Vaishnava and Vaishnavism
Vaishnava and Vaishnavism.
SREE SAJJANA-TOSHANI OR THE HARMONIST FEBRUARY 1929
BISHWESHWAR DAS, B.A.,
Emeritus Head Master, Shantipur Municipal H. E. School.
Vaishnavism is pre eminently the religion of transcendental Love. It embodies the essence of all philosophies nay it is the highest of all. It is a religion of total self abnegation and of absolute self-surrender to that Supreme God-head in Whom “we move, live and have our being”. It is the realisation of the sublimest aspirations of the soul. By embracing Vaishnavism and by living up to its noble precepts, a man, whatever be his caste, creed or colour, reaches the highest goal by slow but sure and sometimes unconscious steps. And what is true of man is of course true of woman also. Nay, Vaishnavism is peculiarly adapted to even the soft and tender nature of woman. For it is essentially a religion of loving tenderness, sweet love, and celestial mercy. A man must entirely kill the beast in him and thoroughly divest himself of his awkward masculine sternness or feminine bashfulness, before he can be a true Vaishnava. It is indeed the highest privilege of man to be able to call himself a Vaishnava. To be a true Vaishnava is to see God, to love God and to enjoy holy and blessed communion with God in his own eternal nature. A Vaishnava stands to God in the most endearing of all relations. In the highest stage of Vaishnavism, the devotee approaches his Beloved One, not as the servant approaches his master, nor as the son approaches his parent, nor as the disciple approaches his preceptor, nor as the friend approaches his friend, but as the bride approaches the bridegroom or as the sweetheart approaches the lover with all confidence.
To a Vaishnava Godhead is the nearest and dearest of all beings. A Vaishnava is never happy unless and until he beholds the cherished idol of his heart face to face and indeed in all things apparently great and small, in all matters seemingly momentous or trifling. To a Vaishnava his Lord is the only doer, the only giver and the only saviour. He is the cause of all causes, the fountain of all delights, the life and light of all he sees. A Vaishnava knows and believes that from one stand-point God Almighty is Immanent within nature and that nature has no existence apart from that of God. He is the indwelling spirit of all for the benefit of the physical and mental exertion of the people of the world and even what is called matter is but a gross manifestation of the pure and supreme Divine Essence.
From another stand point, he sees that God is extra-cosmic and though nature or this phenomenal universe is liable to be annihilated, as is the case at “Mahapralaya” or at the time of universal destruction, He, although full of bliss Himself eternally rejoices in the company of His beloved devotees in the abode of supreme bliss, called in mystic language the “Goloka.” It does not matter whether “Goloka” be a particular locality or peculiar state of consciousness. For, in both cases, the happy transcendental consummation is one and the same.
‘Brindaban’ is another term used to denote the fascimili of Goloka on the earth and the mystic dance of the Gopees with Sree Krishna, notably known as the Rasa Lila typifies the blissful communion of the Harmonising Energy followed by unfettered little souls in the form of milkmaids with the Divine Spirit. What that “Rasa” or blissful communion is can never be conceived by one unless one attains the requisite amount of spiritual culture. Suffice it to say, that the Vaishnava delights in calling his God-head, Sree Krishna. He knows that Sree Krishna is properly speaking, One Who attracts towards Himself the minds of all. Thus Sree Krishna is the Universal Spirit Who lives in and through Eternal nature. A Vaishnava, however, knows full well that God-head is not merely a spirit, but is the loveliest of all beings, the most charming personality, ready to satisfy the reciprocal yearnings of those who long to serve Him as the Entity. The Vaishnava affirms this Charming God-head to be Sree Krishna. Ordinarily, however, Sree Krishna is considered by philanthropists as the Embodiment of the highest perfections representing in the most striking manner the seemingly harmonious but really incompatible blending and development of “Jnan” (knowledge), “Karma” (work), “Joga” (spiritual communion) and “Bhakti” (devotion or love). He is the central figure in the famous Hindu Epic, the Mahabharata, as well in Sreemad Bhagabata gathering round Himself all the interest contained in those grand works of “Veda-Vyasa”. This Sree Krishna, is the ideal of true Vaishnavas, though the books differ in their opinion when they take up different aspects of Rasa. Sree Krishna the highest Spiritual King, Sri Krishna the highest spiritual Hero, Sri Krishna the transcendental Imperial Autocrat or Despot, Sree Krishna the Expounder of the Universal Religion embodied in the Geeta is the God of the true Vaishnava. To a true Vaishnava Sri Krishna is also exquisitely charming as being the darling of “Nanda” and “Yasoda” as being the playfellow of “Sudam” “Sreedam” and others, as being the sweet lover of Sree Radhica, and a host of other confidential Gopees. To a true Vaishnava, Sree Krishna is all love, all smile, all bliss, to see Him, to love Him and to make a total self surrender to Him for time and eternity. To enjoy the beatific vision of this God of love, the devotee must eschew as a meddler and enjoyer all earthly desires, all consciousness of knowledge, strength or power all mundane and transitory.
