RASA and Flavors of Love in Platonism
C. S. Lewis nicely describes the Greek Heliopolitan concept of the 4 primary flavors (rasas) of love, in The Four Loves. One of these flavors is PHILOS, or friendship. In Kouros-centric Platonism, philos, friendly or brotherly love could be profound, passionate and eternal. One form of such profound friendly love in late classical Greece actually came to be called ‘Platonic love’. This is one of the flavors of love described in the SYMPOSIUM. Such love is also there in the chaste aesthetic adoration of God as the Eternal Youth and Beauty. This parallels the Gopas’ chaste appreciation of Krishna’s beauty and attractiveness. In SYMPOSIUM, ultimately Agathon and Socrates (Plato’s Master) raise the entire discussion of ‘love’ up from the lowest expressions of the physical to the contemplation of GOD as the SPIRIT OF LOVE, the Transcendent Source and Ideal Object of Love. Symposium and the other Socratic dialogues and writings of Plato and the other Helios-worshiping Philosophers have had a profound effect on Western Monotheism. The followers of Jewish, Catholic, and Sufi Muslim Mystics, whose essential Platonism is readily admitted, need to learn how their own sacred traditions are related to Radha-Krishna and Balarama-centric Vaishnavism through the ancient Mediterranean regional Heliopolitan worship of Rhoda-Kouros and Baal (Yahu) Dionysos.
HELIOS AND RHODA’S (EROS and PSYCHE’S / God and the Feminine Souls’) conjugal flavor of love was epitomized by the transcendent Hierogamos union of Kouros and Kore in the bu-colic BOUKOLION (compare Go-kula). Brotherly and sisterly or friendly PHILOS or PEER / PAL love was epitomized by the love of KOUROS and His Kouroi, and Rhoda-Kore and Her Korae. Just as Kouros Helios and Dionysos danced in the circle Dance with the Korae (Also called Nymphs, Graces, Muses, Horae, Nyads, etc.), They also danced with the cowherd boy KOUROI. As Leaders of these Divine Dances, They Both were called Choreagoes (choreographer = leader of the dance) and Kouros was called KOURUALES, meaning that He led the Sacred Dance with a FLUTE (AULOS).
Rhoda-Kore was also called Nymphia and Her expansions / girlfriends were called Nymphs. Nymph means both Maiden and LOTUS in Greek. So as NYMPHIA, Rhoda-Kore was LOTUS, which in Sanskrit is Sri or Lakshmi’s Name as PADMA / LOTUS. (Sometimes the principal Gopis are associated with LOTUS PETALS.) The associates of Rhoda are called HORAE (seasons) and HOURIS in some forms of Muslim Mysticism. Sometimes they are likened to HOURS, and Rhoda to the MOON. Kouros (Krishna) has 365 sacred white cows for days and sheep for nights, which He herds with His ‘Older Brother’ and Hierophant / High Priest, Baal-Dionysos (Baladeva) and Their Kouroi (Gopa) friends. There are 12 Friends / Gopas to herd the sacred white cows. Circumambulation / revolution and cosmic cycles are sometimes associated with the cycle / kyklos / chakra dance of Helios.
Relationships in the Dance
1) Helios Kouros dances the Carol Paradise Round with Rhoda-Kore and Her Korae Nymphs (girl friends / expansions). This is the ‘Apollonian’ or ascetic rite as commemorated at Delphi. The ascetic (sattvic) Religious were admitted to these ‘Mysteries’.
2) Dionysos also dances the Chorus Paradise Round with His Entourage of Nymphs. These rites were both Apollonian / Delphic AND COMMON, or practiced by the uninitiated. Thus, in the Greek world, the non-ascetic or non-initiated mass of devotees, not admitted to the more formal rites of Helios and Rhoda, were welcome in the popular common-folk’s rites of Dionysos. There was a distinct innocent but ‘lawless’ flavor of love associated with the rites of Dionysos. Sadly, abuse of this is what led to its orgiastic ‘Sahajiya’ corruption and finally being outlawed in many lands. Dionysos (Baladeva) is Kouros / Krishna descending from His highest heaven and making Himself available to all souls, even the wretched and fallen. Thus Baladeva is also remembered as having His ‘Rasa Dance’. The ‘Brides of Christ’ in the heavenly Garden of Paradise have been chosen by Him and prepared for the ‘wedding feast’ by His Grace. So too in some Vaishnava schools of thought, there is an esoteric distinction between the Gopis who Dance the ‘Rasa Dance’ with Lord Baladeva, and Those in the ultimate ‘original’ circle of Radha and Krishna.
