Radha the Intriguing Mystery
by Swami Krishnananda

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(Spoken on Radha Ashtami on September 14, 1983)

Last month there was the celebration of the coming of Bhagavan Sri Krishna, and today the country observes the coming of that mysterious counterpart in the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna who devotees everywhere adore as Radha – a principle whose association with Bhagavan Sri Krishna is as important and unique as the message that is delivered to mankind by the life of the Lord himself. There is some intrinsic peculiarity between creation and the Creator of this creation. The impossibility to intelligently comprehend the dramatic relationship between God and His manifestation has been highlighted in many ways by philosophers and devotees, and till this day nobody has ever been successful in knowing how the world came about. This secret is always hidden from the eye of man by an operation which keeps man severed from God because if this mystery is to be known, there would be no world for anyone to experience.

A sort of illusory relationship is essential even to enjoy the enactment in a dramatic theatre. It is not logically possible for a person to explain the relationship between the act and the actor. We may think that we know it very well, but it is not easy to understand it. The person who acts in a theatre is one person, and the part that he plays is another thing altogether. There is practically no known relationship between these two elements. The one who acts is certainly different from the role the actor puts on because the actor behaves in a manner totally different from the manner in which he would normally behave in the world. Hence, in that sense we may say the acting is totally different from the actor but, at the same time, we know they are identical. We cannot keep the acting somewhere in a corner and the actor in some other place, two kilometres away.

Such is the relationship between God and this world. We cannot know whether it is one, or it is not one. Many a time people, even sincere devotees, are likely to have a subtle unconscious feeling that the relationship between Krishna and Radha is something like the relationship between Narayana and Lakshmi or between Siva and Parvati. That is not the relation. Here itself we have the mystery. The Puranas, the epics and the glorified expositions of the creative process highlight the relationship between Siva and Parvati as the power and the wielder of the power, Shakti and Shakta, and a similar relationship may also be attributed to Lakshmi-Narayana. We understand them as inseparables in an obviously known manner. Such a relationship cannot be introduced here between Krishna and Radha. The world can easily comprehend, from the point of view of the accepted mode of understanding things, the relation between Narayana and Lakshmi. It is an intelligible, acceptable and glorious relation. Here we have something altogether different. Radha was not the spouse of Sri Krishna, nor can we consider Radha as a Shakti in the sense we consider Parvati or Shakti as a power of Siva.

The very purpose of the incarnation of Bhagavan Sri Krishna was to glorify the magnificence of God. The purpose was twofold. While the establishment of righteousness and the destruction of all that is evil is one of the functions of the Avatara, and is a principle function of any Avatara or Incarnation, dharma lakshana and adharma nasha, and was also the function of Bhagavan Sri Krishna, there was something different in the life of Sri Krishna which was not so very obviously and dominantly visible in other Incarnations—namely, the demonstration of the glory of God. The power of God in myriad forms was, of course, revealed in other Incarnations also. A terrific force manifested itself as Narasimha, and other marvellous forces of divinity manifested themselves in the well-known Incarnations in the series. But Sri Krishna is also called Lila Purushottama, which means the play of God was visibly demonstrated in his life.

How does God play? That is the history of Sri Krishna's life. Even with the furthest stretch of the imagination of human genius, this play of God cannot be comprehended by any mortal existence. It is futile to hope to understand what it is. I gave you a homely and well-known illustration of the difficulty in our understanding the relationship between the actor and the acting, though we cannot easily explain what it actually means. But the glory of God is not merely superhuman in the sense of something transcending human relations; it also violates human relations. God is not merely a conformity to law; He is also a violation of law. This description of God may look frightening to the law-bound human mind, but the fright that it may engender gets diminished and becomes intelligible the moment we understand that a king is considered to be above the law. All legal enactments, principles and norms of conduct and behaviour are laid down by the king, who is the highest judiciary, and the judiciary that he sets up lays down the consequences of a particular judgement or investigation of a circumstance or a situation. But the king can set at nought the judgement of the highest judiciary in his kingdom by another law altogether, which is not contrary to the operating law but transcends the operating law. To the ordinary mind this looks like a violation of the existing law.

God's law differs totally from man's law because it transcends man's law and, to the human mind, transcendence always looks like a violation. All laws or norms that we see in the dream world are violated in the waking world, as we know very well. Waking is a total negation of every principle that we considered as valid in dream, but we cannot consider waking life as a violation of law. It is a fulfilment rather than a violation. All the laws of dream are fulfilled in a higher comprehension and a greater profundity in that so-called violation, the negation of the rules of dream. So is God's behaviour in the world. It is a negative stroke that is dealt at all behaviour in the human world and, as such, there is a marked difference between the manifestations or the Avataras of Bhagavan Sri Narayana in other contexts and in the life of Sri Krishna.

