Vraja Bhāva

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by Swami B.G. Narasingha

‘Vraja Bhāva’ was written by Swami B.G. Narasingha on April 6th 2001. Swami Narasingha answers a question concerning ‘vraja-bhāva’ and the bhajanas of Mīrābāi and explains how there’s much more to real vraja-bhāva than singing a few Hindi bhajanas…

Question: I was recently invited to a program in Eugene, Oregon where it was said that the program would be in ‘vraja-bhāva’ so I was wondering how special is vrajabhāva and how does one actually attain it? When I went to the program there were various Hindi bhajanas that I had never heard before and also some bhajanas of Mīrābāi.

Answer: What many western devotees call vraja-bhāva is available in any village kitchen in Uttara Pradesh, India. There are so many songs sung by the village people in and around Vṛndāvana but those are not the standard songs of pure devotion, particularly the songs of Mīrābāi. The pure ācārya never recommends his disciples to sing such songs.

Mīrābāi has been rejected by the Gauḍīya sampradāya as a psuedo-Vaiṣṇavī. There are some people who say that Mīrābāi was a half disciple of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī but this is a concoction. Some say that simply by placing her hands over the eyes of the Rāṇa of Mewar that he obtained Kṛṣṇa darśana. Also some devotees are saying that Mīrābāi merged into the body of Kṛṣṇa in Dvārakā and never came out again. But these are simply stories which have no ontological backing. These stories are rejected by the śuddha-bhakti school.

Mīrābāi is not accepted as a śuddha Vaiṣṇavī by the followers of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Śrī siddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. Therefore, the followers of Bhaktivinoda and Sarasvatī Ṭhākura never teach their disciples to sing the bhajanas of Mīrābāi. To teach one’s disciple to sing the bhajanas of Mīrābāi is equal to putting a kerosene rag in the mouth of that disciple.

Our Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla Prabhupāda sometimes said regarding Mīrābāi, “I have no objection to her songs.” However, Mīrābāi’s songs were never established as standard bhajanas in his mission. As far as the common person is concerned he had no objection. If a common person sings the songs of Mīrābāi there may be some nāmābhāsa for that person. But for śuddhabhakti he has never recommended the bhajanas of Mīrābāi. Mīrābāi is not in the śuddha-bhakti school, what to speak of the rāgānuga, rūpānuga, or rasika school. She is rejected by the Gauḍīya sampradāya as a bahiraṅga-bhakta, an external devotee.

Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja comments as follows:

“Our Guru Mahārāja announced, ‘We are śuddha Śakta.’ We are worshippers of the potency, but not this mundane potency, but the potency wholesale dedicated to the possessor of the potency. Without retaining Her individual independence, cent per cent dependent – such potency very very rarely can be conceived. ‘Direct approaches to Me that is not proper;’ but approaching through proper channel, through the devotees, that is proper approach. That is real approach; so Gauḍīya Maṭha eliminates Mīrābāi and so many other apparent devotees to be real devotees because they are mad in praise of Kṛṣṇa, but not so much for the devotees of Kṛṣṇa.” (Feb 15, 1982, Śrī Caitanya Sārasvata Maṭha, Navadvīpa Dhāma)

As regards real vraja-bhāva, Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā (18.66):

sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja

“Give up all your duties and come to Me. And your present duties good or bad, whatever you can conceive from your present position – give up everything and come straight to Me. I’m everything to you.”

Here the word ‘vraja’ is used by Kṛṣṇa to indicate Vṛndāvana, the Lord’s own abode. In Vṛndāvana all the inhabitants are absorbed in the sweet mellows of spontaneous love of God. In a word they are absorbed in vraja-bhāva, the mellows of loving devotion, found only in Vṛndāvana. So the fundamental principle of vrajabhāva is surrender. First surrender to Kṛṣṇa. There must be complete surrender to Kṛṣṇa, otherwise vrajabhāva will not manifest. Surrender means that we have given up all our tendencies to consume (enjoy). The attempt to assert one’s self upon others must also be abandoned. This is real humility. In material life we want to assert ourselves over others and take everything for our own enjoyment. But vrajabhāva is just the opposite.

