The Whys and Hows of a Nitya Navadvipa (Part 1)
Published on July 6th, 2020 | by Harmonist staff10
Gaura lila is nothing but the overflowing of Krishna lila, extending the real-life story of the Absolute into heights unknown and shores undiscovered, even to him—yet to be discovered and inhabited not only by him, but by many, ourselves included. The very word lila speaks to us about the loving interaction between Bhagavan and his bhaktas.1 Thus, it is reasonable to conclude that whenever Krishna lila needs to expand and present itself as Gaura lila, its participants will adopt corresponding identities to be part of this expansion. I say “new” because although in linear thinking one lila may seem to be the outcome of the other, actually both of them represent an eternal ongoing principle, a nondual reality expressing itself in two intertwined and inseparable venues: Vrndavana and Navadvipa.2
While these two realms have their corresponding extensions here on Earth, Gaudiya Vedanta teaches that these two are possessed of their own specific attributes in the unmanifest (aprakata) spiritual domain in the form of Goloka Vrndavana and Goloka Navadvipa (aka, nitya Navadvipa). Among dozens of theological implications, one implication is the unique prospect of inhabiting two simultaneous spaces in transcendence in two different spiritual embodiments.3 This is not to be rationalized away by common three-dimensional thinking—we are speaking here about sacred geography or a sense of location that is exclusively inhabited by conscious atoms or, even more so, by touchstone.4
Sri Goloka is figuratively depicted as a divine lotus that when closely observed will reveal its center in the form of the passion-taster, Sri Krishna. If even closer attention is given, a further whorl will manifest in the form of Radha-Krishna, the very personification of visceral bliss. But if we keep looking in the direction of this axis, a new lotus will open in the form of nitya Navadvipa, a second rustic paradise in the form of Vraja’s other self. Sriman Mahaprabhu will be its central shining deity, and he will be accompanied by a robust retinue fully dressed in egolessness—members of a divine clan whose identity (abhimana) is absolutely free from any trace of distorted ego (ahankara).5 Along with the bucolic setting of celestial Vraja, it is here where most Gaudiya Vaisnavas want to go.6
But why only most? Well, variety is the spice of life, and Gaudiya siddhanta is no exception to this rule. According to Mahaprabhu’s devotional Vedanta, there is enough room to accommodate unlimited perspectives, especially in the context of tasting rasananda. In this regard, Thakura Bhaktivinoda has said that some devotees will be inclined mainly toward Krishna lila, others toward Gaura lila, and even others toward both of them equally, all acquiring forms corresponding to their own spiritual affinity.7 But although the possibility of an aprakata nitya Navadvipa has been presented by acaryas even prior to Bhaktivinoda,8 there are certain Vaisnava groups (actually only one, and only a section of it) who claim that this idea is basically implausible. Thus, in an attempt to clarify this conundrum, I will present some of the main purvapaksa (objections) expressed as well as some possible replies to these arguments according to well-accepted parameters within Gaudiya siddhanta.
Arguments and Counterarguments
Those who consider the impossibility of a Gaura lila in the spiritual domain do accept that Gaura lila (and its correspondent abode) is nitya, or eternal, as is every other lila of Bhagavan. But their conception of a nitya Navadvipa is that Gaura lila is traveling from universe to universe in the prakata-lila. In other words, the eternality of Navadvipa is derived from the fact that the abode is manifesting continuously in some material universe, on some Earth. In this regard, Srila Jiva Goswami speaks about three manifestations of the lila: prakata (manifest), aprakata (unmanifest), and prakata-aprakata (manifest and unmanifest).9 While the first one refers to Bhagavan’s lila on Earth and the second to its similar expression in the spiritual sky, the latter applies to those moments when the lila of Bhagavan is not outwardly manifesting on Earth although remaining present and active there as an ongoing invisible reality. According to this view, some people consider Gaura lila to be only prakata and prakata-aprakata, but not aprakata.
The main pramana (evidence) presented by those against the possibility of an aprakata nitya Navadvipa is known as abhava-pramana. This refers to the idea of an object’s nonexistence being perceived by the cognition of its absence. In this particular case, it is implied that something cannot be true if not mentioned in sastra.10 According to this viewpoint, sastra will be exclusively understood as the books of the Six Goswamis, who were personally instructed and empowered by Mahaprabhu to establish the sadhana and siddhanta of the Gaudiya sampradaya, and who apparently never spoke about an aprakata Gaura lila. While this argument may be sufficient and conclusive for some, there is more to be said and considered in this particular context.
