Eternal Girlfriends

by Steve Bohlert

Radha

When Radha-Krishna devotion was introduced to the West, devotion to Krishna was emphasized and devotion to Radha discouraged–as was natural devotion. Therefore, practitioners may ask, “Is it proper to focus on Radha as the object of amorous devotion?” Quoting from my book and the Ujjval Nilamani, I show that Rupa Goswami described it, and followers of natural devotion may practice it today.

Excerpts from Universalist Radha-Krishnaism: The Way of Natural Devotion; A Practitioner’s Handbook by Steve Bohlert

Natural devotion uses method acting techniques in an intense form. Practitioners train to become their true selves in Radha-Krishna’s eternal play through total self-transformation for eternity. By playing a role in Radha-Krishna’s eternal play, devotees experience a small bit of God-dess’ mind as they become co-creators of that play by improvising and interacting freely as independent characters with other characters. They increase varieties of novel experiences that expand Radha-Krishna and their friends’ enjoyment.

Parts are available for all who care to prepare themselves to enact one. Practitioners create their own character according to their deepest inner longings. They train according to timeless, idealized realities that emanate from the collective unconscious that interpenetrates all existence.

This viable mystic process allows practitioners to experience an intimate relationship with Radha-Krishna in their aesthetic spiritual realm, the idealized reality of Braj. Rupa Goswami developed a technique to enter the idealized reality that depends upon the dramatic skill of assuming the role of a character in Radha-Krishna’s play. (137)

They construct an identity as a character in Radha-Krishna’s play. This involves forming a loving relationship with significant other exemplary characters whom they model their character on–their role models. Rupa Manjari, Lalita Sakhi, Bishakha, and spiritual teachers are such role models. Practitioners mentally imitate their behavior and moods until it becomes natural to act like them in the meditative spiritual body. Devotees learn to become one of Radha’s girlfriends and feel at home in that reality. They internalize and improvise on the myths in a natural manner.

The original role models and myths have a distinct Indian flavor. However, being archetypal personalities, their essential nature transcends cultural boundaries and is capable of adapting to new cultural contexts. They enact their play on the stage devotees visualize in meditation. (138-9)

They experience passionate feelings of love described in devotional literature by playing the part of a girlfriend of Radha-Krishna. They do not passively observe, but actively participate and vividly experience the whole milieu. Thus they make the world of Braj their own and act as spontaneously there as they do in this life. For Rupa and his followers, this is the only play worth performing.

Radha-Krishna symbolize passion as ultimate union with God-dess. Their realm of Braj is on the periphery, beyond social conventions, where their lovers freely associate with them according to natural inclinations . . .

Radha-Krishna’s pastimes are both like a dramatic play and a manifestation of God-dess’ unbounded playfulness that remains open to unlimited expansion. These pastimes provide an ideal model of perfect life that devotees seek to engage in eternally . . .

Although ultimate reality is one, each seeker perceives it differently. People each bring their particular gifts to the relationship and improvise adding unpredictable novel enjoyment for all players. (140-41)

The identity they cultivate in Braj springs from their innate individual spirit and is a manifestation of their unique eternal relationship with God-dess.

Hearing stories of amorous relations between Radha-Krishna and their girlfriends inspires devotees to follow those girlfriends’ examples and become a girlfriend too. They particularly aspire to be special girlfriends of Radha and are not especially interested in a direct amorous relationship with Krishna. When devotees become part of Radha’s entourage, they share her supreme enjoyment . . .

While there are many kinds of girlfriends of Radha-Krishna, following in the line of Rupa Manjari (Rupa Goswami’s spiritual identity), natural devotees focus on becoming eternal girlfriends who are more exclusively attached to Radha than Krishna.

While they are traditionally ten to thirteen year old maidservants of Radha and her chief confidants, who are her expansions, Universalist Radha-Krishnaism practitioners envision them as eighteen to twenty years old and in the more egalitarian relationship of girlfriends. They play supporting characters to Radha’s starring role. They increase Radha’s pleasure, help unite her with Krishna, and enjoy their union vicariously through her . . .

Thus, they experience a state of simultaneous oneness and difference with Radha, know her heart, and understand her emotions from the subtlest hints. (142-3)

A popular passage from the Padma Puran (83.7-8) tells practitioners to imagine themselves as a charming young Braj woman who looks delightful in the full bloom of youthful beauty, versed in the arts, and erotically pleasing to Radha-Krishna. (144)

Traditional descriptions of the perfect body were worked out in the early seventeenth century and have remained fairly constant. Narottam Das was instrumental in developing this girlfriend role, and since his time (early to mid-seventeenth century) it dominated natural devotional practice. Few changes have been introduced since the time of Vishwanath Chakravartin in the early eighteenth century. Surely it is time for an update.