Neophytes, who have no real understanding of vrajabhāva, sometimes may advertise their program as being rasika or as being in the mood of vrajabhāva. Yet these persons have little or no real understanding of the exalted nature of the love of the inhabitants of Vṛndāvana nor do they have a clear conception of the path of attainment, even though they may claim to be following a rasikācārya.

In fact, we see that their so-called vrajabhāva is only exhibited on Sundays, while the rest of the week they are absorbed in ordinary mundane activities. Those who are actually tasting vrajabhāva cannot tolerate even for a second to engage in ordinary financial dealings simply for the purpose of extending their material facilities.

Those who actually relish real vraja-bhāva embrace a life of renunciation (sannyāsa) and reject those things which are unfavourable for devotional service (pratikūla). In this regard Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has said:

‘ahaṁ-mama’ bhāva-sattve nāma kabhu haya nā
bhoga-buddhi nā chāḍile aprākṛta haya nā

“The holy name is never revealed to one who is situated in the bodily concept of life and thinks in terms of ‘I’ and ‘mine.’ If one doesn’t reject the enjoying mentality, the transcendental platform will never be attained.”

anarthake ‘artha’ bali’ ku-pathete laya nā

“One should never mistakenly call material obstacles “useful for devotional service”, thereby following the wrong path.”

In his Anubhāṣya to verse 28 of the last chapter of Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭha edition) Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has also written as follows:

“Those who are barren of the treasure of prema, propelled by duplicity, declare to the whole world their false attainment of prema, although in reality, by an external display of prema or by announcing it to one and all, it is positively impossible for such hypocrite destitutes who are deprived of the wealth of kṛṣṇa-prema to ever attain it. To make their great fortune known to everybody, adepts of prākṛtasahajiyāism often expose to each other insincere external symptoms of prema (such as shedding of tears). Rather than calling such hypocrite sahajiyās as ‘premika,’ real śuddha-bhaktas go as far as to completely reject their association knowing it to destroy bhakti. Śuddha-bhaktas never teach one to designate such persons as ‘bhaktas’ thus equaling them with śuddha-bhaktas. At the rise of genuine prema, the jīva hides her own glory and strives for kṛṣṇa-bhajana. The hypocrite prākṛta-sahajiyā party in their greed for wealth, women and fame (kanaka-kāminī-pratiṣṭhā) offend śuddha-bhaktas by labelling them as ‘darśanika paṇḍita’ (great philosophers), ‘tattva-vit’ (ontology experts) or sūkṣma-darśī (acute observers), and in turn they adorn themselves with the titles ‘rasika,’ ‘bhajanānandī’, ‘bhagavatottama’ (uttama-bhagavata), ‘līlā-rasa-panonmatta’ (intoxicated by drinking sweet mellows of līlā), ‘rāgānugīya-sādhakāgraganya’ (the foremost aspirants on the path of rāgānuga-bhakti), ‘rasa-jña’ (the knowers of rasa), ‘rasika-cuḍāmaṇi’ (unsurpassed rasikas) etc. Having contaminated bhajanapraṇālī with the waves of their own materialistic emotions, they become attached to abominable practices; what they actually adore in themselves is pseudo Vaiṣṇavism. These kinds of preachers go to describe aprākṛta-rasa, making their respective mundane emotions a part and parcel of kṛṣṇa-sevā. Unaware of aprākṛta vipralambha-rasa, they take prākṛta-sambhoga, which in essence is a perverted reflection of rasa (virasa), as actual rasa.”

