anādau saṁsāre kati naraka-bhogā na vihitāḥkiyanto brahmendrādy-atula-sukha-bhogāś ca nyakkṛtāḥ |tadāsminn ekasmin vapuṣi sukha-duḥkhe na gaṇayansadaiva śrī-vṛndāvanam akhila-sāraṁ bhaja sakhe ||
In this beginning less world of repeated birth and death,
how often have you not been condemned to suffer hell?
And how many times have you not relished pleasures
that eclipse even those of Brahma, Indra and the other gods? So, my friend, for just this one lifetime,
give up all consideration of happiness or distress,
and forever worship Sri Vrindavan,
the essence of all things.
In the previous verse, we traced the concept of Nature as manifest in Vrindavan, i.e., Vrindavan as archetypal Nature, seen as existing in the service of God, and thereby itself partaking of the sacred. The essence of the Vaishnava view is that of the non-difference of the Energy or Nature, and the Energetic, or God.
As such, Nature is never looked at as separate from God, and the relation of humanity to nature is that of servant employing the things of world, the world itself, in the service of God.
God’s pleasure is understood in terms of the realization of human fulfillment in all respects, but especially the realization of the human spiritual potential in love. After all, the foundation of the Hindu approach to life is to recognize its limited duration in this world and to seek transcendence, and in bhakti, love (prema) is said to be both the vehicle and the destination.
The word sāra, or “essence” found at the end of this verse is particularly important for understanding the idea of archetypes. Whenever this word is used, it is an attempt at defining the ideal or archetypal characteristics of a thing. In the previous verse, Vrindavan was said to be the abode of all the sylvan virtues, which is to say that the essence of all the best or ideal things about a forest are to be found there. Thus it is the archetype of a forest. But here Prabodhananda Saraswati goes even further and says that it is the essence of all (akhila) things. It is the ultimate destination of the sāra-grāhī, the seeker of essences.
Sāra is one of those words that Prabodhananda likes to repeat often in a single verse. In the following, there is a progressive hierarchy of ideas, each exceeding the previous, though all are true:
sakala-vibhava-sāraṁ sarva-dharmaika-sāraṁsakala-bhajana-sāraṁ sarva-siddhy-eka-sāram |sakala-mahima-sāraṁ vastu vṛndāvanāntaḥsakala-madhurimāmbho-rāśi-sāraṁ vihāram ||
Residing in Vrindavan is the substance
that is the essence of all opulences;
it is the single essence of all religious duties,
it is the essence of all bhajan
the single essence of all success,
and the essence of all glories:
It is the play of the Divine Couple
that is the essence of all the oceans of divine sweetness. (VMA 17.85)
Whenever a reference is made to essentiality, it should be understood as an appeal to the imagination to follow the path of experience to go to a place where any limitations of the phenomenal are eliminated and only the Perfect and Pure is left.
This is a natural tendency in the human mind, and indeed, even when we speak negatively about any phenomenon whatsoever, recounting its imperfections, it is due to an implied, unstated, unspoken, unconscious or inchoate concept of some ideal. The via negativa, neti neti, is an essential part of the process of defining that ideal.
The presence of ideal characteristics in an ordinary human being results in the ordinary human taking on archetypal qualities, which can have far-reaching consequences in human society.
Transferring the archetypal qualities to a realm outside direct experience, i.e., the world of the imagination, is one way of protecting ourselves against falsely attributing transcendence to mundane phenomena. Thus, the play of the archetypes is the task of all literature.
For Vaishnavas, the principal archetypes are all cataloged in different ways in books like Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi, and other works of poetics where, for example, different kinds of heroic personality types are listed. Because of the vast number of possibilities available to the imagination for ideal personality types, they are personified in particular forms.