In seeking his beloved God, the Vaishnava must forsake not only his own Bhukti or enjoyment, but also Mukti or salvation. His love of Godhead must be love for His sake, wholly independent of any selfish motive or object. The highest embodiment of this love refined and “Free from Passion’s dross” is Sree Radhica, the mystic consort of Sree Krishna, representing the Ananda or Harmonising Energy of Him. It is by virtue of this “Hladini Shakti,” otherwise called Sree Radhica that God-head is capable of being pleased and pleasing others in their transcendental substance.
To separate Sree Radhica from Sree Krishna is to separate fragrance from the sweet rose, beauty from the lovely rainbow, and radiance from the mild moon. It does not matter whether Sree Radhica according to the wrong ideas of philanthoropists merely typifies the progress of the human soul, or that she is an historical personage or imaginary entity. All that we are to remember is that she is the embodiment of pure and unselfish Divine Love and that She has everything to do with the Supreme Lord Krishna and His dependants as His sole Supreme Energy. The stories generally extant about Her do not do full justice to Her deep and mystic joy in Sree Krishna. She represents as has been already said, in the fullest measure the Ananda aspect or blissfulness of Godhead. The highest aspirations of the Vaishnava in his eternal female nature is to be allowed to tread in one particular track in the footsteps of Sree Radhica and to identify her soul in the eternal female form with one or other of her numerous maids. The Vaishnava in fact, seeks to make a total surrender of himself to his beloved God-head and to assist in the service towards the Divine couple connected by the ties of supremely rapturous love.
A Vaishnava naturally considers himself even more insignificant than a straw, more humble than a tree and makes it his business to sing the glory of his Beloved, never seeking worldly honour himself, but ever conferring honour on others. This is what is Vaishnavism from the Vaishnava’s point of view. There are indeed many sects or sub-classes of Vaishnavas worshipping either Vishnu or Ramchandra but our present business is to set right the foolish and blasphemous ideas that creates difference between Vishnu-Vigrahas and help others to follow this Vaishnavism which is also professed and practised by the followers of Sree Gouranga Who is Krishna Himself and the Saviour of mankind, Who appeared more than 443 years ago and Whose teaching exemplified by His own practice were chiefly characterised by universal spirit of toleration, by kindness to all animate beings by maddening love for the sweet names of Hari (God) and by loving service to humanity, especially the saints and devotees.
The Vaishnava’s love for Godhead or His Dependants is not, however, a sickly sentimentality. It is an essential function of His eternal nature. In relation to God, this love manifests itself in deep spiritual communion in beatific vision and in prolonged trance. In relation to man and other animals it displays itself in loving acts of charity and kindness.
The reason why the Vaishnava love to serve his God not as his supreme father, mother or friend, but even as the sweet heart loves and serves her lover, is obvious to the thoughtful reader. In perfect love there is no fear, no sense of restraint. We all know how we sometimes find it difficult to unbosom ourselves to our parents and even to our most intimate friends, being prevented, as it were, by a sense of modesty or restraint. Moreover the depth and intensity of the love that a mistress displays for her lover is certainly the greatest that can, under ordinary conditions, be conceived by the human heart.
There is another “reason why” the Vaishnava resorts to Madhur bhab (i.e. love between the sweet heart and her lover) in preference to any other mode of worship. In the science of love, five bhabs or transcendental sentiments are generally recognised. The first is the shanta Rasa the chief: characteristic of which is nistha or devotedness. The second is Dasya Rasa whose chief characteristic is service plus devotedness. The third is “Sakhya Rasa” whose chief characteristic is implicit faith, plus service and devotedness. The fourth is “Batsalya Rasa” whose chief characteristic is affection, plus, faith service and devotedness. The fifth, or the quintessence of love is termed “Madhur Rasa” which contains in itself all the different characteristics peculiar to each of the modes of worship detailed above plus one supreme characteristic which is the summum bonum of religious life—I mean self surrender.
