Article August 14, 2017

The following is an Excerpt from Radhanath Swami’s memoir The Journey Home.
The mystery of Radha, the female energy of God, had both fascinated and eluded me. After all I had experienced, after all I had read, after all the sadhus I had met, nothing had prepared me for the hidden truth of yoga’s greatest mystery: the mystery of bhakti, or devotion. And now I was learning that the keeper of this mystery was Radha. For the first time it began to dawn on me that these saints of Vrindavan had penetrated into the deepest, most confidential aspect of the spiritual journey.
The secret? That beyond worldly pleasures and beyond the liberation of oneness with God, is an eternal dance, an endless night of love, and the intoxication of one’s very soul. And the one capable of giving entry to this unbearably sweet realm was Radha.
It was their yearning to connect with Radha that allowed these yogis of Vrindavan to demonstrate such intense and genuine humility. By casting aside all interest in yogic powers, they seemed to be drowning in an ocean of divine love. My mind and heart were charmed by this rich theology known as bhakti, the yoga of unconditional love. It seemed to put so many of my mind’s questions, both asked and yet to be asked, in a comprehensive perspective. Although still apprehensive about committing myself to one particular path, I felt a yearning brewing in my heart to follow the path of Bhakti.
After Krishnadas Babaji blessed me, stood up, and walked away along the riverbank, I sat there staring into the river and contemplated on this secret of the feminine divinity. In the Christian church, the adoration of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, inspired both divine love and embittered factions. And the mystery of Mary Magdalene gave rise to secret orders, veiled symbolism, and intrigue. Many Hebrews saw Shekinah as the female aspect of God or the bride of the Sabbath, as did certain students of the Kaballah. And within Islam, there were followers of the Sufi sect who honor the divine feminine in their reverence to Fatima. Now I was finding how from the Vedic, ancient scriptural perspective, Feminine Divinity had always been accepted as truth.
As I looked out onto Mother Yamuna, I pondered on how the nourishing, compassionate side of spirituality is often overruled by the elements of power and control. It impressed me how important it was to pay attention to the feminine aspect of the divine.

यं हि न व्यथयन्त्येते पुरुषं पुरुषर्षभ ।
समदुःखसुखं धीरं सोऽमृतत्वाय कल्पते ॥

भावार्थ : क्योंकि हे पुरुषश्रेष्ठ! दुःख-सुख को समान समझने वाले जिस धीर पुरुष को ये इन्द्रिय और विषयों के संयोग व्याकुल नहीं करते, वह मोक्ष के योग्य होता है॥15॥

O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.

 

PURPORT

 

Anyone who is steady in his determination for the advanced stage of spiritual realization and can equally tolerate the onslaughts of distress and happiness is certainly a person eligible for liberation. In the varṇāśrama institution, the fourth stage of life, namely the renounced order (sannyāsa) is a painstaking situation. But one who is serious about making his life perfect surely adopts the sannyāsa order of life in spite of all difficulties. The difficulties usually arise from having to sever family relationships, to give up the connection of wife and children. But if anyone is able to tolerate such difficulties, surely his path to spiritual realization is complete. Similarly, in Arjuna's discharge of duties as a kṣatriya, he is advised to persevere, even if it is difficult to fight with his family members or similarly beloved persons. Lord Caitanyatook sannyāsa at the age of twenty-four, and His dependants, young wife as well as old mother, had no one else to look after them. Yet for a higher cause He took sannyāsa and was steady in the discharge of higher duties. That is the way of achieving liberation from material bondage.

 

मात्रास्पर्शास्तु कौन्तेय शीतोष्णसुखदुःखदाः ।
आगमापायिनोऽनित्यास्तांस्तितिक्षस्व भारत ॥

भावार्थ : हे कुंतीपुत्र! सर्दी-गर्मी और सुख-दुःख को देने वाले इन्द्रिय और विषयों के संयोग तो उत्पत्ति-विनाशशील और अनित्य हैं, इसलिए हे भारत! उनको तू सहन कर॥14॥

 

O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.

