by O.B.L. Kapoor, Ph.D.
O. B. L. Kapoor, Ph.D., has served as Head of the Philosophy Department and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at B.R. College in Agra, India, as Principal and Head of the Philosophy Department at K.N. Government Postgraduate College in Varanasi, as Principal of the Government college in Rampur, and as a member of the Executive Council of Agra University. He has been residing in Vrndavana since his retirement in 1967 and is engaged at present in writing books and articles concerning the teachings of Sn Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His disciples. He was initiated in 1932 by His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, by whose order Back to Godhead was first established in 1944.
VRNDAVANA is the transcendental dwelling place (dhama) of Krishna. Being a manifestation of His intrinsic energy (svarupa-sakti), it is a part of Himself. ** (More specifically, it is the concentrated (murti) form of that aspect of svarupa-sakti in which the sandhini-sakti, the ground and source of all existence, predominates.) It consists like Him of the attributes of existence (sat), intelligence (cit) and bliss (ananda) and is different from the phenomenal world, which is a manifestation of His extrinsic energy (maya-sakti). Also, since it is a manifestation of His intrinsic energy, it is inseparably related to Him. We can think neither of Krishna without Vrndavana nor of Vrndavana without Krishna. Krishna eternally stays in Vrndavana and does not move even a step out of it [vrndavanam parityajya sa kvacit naiva gacchati). ** (Cited in the Laghu-bhagavatamrta from the Yamala.)
Just as there are infinite manifestations of Krishna, there are infinite manifestations of His abode. For each manifestation of Krishna there is a corresponding manifestation of His dwelling place. Since Krishna is the highest manifestation of Bhagavan (the Personality of Godhead), His abode, Vrndavana, is the highest abode. Just as Krishna is Bhagavan Himself (svayam bhagavan) and all other manifestations of Bhagavan are manifestations of Krishna, Vrndavana is the dhama (supreme abode) itself (svayam dhama), and all other manifestations of dhama are the manifestations of Vrndavana. ** (vaikunthadi tadamsamsam svayam vrndavanam bhuvi (Padma Purana, Patala-khanda, 38, 89.)) Vrndavana manifests itself partly or fully according to Krishna’s manifesting Himself partly or fully. Just as each partial manifestation of Krishna is transcendental and all-pervading (vibhu) even though it appears phenomenal and limited, each partial manifestation of the dhama is transcendental and all-pervading, even though it appears phenomenal and limited. Even the different kinds of objects in the dhama, which look so much like phenomenal objects, are transcendental (cinmaya). ** (vaikunthera prthivyadi sakala cinmaya mayika bhutera tathi janma nahi haya (Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 5.53)) Sanatana Gosvami [a great authority on the Vedic scriptures] states that each one of them is concentrated Brahman (spirit). ** (tesam rupam tattvam manasapi grahitum na sakyate brahma-ghanatvat (Brhad-bhagavatamrta, 2,4,50, Tika.))
Even though each dhama is infinite and all-pervading, the dhamas are said to be situated one above another. Situated above the mundane sphere, which is graded into fourteen worlds-the seven Lokas and seven Patalas-and beyond the River Viraja, is the Brahmaloka, or Siddhaloka, which is the residence of all the freed (mukta) souls (Cc. Madhya 19.153). Above the Brahmaloka is the paravyoma, where the infinite avataras, or partial manifestations of Krishna, reside, and which is the support of infinite spiritual regions called Vaikunthas (Cc, Adi 5.15). Above all these dhamas is Krishnaloka (Krishna’s abode), which, according to the differences in Krishna’s pastimes (lilas) and associates (parikaras), appears in three different forms-as Dvaraka, Mathura and Gokula (Cc. Adi 5.13). Gokula, the highest of the three, is also called Vrndavana because Vrndavana is the central portion of Gokula.
The situation of the dhamas above or below each other should not, however, be taken in its literal sense. It actually implies their gradation according to their excellence (mahima). The excellence of a dhama depends on the degree to which it manifests the highest dhama, Vrndavana. Thus the excellence of Siddhaloka is greater than the excellence of the phenomenal world, the excellence of paravyoma is greater than the excellence of Siddhaloka, the excellence of Krishnaloka is greater than the excellence of paravyoma, and the excellence of Gokula is greater than the excellence of all the rest of Krishnaloka. The excellence of Vrndavana is the greatest of all.
