VMA 1.67 : Don't give up this taste of nectar!

Janmashtami Abhishek of Radha Raman, 2018
Originally posted at Vrindavan Today.


tyaktvā vṛndāvanam idam aho / ced bahir yāsi nūnaṁ
kṣiptvā kalpa-druma-vara-vanaṁ / hanta śākhoṭam eṣi
hitvā vṛndāvana-rasa-kathām/ anya-vārtā-ruciś cet
jñātaṁ kṣiptvā paramam amṛtaṁ / bhoktum icchuḥ śva-viṣṭhām

If you leave this Vrindavan to go outside somewhere,
then surely you have abandoned
the best of heavenly desire trees
to take shelter of a spinous mulberry bush.

And if you have no taste
for the delightful topics of Vrindavan rasa
prefering talk of other things,
you are like one who knowingly throws away
the nectar of the gods to eat your own stool. (1.67)

Commentary

In 1.60, Prabodhananda compared someone who abandons Vrindavan after attaining residence there to a dog who eats his own vomit. Continuing in the same vein here, he compares such a person to the stool-eating hog. Such comparisons are not original, as they have appeared even in the Bhāgavatam. For instance, King Rishabhadeva says to his sons,

nāyaṁ deho deha-bhājāṁ nṛ-loke
kaṣṭān kāmān arhate viḍ-bhujāṁ ye
tapo divyaṁ putrakā yena sattvaṁ
śuddhyed yasmād brahma-saukhyaṁ tv anantam
"This human body is not meant for troublesome activities leading to sense gratification, as it is for the stool-eating hogs. Oh my sons, it is meant for divine austerity, by which one’s being is purified and one attains the infinite joys of God consciousness." (5.5.1)
This verse indicates that mundane pleasures are available even in lower species: a hog may eat stool, but that is for it a pleasure equal to the pleasure the gourmet takes in his fine cuisine, perhaps even greater. But for one who has a refined taste, the inferiority and even the disgusting nature of such pleasures of the unevolved are instinctively recognized.

In this case, however, human beings need to be educated about tastes. Even though human beings do have an aesthetic sense, still modern society avoids judging better or worse, “to each his own” and “whatever floats your boat” and hundreds of other expressions confirm this liberal attitude to the pursuit of happiness.

Indian society also had a similar attitude towards religious belief, unlike some other, more dogmatic religions. The Hindus recognized that religion was ultimately an aesthetic choice, closely connected to one’s most intimate desires. In the Gītā, Krishna says we are what we believe or what we have faith in, yo yac-chraddhaḥ sa eva saḥ. But all spiritual paths, like the above verse of Rishabhadeva, as well as that of Prabodhananda, insist on making a value judgment: a Godly life is better, more satisfying than one that is not G0d-centered. And even within that Godly life, there is an objective hierarchy in the experiencing of pleasure. This too is an Upanishadic principle:

yadā vai sukhaṁ labhate’tha karoti,
nāsukhaṁ labdhvā karoti, sukham eva labdhvā karoti |
sukhaṁ tv eva vijijñāsitavyam||
When one obtains bliss, only then does one act. One who does not obtain bliss does not act. Only on obtaining bliss does one act. So one absolutely must seek to fully understand bliss. (Chāndogya U. 7.22)
yo vai bhūmā, tat sukham| nālpe sukham asti |
bhūmaiva sukham| bhūmā tv eva vijijñāsitavyaḥ ||
That which is infinite is bliss. There is no bliss in anything finite. Only the Infinite is bliss. So one absolutely must seek to fully understand the Infinite. (Chāndogya 7.23)
And from this point the Upanishad goes on to explain the state of bliss that comes of the state of the Infinite (bhūmā), "the aggregate of all existing things" (Monier-Williams dictionary).

yatra nānyat paśyati, nānyac chṛṇoti, nānyad vijānāti, sa bhūmā |
atha yatrānyat paśyati, anyac chṛṇoti, anyad vijānāti, tad alpam|
yo vai bhūmā tad amṛtam| atha yad alpaṁ tan martyam|
sa bhagavaḥ kasmin pratiṣṭhitaḥ ?
iti, sve mahimni, yadi vā, na mahimnīti ||
Where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else, understands nothing else—that is the Infinite. Where one sees something else, hears something else, understands something else—that is the finite. The Infinite is immortal, the finite mortal."
"Venerable Sir, in what does the Infinite find Its support?"
"In Its own greatness—or not even in greatness."
It is then against this backdrop that the Vaishnavas first explain that the Infinite as Person is a greater and fuller understanding of this bhūmā. And this is why Rupa Goswami does something that no other theologian has done: based his argument about the nature of God on aesthetic principles, or rasa.

Two verses stand out in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu. The first summarizes how Krishna’s form is superior to the other form s of the Supreme Person, Vishnu–

tatrāpy ekāntināṁ śreṣṭhā govinda-hṛta-mānasāḥ
yeṣāṁ śrīśa-prasādo’pi mano hartuṁ na śaknuyāt
Even among the single-minded devotees of Lord Hari, the best are those whose hearts have been captured by Lord Govinda. Indeed, even the favor of Lord Narayan, the husband of the supreme goddess of fortune, cannot steal away their hearts. (1.2.58)
siddhāntatas tv abhede’pi śrīśa-kṛṣṇa-svarupayoḥ |
rasenotkṛṣyate kṛṣṇaḥ kṛṣṇa-rūpam eṣā rasa-sthitiḥ ||
Though according to dogma, Krishna and the husband of Lakshmi are identical in essence, the form of Krishna is superior when analyzed from the point of view of divine sentiment. This is the conclusion based on the analysis of rasa. (1.2.59)
And then, he goes on to say that even within the form of Krishna there is a hierarchy of divine aesthetic experience or rapture:

yathottaram asau svāda-viśeṣollāsamayy api
ratir vāsanayā svādvī bhāsate kāpi kasyacit
Of the five kinds of tastes, there is a hierarchy, each having a special relish that is not present in the preceding one. But each kind of love seems particularly relishable to certain people due to their conditioned temperament. (2.5.38)
And on this gradation and taxonomy of levels of love and ānanda or sukha go on, all the way to the mahā-bhāva of the Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi. So this is the basic way in which the structure of Rupa Goswami’s argument goes, and it is at the basis of both the understanding and the experience of all Prabodhananda Saraswati’s writing.


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