84 Vaishnavas

This is a literary journey into the heart of devotion. The easiest and fastest way to any goal is through spending time with someone who has reached that goal themselves. The saints of bhakti depicted in the 84 Vaishnavas text are mentors and guides for spiritual seekers. Spending time with them by reading this text is satsang: good association. This website and project are dedicated to Shyamdas, one of the greatest bhakti translators and transmitters who has ever lived.

I will be posting excerpts of translations here for all to read as we move along in the text. For those who want to go a little deeper with me, I will soon provide online subscription options that will grant full online access to more of the translations, audio files of the stories being read aloud, additional sponsorship opportunities and rewards, and the chance to comment and participate in the creative process, resulting in a published book translation. My aim is to also make the original Brajbhasha and Roman transliteration available here along with the English. More details coming soon, for anyone interested in being a part of this online community of readers. Until then enjoy the opening pages of this sacred book. Jai Shri Krishna!

Bhāvprakāśh (Shri Harirayaji’s Illumination of the Bhāv):

The reason for the manifestation of the eighty-four Vaishnavas is to rescue divine souls who have fallen to earth and gone through eighty-four lakh (8.4 million) births. There are eighty-four types of souls, with varying gunas (virtues). Some are tamasi (obstinant), some rajasi (passionate) and others satviki (pure). Those beyond material virtues are nirguna (transcendent). The nirguna souls were liberated by Shri Vallabhacharya, while those of the various gunas were uplifted by his son Shri Gusainji.

Shri Govardhandhara, Mountain-holder Krishna, cannot remain without Shri (Vallabh)Acharyaji. He manifested eighty-four of his intimate souls as Mahaprabhuji’s eighty-four nirguna Vaishnavas, thereby uplifting one divine nirguna soul out of every hundred thousand.

Also, the Ras Shastra scriptures describe eighty-four different postures of lovemaking. The eighty-four nirguna Vaishnavas are the very bhāv forms of Krishna’s limbs and are connected with the sacred love plays, yet they remain beyond all material attributes. In this way the eighty-four Vaishnavas are the divine forms of the various postures of lovemaking.

Shri Mahaprabhuji’s body comprises twelve parts, and each one has the same nature as Krishna’s own form. Each portion contains seven divine dharmas: lordship, potency, fame, beauty, knowledge, renunciation, and the seventh, dharmi, the source of all dharmas—Krishna himself. In this way, seven divine virtues in each of the twelve portions of Mahaprabhuji’s body creates the eighty-four Vaishnavas. Their forms, and that of Shri Mahaprabhuji, are purely divine and all-powerful.

Shri Krishna, the Supreme Being, enacted his līlā (divine play) throughout the eighty-four kośh (252 kilometer) pilgrimage route of Braja. The eighty-four Vaishnavas were created so that Krishna could accept those divine souls who had fallen into the cycle of eighty-four lakh births and award them attainment at the specific area of Braj with which they had a divine connection. These are the inner meanings behind Shri Mahaprabhuji’s eighty-four Vaishnavas.

One day Mahaprabhuji’s grandson Shri Gokulnathji was narrating the stories of the eighty-four Vaishnavas. Kalyan Bhatt and other accomplished souls were listening. All became thoroughly absorbed in the divine mood that evening, and Shri Gokulnathji even forgot to begin his teachings on Mahaprabhuji’s Subodhini. It was after midnight when one Vaishnava requested, “Maharaja! When are you going to begin the teachings?”

Shri Gokulnathji replied, “Today I am telling you the fruit of all teachings. Know that these stories of the great devotees contain the highest reward. There is no attainment beyond them. The fruit of the path of grace arises through the bhaktas.”

Shri Mahaprabhuji himself told his disciple Damodardas Harsani, “Damala, this path of grace manifested for you.” Therefore know that there is nothing greater than the life accounts of Vaishnavas. Supreme among them are the eighty-four followers of Shri Mahaprabhuji, nirguna vessels of grace. Shri Gusainji uplifted the other rajasi, tamasi and satviki bhaktas, those who had various virtues of obstinance, passion and purity. These 252 bhaktas are part of Shri Gusainji’s own form. This is the bhāva of Shri Mahaprabhuji and Shri Gusainji’s followers.

Shri Gokulnathji will now reveal the hidden meanings of the eighty-four Vaishnavas, and Shri Harirayaji will share some of the bhāv, for the sake of instructing bhaktas who follow the Path of Grace.

