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(C) 1995 by Richard S. Brown All rights reserved.

The Vaisnava Concept of Dhama

by Richard Shaw Brown (c) 1971

The Sanskrit etymology of the word dhama traces the term to dha, which means "prime support" and also "to nurture." The suffix man creates dhaman, denoting loka, or the residence of God. The Supreme Lord alone is the prime support and nurture for all spiritual existences, and therefore His dhama is the eternal home and goal of all living beings.

Vaisnavas further define dhama as Vaikuntha, or that transcendental place beyond all the limitations and misery of the material world of birth and death. Dhama is completely different from mundane existence, both gross and subtle, because it is a limitless, supra-mundane reality utterly beyond the power of maya. Dhama is identical in nature with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus we hear in the Mundaka-upanisad (III.3.7),

yah sarvajnah sarva-vidyasyaisa mahima bhuvi
divye brahma-pure hyesa vyomnyatma pratisthitah

The Supreme Self, who is all-wise, omniscient, and whose glory is pervertedly reflected in the mundane world, resides eternally in the divine city of Brahman, within the great vacuum."

(Vyoma literally means "vacuum," according to the Visvakosa Sanskrit dictionary, and as Vaisnavas we were somewhat hesitant to use this translation because of its suggestion that the kingdom of God is merely some kind of void. However, we can understand that the Upanisad used the term vyoma to erase completely any hint of materiality in relation to the Supreme Lord's personal realm, or dhama.)

Grammatically, vyoma is in the locative case, and thus it literally 'locates' the kingdom of God in a place perfectly free of all matter. This accords with our Vaisnava understanding that the personal realm of the Supreme Godhead, Sri Krsna, is devoid of any material attributes, being a limitless eternal plane of spiritual existence wholly different from prakrti, or mundane nature. Divya-brahma-puri, in the above sloka, is the dhama itself, the transcendental abode of God, and it includes all His divine and glorious qualities, associates, paraphernalia, and pastimes. The holy and eternal kingdom of God, His sacred dhama, is therefore as worshipful as He is.

Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has conclusively proved the fact that the Supreme Godhead's personal dhama is identical with the Lord's own completely spiritual nature. All material forms are reflections of activities and forms that take place in that divine realm. Everything in the spiritual world--persons, places objects, conditions, moods tastes, etc.--are direct expansions of the Personality of Godhead, and thus they are inseparable parts and parcels of that holy dhama. Everything in the spiritual world exists for the unrestricted pleasure and happiness of God Himself. Non-Vaisnavas, relying on their own imperfect senses, cannot comprehend the actual nature and the activities of the supra-mundane dhama, and therefore they wrongly conclude that brahma-puri is either an allegorical realm or, even granting its eternal spiritual nature, that erroneous view of any transcendent al attributes and variegatedness. This erroneous view of Lord Krsna's dhama is refuted in many places by Vaisnava acaryas, as in the following sutra (aphorism) by Sri Dvaipayana Vedavyasa in the Vedanta-sutra (III, 3, 36)---antara-bhutagramavat svatmanah: "In the kingdom of God, things look similar to that of any ordinary village in the material world, but they are actually different in essence. Self realized devotees of the Supreme Lord can see this difference."

Thus, self-realized devotees of God can actually see the holy dhama by the grace of the Supreme Lord, and such a spiritual vision permits the devotee to perceive and experience the sublime varieties of transcendental manifestations present there. This spiritual variegatedness is non-different from the Lord Himself, and thus like Him the holy dhama is all-perfect and ever-fresh. Lord Brahma himself described the kingdom of God at the dawn of creation: "I worship that transcendental realm, known as Svetadvipa, where as loving consorts thee Laksmis in their unalloyed spiritual essence practice the amorous service of the Supreme Lord Krsna as their only lover; where every tree is a transcendental purpose tree; where the soil is the purpose-gem, all water is nectar, and every word is a song; where every gait is a dance, the flute is the favorite attendant, the effulgence is full of transcendental bliss, and the supreme spiritual entities are all enjoyable and tasty: where numberless milk cows always emit transcendental oceans of milk; where there is eternal existence of transcendental time, which is ever-present and without past or future and hence is not subject to the quality of passing away even for the space of half a moment. That realm is known as Goloka only to a very few self-realized souls in this world." (Brahma-samhita, V. 56).

