Sakhyam’s Razor: A reply to Dhanurdhara Swami
Published on May 24th, 2009 | by Harmonist staff67
by Vrindaranya dasi
Ockham’s razor: “The simplest explanation for a phenomenon is most likely the correct explanation.”
As one of the editors of the booklet O My Friend! I was asked by my Gurudeva, Swami Tripurari, to respond to the points raised by Dhanurdhara Swami in his recent book review. I was happy to have the opportunity to take part in what has been an all-too-rare instance of friendly brahminical philosophical discussion. Entered into with the proper mood, such discussion is enlivening, thought-provoking, and edifying. I pray that I may live up to the standards already set by Babhru Prabhu and Dhanurdhara Swami. As Krsnadasa Kaviraja said in relation to the then-controversial topic of Mahaprabhu’s svarupa, siddhanta baliya citte na kara alasa iha ha-ite krsne lage sudrdha manasa: “A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Sri Krsna. By such conclusive studies I know the glories of Sri Caitanya. Only by knowing these glories can one become strong and fixed in attachment to him.”1
The Origin of Manjari-Bhava in Iskcon
The first objection Maharaja raises is how Babhru could argue that “interest in the core sentiment of Gaudiya Vaisnavism—following in the footsteps of the gopis in madhurya-rasa—comes from outside Srila Prabhupada’s line and then strongly imply, in contrast, that only those who aspire for sakhya-bhava have gleaned their mood directly from Srila Prabhupada.” Babhru did not say that interest in madhurya-rasa came from outside of Srila Prabhupada’s line. He said, “We have seen that after Srila Prabhupada’s passing some of his disciples have developed a keen interest in manjari-bhava. However, in each instance that I’m aware of this interest has been facilitated by a siksa-guru from outside of Srila Prabhupada’s International Society for Krsna Consciousness (which is not to say that I am implying that this is the necessary course that all disciples of Srila Prabhupada with interest in manjari-bhava must take.)” In a footnote he also says, “I do not mean to say that interest in madhurya-rasa is foreign to Iskcon devotees. Far from it, Prabhupada has made it abundantly clear that objectively speaking this is the highest reach of Sri Caitanya’s mission. Thus there may be any number of devotees in Iskcon who in a general sense are interested in this ideal, aside from any outside influence. However, specific interest in manjari-bhava and detailed information concerning this ideal has been generated from outside sources.” As these quotes substantiate, Babhru has merely chronicled the development of interest in manjari-bhava in Iskcon, pointing out that the interest began as a result of devotees taking siksa outside of Iskcon. Of course, twenty years later this influence has trickled down throughout the society, often without people realizing where it originated. In some cases this influence has had a dramatic effect on the disciple’s vision of Srila Prabhupada. For example, Syamarani (Jadurani) relates, “For many years, I also used to tell devotees that Srila Prabhupada is a sakha. I was confused about his identity before I met Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja, who brought light on Srila Prabhupada’s glory.”2 As for the devotees attracted to sakhya-rasa gleaning their interest from Srila Prabhupada himself, how else can we explain the unusually wide-spread interest in sakhya-rasa in his mission?