Those who have prema never boast of their love for Kṛṣṇa because the nature of pure love for Kṛṣṇa is that one who has it feels that he doesn’t have even a drop of it. Those who say they have prema, who say they are rasika, and who claim to be the distributors of vrajabhāva are basically cheaters. They have cheated themselves, and they are cheating others. They have deviated from the path of our ācāryas.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in the introduction to the 4th verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka in his Amṛta-pravāhabhāṣya states:

premera svabhāva, yāhā premera sambandha
sei māne kṛṣṇa mora nāhi bhakti-gandha

“The nature of prema is such that one who has got real connection with prema will think with dainya (humility). ‘I possess not even a trace of bhakti’”

The so-called preachers of ‘vraja-bhāva’ are always outraged when we speak on such topics according to the standard of our ācārya Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. The pseudo Vaiṣṇava says that the jungle (āraṇya) is cut and now it is time to preach rāsa-līlā throughout the world. But such foolish persons do not realise that they are living in the jungle and the weeds of misconception have overgrown their creeper of devotion.

When challenged about their false conceptions, the so-called preachers of ‘vraja-rasa’ become angry and say that their tears are the proof that they are absorbed in prema. Yet these so-called rasika and prema-bhaktas do not show us any of the other qualities of pure devotion such as dainya (humility) etc., only a display of tears.

In this regard, the Guardian of Devotion, Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, has explained:

“By practicing, one can acquire that mental condition of shedding tears, and one can show many feats as though he were a real devotee. Merely the display of some peculiar external characteristics does not prove the presence of pure devotion. Real devotion is ‘sudurlabha‘ – a very, very rare achievement.”

Pure devotion is such a rare commodity that it can hardly be attained by one day’s devotion per week, especially when that devotion is adulterated with the enjoying spirit and other such gross anarthas.

Those who are bona-fide preachers of the religion of divine love, as inaugurated by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, do not engage in rasa-vicāra (discussion of rasa in public). The bona-fide preacher always preaches nāma-pracāra – the glories of the holy name.

This was emphatically stated by His Divine Grace, Śrīla B. P. Puri Gosvāmī Mahārāja:

“In your foreign countries there has appeared a party of prākṛta-sahajiyāism. And it is not a matter of inventing something – what they speak is there in 10th Canto, in the works of the Gosvāmīs, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura. But the very fact of their speaking such higher topics to unprepared audiences, ignoring the glories of the Holy Name, who is the only real path to this higher līlā, is nāmāparādha. Mahāprabhu never did like this. He was relishing these topics with a few of His antaraṅga-bhaktas, and was inspiring masses to perform nāma-saṅkīrtana, and He Himself performed saṅkīrtana with great numbers of people. Pracāra should be nāma-pracāra.” (Feb. 7, 1996, Śrīdhāma Māyāpura, Gopīnātha Gauḍīya Maṭha)

We must be very strict and very, very vigilant about these points. That was the standard of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and that has been followed by his most stalwart disciples, such as Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda, Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla B.P. Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja. Śrīla B.D. Mādhava Mahārāja, Śrīla B.S. Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla B.P. Keśava Mahārāja, and all others.

In conclusion, vraja-bhāva requires complete surrender at the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa and the spiritual master. It is not a cheap thing! It requires a life of dedication. When one comes in connection with vraja-bhāva he does not go out to sell cars the next day, carrying on life as usual, going out mountain biking on the weekend with his family and engaging in so many ordinary mundane activities. Vrajabhāva means “die to live,” the absolute abnegation of all things mundane, and that is followed by full submission to guru and Kṛṣṇa – that is vraja-bhāva. Not simply singing Hindi bhajanas – that is only nāmābhāsa. It is not śuddha-nāma or pure devotion.

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“Guruvayur” was an article written by Śrīla B.G. Narasiṅgha Mahārāja in 1989 for ‘Clarion Call’ magazine, Vol.2, issue 3. Narasiṅgha Mahārāja explains the history of the famous temple in Kerala as well as some of its peculiarities.

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