Kartika and Sarat-purnima: Special Mercy and the Dance of Divine Love

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A Talk by Giriraj Swami October 17, 2005 Sri Sri Radha-Radhanatha Temple Durban, South Africa

We welcome you to this most auspicious place, the temple of Sri Sri Radha-Radhanatha, on the most auspicious occasion of the beginning of Kartika, in the most auspicious association of Lord Krsna’s devotees. Kartika is also known as the month of Damodara (dama means “ropes,” and udara means “abdomen”), or Krsna who allowed Himself to be bound about the waist by the ropes of His devotee’s love.

Srila Rupa Gosvami compiled the law book of Krsna consciousness, the science of devotion, in the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, translated by Srila Prabhupada in a summary study as The Nectar of Devotion. There the observance of Kartika is mentioned as one of the sixty-four items of devotional service. Rupa Gosvami quotes from the Padma Purana that just as Lord Damodara is favorably inclined toward His devotees, so the month of Kartika, which is also dear to Him, bestows great favor upon His devotees, even for a little service or a little practice. It is even said that the benefit gained for service performed in the last five days of Kartika is equal to that gained from service performed for the entire month. In other words, for a very small performance of devotional service in the month of Damodara, one gets a very big result–especially in Vrndavana. Also, Srila Prabhupada has explained that wherever the deities of Radha and Krsna are installed, that is also Vrndavana. So even here our devotional service will be magnified “one thousand times.”

Srila Prabhupada gives us the example of a store that has a sale. Often when a new store opens they will have a sale, and a customer can get a very valuable item by paying a very small amount. So, the month of Kartika is like a sale, a transcendental sale. By a little investment in terms of spiritual practice and service, you can get a great benefit. Of course, the management of the store hopes that you will come to appreciate its goods and patronize the store even after the sale is over. So we, too, hope that you will continue with your spiritual practices, or increased practices, even after the month of Kartika.

There is a special potency to the month itself. Just as certain times of the day, such as the brahma-muhurta, which begins one hour and thirty-two minutes before sunrise and continues until the sun rises, are more auspicious for spiritual progress and enhance the value of one’s practices, so, too, within the year, the month of Kartika is most auspicious. Devotees try to take advantage of the facility offered by Kartika by on the one side increasing their spiritual practices and doing extra service–they chant more rounds, read more scripture, recite more prayers, distribute more books, and make special offerings–and on the other side decreasing their material involvement, their sense gratification. As it is, we are in the four-month period of Caturmasya, so every month we forgo a certain type of food, but in Kartika devotees may do extra austerities. They may eat only once a day, or give up sweet or fried foods, or rise earlier than usual, or whatever–work on some area of their spiritual life that they want to improve–and they get special mercy in the month of Kartika to fulfil their vows and improve their spiritual practices.

Today also is sarat-purnima, the full-moon night of the sarat season, the night on which Krsna played upon His transcendental flute at Vamsivata by the Yamuna River in Vrndavana and called the gopis to dance with Him. Now, we may take it that He played on His flute and in a figurative way called the gopis to dance with Him, but actually Krsna’s flute is one of His messengers, and so the gopis not only heard the beautiful, melodious sound of the flute, but they actually received the message that Krsna wanted to meet them. And because their only desire was to please Krsna, to fulfil His desires and make Him happy, they all went to Him–not with the aim of fulfilling any selfish desire of their own, but only with the aim of fulfilling Krsna’s transcendental desire to dance with them.

Because the rasa dance superficially resembles the dancing of men and women in the material world, it can easily be misunderstood, and there are critics of Lord Krsna and Srimad-Bhagavatam and Krsna consciousness itself that find fault with the rasa-lila. I know religious groups outside of the Vedic tradition that criticize and challenge: “Oh, Krsna is a womanizer. How can you worship a god that enjoys with women?” They do not understand the pure love exchanged by Krsna and the gopis. In Caitanya-caritamrta, Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami explains the difference between love, or prema, and lust, or kama. In lust, the person wants to gratify his or her own senses, whereas in pure love, the devotee wishes to satisfy Krsna’s transcendental senses. The two may resemble each other, but actually they are completely different.

kama, prema,–donhakara vibhinna laksana lauha ara hema yaiche svarupe vilaksana

atmendriya-priti-vancha–tare bali ‘kama’ krsnendriya-priti-iccha dhare ‘prema’ nama

“Lust and love have different characteristics, just as iron and gold have different natures. The desire to gratify one’s own senses is kama, but the desire to please the senses of Lord Krsna is prema.” (Cc Adi 4. 164-165) Iron and gold are both metals, but there is a great difference between them, between their values. The pure love of the devotees for Krsna is like gold, and the lust of people in the material world who want to gratify their senses is like iron.

