The Rasa Panchadhyayi of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on April 28, 1985.)

The Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana is said to be the concluding writing of Bhagavan Sri Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, who is renowned as the original classifier of the Vedas into their present recensions, due to which he goes by the name of the Veda Vyasa. He is also the author of the Mahabharata, the great epic with its heroic and didactic poems, picturing before us the entire culture of not only a nation but, we may say, of entire humanity.

In the commencing chapters of the Srimad Bhagavata we are told that one day Vyasa, the great Master, a sage par excellence, was seated in a pensive mood in an ashrama called Shamyaprasa on the bank of the holy river Saraswati near sacred Badrinath, at which time the sage Narada descended and inquired as to the cause of his present mood, engrossed in which he did not appear to be satisfied.

Asked what could be the cause of this mood, Vyasa recounted his own experience. “To my satisfaction I have done all my work. The editing and the classifying of the Vedas in their proper form has been done. I have written the long poem called the Mahabharata, in which I have left nothing unsaid. In a verse of the Mahabharata its own glory is recounted. In respect of the Mahabharata’s content it is said: Whatever is here is anywhere else, and whatever is not here is not anywhere. Such is the comprehensiveness of the presentation of every kind of theme of human value majestically written in excellent Sanskrit poetry in the Mahabharata. But I am yet unsatisfied, for reasons I cannot explain to myself.”

Narada replied, “Your dissatisfaction is due to a single reason. You have not adequately glorified God as you have dexterously explained the principles of dharma, virtue, righteousness, the principles of morality, ethics, and political acumen. You have exhaustively described everything through your masterly pen, but not so adequately the glory of God the Almighty. Therefore, do something to glorify God. You have glorified enough dharma, artha, kama, political science, and perhaps even the majesty of God, but God is something more than magnificence and majesty. There is something in God which we cannot easily discover. In all the scriptures of religions God is pictured as a magnificence, a mighty ruler, and His name is veritably Almighty. We call God almighty, great power. It may be that God is great power; nobody can deny that. He is capable of executing anything. He can do, undo, and do otherwise. Such a power God has, and this has been well described in the Mahabharata. Then what remains to be described? What aspect, what principle essence of God have you missed which makes you feel that you are inadequately placed in the context of God’s presence?”

The Bhagavata is said to be a rectification of this inadequacy which was pointed out as being present in the earlier mighty epic poems and writings, in the Puranas and the like, and even in the Vedas, associated with Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa, the Master. There is something in God which religious scriptures do not emphasise in necessary proportion. The Jewish God is a legal God who administers justice like a judiciary in the court, a great terror who compels people to obey the law. God does that, of course. It is certainly true that God does this. He administers justice, and He forces His law upon everyone relentlessly, inexorability. Conceded. But is there anything else in God except that He is a judge?

The great teachers, the acharyas of ancient India such as Acharya Ramanuja and Madhva, propounded devotion to God. They were indeed very great exponents of divine devotion, but they again lay special emphasis on the grandeur, the magnificence, the power and the towering expansiveness of God’s omnipotence. But with all this endowment, we can be unsatisfied because what we seek is not power and authority. We dread it and, therefore, are forced to deify it and foist it upon God as the supreme ruling principle. Though we may be justified from one point of view, one angle of vision and one aspect of the demands of our personality, what we lack basically is not the capacity to exercise authority or power—not the power of money, not the power of social position, not political power, not the power of police and military, not even omnipotence. There is a sweetness that permeates human life, and if that sweetness which is hiddenly present at the root of things is absent, the greatest authority will look bitter. Minus this sweetness that is to be associated with it, it becomes an apothecary’s mixture—necessary, but not palatable, finally.

