Published on May 7th, 2020 | by Harmonist staff13
Ramananda-samvada & the Ontological Ultimacy of Gaura Lila
By Bhakti Pranaya Padmanabha Swami
It was said by the wise that silence is the language of God and that everything else is but a poor translation. At the same time, the concept of absolute silence is a ludicrous idea. When one stops speaking, another begins. Ideally, when we become silent, it is only to qualify ourselves for further hearing—the greater the silence, the greater the hearing, and the greater the message to be revealed.
Let us now turn to what may be the most resounding moment of silence in the Gaudiya tradition and consider its ontological backdrop and far-reaching implications. For this we will need to go south, “to go down.” Generally, those who want to go up must first “fall upward,” in the words of Richard Rohr. Before making a quantum leap to the northern peaks of Vraja lila, we must first go south—let us go to Godavari.
While Godavari is one of southern Bharata’s many sacred portals, the word “Godavari” indicates much more than just another Earthly holy place. Its inherent sacredness and significance are deeply embedded in each of its syllables. On one level, Godavari may refer to one of the main sources (vari) of giving (da) water (go). However, because the syllable go can also indicate the Vedas, Godavari ultimately points to that place where the highest conception (vari) of the sruti (go) is released (da). It’s here at Godavari that we can find the most comprehensive understanding of the Vedas and its corresponding conclusion: Gaudiya Vedanta.
This Godavari was the chosen stage for one of the Gaudiya sampradaya’s most crucial moments, when the very essence of its narrative presented itself in the context of a samvada between Raya Ramananda and Sriman Gaurasundara. A samvada, one of the four classical methods of Vedic communication, is a lively dialogue on a particular topic found in sacred texts such as the Upanisads, Gita, and Bhagavata, Gaura lila’s not being an exception.
Thus, popularly known as the Ramananda-samvada, this particular meeting was unique: a brahmana sannyasi (Sri Caitanya) broke with social convention, to surprisingly inquire from a sudra viceroy (Ramananda) about sadhya-sadhana-tattva, the highest possible attainment and its respective praxis, all on the basis of scriptural thesis. This so-called sudra was actually Visakha-devi in the role of an aprakrta-sahajiya (a supramundane bhakta of spontaneous nature).1 This so-called sannyasi was Sri Krishna in the role of Sri Radha, inquiring from one of Radha’s dearest friends about how to properly culture her bhava, a culture that was just beginning and that would eventually become more and more systematic in Jagannatha Puri’s Gambhira. Ramananda is thus considered to be one of Mahaprabhu’s gurus. Ramananda gave Gaura Krishna practical/realized knowledge (vijnana) about Radha tattva, which he knew only in theory (jnana), being fully conversant only with Krishna tattva. Krishna is the absolute object (visaya) of bhakti, but he is unaware of the experience of Sri Radha as the vessel (asraya) of prema. His pursuit of this experience as Sri Caitanya is the heart of the Gaura avatari.
After hearing Ramananda’s robust and systematic presentation of theological possibilities (starting from varnasrama sensibilities and going through diverse nuances of devotional expression, eventually converging into the depths of Vraja prema), Gaurasundara abruptly shut his mouth during the height of his speech. The resulting silence spoke louder than a million mouths, with both of them entering into what Sri Gopala-campu defines as “a state of the highest communication where nothing needs to be said.”2 What was about to be said at that point, and what were the ultimate reasons behind such ecstatic silence? The timeline goes as follows.
After rejecting Ramananda’s first four proposals by considering them superficial in relation to his cherished ideal, Sri Caitanya implored Rama Raya to augment those truths, eventually bringing the conversation to the shores of the rapturous bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu and the many valuable jewels to be discovered therein. Sri Caitanya, being exclusively interested in one of those particular gems, passionately asked for more, even when Ramananda had seemingly reached the utmost limit of his presentation in the form of a generic description of madhurya-rasa. This apparent limit may indeed be the conceptual end for many of us. But for someone like Gaura, it was just the introduction to the real thing. He said, “Speak more if there is more.” And indeed, there was.
