Since one can practice bhakti anywhere, why does Srila Rupa Goswamipada stress physically living in Vrindavana, kuryad vasam vraje sada? (Brs.1.2.295)
Why, because Vraja Dhama has the inconceivable power to quickly manifest bhava bhakti within the heart of a non-offensive sadhaka residing there, duruha adbhuta virya smin shraddha dure panchake …bhava janmane (Brs. 1.2.238)
The word panchake above refers to the five most potent, result producing limbs of sadhana bhakti, namely nama sankirtana, murti seva, sadhu sanga, hearing Srimad Bhagavatam and living in Vrindavana. Not only will one attain bhava-bhakti by Vraja vasa but also prema. Mahaprabhu explains, “Of all sadhanas, these five limbs of bhakti are the best. Krishna prema will appear in the sadhaka by even a slight association, alpa sanga, with them, sakala sadhana shreshtha ei pancha anga, krishna prema janmaya ei panchera alpa sanga.” (Cc. 2.22.128)
After reading this, the sadhakas living in Vrindavana may ask, “How is it then that I have not yet attained bhava, what to speak of prema, even though I have lived in Vrindavana for 5, 10, 15 or 25 years?”
The answer is that there is a certain type of “how to” mood of residence in Vrindavana. Srila Narottama dasa Thakura describes it: “One should live in Vraja with anuraga which means a continuous mood of respect, love and loving attachment; while always desiring to be counted among Srimati Radhika’s sakhis and manjaris, vrajapure anurage vasa, sakhi gana gananate.” (Pr.Bk.Candrika 56).
If one does not have this mood, however, then he will invariably commit offences to the holy dhama or the dhamavasis, and thus have to wait a long time to receive the promised bhava and prema. After one suffers for his aparadhas and deeply repents, then Sri Dhama will eventually forgive, and soon award bhava-bhakti to that sincere sadhaka.
Srila Sanatana Goswamipada reveals the matchless quality of Vraja vasa. While traveling on his spiritual odyssey, Gopa Kumara arrived in Dvaraka in the spiritual sky [not in Gujarat, India]. There he directly saw Krishna and interacted with Him in a very personal way. Nevertheless, Gopa Kumara still felt dissatisfied because there he could not find his coveted “Vraja bhava”.
Feeling compassion for him, Uddhava Mahashaya advised him to go to Gokula Vrindavana in the material world, saying, “When the saintly devotees see the empty forests, rivers, mountains and so on in earthly Vrindavana, they automatically get feelings of humility and love simultaneously. Overwhelmed, and their hearts intensely burning in separation, they loudly cry out “Alas! Alas!” as they search for their dearest Sri Krishna.” (Brhad-Bh. 2.5.242-243)
Upon arriving in this earthly Vraja, Gopa Kumara entered a similar emotional state which he describes here: “I came to Vraja and went to see the many places of Sri Krishna’s pastimes while singing my favorite names of Krishna. While loudly and sweetly singing about Krishna’s pastimes, I fixed my mind upon them. I attained such as state of ecstasy (bhava dasha), and became so emotional that it embarrasses me even to think of it. So how then can I describe this to anyone else?
“In this way, I passed many days and nights. However, I did not know whether my bhajana was bringing me immense joy or immense misery. Was I living in a forest fire or was I submerged in the cooling, sweet waters of Yamunaji? That I cannot say. Then one fine day while I was sitting in a Vraja nikunja doing my bhajana, I became immersed in an ocean of crying and fell unconscious.
“Suddenly dayalu cuda mani Shyama appeared before me. With His cooling nectar hand, Shyama personally wiped the dust from my body. Then Madan Gopaladeva filled my nose with the most uncommon and enchanting fragrance of His divine body. I awoke from my swoon and stood up.
“Vraja Nagara Shyama artfully played a sweet tune on His murali, and before I even knew it, Shyama just disappeared in a kunja. Alas! Alas! I ran behind looking for Him. But Shyama had vanished and I collapsed on the ground!” (Brhad-Bh. 2.6.3-10)
Displaying a similar mood, Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswamipada prays in Stavavali: “When will I wander around Govardhana Hill, constantly crying out like a madman, ‘O Radhe! O Krishna!’ for my most beloved Priya Priyatama? Sometimes I will stumble and fall, and then get up again dancing, singing and crying. O when will the streams of my tears shower these transcendental playgrounds?”
