Descriptions of Krsna-lila are attempts to describe dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, madhurya—divine love. They are efforts to put one’s deep spiritual experience into words. One experiences the lila and then one seeks to articulate it.
Even if the details are literally true, they don’t convey the fullness of the divine subjective experience. And different persons describe the same lilas differently. Many of the lilas of the Bhagavatam are found elsewhere and explained with different details. And even with Gaudiya Vaisnavism, the lilas are described with different details by different devotees. The lilas of the Bhagavatam are retold with many different details in Gopal Campu, for example.
Lila is dynamic, not static. But that does not mean that an approximation of the lila has no value for sadhakas. No, while words cannot do justice to one’s experience of lila seva, they nonetheless couch the heart of the experiencer, the advanced devotee. And it is his or her heart that is shared with us in Hari katha, a sharing that has great spiritual efficacy. Thus we should hear from experienced devotees. We may also consider that an approximation of the name—sraddha namabahsa—has spiritual currency. Thakura Bhaktivinode’s sraddha namabhasa matures into suddha nama.
As for arcana marg, the deity is a symbolic representation of Krsna. Arcana is the realm of ritual, where there is a spiritually healthy mixture of matter and spirit. The language and movements are symbolic. We say “idam naivedyam klim krsnaya namah,” when offering food to Krsna. But in lila, Yasoda does not say this when offering Krsna breakfast. His friends don’t say this when offering him fruit from their own mouths.
Prabhupada writes “The eyes which do not look at the symbolic representations [Deity forms] of the Personality of Godhead, Visnu, are like those printed on the plumes of the peacock.” Again he teaches, “We must know that the Vedic sounds recorded in symbolic expressions cannot be understood by anyone within the universe unless and until one is inspired by the vibration of supernatural (aprakrta) sound, which descends in the chain of disciplic succession…”
But of course we also stress that the diety is Krsna himself. That is to say that if we treat this symbolic representation of himself as if he is personally present, we will find that he is. He is not a symbolic representation of an impersonal absolute, but rather a symbolic representation of himself—his person&mdashthat when approached through symbolic language and gesture outlined is sastra reveals himself in full. In other words, he talks back rather than disappearing altogether. So again, the diety is a symbolic representation of the person himself, not of an impersonal absolute.
This text originally appeared as comment on Entering the Flow of Lila.