Sambandha I: Radha-Krishna

Anyone who has been following this blog will know that a great deal of space has here been devoted to the Divine Couple, Radha and Krishna. This is our sambandha-tattva.

Sambandha means "relationships," but in the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, it refers to basic theology, since theology means knowing various basic truths (tattvas) -- God, the living being, the world -- and the relationships that exist between them. These three are represented symbolically for us by Radha and Krishna, sakhī-tattva (Radha and Krishna's friends), and Vrindavan (their divine abode).

Every tradition accumulates a great deal of weight, which has both positive and negative effects. In this article, I am primarily addressing an audience of those who have some familiarity with the Chaitanya Vaishnava tradition. My feeling is that in a complex tradition that has roots in a multi-millennial context, there are plenty of reasons why we sometimes don't see the forest for the trees, so my purpose here is to give a bigger picture of the Gaudiya Vaishnava sambandha when looked at from the point of view of its conclusion, i.e., prema.

Krishna does not exist without Radha

The work of the Goswamis, especially Sanatan, Rupa and Shri Jiva, was structured in such a way as to push it in a particular direction, i.e., towards the above identification of the sambandha with Radha-Krishna, sakhī-tattva and Vrindavan, and in order to do so, they created a vast system of argumentation based on the sources they had available to them.

Of these, the Bhāgavata-purāṇa was the most important. But what is quite interesting about the conclusions they reached is that they establish something that apparently has only a peripheral relation to the Bhāgavatam in the same way that the Bhāgavata itself has only a peripheral relation to the Upanishads.

In other words, the Goswamis' doctrine is revolutionary and its implications are revolutionary, at least in its own historical context, and since much of that revolutionary character has still not played out historically, we hope to be able to communicate a bit of it here.

Jiva Goswami Prabhu, for example, makes the most exhaustive explanation of sambandha-tattva in the first four of his Sandarbhas, and one who wishes may go through them all thoroughly to understand his argumentation. We shall simply go directly to his conclusion, which is given at the end of Śrī-kṛṣṇa-sandarbha, that Krishna combined with Radha is the supreme expression of sambandha.

After going through the sambandha-tattva--explaining God in the three aspects of brahman, paramātmā and bhagavān and establishing that the Divine Person or bhagavān in the form of Śrī-Krishna is the highest--Jiva Prabhu's concluding words are:
In the matter of relations, the ultimate form of the Supreme Truth, to which we are related (the sambandhin), superior in all respects, is in his appearance as Radha and Madhava. As stated in the Śruti, rādhayā mādhavo devaḥ: "Madhava accompanied by Radha is the Divine Being." It is to this end that we have elaborated all these matters to come to a complete understanding of the sambandha.
gaura-śyāma-rucojjvalābhir amalair akṣṇor vilāsotsavair
nṛtyantībhir aśeṣa-mādana-kalā-vaidagdhya-digdhātmabhiḥ |
anyonya-priyatā-sudhā-parimala-stomonmadābhiḥ sadā
rādhā-mādhava-mādhurībhir abhitaś cittaṁ mamākrāmyatām ||
May all the sweetnesses (mādhurī) of Radha and Madhava overwhelm my consciousness from all directions, sweetnesses that are bright with white and black effulgences, that dance with the pure festivals of wanton desire in their eyes, whose essences are marked with expertise in the unlimited arts of erotic love, and which are intoxicated with unlimited amounts of ambrosial perfume that is their mutual dearness.
This is of course a fairly marvelous conclusion, since Radha's name is nowhere to be found in the Bhāgavatam, which is Jiva Goswami's principal authority, but no fear, there are plenty of paths by which we can arrive at Radha and Krishna. The hints of the Bhāgavatam must be supplemented.

But let us say here something that the rasika-sampradāyas of Vrindavan realized very early on. Once we have realized that Radha and Krishna, the Divine Couple, in the glory of their love, surrounded by the sakhis and manjaris in their own abode of Vrindavan, are the ultimate truth, then what need do we have for all the rest of the Vedas and Puranas? Or even the Bhāgavatam?

