After writing a series of posts on Vṛndāvana gossip published in various Puraṇas I’ve naturally lost interest in praying to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, if I ever had any. Should I try and find it? Or is it really a boon?
There are two reasons, internal and external. Externally, she wasn’t presented in the best light, all her good qualities were hidden, giving way to displays of petty jealousy and short temper. It’s just not very attractive and it could be pretty scary – the moment she steps into my mind she’d probably curse me to eternity in hell, and that is the internal reason – my mind has become corrupted and my intelligence has stored these unsavory images in my memory forever. These offenses need to be paid for by losing all the taste for the subject.
This is where it might actually turn beneficial because if my mind IS that degraded I shouldn’t direct it towards worship of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī anyway. It is not ready, I’m not ready, and therefore I better not pretend that I know anything about her and would like to make her the object of my devotion. My tongue should probably be ripped out for speaking about her in such a casual, materialistic way. For three days I ogled the product of my mundane imagination, ascribing her qualities which are completely absent in Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s personality. I added these impure thoughts to the bank of my knowledge and linked them to her, which she doesn’t deserve, and I think I must pay the price for this transgression.
What should the price be, however? If I’ve lost all my good fortune and all interest in the chanting of the Holy Name, I haven’t noticed it. My intelligence still tells me to chant and my mind is not any more averse than usual. Everything seems to be normal, so what should be the price then?
I see it as being two-fold. First, I’m forced to abandon, with a good measure of disgust, all attempts at “humanizing” her. The way I used to “know” her is gone, hopefully forever. I will miss her image but I’ll get over it, it wasn’t the one that should have been kept anyway. This form of punishment could really turn to be a blessing.
Secondly, I’m forced to seek shelter elsewhere, which is usually a bad thing if it happens in the course of our regular service because elsewhere means māyā, but this is not the usual case – there are plenty of lotus feet for us to seek shade of, Lord’s mercy is unlimited, and Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s mercy is unlimited, too, even for those who do not deserve to receive it directly. In short, I have probably been sent back to do my homework first.
This punishment is also a blessing – before that I didn’t know how unprepared I was but now I’ve been shown my real situation and I’ve been given instructions on how to improve it. What instructions? A couple of stand out verses from Caitanya Caritāmṛta and Caitanya Bhāgavata. I was just reading along, minding my own business, when suddenly I was taken away by their import, and I take it as a sign.
First, the verse from Caitanya Caritāmṛta (Antya 6.220):
Renunciation is the basic principle sustaining the lives of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s devotees. Seeing this renunciation, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is extremely satisfied.
Chanting is great, but as long as we cling to our attachments it won’t be effective, like trying to ignite wet wood. There’d be a lot of smoke but no heat, as Śrīla Prabhupāda used to say. Perhaps by smoke he meant a lot of empty talk about progress and how to achieve it, I’m certainly as guilty about it as anyone.
Taken out of the context this verse can be interpreted as supporting yukta-vairāgya, proper renunciation, in which we engage everything in the service to the Lord, thus nothing get renounced in the usual sense. Yukta-vairāgya lets us keep all our wealth, our family, and, indeed, our attachments, but engage them in service so that they get gradually purified. On the level of ISKCON as a society yukta-vairāgya in unassailable. It’s what drives our grown – bigger temples, more devotees, big festivals, 24 hour kīrtans, massive food distribution and so on. There’s an upcoming movie Acarya that is scheduled for release later this year for the anniversary of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s arrival in the US and it looks like a very professional production – another example of yukta-vairagya at work.
This is not, however, what was meant in that verse from Caitanya Caritāmṛta. It’s taken from a description of renunciation of Śrīla Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī and it was “real” renunciation, in a sense that Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī actually gave up all means of sense enjoyment. It was from the part where he first took food given to him by Lord Caitanya’s servant but he thought it was inappropriate and started to beg outside the temple. Then he realized that begging there was like being a prostitute – he had to look at every potential donor with hope and he was forced to treat people depending on the value of their donations. Then he took free meals at the shops that didn’t discriminate and didn’t favor anybody. Then he thought that was inappropriate, too, and so he started to eat remnants of the prasādam that was thrown away and rejected even by cows.
As Lord’s servant, Govinda, was relaying all these news to Mahāprabhu, the Lord was very visibly pleased, confirming the verse itself.
In Śrī Caitanya Bhāgavata there’s a verse in praise of Dabira Khāsa, better known as Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī (CB Adi.13.191-192):
By Lord Chaitanya’s mercy one can renounce a kingship and become a beggar. In Kali-yuga the proof of this is Dabir Khas, who renounced a kingship and happily lived in the forest.
This wasn’t about yukta-vairāgya either, it was clearly about renouncing all means of self-sustenance (except begging, of course). This example was given to illustrate renunciation of the famous digvijaī after he was blessed/defeated by the Lord. In a way, his was a perfect case for yukta-vairāgya, he had fame, he had influence, if he took to preaching he must have been very successful. Instead he gave up everything, he distributed all his horses, elephants etc. in charity and left on foot, without his posse.
Yukta-vairagya certainly has its place but, ideally, it should be practiced AFTER one gives up all his attachments, otherwise it turns into a mere karma yoga.
And so, with realization of the need for complete renunciation, one should seek shelter not so much of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, but of Lord Hari, the one who takes everything away. Without His mercy there’s no question of ever approaching Śrī Rādhā anyway. We know what our ultimate goal is but we should also know our immediate steps, dreaming of endearing ourselves to anyone in Vṛndāvana is a delusion, we need to obtain the favor of Lord Hari first.
We are like balloons tied to heavy weights. We want to fly up but it’s impossible until someone frees us, and that someone is Lord Hari. Liberated devotees can certainly appeal to Śrī Rādhā when they chant the mahā mantra but I think I should stick with “Hare” as addressing Hari until I rise to their level.
After a couple of days thinking about this, I also realized that my attachments are really weighing me down and drag me into a vortex of perpetual love hate relationship with the world.
While we can always say that Lord Caitanya’s feet our only treasure, the real treasure appreciated by Lord Caitanya Himself is renunciation. All our personal and professional aspirations need to go. All our little successes and little hopes need to go, our attachments to eating, sleeping, or good health need to go, and the only person who can take it all way is Lord Hari.
I don’t know how He will manage it, whether He’d force me to live through my karma until I get sick of it or whether He’d take away all my possessions leaving me literally with nothing but the Holy Name, either approach is welcome. The worst response to my prayers would be indifference but I’m sure He won’t leave me hanging. He never had, He won’t leave me now.