3) Kouros and Dionysos lead the Kouroi in the Paradise Round and other divine dances (for instance, pastoral and sporting / martial).
4) Rhoda leads Her Korae in the Paradise Round and other divine dances.
I pray that I will someday get the time and energy to write something in-depth on each of these four kinds of sacred dance across traditions. Parallels to these various dances and related doctrines, songs and rites can be found throughout the world even to today. In these sacred dances the variegated flavors of romantic, brotherly and sisterly love are expressed and celebrated. Some dances are those of reunion, and some of separation and remembrance. The dance party, dancing inwards or outwards, sun-wise or counter-sun-wise, in the day or night, in the full moon or new moon, in the various seasons, and with different meters and steps, different costumes, masks, symbols, songs and instruments…all had significant meaning in the sacred dance. The challenge is to sort out the sattvic forms of these traditions, or elements of these traditions from the rajasic and tamasic ones. Corruption of these sattvic sacred traditions is what has resulted in their abandonment and then cultural loss. To revive these traditions, we must recover and restore their highest meaning and sanctity.
Learning to Recognize and Avoid Rasabhasa
Rasabhasa is a deviation from the tradition of Dionysos-Baladeva, as The Master of the Mysteries of Rhoda and Kouros, which became very corrupted in the late Classical Period. This led to the separation of the Maenad and Bacchae related Left-Hand Tantric false ‘Dionysian’ groups from pietistic / ascetic Heliopolitan Monotheism. The core problem with the deviant groups was impersonalism, rasabhasa and related worship in the ignorant mode of tamo guna. These corruptions still exist in modern India and Europe as forms of so-called Left Hand Tantrism. Pre-Christian Pagan Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Jews all outlawed these same corruptions, and Christianity merely continued to resist and then to suppress them. However the tamasic deviations have of course still continued to some extent, due to fallen human nature in the age of Kali. Catholic and Vaishnava Religious conservatism is due to a latent fear of these powerful corruptions. Thus we see in Gaudiya Vaishnavism a strong conservative stance in opposition to Sahajiya corruptions, Left Hand Tantrism and liberalism in general. Gaudiya Vaishnava Rasa Theology has highly refined the concept of rasabhasa. Vaishnava masters have hoped that attention to avoiding rasabhasa will protect souls (and the Tradition) from the offences of impersonalism and sahajiyaism.
In the RASA THEOLOGY of GAUDIYA VAISHNAVISM there is an extensive in-depth analysis of the primary flavors of love, which are compatible, and in what proportions. For example, although the ‘peer’ / sibling (brotherly-sisterly) flavor of love is compatible as a sub-dominant rasa within a conjugal relationship, the conjugal flavor is not compatible within a dominant sibling / friendship rasa. Such incompatibility is called rasabhasa. It is a mixing of flavors of love in ‘BAD TASTE’. Bhakti religious traditions typically have some systematized theology of rasa or the flavors of love, or relationships, which is expressed in their moral law. For instance, sacramental monogamous marriage and forbidding the marriage of siblings are both derived from the ancient REVEALED rasa theology of the Sattvic Bhakti Traditions. So, while lovers may be and should be ‘best friends’, siblings should not be lovers. In the sibling-like love flavor of friendship, sex violates the mood of the predominant rasa, and therefore is rasabhasa or ‘in bad taste’. Contrary to popular opinion, genetics has nothing to do with the near universal prohibition on sibling marriage. Rasabhasa relationships are forbidden because they violate the spiritual essence of a particular kind of love. They violate one form of love with another, thus spoiling it. Some mixtures of relational dynamics are essentially incompatible. This is what makes them ‘forbidden’, not some arbitrary edict by a remote but jealous deity ! To be good, healthy, even divine, love must not be in violation of itself. This is the first principle. For example, true love requires free will. Therefore, force or coercion is a violation. True love is faithful, therefore betrayal is a violation. Where dependence and trust exist and protection is required, abuse and exploitation are abominable. Each flavor of relationship has its essence, and whatever violates or corrupts / compromises that essence / flavor of love is rasabhasa.
