Preferred Citation: Lynch, Owen M., editor Divine Passions: The Social Construction of Emotion in India. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.

Ten Hare Krishna, Radhe Shyam The Cross-Cultural Dynamics of Mystical Emotions in Brindaban

Hare Krishna, Radhe Shyam
The Cross-Cultural Dynamics of Mystical Emotions in Brindaban

Charles R. Brooks


In the North Indian pilgrimage town of Brindaban (Vrndavana[*]), the epicenter of Krishna devotion (Krsna-bhakti[*]), residents are familiar with the Bhagavata Mahatmya of the Padma Purana[*] in which the personification of devotional Hinduism (bhakti) recounts her birth and development.[1] One informant, an ascetic holy man, summarizes part of the text:

Bhakti says that she was born in the Dravid country and came to maturity in Karnataka. Later she was respected in Maharashtra and grew to a ripe old age in Gujarat, but there she became weak and sluggish, and was hated by the heretics due to the arrival of the Kali age. This is an account found in the scriptures of the actual history of bhakti religion. But then she says that when she came to Brindaban . . .. Brindaban made her fresh and beautiful again.[2]

Indeed, Brindaban's importance to devotional Hinduism, especially for those sects that worship Krishna as the supreme god, exists on several levels. Not only does the name refer to the town located along the banks of the Jamuna (Jamuna) River in the southwestern corner of present-day Uttar Pradesh, but it is also the name of the highest celestial realm, or dhama, where Krishna eternally conducts his lila (lila, sports, playful activities).[3] For the Krishna devotee (bhakta), the phenomenal earthly Brindaban and the spiritual Brindaban are identical. The terrestrial Brindaban, therefore, is considered more than just a sacred place of pilgrimage (tirtha) where the devout person can find a bridge to the spiritual world; it is fully the spiritual world already. Additionally, Brindaban names the ideal state of mind that is the goal of every Krishna devotee (De 1961:223, 249; Dimock 1966:165-170; Kapoor 1977:108-113; Kinsley 1979:112-121; Hardy 1983:567).[4]

While emphasizing the significance of Brindaban for the medieval renais-


sance of a Krishna-centered devotional religion, the ascetic continues the story of Bhakti by pointing out that she is not content to reside only in India once her rejuvenation has taken place:

Bhakti continues with an important prophecy, well-known by most Brajbasi [residents of Braj], by saying that she will leave this country and go abroad. It is dear that her use of the word videsam [foreign place] in the text indicates a country other than India. Within India she is careful to list by name all the places. So she is definitely making a prophecy about bhakti's spread outside India.[5]

In 1965, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, a sannyasi (monk) of the Bengal Vaishnava sect (gauriya[*] vaisnava[*] sampradaya),[6] journeyed from India to the United States to fulfill a mission that he perceived Krishna gave through his own guru:[7] to spread Krishna devotionalism to the West in the English language. For ten years prior to his journey, Bhaktivedanta Swami had lived, studied, written, and meditated in Brindaban, planning how this indigenous Indian religion might be spread outside India, especially to the United States.

At the age of seventy he arrived in New York after a long voyage on a freight steamer, and within one year had formally incorporated the international Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), to become widely known as the Hare Krishna Movement, one of the many "new religions" spawned during the culturally productive period of the late 1960s.[8] Although in the American context this religion was new and mysterious, in India it represented a tradition dating back to the founder of Bengal Vaishnavism, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (Caitanya Mahaprabhu), an ecstatic saint who lived from 1486 to 1533 (Dimock 1966:30).

Over the next twelve years until his death in Brindaban in 1977, Bhaktivedanta gradually transformed his disciples into Vaishnavas according to the strict tradition of his sect. Eventually, as was his plan all along, he brought American disciples back to Brindaban where they were received · with curiosity and tactful respect.[9] Some local inhabitants also interpreted the swami's success in America as fulfilling the scriptural prophecy.

The projects that Bhaktivedanta and his disciples undertook in India firmly established them there, and large temples built and staffed mainly by the foreign Vaishnavas now exist in Mayapur (near Ghaitanya's birthplace in Bengal), Bombay, and Brindaban, with small centers spread throughout India. But undoubtedly for Bhaktivedanta, the Brindaban temple was symbolically most important. There the Krishna-Balaram (Krsna-Balarama[*]) temple complex was opened in 1975,[10] and since that time an entourage of ISKCON devotees has lived in the town.[11]

For sixteen months during 1982 and 1983 I conducted anthropological fieldwork in Brindaban to discover what types of interaction were occurring


between the foreign devotees and Indian pilgrims and residents and to determine what impact these interactions were having. From this research it is clear that the effect has been significant. Not only is ISKCON now considered a legitimate branch of Bengal Vaishnavism (Brooks 1985), but the temple of Krishna-Balaram has also become an integral part of Brindaban's sacred pilgrimage complex.[12]

Nonetheless, although ISKCON devotees are considered legitimate Vaishnavas in the Bengal tradition, some Brindaban residents perceive that ISKCON Vaishnavism is somehow different from their own. This perception is not a simple recognition of obvious ethnic differences, now largely overcome by ISKCON's behavioral presentation and arguments from traditional texts, but rather an intangible feeling revealed in various comments: for example, "indeed they are very good Vaishnavas, perhaps the best in Brindaban, but their mood is different from ours"; and "their understanding is not yet complete—they are only beginning along the path of deep mysteries of Krishna in the madhurya-rasa [erotic emotion] of Braj."[13]

In this chapter I explore the dimension of contrast to which these statements allude. By examining the emotional components of Krishna-bhakti in the Brindaban context, two areas are highlighted that aid in understanding mystical devotion in action: (1) the empirical range of variation existing in the practice of Krishna-bhakti by a committed Indian population; and (2) the symbolic importance of mystical emotions in everyday interactions between foreign and Indian bhaktas in Brindaban.