In his Goswami Astakam, Srinivasa Acharya perfectly depicts the mood of the six Vrindavana Goswamis, whom we are trying to follow in our present sadhaka forms (sadhaka rupena): “Greatly agitated and distressed, they wandered everywhere in Vrindavana crying out, “O Radhe! O Vraja Devi! O Lalite! O Nandanandana! Where are You all now? Are You at Sri Govardhanaji, or are You under the desire-trees on the bank of Yamunaji? Where are You?” (he radhe vraja devike ca lalite, he nanda suno kutah)
By the mercy of Sri Guru and Sri Krishna, raganugiya sadhakas who live in Vraja practicing manjari-bhava-sadhana will someday also have a similar experience of seeing Krishna, then losing sight, and then seeing their playful Lord once again while participating in Shyama’s sport of hide and seek with His beloved premika bhaktas.
O when, O when will that day be mine, sei din kabe habe mor? Srila Narottama dasa Thakura prays, “When while absorbed in transcendental bliss in Vrajabhumi will I give up my body, and go to the joy-filled divine realm of Vrindavana, e bhava samsara tyaji, parama anande maji, ara kabe brajabhume jaba, sukhamaya vrindavana?” (Prarthana 26)
To reside in Vrindavana means to experience this type of separation while performing one’s bhajana, which in essence is nothing more than crying…for mercy, for prema, for seva and for the sweet darshana of Radha Govinda Yugala. And this is exactly what Srila Narottama dasa Thakura means by saying one should live in Vraja with anuraga.
Without a doubt the best example of living in Vraja with intense anuraga is seen in the lives and writings of Sri Rupa, Sanatana, and Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswamis. By always hearing/reading their anguished, heart-rending words of separation from Radha-Madhava, a fortunate sadhaka will continuously cry and cry until the waves in the river of his tears carry him along to the lotus feet of Priya Radha.
ONLY IN VRAJA
Regarding the uniqueness of living in Vraja Mandala, the Padma Purana (patala-khanda) says, “Anyone who spends even one day in Mathura/Vrindavana will attain Hari-bhakti, aho madhupuri dhanya, vaikunthac ca gariyasi, dinam ekam nivasena, harau bhaktih prajayate.” (Brs. 1.2.237) The Brahmanda Purana says, “One achieves the bliss experienced at the stage of prema just by touching Mathura, parananda-mayi siddhir mathura-sparsha-matratah.” (Brs. 1.2.212)
Of course, this will never ever happen just by living a day in Mumbai, Moscow, Manhattan or anywhere in this maya jagat! The word mathura in Mathura-mandala means “to churn, spin or agitate”. And that’s exactly why residence here is so very special, because Vraja-dhama has the power to agitate one’s mind with thoughts and feelings for Krishna, and make one forget everything else!
From my 29 years of continuous residence in Vrindavana, I can personally say, that unlike anywhere else in the world, Vrindavana has a distinctive other worldly atmosphere or ambience. There is some special enchantment in Vraja that practically every visitor feels upon coming here. Devotion to God is imperceptibly floating in the air. It’s all-pervasive, touching every heart with a drop of joy. It’s the kind of happiness every heart hankers for. This is the taste of Krishna bhakti, and this Vrindavana is the land of Krishna’s love, waiting to embrace all who venture forth.
In Bhakti Ratnakara (chapter 5), Sri Raghava Goswami, a resident of Govardhana, became completely impatient and overwhelmed with bliss when he started narrating the glories and benefits of being in Vraja. He said, “One who bathes anywhere in Vraja Mandala, or sees the Holy Places there is freed from his sins.” (Padma Pur.) “Simply by touching the dust of Vraja, one can attain ecstatic love for Krishna.” (Brahmanda Pur.) “Living in Vraja Mandala is possible only by the grace of Sri Krishna, for without it one can’t stay a second.” (Adi Pur.)
Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja wonderfully describes the transcendental position the Vrindavana situated right here right now:
“Beyond all spiritual abodes is the abode of Vraja-loka, or Sri Gokula, which is also called Sri Goloka, Shvetadvipa and Vrindavana. Like Sri Krishna’s transcendental body, Gokula is unlimited, supreme and all-pervading. Vraja-loka spreads above and below without any restriction. Although by Krishna’s wish it manifests in the mundane universes, it only has one basic form, and not two separate ones. The soil of Vrindavana consists of thought gems and the forests are full of wish-yielding trees. But one with material eyes, sees it as a mundane place. The true form of Vraja Dhama manifests to one with the eyes of love, as a divine land wherein Krishna IS playing with His beloved gopas and gopis.” (Cc. 5.17-21)
One of best things about living in Vraja, and nowhere else in this universe, is that it enables one to see the pastimes of Radha Govinda Yugala. How is that? Shukadeva Goswami answers saying, “Sri Hari is very intimately connected with and ALWAYS PRESENT in Vrindavana, madhu-vanam yatra sannidhyam nityada hareh.” (SB 4.8.42; and 10.1.28)
Since Sri Krishna, Sri Radha and all the beautiful damsels of Vrajabhumi are still living here right now and eternally in Vrindavana, a raganuga sadhaka who lives here doing bhajana will one fine day see this:
“O, Krishna is here, living eternally in Vrindavana! And I see that Kamadeva Shyama, with His blissful smiling face, is forever increasing the lusty desires of the Vraja gopis, susmita sri mukhena vraja pura vanitanam vardhayan kama devam.” (SB 10.90.48)
In the above verse of the Bhagavata, the first line says jayati jana-nivaso devaki-janma, which means that “Krishna, the son of Devaki (second name for Yashoda), eternally lives gloriously among the cowherds of Vrindavana.” Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada explains, “The word jayati is in the present case, meaning, “Krishna is victorious and eternally in this world—in Vrindavana, in His Holy Name, and in His Hari-katha.” (Sarartha Darshini tika)
In short, living always in Vrindavana, vraje vasa sada, means at the ultimate level to always meditate upon Radha-Krishna’s asta-kaliya-lilas while, ideally if one can, residing in a nitya-lila sthali like Radha Kunda, Govardhana, Varsana, Nandagoan, Yavata, Seva Kunja, Nidhi Vana or others.
In this regard, Srila Visvanatha Cakravartipada says, “One must meditate upon Radha-Krishna along with Their Vraja lilas, and never meditate on Radha-Krishna without Their pastimes, sri krishna lila sahitayor evopasyatvam, na lila rahitayoh lilayam.” (Raga Vartma Chandrika II.6)
If physical residence in Sridhama Vrindavana is impossible, however, then Sri Jiva Goswamipada advises that one can live elsewhere, but always remember Radha-Govinda’s eternal pastimes in Vrindavana. Physical/mental Vrindavana is best, but only mind in Vrindavana will also bring success in bhajana.
Srila Prabhupada explains, “When one’s mind simply becomes fixed on the lotus feet of Krishna, then one’s mind becomes as good as Vrindavana. Wherever Krishna is, there also are Srimati Radharani, the gopis, gopas and all the Vrajavasis. Thus as soon as one fixes Krishna in his mind, his mind becomes identical with Vrindavana.” (Cc. 2.13.138 p.)
Although one may live outside Vrindavana, one should not be satisfied and complacent with that residence, and never become attached to it. Rather, one should intensely hanker for that auspicious day or the life when one can physically and mentally live in Vraja Dhama absorbed in Radha-Krishna Yugala bhajana
Srila Narottama dasa Thakura beautifully expresses these sentiments in his bhajana, “hari hari! kabe habo vrndavana vasi”:
“O Hari, Hari! When will I be able to live in Vrindavana, and see the beautiful radiant forms of Radha Govinda Yugala? When will I give up the happiness of sleeping in a wonderful, luxurious bed, and smear my body with the dust of Vraja, Vraja dhuli? When will I give up the desire for tasty food, and live on begged food (madhukari) in Vraja?
“When will I wander around the forests of Vrindavana, and sometimes take rest on the cool, sandy banks of the Yamuna? When will I find relief from the scorching sunshine under the cooling shade of Vamshi Vata? When will I sit in a kunja amidst the elevated Vaisnavas? O when will that day come, when I give up everything [and run to Vrindavana]?”
Sri Vrindavana Dhama ki jai! Jai Jai Sri Radhe!