The Point of Visiting the Holy Places
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It is not the journey but the method of its performance that really matters. Any journey that is performed under the lead of the sadhu is a spiritual function. No journey that is not so performed can have any spiritual value.

Circumambulation of the Divine Realm of Braja

His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur

Founder-Acharya of the Gaudiya Math, spiritual master of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur

This article was originally published in The Harmonist, Vol. 29, January 1932.


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It is not necessary for the sadhu to perform the extraneous circumambulation of Braja for attaining the sight of Godhead. The pure soul is eternally in the Realm of the Supreme Lord.

The mundane tract of the countryside that is trod by every passerby must not be confounded with the Highest Sphere of the Realm of the Absolute. It is not the glorification of any mundane locality, cause or person for which the devout pilgrim sets out on the Parikrama of Sri Brajamandal under the lead of the sadhu [devotee, spiritual master]. Those who turn their attention to the landscape and the external features of the Object of worship or choose to regard the bath and the journey, eating and sleeping, as identical with the spiritual function, gain very little by their laborious journey.

The whole attention of the pilgrim has to be given not to the landscape nor to any shrine or figures. It is least of all necessary for him to attend to the activities of himself. It is imperative to turn all his attention to the minutest doings and sayings of the sadhu under whose direction he has chosen to perform the devotional journey. If he goes on indulging his own fancies and viewing with his own eyes the entities on the spiritual plane he may, indeed, succeed in deluding himself but he will assuredly miss the only legitimate object of his pilgrimage. If he attends and acts up to the instructions of his spiritual guide and does not allow himself to be directed by any other consideration, he will automatically find himself on the plane of archana in course of the performance of his spiritual journey, by the unsolicited and causeless grace of the sat-guru (bona fide spiritual guide).

The very first principle, therefore, which all intending circumambulators should accept in their heart of hearts is to attend fully to the instructions of the bona fide guide and prefer following them to every other occupation. If he tries to do so, he will find that the bona fide guide will put him to activities which may be neither such as are to his liking nor what he had previously arranged for. The sat-guru will upset all his prearranged plans. The pilgrim is not expected to be allowed to guide himself in any way. It is the nature of the conditioned soul to be tempted to assume his own guidance however much he may profess to be guided by another.

It is not the journey but the method of its performance that really matters. Any journey that is performed under the lead of the sadhu is a spiritual function. No journey that is not so performed can have any spiritual value. The circumambulation of Sri Brajamandal has the further advantage of spiritual association which are of great help to the novice on the path of spiritual endeavour. The novice is in a position on such occasions to be put in mind by the sadhu that he is never to attend to the scene at all, because what he will see if he does so is not the thing which he should see but something else, the sight of which will be obstructive of the real function for which he is out on his pilgrimage. The sadhu himself will see everything very carefully and minutely, but he will never encourage the novice to any function of the kind. If the novice submits to be so thwarted at almost every step and is prepared to do whatever the sadhu tells him to do with loyal faith, he will have gained the real object of his pilgrimage.

It is for the purpose of inspiring a real regard for the transcendental realm of Braja in the minds of the circumambulators that the function has been manifested by the sadhu. The mundane realm enables the sadhu to do this in a concrete way. In the realm of Braja it is not jivas [us, the living entities] who enjoy the landscape. It is Krishna who is the Sole Enjoyer of that Realm. The jivas have no other function but to minister to the Pleasures of Krishna. The landscapes of that Realm are instinct with perfect spiritual life. They direct their denizens in their constant service of Krishna. The sadhu is the whole-time servant of Krishna. He can understand the directions of the spiritual realm that does not manifest its responsive nature to the eclipsed consciousness of conditioned souls. The sadhu alone is thus in a position to employ the conditioned soul in the service of the Realm of Braja, although the latter is necessarily not fully aware of the same till after he has been freed from all obscurity of vision.

It may of course be asked why the mundane landscape should be at all necessary for the spiritual purpose. To this the reply is that the land of Braja is specially privileged for being used by the sadhu for his purpose. Mundane landscape is no doubt different from the spiritual realm. But the mundane in this case has a quasi-spiritual value as soon as it is used by the sadhu for kindling the spiritual consciousness of dormant souls.