Devotees of ISKCON and Indian residents of Brindaban interpret and practice devotional mysticism differently. These distinctions are subtle and complex, yet they can be understood by considering the interrelationships between Bhaktivedanta's transmission of Krishna-bhakti ideals to his disciples and the processual dynamics that have taken ISKCON from a liminal phenomenon of revitalization to the highly bureaucratic institution that it is today. This historical context helps to explain why ISKCON has developed emotional attitudes that contrast with the attitudes of the local population— attitudes that ultimately function as contrasting ideologies to help define the separate groups operating within a common cultural domain. At the same time, however, enough symbolic agreement exists for the interactive situations between foreign and Indian actors to be integrative events. Practically, this results in the cultural construction of an essentially new emotional reality in Brindaban that recognizes and incorporates the differences.

Emotional Components of Krishna-Bhakti: The Ideal

Perhaps in no other religious system have human emotional potentials been so considered, categorized, and sacralized than in the codification accomplished by the Bengal Vaishnavas. Although many Brindaban residents are


not Bengal Vaishnavas, this sect has been a dominant force in patterning the town's culture; the vocabulary and attitudes of Bengal Vaishnavism infuse every sphere of Brindaban's sociocultural environment. This is not surprising because those disciples of Chaitanya who produced the sect's literary classics while living there in the late fifteenth century also simultaneously and overtly initiated Brindaban's development from wilderness retreat to pilgrimage town. Moreover, the same pervading concern for an individual's emotional relationship with Krishna exists in a majority of Brindaban's other Vaishnava sects, though not in such a systematic, Sanskritized form.

The full content and development of the tradition's "science" of devotional emotion (bhakti-rasa-sastra) are beyond the scope of this essay but a simplified depiction of its ideals will still frame the situations where mystical emotions are employed in the everyday life of Brindaban, especially in the interactions between Western devotees of ISKCON and native residents and pilgrims.[14]

The person of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu symbolizes for many devotees of Krishna the perfection of spiritual love. His own followers consider Chaitanya to be an avatara (incarnation) of Krishna himself who descended to earth in order to experience first-hand the perfection of love that a person may have with the deity.[15] Although sectarian accounts posit that Chaitanya personally expounded the tradition's complex philosophy and theology, he left little writing.[16] Through his inspiration, instruction, and delegation of responsibilities, however, Chaitanya's immediate disciples produced a monumental literary corpus that the devout consider to be revealed scripture.

The specific task of defining and elaborating upon religious emotions was given to Rupa Goswami, one of the "Six Goswamis" (Gosvamis) Chaitanya sent to Brindaban to codify the religion and establish its organizational headquarters.[17] In two systematic Sanskrit works, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu[*] and Ujjvala-nilamani[*], Rupa outlines the ideals and potentials concerning man's emotional relationships with the divine.

The terms most commonly associated with mystical emotion by the Indian laity, bhava and rasa, are often used interchangeably, although Rupa explains them in such complex categorical detail that only the adept religious specialist or scholar of Sanskrit poetics can appreciate his precision. As De points out, "the terms Rasa and Bhava are difficult to translate, but they have been rendered respectively by the terms 'sentiment' and 'emotion.' . . . The question whether Bhakti is Rasa or Bhava is more or less academic" (1961:168 n.). It becomes clear, however, from the works of Rupa Goswami and his commentators, that in the religious context bhava indicates a predisposing emotion that one has toward Krishna which becomes rasa only when it is highly refined and integrated into the devotee's entire being through experience.


Rasa (literally juice, sap), which can be glossed as the full appreciation of an involvement in an emotional state, is derived from Sanskrit drama and poetics. In the poetic sense rasa refers to "the supreme relish of literary enjoyment" (De 1961:166). The combination of Rupa's knowledge of rhetoric and his sincere devotion to Krishna made him uniquely qualified to transform the poetic rosa into a mystical one.

The rasas, elevated for the first time to the realm of sublime mystical sentiments by Rupa, are patterned primarily upon the emotions that result from various dyadic relationships common to all humans, and these serve as paradigms for the mystical variety. They are specifically based, however, upon Krishna's relationships with the inhabitants of Brindaban during his descent to earth, who are believed to eternally exist in the heavenly Brindaban.

Five rasassanta, dasya, sakya, vatsalya, and madhurya—develop out of corresponding bhava of the same name. These bhava are dominant feelings or root emotions that the bhakta recognizes in his own personality which propel him toward a particular type of relationship with Krishna.

One can summarize the rasa: Santa-rasa is a quiet, peaceful devotion between man and Krishna who is conceived as an omnipotent, benevolent god. The next, dasya-rasa, occurs when Krishna is viewed as master and the devotee as his servant. Sakya-rasa considerably escalates the bhakta's intimacy with Krishna because it results from treating him as a friend or companion. This is followed by vatsalya-rasa, the consequence of adopting a parental affection for him. The highest rasa, and the one most elaborated by the Vaishnava writers, is madhurya-rasa, the passionate, all-consuming pleasure that comes only when Krishna is taken as one's lover.

Krishna and members of his celestial entourage that incarnated some five thousand years ago, according to his devotees' firm belief, enacted each of these relationships, and each actor in this sacred drama is worshiped as an emanation of Krishna's own sakti (energy). His relationships with gopis (gopi, cowherd girl of Brindaban) and especially Radha (Radha), his eternal consort and the personification of his pleasure-giving energy (hladini-sakti), however, symbolize the religion's summum bonum. In the forests of Brindaban and nowhere else, the village girls steal away under the light of the full moon to be with Krishna, their beloved. Disregarding their husbands and familial responsibilities, they cannot resist his powerful charms, and together they take part in the mystical circle dance, rasa-lila. In this dance, Krishna expands himself so that each maiden—and there are thousands—experiences Krishna as her own. Still, he is at the center of the circle with Radha as the others dance around him, absorbed in the absolute bliss of divine love.

