Union with God, Separation from God
Vaisnava Christian Dialogue, September 25, 2020
~presented by Rukmini Walker
Om ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana-salakaya
caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri gurave namah
In this paper, I’d like to ask you to visualize a continuum of consciousness. In the negative numbers, we exist in duality, focused on our own body, mind, and bewildered intelligence, overwhelmed by a separatist ego, in a consciousness of avoidance and forgetfulness of our relationship with the Supreme.
At the center point of equilibrium, one gains a sense of the omnipresence of spirit within all of existence.
In the positive numbers, there are those rare and blessed souls who experience love of God in union and in longing separation.
Following this example of a continuum, in the negative numbers we dwell in dualities of delusion, fluctuating between our hankering for unfulfilled desires, or our lamentation for what’s been lost.
According to the Caitanya Vaisnava tradition, we experience a sense of isolation and separateness in forgetfulness of our real identity as beloved, sparks of spirit, individual jiva souls who share in God’s own eternal divine, or Brahman nature.
Based on the soul’s desire to forget our eternal connection with the Supreme Lord, and to see ourselves as His competitors and as independent enjoyers, we suffer. Covered by false perceptions of ourselves as material beings and enjoyers of temporal matter, we find ourselves separated and disconnected from our Source. In that illusion, we become bewildered by dualities of pleasure and pain, honor and dishonor, heat and cold, woman and man, black or white, or American, Russian, etc.
Because nothing can exist without the Lord, the illusory energy is also an energy of the Lord. When we desire to forget Him, we become covered by His external energy of ‘maya’, or, literally, “that which is not”. The sun is never covered by a cloud-bank, only our vision becomes covered by clouds passing through the sky.
At the center point of equilibrium there is a sense of existential oneness, the peace and reality of dwelling within the effulgent omnipresent existence of Brahman, as non-differentiated sparks of divine energy.
These three phases of consciousness are sometimes described as adhibhautika,or an identification of oneself as a product of matter; adhyatmika, self realization, or a consciousness of one’s self, beyond matter; and adhidaivika, realization of the self in relationship to the Supreme Self, Paramatma, the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna.
That Supreme Self exists in three features. First of all as the omniscient, omnipresent, undifferentiated Brahman, the goal of those seeking union through knowledge or jnana yoga. Brahman means spiritual, and the rays of His transcendental body are called brahmajyoti, His spiritual effulgence. Everything that exists is situated in that brahmajyoti, but when thejyoti is covered by illusion (maya) it is called material.
In his hymns called Sri Brahma-samhita,spoken at the beginning of creation, the first created living being, Brahmajisays:
I worship Govinda, (Krsna) the primeval Lord, whose effulgence is the source of the non-differentiated Brahman mentioned in the Upanisads, being differentiated from the infinity of glories of the mundane universe appearing as the indivisible, infinite, limitless truth. (Sri Brahma-samhita 5.40)
The second feature of the Absolute is as the Supersoul, or Paramatma who travels in the heart of every individual atma, or jivatma—every living being, as the inner guide fulfilling our desires, and directing us to turn to Him. If we so desire to hear His direction in that still small voice. This feature of the Absolute is generally the goal of those seeking mystic perfections on the path of yoga.
And finally, as the Supreme Person, or Bhagavan. Although unseen, He owns, controls and pervades all things, as the Supreme Enjoyer, Supreme Proprietor and the dearest friend of all living beings. He is called, akhila-rasamrta-murtih,the very form of the highest bliss, filled with all rasas, or tastes of sweetness in relationship. Awakening love for this Supreme Person is the ultimate goal of those on the path of Bhakti yoga.
In the first stages of God realization, those who shelter in the Lord, exist in the positive numbers of His internal energies of sandhini-eternal existence, samvit-divine knowledge, or cognizance; and especially, hladini-or spiritual pleasure.
