“prabhu kahe,—“eho haya, kichu āge āra”
Śrīman Mahāprabhu said, “This dāsya–prema is perfection. What you have said is correct, but please speak something beyond this.” Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya replied, “Sakhya–prema, or prema–bhakti infused with the feelings of fraternity, is the essence of all perfection.
The devotee who in the profusion of prema considers himself to be as good as Śrī Kṛṣṇa, does not accept that Kṛṣṇa is superior to him in any way. There is a saying, khelata meṁ ko kāko gusaiyāṅ, which means, “In play, who is the master of anyone?” Such devotees are called the sakhās of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The name of their favorable service mood to Śrī Kṛṣṇa is sakhya–prema. The fixed devotion (niṣṭhā) of śānta-bhāva, the service mood imbued with possessiveness (mamatā) of dāsya–bhāva, and the mood of service with intimacy (viśrambha-sevā) of sakhya–bhāva are all present in this sakhya–prema.
When one compares these bhāvas, it can be seen that even though there is so much sense of possessiveness in dāsya–prema, it still retains sambhrama-bhāva, or feelings of respect. “Śrī Kṛṣṇa is my master and I am His servant.” All the friends in Vaikuṇṭha, Ayodhyā, Dvārakā, and Mathurā accept Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Śrī Rāma as Bhagavān. However, in the sakhya–prema of Vraja, the devotee maintains the feelings of great intimacy (viśrambha–bhāva), so he feels, “Śrī Kṛṣṇa is a cowherd boy, just like me; He is not superior to me in any way. We are equal as cowherd boys and friends.” In addition, whatever is done by the devotee in sakhya-prema will certainly please Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
While eating, should the sakhās think that any foodstuff is especially tasty, they place their remnants into Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s mouth, saying, “Kanhaiyā, just eat this pakorā and see how tasty it is!” They do not feel shy in feeding their remnants to Him. The fear, hesitation, and respect of dāsya–bhāva are not present in sakhya-prema. Only the feeling of equality (sama-bhāva) remains.
Sakhya–prema is characterized by viśrambha, one-pointed affection full of loving trust, and includes feelings of possessiveness between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and His devotees. Even though Arjuna and the other sons of Pāṇḍu are eternal associates of the Lord, their affection for Śrī Kṛṣṇa in sakhya–bhāva is full of awe and reverence for Him. But in Vraja, such friends as Subala and Madhumaṅgala possess sakhya–rati, which is composed of sweetness (mādhurya).
Śrīman Rāya Rāmānanda here presents evidence from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:
itthaṁ satāṁ brahma-sukhānubhūtyā
dāsyaṁ gatānāṁ para-daivatena
sākaṁ vijahruḥ kṛta-puṇya-puñjāḥ
“Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī said to Mahārāja Parīkṣit, ‘He who manifests Himself to the jñānīs as the happiness of the Brahman effugence, who manifests Himself to the devotees of dāsya–rasa as the supremely worshipful Lord, and who appears to those under the spell of illusory māyā as an ordinary boy – that same Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa plays in sakhya–rasa with the most fortunate cowherd boys of Vraja, who are receiving the fruit of their profuse pious activities.’ ”
There are three different types of sādhakas: jñānīs, karmīs, and bhaktas. According to their own particular devotional practices, they each realize Śrī Kṛṣṇa in different ways. The verse currently under consideration, which depicts the realization of these different sādhakas, glorifies above all the good fortune of the cowherd boys of Vraja, in whom sakhya–bhāva has arisen.
Satām. The jñānīs, taking the help of bhakti, worship Bhagavān by the process of jñāna, or speculative knowledge. Without bhakti it is impossible for the jñānī-sādhakas to gain knowledge. Thus, in order to achieve perfection in jñāna, they take the shelter of bhakti. We should understand the word satām here to indicate the followers of the path of jñāna mixed with bhakti.
Brahma-sukhānubhūtyā. Jñānīs worship nirviśeṣa-brahma, the impersonal Brahman effulgence, as the Absolute Truth, desiring sāyujya–mukti, or to merge into the impersonal Brahman effulgence of the Lord. Once they have achieved the perfection of this practice, they derive happiness from the perception, or realization, of this nirviśeṣa-brahma, which is, in fact, the effulgence emanating from the bodily limbs of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. How is it possible for the jñānīs to sport with this nirviśeṣa–brahma?
Dāsyaṁ gatānāṁ refers to devotees who worship Śrī Kṛṣṇa in dāsya–bhāva, nurturing feelings of respect and seeing Him as their most worshipful Lord. They worship Śrī Kṛṣṇa in the form of paradevatā, iṣṭadevatā, or paramārādhya devatā. Due to feelings of reverence for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, it is not possible for them to joke or play with Him.
Māyāśritānāṁ – jīvas who are attached to fruitive activities and bound by māyā, only recognize Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa as an ordinary human child. Such souls under the shelter of the illusory potency neither undertake the bhajana of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, nor do they love Him. What to speak of playing with Him, such people are unable to have realization of Him in any form.
