Sakhī-bhāva vs. Gopī-bhāva

I am writing on my computer for the first time since arriving in India, which is now three days already. And with the long trip getting here, fraught with one misadventure, namely missing the connecting flight from Paris, was that makes six days since I have even thought of blogging. I got to do a lot of reading on the plane and in the waiting rooms—when I wasn’t traipsing up and down the interminable terminals at Charles-de-Gaulle, trying to negotiate Air France and Air Canada for the next step of my changing itinerary. There is a lot to say--six days of accumulated experiences and reading, but for now I will just copy what I wrote on my home computer, copying and pasting onto the blog. Hopefully better connections will be available in Rishikesh and the human-internet interface will be smoother.


What follows here is a summary of Sharan Behari Goswami’s six points of difference between sakhī-bhāva and gopī-bhāva (pages 188-193 of the work already mentioned). I talked to a Haridasi sadhu briefly on the street yesterday. (He was standing in front of his ashram taking in a little bit of day’s end sunlight; I was attracted by the verses painted on the wall and had a question about the meaning of one of them.) He knew of this book and was quite appreciative of it, as might well be expected. However, I asked him how he viewed the Gaudiya Vaishnavas and mañjarī-bhāva and he clearly accepted the idea, though he mention the pārakīyā-svakīyā question as a point of contention. Something else too, but it slips my mind.

I am going to give the summary without comment, though I may add a word or two at the end.


(1) Basic sources for the worship

Gopī-tattva is adequately explained in the Puranas. Indeed, that is the fundamental source of the concept. However, even for gopī-bhāva, most of the details, like names, places, etc., dealing with gopī-bhāva are not found, what to speak of sakhī-bhāva and tattva. Indeed, even most of the tattva itself cannot be directly intuited from the Puranic descriptions of Radha Krishna līlā. It requires deliberate or convoluted explanations. Therefore sakhī-bhāva lies beyond the Puranas.

From the point of view of the philosophical discourses of the Vaishnava acharyas (pre-16th century) also, there Krishna is established as the Param Brahma and Radha and the gopis are identified as his prakritis. In the explanations of some acharyas, the gopis are considered to be symbolic representations of the jiva. SBG says that these symbolic interpretations are either incompatible with the emotional realms of the līlā, or completely opposed to them. The followers of sakhī-bhāva make no such symbolic interpretations of the līlā.

Finally, sakhī-bhāva upāsanā is primarily based on bhāva, or emotions. the Pancharatrik or Tantrik streams of worship, using mantras, yantras, etc., are not followed by the Sakhī-sampradāya. Nor do they accept the ascetic and austere methods of worship associated with yoga, etc. Although some aspects of what can be called tantrik sadhana have been maintained—meditation, mantra-japa, etc.—in other respects they have been abandoned. Even the complex yoga-pīṭha dhyānas with lotuses, petals, the extensive yūthas, etc., such as found in the Nimbarka and Gaudiya traditions, are rejected.


(2) Different spiritual abodes

Here, although SBG does not use the distinction of Vrindavan, Vraja and Kunja, it is clearly what he means. He says that in the worldly Vraja of Krishna’s pastimes, and in the transcendental Goloka, Krishna’s parents, the other cowherds, the cows and all the related pastimes take place. Where those pastimes are present, Radha and Krishna’s most intimate līlās cannot take place. Therefore those following the sakhī-bhāva have conceived of an abode of the Lord that is exclusively dedicated to the madhura-līlā.


(3) Different worshipful objects

Those worshiping in gopī-bhāva are basically worshiping the avatar Krishna as God. And though many acharyas have rejected the aiśvarya aspects of the Dvaraka and Mathura līlās as incompatible with the mood of madhura-rasa, there are nevertheless many elements in the Vraja līlā that are also imbued with comparable aiśvarya.

In sakhī-bhāva upāsanā, the object of worship is the Yugala, and there too Radha is dominant. It rejects any characterisation of Radha and the sakhis as bhaktas. In all these sampradayas, not only is Radha accepted as identical with Krishna (kṛṣṇa-svarūpa), but so too are the sakhis. The result of this distinction is that the gopis enjoy sambhoga-līlā with Krishna, whereas since the sakhis worship the Yugala, that is impossible.

Furthermore, the kinds of divisions and subdivisions that have been made of the gopis and yūtheśvarīs is not possible where the sakhis are concerned. They are nitya-sakhīs and have not come to their position through various means and formed yūthas, etc. They have no mothers or fathers, no friends or buddies, nor husbands, nor children. They are beyond time and space and are technically parts and parcels of the Supreme Truth.


(4) Different līlās

Since the gopī-tattva is a part of Krishna’s avatar līlā, which incorporates so many activities not related to madhura-rasa. These other līlās often conflict with the appreciation of madhura-rasa (rasa-virodha). Indeed, to some extent or another, all the līlās, including herding the cows, relating to his parents, playing with his friends, etc., in one way or another distract from the principal activity of enjoying with Radha. Furthermore, Krishna leaves all of the Vrajavasis to go to Mathura, and the distinctions of separation and union are a constant feature of gopī-bhāva.

Sakhī-bhāva upāsanā exists only in the context of saṁyoga, eternal sambhoga. Not even a moment of separation is possible. Krishna, the nitya-vihārī, has no need of killing demons, nor any other duty that might take him away from Radha. Although physical separation is impossible, there may be the occasional manifestation of māna, but even there, such māna is lost in a look. The līlā here can be seen as the expansion of the deep loving embrace of the Divine Couple. None of the gross pastimes (sthūla-līlā) have the occasion to manifest. So the varieties of activity that go on within these limits is the līlā that is worshiped in sakhī-bhāva upāsanā, and this too is the special feature of the literature of these sampradayas.