First of all (and duly accepting the authoritative position of the six Goswamis as our sastra-gurus), we should be open to also accepting the Goswamis’ conclusions in the form of the evidence presented by later acaryas who did write about an aprakata Gaura lila. The implications of sastra are naturally experienced by sadhus, who have shared their insight and made the fact of their existence explicit. Second, there are also interpretations of sastra that must be considered. For example, where is it stated that Visvambhara Misra is the yuga-avatara of Kali? We come to many such conclusions by way of interpreting sastra, as the Goswamis themselves did in a very dexterous way, pointing to the reality of Gaura lila.11 Taking these initial ideas into consideration as a general template, let us analyze some of the implications of the Goswamis’ teachings in connection to the viability of an aprakata nitya Navadvipa.
- Krishna is especially connected to this principle, being Lila Purusottama. [↩]
- In this connection, Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami used to recite a very famous verse from Caitanya-caritamrta (2.25.271), commenting, “Although Caitanya lila appears later than Krishna lila, Caitanya lila is the source, the foundation,” thus implying that some devotees may prefer to subjectively conceive of Gaura lila as the fountainhead of Krishna lila, while others may conceive of it in the opposite way. See Swami B. R. Sridhar, The Golden Volcano of Divine Love (Soquel, CA: Ananta Printing, 2014). [↩]
- Transcendental “space” is trans-spatial by its very nature. [↩]
- While Caitanya-caritamrta 1.5.53 says that from Vaikuntha upward even a speck of dust is a conscious entity, both Sri Brahma Samhita 5.29 and Narottama dasa Thakura’s song Gaurangera duti pada (verse 3) characterize the lands of Vraja and Nadiya as both being made of touchstone. In regard to the latter, Narottama dasa interestingly says, “One who knows the divine abode of Sri Gauda-mandala to be transcendental touchstone (cintamani) is in truth a resident of Vrajabhumi, Sri Vrndavana.” [↩]
- In relation to this, Sri Narottama dasa Thakura says, “One who accepts the associates of Sri Gauranga as nitya-siddhas is certain to be elevated to the spiritual kingdom to become an associate of the Supreme Lord.” (Gaurangera duti pada, verse 3). The term nitya-siddha can refer to the fact that Gaura’s associates are eternally perfect beings or that their forms in Gaura lila are eternally existent since the word siddha can refer to both possibilities simultaneously (see also Caitanya-caritamrta 2.22.107). Thus, Mahaprabhu’s associates are eternally existent in their eternally perfect forms in nitya Navadvipa. [↩]
- For a brief depiction of the eternal daily dynamics of Mahaprabhu and his associates in aprakata nitya Navadvipa, see Swami B. V. Tripurari’s commentary to Gaura’s asta-kaliya-lila. [↩]
- Here I choose to quote Thakura Bhaktivinoda first because of his outstanding devotional feats, especially his complementing the Goswamis’ contribution by overtly emphasizing the ontology and significance of Gaura lila. See Bhaktivinoda’s commentary to Brahma Samhita 5.5 as well as his entire Navadvipa-bhava-taranga. See also Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Jaiva-dharma, trans. Sarvabhavana Dasa (Brhat Mrdanga Press, 2004), 276. [↩]
- The possibility of a nitya Navadvipa in transcendence first appears in the works of Sri Caitanya’s contemporaries, such as Gopala-guru Goswami’s Gaura-govindarcana paddhati, Prabhodananda Saraswati’s Caitanya-candramrta, and Kavi-karnapura’s Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika. It also appears in the paddhati of Gopala-guru’s own disciple, Dhyanacandra Goswami (who for the first time describes the asta-kala-seva of Sri Gauranga in verses 73 to 77), and through the writings and songs of stalwarts such as Vrndavana dasa Thakura and Narottama dasa Thakura, respectively. Since then, this concept has become widely accepted and prominently featured in more contemporary writings, such as Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura’s Sri Gauranga-lilamrta and Siddha Krishnadasa Baba’s Gutika, which from beginning to end describe the details of nitya Navadvipa and explain the intertwined asta-kaliya-lila of both Gaura and Radha-Krishna. Here I am not quoting any specific section of the latter two works, since their entire content serves as supporting evidence for the existence of a nitya Navadvipa. Nonetheless, they can be read in Sri Gauranga Lilamrta and Gutika-Gauranga astakala-lila. [↩]
- See anuccheda 153.1 of Srila Jiva Goswami’s Krishna-sandarbha. [↩]
- According to Srila Jiva Goswami, there are a total of ten pramanas, or means of valid knowledge, which he lists in his Sarva-samvadini commentary on anuccheda 9 of his Tattva-sandarbha. Each school recognizes a certain number of these as valid independent means and either rejects the rest or subsumes them under the accepted pramanas. [↩]
- Some of the Goswamis’ commentaries to verses from the Bhagavata (such as 10.32.22) are prime examples of this. [↩]