The Gaudiya Vaishnava Theology of Friendly Love
The Krishna-centric Vaishnava Tradition has minutely analyzed the spiritual science and art of love, producing a complex, detailed, systematized theology of love unique in the history of religion. Within this theology, the love of Krishna and Balarama and the Boys, Radha and the Gopis, and the peer relationships of the ‘elder’ Gopas and Gopis in Goloka Vrindavana exemplify FRIENDSHIP. Of course friendship exists as a sub-dominant flavor of love in the relationship between Radha and Krishna as well. Friendship is compatible as a sub-dominant flavor of love within a conjugal relationship.
The relationship between Krishna and Arjuna, the Pandava Brothers, Sridama Brahmana and Draupadi is also fraternal or friendly. In Chaitanya Lila, the Gopis’ love for Radha-Krishna is embodied in the Girlfriend-flavored devotion of some of the intimate Sakhi-mood Associates of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Thus for souls devoted in the mood of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the Gopis, constant meditation on Srimati Radharani and Her Girlfriends’ devotion to Krishna is recommended. Chaitanyaite Vaishnavism is especially known for its unique emphasis on the Gopis’ devotion to Radha-Krishna.
For those souls devoted to Krishna in the fraternal flavor of love exemplified by Sri Nityananda Rama, ( my own predisposition), meditation on the Cowherd Boys’ play with Krishna and Balarama is recommended. Actually there are specific, very sweet examples of loving devotion in the various flavors, given in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, “The Nectar Of Devotion”, Srila Rupa Goswami’s classic treatise on divine love. Below I quote from the 1970 BBT Edition of this work, by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
In “Nectar…” Part Three, 41, “Fraternal Devotion” describes the vayasyas (friends) of Krishna. Sri Chaitanya-Charitamrita also describes the expansions / associates of Sri Nityananda Balarama in Chapter 11, “The Expansions of Lord Nityananda”. Both of these Shastras are wonderful sources for contemplation of Divine Love in the flavors of Sakha and Sakhi friendship. Of course the Srimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, Harivamsa and other original Vaishnava sources, like the writings of the followers of Sri Chaitanya, other Vaishnava Masters, and traditional Vaishnava hymns are endless treasure-troves of information about Krishna, Balarama, Radha and the Gopis. For meditation on Sakhi or sisterly / girlfriend-flavored love, study the numerous passages in these sources regarding the little girl Gopis (the Manjaris), the older Gopis of Radharani’s age, and the loving relations between the ‘elder Gopis’ of Mother Yasoda’s age.