For the Brndabanbasis[*] (residents of Brindaban), all other emotions pale in comparison, and they are reminded of it in every aspect of their daily lives. As they greet each other on the street salutations of "Jaya Shri Radhe".(Jaya Sri Radhe), "Radhe Radhe" (Radhe Radhe ), or "Radhe Shyam" ( Radhe-Syama )


are exchanged, each directing the mind to Radha and the ultimate relationship that she shares with Krishna. In shops, tea stalls, and homes, lithographs depicting the circle dance are prominently displayed and attended with devotion. The image of Krishna rarely appears without Radha by his side in the temples of Brindaban. It is not Krishna who is worshiped, but Radha and Krishna together.

Local residents often say that "Brindaban calls"; if a person is in Brindaban for any reason it is because he or she has heard the music of Krishna's flute, although no one may be consciously aware of it. Some will say that anyone who walks upon the dust of Brindaban is an eternal actor in Krishna's cosmic play. But other permanent residents of Brindaban possess an attitude narrower than this. Although they speak of themselves as bhakta, they see no need for the effort of ritual; they claim to experience constantly and spontaneously the emotion of mystical, passionate love with Krishna, the most sublime emotional state that can be humanly achieved. Some are merchants, some are priests, and some mendicant widows, but regardless of social position they see other devotees as inferior. They possess the unique inheritance of Brindaban's madhurya-rasa, and herein lies a principal clue to understanding the difference between the Vaishnavas of Brindaban and the Vaishnavas of ISKCON.

Iskcon and Madhurya-Rasa

For a full week in March of 1982, loudspeakers atop the temple of Radha-Shyamsundar (Radha-syamasundara) blared in all directions day and night, broadcasting the great chant (mahamantra).[18] The amplified singing, however, did little to suggest what was actually going on in the temple below. Inside, in the large courtyard before the deities' inner sanctum, hundreds of pilgrims and Brindaban residents sat tightly packed around a square clearing where the performers sang, danced, and played various musical instruments. More than one hundred young men, members of a professional troop from Bengal, alternated in small groups to keep the mantra from dying. Quite apart from their musical abilities, these men were skilled actors, capable of invoking intense emotions from their audience, and many worshipers wept unashamedly.

During one session I attended, two other Westerners were among the worshipers. One, standing near the entrance barely inside the temple, was recognizably an ISKCON devotee; the other's clothing distinguished him from ISKCON, and he had slightly different forehead markings (tilaka).[19] But most noticeable about this second foreign Vaishnava was that he was the center of attention, rolling on the floor in a tight embrace with one performer, tears streaming from his eyes. Members of the crowd jostled to touch his feet and rub onto their forehead the dust in which he rolled.


The Hare Krishna devotee expressed to me the disgust with which he viewed the entire event: "These are sahajiyas, members of a heterodox Chaitanyaite sect which uses ritualized sexual intercourse as a primary practice, and Prabhupad [the name by which ISKCON devotees call Bhaktivedanta Swami] warned us that in Brindaban they arc the most dangerous to our spiritual progress. I shouldn't be here at all, even if they are chanting 'Hare Krishna' constantly." Later I spoke with the other Westerner, a thirty-two-year-old Dutchman, and discovered that he had once been in ISKCON himself, having left over a year earlier to pursue aspects of bhakti that were, according to him, not permissible in ISKCON. He explained:

I came to Brindaban in ISKCON, and I owe it a lot, but ISKCON cannot give you Brindaban. In ISKCON Brindaban is actually a bother, but now Brindaban is my salvation. Prabhupad was my diksa-guru[*] [giver of the mantra], but now my siksa-guru[*] [teacher] is Tripuri Baba. I was filled with desire for the madhurya-rasa and now I can practice the proper sadhana [spiritual practices]. In ISKCON there is no madhurya-rasa, no rasa at all.

These two individuals personify the struggle that ISKCON has had in understanding and codifying its doctrine concerning the practice of bhakti, especially the dimensions of mystical emotion. The Hare Krishna devotee was expressing his organization's official attitude that for the vast majority of people the proper practice should be disciplined ritual activity, vaidhi bhakti; his former "god-brother" was happy that he could now indulge in an unrestrained, spontaneous emotional relationship with Krishna, raganuga bhakti. Dimock notes,

Vaishnavas of all sorts consider that there are two general types of bhakti. The first is an external, ritual activity based on the injunctions of the sastras (vidhi) and is called vaidhi-bhakti. The second is the internal, passionate relationship of the released jiva [soul] to Krsna[*] and is called raganuga-bhakti. Vaidhi-bhakti is for that great majority of persons who are neither by nature in direct relationship to Krsna[*] nor yet released from maya [illusion] by completion of the disciplines. (Dimock 1966:183).[20]

Reflection upon Bhaktivedanta Swami's career and his interactions with American devotees, makes apparent his possession of both theoretical and practical understanding of the details of bhakti in all its variety. Yet as ISKCON was institutionalized, a trend developed toward ritual practice and away from spontaneous emotionalism, especially in interpreting passionate love with Krishna.

In his early writings in the United States, Bhaktivedanta Swami shows a professional understanding of the emotional theory's complexities ex-pounded by Rupa Goswami. In the first book published by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Teachings of Lord Ghaitanya, he repeatedly


refers to both the title and content of Rupa's Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu[*] and Ujjvala-nilamani[*].

The introduction of that book is a transcript of lectures given in New York on April 10-17, 1967, and in it Bhaktivedanta refers to all the potential relationships between Krishna and his devotee, concluding that "above all you can treat Krishna as your lover" (1968:6). In the same lecture series, however, he admonishes his disciples that this stage can be obtained only after much study and practice: "Unfortunately, people of less intelligence turn at once to the pleasure potency sports of Krishna." This "is not understood by ordinary men, because they do not understand Krishna. . .. These people. . . think that this is a kind of religion where we can indulge in sex and become religionists. This is called Prakriti Sahajia—materialistic lust" (Bhaktivedanta 1968:8).