The full spiritual process is not devoid of distinctive features. So much so is this the case that the abstract mental function is the furthest removed from the spiritual. Those, therefore, who choose to suppose, for no reason whatsoever, that the nature of the difference between the spiritual and mundane resembles that between the mental and physical, are, by reason of this very initial misunderstanding, prepared to disown with special vehemence any spiritual value of the gross mundane landscape. These persons are however much more condescending to the claims of the mental process to be regarded as being in close proximity to the spiritual.

But as a matter of fact, neither the mental nor the physical process can have any spiritual quality of its own. Such a quality may be impressed on either by the Grace of Godhead. The land of Braja has been endowed with this privilege by the fact of the Appearance of Sri Krishna, Who performed His All-Holy Pastimes there. Why should it be altogether impossible for theists to believe in the privileged nature of the land of Braja in view of the above fact? The land itself is not spiritual. It will not benefit any person if he serves the inanimate landscape of Braja by the resources of his mundane nature. The guidance of the sadhu, however, needs must be allowed to make a vital difference, as it enables even the conditioned soul to be used in the quasi-spiritual service of the transcendental realm of Braja apparently to an external observer in terms of the mundane landscape. But the service of the mundane tract of Braja is not thereby rendered identical with the quasi-spiritual service (archan) of the transcendental Realm under the guidance of the sadhu who uses the privileged mundane tract for the purpose of enabling conditioned souls to obtain the unconscious service of the transcendental realm.

Those who choose to suppose that they are enabled to serve the transcendental realm of Braja by simply residing in the mundane District of Muttra [Mathura] or by following mechanically any course of ceremonials laid down in the Scriptures under the guidance of persons who have themselves no access to the spiritual plane, are no less deluded than those stubborn atheists who do not believe in the testimony of the revealed Scriptures or affect to regard the Scriptures as the concoctions of the fertile imaginations of barbarous peoples. The perusal of this discourse cannot materially benefit either description of persons.

The worship of Godhead can have only the character of an eternal quest of the Truth in consonance with the principles of transcendental epistemology. Those who take this mundane existence to be identical with the transcendental are either fools or knaves. It is of course possible for persons with a dull intellect to accept (?) anything and everything 'on trust' (?). But this kind of innocent (?) stupidity will not help any person in arriving at the real Truth. [Please note that the question marks are put there by the author, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur.] Nor can any person find the Truth by means of his intellect alone. But that also is no argument in favour of the least neglect of intellectual alertness on the path of spiritual endeavour. The Truth makes His Appearance to the pure cognitive faculty. He refuses to appear to the non-cognitive aptitude. The reason why the intellect cannot find truth is not that it is disposed to exert itself but that it does not do so in the proper manner and with sufficient thoroughness. The legitimate function of the intellect in approaching the Absolute is of a receptive nature. The intellect of man commits an offence against itself the moment it attempts to comprehend the incomprehensible by its own resources. This type of aggressive intellectualism is the mother of atheism and is not less harmful than even deliberate stupidity.

It is possible to desire to have the perfectly receptive attitude towards the Truth, waiting for Him to take the initiative for enabling us to find Him. This waiting for the Truth is the only real form of the quest after the Truth. To a person with such bona fide receptive disposition, the Truth reveals Himself to the extent that is sufficient for enabling him to continue the quest in a successful manner. The success consists in this: that such a person is able to distinguish between the Truth and non-Truth when either of them presents itself to him for his receptive acceptance. He is also enabled by the quest to recognise those persons who are bona fide seekers of the Truth. He is thereby enabled to cultivate their society by the method of receiving enlightenment from their words and deed. All this, however, does not mean that the seekers of the Truth can actually trod the spiritual plane itself. Neither can he be regarded as being wholly confined to the mundane plane. He is quasi-free. He is said to be free even in this life (jivan-mukta) by the Scriptures.

Sri Krishna Chaitanya exhibited the ideal of conduct of a person who has been favoured by the gift of love to the feet of Krishna by the grace of the sadhu. He did not perform His pilgrimage under the lead of any other person. He gave an explanation of the cause of His Own peculiar conduct to Prakashananda, the atheistical pedantic leader of the sannyasins of Kashi of His day. He said in effect that He was a wholly ignorant and dull-headed person. Sri Gurudeva took pity upon Him for His extreme dullness and told Him that it would not be possible for such a foolish person to profit in any way by the study of the Vedanta. He was instructed to take the Name of Krishna instead. As He did so, in a short time He experienced a great change of disposition. It was no longer possible for Him to control His own Activities. The Name of Krishna entirely mastered His Whole Self and made him dance, sing, cry and in short behave like one mad. He was alarmed by the appearance of those symptoms and repaired to His Guru and submitted to him His condition. His Guru told Him that he was most fortunate in having such a disciple as the symptoms were those of a person in whom love for Krishna manifests itself by the Grace of the Holy Name. His Guru then explained to Him that the Name of Krishna has a power to excite love for Krishna if He is chanted without offence, and that love for Krishna is the one thing needful for the soul and the end of all spiritual endeavour.

