Question: In his tika on Ujjvala Nilamani 8.137 Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur appears to grade the prema of five groups of sakhis with the parama-prestha sakhis having the best prema for Radha Krsna. Both they and the priya-sakhis are said to have greater prema than the prema of the prana and nitya-sakhis (manjaris). How has the tradition that so strongly asserts that manjari bhava is the fullest measure of unnatojjvala rasa dealt VCT’s comments?
Answer: Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur himself writes in the commentary to this verse that the ‘follower’ gopis are lesser than those they follow; and without following there is no raganuga bhakti. This is one consideration. The other consideration is that the parama-preshta sakhis are the kaya-vyuhas of Srimati Radhika. Sri Radhika expands to give pleasure to Sri Rasaraja in different moods. Thus they are supreme. No one can take their place. They are followed priya-sakhis which make the latter also supreme.
I think when it is said that ‘manjari-bhava is the fullest measure of unnatojjvala rasa’ it means that this is the highest a jiva can attain, not that it is highest in the absolute sense. Highest manifestation of this rasa is in Sri Radhika. No one would argue against that. Next come the parama-presthas who are expansions of Sri Radhika, and then their followers, the priya-sakhis.
There are different aspects to compare. A manjari is on top of the plant, so it is the highest. But it cannot subsist without the branch below it, and in that aspect, the branch is superior, being the support of the manjari above it.
Manjari is a ‘follower’ category, while parama-prestha is a ‘followed’ category. Therefore the latter is superior. This is my understanding of Sri VCT’s comment. Others may have a different understanding from a different aspect of comparison.
Question: One of the reasons I raised this question was because someone has written a book stressing on the basis of this commentary that by following the parama-prestha-sakhi one can attain the status of a priya-sakhi. Whereas by following a prana-sakhi one can attain the status of a nitya-sakhi. Thus both are points of entry into tad-bhavechamayi madhurya rasa and both are followers, but the priya-sakhi has more prema in following the parama-prestha-sakhi than the nitya-sakhi has in following the prana-sakhi. If this is accurate, it takes away from some of the reasoning in your reply, while going against hundreds of years of tradition it seems.
Answer: The fact is that people write books on these topics without having a clear concept themselves. It is not a matter of reading books and commentaries by oneself. Books are an aid in studying under a qualified teacher. Recently an e-book was also sent to me. The author has worked diligently with profuse quotes from scriptures. But unfortunately it is full of misconceptions which are being supported by quotes and are meant to remove misconceptions.
I was asked to give my comments but frankly i do not want to be part of any controversy. I respect all Vaishnavas. Now the book is written and is available openly. What is the point in pointing out mistakes now?
I see three common problems at present.
These are the problem of the modern age. It is for this reason that in the past in India books were not easily available and knowledge was not given openly lest unqualified people make mess out of it. Now that is gone. Everything is available on the net.
Coming to your specific question. The flaw with this argument is that the author assumes that it is up to the sadhaka to choose whom to follow. Just because something is written in Ujjvala Nilamani or Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu or Caitanya Caritamrita does not mean that it is the recommendation of the author. To make this more clear: There are various types of statements in shastra i.e. descriptive, injunctive etc. Descriptive statements are not recommendations to follow. For example, there are statements such as if you chant the name of the Lord jokingly, indicatively, as a refrain, or even with disrespect, you become free of all sins. (SB 6.2.14). This is not a recommendation to chant like this but a description of the power of the name. But someone can take this statement as authority and chant in the described way and also recommend so to others. In fact this goes on. Similarly there are statements about dying in Vrindavana.
So we have to see what is recommended by Mahaprabhu, and Gosvamis. Do they recommend following paramaprestha-sakhis or this sakhi or sakha? The author himself writes that Rupa, Visvanatha, Gopal Guru, Dhyanacandra, Bhaktivinoda etc are all Manjaris. Even Advaita Acharya and Nityananda are Manjaris, as per their followers, yet [he says that] UN etc recommend to follow parama-prestha sakhis. It means that author is smarter than every one else who preceded him up to Rupa Gosvami. This is a new discovery. A new siddhanta appears.
People are making siddhantas not even reading the books in their original language. Simply based on translations. These books are difficult to understand even when you study them in original under a teacher. What to speak of doing self-study using translations which may be even faulty. We understand according to our samskaras. Bhakti is not in our samskaras, otherwise we would not be here. That is why Krishna recommends, pranipata, pariprasna, and seva to know the truth (Gita 4.34) The meaning of this is to surrender mind, body, speech and ego, which means dump one’s samskaras and just listen. It is to be checked if the particular author has gone thru this process.
I do not argue against anyone because it is none of my business who believes in what. It is not my capacity to correct anyone, and why should I expect anyone to take my answer. I write this because you have raised the question and I needed to go the root cause of the misconception.
This is the age of “How To-Do-It Yourself”. The traditional style of education is out of fashion now. No one can put the humpty dumpty back on the wall. So I am working on a book “How to Understand Sastra”. This book will give some basic principles which will assist a self-reader in knowing the meaning of shastra.
Indeed for a patient it is more crucial to know what is prohibited than what is prescribed because if he eats the prohibited item that may end his life. Similarly, it is more important to know the offenses than the limbs of bhakti, because an offense can bring an end to devotional life.
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