Sheltering in these internal energies, there is realization of joy in active loving service, experiencing rasa, or a sweet taste as servant, friend, parent, or lover in a reciprocal relationship with the Lord.
This sense of loving God in a variety of relationships is called love of God in union. But there exists another degree of love, a higher pitch of love.
Moving into the higher realms of positive numbers, beyond the passive sense of oneness and the active mood of love in service, there exists a mood of longing, a mood of love in separation, that eclipses even the mood of love in union.
This mood of love is exemplified and recommended by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and His followers in disciplic succession.
This mood is rooted in humility and longing. It is not a complacency of having attained, or arrived. But rather a mood of longing for God. “Where is Krsna? Where is Radhika? Where is Vrndavan? I have not attained the Lord of my life!”
This is the inner mood of ‘holy yearning’ of the Vaisnava bhakta, or devotee: the intense desire caused by a mood of separation. While externally maintaining the daily sadhana, or practice of regulated service, this is the internal fire that burns away all unwanted things from within the heart of the serious practitioner, or sadhaka.
Here is a prayer from the Vrndavana-mahimamritathat exemplifies this mood:
“Alas, when will I chant the holy name of Krsna with a choked voice? When will tears of love flow from my eyes and make the earth wet? Alas, when will I lament in this way while wandering under the trees of Vrndavan? Being absorbed in such a mood, when will I suddenly see my beloved Lord in front of me? When will I see and offer my repeated obeisances to Krsna, whose bodily hue is like sapphire, and to Sri Radha, whose bodily hue is like gold?” (Vrndavana-mahimamrita Text 100)
There’s a story told in Sri Caitanya Caritamrita that draws a sharp contrast between this mood of longing separation and the more impersonal self identification of oneness in Brahman realization.
The great Madhavendra Puri was the highest exemplar of this mood of love in separation, or vipralambha seva. Sri Caitanya accepted initiation from Madhavendra Puri’s humble and pure disciple, Sri Isvara Puri, who had performed the most menial tasks in service to his guru in his final days.
But Madhavendra Puri had another disciple named Ramacandra Puri, who was accustomed to faultfinding.
When Madhavendra Puri was at the last stage of his life, Ramacandra Puri came to where he was staying.
Madhavendra Puri was chanting the holy name of Krsna, and sometimes he would cry, being overwhelmed by moods of longing separation:
“O my Lord, I did not get shelter at Mathura!”
Then Ramacandra Puri, who had no realization or experience of these rare and esoteric moods of love in separation, was so foolish that he fearlessly dared to instruct his spiritual master.
“If you are in full transcendental bliss,” he said, “you should now remember only Brahman. Why are you crying?”
According to Bhagavad Gita (18.54), a Brahman-realized person neither laments nor aspires for anything. This is the state of equilibrium that exists beyond the negative numbers of mundane egotism, but with no experience or realization within the realm of positive spiritual emotion.
Not knowing why Madhavendra Puri was crying, Ramacandra Puri tried to become his advisor. In this way, he committed a great offense.
Ramacandra Puri could not understand that his spiritual master, Madhavendra Puri was experiencing transcendental separation. His lamentation was not material. Rather it proceeded from the highest stage of ecstatic love for Krsna.
When Madhavendra Puri was crying in separation,“I could not achieve Krsna! I could not achieve Mathura!” this was not ordinary material lamentation. Ramacandra Puri could not understand the feelings of Madhavendra Puri, but nevertheless he thought himself very advanced.
Hearing this audacious instruction, given by his neophyte disciple, Madhavendra Puri, in a profound spiritual agony of separation, greatly angry, rebuked him by saying, “Get out, you sinful rascal! O my Lord Krsna, I could not reach You, nor could I reach Your abode, Mathura. I am dying in my unhappiness, and now this rascal has come to give me more pain.
Don’t show your face to me! Go anywhere else you like. If I die seeing your face, I shall not achieve the destination of my life.”