Until that day, nobody had asked Ramananda to go further (nor had anyone in religious history asked for more). Ramananda continued, sharing the specifics of Radha’s unmatched glories and engagement in loving affairs. Next, after giving some tattva to further ground his emotional points, Rama Raya, feeling himself to be a dancing puppet in Gaura’s hands, described how Radha and Krishna enjoy their mutual loving exchanges. By Gaura’s insistence, this divine viceroy mentioned that there was one final topic still to be presented. But he told Mahaprabhu, “I do not know whether you will be happy with it or not.”3 This topic is known as prema-vilasa-vivarta.
Vilasa-vivarta refers to Radha and Krishna’s identifying with one another even to the point of “melting” their minds and hearts into one another’s with only the bliss of their union remaining. Thus, in this vivarta (which also means “bewildered condition”), both of them forget their own identities, becoming fully immersed in seeing themselves as one another. For such an elevated subject, Ramananda was unable to provide any classical sastra-pramana (since the topic was far above the reach of the standard revealed texts). He had to compose some poetry of his own, being the rasika Vaisnava that he was. Thus, Sri Raya sang to Gaura his sweetest song, in which Sri Radha’s separation from Krishna in adhirudha mahabhava is beautifully portrayed.4 It was right after these very words that Ramananda’s silence began to speak for itself. Being ecstatically concerned and embarrassed, Gaura had to shut his teacher’s mouth, thus confirming that Sri Radha’s adhirudha mahabhava is the apex of every conceivable and inconceivable goal.
Of course, this frenzied interruption contained many different levels of significance. On the most immediate level, Gaura shut Ramananda’s mouth because this topic was already too confidential to be exposed in public. Here we find a very high degree of symbolism, with Mahaprabhu promotion of caution around esoteric content in the presence of unprepared audiences. In this regard, Sri Sarasvati Thakura has explained this divine silence, stating that for the prakrta-sahajiya sector of mundane imitationists, it is impossible to follow the concept of vilasa-vivarta, or inverted roles in lila (where Krishna adopts the position of Radha in the context of loving intimacy and vice versa), and that is why Mahaprabhu stopped Ramananda.
Before having his mouth shut, Ramananda was able to share some revealed support that further depicts this condition:
Vrinda-devi said: O king of mad elephants (Krishna), who dallies in Govardhana’s love bowers! There is an accomplished artist of the name Sringara-rasa (Kamadeva), and upon the fire generated from the heat of the emotions coming from both you and Radha, he has slowly melted the shellac-like hearts of you both, and made them one. Then mixing that with profuse quantities of the kunkuma of your ever-fresh driving love, he is painting an astonishing picture upon the inner walls of the grand temple of the universe.Ujjvala-nilamani 14.155
In this astonishing profusion of prema, absorption in oneness reaches its highest stage. Radha’s knowledge that she is the nayika (heroine) and that Krishna is the nayaka (hero) becomes covered. In divine delusion, the roles are reversed, with Radha mistakenly considering herself to be the hero and Sri Krishna thinking himself to be the heroine. Therefore, we could say that to prevent such secrets from being spoken out loud, Mahaprabhu covered Rama Raya’s mouth. And while this explanation may justifiably be given as the ultimate reason for Ramananda’s silence, there is still more to be said.