“I Will Kick on His Face with Boots”
Maharaja next objects to the booklet’s assertion that Srila Prabhupada’s aggressive mood in preaching is a sign of sakhya-rasa, calling it a “non-starter.” However, again this is not exactly what Babhru wrote, and a subtle distinction is important here, as the obvious objection (one that I also put forth) is that Srila Prabhupada merely followed the bold, if not aggressive, preaching style of his Gurudeva, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. Why read more into it? Babhru’s actual words are important to note. He wrote that “some of Srila Prabhupada’s more spirited, aggressive expressions may be attributed to, or at least perhaps better understood in the context of, an affinity for sakhya-rasa.” He then gives two examples: Srila Prabhupada’s well-known retort, “I will kick on his face with boots,” and his remarks about dropping bombs on the heads of atheists. Although both gopis and gopas can exhibit harshness, this particular manifestation of harshness, which contains chivalry and a suggestion of violence, is characteristic of sakhya-bhava, fascinated with these qualities as young boys often are. Psychologists have noted that this particular combination mellows when boys mature. Beyond mere harshness, the suggestion of violence in the example of dropping bombs on people is especially difficult for many to understand coming from a spiritual person. Babhru’s quotation of Swami Tripurari‘s explanation, though clearly not strong evidence for sakhya-rasa on its own, is nonetheless a charming explanation of these particular statements. Furthermore, it is reasonable to suggest that while Prabhupada certainly followed the mood of bold preaching of his guru in many respects, peculiar expressions such as these may best be explained with reference to the bhava fueling Prabhupada’s preaching, and all the more so when there is considerable evidence of sakhya-bhava woven throughout Prabhupada’s life. Let us also remember that the expression “I will kick on his face with boots” originates with Vrindavana dasa Thakura, a sakha. Few will doubt that Vrindavana dasa’s words are tied to his sakhya-bhava.
Dhanurdhara Swami subsequently explains that he doesn’t see the merit of extending Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s argument about Srila Prabhupada’s family connection to Uddharana Thakura. Since the argument isn’t extended in the sense of drawing a further conclusion than that made by Srila Sridhara Maharaja, it appears that “extended” is to be taken in the sense that Babhru shouldn’t have put forth the argument. Maharaja’s logic is that the argument’s significance is basically annulled by the fact that Srila Prabhupada’s father desired that his son become a servant of Srimati Radharani and that Srila Prabhupada was interested in Jagannatha Ratha-yatra from a young age. This logic suggests that Maharaja has not fully appreciated the prominence of Radharani for those priya-narma-sakhas who have Radharani as their yuthesvari (gopi group leader). The priya-narma-sakhas have both gopa group leaders in relation to their sakhya-bhava and gopi group leaders in relation to the madhurya aspect of their sakhya-bhava. Thus they are divided into groups according to their yuthesvaris in a similar manner to the way in which the gopis are divided (some being in Radha’s group, some friendly to Radha’s group, some neutral, and so on). The following verse from Bhakti-rasamtra-sindhu demonstrates this:
“My dear Krsangi [delicate one], just see how Subala is whispering your message into Krsna’s ear, how Ujjvala is delivering the confidential letter of Syama-dasi silently into Krsna’s hand, how Catura is delivering the betel nuts prepared by Palika into Krsna’s mouth, and how Kokila is decorating Krsna with the garland prepared by Taraka. Did you know, my dear friend, that all these most intimate friends of Krsna are always engaged in his service in this way?”3
Subala’s whispering the message of Radha into Krsna’s ear indicates that Radharani is his yuthesvari, his group leader. He is thus in Radha’s group. Two of the 108 names of Radharani given in Raghunatha dasa Goswami’s Sri Sri Radhika astottara-sata-nama-stotram are in relation to Subala: 34) who has bestowed a form equal to hers to Subala, and 35) who is very fond of Subala. In Shyamananda Prakasa, Subala says that he always desires to be Radharani’s maidservant. Govinda-lilamrta explains that Krsna’s priya-narma-sakhas divided the groves around Radha-kunda and gave each one to a particular gopi. In the northeast is the cottage Subalanandada, which Srimati Radharani accepted. In Sri Vraja-vilasa-stava, text 22, Raghunatha dasa Goswami says, “Filled with deep love for him, and anxious that they may be separated, Subala never, even in dreams, lets go of the hand of Sri Krsna, the moon of Gokula. His heart is showered by the waterfall of devotion for Sri Radhika. I offer my respectful obeisances to Subala, whose body trembles with love for Sri Sri Radha-Krsna.” And Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaja translated Raghunatha dasa Goswami’s Manah-siksa (11) thus, adding his own insight: “Oh mind! You should be in obedience to Sri Rupa Goswami in the association of Sri Lalita Devi and Subala. The transcendental servitors strive for the divine service of the transcendental couple Sri Radha-Krsna, who are always merged in the conjugal devotional mellows.”4 Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura attributes the following verse to Rupa-manjari: “When this gopi [Radha] quarreled with Krsna and left him, Subala met her, satisfied her with his words, and convinced her to return and enjoy amorous pastimes with Krsna in the forest cottage. After their pastimes were concluded, and Sri Krsna rested his perspiring body on his beloved’s breast, Subala fanned him. What service is Subala not qualified to perform?”5 This is not to say that there is no difference between a priya-narma-sakha and a manjari; nevertheless, as these quotes establish, it is not incongruous to be a priya-narma-sakha and a servant of Radharani. Furthermore, all of Mahaprabhu’s devotees want to participate in Ratha-yatra with Mahaprabhu regardless of their Vraja sentiment.