 

PURPORT

 

In the proper discharge of duty, one has to learn to tolerate nonpermanent appearances and disappearances of happiness and distress. According to Vedic injunction, one has to take his bath early in the morning even during the month of Māgha (January-February). It is very cold at that time, but in spite of that a man who abides by the religious principles does not hesitate to take his bath. Similarly, a woman does not hesitate to cook in the kitchen in the months of May and June, the hottest part of the summer season. One has to execute his duty in spite of climatic inconveniences. Similarly, to fight is the religious principle of the kṣatriyas, and although one has to fight with some friend or relative, one should not deviate from his prescribed duty. One has to follow the prescribed rules and regulations of religious principles in order to rise up to the platform of knowledge because by knowledge and devotion only can one liberate himself from the clutches of māyā(illusion).

 

The two different names of address given to Arjuna are also significant. To address him as Kaunteya signifies his great blood relations from his mother's side; and to address him as Bhārata signifies his greatness from his father's side. From both sides he is supposed to have a great heritage. A great heritage brings responsibility in the matter of proper discharge of duties; therefore, he cannot avoid fighting.

O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.

 

PURPORT

 

In the proper discharge of duty, one has to learn to tolerate nonpermanent appearances and disappearances of happiness and distress. According to Vedic injunction, one has to take his bath early in the morning even during the month of Māgha (January-February). It is very cold at that time, but in spite of that a man who abides by the religious principles does not hesitate to take his bath. Similarly, a woman does not hesitate to cook in the kitchen in the months of May and June, the hottest part of the summer season. One has to execute his duty in spite of climatic inconveniences. Similarly, to fight is the religious principle of the kṣatriyas, and although one has to fight with some friend or relative, one should not deviate from his prescribed duty. One has to follow the prescribed rules and regulations of religious principles in order to rise up to the platform of knowledge because by knowledge and devotion only can one liberate himself from the clutches of māyā(illusion).

 

The two different names of address given to Arjuna are also significant. To address him as Kaunteya signifies his great blood relations from his mother's side; and to address him as Bhārata signifies his greatness from his father's side. From both sides he is supposed to have a great heritage. A great heritage brings responsibility in the matter of proper discharge of duties; therefore, he cannot avoid fighting.

The Bhagavad-gita teaches us how we can grow and prosper – even when afflictions come upon us that are beyond our control. We must try our best to keep good health, peace, prosperity and everything else. But we also have to be humble enough to know, “I am not the controller. There are powers beyond my own.” But there is one thing that we can control, if we chose to do so, and that’s to grow and become deeper and wiser no matter what may happen. Ultimately, that is what life is for. The animals make temporary arrangements for their survival and enjoyment. But – athato brahma jijnasa –  human life is meant for self-realization. Every situation is an opportunity to grow, and difficult situations can be the greatest opportunity.
My dear godbrother Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja was diagnosed with melanoma cancer. One day I was sitting with him, holding his hand. His body was in the worst condition I had ever seen it.  Waves of pain would sometimes come upon him and his whole body was trembling. He could hardly talk and I was chanting to him. Suddenly he looked at me and smiled. And how he smiled! A beautiful blissful smile from his heart – from his soul. And his eyes were twinkling with such light. He said, “Maharaja, it doesn’t get any better than this. I would not trade my situation with anyone, because in this condition I am hearing God’s name so intensely, and I am tasting the sweetness of that name so intensely.”
This was a matter of choice. A person can suffer in a situation like that or can be in bliss in a situation like that. The bliss was not his body. His body was in the exact same predicament it would be for anybody else. He was in pain. But internally he chose to dive deep below the pains of the body and mind. This is what the Holy Name does for us. The mantra relieves the mind of its anxieties by taking our consciousness deeper and deeper and deeper into our very soul and our relationship with God, Krishna.
Just like a vehicle moves us from one place to another, if we attempt to hear the mantra it transports our consciousness deeper and deeper and deeper into that state, not only of complete peace but of divine love. Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja was experiencing it – realizing it. You can’t theoretically speak like that and smile when you are in that kind of situation unless you are really there. And that is the opportunity we all have by our spiritual practice. Bhakti is the path of devotion, where through our sincerity and our efforts we attract a power beyond our own – the power of God. Bhakti is the path where we humble ourselves, understanding our own limitations, and do the best we can, whoever we are and whatever our duty may be.
And we aspire to be an instrument of that power of God. To acquire wealth, fame or prestige is a small thing. But to actually have the privilege of being an instrument of the unlimited everlasting love of God is the greatest fulfillment of the heart. That is divine wealth. Then, in whatever situation we are in, we can access God’s love through Bhakti. 
—Radhanath Swami