When Radha and Krishna, the sakhis and Vrindavan's forest bowers are left unnamed or only hinted at indirectly, or couched in the language of majesty and lordship, then what interest do they have for one who has come to know them, the fountainhead of all rasa, as the Supreme Goal?

alaṁ viṣaya-vārtayā naraka-koṭi-bībhatsayā
vṛthā śruti-kathā-śramo bata bibhemi kaivalyataḥ |
pareśa-bhajanonmadā yadi śukādayaḥ kiṁ tataḥ
paraṁ tu mama rādhikā-pada-rase mano majjatu ||
Talk no more of material pleasures, which to me are as horrific as millions of hells! Study of the Upanishads is so much wasted labor, for if I fear anything, it is kaivalya, the featureless, undifferentiated liberation of the monists. If Shukadeva and others were mad for worshiping the Supreme Lord, what is that to me? I would rather my mind plunge directly into the nectar of Shri Radhika's feet. (Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi, 84)
Voltaire once said, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." And, indeed, this is precisely our point: if Radha and Krishna did not already exist, in this glorious tradition of Vrindavan, their absence would have been felt and eventually the most spiritually perspicacious of human society, the searchers of the Truth, would have found Radha and Krishna in some form or another and placed them on the highest altar.

That is what our acharyas did. And their ending point is our beginning point.

Energy, the Energetic, and their unity.

Radha and Krishna are a Syzygy, a divine couple, like so many others in India: Shiva-Shakti, Lakshmi-Narayan, Sita-Ram, etc. But in them, the insight into the Divine has been augmented by a refined and evolved sense of rasa, which here shall be taken as another word for love.

Vaishnavism grows out of a patriarchical tradition with a God conceived in masculine and regal (aiśvarya) terms, the relationship between male and female elements conceived of as one between the power (śakti) and the empowered or powerful (śaktimān). The idea is that God as Creator is śaktimān; the manifestation of his energies, the Creation is his śakti. But God and the creation exist for each other and are in fact inseparable.

And so one often hears the expression śakti-śaktimator abhedatvam: "There is a fundamental inseparability or non-difference of the energy and the energetic." The two are one. And this insight leads us to the expression acintya-bhedābheda-vāda: the philosophy of the mystery of oneness and difference.

That mystery is constantly at play in all relationships, where the divine play (or līlā) consists of expanding the difference while at the same time constantly seeking out the underlying essential unity. Neither unity nor variety can exist meaningfully without each other. And the perception of this mystery, when it happens, is called rasa.

The simple fact is that God existing "in Himself," which is usually called Brahman in Vedanta, is a state that exists only in theoretical terms, like Absolute Zero. Yes, God is the underlying ground of reality, of existence, consciousness and bliss, to which everyone and everything belongs, in which all and everything shares, but in truth God also exists in variety.

And that variety is there because it brings God joy. The Upanishad says ekākī na ramate, God was not happy alone.

The general scheme is that the powerful is energized by the power in the way that the extroverted masculine force is empowered by the introverted feminine energy, and vice versa. The feminine is not seen as an independent power, but as an empowering element. The empowerment is of the nature of erotic love.

Radha and Krishna exist in the context of a glorification of erotic love, a love that is so powerful that it overcomes all obstacles, a love that is so powerful that it conquers the most powerful entity in existence, the Omnipotent Lord Himself, and by so doing, empowers him. Krishna calls Radha his jivatu.

In the pinnacle of the Gaudiya Vaishnava scriptures explaining the nature of love, Rupa Goswami elaborates on Radha's prema. Of all the terms used to identify Radha, the two most meaningful are hlādinī-śakti-svarūpiṇī and mahā-bhāva-svarūpā, both of which are, in effect, glorifications of love. Love is identified as the source and cause of joy, and Radha embodies its highest perfection.

And in the holy abode of Vrindavan, where love reigns supreme, Radha stands above even Krishna in her glory, for she embodies love in the only way that it truly can exist in its pristine purity, as something beyond even God's own power of comprehension.

When the devotee says "Radha," he or she makes a statement about the Ultimate Truth. Through her identification as Love, Radha becomes the supreme object of worship, the Supreme Truth.

Love itself "becomes" God, the source of God, the source and purpose of creation.

It is, in fact, love itself that is embodied in the forms of Radha and Krishna, the sakhis and manjaris, who are servants and spectators, participants and observers of Vrindavan, this world that is soaked in the divine erotic dalliance.