Virtually Impossible or Excessive and Assailable?
Maharaja takes exception to what he finds to be “excessive and assailable claims” in Babhru’s booklet. He quotes the following sentence as an example: “It is virtually impossible to construe Prabhupada’s responses and statements above in any other way than as an affirmation for his affinity for sakhya-rasa.” Maharaja says that Srila Prabhupada’s statements can be construed differently according to Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s suggestion that Srila Prabhupada may have held a madhurya sentiment within, owing to his empowerment by Nityananda Prabhu, and showed an affinity for sakhya-rasa. However, Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s explanation only confirms Babhru’s point! In other words, it says that what was shown was sakhya-rasa. This was what Babhru was saying, that the statements of Srila Prabhupada in question unambiguously show a sakhya sentiment. One can say that a madhurya-rasa sentiment was hidden in the background, but nonetheless what was shown was sakhya–bhava.
Although Babhru said it was “virtually impossible” to construe Prabhupada’s statements as anything but an affinity for sakhya-rasa, Maharaja has shown that “virtually” does not mean “entirely” with a surprising interpretation of the following statement of Srila Prabhupada: “This is not done in our line. One must realize his relationship for himself. One cannot just jump ahead. When one is ripe and ready, it will be revealed from within…I am a cowherd boy.” Maharaja says, “A careful reading of Subala’s remembrance, however, reveals that Srila Prabhupada is not speaking about himself but making a third-person comment on how one would feel when one’s relationship with Krsna is finally revealed within the heart.”
Although it is possible that Srila Prabhupada is only giving an example, it is taking it too far to say that a careful reading “reveals” that it is so. How can we say we know definitely whether the statement was merely an example? The preponderance of evidence indicates that it is exactly what it appears to be: a statement of Srila Prabhupada’s own sentiment. Recently, Subala dasa was contacted for his sense of what Srila Prabhupada said to him, whether he took it that Srila Prabhupada was saying that he himself was a sakha or not. Subala replied, “He [Srila Prabhupada] was saying, ‘I didn’t do siddha pranali, and I know I’m a cowherd boy.’ I believe that was his rasa, and explains why he made a Krishna Balaram temple in Vrindaban.”6
Nonetheless, even if one insists that Srila Prabhupada was only giving an example, there are still two other direct statements to contend with: “My Guru Maharaja’s rasa is that of gopi, manjari, but I am in relationship with Krsna as cowherd boy” and his conversation with Hrsikesananda:
HD: So that means that my relationship with you is eternal, that it will continue in nitya-lila?
HD: As manjaris?
ACBSP: Down to sakhya.
HD: But for rupanugas isn’t it always manjari-rasa?
ACBSP: That is the highest; but in the spiritual world there is no such distinction.
[Note that here Srila Prabhupada indicates that a rupanuga does not have to be in manjari-bhava.]
