VMA 1.68 : "Whatever you are, free yourself of bonds and behold Vrindavan"

As some of you may have realized by now, I am a bit scatterbrained, all over the map as it were. The last couple of months I have been absorbed in Bhaktivinoda Thakur's life, and that project, thought quite far along, is still incomplete.

Now here I am in Birnagar during the annual festival celebrating Bhaktivinoda Thakur's appearance in this world, and I am unable to immerse myself in it fully due to a request from Satyaraj Das to contribute an article to the upcoming issue of Journal of Vaishnava Studies, which will deal with the subject of "tirtha."

So I have been scouring my writings over the past eight years or so, since I started living in Vrindavan and writing for Vrindavan Today. I made a list on Facebook of 25 editorials that I posted there that in one way or another express my thoughts about living in Vrindavan. Some of these have been crossposted here, though not all.

I have also been going through the verses of 
Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta that I have posted there intermittently over the past few years. Most of those haven't been made available on this site. Perhaps a separate site altogether would be best for that. There are approximately 1700 verses in VMA, which is quite a hefty chunk, and I am only up to 2.39 so far. It is the commenting that is challenging, but as I look through what I have written so far, I am rather happy with many of them. Not too long ago I posted VMA 1.39, which was relevant to the thoughts of the day.

The theme that is at the basis of VMA and my commentaries on it is that of 
Braja-vāsa sādhanā. So that is what my article will be about. I think I may post a "best of" series from the VMA verses on Vrindavan Today over the next few days.

The irony is that I am in Bengal and have been absorbed in something seemingly quite different -- 19th century British India. But it is through Bhaktivinoda Thakur that I get to Braj, and he wrote in his Siddhi-lālasā:

gauḏa-vraja-jane bheda nā dekhiba
ha-iba baraja-bāsī
(takhana) dhāmera svarūpa sphuribe nayane
ha-iba rādhāra dāsī (4)

When I cease to make distinctions between
the residents of Gauda and Braj Dham,
I will become resident of Braj.
The Dham will then appear directly before my eyes 

and I will become Radha’s dasi.:

"Whatever you are, free yourself of your bonds and behold Vrindavan" (VMA 1.68)

pāpātmā puyavān vā prasarad-apayaśā kīrtimān vā mahā-du-
prāpa-grāso’tha samrā asama-jaa-mati sarva-vidyā-nidhir vā |
ya ko’pi tva sakhe no gaaya katham apīkasva vndāvana tat
chindhi chindhi sva-pāśān guru-nigama-girā svīya-mohaika-siddhān ||

Whether you are sinner or saint,
notoriously disreputable or effulgent with glory,
whether you have the greatest difficulty
in finding even a mouthful to eat
or are an emperor,
whether you are without equal in stupidity
or a veritable ocean of learning,
O friend, whoever or whatever you are,
take none of it into consideration,
just somehow behold this land of Vrindavan.
By faith in the instructions from your guru and the revealed texts
cut away, cut away at the ties that bind you,
ties that are nothing but the product of your illusion. (1.68)

One of the fundamental teachings of Vaishnavism is that no one is disqualified from taking up the devotional process. There are no preliminary prerequisite qualifications before one can start on the path of devotion, unlike those generally listed for eligible practitioners of the path of knowledge.

Although one needs no qualifications to begin, the goal is to become qualified, for without becoming like unto God, no one can come close to God. 

There are similarly no qualifications for one to enter the bhauma Vrindavan other than good fortune, but to actually be in Vrindavan takes a tremendous change in consciousness. Being there physically helps, but living there is still a devotional practice or sādhanā meant for transforming the consciousness.

Sometimes people out of humility think they should not live in Vrindavan. Sometimes one hears them say that they are afraid of “committing offenses.” And rightly so. As long as one does not see the bhauma Vrindavan with the eyes anointed with the salve of divine love, one will be distracted by perceptions of things like filth and garbage. One will see the people who engage in sinful actions, acting materialistically instead of spiritually, and will judge them.

The disparity between the ideals of one’s imagined world and the reality of the this-worldly Vrindavan is a shock. But what can we expect? That is their conditioning. And moreover, oftentimes, the problems are due to cultural differences, another kind of perception.

Subjective impressions arise out of ego identification. Thinking one is superior or inferior, a king or a pauper, qualified or unqualified, in either case these are all based in our self-identification with the body. Some of these are logical, others are cultural. But since they are irrelevant to our execution of bhakti, Prabodhananda Saraswati tells us to cut them off and look at Vrindavan with an eye of knowledge. This is an intellectual exercise, an exercise in awareness.

The thought that one is qualified results in overconfidence, and such pride is always rewarded by the Supreme with a reminder of one’s true position. On the other hand, one who is afflicted by doubts due to feeling unqualified becomes incapacitated in action. Krishna says in the Gita:

tasmād ajñāna-sabhūta ht-stha jñānāsinātmana |
chittvaina saśaya yogam ātiṣṭhottiṣṭha bhārata ||

Therefore take the sword of knowledge and cut off the doubts in your heart that are born of ignorance. Take faith in yoga and rise to action, Arjuna. (Gita 4.42)

We can never be qualified for bhakti, since we come to it purely out of the grace of the Divine Couple, their devotees and the Dham. This is the principal reason for a devotee’s humility (māna-śūnyatā)–the knowledge that he has no qualification, spiritual or material. But this leads to another characteristic of the bhāva-bhakta, āśā-bandha, or such a strong hope that even the most desolate and discouraging circumstances, internal or external, cannot destroy it.

na premā śravaādi-bhaktir api vā yogo’thavā vaiṣṇavo
jñāna vā śubha-karma vā kiyad aho sajjātir apy asti vā |
hīnārthādhika-sādhake tvayi tathāpy acchedya-mūlā satī
he gopī-jana-vallabha vyathayate hā hā mad-āśaiva mām||

I have no prema. Nor do I engage in hearing and chanting, the practices that lead to prema. I have not the self-discipline befitting a Vaishnava. Nor do I have wisdom, nor, alas, pious works. I am not even of good birth. O Gopijanavallabha! You are said to bring fulfillment to those who are most unworthy, yet the hope for your mercy, which is pure and holy, and so deeply rooted within me that I cannot cut it out, brings me nothing but pain. (BRS 1.3.36)

This attitude is the real qualification for seeing Vrindavan as it is.


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