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February 3, 1999   VNN2955  

The Mystic Poetry Of Rupa Goswami


EDITORIAL, Feb 3 (VNN) — (from Sanga wfd@efn.org)

In my monastic student life as a Gauduya Vaishnava, a senior member of the monastery once cited a Sanskrit verse famous in our tradition and asked me what I thought of when I heard it. The verse runs thus: 'namo maha-vadanyaya krishna-prema-pradaya te krishnaya krishna-caitanya-namne gaura-tvise nama'. "O most munificent incarnation! You are Krishna himself appearing as Sri Krishna Caitanya. You have assumed a golden color (that of Srimati Radharani), and you are widely distributing pure love of Krishna.

We offer our respectful obeisances unto you."

Somewhat intimidated by the question, I remained silent. He then answered himself, "Rupa Goswami," the verse's author. No further explanation was necessary, for my mind went with his to the signifcance of Sri Rupa for our lineage, one that is sometimes referred to as the Rupanuga sampradaya, the family of Rčpa Goswami's followers.

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura has written 'sri krishna caitanya radha krishna nahe anya rupanuga janera jivana'. "Sri Krishna Caitanya and Radha-Krishna are one: this is the life and soul of the followers of Sri Rupa." Gaudiya Vaishnavas are the followers of Sri Caitanya. Who would know about him and his spiritual significance were it not for Rupa Goswami?

Of the twenty-six qualities devotees of Krishna are said to possess, one is "poetic." Thus all true devotees are such. Indeed, they live in a poetic land of divine love in which all speech is said to be song, all walking dance. Of the principal associates of Sri Caitanya, not less than 54 were considered poets in the formal sense. Amongst these, Rupa Goswami is the foremost. In this small volume, two important works of his have been rendered into English for the first time by a highly accomplished Sanskrit scholar and spiritual practitioner of the Gauduya tradition.

Both of Sri Rupa's poems found in this volume, 'Hansaduta' and 'Uddhava-sandesha', stress the theme of 'vipralambha', or "love in separation." Thus they are helpful for the spiritual practitioner whose only approach to union in divine love with Krishna is through the pangs of separation, "the dark night of the soul." Sri Caitanya exhibited extreme separation from Krishna in the mood of Radha when he resided in Jagannatha Puri during the final years of his earthly appearance. He is sometimes referred to as the 'vipralambha-murti', or "deity form of separation." Through his own example, he taught the importance of cultivating the love in separation that makes the heart grow fonder.

Although similar in appearance to mundane separation, vipralambha differs in important ways. In mundane separation between lover and beloved, the separation is painful because sensual interest is not fulfilled. In a higher sense, mundane union is also painful, for while it gratifies one's sensual interest, it does not touch the soul. In material union, the soul sleeps deeply. In consideration of this, mundane separation may have greater absolute value than union, for should mundane separation endure, it often turns to detachment, causing one to think about the inevitable consequences of mundane love that is 'here today and gone tomorrow'. As we move from the wavelike union and separation of mundane love to the calm sea of spiritual and philosophical introspection, the soul, our self, comes to life.

Life is not merely the cessation of that which keeps the soul in slumber.

It has its own positive value. It is this life of the soul that Sri Rupa's poems addressĐthe lila of Radha-Krishna's divine love play. Although there are parallels, these lilas are not to be equated with mundane romance. They are similar in appearance, yet different in substance. While mundane love is full of sweet nothings, the spiritual love of Radha-Krishna is grounded in the realized wisdom of the futility of mundane love. Rather than sweet nothings, Radha-Krishna lila is something very sweet. In the consideration of Sri Rupa, even a scent of it steals away the minds of liberated souls.

In contrast to mundane separation, the devotee's separation from Krishna is joyful inasmuch as it is devoid of selfish concern and thus awakens the soul. Putting aside the higher debate as to the measure of joy or pain experienced in transcendental separation raised by Jan Brzezinski in his learned introduction, this much we know for sure: selfish desire is the cause of all suffering, whereas selflessness is the basis of joy. The separation of the gopis from Krishna, in which they long for Radha's union with him, is a longing for the satisfaction of Krishna, who they know cannot be happy without her. It has no tinge of selfishness.

Here we note the basic difference between lust and love of Krishna.

Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami states it thus: 'atmendriya-priti-vancha-tare bali 'kama' krishnendriya-priti-iccha dhare 'prema' nama'. "The desire to gratify one's own senses is kama (lust), but the desire to please the senses of Krishna is prema (love)."

It is noteworthy that in both of Rupa's poems the central figure is Radha.

In Hansaduta, Lalita Sakhi tells her swan messenger of Radha's condition, and in Uddhava-sandesha, Krishna speaks of his love for her as well as her love for him. We are to learn from this that both God and the soul are joined in love, another name for which is Radha. The love personiŮed by Radha unites the soul and Krishna. Rupa Goswami teaches us that to love Krishna we must learn to satisfy Radha. In Hansaduta, he shows us the way to do so, revealing his own position in the eternal lila, one we are to ultimately emulate in a spiritual body of our own.