When love for Krishna makes its appearance in the spiritual essence of the perfectly pure soul, such a person forgoes all inclinations for any form of sensuous activity of both the gross and subtle varieties. He is then entitled to visit the realm of Braja. He is also impelled to do so by his irrepressible love for Krishna. But he finds the realm of Braja itself in mourning in its agony of separation from Krishna. The sight only serves to still further augment his own sorrow.

There is thus no change of mood for the lover of Krishna when he is in the realm of Braja. He does not find Krishna in the realm of Braja, but meets instead the denizens of the place undergoing grief of separation from Krishna like himself. Krishna is not to be found in this world in this age. This is a matter of life and death to the person who really loves Krishna. There can be no happiness nor solace for such a person during his sojourn in this world. He is never happy in any other sense even by his residence in the land of Braja.

The circumambulation of the realm of Braja has no significance for anyone except those who really love Krishna. Those who love Krishna can alone understand how the ceremony was performed by Sri Chaitanya. Unless one takes the Name of Krishna in the manner that is free from offence revealed by Sri Chaitanya as the Divine Dispensation for this Age of Discord (Kali-yuga) by His Conduct and Teachings, one can attain to no real love for Krishna. A true follower of Sri Chaitanya is therefore alone entitled to perform the spiritual pilgrimage of the realm of Braja.

Sri Chaitanya is Sri Krishna Himself, who alone is the source of His Own Service. Sri Chaitanya is Sri Krishna exhibiting the mood of love for Himself. The mood of love is only the exterior of Sri Chaitanya. But this exterior is not less absolute than the Inner Personality who is no other than Krishna Himself. Krishna is also Chaitanya. The Master is the source of His Own Service. Krishna, as the source of love of Himself, is Chaitanya. The two aspects of the Divine Personality are not complementary, but are IDENTICAL. Sri Krishna is eternally served by the denizens of Braja. He is thus served in a visible form in the Dwapara Age in this world. Sri Krishna is also served in a visible form in the Kali Age. In Kali Age He is served as Sri Chaitanya by the denizens of Sri Navadwip, which is identical with the White Island (Shvetadwip) of the Scriptures. The service and associates of Sri Krishna Chaitanya are identical with those of Sri Krishna. The service of Sri Krishna Chaitanya alone is attainable in the Kali Age. Those who aspire to the service of Krishna in this Age have no other alternative but to serve Sri Krishna Chaitanya. Unless they are fully prepared to do so, they are bound to go astray and be betrayed into a course of sensuous activities under the garb of religion.


Archana —spontaneous worship of God, devotional service
Sri Brajamandal—the holy place associated with Krishna's childhood pastimes on earth 5,000 years ago, also called Vrajamandala or simply Braja or Vraja, and including those places still existing today as Mathura, Vrindaban, Govardhana, Nandagram, etc.
Sri Krishna Chaitanya—incarnation of Krishna who appeared 500 years ago in Navadwip, Bengal and inaugurated a spiritual revolution by re-introducing the chanting of the holy names of God: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
Dwapara Age—the 3rd age of the cycle of a Maha-yuga, and the age preceding this Kali Age; its duration said to be more than 4,320,000 years
Sri Gurudeva—Sri Ishvara Puri, spiritual master of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Jivan-mukta—the soul liberated from repeated birth and death in this material world
Kali Age—also called Kali-yuga, the Age of Quarrel, the age in which we are now living; it is said to last 432,000 years, of which approximately 5,000 years have already passed
Sri Navadwip—the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, located in Bengal, India; it is regarded as nondifferent from Shvetadwip, the abode of Maha Vishnu
Parikrama—journey to and 'round the holy places.
Sannyasins—renunciates or renounced monks, those who have taken a vow of celibacy and detachment from family life
Vedanta—the body of literature commonly called the Vedas, but including besides the 4 Vedas, also the Upanishads, Puranas, Vedanta Sutra, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita and other supplementary literatures

The Point of Visiting the Holy Places/ WORLD SANKIRTAN PARTY
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