Lord Caitanya often invoked this statement from Taittirīya Upaniṣad as proof of the blissful nature of the Absolute. One who knows rasa knows all the bliss and one who knows Kṛṣṇa knows all rasa, it’s further stated there. Or maybe not, but the essential meaning is the same.
Looking for the verse itself I found it in a somewhat different place, not 2.7.1 as given by Śrīla Prabhupāda in this purport, for example. He probably got the number from Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. This translation comes with commentary by Śaṅkarācārya, I’ve read it, still can’t understand how they avoid the conclusion that relationship with the Absolute is eternal. Apparently, they have to reduce rasa to simple, undifferentiated bliss and substitute it with happiness derived from Brahman realization of the Absolute. In our understanding it’s not even ānanda but only “sat”, eternity, and absence of misery that comes with liberation.
To them it’s all the same – rasa, ānanda, sat, Brahman, Self. So many terms without any actual distinction between them, they can’t have all this variety. We can, and we say that they are simply in denial. To us it all makes perfect sense because we are not advaitins, we are eternal souls in eternal relationships with God. Once you declare yourself to be one with God you can’t explain the variety that comes from relationships and so reduce it all to one vague bliss, which isn’t even bliss but absence of suffering, as I already said.
Interestingly, the subject of rasa poses a problem even for fellow vaiṣṇavas of the Madhva sampradāya. It is actually OUR sampradāya but the relationship is not that simple when it comes to rasa-tattva, or, indeed, to the rest of our Gauḍiyā philosophy, too.
When Lord Caitanya traveled in South India He went to Uḍupī, the headquarters of the Tattvavādīs, as followers of Madhvācārya are known. Instead of accepting them as His spiritual preceptors Lord Caitanya defeated them, which is not how we should normally relate to our predecessor ācāryas. At first Tattvavādīs considered Mahāprabhu a māyāvādī sannyasī and avoided talking to Him and only when they noticed His ecstatic love as He danced for the pleasure of their deity. Gopala, that they paid Him any attention.
First thing Caitanya Caritāmṛta says about Tattvavādīs is that they were very proud of their devotion and their knowledge of the scriptures, which is never a good sign. Lord Caitanya politely asked their chief about goal of life. Dedicating one’s life under the rules of vaṛnāśrama-dharma to Kṛṣṇa leads to five types of liberation, ācārya replied. Lord Caitanya, however, offered a different answer – hearing and chanting Kṛṣṇa’s name with nine kinds of devotional service that follow. When one attains this platform of loving devotional service he attains the fifth goal of life, which is premā.
Fruitive activities needs to be given up, and by analyzing duties under varṇāśrama one should come to the conclusion that they should be given up, too, and then Lord Caitanya quoted sarva-dharmān parityajya verse from Bhagavad Gītā. He further expanded on the topic of pure devotional service but offered a way out for the Tattvavādī ācārya at the end – seeing Lord Caitanya as māyāvādī he didn’t offer pure devotion as the ultimate goal of life on purpose, so it wasn’t really the lack of his knowledge but a matter of etiquette. The ācārya accepted everything said by Lord Caitanya as truth and that they, indeed, follow these precepts in their sampradāya.
This is where Lord Caitanya delivered His verdict (CC Madhya 9.276-277):
Both the fruitive worker and the speculative philosopher are considered nondevotees. We see both elements present in your sampradāya. The only qualification that I see in your sampradāya is that you accept the form of the Lord as truth.
Twice in these verses He used the word tomāra – YOUR sampradāya, not our sampradāya, meaning He clearly saw the difference. The explanation is that the sampradāya got contaminated by non-devotional mentality and as such we can’t pledge our allegiance to it. It doesn’t mean we reject Madvhācārya himself and it doesn’t mean we reject their philosophy, it’s just that they have become deviant in their goals and practices and lost the spirit of pure devotion. If it happens to us we would reject such dead branches, too, and god knows we have plenty of deviants ourselves.
Because Tattvavādīs got even the basics wrong there’s no point in arguing about rasa tattva, they don’t teach it at all. When liberation is considered the highest goal of life, which is a contamination by jñāna, there’s naturally no talk about relationships with the Lord in the spiritual world, they just don’t go that far.
Consequently, they reject rasa as a product of the material guṇas and treat our worship of relationships between Kṛṣṇa and gopīs the same way as māyāvādīs do – it’s not real, it’s just māyā pastimes of saguṇa Brahman. They can’t understand how we can possibly put Śrī Rādhā above Lakṣmī, it sounds ridiculous to them.
I actually understand their bewilderment. The scope of their spiritual inquiry is limited by the universe – what we can experience in pre-liberation stage. In the universal scheme of things Śrī Rādhā is just a cowherd girl, at best she appears once in a day of Brahmā, how can she possibly be greater than Lakṣṃī? How could Kṛṣṇa be greater than Viṣṇu? He is just one of the incarnations, which is true – from the universe perspective.
We, however, look at it from the POV of Goloka, which is far far above not only our universe but innumerable Vaikuṇṭhas that fill the spiritual sky. When we say that Kṛṣṇa or Rādhā are greater than Viṣṇu/Nārāyaṇa and Lakṣṃī we talk about Goloka Kṛṣṇa and Goloka Rādhā, not their appearances within the universe. Tattvavādīs, however, do not have a concept of Goloka, they only see Vṛndāvana as a village in northern India, that’s all.
The rasas enjoyed by Kṛsṇa with His devotees here, therefore, are non-different from rasas enjoyed by ordinary boys and girls and their parents, there’s no way, in Tattvavādīs view, that they can even approach the divinity of Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa, let along surpass it. They see these pastimes as temporary and insignificant, in other words as māyā, and that makes them practically māyāvādīs, if not for the acceptance of the eternal existence of Nārāyaṇa, which is the only good thing left in their sampradāya, as stated by Lord Caitanya.
Btw, what I said about them above is not some five hundred year old stuff, it’s what they are saying now.
How do they explain “raso vai saḥ”? I do not know, but the only meaning that makes perfect sense is that the Lord is always engaged in spiritual pastimes with His devotees and these blissful relationships constitute His very nature. Kṛṣṇa is greater than Viṣṇu on the basis of rasa – He gets to experience more varieties of bliss than Nārāyaṇa, while Madhvas and others judge greatness in relation to the observable universe, by the degrees of opulence, power, and control, which is at best dāsya. Followers of Rāmānuja at least appreciate rasa in dāsya, but, unfortunately, not Madhvas.
The only remedy for Tattvavādīs is to accept Lord Caitanya but they somehow can’t come to grips with that, so we get to keep all rasa to ourselves even if sharing it would have been better.