Meditating on the Damodarashtakam: The supreme controller is controlled – and still remains in control (Part 2 – Verses 5 to 8)
Verse 5: Devotion catapults us to the summit of yogic meditation
The fifth verse moves from rejection of the negative to elucidation of the positive. It describes the beauty of the form on which the sage desires to constantly meditate. Comparing the Lord’s face to a lotus, he remembers how it is kissed with love by Yashoda and mentions some of its striking features: the silken locks of hair that frame the face and the beautiful reddish lips. He desires fervently that his mind be absorbed perennially in such contemplation. Stressing the intensity of his aspiration, he proclaims that millions of other benedictions are of no value to him.
The sage’s expression echoes the Bhagavad-gita’s description (06.20-23) of samadhi, the state of the topmost absorption in transcendence. Yogis thus absorbed feel that there is no gain greater than this. That the sage has attained a similar level of unflappable absorption indicates that he is situated in samadhi.
And he has attained that summit of yoga simply by meditating on the Lord’s pastimes. Whereas ashtanga-yoga focuses on stopping the negative, material emotions of the mind, bhakti-yoga focuses on activating the positive, spiritual emotions of the soul. As emotions are natural to us, activating pure emotions is easier than rejecting all emotions per se. Thus, bhakti makes progress towards transcendence easier, faster and sweeter. Pertinently, the Gita’s chapter on yoga concludes (06.47) with the declaration that the topmost yogis are those who are devotionally absorbed in Krishna.
Verse 6: Two strategies for begging
The sixth verse expresses the sage’s longing for the direct darshan (sight) of Krishna, distinct from the constant inner darshan that he has sought in the previous two verses. Knowing that such a visual darshan is an extremely exalted boon, he reserves the verbalization of his yearning till the end of the verse, prefacing it with glorification of the Lord and expression of his own destitute condition.
Seeking grace is akin to begging. While asking for alms, beggars often praise the donor’s magnanimity and express their own penury, thus hoping to invoke compassion. A similar dual strategy can be applied when we beseech the Lord for mercy.
The sage spontaneously resorts to one of the most potent means for pleasing the Lord and invoking his compassion: recitation of his names. While offering obeisances, he refers to the Lord by six relevant names. Sanatana Goswami explains how these forms of address reinforce his prayer:
O Deva: You have a divine form, hence I desire to see you.
O Damodara: You are so affectionate to your devotees, so you will certainly appear.
O Ananta: You are unlimitedly merciful.
O Vishnu: You are all-pervasive, so you can easily appear before me.
O Prabhu: You are the master with limitless powers; so, even if not perceivable with mundane senses, you can appear to me.
O Isa: You are supremely independent controller. So you can bestow your mercy even to the unfit.
The sage then conveys his destitute condition in three ways. He states that he is fallen and is also ignorant, not knowing how to come out of his fallen condition. And he metaphorically conveys the extent of his misery by declaring that he is drowning in an ocean of misery. This reference to a water-body contrasts poignantly with an earlier reference to a water-body – the third verse stated that Krishna is drowning the devoted residents of Gokula in a lake of ecstasy. When he blesses his devotees thus, how can he let another devotee drown in an ocean of distress?
Satyavrata Muni begs the Lord to cast a merciful glance (kripa drshti) on him and relieve him of his suffering. Significantly, the ocean afflicting the sage is not the ocean of material existence, but the ocean of separation from Krishna. So, in the verse’s conclusion, he voices his aspiration: Please become visible to these eyes (edhy akshi drshya)
Verse 7: The bound is still the liberator
In the seventh verse, Satyavrata Muni recognizing that Krishna grants darshan only to those who have devotion prays for devotion and he creatively links his appeal with a continued narration of the pastime. After Krishna was tied to the mortar, he moved towards two giant trees in the courtyard, dragging the mortar with him. When the mortar got stuck between the trees, Krishna tugged at it and – wonder of wonders – the two trees came crashing down and from them emerged two celestial beings. These beings were Nalakuvera-Manigriva, sons of the treasurer of the gods, Kuvera. Due to licentious behavior in their previous life, they had been cursed by the sage Narada to lose their celestial bodies and become incarcerated in arboreal forms. When they had begged forgiveness, Narada had assured them that they would becomes trees in Krishna’s courtyard and would be delivered by him. Wanting to fulfill his devotee Narada’s promise, Krishna now liberated them by not just freeing them from their tree bodies but also granting them devotion.
Satyavrata Muni states this narrative as a precedent for the Lord having bestowed mercy on the unqualified. Just as they had been blessed with devotion, the sage request that he too be similarly blessed. And he reinforces that request by declaring (for the third time in the song) that he doesn’t desire liberation. Such repeated rejection of liberation suggests that what is conventionally called liberation is not really liberation, especially when it takes one away from the Lord and his service. The Bhagavatam (3.29.13) asserts that devotees refuse such service-bereft liberation even if it is offered to them. In fact, the bhakti tradition declares that devotional service to the supreme liberator is the ultimate liberation.
This verse centers on poetic utilization of the motif of bondage and liberation. The Lord is the giver of liberation from all bondage, yet in this pastime he himself was bound (baddha-murti). That is not the only wonder. Those who are bound need others to free them – they can’t usually free others. But even when he was bound, Krishna remained omnipotent and freed those who were bound (mocitau).
Verse 8: The unlimited Lord offers unlimited ecstasy
The last text reveals how the vision of devotion sanctifies and cherishes not just the object of devotion but also the things connected with that object. Thus, the sage offers obeisance not to the Lord, but to the rope that binds the Lord’s belly. The rope is glorified in two ways: first by declaring it to be effulgent and then by stating the glory of the object that it bound – the Lord’s abdomen, which is the source and abode of the whole universe. In bhakti cosmology, the universe arises from the abdomen of a manifestation of the Lord through a complex sequence of expansions and emanations.
The sage then offers obeisance to Radha, Krishna’s beloved consort. As the conjugal pastimes of the Lord are confidential, the bhakti tradition stresses that they not be publicly discussed. And yet a song about the glory of devotion calls for at least a reference to the supreme devotee Radha.
Radha is not directly present in this pastime; still indirectly she pervades it and is in fact its essence. The Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition explains that Radha is not just the topmost devotee. She is also devotion personified. Here personification refers not to a literary device, but to an ontological reality – in the person of Radha resides all devotion. Whatever devotion whoever has comes from her. Even the devotion of Yashoda by which Krishna was bound comes from Radha. By offering obeisances to her, the sage beseeches her mercy so that he too may be enriched with devotion.
And the final obeisance is predictably to the Lord, but with a significant describer. He is the performer of unlimited pastimes (ananta-lila). While the word ananta was used in the fifth text as a noun to refer to the Lord, here it is used as an adjective to describe his inexhaustible pastimes.
Given that this song has described the immense ecstasy in meditating on one pastime, the concluding obeisance conveys that the Lord, being the performer of unlimited pastimes, is the reservoir of unlimited ecstasy. In loving him, our heart’s deepest longings for happiness will be perennially and perfectly fulfilled.