What distresses people in the world is essentially a lack of affection, love. They do not require other things as much as they require a consideration for what they are and not necessarily for what they need, what they have, and what their external appurtenances are. My love for you is a greater essential for you than all the wealth that I may pour upon you. Many of the distresses of people are caused by a lack of social affection or personal regard, what we call mutual love. Love rules the world. It is not authority that rules. Power does not rule, finally. Though it appears that it is power that executes the magic performances of administration in all the levels of life, it is not actually true because the power of empires which were bereft of affection and love in the heart fell and went to dust.

It is a peculiar indescribable operation of the heart of the human being which we call love and affection. It cannot be medically diagnosed, anatomically described or chemically examined. No one knows what affection means, what love is, but this is the ruling factor in life. There is an accommodating atmosphere which we call the manifestation of affection, love, regard, charitableness and accommodation.

But the religious scriptures mostly adumbrate all that is grand and glorious and magnificent in God, and not so much the love aspect, the beauty aspect. Have you heard anywhere of God being described as the most beautiful of beings? We have never heard this adequately described. How could God be beautiful? The beautiful things are in this world. All the aesthetic attractions and the magnificences of aesthetic grandeur are in this world. How could God the Creator, the Mighty Potentate, be beautiful? The mind cannot conceive that it is a practicability because we are accustomed to think of God as a judiciary, as a creator, preserver, destroyer, not as a beautiful person, not as attractive, enchanting, enrapturing, melting our heart, or pulling us from the root of our being. Such a thing we have not been taught. We cannot imagine that God can melt our hearts with love and affection.

The nearest approach to God, the greatest bond that can connect us with God is considered in scriptures of divine devotion as that inexplicable, non-calculable, unequalled super-physical and super-arithmetical inward operation which is the melting of one’s being. In love we melt; in authority we become hard like flint. We become strong when we exercise power and we have the authority to do so, but we do not melt. In love we melt into a menstruum where our personality dissolves.

The apex of love may be an aesthetic sense reaching its climax through listening to a beautiful recital of music. We may be enraptured beyond the capacity of our imagination by a beautiful sculptural piece. We may not be able to take our eyes away from that beautiful marble statue, inanimate though it is. There are such marvellous sculptures that we will not know what happens to us when we see them. We will not be there; we will be simply transfixed on that statue. We will be transfixed on a beautiful painting which may absorb our attention to such an extent that we will not know that we are existing there. We will be in the beauty of that painting, the inexplicable thing that pulls us and melts us down to such an extent that we do not exist at that moment. In all aesthetic appreciations, the appreciator ceases to exist for a moment, and in loves of every kind which have reached a particular measure of intensity, the lover ceases to be. A lover who is conscious of himself or herself is not a true lover because, in love, egoism melts.

I am coming to the point of the great achievement of Bhagavan Veda Vyasa in the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana wherein, in the Tenth Book, which is the biography of Sri Krishna, the author touches the core of the theme which he was expected to expound. Devotees, bhaktas, lovers of God, consider the Tenth Skanda as a treasure that cannot be equalled by all the gold and silver and rubies of the Earth. They do not stop with that. Even in the Tenth Skanda, the five chapters called the Rasa Panchadhyayi are considered as the five pranas of the Srimad Bhagavata. We know the importance of the five pranasprana, apana, vyana, udana, samana. They are the vital breaths of an organism.

If the great scripture, the Srimad Bhagavata, the book of the love of God, is a divine structure, a living organism, then the Rasa Panchadhyayi—the five chapters describing the love of the Gopis for Krishna—is considered as the prana, or the vital breath, of the whole scripture.

Very rarely do we love. We are machines mostly. We are business people, we are factory-goers, we are officials, we are operators of engines, we are mathematicians, calculators, architects. Everything is there, but we have no affection. We cannot love anything. The element of love has not entered us. We are distressed, and we go to bed with a sorrow that something is lacking. “I have done a lot of work today, but I go to bed with no peace of mind. I had no affection. Neither I loved anything, nor anybody loved me. I have been working like an automatic engine or a machine with no life in it. I have been the cause of large output in a factory, in a business organisation, but it has been done without heart. The machine does not love, and one cannot have an embracing affection for a machine.”