In the Rg Veda (1.154.6) Vrndavana is described as the highest dhama (paramam padam) of Visnu. The Bhagavatam also describes it as the highest dhama. In the Gita Krishna Himself describes it as “My highest dhama.” ** (yam prapya na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama (Bg. 8.21)) It is so described because it surpasses all other dhamas in grandeur (aisvarya) and sweetness (madhurya). But its peculiarity is that its sweetness completely eclipses its grandeur, so that everything here assumes a form sweet beyond expression. Krishna does not appear here as God or even as a king, but as a cowherd boy with the crest of a peacock feather on His crown and a flute in His hand, eternally engaged in amorous pastimes with His consorts on the bank of the River Yamuna underneath the kadamba trees and in the green groves; laden with sweet-smelling flowers, all of which breathe an atmosphere of freedom ‘and sweetness most congenial to Him and His consorts.
It is therefore not possible to think of Krishna’s presence anywhere else. Krishna in Mathura and Dvaraka is not really the Krishna of Vrndavana but His partial manifestation called Vasudeva. When Krishna is said to go out of Vrndavana, as, for example, when He goes to Mathura at the invitation of Kamsa, it is really His partial manifestation Vasudeva who goes there, not Krishna Himself, who remains unmanifest during that period in His manifest pastimes (prakata-lila) in Vrndavana. ** (nityam vrndavanam nama nitya-rasa-rasotsavam adrsyam paramam guhyam purna-prema-rasotsavam (Padma Purana, Patala-khanda, 51))
Indicating how Krishna is inseparably connected with Vrndavana in His highest aspect, which fully displays His sweetness, Radha, to whom even a moment’s separation from Krishna is unbearable, is not satisfied to find Him in Kuruksetra, where He appears as a king with His entourage and not as a cowherd with His flute (Cc. Madhya 1.72-73). She is also not satisfied to find Him in Nava-vrndavana, a replica of Vrndavana specially prepared for Her in Dvaraka, because it lacks the atmosphere of freedom and the charm and grace so natural to Vrndavana and is therefore not conducive to the highest bliss She is accustomed to experience in the company of Krishna in Vrndavana.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Uddhava, the wisest of Krishna’s associates, Wishes to be a blade of grass or a creeper in Vrndavana so that he may be consecrated by the dust of the holy feet of the gopis. ** (asam aho carana-renu-jusam aham syam vrndavane kim api gulma-latausadhinam (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 10,47,61)) Even the great Sankaracarya, who regards the form and pastimes of Krishna as creations of maya, reveals a secret desire to be in Vrndavana so that he may sit on the bank of the Yamuna and pass each long day of his life in the twinkling of an eye, meditating on Krishna:
kada vrndaranye tarani-tanaya-punya-puline
smaran sri-gopalam nimisam iva nesyami divas an
The celestial Dvaraka, Mathura and Gokula (Vrndavana) have their replicas on earth [in India] in the forms of the geographical Dvaraka, Mathura and Vrndavana, which are known as their prakata-prakasas, or manifest forms. These appear as parts of the phenomenal world to our clouded vision, but are in essence identical with their Celestial counterparts. Here also Krishna is eternally present with Nanda, Yasoda and His other associates and performs His pastimes with them as in the celestial Dvaraka, Mathura and Vrndavana. If we could see them with spiritual eyes, they would without a doubt appear in their true form (Cc. Adi 5.20-21). Even today, while staying in these very abodes and in their very bodies, the devotees who attain accomplishment (siddhavastha) in devotion are blessed with the vision of the divine pastimes of Krishna with His associates; such devotees need not be transported to any other abode or level of existence. When Krishna descends to these abodes, however, at the time of His manifest pastimes (prakata-prakasa), even those who are not devoted can see these pastimes in their true form. Such is the effect of the divine touch of Krishna with these abodes, which otherwise appear phenomenal.