Another point of contention related to the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam is that the name of Radha is not mentioned. Some people challenge, “You are worshiping Radha and Krsna, Radha-Radhanatha, but on what authority? We don’t find the name of Radha in the Bhagavad-gita or Srimad-Bhagavatam.” But in the five chapters that describe the rasa-lila, we find that after Krsna called the gopis and began to reciprocate with them, He disappeared. The gopis then plunged into separation from Krsna, and they began to search all over the Vrndavana forest for Him. In time they found two pairs of footprints: Krsna’s and a gopi’s. Then the other gopis, in their separation, exclaimed:

anayaradhito nunam bhagavan harir isvarah yan no vihaya govindah prito yam anayad rahah

“Certainly this particular gopi has perfectly worshiped the all-powerful Personality of Godhead. Therefore Govinda was so pleased with Her that He abandoned the rest of us and brought Her to a secluded place.” (SB 10.30.28) “Because She worshiped Lord Hari better than all of us, She has gotten to be with Krsna now.” The word aradhito, which means “worshiped” or “perfectly worshiped,” refers to Radha, as confirmed by Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura and other acaryas. They explain that Her name does appear in the Vedas, Upanisads, and other Puranas, and that in this verse, although Her name is not mentioned explicitly, the superexcellent glories of Sri Radha are nonetheless proclaimed.

Ultimately Krsna also left Srimati Radharani, and when the other gopis came upon Her, they found Her in such a state of intense lamentation in separation that they felt, “Actually, She loves Krsna more.” There is a technical discussion of what actually took place in the rasa-lila, why Krsna left with Radharani and why eventually He left Her too. But His ultimate purpose was to reunite all the gopis, and when the other gopis saw Srimati Radharani in such a state of ecstasy in separation, they felt sympathetic toward Her. They did not feel any envy at all.

Thereafter they all searched for Krsna together. But they could not find Him anywhere. Finally they decided, “We cannot find Krsna unless He wishes to be found. We cannot force Him to come before us.” So they considered, “How can we attract Krsna’s attention? How can we move Krsna to come back to us?” And they concluded that the best method was sankirtana, chanting the glories of Krsna together, along with crying.

So they returned to the banks of the Yamuna where they had originally met Him, and they began to sing the glories of Krsna–very beautiful songs in separation, known as the Gopi-gita. And when Krsna heard the loving prayers of the gopis, sankirtana, His heart was moved and He could no longer stay away from them. He came to them, reappeared before them in His most attractive feature:

tasam avirabhuc chaurih smayamana-mukhambujah pitambara-dharah sragvi saksan manmatha-manmathah

“Then Lord Krsna, a smile on His lotus face, appeared before the gopis. Wearing a garland and a yellow garment, He directly appeared as one who can bewilder the mind of Cupid, who himself bewilders the minds of ordinary people.” (SB 10.32.2)

Then followed a very interesting dialogue between Krsna and the gopis. The gopis felt some transcendental anger because Krsna had abandoned them. After all, He had called them to Him, they had risked everything to go to Him in the dead of night, and then He had left them. So they wanted Krsna to explain why.

In a most tactful and intelligent way, they began, “There are three kinds of lovers.” They presented three categories of lovers, or different ways that lovers deal with others, and asked Krsna to explain them. Indirectly, they were asking Krsna, “In which category do you fit?”

In one category are people who reciprocate exactly with the other party. In other words, “If you are kind to me, I will be kind to you; if you ignore me, I will ignore you.” Krsna said, “They are like merchants. They give only with the expectation of return, and they give only as much as they expect in return. Actually, they are selfish.”

In the next category are those who love the other even though the other does not love them. For example, at least in principle, parents love their children no matter what the children do. The children may not even appreciate the parents’ service, but the parents go on loving and serving them. And even better than parents are devotees, because although parents serve their own children, devotees love and serve everyone. Whether others appreciate them or not, they try to help everyone. Krsna said, “Those who love others even if others don’t love them in return, they are following the true path of dharma and they are the true friends of humanity.”

In the third category are those who don’t reciprocate even when others love them. The first category is “I reciprocate only if you love me.” The second category is “Even if you don’t love me, I love you.” And the third category is “Even if you love me, I don’t reciprocate.” So, the gopis wanted Krsna to admit that He was in the third category. They did not want to say it themselves, but they wanted to hear it from Krsna’s own mouth. They wanted to trap Him with their subtle network of wise and clever words.