While the perfect body is primarily imagined internally, Rupa Goswami instructs practitioners to imitate the residents of Braj with both their inner perfect body and external practitioner’s body, however, he does not explain how. (BRS 1.2.295) Ramanand Rai set a high standard by bathing and dressing temple dancing girls as a performance of bathing and dressing Radha. (148)

Devotees aspire to be girlfriends who assist Radha-Krishna’s love play. They love Radha more than Krishna and are charming beautiful young women eighteen to twenty years old. They please the Divine Couple under the guidance of a leading girlfriend like Lalita and derive great bliss by serving them intoxicating herbs and drinks, fanning them after the heat of love making, brushing and arranging their hair, decorating their bodies, massaging them, playing music, and dancing for their pleasure. Sometimes, Radha sends them to Krishna for his enjoyment, and sometimes they please her. Their goal is to maximize Radha-Krishna’s enjoyment by anticipating and indulging their every desire. This role allows the most intimate access to their love play, and it can be expanded to accommodate unlimited practitioners and varieties of experience . . .

When devotees love Radha more than they love Krishna, it becomes their primary relationship known as the relationship of the eternal girlfriend. (149)

Radha-Krishna’s pastimes are infinite, and descriptions such as those found in the Bhagavat Puran or Govinda-lilamrita are purely illustrative and meant to serve as a guide to get practitioners going.  Once they get the hang of who they are and how they relate to Radha-Krishna, they leave the written text and enter the unscripted play as it spontaneously unfolds in novel unforeseen ways. This aspect of the unfolding play offers many opportunities to adapt it to the contemporary world stage upon which it now appears. (152)

Rupa Goswami wrote about the relationship of Radha and her girlfriends as follows:

Ujjval-Nilamani by Rupa Goswami, Chapter 8–Radha’s friends (sakhi-prakaranam):

The sakhis (girlfriends) may be divided into two groups: 1. those who desire to become nayikas (direct lovers of Krishna); and 2. those who do not desire to become nayikas, but simply desire the transcendental happiness of friendship with the sakhis . . .

A gopi (girl) to her friend: “Don’t repeatedly leave me on the pretext of going to pick flowers in Vrindavan-forest. I fear that you’ll suffer in someway when you’re alone in the forest. O beautiful-faced friend, I tell you the truth: I simply wish the happiness of your friendship. I have no desire to enjoy amorous pastimes with Krishna.”

Sakhis who are always satisfied by the friendship of other sakhis, and do not aspire to become nayikas, are called nitya-sakhis (eternal girlfriends). The nitya-sakhis may be divided into two types: 1. atyantiki laghu; and 2. apeksiki laghu.

One day Radha tried to arrange an amorous meeting between Krishna and her friend Mani-manjari. Mani-manjari declined the invitation, saying: “My friend Radha, I have no desire to taste the happiness you enjoy by touching the transcendental limbs of Krishna. I simply yearn to expertly engage in your service.” This Mani-manjari has no desire at any time for an amorous meeting with Krishna.

A gopi to Krishna: “My dear Govinda, I request that you please engage me in expertly arranging for your splendid transcendental amorous pastimes on the dancing stage of Radha. This service is the topmost treasure in the exalted kingdom of all the gopis’ hearts. My heart has no desire to personally taste the nectar of the touch of your transcendental body.”

A gopi-messenger may meet Krishna in a secluded place. Although Krishna may appeal for her mercy, he may sometimes be refused and spurned.

A gopi-messenger to Krishna: “Krishna, now that I’ve met you in this secluded place, I can give you the message of my dear friend Radha. Krishna, why do you raise the fearful cupid’s bows of your eyebrows in this way? O Krishna, O moon of Vrindavan, if you neglect my friend and instead try to make advances upon me, I shall give up my life on the spot.”

Priya-sakhyam snehadhika: The sakhi-snehadhika sahkhis love a specific gopi-friend slightly more than they love Krishna. The love of these sakhis is eternal. They always think, “I am the property of my friend.”

A sakhi-snehadhika gopi tries to dissuade Vrinda from arranging for Radha’s rendezvous with Krishna: “O Vrinda, don’t carry this message. O friend, tell Vraja’s prince Krishna not to come to this rendezvous. This monsoon night is filled with many dangerous poisonous snakes. Why should you not be afraid to go to the forest on Govardhan Hill tonight?”

Kunjabihari dasa, in his Manjari-svarupa-nirupana, said: “. . . the love for Sri Radha…can be called a new sthayi-bhava.” When love for Radha dominates all other emotions, it can evolve into a rasa, a new type of sthayi-bhava. Manjari sadhana is associated with this new rasa. Following Gopalguru, this rasa can be called the rasa of the female friend (sangita-rasa). The manjaris’ love for Radha is both natural and beginningless. There is no limit to the ways practitioners can serve. Who can predict the ways of rasa?


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