In this Govinda-bhasya, Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana has stated that the Supreme Godhead, Who is satyam jnanamanantam brahma, or the absolute embodiment of truth and knowledge, appears to His devotees in His original transcendental form, complete with hands, feet, and all attributes of personality. The devotee also sees the Lord's holy dhama as a perfect transcendental land sublimely complete with limitless varieties of birds, tree, waterfalls, and activity. Form Vaisnava commentaries we can understand that all this splendidly beautiful variety of activity emanates from Lord Sri Krsna. The Gopala-tapani Upanisad tells us in the passage, saksad brahma gopala-puri-hi, that "The city of Gopala, or the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna, is verily Brahman. "The Lord and His realm, in other words are identical in nature.

Each Vaisnava-acarya has revealed confidential aspects of the holy dhama. According to Sri Ramanujacarya and Sri Madhvacarya, the Supreme Lord as Sri Narayana resides eternally in Vaikuntha. Here the Lord portrays His majestic form, and thus He is worshiped by His devotees in the mood of reverential service, dasya-rati. Sri Nimbarka and Sri Vallabhacarya glorify the Personality of Godhead as Sri Krsna, residing in Goloka-dhama, where the predominating mood is prema-bhakti. It was Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu, however, who revealed the deepest secrets of prema-bhakti and the special glories of Vraja-dhama. It was He who revealed the ecstasy of intimate attachment to Lord Krsna which culminates in Srimati Radharani's mahabhava, and thus from Lord Caitanya we learn precisely how the sacred dhama directly assists in arranging for the loving relationships between the Divine Couple Sri Sri Radha and Krsna.

The philosophy of madhura-prema, as explained by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is based upon this concept of rasa-tattva, and it finds its highest and most confidential manifestation in Vraja-dhama. This concept is the crest jewel of all theology, and its brilliant facets have been thoroughly analyzed by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada in his books, particularly Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. From Srila Prabhupada's translations and commentaries we can understand beyond any doubt or misunderstanding that all the gradations and varieties of spiritual activity in the holy dhama are identical with Lord Krsna Himself although all the Lord's devotees and transcendental paraphernalia retain their individual identities. This concept of simultaneous transcendental similarity and difference is called acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, and it reveals the deepest understanding of Lord Krsna's supreme personality and pastimes, while also revealing the intimate role of Krsna's Vraja-dhama in rendering Him direct loving service. In this way, we can understand how each of the Lord's infinite abodes, and especially Vraja-dhama, exists to render Krsna transcendental loving service.

The dhama of the eternal Personality of Godhead is manifested with the Supreme Lord Himself and His associates whenever He chooses to appear in the material world. Because the dhama is not different from Krsna and exists to make the many wonderful arrangements necessary for satisfying the Lord's transcendental desires, yogamaya first manifested the dhama on this earthly planet before the advent of the Lord Himself. Although the Lord has since withdrawn His transcendental form from our view, the reflection of the Lord's personal abode has remained in the material world for those blessed with the spiritual vision needed to behold it in its spiritual glory and sweetness.

Sri Baladeva Vidyabhusana states in his Prameya-ratnavali (Para. XXVII):

prapance svatmakam lokam avatarya mahesvara
avirbhavati tatreti matam brahmadi-sabdatah
govinde saccindanande naradarakata yatha
ajnair nirupyate tadvadhamni prakrta kila

"The Supreme Godhead first manifests His supra-mundane realm in the mundane world, and then He Himself makes His divine descent therein. But just as the ignorant fallen souls deluded by the forces of maya attribute mortal form and qualities to the Supreme Lord Govinda, who is in reality the absolute embodiment of truth, consciousness, and bliss, so also the Lord's dhama is misconceived by fallen souls to be a mundane place subject to laws of material nature--while in reality it is the eternal realm of the Supreme Autocratic Lord."

There IS transcendental variety in the Lord's Nitya-lilas within the spiritual sky, both in the limitless Vaikunthas, as well as in the center of the Spiritual Sky, Goloka, Vraja-dham & Navadvipa-dham.