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 that 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 only has a peripheral relation to the Bhāgavata. Just like Bhāgavata itself has only a peripheral relation to the Upanishads. In other words, it 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 his Sandarbhas, and one who wishes may go through them all. We shall simply go directly to his conclusion, which is 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 Divine Personality as bhagavān to be the highest, Jiva Prabhu says:
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 Shruti 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.
nṛtyantībhir aśeṣa-mādana-kalā-vaidagdhya-digdhātmabhiḥ |
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 the effulgence of whiteness and blackness, that dance with pure and festive pastimes for the 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.
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?
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?
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 eventually have found Radha and Krishna in some form or another and placed them on the highest altar.
Energy, the Energetic, and their unity.
Radha and Krishna are a divine couple, like so many of the deities of 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 is another word for love.
As Vaishnavism itself grows out of a patriarchical tradition with a God conceived in masculine and regal (aiśvarya) terms, the relationship between male and female elements is conceived of as one between the power (śakti) and the empowered or powerful (śaktimān). Basically, 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 essentially of expanding the difference while at the same time always seeking the underlying unity. Neither unity nor variety can exist meaningfully without each other. This is also the mystery of love.
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, 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. The feminine is not seen as an independent power, but as an empowering element. Empowerment is of the nature of erotic love.
Radha and Krishna exist in a context of the 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 force in existence, the Omnipotent Lord Himself.
In the pinnacle of the Gaudiya Vaishnava scriptures, indeed in what is arguably the pinnacle of all texts 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 the highest perfection of that love.
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 love truly can exist in its pristine purity, as something beyond even God's 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.
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 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 creates and imagines their love.