Part of a series, Snapshots of the Eco-Village
The Vrindavan Forest lies in the middle of the Eco-Village. The 5-acre forest is a ‘replica’ of the sacred Vrindavan Dham, in both physical attributes and mood, with scale replicas of the seven Goswami temples of Vrindavan, dioramas representing major lilas (mystical pastimes), and various areas like Govardhan Hill, Barsana, Yamuna, etc. I say ‘replica’ in quotations because the Eco-Village Vrindavan Forest is in many ways completely unlike the modern-day Vrindavan, 1000 km away in Uttar Pradesh. The Eco-Village forest is a lush tropical forest full of fruit trees and flowers; modern Vrindavan is dry and dusty with drylands-forest vegetation. The Eco-Village forest is quiet, peaceful, and clean with soft sandy footpaths; modern Vrindavan is loud and dirty, full of honking cars, piles of trash, and thousands of people living cheek to jowl. The Eco-Village forest has beautiful dioramas depicting mystical pastimes; in modern Vrindavan, only the most realized sages can actually see these pastimes.
In fact, it’s said in Vraja Mahima that there are actually five manifestations of “Vrindavan:” the eternal Goloka Vrindavan, the worldly Bhauma Vrindavan, the invisible Aprakata Vrindavan, Hridaya Stithi Vrindavan, that which manifests in the heart of the devotee, and Gupta Vrindavan, that which is made manifest by the pure devotee. In the Gaudiya sampradaya, there are three known Gupta Vrindavans: that made by Bhaktivedanta Saraswati Thakur in Mayapur; that made by Rupa and Sanatan Goswamis in Ramkeli; and GEV.
My favorite diorama in the forest is one called ‘Delivering Wives of Brahmans.’ The story illustrated in this diorama has deep meaning in multiple dimensions. As the story goes, Krishna and Balarama and their friends are out in the fields and forest herding cows. The boys become hungry and Krishna sends them to ask for some food from some nearby brahmans performing their daily rituals. The brahmans don’t feed these roughshod village boys; they don’t tell them to go ask their mothers; they don’t even say ‘go away.’ They completely ignore them. (If you were sitting in Starbucks having an important meeting, wouldn’t you ignore some beggar who is ‘disturbing’ you?) The purport to this part of the story is that all too often, we ignore opportunities to serve people and to serve God, thinking our daily activities to be ‘more important’ than giving five minutes of our time or five dollars of our pocket money or whatever may be asked of us, to serve someone. The punchline is that the brahmans did not just see the boys as regular village boys or beggar boys; they knew that Krishna and Balarama are the same Supreme to whom they are offering their ritual. They just didn’t see this form of service, this form of devotion, as very important. To them, their ritual was enough. This element of the story, too, is striking; even if we are already engaged in some form of service to others or to God, do we take up additional or unexpected opportunities that come our way, or dismiss them on the grounds of being too busy – or too important?
When the boys come back to report that the brahmans did not feed them, Krishna replies, “No problem; just ask their wives. They secretly love Me and have been waiting for an opportunity to see Me.” The boys don’t have to ask the wives twice. They don’t even have to persuade them. The women immediately start cooking their best recipes, pack it up in tiffins and tupperwares, and rush out to the forest where Krishna and the boys are waiting just as rivers flow toward the sea. At first glance, this just sounds like a nice story. But in social context, this was an extreme and risky act. The women – affluent middle-class educated women – were actually risking their marriages, their children, and their social position by running off into the forest leaving their children unattended in order to meet secretly with some poor roughshod village boys, whom it is known that they are attracted to. In today’s society such an act would be mildly scandalous; consider its risk in a society that was even more gender- and class-segregated.
The women are ecstatic to see Krishna. The Bhagavatam says, “For a long time those brahman ladies had heard about Krishna, their beloved, and His glories had become the constant ornaments of their ears. Indeed, their minds were always absorbed in him. Through the apertures of their eyes they now forced Him to enter within their hearts, and then they embraced him within for a long time. In this way they finally gave up the pain of separation from him, just as sages give up the anxiety of false ego by embracing their inner consciousness. Lord Krishna, who witnesses the thoughts of all creatures, understood how those ladies had abandoned all worldly hopes and come there simply to see Him.” The women say, “Now that we have attained Your Lotus feet, we simply wish to remain here in the forest so that we may carry upon our heads the garlands of Tulasi leaves you may neglectfully kick away with Your lotus feet. We are ready to give up all material relationships. Our husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, other relatives, and friends will no longer take us back, and how could anyone else be willing to give us shelter? Therefore, since we have thrown ourselves at Your lotus feet and have no other destination, please, O chastiser of enemies, grant our desire.”
Krishna gratefully accepts their offerings of food and their offerings of love and complete surrender. He feeds all the other boys first before taking any food Himself. He then encourages the ladies to return home. “For you to remain in My bodily association would certainly not please people in this world, nor would it be the best way for you to increase your love for Me. Rather, you should fix your minds on Me, and very soon you will achieve Me.” The women do agree to return home and are met with no complaint by their husbands. However, what I love most about this story is the spirit of complete and utter surrender with which they approach Krishna. They are willing to give up their social positions, their marriages, their wealth, their careers, their children, whatever they have worked so hard to achieve – just to remain in the presence of Krishna. It’s one thing when other gopis (village women) do this act of total sacrifice in other parts of the Bhagavatam; but what I can relate to most is when these women, who have achieved a position that others can only dream of, are willing to give it all up for Krishna.
Yet Krishna doesn’t encourage them to stay. He encourages them to return home and continue in their duties – yet also to continue to meditate upon Him. Meditating on the Lord in separation, hearing and speaking or chanting about the Lord, seeing the Deity form, and performing all our services as though they are a direct service to Him, are what he asks of them – and what he promises are the way to completely attain Him. Indeed, throughout the scriptures, including in the famous mad-mana bhava mad bhakto verse of the Bhagavad-Gita (18.65), Krishna recommends constantly meditating upon Him as the surest way to attain Him. These ladies were able to personally serve and see Him because they had spent years thinking of Him and meditating upon Him in their hearts; he promises them that in order to be with Him forever, they should simply continue doing this. No rituals are necessary; no elaborate offerings; no great works. These things are nice when done in a mood of service, but they should not become a distraction or an attachment. These actions, or any action done as a service, should cultivate our mood of surrender and an ever-deeper embrace of Lord Sri Krishna within our hearts.