The Divine Couple and mental idolatry

Now are the myths of Radha and Krishna to be qualified as "mental idolatry where, removed from the direct experience of the guiding force of unconditionality, theoretical frameworks and vestigial linguistics conjure up a surface mirage in terms of which the experience is interpreted, under which the experience is subjugated"?

Well, in the sense that all words do that to some extent until their real meaning is discovered. But the nature, I think, of words is their capacity to create realities within which we have our direct experience. This is how, it seems to me, rasa works.

For instance, at the age of 64, as a result of my life's culture of Krishna bhakti, I have chosen a particular way of perceiving the world (to a great extent against the received dominant culture to which I was born), through the framework of Radha-Krishna bhakti and its myriad forms and expressions, including a lot of peripherals -- including India itself as it is in the present day, non-Vaishnava manifestations of the Indian past, etc. All these things not only inform my thought processes, but shape my life. No matter how much I stand outside my own experience as an observer, in the actual living of my life, these things are inconceivably intertwined with it and present the inviolable conditions of my experience.

In the case of Radha and Krishna (along with the complexes associated with them, most significantly Chaitanya), they are isolated as having priority because they symbolize or incarnate the concept of pure love in madhura rasa. This means that they act as a beacon of light, a lighthouse that anchors or orients my life towards a particular goal, prem prayojan.

The symbols that are equivalent to God are never fully free from obscurity. They are constantly in the process of being revealed, and that revelation is called rasa.

But are they not irrelevant? Are they not anchored in historical time and culture, language, etc. How can Radha-Krishna lila, especially with its medieval concept of gender, its characterization of the feminine in such narrow fashion, be of any practical use in the modern circumstance? Will it not then automatically throw one into the confusion of words and interfere with direct experience?

This may be a problem. I would say that this is one of the reasons that "Krishna West" is a conundrum. Krishna conscious philosophy might be cogent to a certain point, but it makes excessive demands when it imposes such a huge challenge to ways of thinking that have become normalized in our Western society.

Does anyone, particularly a woman, want to return to the conditions of medieval Hindustan, particularly when we can see rather directly what a Braj goala is, face to face, here in Braj, and not necessarily be very impressed? I could go on in this vein.

The answer has to begin from an intuitive and philosophical position. The intuitive is that Radha-Krishna and Braj "stand for" the most pure and idealistic kind of love, which is unknown, but stands in the general direction of the symbol, i.e., of the historical manifestation of the symbol. We accept that Radha and Krishna's love represent something that is deeply embedded within the human desire system, indeed lies at its very basis.

The fact that Radha-Krishna have a history that can be traced, which developed in India, with its theories of rasa and bhakti, which ride on the firm back and shoulders of the Upanishads, Gita and Bhagavata Purana, does not limit the evolutionary idea, the teleology of "pure love." So we situate ourselves within history without denying the reality of historical movement.

So why not divorce ourselves from the symbols themselves if we have understood their meaning? Will the symbols not get in the way of unmediated experience?

That is a part of the operation, I would say: one separates the symbol from its meaning. But I don't see this as a productive final step. I think that the symbol and its meaning go on in a dynamic fashion. One is forced to return to the symbol itself, again and again, because the mind really has nowhere else to go, linguistically, to concisely express, even to itself, what it is seeking.

The fact is that rasa cannot be manifest without the infinite and complex multiplicity of creation. So the symbol system of madhura rasa, along with much of Rupa Goswami's taxonomies of love and lovers, its glorification of the feminine as archetypal of love, is not an instruction manual of how to BE, but rather of how to enter the kunj, the realm of love in both being and becoming, through evolving knowledge based in observation and experience.

So the way I see it is that Radha and Krishna are the madhura love principle that manifests itself in an infinity of ways, as the world expands in the expression of love, the seeking of love (or Love). We participate in Radha and Krishna's existence by perfecting ourselves in love, pure madhura love containing all other varieties of love. This is only possible against the backdrop of an impartial Reality, which we call God or Love, and which for us takes the form of Radha and Krishna.

premā yo'sau rādhikā-kṛṣṇa-yugmaṁ
svānandena plāvayitvā sakhīś ca |
śaśvad viśvaṁ plāvayan suprasiddhaḥ
so'yaṁ buddhiṁ naḥ samiddhāṁ karotu ||

That love, it is well known,
first inundates the divine pair of lovers,
Radhika and Krishna,
with its own bliss -
and their girlfriends too --
and then constantly engulfs
the entire universe.
May this very love
here inflame our intelligence.
(Gopala-champu 1.15.4)

इमौ गौरीश्यामौ मनसि विपरीतौ बहिरपि
स्फुरत्तत्तद्वस्त्राविति बुधजनैर्निश्चितमिदम् ।
स कोऽप्यच्छप्रेमा विलसदुभयस्फूर्तिकतया
दधन्मूर्तिभावं पृथगपृथगप्याविरुदभूत् ॥

Wise persons have determined that though
these Two are of a black and golden hue respectively,
in their minds they are of the opposite colors;
so too, externally, are their clothes.
This is some pure, unblemished love,
which has become incarnate,
taking on this form with a dual manifestation,
at once divided and a unity.
(GC 1.15.2)


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