In profound humility, and longing spiritual lamentation, Sri Madhavendra Puri cried, “I am dying without achieving the shelter of Krsna, and therefore I am greatly unhappy. Now this condemned foolish rascal has come to instruct me about Brahman.”
Madhavendra Puri while passing away from this world chanted the following verse:
“O My Lord, O most merciful master! O master of Mathura! When shall I see You again? Because of my not seeing you, my agitated heart has become unsteady. O most beloved one, what shall I do now?”
In this verse, Madhavendra Puri exemplifies the most exalted ecstatic love for Krsna, or mahabhava.
God, or Krsna, being absolute, is not different from His name, His qualities, His remembrance, or even the ecstatic experience of His absence. A devotee on this most elevated plane of spiritual realization is acutely perceiving the presence of the Lord in His absence, or His separation.
On the path of Bhakti, it’s described that for the river of divine love, or prema bhakti to flow swiftly, there must be two banks, one on either side of the river of prema, or divine love. On the one side, there is the bank of sambhoga, or love in union, on the other side, the bank of vipralambha, or love in separation.
Love in separation is considered superior, because in union there is an anticipation of separation, whereas in separation there is the anticipation of meeting.
The Vraj poet Nanda das has said:
“There is more love in separation than in union for in union the Beloved is found in one place only, while in separation the Beloved is found everywhere.”
Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in His last twelve years within this world in Jagannath Puri taught how in a feeling of longing separation, we can develop our dormant love of Krsna.
Here He speaks in a mood of humility overwhelmed with a yearning separation:
“If by chance the transcendental form of Krsna comes before my path of vision, My heart, injured from being beaten, will be stolen away by Cupid, happiness
personified. Because I could not see the beautiful form of Krsna to My heart’s content, when I again see His form I shall decorate the phases of time with many jewels…
…if by chance such a moment comes when I can once again see Krsna, then I shall worship those seconds, moments and hours with flower garlands and pulp of sandlewood, and decorate them with all kinds of jewels and ornaments.
“…My dear friends you are all my life and soul, therefore I tell you that I possess no wealth of love for Krsna. Consequently, my life is poverty-stricken. My limbs and senses are useless.”
“… I have not the slightest tinge of love of Godhead within my heart. When you see me crying in separation, I am just falsely exhibiting a demonstration of my good fortune. Indeed, not seeing the beautiful face of Krsna playing His flute, I continue to live my life like an insect, without purpose.” (Sri Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya Lila 2. 36, 38, 40, 45)
Vaishnavas understand that Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Godhead, appears in this world from time to time to give us a glimpse of the loving exchanges that eternally exist in the spiritual realm, the Kingdom of God. He calls us back to Him by revealing the love that awaits us, if we only turn towards Him. Even the most profound feelings of love in separation are revealed during His lila, His pastimes, with His most intimate devotees, the gopis of Vrindaban, and the queens of Dwaraka.
Srila Rupa Goswami, in his Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindhu,explains how vipralambha, or the ecstasy of love in separation, as revealed by the Lord and His devotees, has four divisions:
1. Purva rag-preliminary attraction before meeting, as exemplified by Rukminidevi;
2. Mana, a mood of feigned anger-most often exemplified in Sri Radhika;
3. Prema vaicitya-grief from fear of separation, although the lover is present, exemplified by the queens of Dwaraka; and
4. Pravasa-separation by distance…
Although she had never seen Him, the princess Rukminidevi had heard the glories of Lord Sri Krsna, from the great saint Narada Muni, who would often visit her father’s palace.
Here is an example of purva rag-attraction before meeting- spoken by Rukminidevi in her letter to Lord Krsna, from the tenth canto of the Bhagavata Purana:
“O beauty of the worlds, having heard of Your qualities, which enter the ears of those who hear… I have fixed my shameless mind upon You, O Krsna. O Mukunda,
You are equal only to Yourself, in lineage, character, beauty, knowledge, youthfulness, wealth and influence.