Already at this early stage, Bhaktivedanta has introduced the basic distinction between vaidhi and raganuga bhakti, though not by name, and he specifically warns about sahajiya. In the following chapters, however, he becomes specific and precise, detailing the types of emotions by their Sanskrit nomenclature. In the concluding pages he summarizes:

There are sixty-four kinds of devotional service, and by performing these regulative principles one can rise up to the stage of this unconditional devotion of the Gopis. Affection for Krishna exactly on the level of the Copis is called Raganuga, spontaneous love. In the spontaneous loving affair with Krishna, there is no necessity of following the Vedic rules and regulations. (Bhaktivedanta 1968:279)

One can only wonder what his new disciples were thinking as Bhaktivedanta discoursed upon a strict system of rules they were expected to adopt on the one hand and the erotically-tinged, rule-free model of the advanced bhakta's relationship with God on the other. Many had been recruited from the counterculture, and their joining with "swamiji" was a symbolic rejection of their own culture, complementing their spontaneous spiritual adventurism; few had any idea of the radical transformation that their guru had in mind for them.

But whatever starts out as a revitalization movement must become routine and institutional if it is to survive the excitement of the formative period, and this was no less the case for the Hare Krishna Movement.[21] From devotee accounts, from the thorough biography of Bhaktivedanta Swami by one of his early disciples (Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami), and from the writings of Bhaktivedanta after his arrival in the United States, a picture emerges of the difficulties and conflicts to be confronted and resolved if the movement were to survive. Always in the background was a sense of urgency prompted by the tacit understanding that at any time the elderly founder-


guru could leave the scene. Two cases in particular are revealing. One illustrates how the bureaucratization of ISKCON was initiated; the other provides insight into the institutional emphasis of vaidhi over raganuga bhakti.

In the Indian context, the practice of bhakti is highly individualized, structured primarily by an intimate personal relationship between devotee and guru. Subsequently, standardization is minimal; each individual develops his own style of practice over time. As the number of Bhaktivedanta's Western disciples increased, however, he realized that the intimate style of devotee-guru interaction was impractical. Instead he decided to "be present" in his books and in the developing organization. As ISKCON grew, he eventually wearied of the demands of personally managing increasing assets and making every decision, no matter how trivial.

This resulted in the formation of the "Governing Body Commission" (GBC) in 1970 and a decision to allow more disciples to become sannyasis, two critical steps toward generally decentralizing power in preparation for his inevitable demise. The first gave decision-making authority to a larger group; the second provided a mechanism for promoting "advanced" devotees to a higher status. The sannyasis in effect became a body of renounced teachers not bound to a single temple but charged with traveling throughout the ISKCON world to insure standard doctrines and practices.

Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami (1982:79-116) details a series of events during the first half of 1970 that Bhaktivedanta perceived as a threat to ISKCON, culminating in these two decisions. As the guru and his disciples established the new Los Angeles temple, the plan was not only to develop the Los Angeles center as the movement's world headquarters but also to turn it into an ISKCON showplace, and Bhaktivedanta personally supervised the details. Furthermore, he stayed there and himself instructed devotees in the proprieties of ritual worship and spiritual practice, asking individuals from other centers to visit and observe the standard expected in every temple.

As the center developed, however, Bhaktivedanta became angry over mistakes in ritual practice and a general laxness in the daily practices that he had prescribed, especially in the requirement of chanting daily sixteen "rounds" of the mantra (one round equals a completed rosary of 108 beads, the mantra said on each bead). He was displeased with the devotees' retention of details from his lectures and their apparent failure to read the books already published. But more than that, he was seriously troubled over incidents that indicated his disciples' misinterpretations and reinterpretations concerning his own status as guru.

Seeing the need to take matters in hand before they got out of control, and before internal politics resulted in competition for power among the managers of various temples, he called a meeting of his senior disciples in order to legally institute the Governing Body Commission. By doing this he felt that it would free him from management and allow him to concentrate personally


on expanding the movement in India. On July 28, 1970, the GBC became a fact, composed of twelve members, each responsible for a different "zone" into which the world had been divided. They would make all decisions except the most major ones, and, after Bhaktivedanta's death, as a body, they would be the last word on matters of doctrine and practice.

In effect, forming the GBC determined the organizational structure of ISKCON for the movement's future. This ecumenical body would share the power of the guru, institutionalizing Bhaktivedanta's unmistakably clear order that no one person should be appointed to a supreme position of power after his death. By forming the GBC, he assured decentralized power, standardized doctrine and ritual, and prevented anyone who maintained allegiance to ISKCON from practicing bhakti that deviated from specifications. Clear by this point was that the style of bhakti upon which Bhaktivedanta insisted—and the style that ISKCON would institutionalize—was vaidhi, not raganuga. The GBC would have to insure that devotees understood it was their duty to observe the rules and regulations rather than attempt prematurely to imbibe the madhurya-rasa.

Those scholars who have studied Rupa Goswami's works agree that he elevated the topic of madhurya-rasa to a supreme importance, and that ragsnuga bhakti of madhurya-rasa was the principle path leading to realization. Madburys also was a dominant theme for Bhaktivedanta during his early lectures, but, as ISKCON developed, it was definitely deemphasized in favor of the techniques of vaidhi bhakti.

Initial support for this conclusion comes from Bhaktivedanta's book, Nectar of Devotion: The Complete Science of Bhakti Yoga (A Summary Study of Srila Rupa Gosvami's "Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu[*]"), first published in 1970. Although this work is structured according to Rupa's original text, the topic of vaidhi bhakti receives the most detailed treatment. The title itself is revealing because he uses the "nectar of devotion" rather than the precisely complete translation, "the sea of the nectar of devotional emotion." Perhaps this was not an intentional omission of the word "emotion" (rasa), but several of his early disciples have indicated that this very well could be the case.