Kṛta-puṇya-puñjā – those who have collected huge amounts of pious activities – the cowherd boys of Vraja who have achieved sakhya–rasa, the mood of friendship. In his commentary on this verse, Śrīla Sarasvatī Prabhupāda says that it describes the vast fortune of the sakhās of Vraja, who go to the forest to picnic with Śrī Kṛṣṇa, binding Him with the rope of prema that is full of intimacy and devoid of reverence. These cowherd boys of Vraja are said to have accumulated unlimited pious activities, or kṛta-puṇya-puñjā. The fruitive workers (karmīs), the impersonalist philosophers (jñānīs), and the mystics (yogīs) can never eat and drink or play with Śrī Kṛṣṇa under any circumstances. Here the verse tells us that these sakhās are so fortunate that they sit on Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s shoulders and also have Him sit on their shoulders.
Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmīpāda says: kṛtānāṁ caritānāṁ bhagavataḥ parama-prasāda-hetutvena, puṇyāścāravaḥ puñjā yeṣāṁ te ityrthaḥ. Kṛta means the “behavior or character of the cowherd boys.” Puṇya means “mind-enchanting.” The behavior of the sakhās is indeed the cause of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s topmost mercy upon them; thus they are called puṇya-puñja, which means “very beautiful” or “enchanting.” Puñjā here means “group.” The sakhās of Vraja possess matured mamatā (sense of possessiveness) for Śrī Kṛṣṇa, which is generated from prema.
Itthaṁ – sinking or immersed in prema. There are examples of this in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.12.4–10) describing how Śrī Kṛṣṇa and the sakhās decorate each other with leaves and flowers, and how they steal each others’ flutes and sticks. When for some reason Śrī Kṛṣṇa goes some distance away, the sakhās then run to catch Him. They imitate the calls of bees and peacocks with their forest bugles and flutes, dance with the peacocks, and sit like cranes on the bank of the Yamunā. They contort their faces to resemble the cranes’ mouths, jump like frogs, challenge their own shadows, and perform other mind-enchanting activities. The sakhās, completely devoid of reverence and full of intimacy (viśrambha-bhāva), exclaim as they climb on Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s shoulders, “tumi kon baḍa loka,—tumi āmi sama – What kind of big man are You? You and I are equal!” (Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Ādi-līlā 4.25).
They shout, “Oh, come on, Kanhaiyā! What? Do You consider Yourself a great person? You don’t know anything! Your father only has nine hundred thousand cows, while my father has one million one hundred thousand cows.”
If Kṛṣṇa is sleeping and the cowherd boys arrive, they ask, “O Mother, where is Kanhaiyā? What is He doing?” Mother Yaśodā replies, “Now He is sleeping. Do not wake Him up.” But before her reply is heard, all the boys jump onto His bed and wake Him, saying “Kanhaiyā! Are You still sleeping? The time for taking the cows out to graze is passing.”
Here is a sign of sama-bhāva (the mood of equality) in the intimate friendship between Śrī Kṛṣṇa and His friends. There are sakhās in Dvārakā like Arjuna and also others, but they can never act like this. As soon as Śrī Kṛṣṇa shows His virāṭa-svarūpa (universal form) to Arjuna, he begins shaking in fear and joins his hands together in prayerful supplication. Likewise in Ayodhyā, sakhās such as Sugrīva, Vibhīṣaṇa, Lakṣmaṇa, Bharata, and Śatrughna are the friends and brothers of Śrī Rāma. Even though they are His brothers and sakhās, they can never act so intimately with Him. Bharata, Lakṣmaṇa, and Śatrughna cannot sit on the same seat as Śrī Rāma because of their feelings of reverence and respect for Him. These emotions make it impossible for them to have the same feelings of complete equality and intimacy (viśrambha-bhāva) as the sakhās of Vraja. In Vraja there is friendship, love, possessiveness, and sweetness.
kāndhe caḍe, kāndhe caḍāya, kare krīḍā-raṇa
kṛṣṇe seve, kṛṣṇe karāya āpana-sevana!
ataeva sakhya-rasera ‘tina’ guṇa—cihna
‘mamatā’ adhika, kṛṣṇe ātma-sama jñāna
ataeva sakhya-rasera vaśa bhagavān
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā (19.223–225)
“The devotee in sakhya–rasa sometimes offers Kṛṣṇa service and sometimes he makes Kṛṣṇa serve him. As they playfully fight, the gopas sometimes climb on Kṛṣṇa’s shoulders, and sometimes they have Him climb on their shoulders. This sakhya-rasa possesses three qualities: viśrambha-pradhāna (a prominence of intimacy), sakhya (friendship), and gaurava-sambhrama-hīna (a lack of feelings of deference and reverential respect).”
Kṛṣṇa’s sakhās, the cowherd boys of Vraja, have not attained their position by the fruit of any puṇya, or pious material activities, or by observing any sādhana. They are all eternally perfect associates of the Lord (nitya–siddha–parikara), and they have been engaged eternally in the loving service of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. For tasting sakhya–rasa, Svayam Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has manifested Himself as all the cowherd boys from time eternal. All the cowherd boys are personified forms of the sandhinī portion of the svarūpa-śakti. To the ultimate degree that the tendency to serve is developed, then to that degree Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is to be served as the object of service (sevya-vastu) will also reveal Himself. The service tendency of the eternal associates is fully developed in their svātantrya-mayī-sevā (independent service). And by following ānugatya-mayi-sevā (service performed under their guidance) then our own service tendency unfolds correspondingly.