The reason behind many of the difficulties of spiritual seekers is the incapacity to love—to love God even, let alone others. We may admire God. We may fold our hands and look to the skies, and wonder at the majesty of God’s creation and marvel at the starry heavens which are so expansive beyond our conception and imagination, but we cannot love. Our heart cannot go out and reach up to the object of our perception. Love is the movement away from ourselves into the object we are looking at; and if we believe that it is God that we are perceiving, we move away from ourselves and we are present there.

Mahabhava and many other terms are nomenclature that bhakti shastras attribute to these experiences. Few of us, perhaps none of us, have had the opportunity to experience what is referred to by these terms. We never cried for God. We did not feel the need for it. We did not shed a tear for our separation from God because we never felt the need for it. Why should we shed a tear? We never felt the sense of cutting bereavement which a wife feels when her husband is lost or a husband feels when his beloved is dead. God is a greater beloved than a wife or a husband, and we could not feel the need at any time in our life for that sense of separation. We had an engineer’s sense of bereavement, a mathematician’s sense of bereavement, but not a lover’s bereavement.

To love God is not merely to understand, because love transcends understanding; it is beyond rationality. It is often said—both rightly and wrongly, necessarily and unnecessarily, properly and improperly, either way—that reason fails when love manifests itself. It is true in every sense of the term, both in a subliminal lower sense and also in a higher sense. Shakespeare compares the lover to a madman. He is mad in a different sense because the reason fails in a person who is affected with lunacy. But in what sense the reason fails in a lover is very important to know because it is also said that from genius to madness is near alike; a thin partition divides them both. The lover of God who is bereft of his senses may look like a lunatic, as a genius and an idiot may look alike. A thin partition divides them both because they look alike.

They look alike, similar to the silence of a person who has everything and the silence of a person who has lost everything. Both are silent, but we know the difference between these two persons’ silences. A person who has been inundated with all the wealth of the whole world has nothing to say. He is filled with a sense of completeness to such an extent, and has reached such an apotheosis of completeness, that he is silent. He does not speak a word because he has all the glory and joy of the world. The other person who is almost in a dying condition, who has lost everything, who has no ground on which to plant his foot in this world, who has lost everything except his little breath, such a person does not speak. That difference between the silence of the all-haver and the no-haver is very important to consider. All-knowing people speak not, and one who knows nothing also speaks not, but look at the difference between the two persons.

In the height of divine love, reason stops, and in every kind of mortal love, reason also stops. But we cannot compare mortal love with divine love, even as the silence of a poverty-stricken wretched person cannot be compared with the silence of the majesty of an emperor who has the whole Earth under his control. Reason can stop for different reasons. Due to the fulfilment of the purpose for which it has been given to us, it ceases. This is the case with manifestations of divine love. In the height of love of God, reason fails because it has exhausted itself by performing the utmost of its duties. Like an oil-less lamp, it has extinguished itself.

But in the mortal ecstasy of human affection, reason has not extinguished itself. It has been stifled for the time being on account of its getting overpowered by the force of an instinct which is not necessarily divine. The stifling sensation felt in ecstasies of divine love are different from the stifling sensations in mortal affections. Hence, many a time one can be mistaken for the other.

But great experts on this path of divine love have very generously and intelligently told us that human love is the passage to divine love, and it is not necessarily a bondage. When love is fixed on a mortal object, a finite thing exclusively, then it becomes a binding factor. The beauty of an object may attract us to that object and engulf us to such an extent that there is a cessation of perceptive capacity and reasoning faculty in us. This happens due to the location of beauty in a particular object. The beauty is not the quality of any particular object; it is a pervasive principle which is everywhere. There is beauty in everything, and not only in one particular thing which we hug. What beauty there is in the rising of the sun, in the flowing of a limpid river, in the blue sky with diamond-like stars, in a budding tree in the spring season, in the chirping of birds in the early morning, and in the cool breeze when the sun rises! Are they not beautiful? Where do we not see beauty in this world?