Before presenting his ultimate conception, Rama Raya told Gaura that he was not sure whether his words would make him happy. One possible reading of this statement is that Ramananda’s final words revealed and established Sri Gauranga (and the prema for him) as the definitive sadhya to be attained while giving the inner reasons for his descent. While in Krishna lila we find Radha and Krishna forgetful of themselves but aware of each other (thus still being two), in Gaura lila the dyad of Radha and Krishna becomes one in the form of Sri Gauranga, thus providing a permanent solution for this most astonishing psychological quandary in the life of the Absolute.5
How does this solution work? When Radha and Krishna seek to become one in love, their union becomes so strong that Radha feels herself to be Krishna, and vice versa—Radha’s heart becomes Krishna’s, and Krishna’s heart becomes Radha’s. Thus they exchange hearts in order to become one, but they still remain two. As close as they try to become, the duality of the two remains. In this section of the Ramananda-samvada, we find the ultimate solution for this dilemma finally appearing in the form of Mahaprabhu, where the two become one.6
The final union of this dynamic duo is introduced by Krishnadasa Kaviraja in the theological zenith of Caitanya-caritamrta’s mangalacarana.7 There he invokes the term pranaya, which speaks about love in a general sense but also about a very unique type of love in the context of bhakti-rasa. In the latter case, Radha and Krishna consider each other’s existence, bodily functions, and belongings to be the same, total self-forgetfulness being its main symptom. Swami B. V. Tripurari writes about this verse thus:
The word pranaya refers to the pranaya within madanakhya–mahabhava—the deepest sense of loving identification between Radha and Krishna. It refers to Sri Radha’s complete merging in love with Krishna. She is the very form of mahabhava—mahabhava-svarupini—and she alone tastes this limit of love. She is the origin of love of Krishna. Thus, the words radha krsna-pranaya-vikrtir in this mangala verse tell us that Sri Radha is a transformation of love of Krishna—Krishna transformed into love of Krishna.Swami Tripurari, Sacred Preface (Darshan Press, 2016), p. 134
In that precise moment when Ramananda paralleled this mangala verse by singing a poem to Gaura where Radha expresses this unique type of pranaya, Gaura covered Rama Raya’s mouth. Immediately after this, Ramananda had the darsana of Radha and Krishna as one in the person of Gaura. In no uncertain terms, this epiphany—Mahaprabhu’s afterthought—only served to further confirm Ramananda’s intuitive poetry.
So, if we agree that Gaura lila also constitutes our ultimate eternal goal (in addition to Krishna lila), how can we place less emphasis on one of those two ultimate realms despite them both being eternal and non-dual? Although from an abheda perspective there may be only one goal in life (Krishna prema), from the bheda perspective there will be two goals in life (Krishna prema and Gaura prema). And although we may surely enter into the details of our post-liberated life in Krishna lila, it is important to do the same in connection to Gaura lila—and to the same degree or even more due to the reasons described above. Stalwarts such as Pujyapada B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami have followed this line of thought, saying, “This [Ramananda’s] song leads to Krishna, and it gives a hint of the avatara of Mahaprabhu… That is considered to be the highest attainment.”8 While this conclusion doesn’t try to present itself as an absolute statement to be accepted by all, the proper exercise of theology in the context of siddhanta can give rise to suitable emotions and support for this idea.
In summary, today’s journey began in Godavari, where the highest conception (vari) of the Vedas (go) was revealed (da). The word go can also refer to indriya (senses), from which we derive the word “Govinda.” Govinda is he who bestows our senses’ fullest engagement and highest purpose, which were announced here at Godavari through the inquiry of Gaura Govinda: Gaura asked Ramananda Raya about the highest goal of life, and Rama Raya’s ultimate proclamation was that Sriman Mahaprabhu is the ultimate form of divinity and that love for him constitutes the topmost eternal attainment.
According to Sri Caitanya-caritamrta,9 it was Gaura himself who actually spoke these truths indirectly, through the mouth of Ramananda! And Ramananda was Gaura’s very first associate to officially identify him as Govinda (gau) and Radha (ra) united as one. Mahaprabhu confirmed this truth—mahaprabhu sri-caitanya, radha-krsna nahe anya—by revealing his darsana as Radha-Krishna combined. To discuss these insights is rupanuga janera jivana—the life and soul of each and every Rupanuga Vaisnava.
