Having said a few critical things about some of our attitudes towards Māyāpura, now it’s turn of Vṛndāvana. Whatever offenses we might commit by thinking of Māyāpura as a field of our enjoyment are multiplied a thousand times in Vṛndāvana. In Māyāpura we can at least count on Lord Caitanya’s forgiving attitude, He knows what stock we are made of, but that won’t fly in Vraja.
Vraja is not a place to beg for forgiveness, it’s a place to serve Kṛṣṇa, if we can’t do it properly, if we do not possess śuddha bhakti we should not even be there. It’s not a place were we go for purification, we can’t plan to bring our sins into Vṛndāvana and expect Kṛṣṇa to take care of them for us. We cannot impose our impure selves on Him there.
Therefore anyone thinking of settling in Vṛndāvana should think twice whether it’s appropriate at all. Some service needs to be done there by our devotees but that means we should patiently wait to be called upon rather than check into some guesthouse, unpack our bags, and go shopping for condos.
Everyone can *live* in Vṛndāvana, sure, but it won’t make them into vraja vāsīs. Vraja vāsīs are only nitya siddhas, Lord’s eternal associates, we can’t claim membership in that club simply because we bought land or got a visa from Indian government.
One could say that residing in Vṛndāvana is prescribed in Upadeśāmṛta so who am I to argue otherwise but we should follow the footsteps of our ācāryas and carry out their mission, not mimic Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī or claim to understand his instructions better than our guru.
We’ve heard it from Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī Ṭhākura – there are no vaiṣṇavas in Vṛndāvana, only kaniśṭhas. That was a hundred years ago and by the way things have been going we shouldn’t assume situation improved much there. There are more devotees living there now, sure, but in service to Kṛṣṇa quantity doesn’t mean quality.
What about those who live all their lives there or maybe even been born there – shouldn’t we consider them as nitya siddha vraja vāsīs? Yes and no. Whatever their exalted position might be, if they behave as if controlled by envy, anger, or lust, there’s nothing for us to learn there and we should treat them accordingly, which doesn’t meant to retaliate and engage in vaiṣṇava aparādha.
When Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta heard one of those vraja vāsīs declare himself to be fit to offer blessings to Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī he didn’t retort but fasted instead, and he kept fasting until that brāhmana apologized for his behavior.
There’s a lot we can learn from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s guru about behavior in Vṛndāvana, I hope it won’t be disrespectful to Śrīla Prabhupāda to do so.
Take the case of that brāhmana, for example. If we want to be bābājīs then we should simply cover our ears and leave when someone speaks disrespectfully of our ācāryas but because we are engaged in the preaching mission, behave like preachers, use the facilities of preachers and hope to satisfy Kṛṣṇa by preaching, we have no other choice but confront the offenders. We cannot allow to simply walk away, it’s not the mission given to us by our guru and by Śrīla Prabhupāda.
This is an important point – we can’t behave like someone we are not, we can’t pretend to be renunciates of the highest order, we can’t forget who we are and what we were asked to do. We can’t arrive in Vṛndāvana, dress like locals or as if we don’t care that we don’t look like Prabhupāda wanted us to look, and it will all be okay.
No one has ever given us permission to behave anything other than Śrīla Prabhupāda’s representatives and we shouldn’t award such permission to ourselves.
Vṛndāvana is not a place where we can reinvent ourselves spiritually.
Many of our devotees subconsciously try to do just that, to find some inner truth, to discover a pure devotion within themselves.
I wish I could say “it doesn’t work” but it kinda does – except that instead of discovering their inner devotees they pander to their inner materialism, using Vṛndāvana as a place of their lodging.
And what of that “everyone’s a kaniṣṭha there” claim? What can we say or do about that? There are thousands of ex-ISKCON devotees who would argue otherwise, sometimes very convincingly.
Well, the first step would be to weed out anyone smoking or maintaining female association. That is just a big no no. Still, there would be plenty contenders for the post of uttama adhikārīs left, what should we do about them?
There were such devotees in Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s time, too, but he was knowledgeable enough to point out their deviations from the scriptures and our ācāryas. I guess we’d have to deal with them on case by case basis, which I don’t want to do here, name names etc.
There’s a long check list on “ācārya compliance” and sooner or later they’d be found lacking. It could be following some smarta rules, it could be lack of respect for Lord Caitanya and literature about him, it could be māyāvāda contamination, something is always there.
Still, there could be found exemplary devotees who follow all the rules, read the right books, worship the right ācāryas and behave impeccably as devotees. Those are the ones Śrīla Bhaktisiddhana called kaniṣṭhas. They are trying but they are not there yet.
If anyone objects that it’s presumptuous of us to call anyone a kaniṣṭha as if we ourselves are any better, but it was only a week ago that I argued that we are, indeed, only kaniṣṭhas and cannot claim any higher position.
As neophytes, we are not qualified to pass judgment on any other devotee and that’s exactly what I am doing here – simply repeating what we were told by our gurus. I can speculate why and how it is true but I won’t take it upon myself to contradict our ācāryas.
But what about Rūpa Gosvāmī’s clear instruction to take residence in Vraja and, specifically, Rādhā Kunda? I can think of two answers to that.
First comes form Upadeśāmṛta itself – one who has control over his senses should take disciples “all over the world”, in Prabhupāda’s translation. You can’t do that by sitting in your “āśrama” in Vṛndāvana. Transition to madhyama means getting off your ass and going out. If these “vraja vāsīs” don’t realize that then they are not madhyamas, what to speak of uttama adhikārīs.
As for residence at Rādhā Kunda, I once again want to refer to Śrīla Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswatī who said that Rādhā Kunda is the place to serve the lotus feet of one’s guru, it’s not a place for a personal residence. We can visit and then we have to return to our less than exalted position.
The recommendation to actually reside there is for those who are completely free from all material desires and who have only a single pointed consciousness – to serve Śrimatī Rādhārāṇi.
So, here’s the second answer – Rādhā Kunda is for those on the pure spiritual platform, those who can actually enter Lord’s pastimes and serve Him there. If we are not given that kind of clearance we should not be there, it’s not a place to “hang”.
Vraja means “to walk.” Anyone always walking the path of satisfying Kṛṣṇa is a Vraja-vāsī.
I don’t think we should take this as a metaphor but as a statement on reality. If we are not yet serving Kṛṣna personally we can’t be vraja vāsīs, and if we become His servants we’ll become vraja vāsīs regardless of where we reside externally. Everything else is just our material imagination or external material designations.
“Vraja” means walking the path of satisfying Kṛṣṇa. It’s not a physical place, can’t say any better than that.