In addition to downplaying the significance of the direct statements of Srila Prabhupada, Maharaja also, in my opinion, greatly downplayed the significance of some of the poems written by disciples in the early years of Srila Prabhupada’s mission. He writes, “Why should he [Prabhupada] correct the innocent expression of a disciple’s love, which may have reflected a budding depth in realization, even if that realization wasn’t based on fact?” I find it highly improbable that Srila Prabhupada would hear a poem in which he is described as a cowherd boy and reply, “Yes, she has become advanced. Print this poem in our BTG,” simply as encouragement, even though he knew it was incorrect. It was, after all, most likely written in awareness of Srila Prabhupada’s own statement to Govinda dasi that he was a cowherd boy. The implication that Srila Prabhupada might have said and allowed his disciples to say that he was in sakhya-rasa because the madhurya conception is historically misunderstood is implausible as well. After all, Srila Prabhupada never tired of explaining the glory of the gopis‘ love and differentiating it from mundane lust, and the idea that he would pretend that he was in sakhya-rasa so that his disciples might not misunderstand madhurya-rasa seems convoluted and forced at best. The simple and obvious reason why there is such a large amount of evidence and testimony that points to Srila Prabhupada being in sakhya-rasa is that Srila Prabhupada is in sakhya-rasa.
Yes, there are other possibilities. Let us examine the possibilities that Maharaja suggests. The first is that Srila Prabhupada manifested different moods to his disciples, as Vrajanatha and Vijaya Kumara saw their guru differently in Jaiva Dharma. Maharaja says, “How many of us can make sense of the incident in Jaiva Dharma where the guru informs two disciples of their spiritual identities, telling one he is a follower of Subala and the other he is a follower of Lalita, and then manifesting to both of them accordingly? I suppose that the guru in that instance did not bother to resolve for his disciples the dichotomy of who he actually was – at least Bhaktivinoda Thakura doesn’t indicate that he did.”
I think it is inaccurate to say that Babaji Maharaja manifested to Vrajanatha and Vijaya Kumara differently, at least if Maharaja means it in any active sense, for example, telling one disciple, “I am a sakha,” and another disciple, “I am a manjari.” The Jaiva Dharma says that Vijaya Kumara began to look upon Babaji Maharaja as the personification of Sri Lalita Devi. Babaji Maharaja didn’t manifest differently, Vijaya Kumara’s vision of him changed. Furthermore, Vijaya Kumara is not seeing Babaji’s Maharaja’s actual svarupa, as it is impossible that Babaji Maharaja is Lalita Devi. So Vijaya Kumara and Vrajanatha have a general vision in which, because the guru represents Krsna and all rasas are found in Rasaraja Krsna, the disciple sees his or her guru as representing a particular sentiment that corresponds with the disciple’s developing taste. It does not speak about the personal inner reality of the guru. Vijaya Kumara and Vrajanatha’s sense of Babaji Maharaja being either Lalita or Subala is a vision prior to attaining bhava.
Therefore, we must examine the following statement of Maharaja in light of this. He says, “If one accepts the tattva that the guru can exhibit a variety of moods for the instruction and inspiration of disciples whose own mood may be different from their guru’s proclivity, as Srila Sridhara Maharaja indicates and as was noted in Babhru Prabhu’s use of the Jaiva Dharma reference, then stringing together indications of Srila Prabhupada’s inner mood is not conclusive in itself.” Maharaja is saying that the indications in the booklet, such as Srila Prabhupada’s statements about being in sakhya-rasa, are inconclusive because the Jaiva Dharma and Srila Sridhara Maharaja establish that the guru can exhibit a variety of moods for the instruction and inspiration of the disciples. However, as we have seen, the Jaiva Dharma only gives support for the subjective vision of the disciple. It does not give a precedent for “the guru exhibiting a variety of moods for the instruction and inspiration of disciples.” Maharaja is taking the example from Jaiva Dharma too far.
Although we can agree that the Jaiva Dharma illustrates that disciples can have a subjective vision of their Gurudeva and that this could account for some disciples seeing Srila Prabhupada as a sakha and some as a manjari, this subjective vision would not, of course, extend to those who are not his disciples. Thus their are two limitations we must place on the subjective vision explanation: 1) there is no precedent to use this explanation to interpret outward evidence (everything other than the personal realization of a devotee), and 2) the vision of Godbrothers like Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila Puri Maharaja would not fall into the subjective category (as that of siksa and diksa disciples might). These limitations need to be considered when determining how much evidence can be explained as subjective.