However, before we go too deeply, it will be prudent to discuss the significance of the theme of separation in the life of the general audience and the practitioner, rather than in that of the accomplished devotee. Most readers of Mystic Poetry will come from the two former categories.

When a reader of general spiritual interest with a taste for poetry approaches this book, initially he or she can derive considerable benefit by reflecting on its philosophical insight into the folly of mundane love, which is implied throughout the work. The value of introspection arising from mundane separation appears at first to be what Krishna is talking about in his message to the gopis sent through Uddhava, as it is originally portrayed in the forty-second chapter of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Thus the general reader would benefit considerably from cross-referencing Uddhava-sandesha with Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Uddhava-sandesha reveals the inner meaning of the Bhagavatam's version of Krishna's message. This original message, referred to in Jan's introduction, appears to say that the gopis are to transcend their pangs of separation and make their minds steady with knowledge of the soul. An acquaintance with this outer message about the underlying oneness of ultimate reality is in fact required for entering into the sweetness of the gopis' dissatisfaction with Krishna's message and thus realizing Krishna's inner intent.

The firm nondual structure beyond our shaky ground of mental dualities must be in place before we can enter the forest bowers of Radha-Krishna's divine play. The value of contemplating the futility of mundane love in the context of studying Rupa Goswami's poems is unique. As we realize such truths we simultaneously develop the spiritual longing of love in separation that leads to union, i.e., entrance into the lila itself - spiritual life. Rupa Goswami's poetry describes a divine world of which this mundane world and its so-called love are but a reflection. See through the dim reflection to the light of divine reality and you will know that true love does indeed exist after all, where Krishna's pleasure is the object of the awakened soul's longing.

Sadhakas, practitioners on Sri Rupa's path, will enter more deeply into the significance of the text. No doubt it was written for them, and moreover for those amongst them who are considerably developed in their practice.

Those sadhakas who are fixed in their bhajana life (nishtha), both in terms of having cleared the principal material distractions (anarthas) from the path and in establishing their own particular spiritual interest or inclination (likely the same as that of Sri Rupa as it is for most in his line), stand to benefit the most. Other, less developed sadhakas, and those whose particular spiritual interest in divine service falls only within the most general parameters of what it means to be a follower of Sri Rupa (as opposed to following his particular spiritual emotion or bhava) will benefit marginally in comparison.

However, all sadhakas must be acquainted with the principle of love in separation. The service rendered to Sri Guru in separation is perhaps the greatest testimony to a practitioner's spiritual advancement. Spiritual progress moves us from the propensity to enjoy objects of this world through the senses to selfless service to Godhead. Sri Guru is the representative of Krishna. As such, he accepts service from the practitioner in the spirit of serving Krishna. Sadhakas are taught not to enjoy the guru but to serve the guru. When we serve in separation, leaving aside our own preference to be in the guru's personal presence, and when in such instances we understand that such separation will enable us to render greater service, we serve selflessly. Thus, those of Sri Rupa's books which extol the virtues of love in separation in general can no doubt help even the neophyte sadhaka embrace this important principle, putting it into practice within the limited realm of his or her own spiritual experience.

Furthermore, reading about the bhava of Sri Rupa and his own pangs of separation will have a powerful in▀uence on the subsequent development of the practitioner's own bhava, with the strong likelihood that it will blossom into the same spiritual emotion as that of Rupa Goswami - Sri Rupa Manjari's 'manjari-bhava'.

Advanced practitioners following the bhava of Sri Rupa, those whose bhajana is fixed (nishtha), those with taste (ruci), and those with attachment for the object of their bhajana (asakti), and even more so those whose spiritual emotion has been awakened (bhava), stand to derive the greatest benefit from reading and relishing Sri Rupa's poems. Such devotees find themselves personally present within the poems of Sri Rupa, which come alive for them. For such devotees, reading Sri Rupa's poems is a deep meditation in which they vacillate between seeing themselves as practitioners sitting in meditation and losing sight of their bodily environment to experience themselves within the reality described in the poem itself.

Jan Brzezinski has beautifully introduced Sri Rupa's bhava in the paragraphs which precede the translation of Hansaduta, ▀eshing out the words issuing from the mouth of Lalita Sakhi in that poem. Sri Rupa Manjari, the inner spiritual identity of Rupa Goswami, serves selflessly under the direction of Radha's fast friend, Lalita. In doing so, the author so identifies with Sri Radha that he experiences all of her divine emotions, the mahabhava of 'mahabhava-svarupini' Radha.

According to Gaudiya theology, this spiritual experience of aesthetic rapture is the furthest reach of what Sri Caitanya came to bless the world with, that which Krishna himself longs for. He did so through no one person more than Rupa Goswami.

Swami B.V. Tripurari

From 'The Mystic Poetry of Rupa Goswami: Hansaduta and Uddhava Sandesha' translated by Jan Brezezinski

Available in March from the Mandala Publishing Group http://www.mandala.org

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