Monday Morning Greetings 2024 #9 – The Agony is the Ecstasy

February 26th, 2024

I just finished studying and teaching the second chapter of the Madhya-līlā, “The Ecstatic Manifestations of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu”. It’s a challenging chapter because counter-intuitively the highest ecstasy is described as manifest through emotions, which reflect neither ecstasy nor the highest consciousness, but gloom and an uncontrolled mind:


“[…] all the ecstatic symptoms of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu—including despondency, moroseness, humility, restlessness, joy, endurance and anger—instructed His body and mind.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 2.76)


Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja outlines this dichotomy:


“Externally there appeared severe tribulation, as if He were suffering from poisonous effects, but internally He was experiencing bliss. This is characteristic of transcendental love of Krishna.” (Cc. Madhya-līlā 2.50)


My attempt to resolve this quandary:


Beyond Duality

The spiritual realm is beyond duality. The Taittiriya Upaniṣad describes this as raso vai saḥ, “He (the Lord) is rasa (heightened love)”, which is ecstasy, because pure love is the highest pleasure. Makes sense. If there is a God, everything that happens in His spiritual realm would naturally be only for the purpose of intensifying rasa, or His transcendental pleasure, and thus every emotion, even the apparently negative ones, would also serve this purpose and in that way there is no duality between the agony and the ecstasy there. The rasa theory further resolves this dichotomy.


The Rasa Theory

The rasa theory, based on the ṭya Śāstra, is a thorough description of how drama is to be composed. It’s a complex thesis but let me try to simplify it for our purpose, which is to reconcile how agony can be ecstasy in Krishna’s pastimes. Rasa is a consuming human emotion. There are generally nine in number such as tragedy (karuṇa-rasa), fear (bhayānakarasa), romance (śṛṅgāra-rasa), and so on. Rasa theory is the science of recreating a consuming emotion in a drama, so that the qualified audience feels that same emotion and enjoys the drama. In other words, the audience should feel sorrow (karuṇa-rasa) while watching a tragedy or feel scared (bhayānak-rasa) while watching a horror movie and enjoy those dramas at the same time, a dichotomy I think we may have all experienced. Śrī Krishna-līlā in the spiritual world, as portrayed in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, operates by the same principles of drama found in the ṭya Śāstra, but instead of recreating one of the nine consuming human emotions, Śrī Krishna-līlā is about bhakti-rasa, the heightening of love for God. Cannot therefore the same principle be applied there, where negative emotions are intensely felt but enjoyed at the same time? But I think there is one more point that is even more compelling in terms of resolving this dichotomy.


The Lord has Inconceivable Potency

We often make the mistake when trying to solve apparent contradictions in reference to the Divine by trying to resolve them through how things operate in this world, forgetting that God has inconceivable potency and thus not subject to the laws of nature and the reasoning they dictate. The Śrī Īśopaniṣad describes this nicely:


“The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.” (Mantra 5)


Śrīla Prabhupāda elucidates the point further in his purport:


“[…] Ordinarily, if someone can walk, it is illogical to say he cannot walk. But in reference to God, such a contradiction simply serves to indicate His inconceivable power. With our limited fund of knowledge we cannot accommodate such contradictions, and therefore we conceive of the Lord in terms of our limited powers of understanding.”


So, I think, in a sense, this may be the ultimate reconciliation of such quandaries—that God has inconceivable potencies, and such contradictions cannot be resolved by ordinary reasoning based on how the laws of nature operate, which do not rule the Absolute.


So can the agony be the ecstasy? Why not?




Comments are closed.