Another way Maharaja gives of harmonizing indications of madhurya and sakhya bhavas is to caution devotees about the personal testimonies given by disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Maharaja writes, “caution can also apply to young disciples trying to understand or analyze the inner life of their spiritual master. We should be careful in how we gauge these recollections and analyses.” This explanation is unsatisfying in this case because so many of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples came to the same conclusion. If we think that the disciples, being young, came up with unreliable recollections, why don’t we find examples of devotees saying that Srila Prabhupada told them that he was in dasya, vatsalya, or madhurya-bhava? Why always sakhya-bhava? Why don’t we find Vyasa-puja offerings expressing that Srila Prabhupada is anything but a cowherd boy? The fact that different sources confirm the same stories also casts doubt on Maharaja’s explanation, as does the fact that Srila Prabhupada asked that one poem describing him as a cowherd boy be published in the BTG (not to mention the significance of his own poem).
Empowerment by Nityananda Prabhu
The final explanation that Maharaja gives is as follows: “Even Srila Sridhara Maharaja graciously offers a possible way to read these statements otherwise: ‘That Srila Prabhupada may have held an affinity within [for madhurya-rasa], and owing to his empowerment by Lord Nityananda Prabhu, he showed an affinity for sakhya-rasa.’ ” When Srila Sridhara Maharaja gave the explanation of suppressing madhurya-rasa due to the empowerment by Nityananda Prabhu, he had much less evidence to consider than that which has been collected in O My Friend! In particular, he wasn’t aware of the direct statements by Srila Prabhupada that he was in sakhya-rasa or Srila Prabhupada’s unique interpretations of pertinent verses in Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s Gurvastakam. Thus it is unclear whether Srila Sridhara Maharaja would extend the possibility if he had been aware of this additional evidence. After all, with comparatively scanty evidence he said that the possible veiling of madhurya-rasa by Srila Prabhupada “cannot be denied, maybe.”7 Nor was it Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s personal opinion. He made his own opinion clear as cited by Babhru: “He [Prabhupada] is in sakhya-rasa, and he has entered into those pastimes. This is my understanding about his present position.”
Furthermore, my Gurudeva, Swami Tripurari, has raised an important point for consideration. I think that Srila Sridhara Maharaja would have greatly appreciated the fine spiritual logic, which although contradicting the concession that Srila Sridhara Maharaja gave, strongly points to the conclusion that he personally favored. The point to consider is this: it is unlikely that Srila Prabhupada veiled madhurya-rasa due to being empowered by Nityananda Prabhu because in the very prayer aboard the Jaladuta referred to by Srila Sridhara Maharaja as the appeal that resulted in Prabhupada’s empowerment of Nityanandavesa, Srila Prabhupada is already expressing sakhya-bhava! In other words, the sakhya-bhava is present before the empowerment; therefore, it was not caused by the empowerment.
Srila Prabhupada’s Poem
Of course, Dhanurdhara Maharaja has questioned whether the poem actually shows the sentiments of a priya-narma-sakha. If the poem can be shown to express the sentiments of manjari-bhava, then the suppression of madhurya-bhava explanation still holds. Thus I will now turn to Maharaja’s arguments in relation to Srila Prabhupada’s poem. The first stanza of the poem reads, “O my dear friend Krsna, it is certain that you will attain piety if Radha is pleased with you.” Maharaja comments, “This certainly doesn’t sound like sakhya-rasa. This stanza is especially significant in determining the sentiment of the poem as the above verse is repeated as the refrain and thus emphasized as the heart of what the author wants to say…Why is Srila Prabhupada telling Krsna to seek Radha’s blessings and placing Her in such a prominent position? Is that the mood of a cowherd boy, even a priyanarma-sakha?”
