Sabbatical Diary

Sunday 15th October – By His Grace

In the morning, we walked the 12-kilometre parikramā [circumambulation] of Vṛndāvana, and then decided to offer flowers to the Deities at Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandir on our return.

In the late afternoon, we visited three temples. First was the Rādhā-ramaṇa temple, which was established by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī. His samādhi is located within the temple compound.

The exterior of the Rādhā-ramaṇa temple
The altar at the Rādhā-ramaṇa temple

Next, we visited the Rādhā-Gokulānanda temple. In a small courtyard just outside, the samādhis of Lokanātha Gosvāmī, Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura and Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura can be found. In the presence of these samādhis, we sat down and sang Narottama dāsa Ṭhākura’s “Śrī Guru-vandanā”, a beautiful bhajan which he wrote in glorification of his beloved spiritual master, Lokanātha Gosvāmī. The bhajan has been translated into English as follows:

“The lotus feet of our spiritual master are the only way by which we can attain pure devotional service. I bow to his lotus feet with great awe and reverence. By his grace one can cross the ocean of material suffering and obtain the mercy of Kṛṣṇa.

My only wish is to have my consciousness purified by the words emanating from his lotus mouth. Attachment to his lotus feet is the perfection that fulfils all desires.

He opens my darkened eyes and fills my heart with transcendental knowledge. He is my Lord birth after birth. From him ecstatic prema emanates; by him ignorance is destroyed. The Vedic scriptures sing of his character.

Our spiritual master is the ocean of mercy, the friend of the poor, and the lord and master of the devotees. O master! Be merciful unto me. Give me the shade of your lotus feet. Your fame is spread all over the three worlds.”

Sabbatical Diary

Saturday 14th October – Forests of the Divine

“The Vṛndāvana forest was as sanctified as the clear mind of a devotee and was full of bees, flowers and fruits. There were chirping birds and clear-water lakes, with waters that could relieve one of all fatigue. Sweet-smelling breezes blew always, refreshing the mind and body. Kṛṣṇa, with His friends and Balarāma, entered the forest and, seeing the favorable situation, desired to enjoy the atmosphere to the fullest extent. Kṛṣṇa saw all the trees, overloaded with fruits and fresh twigs, bending down to touch the ground as if welcoming Him by touching His lotus feet.”

— Kṛṣṇa, The Supreme Personality of Godhead,
Chapter 15: “The Killing of Dhenukāsura”,
By Śrīla Prabhupāda

Śrīla Prabhupāda disciple and renowned storyteller Deena Bandhu Prabhu has been leading tours around Vraja for many years, and today we joined his tour group. The Vraja region is the land of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and contains twelve principal forests, of which Vṛndāvana is but one.

Our first stop was Māna-sarovara, a lake formed from Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s tears of anger. Lord Śiva once desired to witness Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes with the gopīs but, being a male, was not permitted to do so, so he bathed in this lake in order to take on a female form. After spending some time there, we entered a nearby grove where the Divine Couple had performed some of Their pastimes. As we stepped through the grove, there was a general feeling that this was no ordinary place; there was something inexplicably special about the trees, and the whole place had a very sacred atmosphere.

Sabbatical Diary

Friday 13th October pt. 2 – Masters of the Senses

In his Preface to The Nectar of Instruction, Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “The Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas, or Bengali Vaiṣṇavas, are mostly followers of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, of whom the Six Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana are direct disciples … Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu appeared in order to bestow upon human society the benediction of the science of Kṛṣṇa. The most exalted of all the activities of Lord Kṛṣṇa are His pastimes of conjugal love with the gopīs. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu appeared in the mood of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, the best of the gopīs.

Therefore, to understand the mission of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and follow in His footsteps, one must very seriously follow in the footsteps of the Six Gosvāmīs – Śrī Rūpa, Sanātana, Bhaṭṭa Raghunātha, Śrī Jīva, Gopāla Bhaṭṭa and Dāsa Raghunātha … One who wants to become a perfect devotee of Kṛṣṇa must become a gosvāmī. Go means “the senses,” and svāmī means “the master.” Unless one controls his senses and mind, one cannot become a gosvāmī.”

“The gosvāmīs, … the most perfect and highly elevated beings, never said, “I have seen Kṛṣṇa.” Instead, they constantly cried, “Where is Rādhārāṇī? Where are Lalitā and Viśākhā and the other damsels of Vṛndāvana?” In their mature stage of love of Godhead, when they were living in Vṛndāvana, the gosvāmīs would also cry, “Rādhārāṇī, where are You? Where are Your associates? Where are You, O son of Nanda Mahārāja? Where are you all?” In this way they were searching after Kṛṣṇa, and they never at any time said, “Last night I saw Kṛṣṇa dancing with the gopīs.” Such claims are not made by a mature devotee, but by one who takes things very cheaply.

