Hari-katha Articles PREACHING SERVICES

PREACHING SERVICES

In November of 1877, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura came to Mahiṣa Rekhā (presently situated within the division of Ulubeḍiyā). While residing there, he had darśana of Thānākula, Āmtā, Śyāmapura, and other places. Thānākula is the appearance place of Śrī Abhirāma Ṭhākura, an associate of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura went to Bhadrak after two months. There, Śrī Balarāma Bāsu, the son of Rādhā-ramaṇa Bāsu, used to come and reside with Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. In August of 1878, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura left Bhadrak and arrived in Naḍāla. He resided in Naḍāla for three years. It was while residing in Naḍāla that Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura authored and published the books Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā and Kalyāṇa-kalpataru.

Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā contains an unprecedented explanation of kṛṣṇa-tattva, philosophical principles of the Lord’s transcendental nature and reality. Many Western scholars praised the contents of the Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā. While residing in Naḍāla, a person called Rāyacaraṇa Ghoṣa Mahāśaya, who later became Rādhā-ramaṇa-caraṇa dāsa Bābājī, would regularly come with his wide circle of friends to listen to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s hari-kathā. When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura told him to learn the kīrtanas of Kalyāṇa-kalpatura, he duly did so. He memorized many songs of Kalyāṇa-kalpataru.

While residing in Jagannātha Purī, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākurastudied the Ṣaṭ-sand arbhas, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, and the Govinda-bhāṣya. He paid much attention while studying these scriptures. During this time, he wrote a book called “Hari-bhakti-kalpalatikā.” He also penned some Sanskrit compositions. He simultaneously wrote a book called, “Datta-kaustubha.” It was during this time that he authored many ślokas of Kṛṣṇa-saṁhitā. Nityānanda dāsa, Paramānanda dāsa, and others also heard the Bhāgavatam from Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura during this time. A Vaiṣṇava assembly called ‘Bhāgavata-saṁsad’ was held in the Jagannātha-vallabha garden, where Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura described the essence of many scriptures.

Mahanta Nārāyaṇa dāsa, the mahanta of Uttarapārśva, Harihara dāsa, and other scholars would also attend this assembly. There was a kāntādhārī called Śrīmad Raghunātha dāsa of Hāthī-Ākhāḍā who staunchly opposed the assembly presided by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He told many people to not attend the assembly. But he was affected by a fearsome disease within some days.

Lord Jagannātha appeared to him in a dream and said, “You have committed an offense at the lotus feet of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. You will only be cured of this disease when you beg for his forgiveness.”

Śrīmad Raghunātha dāsa then conveyed these words to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura through one particular person. When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura heard these words, he immediately appeared before Raghunātha dāsa, and Raghunātha dāsa fell at his lotus feet and begged forgiveness. He became completely healthy after this incident.

Some niṣkiñcana-vaiṣṇavas (whose only wealth is Kṛṣṇa) were doing bhajana in their cottages, which were situated on the Sātāsana road. Mahātmā Śrīla Svarūpa dāsa Bābājī Mahādoya was a perfected soul. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would always speak on the subject of dharma with him.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda would always follow the limbs of sādhu-saṅga (associating with the sādhus), bhāgavata-śravaṇa (listening to the Bhāgavatam), and nāma-saṅkīrtana (congregational chanting of the Lord’s names). He would go to the Jagannātha temple everyday to have the Lord’s darśana. As soon as he would enter the temple, someone would always offer him the Lord’s dālmā prasāda (a preparation of dāl cooked with vegetables). Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would not go to the Mukti-maṇḍapa where the māyāvādī-brāhmaṇas were present. He would always sit near Lakṣmī-devī’s temple and the shrine where Mahāprabhu’s footprints were situated. Many brāhmaṇas from the Mukti-maṇḍapa would come and listen to his expositions on many scriptures of bhakti. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura named this place, ‘Bhakti-prāṅgaṇa,’ or ‘Bhakti-maṇḍapa.’

In 1881, while residing in the Nimu Gosāi alley of Kolkata, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura decided to go to some pilgrimage places during the month of Śrāvaṇa (July-August). He went to Vṛndāvana from Prayāga. Upon reaching Vṛndāvana, Rādhā-ramaṇa Bāsu Mahāśaya took Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura to his Kalā-kuñja, and all the Vaiṣṇavas residing there welcomed him with much love and respect. During this visit, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura made it a point to have the darśana of Śrīla Jagannātha dāsa Bābājī Mahārāja in Vṛndāvana. It was during this time that he accepted Śrīla Bābājī Mahārāja as his iṣṭadeva (worshipable spiritual master). Under Bābājī Mahārāja’s guidance, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had darśana of Govinda, Gopīnātha, and Madana-Mohana.

When Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura spoke on the subject of the inappropriateness of bheṭa-prathā (a common practice wherein Bhagavān’s darśana is only given to those who give a donation), a discussion took place in Gopīnātha’s temple. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura then honored prasāda in Rūpa dāsa Bābājī’s kuñja. There, he received a book called Daśa-ślokī, that was supposedly written by Nimbāditya. This book was later published in Sajjana Toṣaṇi.

During Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s visit to Vṛndāvana, a resident of Śāntipura called Nīlamaṇi Gosvāmī Mahāśaya, was speaking on the Bhāgavatam, but Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura didn’t go to his recital.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had darśana of Śrī Rādhā-kuṇḍa and Govardhana. A dacoit in Vraja-maṇḍala called “Kañjaḍ” used to accost devotees and steal their wealth. By the efforts of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Kañjaḍ’s nefarious activities came to an end.

It was during this time that Sishir Kumāra Ghoṣa, an employee of Kolkata’s daily journal, Amṛta Bāzār Patrikā, approached Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, and conveyed the happiness he felt upon seeing Śrī Caitanya-līlā, a drama directed by Star Theater’s Giriścandra Ghoṣa Mahāśaya. He repeatedly requested Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura to also see this drama. Giriścandra Ghoṣa also met with Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and repeatedly requested him to see his drama. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura however said, “Caitanya-līlā is not preached through the mouths of prostitutes. Such renditions only fulfill the conditioned souls’ desire for sense gratification. As a result, society is beset by inauspiciousness.” When Giriścandra Ghoṣa then explained how the prostitutes behaved during the enactment of the drama, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura showed the difference between the ideal set by Śrī Caitanyadeva in regard to hari-kathā, spoken and heard by the devotees (who desire their eternal auspiciousness), and the behavior of the prākṛta-sahajiyās (who hold mundane conceptions in regard to the Lord’s pastimes). He also spoke on the ideal set by Śrī Caitanyadeva in regard to songs sung by women. He described the Lord’s reaction in this regard.

Whenever Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would go from Bārāsāt or Māyāpura to his Bhakti-bhavana in Kolkata, many people from Kolkata, including Dvijendranātha Ṭhākura, the senior members of the Brahma-samāja, Avimukteśvara Singh, Trailokyanātha Sannyāl, the followers of Nava-vidhāna-samāja, and Hāṭkolā’s mahājana would come to him and discuss brahma-tattva.

On one particular day of 1881, a poet called Dvijendra Bābū brought the young poet Ravindranātha Tāgore to Bhakti-bhavana. He introduced Ravindranātha as “Bhānu Singh” and had Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura listen to him sing. Kuñja dāsa and Advaita dāsa Bābājī would also come to Bhakti-bhavana and sing for Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.

Although Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was an old student of Iśvaracandra Vidyāsāgara Mahāśaya, he opposed Iśvaracandra’s statement in his book “Bodhodaya” which read, “īśvara nirākāra caitanya-svarūpa.” He voiced his opposition in the direct presence of Iśvaracandra. Vidyāsāgara Mahāśaya then accepted his lack of foresight with simplicity in regard to knowing īśvara-tattva.

After having darśana of Vṛndāvana, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura went to Mathurā, Lucknow, and Faizābād. The place near Faizābād where Rāmacandra entered His unmanifest pastimes along with all the citizens of Ayodhyā is called “Goptā-ghāṭa.” Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura bathed in this holy place and offered many prayers. He also had darśana of Śrī Rāmacandra’s abode, Śrī Ayodhyā-dhāma. He then had darśana of Kāśī before returning to Kolkata.

In 1882, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura inaugurated Bhakti-bhavana on Maniktalā street. He manifested the deity of Kūrmadeva while unearthing the foundation for the house. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura instructed his son Śrī Vimalā-prasāda (Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura) on Kurmadeva’s worship, and he also tied a strand of Tulasī beads around his neck.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura used to say, “It is inevitable that those whom I nourish and look after will definitely become devotees of Śrī Hari.”

In May 1882, he accepted responsibility for the twenty-four Paragaṇā Bārāsat division from its Deputy Magistrate Sāhityak Baṅkimacandra Chaṭṭopādhyāya Mahāśaya.