This combination of Radha and Krishna arose from Sri Krishna’s deepest question: What is Radha’s sensory experience? Gaura was the answer. “Although more commonly thought of as a bridge to Krishna lila,” Swami B. V. Tripurari says, “Gaura lila resides deep within Krishna lila, being the logical extension of Krishna lila arising out of Krishna’s most introspective moments.”10
As Gaura’s lila unfolded, this inner culture became more and more overt and systematic in his life. But actually, such introspection was already there from the very beginning, expressing itself progressively in both indirect and direct terms. First, in Nadiya, he laid the foundation for the temple of prema by exhibiting his pandita-lila and its conclusion in the form of jnana-sunya bhakti (which was the very first proposal that Gaura accepted from Ramananda’s numerous replies in their samvada). After becoming a Vaisnava, he then accepted sannyasa and established himself in vipralambha-ksetra (Puri), the ideal place to relish Radha’s separation from Krishna. There he listened to bhagavata-katha from Gadadhara, being taught by Radha herself about the mysteries of her love. Finally (and only after this most important meeting with Ramananda), Gaura entered the Gambhira. In this way, every section of Gaura lila could be seen as Mahaprabhu’s attempt to further approach the main purpose of his descent, which could be properly described as “divine synaesthesis.”
In the realm of aesthetics, synaesthesis is defined as “the harmonious combination of differing impulses arising from a work of art.” Such a concept will undoubtedly find its final application in the figure of Sri Caitanya, the ideal meeting point between Radha-Krishna’s “differing impulses arising from a work of art.” They solved their deepest dilemma during their most intimate moments in lila through the figure of Sri Gauranga, the topmost synthesis of the Absolute. For us and for the Godhead, this attainment —the dynamic union of Radha and Krishna in the form of Gaura—is the sum and substance of what post-liberated life is all about. Fill your cup till it overflows, and only then will the real story begin!
To be continued.
- This is the opinion of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura and Bhaktivinoda Thakura, whereas Kavi-karnapura and Krishnadasa Kaviraja identify him with Lalita-sakhi and Subala-sakha, respectively. [↩]
- Gopala-campu 2.21.43 [↩]
- Sri Caitanya-caritamrta 2.8.192 [↩]
- Sri Caitanya-caritamrta 2.8.194 [↩]
- Since prema-vilasa-vivarta speaks of Krishna and Radha’s exchanging roles, one may rightfully ask about the necessity for Sri Gauranga (since Krishna is already tasting some form of Radha bhava in this prema-vilasa-vivarta). The answer is that Krishna’s experience in prema-vilasa-vivarta cannot compare with his appearance (and experience) as Gaura in Radha bhava. In prema-vilasa-vivarta, Krishna tastes only one aspect of Radha’s mood but not its full range, whereas in Gaura lila he systematically relishes all the many moods of Radha one after the other. And while vilasa-vivarta has mainly to do with sambhoga (union), Mahaprabhu was focused on tasting Radha bhava mainly from the vantage point of Radha’s vipralambha (separation). By seeing her love in separation, Krishna desired to experience all that Radha is in all circumstances (see Sanatana Goswami’s commentary to Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.32.22 in this regard). After tasting this, he mainly experienced sambhoga at the end of his Puri lila, this being represented in Siksastakam’s eighth verse. [↩]
- The unity that Sri Gauranga embodies is not a physical/literal merging between Krishna and Radha (since Radha is still there in Gaura lila in the form of Gadadhara) but a dynamic union where Krishna is still himself but “at the same time Radha.” That is, he appears as Mahaprabhu with the luster and mood of Radha. [↩]
- Sri Caitanya-caritamrta 1.1.5 [↩]
- B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, Encounters with Divinity (Gosai Publishers, 2005), p. 199 [↩]
- Sri Caitanya-caritamrta 2.8.264-265 [↩]
- Swami Tripurari, Sacred Preface (Darshan Press, 2016), p. 159 [↩]