One distinguishing feature of bhakti is sweetness. We sort of know this but in our everyday lives we don’t get to experience anything like it and so it doesn’t really register with us how sweet relationships between Kṛṣṇa and His devotees are.
Mādhurya is just a word for us, a technical term describing something we have no idea about. Practically everybody can understand when we talk about Lord’s greatness, even the atheists have experiences of awe and majesty of the universe or universal laws – that’s what gives them the taste for their philosophy. Lots of people can admire either the Lord or the universe, they can be humbled by these realizations, too, but that’s not the same as Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness.
We simply have no clue and maybe we shouldn’t be going around looking for one, it would only be profanation. Attractiveness of bhakti, pure devotion, can only be appreciated by liberated persons, otherwise we’d naturally define bhakti in terms of our material emotions and those are not only nowhere near the same but also necessarily boring and tiresome.
We have a term “puppy love” for something we consider cute, innocent, and sweet, but the implication is that one should get over it, it can’t possibly last and one shouldn’t trust this kind of emotions. They don’t stand the test of time and so the sign of maturity is not being swayed by them. Saying that seven year old Krsna’s relationship with girls of the same age is the highest possible taste in the spiritual world cheapens it. It’s not love, we think, it’s childish infatuation, and we can’t really see it any other way, it’s just what it is in the material world.
We can intellectually restrain ourselves from entertaining such thoughts and we can’t anchor mādhurya relationships anywhere in our materialistic lives, so the moment we try to “understand” them we reduce them to mundane debasement, it just can’t happen otherwise for us in our current state.
Is there any hope for us to appreciate this sweetness? Yes, there is, but it must not come from “sweet talk”, we can’t distill mādhurya by squeezing nectar from worldly romance. Our romance might be rooted in original relationships in the spiritual world but that connection is too deep and too distant so it’s practically lost for us forever.
The only legitimate way is through complete purge of our own materialistic consciousness first, then through appreciating this sweetness in those who already possess it. Materially produced mādhurya, like recycled urine, will never be suitable for drinking, no matter what “science” says about it’s “cleanliness”. Well, it could be argued that every drop of water we ever drink contains some of recycled urine, purified by the sun and by passed through soil and sand, but that would be stretching the analogy too far.
This legitimate mādhurya appreciation process is very delicate, we always need to keep the perfect balance between our spiritual realization and our exposure to sweetness of Kṛṣṇa līlā. Too little of sweetness won’t probably hurt us but any excess can poison our lives for a long time because it would strengthen and develop our material attachments instead – when we accept our mental imagery of Kṛṣṇa līlā as the real thing and grow to like it.
Our Srīla Prabhupāda was always on the case of scientists and māyāvādās but my personal impression of Srīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī is that he saw prākṛta sahajiyā as the greatest danger to devotional service. Māyāvādīs and scientists can spoil regular folk and however much we care about their spiritual well-being, sahajiyās spoil devotees and this loss is much greater. Also it makes more sense to talk to devotees about dangers facing them rather than dangers facing someone else and so if we mostly read what Srīla Bhaktisiddhānta preached to devotees then sahajiyā must naturally come ahead of māyāvāda and other apasiddhāntas affecting outside society.
Pure devotional service of the level where one can express sweetness of Kṛṣṇa līlā is very very rare and it’s even rarer for it to be manifested before devotional dumbbells like us. If it happens, however, it’s extremely powerful and contagious and it would finally give a meaning to our lives. It probably won’t actually happen so we don’t have to worry about what to do in such a case.
Another source of this sweetness could be Brijabasis who are naturally born with it even though technically their devotion might not yet be perfected. They do not yet participate in Kṛṣṇa līlā and they do not chant 24 hours a day but they don’t have to force themselves to think about Kṛṣṇa, He is constantly on their minds as it is.
“Problem” is that they generally keep to themselves and do not reveal their internal world to outsiders. To earn their trust is very very difficult and usually requires years and decades of austerity and dedication. One must really prove himself and it ain’t easy.
To “deserve” acceptance one must completely give up all material aspirations and demonstrate full control over one’s senses, patiently and cheerfully executing his service in the harshest conditions.
Vṛndāvana these days can be a very inhospitable place once you give up your external defenses in the form of clothing, houses, air-conditioners and heaters. Summer temperatures can really kill you and winter cold can be intolerable without protection. Locals can be hostile, too, until they strip you of all your attachments. Even monkeys would join in. Vṛndāvana won’t kill anyone, of course, but it would provide the bare minimum to hang onto our lives, in terms of food, too, and that could be too much for comfort seeking people like us.
This is actual proof that we can appreciate bhakti only when we reach the stage of liberation and tolerate anything material nature can throw at us with unflinching devotion, until that happens even Brijabasis won’t talk to us.
Next problem is the language – they don’t speak English let alone other foreign languages, they don’t even speak Hindi for that matter – they consider Hindi as too harsh to express their love for Kṛṣṇa and they soften it as necessary. AFAIK, their talk can be understood by Indians but comprehension is not yet appreciation and appreciation is not yet the ability to express yourself, so even learning the language could take years for us.
I’m afraid translating it back to English would be impossible, there are simply no words for their moods and rasas, our equivalents could be dictionary correct but the sweetness would be gone, it just doesn’t exist in our world just as Kṛṣṇa līlā can’t be compared to anything we know. The words and the līlā are non-different, after all, and this just another confirmation of this basic spiritual principle.
Well, at least we know our goal and we are free to hope, by the mercy of Lord Caitanya we might get infected with at least appreciation for the value of Kṛṣṇa’s sweetness, and we are certainly on the right track.