More telling, however, is the scant treatment of madhurya in the book. Although passing references are made throughout, two chapters treat the subject directly: Chapter 33, "Conjugal Love," consists of only three pages; Chapter 44, "Devotional Service in Conjugal Love," contains five. In practically every chapter Bhaktivedanta admonishes the reader that this type of bhakti is very esoteric and achievable by only the most advanced devotees. Introducing the chapter on conjugal love, for example, he states:

Although such conjugal feelings are not at all material, there is some similarity between this spiritual love and material activities. Therefore, persons who are interested only in material activities are unable to understand this


spiritual conjugal love, and these devotional reciprocations appear very mysterious to them. Rupa Gosvami therefore describes conjugal love very briefly. (Bhaktivedanta 1970: 360)

Similarly in Chapter 34, "The Nectar of Devotion," the author writes:

Such loving exchanges should never be considered to be material.... Actually the transactions of the spiritual world are inconceivable to us in our present state of life. Great liberated souls like Rupa Gosvami and others have tried to give some hints of transcendental activities in the spiritual world, but on the whole these transactions will remain inconceivable to us at the present moment. (Bhaktivedanta 1970: 286)

Informants who were near Bhaktivedanta during the first five or six years also note a shift of emphasis in his lectures and writings· One female disciple still active in the movement explains:

At first I think Prabhupad thought the disciples who came to him would be already advanced due to many past lifetimes of devotional service. But then he saw that we were not.... I think he had to reevaluate his opinion. Then he knew he had to emphasize the basics, drill us with the regulations, and if ISKCON was to survive, it had to be based on the fundamentals. It became considered a great offense to suggest we had any spontaneous love for Krishna.

Another ISKCON devotee writes in response to my inquiry on the subject:

Prabhupada... frequently warned against what he viewed as the deception of illicitly bypassing the basic rules of purification and putting on pretentious displays of madhurya-type sentiment while indulging in sex. It is genuine disgust for this sort of fakery (which apparently is quite widespread), coupled with his realization of the neophyte (and thus vulnerable) status of his western disciples, that led Prabhupada to strongly emphasize the basics. The point wasn't to confine his disciples to the lower rungs of the ladder of bhakti, but to carefully and systematically prepare them for a genuine and secure ascent. Sahajiyaism the result both of impatience and of pride: an impatience with the usually gradual nature of spiritual progress (resulting in premature adoption of the external behavioral characteristics of advanced bhaktas), and the desire to be regarded and reverenced as a saint.[22]

If there were any question among devotees concerning the path Bhaktivedanta wished them to pursue, it was unequivocably resolved in 1976. At the Los Angeles temple a group, known within ISKCON now as the "gopi-bhava clique," began meeting to specifically research Bhaktivedanta's teachings concerning madhurya-rasa. Bhaktivedanta became furious when he learned about the group's activities. As a result, he directed GBC representatives to send a letter to all temples in an effort to provide a conclusive statement regarding the matter. An excerpt of that letter is revealing:[23]


Srila Prabhupada was disturbed to find that a group of devotees in Iskcon were misreading his books, and making a special attempt to fix their minds on Krsna's confidential pastimes with the gopis, so that they can be elevated to the position of gopis after they quit their present bodies. This unauthorized hearing attempt greatly angered His Divine Grace..'.. So we feel it necessary, in order to please Srila Prabhupada, to make available some of Prabhupada's recent statements.

Enclosed in the same letter were questions posed by devotees concerning the "sahajiya tendencies in ISKCON," with Bhaktivedanta's responses. His adamant position that ISKCON devotees were not ready to partricipate in the madhurya-rasa via raganuga bhakti had been exhibited before and would continue to be until his death in Brindaban the following year, but these answers left little room for interpretation:

Q: The gopis are pleasing Krsna the most.

A: Gopi is the highest stage, but you are on lowest, beginner, rascal stage, so how can you understand. Don't become monkeys, jumping over to the gopi's rasa lila. There are already enough monkeys in Vrindaban, we don't need any more.

Q: If this is not to be discussed, why is it in the books, and why are we selling these books?

A: Everything, all subjects, must be in the books. That is another thing. But different sections are meant for different stages .... You have introduced some new thing, studying so much about the gopis, without taking permission from your spiritual master—where is the evidence that you have come to the fool stage! Follow Lord Chaitanya's example first—don't jump over like monkeys to rasa ilia. Do you think you're better than Lord Chaitanya?... Why did Vyasadeva place Krsna's confidential pastimes in the loth Canto [of Bhagavata Purana[*]]? You must approach Krsna by going through the first nine cantos, step by step.

Q: To develop our ideal spiritual body in the next life, we should have a strong desire for thinking of the gopis.

A: First there must be no lust or sex desire, otherwise you go to hell. To think of Krsna while lusting for sex is sahajiya life. This contamination comes from the babajis in Vrindaban. No devotee should wander around Vrindaban apart from our organized program. If this sahajiya nonsense continues, then all preaching will stop.

Mystical Emotions in Interaction: The Brindaban Context

When ISKCON devotees come to Brindaban on pilgrimage, they may try to heed Bhaktivedanta's advice, but to isolate themselves totally from encounters with the Indian population is impossible. Even if a visiting devotee


never left the Krishna-Balaram temple, he could not escape interaction, for thousands of Indian pilgrims visit there daily. And for the nucleus of devotees who live in and around the temple, some for as long as nine years, involvement in the community is considerable. As Shibutani has pointed out, "those who occupy the same habitat... sooner or later become involved in a common web of life" (1967: 572).

All that I have said in the previous sections has been necessary to frame the interactions that I now consider. I hope at this point that both the similarities and contrasts between the Vaishnavas of Brindaban and the Vaishnavas of ISKCON arc dear. Brindaban residents see themselves as purer, or more advanced than their Western counterparts. They either perceive themselves as raganuga bhaktas, or more ethnocentrically, believe their human bodies arc identical with their spiritual bodies (siddha-deha), making them transcendental lovers of Krishna by birth. They are always "in the bhava," in a constant state of the mystical emotional rapture of madhura-rasa.