Contemplating True Love in the Flavor of Friendship
Since I find the DIVINE ORIGIN and NATURE OF GOD’S MULTI-FLAVORED LOVE an infinitely more important and attractive subject than the shape of the universe, the age of the human race, channeling esoteric ‘ascended masters’ , speculating about UFOs or the ‘hollow earth theory’, or analyzing the mechanisms of reincarnation, karma and other such subjects, I am leaving those things up to the many Vaishnavas who can talk endlessly about them. I want to consider the reality of the presence of God’s Love in this world. Let us therefore think for a few moments about His Love, distinguishing the flavor (rasa) of love that we call ‘friendship’. In this spiritual exercise, I would like to invite everyone to choose one sentence or short paragraph, one question, verse or lyric on the subject of sisterly, brotherly, ‘peer’ or other sibling-like or friendly love, that seems important or inspiring to them. Remember that friendship also exists as a sub-dominant element of conjugal and parental love as well. Please share your question, or realization, or a favorite idea or example from the Scriptures or another respected source with someone that you consider a friend. Please everyone read The Nectar Of Devotion on love in the flavor of friendship. This unparalleled text is a wonderful guide. Try to understand the concept of rasabhasa, so that you can grow your friendships in a strong, healthy, pure and holy way. When selecting specific things to share, imagine that you are cooking for a great holy day offering. Be thoughtful about selecting the ingredients for your offering, and how to prepare it, and you will avoid rasabhasa. Before communicating with your friend, begin your meditation with a reading about friendship from The Nectar of Devotion, or other scripture or spiritual classic. Learn to identify the signs and symptoms of friendly love, as demonstrated in the lilas of Goloka Vrindavana. Then draw examples from the other Lilas in our Vaishnava Bhakti Shastra, other scriptures and from the writings of the saints, other sources and your own experience. ‘Get into the WORD OF GOD’ as some Christians say. The object of this thematic study is to enrich your appreciation of GOD AS LOVE, THE OBJECT, ORIGIN, END and MEANS OF LOVE IN THE FLAVOR OF FRIENDSHIP. Contemplate God as Love in the Flavor of Friendship, then begin your own little ‘symposium’ on love with your friend(s). If you don’t have any friends, BEFRIEND SOMEONE. Nursing homes are full of friendless people, in fact they are not at all hard to find, they are everywhere. Find someone to love and start loving them. For God’s sake, don’t wait until someone comes looking for you ! Contemplate the flavor of friendship. Most people today are not ready for conjugal love, because they don’t even know how to be a friend yet. What we want to do, is to raise our experience of friendship up to the contemplation of its Transcendent Source in GODHEAD, The Supreme Personality of Friendship. In this way, our friendly love of God and souls will develop, drawing us together, and together as sisters and brothers in Divine Love, we can begin to build a healthy and inspiring community of faith. Srila Prabhupada wanted us to be a true community of faith, a family bound together through God and Guru’s grace in Divine Love and trust. If we don’t know how to love and trust, then we must go back and start at the beginning.
In our Vaishnava Bhakti Shastra, Fraternal or Sisterly Love is described various ways, but the sentiments of SPONTENEITY, TRUST, INTIMACY and EQUALITY are some of the features of such Friendly Love. What are some of Friendly Love’s other characteristic or possible features? Is spontaneous attraction always a feature of friendship? Not always. Sometimes people gradually grow to profoundly respect and love each other. What about ‘like attracting like’ ? Isn’t it also true that ‘opposites attract’ ? Some religious traditions teach that we are spiritually emanated or created in batches of spirit-souls, and thus always exist in a particularly close relationship to certain beings. Allied to this is the idea of the ‘soul mate’, something found in both Jewish and Platonic mysticism. Does synchronicity or co-incidence have anything to do with being ‘soul mates’, or in other hidden spiritual relationships? Some devotees are pathologically preoccupied with these kinds of questions, and want some esoteric answer about their ‘karma’ or ‘past lives’ to help them decide when and who to love ! While these may be interesting questions, they are not something that we must know or understand to SIMPLY LOVE. So please DON’T GET BOGGED DOWN IN KARMIC ANALYSIS PARALYSIS about co-incidences etc. Don’t stray from pure bhakti into preoccupation with karmic mechanisms. To do so means to miss the essence, the experience of actually loving, while trying to impose some mundane regulation or condition on who to love. Do we want to be like bees crawling on the outside of a jar, or do we want to taste the honey of love WITHIN IT ? Remember, we are aspiring practitioners of BHAKTI YOGA, so we want to avoid the gnostic / jnani tendency to reduce everything to mental-platform logic, structures, organization and mechanisms. Let’s not get mundane analysis paralysis over ultimately useless inconsequential things like the mechanisms of reincarnation or how far away the moon is. Learning about LOVE from its masters, the saints, is an entirely different order of endeavor than useless ‘gnostic’ speculation. We could master all the mundane knowledge in the universe, but without learning how to LOVE it would just be a waste. So, together, let us take up the challenge of learning to love in the flavor of friendship, trying to stay focused on GodEss and Their Friends, as the Transcendent Source of our Love. If we are successful in building true, lasting God-centered friendships, we will automatically be successful in serving Srila Prabhupada, and other beings. We will become conduits of God’s Love into a world of souls desperately lonely for their Most Dear Friends.