(5) The idea of sva-sukha, tat-sukha

The gopis’ prema is generally held up as the standard for pure love, but even there, on occasion there are elements of personal desire. Or at least that is the way the Bhagavata presents some elements of extraneous elements at the end of chapter 29 (verses 47 and 49) of the Rasa līlā. In the Vallabha sampradaya, Chandravali is said to have elements of personal desire in her love, and so she is considered to be inferior to Radha. In general, though, where there is kanta-bhava, there is less likelihood of pure tat-sukha-bhava.

The most fundamental difference between sakhī-bhāva and gopī-bhāva lies here. But it is not just a question of sva-sukha and tat-sukha. Indeed it goes beyond any such duality. Whatever they feel or experience that is pleasing to their worshipable Divine Couple; and whatever the Divine Couple desires is pleasing to the sakhis. In such a condition, desire no longer can be called desire, but rather should be called a proclivity for the delectable pastimes (rasa-līlā-pravṛtti). In this mood, every moment appears new and fresh in the heart of the devotee.


(6) Pārakīyā-svakīyā idea.

As the above indicates, the concept of a unitary divine world with no distinctions between the sakhis and the Divine Couple means that the whole question of sva- or para-, being Krishna’s or not-Krishna’s does not enter into the realm of possibility. Since the sakhis all are intimately part of this līlā, both from the point of view of līlā as well as siddhānta, they are svakīyā. There is no one in the world that could separate them for even a moment.

But SBG goes on to say that there is not really any svakīyā, either, in the true sense of the word as a married state. Since Radha is no one’s daughter, has no birth or death, knows neither time, nor karma, material nature or its qualities, is beyond the eternal cycle of creation and destruction, the entire idea of being a wife to Krishna has no meaning. As a result, in the pure concept of sakhī-bhāva, neither svakīyā nor pārakīyā have any place. Sakhī-bhāva is completely transcendental.

Even though the sakhis do not think of Krishna as their lover, the question of their being svakīyā or pārakīyā does not arise. Their “husband” (svāmī) is the Yugala Dampati. The relationship is unique as it neither gives scope to desire (sakāmatā), nor to the idea of svakīyā and pārakīyā.

So in all the above categories, sakhī-bhāva transcends the usual categories in which gopi-bhava is understood or described. In all areas, the sakhis are integral to the pastimes of Priya-Pritam: they are participants in the līlā, they expand the līlā, they relish the līlā. Indeed, they are personifications of the līlā (līlā-svarūpā). They have no other functional identity. As a result, the concept of the sakhi can only be explained as an aspect of the nitya-vihāra.

The next few pages gives citations from various works to support the above. I may come back and add to it if I find information that seems pertinent or very useful.


I would say that with perhaps one exception or two, the entire scheme above is compatible with the Gaudiya siddhanta. And, even within Gaudiya siddhanta, Jiva Goswami accepts the idea of a dimension where the nitya vihara is indeed going on. Jiva talks about this in the context of separation, where the gopis are told by Krishna that he never leaves them, even though they are suffering from his separation in the context of the līlā.

The Gaudiya Math places a great deal of emphasis on the mood of separation, but the entire mood of separation does ultimately depend on the fact of eternal union. In other words, while separated, the lovers meditate intensely on the union they have experienced and desire to recreate. Psychologically, this is a kind of other-dimensional union that is considered metaphysically real. This is the meaning behind the famous verse:

संगम-विरह-विकल्पे, वरमिह विरहो न तु संगमस्तस्य ।
एकः स एव संगे, त्रिभुवनमपि तन्मयं विरहे ॥
Were I made to choose between union and separation
I would verily take separation and not union with him.
For, when united in his company, he is but one man,
whereas when separated, the entire universe becomes he.
So the concept of nitya-vihāra lies behind the very fabric of the nitya-līlā, even if we accept the various comings and goings created by Yogamaya to stir the līlā rasa.

Devotees in sakhī mañjarī bhāva have their eyes focused on the nitya-vihāra. It cannot be seen any differently from the impulse of lovers to be united. When that impulse possesses them, they are fixed on the goal and that goal pervades their senses and sensibility. That is the desired result, and the obstacles created by Maya (whether Yogamaya or Mahamaya here is irrelevant) simply make the desire more acute; they challenge the existence of that desire and make the entire being of the aspirant more deeply involved in the challenge of attaining it. For the Gaudiyas, this is why the pārakīyā-svakīyā question, or that of separation, are acknowledged as substantial, since they represent a sophistication of the līlā.

Clearly, I may add, that this concentration of the līlā, this successive exclusionary process, is something that the Gaudiyas were engaged in. However, it only LOOKS as if they were acknowledging the value in every other aspect of Vishnu līlā, from Vaikuntha, to the Purushavatars, to Dvaraka, Mathura and other rasas in Braj. THey were also narrowly focused in the end. Swami Haridas and the rest of the Rasika Sampradayas all accepted the conclusion and said, we don't need all the rest of this, we will just take the jewel in the lotus. There is clearly nothing wrong if Gaudiyas do the same thing.

One last comment, of course, is that yugala-sādhana makes more sense if we accept the nitya-vihāra context.


Anonymous said…
You mention that in the explanations of some acharyas the gopis are considered to be symbolic representations of the jiva. Whom does SBG mean?
Unknown said…
Replace 'if' by 'as' in the concluding part of your blog as under:
One last comment, of course, is that yugala sadhana makes more sense AS we accept the nitya-vihara context.
Now see the impact. Are we not close enough to Bihariji as Swami Haridas Described:
Mere Nitya Kishore Ajanma|
Viharat Ek Pran dwai Tanma||

Please keep on visiting to enjoy proximity to Bihariji Maharaj.

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