But when biological and psychophysical instincts shackle the perception of beauty, the capacity to perceive beauty within the framework of the body, it charges forth in the direction of another physical object, imprisoning beauty in that object only, while it is pervading everywhere. Plato, the great master of Greece, wrote several works on love and beauty. He says that in the beginning a person is attracted to an object which is beautiful. We are attracted to objects which are beautiful wherein beauty is a quality of the object, and when we love a beautiful object we do not know whether we are loving the object or the beauty when the two are mixed up. Are we attracted towards the beauty, which is a quality, or the object?

Here, on account of the cessation of the reasoning faculty, such an analysis is impossible. It is just taken for granted. So Plato tells us that in the beginning, the crudest form of affection considers the object itself as beautiful, while the object is not beautiful. It is the beauty that is present in the pattern or the arrangement of the particular object that pulls us, not the object. A painting is an arrangement of canvas and ink, and canvas and ink are not beautiful. It is the arrangement, the pattern of distribution, the light and shade of the ink that creates a sense of beauty. Beauty is different from ink and canvas in the same way as beauty is different from any object, whether living or non-living. So there is an admixture and a confusion of thinking when we say that there is a beautiful object. It is like saying that there is beautiful ink and beautiful canvas. Neither the ink nor the canvas can be called beautiful. There is an element which is indescribable, imperceptible, super-physical, super-sensory, which subtly introduces itself somehow or other into the arrangement of the pattern of the ink, and pulls our hearts. So does every beautiful object in this world.

God is love and beauty, and there is a sense of imminence of this presence in every little object in this world. God is not merely a transcendent creator, a magnificent, almighty ruler. He is also imminent as the element of survival, beauty, self-love and altruistic love in this world. The Rasa Panchadhyayi of the Srimad Bhagavata clinches the whole matter when, in ecstatic language of Sanskrit poetry, Vyasa himself seems to be rising into an apotheosis of love. Otherwise, an ordinary person cannot write such poetry which surpasses ordinary delicacy of style. The intention of the author is to transport us through the reading of these chapters.

The attraction and the separation, the twofold operation of love, are quoted in these chapters. We are pulled towards God, and in a tremendous ecstasy of love we seem to be gravitating towards God who is everywhere, seeing Him in everything—in little things, in inanimate things such as objects, trees, stones, and so on, hugging even thorns as if they are the utmost of beauty. And, on the other hand, there is a sense of a cracking down of personality because of the bereavement due to a sense of separation from God. Only one who has experienced bereavement will know what it is, as only one who is hungry will know what hunger is. A well-fed man does not know what hunger is, and one who has not experienced bereavement will not know what bereavement is. One who has not loved, or who is incapable of loving and has a faint heart, cannot understand the beauty of these feelings of those lovers of God par excellence, the Gopis of Brindavan.

Words fail here because words are grammatically construed, and grammar is like mathematics. We have now come to the conclusion that God is above grammatical rules, mathematical principles, calculations of every kind, above even the rules of language. Great poets such as Kalidasa and Shakespeare break through grammar. They do not care for grammatical rules because their feelings rise above the bounds of the restrictions of even language and grammar, in the same way as in our height of love we have no rules and regulations because we are no more there. If we are no more there, who is to observe the rules and regulations? We have ceased to be. What have we become at that time? We have become that which we wanted.

And it is not a linear movement in a single direction towards God. The Rasa Panchadhyayi does not simply take for granted that love of God is a simple affair, that we can just cling to a thing and it is over. It is a widespread, inner operation which is a great drama within itself. A dramatic performance is the Rasa, and it is a dramatic performance of our life also when we are in the height of affection, when we are flooded with love, wherein we are that which we love.