A Short Historical and Theological Description of the Place of Friendly Love in the context of ancient Radha-Krishna centric Monotheism and Some Vaishnava-related Bhakti Traditions
Just for some spiritual linguistic fun think of the word FRIEND. It is related to the Sanskrit root PRI meaning to LOVE, and by association to the Sanskrit BHR for Brother or Frater. In Greek the word Philos is related to brotherly love. Krishna’s Cowherd boyfriends are the GO (COW) PALAS. English PAL for FRIEND has connections to Sanskrit PALA through the words PEER, FRA and Gypsy (Roma) PAL ! May Krishna-Balarama and Their PALS protect us and bring us all safe back to home, back to Godhead ! It is great to have PALS isn’t it? God likes pals so much that He has surrounded Himself with them in Eternity!
Radha has Her retinue of Go-PIS and Krishna has His retinue of Go-PALAS. Together, Radha and Krishna reign over the play of all their pals / friends in the eternal abode of Goloka Vrindavana. There, Baladeva, as the ‘Older Brother’ of Krishna, embodies the chi-VAL-rous and protective / guiding semi-parental flavor of Fraternal Love, as the Protector and Maintainer of all devotees and the Supreme Abode itself ! As the Servitor Lord, Sri Baladeva pleases Krishna by His powerful, providential and protective nature. Esoterically Sri Baladeva is even considered the Origin of Nanda Maharaja, the Transcendental Embodiment of Fatherly Love. Srila Prabhupada has written about Sri Baladeva’s CHIVALRY, and it is fun to note that the root of VALOUR, (English VAL from Latin) is linguistically related to the Sanskrit BALA as in BALARAMA ! BALA DEVA IS THE SOURCE OF ALL VALOROUS LOVE.
VALorous BALarama is the Leader of Krishna’s older friends, whose fraternal love is eternally tinged with a little bit of parental affection. Within Gokula, Krishna’s vayasyas / friends are generally divided into 4 groups. His older well-wisher friends are the ones who exhibit some protective, parental-like affection. Krishna’s same-age friends do not have this element of parental love in their affection, and His younger friends look up to the boys Krishna’s ‘age’. The Manjaris, or younger Gopis’ love for Radha and Krishna has a uniquely innocent flavor, admitting them to the most intimate service of Radha-Govinda. Thus, the different groups of friends share specific flavors and fine nuances of devotion. In rasa theology revelation, such spiritual commonality IS THE ULTIMATE BASIS OF THE FLAVOR OF LOVE IN WHICH LIKE ATTRACTS LIKE. Sri Krishna’s same-age friends enjoyed the same places, decorations, activities and possessions as their Lord. Thus we see that in similar age groups, the Kouroi in Greek society formed self-governing childhood fraternities and elected their favorite Kouros to lead them through a lifetime of friendship. This natural impetus is so strong, that in every culture there is some version of this. Children spontaneously choose a favorite child to imitate, and create a fraternity or sorority around that most popular child. If the child is a God-centered good person, then such devotion is a good thing. They will learn to be virtuous by imitating their dearmost friend. Of course the opposite is true too. Bad leaders make bad followers. In Platonic Idealism, Kouros and Kore were always the Ideal. Thus it was hoped that children would grow in imitation of their Transcendent Ideal. Persons with the same TASTES are attracted the same ways, and respond the same ways. Finding many important likes and dislikes in common, such persons naturally feel comfortable, appreciated and encouraged in each other’s approving association. ‘As Above, So Below’. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, and historically related Platonic Idealism (which is at the heart of Jewish, Catholic and Sufi Mysticism), holy relationships of love in the material world reflect the Divinely Revealed perfection of the eternal and transcendent IDEAL IN GODHEAD. In the case of fraternity or sorority, the bond involves certain shared attractions and attributes. Thus the Gopas and Gopis are divided into camps, or sub-groups according to ‘age,’ lila, attributes and desire. Each group epitomizes the perfection of a specific nuance in their friendly or sibling flavor of Divine Love.