Placing Radharani in such a prominent position is hardly contradictory to the mood of a priya-narma-sakha. The Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu explains that when the gopis are absent, the priya-narma-sakhas are expert in supporting the side of the yuthesvari of whom they have taken shelter.8 For example, Subala’s yuthesvari is Radha and he regularly extols the virtues of Radha for the pleasure of Krsna. Srila Prabhupada in the mood of a priya-narma-sakha is also giving Krsna moral instruction in his poem, just as Subala sakha is said to be expert in doing in Rupa Goswami’s Radha-Krsna-ganoddesa-dipika. Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (3.3.46) says that Subala is so intelligent that by his talking and his moral instructions all the other friends take the highest pleasure. By contrast, the manjaris are not known for giving Krsna moral advise, but rather for avoiding his advances in chastity to their maiden, Sri Radha. Furthermore, in analyzing whether Srila Prabhupada’s poem shows the sentiments of a manjari or a priya-narma-sakha, how can we overlook the following stanza:
“When I shall be united with you again, I shall wander along with you the whole day keeping the cows, running this side and that side in the forest and falling on the ground in different shows of play. I aspire after that day.”
Some devotees have suggested that this stanza can be understood in terms of madhurya-rasa because sakhya-rasa is contained within madhurya-rasa. My Gurudeva recently showed the defect in this idea: “Although it could be said that Sri Radha may at times desire fraternal love with Sri Krsna and that her manjaris may also taste this through their complete identification with her bhava, no manjari or devotee engaged in bhajana to attain manjari-bhava would pray fervently, as my Gurudeva has, for the day when she could spend the entire day wandering with Krsna, herding the cows, and frolicking with him in the forest. The mood expressed in this poem is simply inconsistent with the nature of a manjari, despite the fact that sakhya-bhava is contained within madhurya. Any sakhya-bhava arising in a manjari’s heart would never manifest in a desire to play directly with Krsna, rather it would manifest in a desire to facilitate Radha playing in fraternal love with Krsna because the visayalambana of the manjari is Radha and Krsna. Furthermore, it is said that when Radha desires to taste sakhya-rasa she manifests herself as Subala!”9
The above points clearly establish that Srila Prabhupada’s poem expresses the mood of a priya-narma-sakha. This being the case, he was already expressing sakhya-bhava before receiving the empowerment of Nityananda Prabhu. This severely weakens the possibility that he suppressed madhurya-bhava due to the empowerment of Nityananda Prabhu.
Evidence for Manjari-Bhava
Maharaja lists a number of points that he considers substantial evidence for Srila Prabhupada being in madhurya-rasa: 1) Srila Prabhupada’s lineage shares a madhurya-rasa sentiment, 2) Prabhupada’s father prayed for his son to become a maidservant of Radharani, 3) Prabhupada worshipped Radha-Govinda in his childhood, 4) Prabhupada received the gopi-bhava sannyasa mantra, 5) Prabhupada had a special relationship with Caitanya-caritamrta, and 6) Prabhupada said “somehow or other” he is now engaged in Radharani’s service. I will now address the six points in turn.
1) Srila Prabhupada’s lineage shares a madhurya-rasa sentiment: Although Srila Prabhupada’s lineage is primarily madhurya-rasa, neither the parampara that Srila Prabhupada lists in Bhagavad-gita: As It Is nor the disciplic succession listed in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura’s Sri Guru-parampara is exclusively madhurya. In Caitanya-caritamrta, Krsnadasa says that Mahaprabhu came to give the four rasas of Vraja. Thus the Gaudiya sampradaya is a Vraja bhava sampradaya, with madhurya and sakhya being most prominent. As mentioned in O My Friend, in our line there are examples of sakhya-rasa gurus having disciples in madhurya-rasa, as well as the other way around. It is also significant in this regard that Bhaktivinode Thakura clearly opines that it is possible for a disciple in a primarily madhurya-rasa lineage to be in sakhya-rasa, as Jaiva Dharma illustrates. It is likely that a disciple of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura would be in madhurya-rasa, but this is only a general tendency, not an immutable fact. This tendency bows to more specific evidence: for example, although most of Saraswati’s Thakura’s disciples are in madhurya-rasa, Krsnadasa Babaji Maharaja wrote to Sridhara Maharaja that he had realized his ideal in sakhya-rasa. Babaji Maharaja’s affinity for sakhya-rasa is common knowledge throughout the Saraswat lineage.
