Chakra Discussions

No Vraja-bhakti in Bhagavad-gita? -- A response to Danavir Goswami

by Babhru das

Posted October 30, 2003

[ Part I | Part II | Part III]

In Battlefield Fancy, Danavir Goswami asserts that Swami B.V. Tripurari's commentary, Bhagavad-gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy should be avoided because it has eight flaws: Gita Opportunism, Impertinent Over-Stepping, Sahajiya, Tenth Canto Opportunism, Infidelity, Misinterpretation, Rasabhasa, and Mayavada. His main point is that it is wrong to describe Bhagavad-gita in terms of Vraja-bhakti. In this response, I will address some preliminary objections, establish the precedent for drawing Vraja-bhakti from certain verses of the Bhagavad-gita, document quotations from Srila Prabhupada that explain Vraja-bhakti in terms of Gita verses, address Tripurari Maharaja's mood in writing his Gita commentary and the propriety of writing another commentary on Bhagavad-gita, and give a brief refutation of each of Danavir Goswami's eight main points.

My familiarity with Swami Tripurari's commentary is due to my having been one of the book's editors. I believe I am a cautious devotee and am still considered a member in good standing in ISKCON, as I have been since 1969. At the time I worked on this book, I was deeply involved in a variety of activities in support of an ISKCON center. Nevertheless, I was impressed by Tripurari Maharaja's dedication to spreading Krishna consciousness, despite the fact that his circumstances required that he work outside ISKCON.

Objections to the form of Danavir Goswami's critique

Although I am more concerned about the substance of the critique, several overarching shortcomings need to be touched on before the main allegations are addressed. Danavir Goswami's essay is largely a collection of quotations, mostly from Srila Prabhupada, pasted together with comments from Danavir Maharaja asserting that these quotations themselves condemn Tripurari Maharaja's Gita. However, they don't support Danavir Goswami's claims; rather, they apply to pseudo-devotees and nondevotees, who are offenders against the Lord and the spiritual master. He doesn't give solid evidence from Tripurari Maharaja's Gita to support that the book does what the quotes condemn.

The paucity of quotations from the book Danavir Goswami was reviewing was astounding. In an almost nine thousand words, he includes only five brief quotations from Bhagavad-gita: Its Feeling and Philosophy. This guarantees that he makes assertions without supporting them with evidence from the text he is criticizing. This blunder is shocking from someone of his position, especially when the charges are as serious as those made against Tripurari Maharaja.

Further, Danavir Goswami misquotes the book. An example of this comes in the second paragraph of the critique, wherein he states, "For example, in chapter 10 verse 9, Lord Krishna uses the word ramanti meaning, according to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 'enjoy transcendental bliss' but in the Vraja translation ramanti means 'conjugal love'." In the synonyms of the Its Feeling and Philosophy edition, we find that ramanti is translated not as 'conjugal love' but rather as 'they rejoice.' The verse itself is translated as "Those whose minds are fixed on me and whose lives are absorbed in me derive satisfaction and delight from enlightening one another and always speaking of me." The commentary to this verse does cite Madhusudana Sarasvati (whom Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura often cites in his own commentary) who translates, following Sankara himself, ramanti as "the delight of love that a young girl feels for a young boy, as the gopis felt for Krishna." As will be discussed later in this paper, Srila Prabhupada himself says close to the same thing in the last sentence of his purport to 10.9.

Perhaps more troubling than the lack of quotes from the Its Feeling and Philosophy edition, however, is the tone of Danavir Goswami's critique. A prominent feature of what little text Maharaja has actually composed is the repetition of 'Vraja version' in some form. Since his primary complaint about Tripurari Maharaja's book is that it attempts to 'screw out' of Bhagavad-gita an obscure philosophy of Vraja-bhakti concocted from Tripurari Maharaja's mind, it's clear that he intends to use this phrase and its variants in a pejorative way. Because he does so no less than forty-one times, it comes across as a sneering motif.

This repetition of 'Vraja version' appears to be part of a scare tactic to associate the book with inappropriate preoccupation with intimate lilas. The tactic is further employed by Danavir Goswami when he claims that the book has "shallow preoccupation with gopi bhava" and endeavors to remake the Gita into "a discussion about the gopis of Vrindavana." One comes away from Danavir Maharaja's article with the impression that most of the purports try to show gopi bhava. This is absurd. In reality fewer than a dozen purports out of the text's seven hundred verses even mention the gopis, and that in the context of what has been said by previous acharyas. As will be shown later in this article, Srila Prabhupada also uses several of these verses in books and conversations to illustrate Vraja-bhakti.

