Monday Morning Greetings 2023 #51 – Who Can Hear the Rasa-līlā?

December 18th, 2023

When I go to Vrindavan every couple of weeks, I teach Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta in the morning in my room. We are up to the Second Chapter of the Madhya-līlā, “The Ecstatic Manifestations of Śrī Caitanya”, where Śrīla Krishna das Kavirāja summarizes Śrī Caitanya’s aspirations to imbibe the mood of Śrī Radha. As Śrīla Prabhupāda and his guru issued strong cautions about prematurely hearing such elevated subjects, an important question naturally arises as to who can hear these subjects, and if so, how should they be presented? Sivaram Swami, in his new book, Part Two of his commentary on Vilāpa-kusumāñjali, answers this question in a thorough analysis of Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s instruction to Mahārāja Parīkṣit, where he states that the qualification is faith.


“Anyone who faithfully hears [śraddhāanvitaḥ anuśṛṇuyāt] or describes the Lord’s playful affairs with the young gopīs of Vṛndāvana will attain the Lord’s pure devotional service. Thus he will quickly become sober and conquer lust, the disease of the heart.” (Bhag. 10.33.39)


I can’t do justice within limits of a weekly post to properly summarize Sivaram Swami’s detailed and well thought out analysis of exactly what such “faith” means, but I can, in a cursory way, explain how I understand and explain what faithfully hearing means when I teach those subjects in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books. It goes something like this:


One of the main objectives of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is to qualify its reader to be able to properly understand Śrī Krishna’s pastimes, especially His playful affairs with the young gopīs, so they will inspire us in devotion and elevate our desires beyond the mundane. Otherwise, we will hear them as ordinary and degrade our consciousness. Obviously understanding those pastimes, or understanding anything, does not entail just hearing them, but having the faculties of intelligence and heart to comprehend them properly. For example, from the intellectual platform we may hear something, but lack the context or frame of reference to comprehend it, or we may read something, but from the heart prejudge it based on our previous experience and miss the intended meaning. Similarly, faithful hearing of the rasa-līlā, denoting that we accept and see it for what it is—the highest selfless devotion and joy—means having the ability to appropriately, intellectually, and emotionally to recognize that.


In that regard, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is progressively composed to achieve exactly this objective. Before we reach its tenth canto, where the rasa-līlā is described, we are first equipped with the proper intellectual and emotional state of mind to appropriately understand it in the previous nine cantos. In other words, by such study we will be educated to hear the romantic affairs of Śrī Krishna as transcendental and not fantasy and be purified in heart so that the pastimes inspire us as the height of selfless devotion and not something mundane. This type of hearing, where we can experience the rasa-līlā as real and pure, is exactly what the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam refers to as faithful hearing and can help one rise, even when still on the material platform, to the level of pure devotion where the taste to satisfy lust is eradicated.


One more point: The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has a consistent theme from the beginning: it progressively describes pure devotion in all its forms. When by such study one develops a certain level of devotion, one seeks and becomes inspired by all impetuses for devotion, whether it’s the holy name, the devotees of God, the holy dhāma, the stories of Krishna, and so on. In this consciousness, when hearing about Radha and Krishna, one’s devotion will first naturally be incited before one’s lust can be aroused.


So, who is qualified to hear the rasa-līlā? Simply one who has the intellectual and emotional bandwidth to be devotionally inspired by it and not confused or sensually provoked. Choosing to study and hear it is therefore first a matter of personal integrity. Experienced devotees therefore neither limit these subjects nor present them carelessly, but rather treat them with reverence and study and share them selectively and appropriately.[1]




[1] There is a liberal and conservative approach to hearing the rasa-līlā. For example, in Bhag 10.4 Śrīla Prabhupāda writes, “Therefore when those who are after sex life in this material world hear about Krishna’s pastimes with the gopīs, they will relish transcendental pleasure, although it appears materialistic.” He also spoke conservatively about prematurely hearing these subjects. I thought about how to reconcile the two, but it would take another post to do it justice. What I can briefly say is the above quote from Śrīla Prabhupāda seems to be a paraphrase of Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary on this verse (Bhag 10.4). In the same purport Śrīla Prabhupāda paraphrases 10.33.39 and adds that faithful hearing means to submissively hear for spiritual authorities, so there he was more representing his guru mahārāja, who appeared six generations after Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī and was responding to a general degradation in India, which was then under British rule, and the abuse of Gauḍīya philosophy to promote sahajiyism and even sex cults, which diminished its reputation.



Comments are closed.