Paṇḍita Harprasāda Śāstrī Mahāmahopadhyāya would regularly come to meet Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in Nehāṭī, and Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura made him the Honorary Magistrate of Nehāṭī’s Municipality Branch. With his betterment in mind, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura helped him in various ways. After some time, Harprasāda Śāstrī was given the position of ‘interpreter and translator’ in the Bengal government, but he would still come and meet Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in Bhakti-bhavana. He expressed his desire to always be under the guidance of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. It was during this time that Harprasāda Śāstrī started reading Jayānanda’s Caitanya-maṅgala. He started preaching that this book was an authorized edition of Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s pastimes, but Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura didn’t support his endeavors.

After some time, Harprasāda Śāstrī became a scholar of Buddhist scriptures and started viewing vaiṣṇava-dharma according to the philosophy of Buddhism. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura then completely negated his speculative conceptions.

During this time, a lawyer for the Kolkata High Court, Śrī Śāradācaraṇa Mitra Mahāśaya, brought some Sanskrit literature for Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He also procured Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura’s commentaries on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Bhagavad-gītā. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura published a translation of the Bhagavad-gītā with a commentary in 1886. A resident of Barhampura, Rāmanārāyaṇa Vidyāratna, desired that Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura accept the services of Trīpureśvara Vīracandra Māṇikya Bāhādura and publish his commentary on the Bhāgavatam with some financial help from his side.

In April of 1886, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura visited Śrī Rāmapura. He then visited Vaidyanātha, Bāṅkipura, and Gayā in the month of October. He had darśana of the stairs that his aged great-grandfather Svanāmadhanya Madan Bābu had built for the forefathers in Gayā. He also had darśana of Rāmaśilā and the Brahmayoni hill.

In the month of Vaiśākha (May) of 1881, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura published the first issue of the magazine ‘Sajjana Toṣaṇi.’ However, in 1883, while living in Bārāsāt, he stopped its publication for some time, after also publishing an English edition. In 1885, a place for spreading Vaiṣṇava literature called ‘Vaiṣṇava Depository’ was established in Rāmabāgāna’s Bhakti-bhavana. The Vaiṣṇava Depository became a highly esteemed library of its region. During the same year, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura had darśana of Memāri, Kulīna-grāma, Bandel, Saptagrāma, and other places, together with Vimalā-prasāda and a few others who were under his guidance. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gave many instructions on nāma-aparādha (offenses committed to the holy name), nāma-ābhāsa (a semblance of the holy name), and śuddha-nāma (chanting the pure holy name) in Kulīna-grāma.

The publication of Sajjana Toṣaṇi restarted with great effort in 1885. That same year, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gave harināma and the nṛsiṁha-mantra to Vimalā-prasāda and another young boy of the Gosvāmī family of Rāmapura.

Also in 1885, under the watchful eye of Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, the Viśva-Vaiṣṇava-Rāja-sabhā was re-established in the Durgā-maṇḍapa of Rāmgopāla Bāsu Mahāśaya. Rāmgopāla Bāsu’s residence was situated at the Kṛṣṇa Singh street, which was adjacent to Kolkata’s Bekhun road. When this society was relocated to Kāmsāripāḍā’s Sarkāra Lane, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura became the society’s chairman. The society’s aim was published in the book, “Viśva Vaiṣṇava Kalpāṭavī.” Eleven year old Vimalā-prasāda would carry the Śrī Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta when Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura would give classes on them at the society.

During this time, the father of Doctor Rāmacandra Datta Mahāśaya, Nṛsiṁha Datta F. C. S, took Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura to his home (after duly requesting him) to have the darśana of his son’s guru, Rāmakṛṣṇa Mahāśaya, who was from Dakṣiṇeśvara. On seeing Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Rāmakṛṣṇa Mahāśaya (while intending to glorify Gaura-Nitāi) started singing, “Jāder hari bolite nayana jhure, tāra ḍubāya eseche re—just by uttering Hari’s name, tears incessantly flow from the eyes of the two brothers.”

While singing this kīrtana, he displayed many moods of bhāva. But upon conversing with Rāmakṛṣṇa Mahāśaya, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura realized that he was an impersonalist, who supported all speculative theories.