Although ISKCON devotees will admit that this is possible, especially in Brindaban, they see the vast majority as not true bhaktas at all. Rather, they evaluate many Brindaban residents as poseurs who present themselves as advanced devotees without the credentials to do so. Furthermore, they interpret, as the most perverted, those whose claim to the madhurya-rasa rests in a sexually oriented ritual practice—justified as an enactment of Krishna's erotic behavior with the cowherd girls. These, of coursc, are the sahajiyas, and they represent a threat to all sincere, orthodox bhaktas.

The path of vaidhi bhakti is visible in the public behavior of all ISKCON members in Brindaban. Wherever the devotees go, their right hand is constantly fingering beads, and their mantra is constantly being uttered. They initiate and conclude encounters with exclamations of "Hare Krishna" rather than "Radhe Shyam" (Radhe Syama) as the local residents and pilgrims do. Although Brindaban is the place of Radha, they generally avoid mention of her name in greeting. Shouts of "Radhe Radhe" (Radhe Radhe) go on all around them, but few will join in lest they be seen as violating their organization's ritual policy. The ISKCON temple itself symbolizes this contrast with its central deities of Krishna and his brother Balaram instead of Radha and Krishna whose images occupy a side altar.

This is not the case in most ISKCON temples, for they too are usually Radha-Krishna temples. But as if to say that madhura-rasa is too dangerous in Brindaban, Bhaktivedanta deemphasized Radha in the movement's ritual worship there. In the majority of Brindaban's indigenous temples Radha and Krishna are central; worship of Krishna without Radha is unthinkable. For ISKCON, worship of Krishna in a manner not prescribed by Bhaktivedanta Swami is unthinkable.

Such symbolic contrasts lead some Brindaban residents to conclude that


the Western devotees are of a different "type," and in these ways they are. Yet each side is justified and sanctioned by different aspects of the same tradition. Through the practical activities that occur in the everyday life of Brindaban, these differences are confronted, the vocabulary of mystical emotion is used, meanings are altered, and new levels of understanding concerning each side's interpretation and legitimacy are achieved. In short, interaction implies change.

Denzin (1984:54, 58) writes that "emotionality is a circular process that begins and ends with the transactions and actions of the self in the social situation interacting with self and others." Although Denzin is not speaking of mystical emotions, his analysis still applies; the perception and evaluation of any emotion is ultimately the result of an individual's self-reflection. Whether or not the object of stimulation is real or imagined, human or divine, the emotional experience is similar.

Although social interaction in any context has the power to transform, Brindaban especially is a place where norms of social structure and established meanings of symbols and objects are open to change. It is a place existing outside or between the usual states of time and space, a place that is indeed "liminal," to use Victor Turner's term (1974:166). Brindaban is not just a sacred place; for Brndabanbasis, pilgrims, and Hare Krishna devotees alike, it is a celestial place.

Even by more mundane criteria, Brindaban must be seen as a place apart from other social arenas. Here the egalitarian ideals of bhakti religion predominate, assigning a person's status more by his or her level of devotion than by social position. As a place of pilgrimage, it exhibits a spirit of "communitas" wherein a "direct, immediate, and total confrontation of human identities tends to make those experiencing it think of mankind as a homogenous, unstructured free community" (Turner 1974:169). And Brindaban hosts a large population of sadbus (mendicant ascetics, holy men), individuals who have accepted the renounced order of life, sannyasa. Divested of all social restrictions, they are free to pursue their personal goals of spiritual perfection, no matter how idiosyncratic, without concern for norms of the dominant society. These attributes combine to create an environment with great transformative potential for the daily encounters between Western and Indian devotees. Here exists a cross-cultural "conjuncture," to use Sahlins's (1982) term, which can also be informative concerning the dynamics of social life in general. Sahlins comments that at such conjunctures

the relationships generated in practical action, although motivated by the traditional self-conceptions of the actors, may in fact functionally revalue those conceptions.... Entailing unprecedented relations between acting subjects, mutually and by relation to objects, practice entails unprecedented objectification of categories. (Sahlins 1982:35)


Only individual inclination and imagination limit the types of bhakti practiced in Brindaban. One sadhu Keeps his image of the infant Krishna (Gopala), in a birdlike cage so that he will not crawl away and get into trouble. A teacher worships a similar image with parental affection (vatsalyarasa) by bathing and powdering her image before she gently rocks him to sleep with a lullaby. The emotions of friendship (sakya-rasa) are cultivated by a cloth merchant who imagines both he and Krishna are cowherd boys, and he sometimes accompanies his image into the fields to find fresh pasture for their cows.

But the emotions associated with intimate, conjugal love (madhurya-rasa) predominate. In one temple a young priest confided that his guru was teaching him the most esoteric practice, and he reluctantly showed me the sari he would sometimes wear in order to more fully experience the love that Radha has for Krishna. Another ascetic residing along the banks of the Jamuna River rarely speaks, but when he does it is with a gentle feminine voice, the result some say of his constantly imagining himself as a gopi sporting with her lover, Krishna. These practices, though not necessarily prescribed by sectarian traditions, are part of Brindaban's everyday reality.

This reality confronts devotees of ISKCON full force as they venture into the social world there; their only alternative is to retreat behind Krishna-Balaram's high walls, a choice that few make. The three following examples illustrate how their confronting this reality ultimately leads to its transformation. In these situations of interaction focusing upon mystical emotion, both Indian and foreign actors alter their conceptions of each other, and in the process they create a new reality that includes ISKCON as a significant clement in Brindaban.