O lion among men, You delight the minds of all mankind… My dear Lord, I have chosen You as my husband, and I surrender myself to You. Please come swiftly, O almighty one, and make me Your wife. My dear lotus-eyed Lord, what is meant for the lion, must never be touched by a jackal!”
Here is a description of mana, feigned anger, as well as pravasa, separation by distance, in the mood of separation, from the Lalita-madhava of Srila Rupa Goswami:
“Radharani looked at the sky. A crow was flying overhead, going toward Mathura. All of a sudden, pointing out that crow, Radharani said, “Hey crow. Here! Over here! Are you going to Mathura? Please hear me. Don’t go anywhere else! Go directly to Mathura. There you will find a king named Mathuranath, or Krsna. When you meet Him, pay your respects and give Him a message. Whatever message I give to you, deliver it to Him. Do you understand?
If a house is on fire, what is the first duty of the householder? His first duty is that if there are domestic animals they must be released. You may be burned to ashes, but let them not be burned.
My body is like a house which is now on fire. And who has set fire to this house? It is that Krsna who has set this house on fire. Tell Him, O crow, tell Him! My life is like a domestic animal, prana-pasu, but it cannot get out. And why not? This animal cannot get out because there is a very strong bolt on the door. So let Krsna come and unbolt it.”
Then Radharani told the crow, “If you want to know what is that bolt, I’ll tell you. When Krsna left Vrajabhumi, He told us, ‘I’ll come back. I will come back.’ That promise is the very strong bolt. Only with this hope, are we surviving. But Krsna is not coming back. So let Him come and unbolt it.’ In other words, let Him withdraw His words.”
And finally prema-vaicitya,When as a natural by-product of one’s extreme love, one feels the distress of separation even in the direct presence of the Beloved.
Srila Rupa Goswami refers to this variety of attachment, in his Ujjvala-nilmani:
“Thinking of lotus-eyed Krsna Who was asleep and visible right before their eyes, the Queens of Dvaraka spoke as if mad, in words devoid of judgement.
The queens of Lord Krsna said: ‘O kurari bird, you are lamenting. Now it is night, and somewhere in this world the Supreme Lord is asleep in a hidden place. But you are wide awake, O friend, unable to fall asleep. Is it that, like us, you have had your heart pierced to the core by the lotus-eyed Lord’s munificent, playful smiling glances?
Dear ocean, you are always roaring, not sleeping at night. Are you suffering insomnia? Or is it that, like us Mukunda (Lord Krsna) has taken your heart and you are hopeless of retrieving it?
My dear moon, having contracted a severe case of tuberculosis, you have become so emaciated that you fail to dispel the darkness with your rays. Or is it that you appear dumbstruck because, like us, you cannot remember the encouraging promises Mukunda (Lord Krsna) once made to you?”
In Caitanya Vaisnavism, we worship the combined form of Sri Sri Radha Krsna, the divine feminine and divine masculine in loving relationship. Our Bhakti tradition teaches that this is the adi-rasa,or original loving relationship that exists in divinity in the spiritual realm. All love in this world is a reflection of Their divine loving exchanges. Nothing can exist in this material world that does not exist in the original reality in the spiritual realm. And, according to our Bhakti tradition, all jiva souls are feminine in nature and expanded from Sri Krsna’s divine pleasure potency, Sri Radhika.
Great renunciates like Nimbarka Acarya, Visnu Swami, Madhvacarya, Ramanuja Acarya and Sri Caitanya revere the divine love of Radha and Krsna that exists beyond any tinge of mundane inebriety.
Sometimes scholars peering in from outside the Vaisnava tradition are fond of saying that there is no mention, or little mention of Sri Radha in the original Vedas. They assert that her name only first appears in the Gita Govinda of Jayadeva Goswami in the 12th Century, and gains more popularity in the Bhakti Renaissance of the 16th Century.
