence of Krishna.

Some devotees make the mistake of thinking that there is only madhura-rasa and so they meditate on that rasa alone. But in actual fact, one must really have experienced all the rasas to understand madhura, even vātsalya. You might find this strange, because normally we think of madhura as preceding vātsalya, but in actual fact the experience of parenthood, for a devotee couple, should enhance the madhura relationship, just as it will enhance the experience of love for Krishna in the classical understanding thereof. It all depends on the capacity to understand both love and Krishna bhakti as parallel tracks rather than opposing ones.

Other articles on this subject:


Muraliswara das said…
Dear Jagadananda, I must thank you for continuation of this series of articles and related materials of yours written in the past. You are such a prolific author that I (being an average reader at best) can’t follow you with the same speed. I will be happy and grateful to read the sequel. Thank you so much!

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