Ratin, a British devotee, has lived in Brindaban for nine years. During 1982 he was revising a manuscript about the sacred sites of Brindaban which he hoped to publish. Some local residents even considered him an authority on the indigenous dance-dramas about Krishna, rasa-lila;[24] he knew when and where the most obscure troops would perform and was often a guest in homes of some of their leaders (rasadhari). Ratin had documented the best known pilgrimage locations, and he was now searching for lesser-known places by spending time with some of the town's sadhus. Throughout his research he strictly followed the rules and regulations prescribed by ISKCON and would regularly participate in the ritual at Krishna-Balaram temple. Other devotees, however, considered some of his activities "unauthorized" and suggested that he was putting himself in spiritual danger.

One hot afternoon Ratin invited me to accompany him and a sadhu he had met to a site called Radharani, and it required a trek of four kilometers across the river in the blazing sun. As we walked, the sadhu explained that the significance of Radharani was in its transformative power. The place was a deep pond surrounded by desert, and many varieties of waterfowl came there


from the nearby Bharatpur bird sanctuary. There we would also find, the sadhu informed us, other renunciates who would welcome us. "They arc there for one special reason," he said. "A bath in the Radharani pond [kunda[*]] will give you the body of a gopi so you can love Krishna like Radha. Even Lord Shiva came here so he could take part in rasa-lila [Krishna's circle dance with the goals]."[25]

At this point Ratin stopped and announced that he could not go through with the visit to Radharani, feeling that he was in danger of violating ISKCON doctrine. As he put it, his "delicate creeper of bhakti would be wilted by the fire of unauthorized madhurya-rasa." The sadh, insisted, nevertheless, that Ratin must go. It was a holy place and very good one for chanting (japa), even if Ratin did not desire the body of a gopi, and our guide said that he would be personally offended if we turned back now. "Babaji, you arc a devotee of Krishna and I cannot commit an offense toward you, so let's continue," was Ratin's reply.

Arriving at Radharani wc found an oasis. Palm trees surrounded the large, cool pond, and giant cranes walked lazily about. Naked sadbus stood neck deep in the dark green water, motionless, oblivious to our arrival. Our guide also walked immediately into the water, but Ratin sat down upon the steps leading into the pond and refused to enter. "What is this?" the ascetic yelled. "You are afraid of seeing Krishna? You are a devotee and will not see Krishna?" For half an hour the taunting continued until Ratin finally relented but only to please the sadhu. After an hour of listening to the legends about Radharani and songs the mendicant sang about its wonders, we returned to Brindaban as the sun was beginning to set and the temple bells beckoned the faithful to evening worship.

The next day I met Ratin with a group of ISKCON devotees, headed again for Radharani. Later he told me that he had been overcome with mystical emotion there, and he would not deny the experience. "I cannot tell many people about this or I will be ostracized," he explained, "but I cannot feel threatened by this babaji; I cannot see him as dangerous. I had a true experience of madhurya-rasa at Radharani, and this can only help my practice. I can't be obsessed with paranoia about these sacred places around here. I have to take advantage while I have the chance."

The sadhu also experienced a change in attitude about ISKCON: "When the videsi [foreigner] comes with me it is a good thing. Before I thought these videsis were all bad, but not now. Ratin had the hardest heart and Radha has softened it. So she can soften all videsi hearts. Ratin is now a Brajbasi because he can feel. Now I know they are not all bad."

It may not be surprising for a sadhu to accept the legitimacy of an individual from ISKCON because he himself makes a statement concerning the importance of his own individuality by virtue of the life he has chosen. A more striking example, however, is the case of a Loi Bazaar merchant, a


dealer in general goods who dramatically altered his opinion of ISKCON. This merchant initially told me that foreigners could never become devotees because they felt no rasa: "Only Indians can be bhaktas. ISKCON people are just salesmen. They come to sell cameras and videos to us poor people, and then they buy cloth and silver here and there. It is the decline of Brindaban. They should all go back."[26] Perhaps these comments reflected to some degree the merchant's anger over his not sharing in the profits from ISKCON's presence in Brindaban, and others had obviously become wealthy because of it. A year later, however, this same merchant displayed in his shop photographs of the Krishna-Balaram deities, Bhaktivedanta Swami, and Kirtanananda Swami, one of the present ISKCON gurus who comes to Brindaban regularly; the merchant's attitude had apparently changed.

I asked the merchant why he displayed these pictures if he felt ISKCON signaled dark days for Brindaban, as he had said previously. He replied, "No, no, they arc gopis." Sensing my astonishment, he called me into the shop to discuss his change of mind, or rather, as he put it, his change of heart. Several months before, by the force of karma, he suggested, a new devotee family had moved into town, and they were buying all their supplies from him. Soon other devotees began to patronize his store, improving his financial situation dramatically. "They buy big things: stoves, lanterns, pots, so many things. And every day they come for soap and biscuits." The merchant insisted that his new appreciation for ISKCON was not simply economic.

Through a series of encounters, he had begun to notice the sincerity and perseverance of his new ISKCON patrons, especially their perpetual chanting. Moreover, he was impressed with their dedication to Bhaktivedanta, whom he had known slightly as a "sadhu baba" years before his success in the West. "Prabhupad was a mahatma [great soul], but I felt his disciples were just hippy fools. Now my friends [the devotees] worship him and the new guru Bhaktipad [Kirtanananda]." The merchant continued to explain that his own guru, an old man whom had not seen for many years, was also a mahatma. As his attitude toward the devotees began to change, he learned that Kirtanananda was coming to Brindaban, and a meeting was arranged.

Kirtanananda finally arrived and spent one full day in a cloth shop across from the merchant's general store, purchasing a year's supply of cloth to outfit the entire population of New Brindaban, ISKCON's West Virginia farm community which he heads. The merchant explained:

He spent lakhs (one lakh equals one hundred thousand) of rupees just sitting there, and all the time he spoke only of Krishna. Then he came to my store and told me that my friends were his disciples, and that they gave him a good report about me. He made some small purchases and then asked me about Krishna, and I told him my guru also had instructed me since I was a small boy, and that always I think of Radha. He told me that was very good, but sometimes I should also chant Hare Ram, Hare Krishna. Then he gave me a tulasi mala


[rosary made from wood of the sacred basil plant], a very old one from Radhakund. Since he was very nice to me, I started to think about my guru who is in Kosi now, and I started to feel that this ISKCON guru has love for Krishna like a Brajbasi. He was so soft in his heart, and then I thought about seeing my own gum maharaja [great king].