Precedent for finding Vraja-bhakti in the Gita

Danavir Maharaja begins his critique by saying, "The Vraja version claims itself to be within the Gaudiya line, yet there are significant reasons to doubt its authenticity." Later he asserts that the book "oversteps all the previous acharyas who never ventured into describing Bhagavad-gita in terms of Vraja-bhakti." This assertion is a crucial premise of his argument because, if previous acharyas did explain verses from the Gita in terms of Vraja-bhakti, most of Danavir Goswami's eight assertions lose any meaning, unless he would call those commentators opportunistic, sahajiya, rasabhasa and misinterpretors. It would also show that many of Danavir Goswami's quotations of Srila Prabhupada are out of context. Thus before addressing any other points, I will begin by quoting commentaries of previous acharyas to show that Tripurari Maharaja is not the first to explain verses from the Gita in terms of Vraja-bhakti and that a major premise of Danavir Maharaja's article is therefore incorrect. (These quotations are only a sampling.)

Srila Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura was the first in the Gaudiya lineage to write an entire commentary on the Gita. He gives the idea that verses 8-11 of Chapter 10 can be considered the chatuh-sloki of Bhagavad-gita, the four essential verses that unlock the meaning of the book. In his commentary on verse 9, one of the four essential verses, Chakravarti Thakura says, "Sri Bhagavan's above statements describe raganuga bhakti only." As we know, raganuga bhakti is found exclusively in Vraja. Therefore, from the very first Gaudiya commentary, we find that Vraja-bhakti is discussed. Chakravarti Thakura says not only that Vraja-bhakti can be drawn from the verse but that it is the only explanation.

Following Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura's line of thinking, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura comments similarly on this same verse: "The character of those whose minds are exclusively devoted is as follows: By completely offering their minds and lives unto Me, they mutually exchange their bhavas and remain engaged in glorifying My lilas and so forth. In this way, by sravanam and kirtanam, they attain the happiness of bhakti. In their sadhya stage, that is after attaining pure prema, which is accessible only through raga-marga, they experience the pleasure of enjoying with Me within vraja rasa, culminating in the bhava of madhura-rasa." In this commentary, we see that Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura's insight (that the verse refers to Vraja-bhakti) has been extended by Bhaktivinoda Thakura to clarify that the culmination of Vraja-bhakti is madhurya-rasa. Next we will see that Srila B. R. Sridhara Maharaja continues developing this insight. Keep this development (disciplic succession) in mind later in this article, where I discuss Danavir Maharaja's assertion of impertinent over-stepping.

On Bg. 10.8, the first of the four essential verses of Bhagavad-gita, Srila Sridhara comments, "Radha-dasyam, the servitorship of Srimati Radharani, is indicated here. Only those who are blessed with divine intelligence will be able to appreciate this, and not persons with self-acquired intelligence from this mayika quarter, the world of misconception." Thus we see a development from Vraja-bhakti (Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura), to madhurya-rasa (Bhaktivinoda Thakura), to Radha-dasyam (Srila Sridhara Maharaja) within the Gita commentaries of previous acharyas.

Srila Prabhupada on Vraja-bhakti and the Gita

Why then, one may ask, didn't Srila Prabhupada make a connection to Vraja-bhakti in his commentary on the chatuh-sloki? The answer is that he did. In his purport to verse 10.9, Srila Prabhupada says, "In the spiritual sky also that plant grows more and more until it reaches the highest planet, which is called Goloka Vrindavana, the supreme planet of Krishna." In the last paragraph of the purport, Srila Prabhupada compares the mood of realized souls to a conjugal sentiment: "Thus the realized souls in Krishna consciousness take continual pleasure in hearing such transcendental literatures, just as a young boy and girl take pleasure in association." As was previously noted, this statement is very close to one in Madhusudana Saraswati's commentary on the same verse, who, following the lead of Sankara, says the verse implies the delight of love that a young girl feels for a young boy, as the gopis felt for Krishna." Srila Prabhupada had this translation of Sankara when he was writing his commentary.