Now, within the third category there are four divisions. There is the atmarama: He is completely self-satisfied. Even if you love him, he won’t reciprocate, because he is self-satisfied; he is situated in transcendental bliss. Then there is the apta-kama: He has desires, but they are already satisfied, so he doesn’t need you. Even if you love him, he won’t reciprocate. Then there is the third division, akrta-jna: he is ungrateful. And then there is the last division, guru-druhah. In the first three, “You love me, but I don’t reciprocate; I remain indifferent,” but in this last category, guru-druhah, “You love me, and I am not just indifferent to you; I become inimical.” Actually, the gopis wanted Krsna to admit that He had been ungrateful.

Ultimately Krsna had to respond to their question, and His answer was, “I did not neglect you, nor was I indifferent to you. I was always thinking of you. But in order to increase your love for Me, I hid Myself from you.” Krsna gave the example of a poor man who gains some wealth and then loses it. He will be so anxious that he can think of nothing except his lost treasure: “What happened to my money? How can I get it back?” Krsna said, “So I was reciprocating with you, because your desire was to increase your love for Me, and by hiding Myself from you I created a situation by which your attachment for Me would increase. So I was reciprocating with you.” Although Krsna’s argument sounded good, it did, however, contain one defect: the gopi’s love was already unlimited, and even so, by its very nature it was always increasing. So that could not have been the real reason.

Again, there is an intricate and elaborate discussion by the acaryas about the dialogue between Krsna and the gopis, but at the very end Krsna admits defeat. He says,

na paraye ‘ham niravadya-samyujam sva-sadhu-krtyam vibudhayusapi vah ya mabhajan durjara-geha-srnkhalah samvrscya tad vah pratiyatu sadhuna

“Actually, I am unable to repay my debt for your service to Me even with the prolonged life of Brahma, because you have given up everything for Me. You have given up family ties, which are so difficult to break. You have given up the dictates of the world, of the Vedas, and of your relatives. You have forsaken everything for My sake–which I could not do for you. You have given up all other relationships for Me, but I could not do that for you. I still have My father and mother and friends. You came running out of your houses in the middle of the night, but I sneak out and return in the morning so that no one catches Me. But you, with complete abandon, have come to meet Me without any consideration of the consequences. And I have so many devotees with whom I reciprocate: devotees in madhurya-rasa, in vatsalya-rasa, in sakhya-rasa, in dasya-rasa, and in santa-rasa. I also reciprocate with the sadhakas in the material world who are struggling and trying to become devotees. I reciprocate with everyone who approaches Me. But you love only Me. So I cannot equal your love. I admit it: I can never repay My debt to you.” He concluded, “I am defeated by your love.”

The gopis were so touched by Krsna’s words that they thought, “Now He has defeated us! We could not admit to Him that He defeated us, but He has admitted to us that we defeated Him. So He has defeated us.” [laughter] Of course, this is all on the platform of transcendental love. And it is said that later, when Krsna left Vrndavana to go to Mathura and Dvaraka and the gopis were left in separation from Him, they would think of His words to them, na paraye ‘ham, and that would give them solace to bear the separation. Of course, here we come to another subtle and intricate discussion, because even in separation from Krsna they experienced His presence.

After hearing Krsna’s reply, the gopis were appeased, and so He began the pastime of the rasa dance. All of the gopis were dancing in a circle, and Krsna expanded Himself to be next to each one. Each gopi felt, “Krsna is with me alone,” and each was completely satisfied by Krsna.

One of our godbrothers, Garuda dasa Adhikari (Graham M. Schweig), is a professor at a university in the United States, and he has written a translation and study of the five chapters of the rasa-lila, rasa-panca-adhyaya, that has been published by Princeton University Press, one of the most prestigious presses in academia. There he uses the image of the rasa dance as a symbol for interfaith harmony. It is a symbol that is most appropriate, especially for a diverse country such as South Africa.

The idea is that there were so many gopis, and each was individual, but that Krsna was by the side of each one, reciprocating with each perfectly. He accepted all of them, and all of them accepted each other, and there was complete harmony–not only between Krsna and the gopis, but also among the gopis themselves–in this dance of divine love. So, different worshipers serve God in different ways. They have different practices and rituals, and different scriptures and languages. But God reciprocates with all of them. And if they can come into harmony, not only with God but with each other as well, in the dance of divine love, then there can be complete harmony in the world.

So, today is a most sacred occasion: the beginning of kartika-vrata, and sarat-purnima, the night Krsna enjoyed His rasa-lila with the gopis–after removing Himself from their presence in order to demonstrate to the world, in their separation from Him, their supreme love.

Thank you very much.

Hare Krsna

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