So, simply stated, in order to understand Radha and Krishna we are asked to find the essence of certain characteristics and qualities. Look at this verse from Govinda-līlāmṛta where Kaviraj Goswami uses the ornament known as viśeṣa to show how it works. When the essential qualities are so uniquely present in one object, it becomes more than just a general example of that thing, but takes on its own individual, archetypal character.
nayana-yuga-vidhāne rādhikāyā vidhātrājagati madhura-sārāḥ sañcitāḥ sad-guṇā ye |bhuvi patita-tad-aṁśas tena sṛṣṭāny asārairbhramara-mṛga-cakorāmbhoja-mīnotpalāni ||
“The Creator collected the essence of every beautiful object in the universe to make Radha’s eyes, and when the leftover portions fell to the ground they became the bumblebees, the chakoras, the fish, the lotuses and their finest species, the blue lotus.” (GLA 11.100)
Bumblebees, chakoras, etc., are all used as similes for the beauty of eyes. Here is another GLA verse in the same vein:
dṛṣṭvā rādhāṁ nipuṇa-vidhinā suṣṭhu kenāpi sṛṣṭāṁdhātā hrīlaḥ sadṛśam anayā yauvataṁ nirmimatsuḥ |sāraṁ cinvann asṛjad iha tat svasya sṛṣṭeḥ samāsyānaikāpy āsīd api tu samabhūt pūrva-sṛṣṭir nirarthā ||143||
Lalita Sundari exclaims: Seeing Radha’s exquisite form, the Creator desired to make more beautiful women like her. But after collecting his best ingredients and employing his finest artistic ability—he became depressed; not one of them could match Radha! Thus ashamed, he thought: “The lotus and the moon are in no way comparable either!” Hence, just as one crosses out a misspelled word, the creator splotched the lotus with swarms of bees, and scribbled a deer-spot over the moon! (GLA 11.143-144)
The word sāra appears over 80 times in the Vṛndāvana-mahimāmṛta. It also appears 30 times in Sudhā-nidhi (RRSN), a much shorter work. In the following verse, which might be considered the sāra of them all, Saraswatipada summarizes the description of Radha as the essence of all essences (akhila-sāra-sāra):
lāvaṇya-sāra-rasa-sāra-sukhaika-sārekāruṇya-sāra-madhura-cchavi-rūpa-sāre |vaidagdhya-sāra-rati-keli-vilāsa-sārerādhābhidhe mama mano’khila-sāra-sāre ||
May my thoughts always rest in the one named Radha,
who is the essence of loveliness,
the essence of rasa,
the single essence of all happiness; who is the essence of compassion,
the essence of all charming depictions of beauty,
the essence of cleverness in the arts of love,
the essence of amorous love-play,
indeed, she is the essence of the best of everything. (RRSN 26).
Meditation on Radha and Krishna, or on Vrindavan, is the work of the active imagination provoked by the words of the poet-acharyas. By searching out the ideal, we in fact search out God. The tendency towards the Ideal is the tendency towards God, even though for an ignorant person, it is sought out in material phenomena to inevitable failure and dissatisfaction, as Prabodhananda chastises his mind in the first two lines of this verse.
We have focused here on the word sāra, but of course there are many other statements of the same sort using different language.
In fact, if we examine the use of alaṅkāra, then we will see that practically all alaṅkāras — not only in the literature related to Radha and Krishna, but in all Sanskrit poetry and literature — are meant to push the imagination to an ideal beyond the best of everything, to admire a certain quality or attribute and to stretch it to infinity.
Here are a couple more examples, this time in relation to bhakti itself, which is the process of extracting the essence. Let us start with what Narottam Das calls the essence of the practice of rāgānugā bhakti:
manera smaraṇa prāṇa, madhura madhura dhāmayugala bilāsa smṛti sārasādhya sādhana ei, ihāra para āra nāhiei tattba sarba vidhi sāra
“Meditation or remembrance (smaraṇa) is the life of the mind, an abode of ever-increasing sweetness; and the Divine Yugala’s loving dalliances are the very essence of such remembrance. This is the practice, this is the goal of the practice: this truth is the cream of all instruction.” (Prema-bhakti-candrikā, 62)
Briefly: Since the essence of all meditative practices is to reduce the directedness of the mind to a single object, remembering Radha and Krishna’s pastimes is the essence of devotional practice. It is at the same time the end of the practice. Practices are either direct or indirect. When the practice is not different from the goal, that is called a direct practice. Therefore there is nothing beyond this. So reducing both the practice and the goal of the practice to their essence, one comes to prema bhakti. There is nothing beyond this.