Some people think that Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are so cheap that They may be seen every night, but this is not the teaching of the gosvāmīs who were always searching after Kṛṣṇa crying, “Where are You? Where are You Rādhārāṇī? Where are You Kṛṣṇa? Are You there by Govardhana Hill? Are You on the bank of the Yamunā?” In this way, throughout the whole tract of Vṛndāvana, the gosvāmīs were crying and searching after Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa like madmen.

We have to follow in the footprints of the gosvāmīs and search out Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa in this way. Vṛndāvana is in our hearts, and we must search for Him there. This is the process recommended by Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the process of worship in separation … Thus, it is not that we are to enjoy the loving exchanges between Kṛṣṇa and Rādhā like spectators at some sports show. We must feel separation from Them. The more we feel separation, the more we should understand that we are advancing.

With our material senses, we cannot see Kṛṣṇa, nor can we even hear His name. We can begin to perceive Him when we advance in devotional service. That devotional service begins with the tongue, not the legs, eyes or ears. The tongue must be utilized to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa … and take Kṛṣṇa prasādam. Thus, the tongue has a dual function, and by utilizing it in this way, we will realize Kṛṣṇa. We cannot see Kṛṣṇa with our material eyes, nor hear about Him with material ears, nor touch Him with our hands; but if we engage our tongue in His service, He will reveal Himself, saying, “Here I am.””

— Elevation to Kṛṣṇa Consciousness,
Chapter 5: “Knowing Kṛṣṇa’s Energies”,
By Śrīla Prabhupāda

Sabbatical Diary

Friday 13th October pt. 1 – Lake of Love

“Because of its wonderful transcendental qualities, Rādhā-kuṇḍa is as dear to Kṛṣṇa as Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. It was in that lake that the all-opulent Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa performed His pastimes with Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī with great pleasure and transcendental bliss. Whoever bathes just once in Rādhā-kuṇḍa attains Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s loving attraction for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Who within this world can describe the glories and sweetness of Śrī Rādhā-kuṇḍa?”

— Govinda-līlāmṛta 7.102,
By Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī

Today is the appearance day of Rādhā-kuṇḍa, so we visited Rādhā-kuṇḍa and Śyāma-kuṇḍa, which are situated right next to each other. Although Śyāma-kuṇḍa is Lord Kṛṣṇa’s own lake, Rādhā-kuṇḍa is considered to be superior.

In The Nectar of Instruction, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the supreme importance of Rādhārāṇī’s lake as follows: “The spiritual world is naturally superior to the material world; however, Mathurā and the adjoining areas, although appearing in the material world, are considered superior to the spiritual world because the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself appeared at Mathurā. The interior forests of Vṛndāvana are considered superior to Mathurā because of the presence of the twelve forests (dvādaśa-vana), such as Tālavana, Madhuvana and Bahulāvana, which are famous for the various pastimes of the Lord. Thus, the interior Vṛndāvana forest is considered superior to Mathurā, but superior to these forests is the divine Govardhana Hill because Kṛṣṇa lifted Govardhana Hill like an umbrella, raising it with His lotus-like beautiful hand to protect His associates, the denizens of Vraja, from the torrential rains sent by the angry Indra, king of the demigods. It is also at Govardhana Hill that Kṛṣṇa tends the cows with His cowherd friends, and there also He had His rendezvous with His most beloved Śrī Rādhā and engaged in loving pastimes with Her. Rādhā-kuṇḍa, at the foot of Govardhana, is superior to all because it is there that love of Kṛṣṇa overflows.”

Sabbatical Diary

Thursday 12th October pt. 2 – Broken Pots and Dancing Peacocks

We began our journey through Rādhārāṇī’s homeland by climbing up almost two hundred steps to reach Śrījī Mandir, a beautiful hilltop temple that overlooks Varṣāṇā. The temple is dedicated to Rādhā, who is affectionately known as “Śrī” by the locals, and is built upon the site of Vṛṣabhānu Mahārāja’s palace, where She once lived. In Her pastimes, Vṛṣabhānu is Rādhā’s father.

Śrījī Mandir from afar

Next, we travelled to Kṛṣṇa-kuṇḍa, one of the favourite bathing places of Rādhārāṇī and Her gopī companions [kuṇḍa means “pond” and gopī means “female cowherd”], followed by Mān Mandir, Mor Kutir, and Saṅkarī-kor. As we travelled from place to place, we tried to please Rādhārāṇī by singing Kṛṣṇa’s names. As Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura [an incredible devotee and the father of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s guru] says in one of his songs, “The name and glories of Kṛṣṇa are the delight of Her ears.”