Now will be told the bhāv of Shri Acharyaji Mahaprabhu’s first sevak, Damodardas, whom he called “Damala.”

Shri Acharyaji called Damodardas “Damala,” from amalā, meaning “pure.” Here a doubt arises: when even ordinary Vaishnavas are free of impurity, what is the need to explain the name Damala as amalā, or to say that just seeing Damala or taking his name is enough to eradicate all impurities? In answer to this doubt, it is explained that in the path of bhakti, one who has love for Shri Krishna is pure, but one who has even more love for Mahaprabhuji than for Krishna is called amalā. Damodardas had firm, singular love for his guru, Shri Acharyaji. How do we know? Because once when Mahaprabhuji was resting with his head in Damodardas’ lap, Shri Nathji appeared directly in front of him. Damodardas told the blessed Lord, “Don’t come any closer! You will wake Mahaprabhuji.” Such was his steady love that Damodardas didn’t even get up to bow to Shri Krishna.

When Shri Gusainji asked him, “Why did you consider Mahaprabhuji greater than Krishna?” Damodardas replied, “Which is greater, the gift or the giver? The gift is given whenever and wherever the giver wants.”

Mahaprabhuji called him Damala because he did not have even the slightest trace of false connection, and therefore he is totally pure. His name is also connected to one of the names of Krishna, as Mahaprabhuji mentions in his text Purushottama Sahasranama (Thousand Names of Krishna): “Krishna, bound at the waist (Damodara), falls under the sway of his bhaktas.” This has been explained in more detail in Mahaprabhuji’s Subodhini commentary on the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Krishna shows how he falls under the sway of his bhaktas and cannot escape the ties of their affection. Krishna revealed his true nature to his mother, as well as the other bhaktas of Braj. Mother Yashoda was such a great bhakta that she was able to bind Krishna, who can truly never be contained. Seeing his devotees’ collective devotion, he allowed himself to be bound by the ropes they all brought. But he was not even able to break the cords mother Yashoda used to tie him. Bound by rope to a large stone, Krishna dragged it between the twin Arjuna trees in his courtyard. When the Braj bhaktas heard the two trees crashing to the ground, they came running and only then untied Krishna from the mortar. Therefore Yashodaji and the Braj bhaktas are even greater than Krishna. Through these līlās, he revealed his affection for his devotees.

Similarly, Shri Acharyaji fell under the sway of his devoted follower Damodardas. He himself said, “Damala—this path of grace has arisen for you!” With this statement he was indicating, “There are a lot of other bhaktas, but I am under your loving sway!” 

Damodardas Harsani’s divine līlā form arises from the sakhi Lalitaji. Just as in the secret intimate līlās, Lalitaji follows the commands of Shri Swaminij, so in this world too, Damodardas Harsani follows the instructions of Mahaprabhuji. He is truly the form of the gopi Lalita. He was renounced from childhood and knew nothing of household life.

Lalita’s bhāv can be grasped through the following poem:

Krishna laughs as he drinks milk.
Radha speaks sweet words with the Lord of her life breath.
Lalita hands them a golden bowl filled with nectar and says,
“Krishna, first make Radha taste it!
Then you can have some afterwards.”
This divine lady has captured the mind
of the wishing jewel, Krishna.
Seeing her Beloved, she smiles.*
Sings Harirayaji ‘Rasika,’ connoisseur of devotion,
“I offer my all to the fresh beauty of Radha and Krishna.”

*[Note: In the place of “nirakhi piya musikāta” some kirtan books contain the variant, “nāhina aura suhāta—no other will suffice.” Pushtimargiya Kirtan Sangraya, Vol. 3 (Vaishnava Mitra Mandala, Indore)]

The inner bhāv of that poem is that Radha and Krishna are sitting upon the jewel-studded bed when the sakhi Lalitaji arrives with a golden bowl filled with sweet and fragrant hot milk. Lalitaji considered, “If I give this milk to Shri Swaminiji first, she will offer it to her beloved Krishna and then taste some. This will not satisfy my divine intentions. Instead I will give it to Krishna, and he will offer her the first sip.” So she gave the bowl first to Shri Krishna with the instruction, “Krishna, first make Radha taste it! Then you can have some afterwards.”

Lalitaji knew that Shri Swaminiji would take the milk offered from Shri Krishna’s hand, which is the venerable form of a wishing stone and thus fulfills all desires. Since Shri Krishna resides within Shri Swaminiji’s heart, he would also enjoy the milk from there. In this way, when Shri Swaminiji takes the first sip of Lalita’s milk, Shri Krishna himself would become totally satisfied. Krishna smiled, recognizing Lalitaji’s cleverness in love. Shri Harirayaji celebrates seeing the beauty of the divine couple drinking milk.