śrī-rādhā-mādhavayor yathā kadācin na sambhavo virahaḥ |
tad-rasa-vṛndāvanayos tathaiva paramo'vinābhāvaḥ ||
Just as the separation of Radha and Madhava is never possible, in exactly the same way, their rasa [as tasted by the sakhis] and Sri Vrindavan [the setting for it all] cannot even be imagined without each other. (Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛtam 12.2)
jayati jayati rādhā prema-sārair agādhā
jayati jayati kṛṣṇas tad-rasāpāra-tṛṣṇaḥ |
jayati jayati vṛndaṁ tat-sakhīnāṁ dvayaikyaṁ
jayati jayati vṛndā-kānanaṁ tat-sva-dhāma ||
Glories, oh glories to Radha, fathomless with the essence of prema. Glories, oh glories to Krishna, whose thirst for the flavors of that love is without limit. Glories, oh glories to all their sakhis, who are one with the Divine Couple, and glories, oh glories to Vrinda's forest, their own divine abode. (Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛtam 9.45)
So the ultimate teaching of the scriptures, according to all the rasika schools of Vrindavan, is that Radha and Krishna together are the Supreme Truth. The ultimate blissful Unicity taking form in order to extend into infinity the permutations and combinations of love's possibilities, manifesting in its own effulgence or dhāma, and aided and abetted by an infinity of participant-observers, an audience that at the same time imagines, creates and fully shares in their love.


anna bastida said...

I've been searching to understand Vaisnavism for a long time. Your realizations and explanations of Prema Bhakti and Radha Krishna make sense to me. I always felt they were allegorical truths. This sahajia is far out, I doubt many could practice it successfully. This is a tantra cult?

Jagat said...

You are right, it is impossible and perhaps only a few fortunate souls could ever possibly hope to attain Sahaja Prema. When bhaktas themselves are so rare, when one's own practice is so fraught with difficulties, and when on top of that you have to find a love partner, it is almost impossible.

And then, the path itself is very difficult. It is full of troubles and misunderstandings and suffering. Radharani's maan is no joke. All this suffering is supposed to purify love, but it seems that love never gets purified enough.

And then there is one's reputation. As soon as love goes wrong, if you actually decide to fail, which in a sense is a great aparadha to Love, the misery only increases.

This is why most people say it is an illusion, an impossibility.

In the worst case scenario, if one is ready to accept the path of separation, then this means that he or she is ready to accept this as a path of suffering. This means that one accepts the reality of Radha and Krishna as the eternal truth to which we are striving. Whatever glimpses we have of love in this world (and what we really are saying is "the stronger the better") should be projected onto Radha and Krishna.

If the so-called worldly love is a failure, one still has Radha and Krishna in separation. And if we succeed at the sadhana, then we will have Radha and Krishna in union. In either case, you have to put Radha and Krishna in the forefront, accept that Love is Grace, it does not come through any other channel than divine grace. And if it does come, it is not a free gift, or rather it is a free gift with more conditions than you can shake a stick at, because love is more of a challenge than a result. In other words, we all come to love on the ground floor, not the penthouse.

Nevertheless, "in this endeavour, there is no loss or diminution." For the sincere soul, God's grace is an infinite ocean into which he constantly dives, bathing without expectation of anything more than to taste the mercy. Jai Radhe.

Jagat said...

With regards your question about tantra, these links might help to clarify that subject.

The short story is that there are elements of tantra that are assimilated into this practice. But they are secondary. The principal culture is of prema-bhakti.

It is simply that if one accepts the reality and relevance of human love in spiritual practice, then it is necessary to cultivate the physical aspects of love as well. And to cultivate the spiritual dimensions of physical love, one is well advised to become a yogi.

Radhe Radhe

Lauren T said...

Jai Sri Radhe, Jagat ji. I don't want to bore you with a long story, but suffice it to say I was introduced to Sri Radha-Krishna and the path of bhakti many years ago when I met a group of ISKCON devotees. But for various reasons I didn't get on well with the ISKCON folks, and—as theirs was the only form of bhakti I knew—I mistook this experience to mean that bhakti was not for me. I've since been drawn back to bhakti and Sri Radha-Krishna, but have felt torn because every resource I could find online has, I guess?

I stumbled onto your blog yesterday and have been reading hungrily since. In your writings, you've voiced many of the same discomforts and discontents that drove me to look away from ISKCON, although I had been unable to articulate them; and your descriptions of Sri Radha-Krishna and the nature of the bhakti path are the first I've encountered that felt right to me—so much so that I admit I've wept at several points in my reading the past two days.

But I confess that much of this is far beyond my understanding: I have a very limited grasp of the Sanskrit terminology, and am ignorant of most of the texts you cite, or the concepts you explore. But what little I understand feels so right that I keep reading, even though most of what you say is far beyond me. Please, do you have any advice for someone new to this path, who has no understanding yet of the philosophy or theology, but is drawn to the path of bhakti for Sri Radha-Krishna? Can you recommend a place where I might begin?

Thank you for this blog, Jagat ji. Even if you have no advice for me, your writing has already been a greater gift than I can say.

Jai Sri Radhe Shyam