One might assert that these quotations from Srila Prabhupada's Gita do not explicitly connect Vraja and the Gita. Certainly the quotes from other acharyas are more specific. Fortunately, we do not have to guess how Srila Prabhupada would respond to these commentaries because his reaction to Srila Sridhara Maharaja's Gita is recounted in Sermons of the Guardian of Devotion. There Srila Sridhara Maharaja describes how he was living with Srila Prabhupada when they were both writing their commentaries on Bhagavad-gita. He relates how he shared his commentary on the chatuh-sloki of Bhagavad-gita and how Srila Prabhupada responded:

Yena mam upayanti te (Bg. 10.10). Unconditional service: they are ready for any service demanded of them. They are ready to sacrifice their lives for any form of service, and that peculiar group is in Vrindavana. I mentioned to Sripada A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja that in Gita, after ramanti (10.9) comes buddhi-yoga and then upayanti (10.10); according to me, the meaning is that ramanti or divine service in madhura-rasa progresses through buddhi-yoga or yoga-maya, up to upa-yanti, or the highest plane of service in Vrindavana. Sripada Swami Maharaja [Srila Prabhupada] responded, "What more could it mean than this!"

Thus it is clear that, far from thinking that Vraja-bhakti cannot be found in the Gita, Srila Prabhupada appreciated the understanding. In addition, Srila Prabhupada often used verses from the Gita to explain Vraja-bhakti. For example:

Lecture Bg. 18.67 -- This is the idea. Similarly, if you want to go to the Supreme Planet, yad gatva na nivartante, the abode of the Supreme Lord, Goloka Vrindavana or Vaikunthaloka, you can go. So if we want actually promotion of life, I mean to say, established life, eternal life, and eternal body, sac-cid-ananda, and eternal blissful life of knowledge, then you must worship Krishna. That is the verdict. Therefore Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja. This is the mission of Bhagavad-gita. The best chance. And Krishna comes here to give you the idea what is the function of the Krishnaloka. That He displays in Vrindavana here. Radha-madhava kunja-vihari. That is His business, simple life, village life. They're all young boys and girls, the gopis and the cowherds boy. They're enjoying, dancing.

Lecture Bhag. 3.25.18 -- Krishna was insisting, "You must fight." So how Arjuna could take impious activities? Because Krishna's service is above these pious and impious activities. That is called sarva-dharman parityajya. Just like the gopis. The gopis went to Krishna at midnight, by simply hearing the flute of Krishna. So young girl, going to Krishna at midnight, this is impious activities. According to sastra, according to moral, it is impious activities. But because it was done for Krishna, it is understood as the most pious. So, although it looks apparently that gopis went to Krishna to dance with Him, that is not very moral, but Chaitanya Mahaprabhu recommends that is the highest method of worshiping Krishna.

Lecture Bhag. 2.3.14-15 -- In the Bhagavad-gita you'll find. Tusyanti ca ramanti ca. We require some satisfaction and some enjoyment, because that is our nature. Anandamayo'bhyasat. Spirit soul. God is also blissful, and we part and parcel of God, we are also blissful. We want simply ananda, pleasure. That is our nature. But that ananda, pleasure, you cannot enjoy independently. That is not possible. You must enjoy with Krishna. That is called rasa-lila. Krishna and the gopis, they assemble together.

Lecture Bhag. 6.1.37 -- Just like gopis are going to Krishna at dead of night, at midnight. And how they're going? Krishna is playing the flute, and gopis are running, giving up all their engagement in the family. Somebody was lying with her husband, somebody was engaged in the kitchen, somebody was taking care of the children, so on, so on. But they left everything and went to Krishna. This is transcendental. When we go to Krishna consciousness, giving up everything, that is transcendental platform. Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja.

Krishna Book, "The Killing of Kamsa" -- The gopis give a perfect example of how one can execute Krishna consciousness even if he is in different types of material engagement. By constantly being absorbed in the thought of Krishna, one cannot be affected by the contamination of material activities. The gopis are, therefore, perfectly in trance, samadhi, the highest perfectional stage of mystic power. In the Bhagavad-gita, it is confirmed that one who is constantly thinking of Krishna is a first-class yogi among all kinds of yogis.

Conversation 3.13.75 Tehran -- "Only Krishna should be satisfied." That is Krishna consciousness. That is not a very easy job. But one can do, if he likes, everything for Krishna. Krishna says also, sarva-dharman parityajya. Gopis did not care for social, for religious or family and nothing. Sarva-dharman parityajya. They went: "Krishna now is calling. Let us go." This is the typical example of sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam.

[ Part I | Part II | Part III]