Just as Lalita served Radha in the līlā, so here on this earth, Damodardas Harsani serves Mahaprabhuji with that same loving devotion. And for that reason, Mahaprabhuji never gave Damodardas any independent Krishna worship to perform, for he was, for Damodardas, Krishna himself. Damodardas was qualified for the highest form of seva, mānasī sevā, divine worship that spontaneously fills the inner recesses of the mind and heart. He remained immersed in the nectar of God’s līlā.

Episode 1: Once Damodardas Harsani accompanied Mahaprabhuji on a journey to Braja. Mahaprabhuji mentioned to him, “Damala, I have manifested this path of grace for you.” While resting underneath a Chonkar tree in Gokul by Govinda Ghat (the steps to the Yamuna River near Shri Dwarkanathji’s temple), Mahaprabhuji grew concerned, “Krishna has given me the command to connect divine souls with him through the Brahma Sambandha mantra initiation. But souls have so many impurities, while the Supreme Being is filled only with divine virtues! How can I possibly connect them?”

At that very moment, Shri Krishna manifested directly before him and asked, “Why are you so disturbed?” Mahaprabhuji explained, “You know well that embodied souls are filled with impurities. How can they possibly enter relationship with you?” Shri Krishna answered, “The souls you initiate will have all of their impurities removed. You must accept those divine souls.”

Bhāvprakāśh: The reason Mahaprabhuji was concerned about the upliftment of divine souls is that in the path of grace, only the most exalted things offered to Krishna are considered pleasing. Mahaprabhuji thought, how could I offer the Beloved such a mediocre thing as an impure soul?

Shri Krishna offered the sacred connection to himself through a great saint, Shri Mahaprabhuji. Not so many souls in the world have firm faith. By personally instructing Mahaprabhuji to initiate souls with the Brahma Sambandha mantra, Krishna inspired their faith and guaranteed that he would never leave those souls whom Mahaprabhuji initiates. With the knowledge of this promise, many souls would take initiation and establish their eternal relationship with Shri Krishna.

This divine event happened at midnight on the eleventh lunar day of the dark half of the month of Shravan. The following morning, the twelfth lunar day, is a celebration called Pavitra Dvadashi. Mahaprabhuji offered pavitra, a garland of 360 threads representing all 360 days of the year, to Shri Krishna. There is a written account of this in Shri Mahaprabhuji’s short text, The Secret Doctrine.

While Shri Krishna was instructing Mahaprabhuji, Damodardas Harsani was resting nearby. Mahaprabhuji asked him, “Damala, did you hear something?” Damodardas Harsani humbly replied, “Maharaja, I heard the voice of God but could not understand his words.”

Mahaprabhuji continued, “Krishna commanded me to initiate divine souls with the Brahma Sambandha mantra and promised he would accept them. He assured me that all of their impurities would be removed. He said that I should therefore definitely initiate divine souls with this sacred mantra.”

Bhāvprakāśh: Damodardas Harsani said that he heard God’s words but could not understand. This concept is revealed in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, when Krishna explains that you can read something, but you can only truly understand it if you receive the grace of the guru. If Damodardas Harsani had directly understood Krishna’s words, then he would be the disciple of Krishna. Since he is the disciple of Shri Mahaprabhuji, he could understand Krishna’s words only after Mahaprabhuji explained them to him.

Here it is shown that true wisdom arises in the heart with the guru’s grace. This demonstrates the true relationship between guru and disciple. If he had said to Mahaprabhuji, “Yes, I understood Krishna’s words,” that would make him feel that he was equal in knowledge to Mahaprabhuji. That is why he said, “I did not understand.” Or he could have said, “I didn’t understand Krishna’s words, but I have no need to. I only need to understand your words.”

Once in the middle of a teaching, Mahaprabhuji commented, “Damala, it’s been a long time since we spoke of beloved Krishna.”

Bhāvprakāśh: In the līlā, Shri Radha tells Lalita sakhi privately about her intimate exchanges with the blessed One. Shri Mahaprabhuji’s lila form is Shri Swaminiji (Radha) and Damodardas Harsani is Lalita. They hadn’t discussed these intimate stories of Krishna’s plays for some time. In public company Mahaprabhuji could only say that “It has been a long time since we have spoken about the Beloved.”