2) Prabhupada’s father prayed for his son to become a maidservant of Radharani: This has already been addressed in the explanation of the relationship between Srimati Radharani and the priya-narma-sakhas.
3) Prabhupada worshipped Radha-Govinda in his childhood: Worshipping Radha-Krsna is of course natural for the priya-narma-sakha as well. Therefore this is not substantial evidence for madhurya-rasa over sakhya-rasa. Furthermore, there are many examples of childhood Deities not corresponding with the devotee’s eternal sentiment; for example, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarawati Thakura had a Kurma Deity.
4) Prabhupada received the gopi-bhava sannyasa mantra: Both Prabhupada and Sridhara Maharja gave the sannyasa mantra in two forms, one employing the word gopi and the other the word gopijana. Thus it speaks of taking shelter of the bhava of the gopis or gopijana. The word gopijana generally refers to the gopis, but it can also refer to the cowherd men and women, all of whom are gopi people (jana). Admittedly, some may object to this rendering, but some renunciates do understand it in this broader sense. Furthermore, the priya-narma-sakha‘s bhava has been referred to by Sri Rupa Goswami as sakhi-bhava. In Ujjvala-nilamani (2.13), the term priya-narma-sakha is used to describe Subala, Arjuna, and other of Krsna’s friends. Sri Jiva comments on what Rupa Goswami has termed the gopi or sakhi-bhava aspect of their particular form of fraternal love thus: “Out of affection for both Krsna and his beloved gopis, they desire to unite them both, and in such instances their masculine nature is then subdued.” Thus although the mantra speaks of taking shelter of gopi-bhava, priya-narma-sakhas also do this within the context of their sakhya-bhava.
5) Prabhupada had a special relationship with Caitanya-caritamrta: This is a general truth of all Gaudiya Vaisnavas, hardly specific for those in madhurya-rasa. Furthermore, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura stressed the Caitanya Bhagavata and didn’t allow his disciples to read certain sections of Caitanya-caritamrta. Therefore, whether a guru stresses Caitanya-caritamrta or Caitanya Bhagavata does not appear to be an indicator of either sakhya or madhurya-bhava.
6) Prabhupada said “somehow or other” he is now engaged in Radharani’s service: This point is virtually the same as the second one. The “somehow or other” is interesting though. It reminds me of another curious comment of Srila Prabhupada, which he made to Srila Sridhara Maharaja about his going to the West to preach: “And Guru Maharaja wanted that, yet those Gaudiya Math people did not do anything. So: “Let me try in this old age in a special camp,” and I went [to the West] by his grace and it has become a big success.”10 In light of all the evidence compiled by Babhru, it is not impossible that this “special camp” is that of the priya-narma-sakhas, a camp that is “somehow or other” engaged in Radharani’s service.
It is worth noting that the caliber of the above six points is not equal to the evidence that Babhru put forth, such as the mood expressed in Srila Prabhupada’s prayer and the direct statements in which Srila Prabhupada says he is a cowherd boy. As mentioned above, Maharaja’s evidence is of a more general nature. General truths must bow to specific evidence. Furthermore, Maharaja has minimized or dismissed significant evidence in Babhru’s booklet, such as Srila Prabhupada’s publishing a prayer in which he is described as a cowherd boy, his unique purports on verses of Sri Gurvastakam that stress madhurya-rasa, and the significance of his putting Krsna-Balarama on the main altar in Vrindavana.