Now we come to the context of the relationship between Sri Krishna and Radha. As I mentioned, it is not like the relationship between Narayana and Lakshmi or Siva and Parvati. It is the relationship between God and His creation, or in a more philosophical jargon we may say it is the relationship between consciousness and matter, the seer and the seen. Nobody can say what that relationship is. In a psychological sense we may say it is the relationship between understanding and emotion; in a logical sense we may say it is the relationship between subject and object; in a cosmical sense we may say it is the relationship between God and creation; and in a more precise, analytic sense we may say it is the relationship between reason and instinct. They are integrally connected so that they cannot be set apart as two different things. One continues in the other, one is inseparable from the other, one is necessary for the other, one is absorbed in the other.

There are two stages of spiritual sadhana, the lower and the higher. All the Incarnations depict behaviour which is normal, and it is only in Sri Krishna's life we have a behaviour which is supernormal—not abnormal, but supernormal—and, therefore, to apply the norms of human life as a yardstick to measure the measureless immensity of Sri Krishna's manifestation would be to carry hot embers on a dry straw. It would not be possible. Sri Krishna's coming and the various lilas that he played, as described in the Srimad Bhagavata and in the other epics and the Puranas, are expected to act as a kind of hint or an indication as to the existence of something which is totally different from what man considers as valuable and meaningful.

All the meanings that we read in this world are meaningless in the Kingdom of God. All the wealth of the dream emperor is meaningless in the waking life. Not only the possessions but also the values, the very outlook of life and the norms that we set up in every field of human understanding and relationship are, as mentioned already, negated, set at nought, overruled, defied for the sake of a fulfilment—which is God coming into the heart of man. If we have to understand how God expects a godman to behave, we have only to study the lives of godmen. The great saints who were possessed by God-love and God-experience did not behave like human beings, nor did they behave like males and females. That they did not behave like human beings is to say the least. They were erratic elements in human society and considered in every way incomprehensible to the human norms of mutual behaviour and the conduct and norms of relationship.

Even to this day it has never been possible for anyone to understand what the relationship is between Sri Krishna and Radha. They are not husband and wife, not brother and sister, not parent and child. What else is it? It is something which has never been said anywhere, and never will be said anywhere, because it is not supposed to be said. As I mentioned, it is a demonstration of human need and human nature, which in ordinary life also manifests itself in our own practical existence. But when we live in the shackles of human society and political embankments related to the physical existence of this body, we many a time try to fit these supernormal expectations and visions into the procrustean bed of the visible norms of the ritual-ridden, mechanised religion of human history.

Thus, the holy observance of Sri Radha Ashtami is a reminder to the spirit of man—not even to his psyche—that there is something in him which is not male or female, and not human. For all practical purposes, we cannot think except as human beings. No man can think that he is a woman, and no woman can believe that she is a man. We can imagine how limited our thoughts are. Whatever be their acuteness and genius of penetrative thinking, men can never believe that they are women; similar is the case with women. There is this terrible limitation set upon our thinking itself and, much worse, is that which compels us to feel that we are human beings. But Sri Krishna did not behave like a man or a woman, nor did he behave like a human being. These elements of a non-human or ultra-human behaviour are described in certain sections of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, and we are always intrigued when we hear or read about these mysteries.

God is an intriguing something, and He shall ever remain an intriguing something. We can never calculate the length and breadth of God's existence by arithmetic or algebra and, similarly, we cannot measure the rightness and the wrongness of God's actions by our ethical standards because human ethics is also mathematics; it is also a measuring rod, as arithmetic is. This cannot apply to the manifestation of a limitless being in limited form, which we call the Avatara or the Incarnation. In these realms, the entry of man's thought is forbidden. As the Bible tells us, man is forbidden entry into the Kingdom of God, and God has placed an angel wielding a flaming sword at the gate of the Kingdom, the Garden of Eden, so that no man may enter. No mortal can enter the Garden of Eden because the flaming sword is whirling at the gate. This is only to say that man should not and cannot understand God and, therefore, the laws of God also cannot be comprehended by human behaviour and human norms.

The complacency of man's immersion in this vainglorious feeling that his understanding is complete has to be shattered one day or the other by the invasion of God's infinity, and that was done by the advent of Bhagavan Sri Krishna with all that he demonstrated in these lilas and stories that we hear of as described in the Puranas and the epics. They say God entering man is like a mad elephant entering a thatched hut. The hut will not remain once the elephant enters it.

All these remain only as examples for us because with man's hardboiled ego, with this flint-like feeling that man's possession seems to be, he will cling forever to his own stereotyped fashions of thought; and he would like to extend the domain of his measuring rod of understanding to the Kingdom of Heaven—which would not be permitted because the flaming sword is there; thus, man's entry is debarred. This is why the Upanishad says that speech, together with the mind and the understanding, turn back baffled when they try to enter, when they even behold the gateway to the Kingdom of God. Therefore, it is a matter for us to admire from a distance and be thrilled at the very thought if it. Such is the glory which, in mysterious and indescribable ways, we seem to reveal in our own lives by religious and spiritual observances of this kind.