Sri Radhashtami is a joyous occasion observed throughout the country, especially in the North, bringing to one’s hallowed memory the advent of Radha, a name familiar to every religious historian and devotee. But, there is nothing in religious history which is so little understood as the particular spiritual significance which is the theme of the observance of this sacred day, the eighth day in this bright half of the month of Bhadrapada (August-September), the birthday of Radha.
The word ‘Radhakrishna’ is a reputed compound name, and devotees generally run into mystical contemplation and even fly into ecstasies in their moods in an attempt to understand the relationship between Sri Krishna and Radha. But, as is the case with almost everything in the world, this relationship which is deeply spiritual and mystical, is hard for the human mind to understand, because God, and everything that is connected with God, cannot become an object of human understanding. The human mind is not expected to understand God, and to ‘understand’ Him would be a blasphemy on the part of the human reason. As a straw would try to carry fire on its body, the intellect of man tries to apprehend the divine mysteries in creation.
Devotees of Sri Krishna relate a lot about Radha, the Divine Mystery. I can call her only a Divine Mystery and there is no other designation suitable. Even today, it is a mystery, and it has remained ever a mystery, because God’s relation to the world, His relation to devotees, His relation to human beings, His relation to anything, is a Divine Mystery in itself.
But the specific significance that is attached to the relationship between Sri Krishna and Radha is the supernal love that operates in this mysterious relation between God and the world. The world is ruled by love, which is the quintessence of God. The basic stuff of God’s Being may be said to be Love, Joy, Delight, Bliss, Ananda. But man, being what he is, can interpret this joy or delight, this satisfaction or love, this affection or pull, only in terms of his experiences. There are only men and women in this human world, and we do not see a third thing. Therefore, when men and women contemplate the mystery of God, they cannot think in any other way, except in terms of men and women. This is a travesty of religious mystery and a demonstration of the human incapacity to equal the requirement on the part of man by the Law of God.
Read any Purana or any Epic, still you will never be able to understand the relation between Krishna and Radha. On the one hand, it has been a theme for a divine upsurge and ecstasy of devotion in the case of pure minds and devotees, while, on the other hand, it has become a theme for sarcastic interpretations of the mysterious relation between the Supreme Male we call God, and the Supreme Female we name Shakti.
Two extremes meet in the concept of God’s Glory, and in the mediocre approaches of devotees on the path of divine love, these extremes are not felt. Most of us, may we say all of us, are mediocre followers of the path of God. The extreme steps are not intended for fragile minds, weak bodies, impure emotions and tarnished intellects or prejudiced reasons. The vehicle that can contain the divine mystery has to have the capacity to bear the fire which is God’s Glory. Many times it is said that the embrace of God is an embrace of fire, and no man has lived as man after having seen and embraced God. These are some of the statements we hear from the adepts on the path.
The Radhakrishna mystery is a secret, even as God Himself is a secret. What can be a greater secret than God’s Existence! You cannot know where God is, or what God is doing, or why God has created the world. You cannot say what His relation is to us, or, our relation is to Him. You cannot say anything about Him, and the less said the better. Thus it is that when we read the Srimad Bhagavata Purana, the Brahma-vaivarta Purana and certain other texts where such extreme forms of divine relation are expounded, we retrace our steps and turn back dumbfounded: “Yato vacho nivartante aprapya manasa saha“–Speech and mind turn back from that which they are not supposed to express or understand or think.
The reason behind this difficulty is that we are, as human beings, not prepared to shed the human way of thinking. We have a reservation always, secretly maintained in our own minds, a secret which we wish to hide even from God’s eyes. There is a fear in the human individual, a fear, on the one hand, of losing the meaning that one attaches to the laws operating in human society and, on the other hand, the fear of losing oneself in what devotees call Love of God.
The term ‘Love of God’ may mean either love that a devotee evinces in regard to God, or the love that God has for a devotee. Either way, we can take this term, ‘Love of God’. There is no half-hearted and mediocre attitude in respect of God. Either it is a whole-souled dedication or it is a nothing. There is no partiteness or reserved attitude towards God. It is a completion and a fulfilment which requires on our side also a fulfilled and a complete approach. But we are, as I told you, always men and we can think only as men. We are women, and we can think only as women. These prejudices do not leave us and they cannot leave us. Apart from the idea of male and female, there are other shackles by which we are bound to this earth, all of which are, as it were, steel chains with which we are bound to our own personalities and prejudices, which have to melt into a liquefied form before God, the all-encompassing, super-legalistic Existence, super-relational Being. The very thought of it will melt the human individual. This melting of the human individuality is called Love of God.
Even in ordinary intense forms of worldly love, our individuality tends towards a melting, though it does not actually melt. We rarely experience intense love in our lives. Often we are like broken glass pieces with no worth or value in us. We are parading empty shells with no substance in ourselves. This is human life today. But this will not work before the realities of life. We can never entertain true affection and true love in regard to anything in this world, because we are mostly hypocrites. We are never true to ourselves and, therefore, we can never be true to others. This predicament is a tremendous danger before man’s future. And this illness has come upon man right from the very beginning of his birth itself, and attaches itself to him wherever he goes in every incarnation. Perhaps this is the original sin that people speak of in theological circles. Unless we shed this completely and stand naked before the glory and fire of God as pure Spirit and not as men and women, we cannot understand, appreciate and feel what divine love is. This is why we cannot understand the relationship between Radha and Krishna, in the Radhakrishna compound.
We go on reading about it but understand nothing. The attempt on the part of the soul to understand this mystery, is an attempt to dissolve one’s personality, and no one is ever prepared for it. Such a sacrifice we cannot do. We have always a reservation, as I mentioned to you, and we approach God with a tremendous fear and a hidden purpose behind our own personal existence. We are not supposed to understand this mystery of Radha-Krishna. We are unfit. Man today is unfit for this sacrifice.
The other aspect of this mystery is what is called the Rasalila, very magnificently, gloriously and touchingly described in the Rasa-Panchadhyayi of the Srimad Bhagavata, odious to impure minds but glorious to pure minds. Man himself is an odious existence. Nothing can be worse than his own individuality. He carries this impurity before God and refuses to understand superhuman operations in this divine world, the Kingdom of God which is this very earth. I do not know whether you are able to make any sense out of what I am saying, because it is difficult to express in language what is not supposed to be expressed. My humble obeisance to the Almighty Lord whose mystery is this creation. Our blessedness and well-being consist in realising that we cannot understand Him and in expecting His divine grace for our uplift.
(excerpted from Swamiji’s “Spiritual Imports of Religious Festivals”)