In fact, the reverence for Sri Radha is esoteric in the Vedas. She has one name Veda-gopya—which means one who is hidden even in the Vedas. But her name does appear in the Vedas, the Upanisadsand the Puranas dozens of times. For example, this verse is found in the Rg, Sama, and Atharva Vedas:
stotram radhanam pate girvahovira yasya te
“O hero! Radhanath! (or Krsna, Who is the Lord of Radha) This stotra is very befitting for Your glorification and Your opulence (vibhuti)—let all these words be true and lovable.”
Srila Raghunath das Goswami prays in separation to his worshipful goddess, Sri Radhika:
duyamanam ati-durgatam janam
“O goddess! Kindly hear this unfortunate person now drowning in an ocean of pain, place him in the sturdy boat of Your mercy, and ferry him to the wonderful realm of Your lotus feet.” (Vilapa-kusumanjali, Verse 9)
And the great Srila Rupa Goswami prays in heartbreaking humility, again to Sri Radhika:
“I, a distressed soul belonging to you, beg you with sweet words while rolling on the banks of the Yamuna!
Although I am unfit, an offender with a crooked mind, please bestow on me a fragment of the gift of service to you. This unhappy soul is not fit to be neglected by you for you have a butter soft heart that melts constantly by the warmth of your compassion.”
(Sri Prarthana-paddhatih of his Stava-mala)
In the two final verses of His eight prayers called, Siksastakam, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu describes first this mood of vipralambha, or longing in separation:
“My Lord Govinda, because of separation from You, I consider even a moment to be a great millennium. Tears flow from My eyes like torrents of rain, and I see the entire world as void.”
And finally, in sambhoga, or love in union with the Beloved:
“Let Krsna tightly embrace this maidservant who has fallen at His lotus feet, or let Him trample Me or break My heart by never being visible to Me. He is a debauchee, after all, and can do whatever He likes, but He is still no one other than the worshipful Lord of My heart.” (Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Siksastakam 7,8)
And finally, there is another type of paradoxical separation within oneness, at the core of Caitanya Vaisnavism. That is our intrinsic identity as one with God in quality, and yet eternally distinct from His vast infinite greatness. We are infinitesimal sparks, and He is the great fire.
A drop of ocean water is of the same quality as the vast ocean, but the tiny drop can never create a tsunami. In Sanskrit, this oneness within difference is termed acintya bhedabheda tattva, or inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference.
Here is a poem by the 17th Century Marathi poet, Tukaram that illustrates this point, and points back to our discussion of love in union and love in separation:
Can water quaff itself?
Can trees taste of the fruit they bear?
He who worships God must stand distinct from Him.
So only then shall he know the joyful love of God.
For if he says that God and he are one
That joy, that love, shall vanish instantly away.
Pray no more for utter oneness with God!
Where is the beauty, if jewel and setting were one?
The heat and shade are two-
If not, where is the comfort of shade?
Mother and child are two—
If not, where is their love?
When after they are separated, they meet
What joy they feel, the mother and child!
Where is that joy, if the two were one?
Pray then, talk no more of utter oneness with God.
In conclusion, within the energies of the Lord, there is a continuum. Beginning in the negative numbers of our misidentification with matter, where we exist in a duality of illusion in separation from God, our source.
In illusion, we identify ourselves as belonging to this world of matter-that we have no higher life, no higher love beyond the visible world of our senses, mind, intelligence, and separatist ego.
At the centerpoint of spiritual evolution, there is peace in the realization of one’s identity as spirit, or Brahman, in the undifferentiated rays, or jyoti of the Supreme Parabrahman that exist everywhere.
And finally, moving along this continuum into the positive realm of loving relationships in service, there exists the highest echelons of love in union and separation.
I pray we may also one day be blessed to taste these moods of love in union and separation, that are exemplified so profoundly in the traditions we follow.
Thank you very much!