The Opinion of an Advanced Vaisnava
On the topic of the significance of various evidence, Maharaja considers the opinion of Srila Sridhara Maharaja to be one of Babhru’s two main arguments. He points out, however, that other Vaisnavas have different opinions and suggests that appealing to recognized Vaisnavas does not settle the issue because one’s acceptance of a particular conclusion will be biased by one’s allegiance and faith. It is important to note in this regard that Babhru did not present Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s opinion as something to be accepted only on the basis of his being an advanced Vaisnava. Neither did Srila Sridhara Maharaja offer his opinion as such. What Babhru pointed to was the strength of Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s spiritual reasoning about Srila Prabhupada’s rasa. Srila Sridhara Maharaja, following in the footsteps of his Gurudeva, took a conservative posture in regard to discussing his own realization, never claiming to know Srila Prabhupada’s svarupa because he was seeing him in the kunja. This is in marked contrast to the standard of his day in which devotees readily pronounced their entrance into the lila. It is for this reason that what Srila Sridhara Maharaja offered was spiritual reasoning, not mere opinion without spiritual reasoning (“He is a priya-narma-sakha“). Giving scriptural reasoning to establish Mahaprabhu’s identify is exactly what Krsnadasa Kaviraja has done in Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila, chapter 2. Although some may misunderstand this method to be a mere intellectual exercise, the advantage is that issues can be discussed according to sastra-yukti (scriptural reasoning). Thus the spiritual standing of different Vaisnavas is not pitted against each other, thereby tempering the problem Maharaja brought up of the sentiments of sincere devotees being disturbed. As for scriptural discussions getting heated, this is apt to occur even on issues like the origin of the jiva and the ritvik debate. Nonetheless, such discussions cannot be entirely abandoned, because they allow devotees to attempt to establish the actual philosophy for the benefit of all and especially for those not already aligned with one viewpoint or another. A book has already been around for years arguing that Srila Prabhupada is a manjari. Babhru’s booklet presents another way of looking at the issue. Let devotees examine the strength of the evidence on both sides and decide for themselves which they find most compelling.
This is not to say that I disagree that the most reliable way of knowing is to accept the opinion of an advanced Vaisnava. But if there is a divergence of opinion about Srila Prabhupada’s rasa, isn’t the best opinion to take that of Srila Prabhupada himself, which he stated to several devotees? This pretty much closes the case, and the substantial amount of supporting evidence further narrows the margin of uncertainty.
It is extremely difficult and forced to try to explain away Srila Prabhupada’s sakhya sentiments. They are too numerous and direct. Maharaja has given different ways to try to reconcile Srila Prabhupada’s expressions of sakhya-rasa, but as we have seen, several problems arise in his explanations. As long as one accepts that it is possible for Srila Prabhupada to be in either sakhya or madhurya-rasa, the most simple and natural understanding of the evidence, an understanding that harmonizes the evidence for both sakhya and madhurya-rasa, is that Srila Prabhupada is a priya-narma-sakha. Again, I do appreciate Maharaja’s courteous and thoughtful review. In my reply I have tried to stick to tattva and rasa-vicara, and I beg forgiveness from Dhanurdhara Maharaja if I have inadvertently strayed from that path. Taking the dust of his feet and that of all the Vaisnava readers, I express my thanks for the opportunity to participate in this important discussion.
- Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila, 2.117–118 [↩]
- Syamarani dasi (Jadurani dasi), “Is Srila Prabhupada In The Highest Rasa?” http://www.cowdust.info. [↩]
- Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 3.3.44 [↩]
- Bhakti Pramoda Puri Maharaja, Vaisnava Folio Archives, Bhakti Siddhanta Sara: Essence of Pure Devotion, Giri Govardhan Pastimes. [↩]
- Ujjvala-nilamani [↩]
- Subala dasa, email message to Swami B. V. Tripurari, May 16, 2009. [↩]
- Srila Sridhara Maharaja Folio, transcribed lecture, August 14, 1981. [↩]
- Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 3.3.93 [↩]
- Swami B. V. Tripurari, email message to Sri B. V. Narayana Maharaja, May 13, 2009. [↩]
- Srila Sridhara Maharaja Folio, Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja room conversation, March 17, 1973. [↩]