“Prema-bhakti is far from a place where even a scent of impersonalism is present.” Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura corroborated this statement by stating the precedent set by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His associates. He also published certain portions of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu in issues 111–113 of Sajjana Toṣaṇi in the Baṅgābda Year 1292. In these issues, he spoke on the philosophy of Rāmacandra Datta’s guru. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura never presented bhāgavata-dharma and prema-bhakti in such a way that it would suit the needs of the ignorant. He again preached the anyabhilāṣitā-śūnya verse to the educated society of the 19th century. This verse delineates the essence of the svarupa-rūpānuga line of pure devotion.

anyābhilāṣitā śūnyaṁ jñāna-kārmādy anāvṛtam
ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānuśīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.11

The performance of activities that are meant solely for the ultimate pleasure of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, or in other words the unbroken current of service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, performed through all endeavors of the body, mind, and speech, and through the manifestation of various spiritual sentiments, which is not covered by knowledge aimed at impersonal liberation and reward-seeking activity, and which is free from of all desires other than the aspiration to bring happiness to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is the highest form of devotional service.

Therefore, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is eternally worshiped as Bhakti-Bhagīratha, he who bought the current of pure bhakti again into this world.

In 1886, while Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was residing in Śrī Rāmapura, he authored and published Śrī Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta. In the same year, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura published the Bhagavad-gītā with the commentary of Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura. This edition also included his Rasika-rañjana commentary. He also wrote a Sanskrit commentary to the Śikṣāṣṭaka that was called Sammodana-bhāṣya. He then published a book called ‘Bhaktivinoda.’

Hārādhana Datta Mahāśaya, a resident of Kayāpāṭa Vadangañja, visited Rāmapura and gave Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura an old copy of the book ‘Śrī Kṛṣṇa Vijaya,’ who then published this book. Haradhana Bābū Caṇḍīdāsa brought many poets (who considered themselves to be great scholars) along with him to meet Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He did so many times, but Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura never accepted the views of such artificial poets.

During this time, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura established a printing press called ‘Caitanya-yantra.’ Vipina Bihārī Gosvāmī, a resident of Bāghanapāḍā, was made the chairman of this press. Here, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura published two parts of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, which contained his commentary as well as Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura’s Sanskrit commentary. Rāmanārāyaṇa Vidyāratna Mahāśaya, a resident of Bahrampura (which lies in the district of Murśidābād) however made a special request to Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He said, “After your edition of Caitanya-caritāmṛta is published, no one will accept the Caitanya-caritāmṛta published by Vidyāratna of Bahrampura.” Hearing Vidyāratna’s request, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura stopped his publication of the Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

In February of 400 Caitanyābda, year 1886 of the Christian era, the Ṭhākura was decorated with the title “Bhaktivinoda.” Śrī Madhusūdana dāsa, a resident of Sambalpur, who was a sanoḍiyā-brāhmaṇa, tried hard to become Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura’s first initiated pāñcarātrikī disciple. He sent an old edition of Caitanya Upaniṣad from Sambalpur to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.

In 1887, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura authored a Sanskrit scripture called ‘Śrī Caitanya-caraṇamṛtam.’ Along with publishing this scripture in the same year (1887), he also published the Caitanya Upaniṣad.

It was at this time that Rāmacaraṇa dāsa Bābājī, a disciple of Paṇḍita Gopīlāla Gosvāmī (who was a resident of Vṛndāvana’s Rādhā-ramaṇa Ghera) regularly started visiting Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in Śrī Rāma-pura. From time to time he gave many Vaiṣṇava scriptures to Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.

Whenever Barhampura’s Rāmanārāyaṇa Vidyāratna Mahāśaya would visit Kolkata, he would undoubtedly have the darśana of Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. He would then receive many instructions from Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura in regard to preaching the subjects of Vaiṣṇava scriptures. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura greatly supported and enthused him to perform his services.

Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura came to Krishnanagar in November of 1887. He started reading Vaiṣṇava scriptures with great attention in Krishnanagar. In this regard, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has authored the following words in his autobiography:

“I have started reading the Vaiṣṇava scriptures with great attention to detail. By associating with certain devotees, feelings of renunciation manifested in my heart. I considered, ‘I will make a small residence on the banks of the Yamunā, and do solitary bhajana in any part of Mathurā-Vṛndāvana where she flows.’ During this time, I was writing the Āmnāya-sūtra (condensed aphorisms of the Vedas). I went to Tarakeśvara because of some work.

“During the night, when I was sleeping, Śiva Ṭhākura appeared to me and said, ‘You are going to Vṛndāvana, but what have you done about the work that is to be achieved in Śrī Navadvīpa-dhāma, the abode that is next to your home?’ ”

Excerpted from the Bhakta Bandhav Publication “Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura”
[CC-by-NDNC Bhakta Bandhav]

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