There is a sense of coming and going, attraction and repulsion in the operation of love. This is felt in human loves, and also in divine love in a different context. The lover and the beloved are two different positions and terminals in an inexplicable relationship. We cannot adequately describe the relationship between the lover and the beloved. Are they one or are they two? We cannot say what it is. The heart jumps over the limitations of the physical frame of the lover, enters the heart of the beloved, and vice versa, the heart of the beloved enters the heart of the lover. There are no two persons when the two love each other in the climax of their affections. And yet they are two different persons because if they are not two and it is just one person, that attraction cannot be explained. We cannot account for that surge of feeling which bounds above the limits of its own location and runs in the direction of the object if it were true that there is no one who is loved and no one who is the lover, that there is only one being. In that sense we may say that the lover and the beloved are not an identical entity. It is not one being; it is a one-in-two operation.

Perhaps it is this enigma of the lover-love relationship and the devotee-God relationship that has made great devotees and authors like Nimbarka, Vallava and Gauranga Mahaprabhu Chaitanya to consider the relationship between the soul and God as one of identity and difference. We cannot say it is different, and we cannot say it is one because we are pulled toward God. We are asking for God; we are craving for Him. Our weeping and crying for Him shows that we are not yet one with Him and we cannot feel that oneness, yet we are not wholly different. If we were entirely different, that pull would not be there.

Nimbarka says in his great Bhasya, “Is the wave one with the ocean? Is the wave the same as the ocean, or not? The wave is not the ocean because the wave rises in the ocean and subsides into the ocean. But the wave is the ocean because a wave cannot be other than the ocean.” The devotee is inseparable from the all-encompassing existence of God. Yes, it is true, because outside God nothing can be. Yet—there is a great ‘yet’—the devotee’s, the jiva’s, the soul’s pull towards God is an indescribable relationship that obtains. Were the Gopis one with Krishna or were they not one with Krishna? Who can say?

No impure mind can understand the meaning of these chapters. It is an exquisitely purified mind that alone can appreciate the purity of this wondrous drama of the love which the Gopis evinced in their hearts for the great Krishna whom they saw in trees and stones and pebbles and thorns, and in everything. How is it possible for us to love God in that manner that we hug trees and stones? To that extent we are artificial lovers of God. It is not merely Nimbarka, Chaitanya and Vallava that speak this. We also have the great Southern saints, the Alwars who sang the Nalayira Divya Prabandham, the 4,000 verses on the beauty, grandeur, majesty, and love of God.

Thus, the Srimad Bhagavata highlights the need for the love of God and for being in ecstasy for God. You have to want God, not merely to understand God, analyse God, dissect God or vivisect Him. Analytical logic is not the way to God. It is you that wants God, not your reason. Reason is a frail tool. It is you that wants God, and God wants you, not your reason and intellect. God wants not your apparatus, nor are you in any position to carry any luggage of apparatus to God’s kingdom of heaven.

You are in this unenviable position or enviable position, call it in the way you like, of being placed in a mysterious context of relation with God the Almighty. So is your mysterious enigmatic relationship with anything in this world. Is the world outside you or is the world inside you? Are you different from the world or are you one with the world? You cannot say. Are you one with your dear friend or are you outside your dear friend? Are you one with what you love or are you different from that? None of these questions can be adequately answered because of the peculiar relationship that obtains between that which loves and that which is loved. So is the case with God and His devotee, and saints like Mira, Surdas, Tulsidas and many others, some of whom I have already cited, are great examples before us. God has to be loved and felt, not merely understood, analysed, discussed.

To this point we are raised by the majesty and the beauty of the Rasa Panchadhyayi. The greatest devotees of God are portrayed in the personality of the Gopis, and the reaction of God to the devotees is the reaction of Krishna to the Gopis. The coming and the going, the union and the separation, this wondrous ebb and flow, the rising and subsiding of the waves in the ocean of the bliss of God is the intention of the whole Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. I was thinking that I shall speak a few words on this theme of it being absolutely necessary for us to know and love God, and to melt and feel and become anguish-filled due to our separation from the Almighty. And He shall come.