Hence the superior Vaishnavas always prefer to “Madhur Bhab” or the relation of the mistress to the lover, to any four forms of divine worship. It should, however, be always borne in mind that there is nothing like sensual passion in the Vaishnava’s love for his Godhead. With reference to the language used by the Vaishnava, in the worship of Godhead, His transcendental images are often worshipped, though they appear to apparent observers as gross and material, but those images are not to be considered as only symbols but to be recognised as the fountainhead of all deep spiritual truths and ideas. On the other hand the apparent and seeming features that are subject to our senses are not to be considered as symbols but to be recognised as the fountainhead of all deep spiritual truths and ideas, who is but the Absolute Godhead. Moreover, it is only the select few or the higher initiates that are permitted to use this form of worship. Ordinary mortals are strictly enjoined to have recourse to any one of the under-mentioned forms of worship.
A Vaishnava should first of all confine his attention to rendering willing and unselfish service to holy men, and by degrees, as he advances, to all animated beings apparently men and beasts and indeed all forms of life taking care all the while not to confine himself to any gross outward perception of things. In other words, he should always adopt the “Dasya Bhaba” already referred to above. It should be distinctly noted here that a particular servant of the transcendental Absolute Godhead need not shift his position from Santa, Dasya, Sakhya, Batsalya or Madhur Rasa in order of gradation, but can prove himself qualified in a different rasa which is innate in his soul. It rarely falls to the lot of ordinary Vaishnavas to be worthy devotees for the practice of “Madhura Bhaba”, which, we regret to observe, has been much abused in these days of sensuality and corruption and which is first of all promptly embraced, more from dictates of passion, than from true spiritual instincts, by any and every man at the present day in order to profane Vaishnavism and therefore scarcely do they deserve the name.
This, in short, is Vaishnavism. This pure form of transcendental worship was preached by Sree Chaitanya, the great Prophet of Nadia, more by His life than by any precepts or sermons.
The life of Sree Chaitanya is an edifying study in itself. To understand Vaishnavism thoroughly men must carefully and reverentially study the Holy life and Character of this Divine Personage. We can hardly conceive what Sree Krishna or Sree Radhica is except through the divine light graciously vouchsafed unto the benighted world by that Divine Teacher, I mean, Sree Chaitanya Who, the Vaishnavas believe is identical with Sree Krishna, though displaying a distinct Lila of His own or more properly, the Embodiment of Sree Krishna and Sree Radhica in One. All true Vaishnavas draw and will continue to draw their inspirations from Him, as from a living fountain. His exalted mission of universal love was truly something Divine and the immense boon He has conferred on the fallen race of humanity, by His glorious Advent into this mortal world in an age of dry rationalism and lifeless dogmas, in an age of sensual rites and nefarious ceremonials, will be more and more appreciated as mankind advances in knowledge, faith, love and spirituality.
The Christian reader may trace out points of similarity in the lines and teaching of these two great Saviours of Mankind—Sree Chaitanya of Nadia and Jesus of Nazareth, but the parallel does not indeed go very far. Faith, all-absorbing faith, faith which is the “evidence of things unseen, the substance of things hoped for,” forms indeed the turning point—the main characteristic of both Christianity and Vaishnavism. But blind faith is not meant or referred to as psilanthropists mean in as much as the faith in the Absolute is quite different from a blind faith due to ignorance in imaginary things. But the theism of Christianity is pre-eminently the religion of piety where ethical principles have got a predominance over the Absolute Truth, whereas Vaishnavism, as we have already pointed out, is strikingly the religion of Love or unadulterated causeless service. In its lowest stage, however, it inculcates Service as well as knowledge. But Vaishnavism in its highest stage is only Love, pure and simple—a kind of Love that may be called sublime, supersensuous, high and transcendental. It is something beyond the ken of the ordinary run of human beings. A true Vaishnava is therefore, the much talked of “salt of the earth” or the “light of the world” and true Vaishnavism is verily the “fulfilment of the law”.