Besides the manifest forms of Krishnaloka, there is also an unmanifest form of it on earth that has the peculiar power of always remaining invisible; it remains on earth without touching it. Thus there are two aprakata-prakasas (unmanifest forms) of Krishnaloka. One is the Krishnaloka situated above paravyoma, which is called by various names: Goloka, Gokula, Svetadvipa, Vrajaloka or Vrndavana. The other is the invisible Krishnaloka situated on earth, which is different from the prapancika, the phenomenal Krishnaloka visible to our material eyes and actually touching the earth. It is also called Gokula or Vraja.
Rupa Gosvami states in Laghu-bhagavatamrta (1.277.78) that Goloka is a majestic manifestation (vaibhava-prakasa) of Gokula, which is essentially sweet in appearance and therefore greater in excellence. As an instance of the majesty (vaibhava) of Goloka, he cites the Varaha Purana, which says that the kadamba trees of Goloka spread out majestically with their hundreds of branches, which is just in keeping with its aisvarya (opulence), while the kadamba trees of Gokula are medium-sized, which is in keeping with its madhurya (sweetness). A special reason why Gokula excels Goloka in sweetness is that in Goloka Krishna is present eternally without birth, on account of which His pastimes in Goloka differ in certain respects from the sweet human aspect in which they reveal themselves in the phenomenal Gokula. Brahma-samhita describes the pastimes of Vrndavana as nara-lila (manlike pastimes) and those of Goloka as deva-lila (Godlike pastimes). This theory is supported by the rasa dance in Goloka, which Krishna is said in Brhad-bhagavatamrta to have performed on the head of Kaliya Naga, the thousand-headed cobra, although there is no mention of this in the Bhagavatam.
According to Jiva Gosvami also (Gopala-campu, Purva-khanda, 19), Goloka is the majestic manifestation of Vrndavana. He describes Vrndavana as the inner side (antar-mandala) of Goloka, and Goloka as the outer side (bahir-mandala) of Vrndavana. But they are not the outer and inner side of each other in the physical sense, for it is possible to see Goloka in Vrndavana (because Goloka is the majestic manifestation of Vrndavana) but not possible to see Vrndavana in Goloka (Krishna-sandarbha, 116). According to Rupa and Jiva, (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Tika 1.4), Goloka can be attained by vaidhi (ritualistic) bhakti, but Vrndavana can be attained only by raganuga bhakti, or bhakti flowing spontaneously like a current, disregarding the rules and regulations of ritualistic bhakti. This is a further indication of the difference between the two abodes.
Sanatana seems to differ from Rupa and Jiva in regard to both the relation between Goloka and Vrndavana and the means of their realization. According to him, Goloka (or rather the part of Goloka called Gokula) and the phenomenal Gokula or Vrndavana are identical. ** (yatha kridati tad-bhumau goloke ‘pi tathaiva sah atha aurdhvataya bhedo ‘nayoh kalpyeta kevalam (Brhad-bhagavatamrta, 2,5,168)) In his Brhad-bhagavatamrta, Gopa Kumara sometimes stays in Goloka and sometimes in Vrndavana, without being able to make out any difference between them. ** (Ibid. 2,6,374) According to him, both abodes can be attained only by spontaneous devotion and not by any other means. ** (Ibid. 2,5,172)
The difference between the two points of view, however, will seem negligible if we take into consideration the following points;
1. Although Sanatana Gosvami regards Goloka and Vrndavana as identical, it is clear from his tika on Brhad-bhagavatamrta (2, 5, 78-79) that Vrndavana is the marma-taramsa of Goloka, or the part of Goloka that supersedes the whole in excellence.