Sabbatical Diary

Thursday 12th October pt. 1 – Queen of Mercy

In the early morning, we travelled by minibus to a particularly special place named Varṣāṇā, which lies to the northwest of Vṛndāvana. This town is the home of Rādhā, also known as Rādhārāṇī. To highlight their exceptional significance, Śacīnandana Swami describes Varṣāṇā as “the parliament of the spiritual world” and Rādhārāṇī as “the prime minister of divine love” (Pandava Sena summer retreat 2016, Germany).

Rādhārāṇī as She appears at Goloka Dhāma, Germany

But who exactly is Rādhā? Why is She always with Kṛṣṇa? And what is She like? To answer these questions, I have written the following short story:

Queen of Mercy

In a remote ashram in India, a young disciple named Jīva was inquiring from his spiritual master about a very important subject matter.

The disciple said, “Although you have explained it many times, I’m still finding it difficult to understand who Rādhārāṇī is. Please could you explain it to me again in simpler terms?”

Sabbatical Diary

Wednesday 11th October – Instant Karma

I felt sick this morning so I had to leave the temple early during the morning programme. I rested for a few hours at our room, then washed my clothes and hung them up to dry. I felt a lot better in the afternoon, so I joined a few of the others, who were going to a music shop to purchase some instruments. On the way, Shyāmānanda mentioned that he had gone the whole day without wearing his glasses; the group had spent the morning shopping at Loi Bazar, a place notorious for its monkeys, who take particular delight in grabbing people’s glasses and demanding a ransom (usually something tasty) for their not-so-safe return, as I found out first-hand last year.

Sabbatical Diary

Tuesday 10th October pt. 3 – Spiritual Strength

Our hotel was just a minute’s walk from Śrī Śrī Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma Mandir, the ISKCON temple in Vṛndāvana, so after settling into our rooms we headed there. In a blog post written in August, which you can read here, Śacīnandana Swami [a senior member of ISKCON and one of my biggest inspirations] described Balarāma as follows: “To complete our spiritual journey we need strength — much spiritual strength — so that we can act upon our higher convictions … The aspect of Lord Krishna who is particularly responsible in granting spiritual strength is Lord Balarāma, who acts in the pastimes of Lord Krishna as His beautiful older brother … When Lord Krishna steps to His right side He is Balarāma — the same Personality but with a slightly other role … He gives His devotees the required strength to attain His brother Krishna (Himself).”

Sabbatical Diary

Tuesday 10th October pt. 2 – Homecoming

The great Yamunā Expressway stretched out in front of us as far as our eyes could see. As I gazed out of the window and watched the landscape drift by, I began to recognise farms and huts that I had seen last February, when I visited India with my family. Our destination, Vṛndāvana, was located in the district of Mathurā, and road signs began to appear indicating the distance to Mathurā. When I saw the first one, which stated that it was a hundred kilometres away, tears automatically welled up in my eyes. People say that home is where the heart is — in that case, I was nearly home.

Vṛndāvana is known as mādhurya-dhāma, the “abode of sweetness”, as it is the place where Kṛṣṇa performed the sweetest of His pastimes and thus attracted the hearts of all those who were fortunate enough to witness them. In his Introduction to Kṛṣṇa, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains that the reason for Kṛṣṇa’s appearance on earth was “to demonstrate His Vṛndāvana pastimes and in this way attract the fortunate conditioned souls and invite them back home, back to Godhead.”

Sabbatical Diary

Tuesday 10th October pt. 1 – Internal Brilliance

In the morning, we headed to the Śrī Śrī Rādhā Vallabh Mandir at Chhipiwara, which is located in the inner streets of Old Delhi. The temple, which is also known as ISKCON Chhipiwara due to the organisation acquiring ownership of it in 2014, is a particularly special place. Between 1959 and 1965 (prior to his departure for America), Śrīla Prabhupāda spent a lot of time in Delhi, printing and distributing his spiritual magazine, Back to Godhead, as well as translating and printing the first canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. During that time, he was based at Chhipiwara.

In my previous diary entry, I introduced the Bhagavad-gītā. If you think of that scripture as undergraduate study, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam would be the equivalent of postgraduate study. In his Preface to the scripture, which you can read here, Prabhupāda states, “Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the transcendental science not only for knowing the ultimate source of everything but also for knowing our relation with Him and our duty toward perfection of the human society on the basis of this perfect knowledge. It is powerful reading matter in the Sanskrit language, and it is now rendered into English elaborately so that simply by a careful reading one will know God perfectly well”.