Back in the summer of 2010, most of India was roasting in sweltering heat. But I woke up to a cool morning with birds chirping on the big trees outside my window. Bengaluru is cooler than most of India even in May and June. And the temperature at the lush green Art of Living Ashram was a few degrees lower than Bengaluru.
After an early breakfast I walked for over a kilometer to be on time for the morning conversations between Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji and the late Swami Pragyanand Sarswati ji. The two were poles apart, yet they shared a deep respect for each other.
We were a small group of ashramites who had this great privilege to be sitting at the feet of the two saints. Some of us truly looked forward to visits from Mahraraj ji and other saints to our ashram. After all, their visits brought rare opportunity to witness profound conversations and mystical exchanges between them and Gurudev.
So, that morning, Gurudev and Maharaj ji were in a lively discussion about devotion to Divine. Soon, the conversation drifted to Radha – the milkmaid immortalized for her single-minded love for Lord Krishna. This topic was very dear to Maharaj ji. In fact, he had a treasure of stories about Lord Krishna and his devotees.
Pragyanand Maharaj ji grew up among sadhus in Vrindavan — the holy town where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. An enchanting mood of devotion prevails in Vrindavan to this day. The residents still greet each other with ‘Jaya Radhe’ or ‘Radhe Radhe’!
So, in his inimitable style, Maharaj ji narrated this beautiful story about Uddhava. Uddhava was a devotee, close friend and cousin of Lord Krishna. He was also a highly learned scholar of the scriptures. However, he felt that no one gave much importance to his academic brilliance & accomplishments. This used to bother him.
One day, he asked Krishna to wield his influence and prevail upon the council of wisemen to confer on Uddhava the title of Maharishi. However, Krishna was quite amused by this request and smiled. He asked Uddhava if he thought his learning was complete. Uddhava answered with a confident yes. Krishna didn’t say anything then.
A couple of days had passed. Krishna called for Uddhava and assigned him the task of delivering a message to Radha. When he was ready to leave for Vrindavan, Uddhava asked Krishna about the message. Krishna replied, “I have no words to convey. My silence is my message.” This surprised Uddhava.
Soon, Uddhava mounted the chariot and started on his way. He could not help wondering about Radha’s reaction to this strange message. In all likelihood, Radha would be very angry with all this, he thought. So he bought a parch-paper and wrote a random hello message to look like it came from Krishna.
In Vrindavan, he was received with a warm welcome at Radha’s house. Radha exuded a deep air of peace, contentment and completeness. After some small talk, Uddhav handed the parchment to her. He said it was a message from Krishna. Radha looked at the parch-paper and then burst into unstoppable laughter.
Uddhava was totally perplexed. Looking at him, Radha said, “Krishna’s message is very funny.” Feigning ignorance, Uddhava asked about its content. “The message says Uddhava wants to be a Maharishi,” Radha replied. Uddhava was stunned. “How do you know?” he stammered.
Radha said, “Dear Uddhava! I don’t need a message from Krishna. Radha and Krishna have become one. Just as musk and its scent are inseparable, as fire and its heat are non-different we are one. But to the eyes of the world we appear to be two forms.”
As a result, Uddhava became speechless. No doubt, he had mastered the Upanishads and gave brilliant lectures on the non duality of Advaita. But here before him was an illiterate village woman who had a direct experience of it. Radha had become boundless. She was pulsating love and peace for all of existence. Through oneness with Krishna, the entire existence had become a part of herself.
Uddhava’s bookish knowledge and ego crumbled in the face of Radha’s living wisdom. He realized that his ego stood between him and the truth. In Radha’s presence, his restlessness, doubts, theories and pride just melted away. He felt illuminated.
Uddhava returned to Dwarka a different man. Krishna could sense the change and said, “Let’s talk about your Maharishi title.” Uddhava was feeling so fulfilled that he replied, “I am not that interested in the title anymore,” and bowed down to Krishna.
We were feeling elated listening to this amazing story . Maharaj ji looked at Gurudev and requested him to explain its deeper meaning.
Gurudev said, “I have never read the Srimad Bhagavatam. But I have heard that Radha is not mentioned anywhere in it.” “Radha actually means to return to the source. Dhara, the reverse of Radha, means that which flows outward from the source while Radha means coming back to the source. Radha is a Shakti, a divine power. Until we go to the source, we cannot experience Lord Krishna. Why is it so? It is because Lord Krishna is the source and Radha is the way or path to the source. So even if you are Rukmini or Satyabhama (the main wives of Lord Krishna), you cannot attain Lord Krishna until you become Radha, until you return to the source.”
This was the hidden meaning behind the symbolism of Radha. The profound insight from Gurudev opened our minds to a higher level of understanding. The session ended soon and we dispersed. The thought that was lingering in my mind was that a true Guru has the power to engineer in us this shift from Dhara to Radha.