2. Sanatana also admits that the excellence of the phenomenal Vraja exceeds the excellence of Goloka at the time of the manifest pastimes (prakata-lila) of Krishna. ** (Ibid. 2,5,96 Tika)
3. Although Rupa and Jiva regard Goloka as the majestic manifestation of Vrndavana, Jiva seems to regard them as essentially identical. He establishes their identity by referring to the “goloka eva nivasati” text of Brahma-samhita and the “tatraiva ramanarthe hi nitya-kalam sa gacchati” text of the Adi Purana, one of which says that Krishna always stays in Goloka and the other that He always stays in the phenomenal Vrndavana, and by saying that the contradiction between them can be resolved only if the two are regarded as actually one and the same. In answer to a question regarding the Hari-vamsa’s mention of Sri Krishna’s lifting Govardhana Hill in Goloka, he clearly states that since Goloka and Gokula are identical, a pastime that took place in Gokula can always be mentioned in reference to Goloka. ** (For a fuller discussion on the subject, see Sri Manindra Nath Guha’s Sri Madhava-madhurya-manjusa, pp. 165-66.)
4. Regarding the means of realizing the two abodes, although Sanatana holds that it is spontaneous devotion for both, he maintains that if an aspiring devotee adopts any other means, he has a vision of Goloka but is not able to see Krishna perform His pastimes with His associates, or if he is able to do so, he cannot himself participate in the pastimes. ** (Brhad-bhagavatamrta, 2,5,172 Tika.)
5. Visvanatha Cakravarti states that those who wish to realize the sweetness of Radha-Krishna but practice ritualistic bhakti cannot attain Radha-Krishna in Vrndavana because their bhakti is not spontaneous, and they cannot attain Krishna in Dvaraka because they do not desire to do so. Therefore they attain Radha-Krishna in Goloka, the majestic manifestation of Vrndavana. ** (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Sadhana-bhakti-lahari, 1,2,303 Tika)
Thus we may conclude that there is essentially no difference between Goloka and Gokula (Vrndavana). Goloka is a particular manifestation of Vrndavana in which sweetness predominates, but not to the extent to which it predominates in Vrndavana. It is therefore called the majestic manifestation of Vrndavana. Vrndavana is attained by spontaneous devotion, whereas Goloka is attained by ritualistic devotion. The greater the dominance of spontaneity, the fuller the realization of Goloka’s sweetness. ** (This is in accordance with the principle: yadrsi bhavana yasya siddhir bhavati tadrsi.) But when spontaneous devotion is pure, Goloka is realized in its highest aspect which displays sweetness fully and is called the inner side (antar-mandala) of Goloka. In this aspect Goloka is identical with the phenomenal Vrndavana, and the sweetness displayed here is the same as that in the phenomenal Vrndavana, except for the difference caused by Sri Krishna’s always being present in Goloka as a young boy of tender age (nitya-kisora), although in the phenomenal Vrndavana He takes birth and gradually attains boyhood.
The veracity of the claim that the phenomenal Vrndavana, which looks like any other part of the material world to our material eyes, is itself the spiritual Vrndavana, the highest abode, surpassing even Goloka in its excellence, may be questioned. But Sri Caitanya and His followers are ever so emphatic in their statements about its transcendental character. Sri Rupa Gosvami says that devotees who have ardent love for Krishna are even today blessed with a vision of His divine pastimes in this very Vrndavana. Sanatana Gosvami says that Vrndavana is here on earth and Krishna’s unmanifest pastimes are going on in it even now, but none except those to whom He and His devotees are kind can see it. Prabodhananda Sarasvati describes how he actually sees this Vrndavana in its real form with all its transcendent beauty and excellence:
aho sarvoparyati vimala-vistirna-madhurya-
sphurac-candra-prayam sphurati mama vrndavanam idam
“Oh, this Vrndavana of mine, stationed above every other abode! How it shines near me like a big moon in all its resplendent beauty!” (Vrndavana-mahimamrta, 4.83)
No ground is thus left for any doubt that this very Vrndavana is the highest paradise, where Krishna eternally revels in His spiritual pastimes. Residing here, therefore, is considered one of the most important aspects of devotional service. Prabodhananda says that if one takes shelter of Vrndavana with faith and devotion, he will be blessed with a vision of the rasa dance of Krishna with His consorts even if he does not perform any other regulative worship. He concisely states his entire philosophy of Vrndavana in another verse, which says that to reside in Vrndavana is to perform the highest worship, to attain Vrndavana is to attain the highest end, and to realize Vrndavana is to realize the highest truth and the highest bliss. ** (Ibid. 17,85)