My guruji read my thoughts about ISKGON people being demons [asura], and told me this was not good. He told me they are not demons; they are gopis reborn as videsis which is why they always chant "Krishna, Krishna." Now I have some dreams also that these people are really gopis. So of coure they must stay. ISKCON devotees are not just Brajbasis, they are gopis.

An ascetic holy man who discovered that foreign devotees were capable of experiencing mystical emotions and a merchant who changed his opinion of them from materialistic "demons" to reincarnated gopis represent two examples of attitude transformations by Indian residents toward ISKCON members. On the ISKGON side, Ratin demonstrates a trend of lessening antagonism toward the local population, especially the ascetics who are often stereotyped as sahajiya. Both cases show that group boundaries created by differences in interpretation of similar dogma are weakening, leading to a greater potential for further incorporation of ISKCON into the town's sociocultural system.

Another change in ISKCON's attitude is shown by the devotees' willingness to seek information concerning details of ritual from local temple priests. A particularly revealing case involves a priest from the temple of Radha-Vallabha (Radha-vallabha) whose theology emphasizes the worship of Radha.[27] This priest, recognized as one of his sect's "experts," had always considered the ISKCON phenomenon as part of Krishna's plan and had been anxious to help when some devotees began to inquire from him about details of deity ' worship.

Although ISKCON devotees considered the deity worship at Radha-Vallabha to be of a high standard and were prompted to seek information from the priests there for that reason, they still felt that the sect's emphasis of Radha over Krishna was dangerous and unauthorized, and therefore devotees were warned to avoid being influenced by the priests.

One ISKCON temple priest in charge of deity worship (pujari) explained that he now considered the movement's official attitude toward Brindaban priests to be unwarranted; instead of viewing them with disgust, they should be treated with respect, and he cited a personal example:

I used to think Jai Goswami represented everything dangerous about service in Brindaban. He would talk about himself as gopi and would tell me about the secret meetings he planned with Krishna where Krishna wouldn't show, and how he would hurt so badly about being stood up by Krishna. I thought he was really crazy, but sometimes as he talked about missing Krishna, tears would pour down his face and he couldn't talk, and I would find myself choking up too.


I watched gosvamiji in the temple also and saw his affection for thakurji[*] (deity's image), and the painstaking, loving care he would give to him. I eventually began to see this man is really a saint, not someone to avoid, but someone to desire the association of.... He never tried to make me change, but just showed me how to feel the rasa by his own example. He would tell me to keep doing my own sadhana faithfully because it would lead me directly to the ocean of Krishna's love, and he would always glorify Prabhupad for his success and praise him for making us such good devotees. Maybe Jai Goswami is not typical, but he shows me that ISKCON must take the Braibasis one by one, not just say they are all dangerous, and be arrogant and aloof with the other people of Braj. We must mature in the way we treat people outside the movement, and especially in Brindaban cooperate with the Brajbasis to form a solid foundation for the future of Krishna Consciousness in the world.


In this chapter I have discussed the ideals of Krishna-bhakti as they relate to the individual's experience and expression of mystical emotions; and as they are embodied in the dual paths of Krishna devotionalism, represented by the practices of vaidhi bhakti on the one hand and raganuga bhakti on the other. Although these two complementary components of the same religious system idealize the achievement of mystical emotional states, they have practically functioned as divisive ideologies between ISKCON and Indian devotees of Krishna in Brindaban.

Neither side fully embodies the emotional ideals as explicated in the religion's texts. Brndabanbasis claim a natural inheritance of spontaneous love for Krishna, and ISKCON officially does not admit to a range of possibilities outside the boundaries of Bhaktivedanta's instructions, which are extensive but by no means exhaustive. However, in actual situations of interaction between devotees from both groups, an approbation is being achieved through the processes of conflict resolution and meaning negotiation that occur in the practical enactment of their cultural ideals; a new cultural reality, particularly in the domain of mystical emotions, is being constructed.

Social boundaries, no matter how inflexibly conceived, are never impenetrable. The traditional Indian concerns for status by birth and for an individual's inherent state of purity or pollution, although not absent in Brindaban, are considerably deemphasized. The Vaishnava ideal that a person's status should be determined not by birth, but by qualifications as evidenced in daily behavior, is being approached more closely due to the dynamics of interaction between the Western and Indian residents there. In these situations changes in meaning and attitude are accomplished, affecting the entire range of social and cultural forms; at the same time the cultural importance of emotional experience is reaffirmed.

As ISKCON continues its tenure in Brindaban, and as both Indian and


Western actors learn more about themselves and each other through interaction, conflicts continue to be resolved, subtle differences in interpretation of doctrine are deemphasized, and the social ideal of equality based upon love for Krishna, regardless of how it is achieved, becomes more and more the norm.

For many residents of Brindaban, the phenomenon of ISKCON confirms a belief that their culture offers a solution to problems confronting modern man. The baba quoted at the beginning of this essay may again serve as their spokesman:

All men can experience rasa. Intimate love for Godhead is the secret for peace—personal peace, world peace. It is the message all poets and saints of Brindaban have given through the ages. This is the message of our culture which must be preserved, then sent out to all places: Everyone can experience the rasa and it automatically brings peace. ISKCON is helping with this message. In their society even former hippies find peace. This should give us all some hope.

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Ten Hare Krishna, Radhe Shyam The Cross-Cultural Dynamics of Mystical Emotions in Brindaban

Preferred Citation: Lynch, Owen M., editor Divine Passions: The Social Construction of Emotion in India. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1990 1990.