I once visited Vrndavana, India with His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. As I accompanied him on his daily walk one morning we suddenly came upon a particularly beautiful spot. The cool sands were thick with foliage; the tall trees full of singing birds. As the sun brightened the clear morning sky, peacocks filled the air with their peculiar call.
Srila Prabhupada looked over his shoulder and said to me, "So, Brahmananda, this is Vrndavana. How do you like it?"
"It's wonderful, Srila Prabhupada," was all I could reply. I felt that he was actually revealing the glories of Vrndavana to me even though I had no particular spiritual qualification.
Vrndavana is the place where the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna appeared five thousand years ago. Lord Krsna descended there from His own spiritual planet, Goloka Vrndavana to attract us by displaying His supernatural pastimes. Srila Prabhupada has explained that when Krsna descends to the material world, this same Vrndavana descends with Him just as an entourage accompanies an important personage. Because when Krsna comes His land also comes, Vrndavana is not considered to exist in the material world. Therefore devotees take shelter of the Vrndavana in India, for it is considered to be a replica of the original Goloka Vrndavana.
In the spiritual land of Vrndavana, everyone loves Krsna even the animals and plants. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.15.7) describes how the peacocks greeted Lord Krsna and His brother Balarama: "O worshipable one, just see how the peacocks returning to their nests are greeting You with full pleasure! The cuckoos on the branches of the trees are also greeting You in their own way. All the residents of Vrndavana are glorious because everyone is prepared to render devotional service to You." And later in the same work: "Just see how the cranes and swans on the water are singing the glories of the Lord! While standing in the water they are meditating and worshiping him!"
Even today one can see many different kinds of wildlife in Vrndavana. Indeed, the are appears to be a kind of sanctuary where all living entities can take shelter. For example, Vrndavana is a haven for cows. Hundreds of them in herds go out into the pastures in the morning and dutifully return at sundown. Some venture through the town streets and are fed, patted and offered respect and worship, for everyone knows they are Krsna's favorite pets. Once, on my first visit to Vrndavana, I bathed in the Yamuna and then began walking through one of the outlying forests. I was marveling at how the forest floor had been transformed into a neatly clipped grass carpet by the feeding cows, when suddenly a stream of them came through the trees. Soon hundreds of white cows were all around me, sometimes eating the grass, sometimes nibbling at the leaves on the low-hanging tree branches, sometimes frolicking and running like playful friends. As the passing herd started to thin out, I saw a cowherd boy in the rear, chiding some of the stragglers. He was about nine years old, dark and frail, clad in a simple cloth and carrying a small stick. He ran behind the white heads of the cows, fully absorbed in his occupation. Upon seeing such a sight as this in Vrndavana, how could one possibly not remember Krsna, who is renowned for His role as a transcendental cowherd boy?
Many elderly Bengali widows have also made Vrndavana their haven. Their backs bent with old age, they crowd the city's streets while intently going to the temples. They are especially seen in the early morning on the banks of the river Yamuna, where, draped in their white widows' saris, they look like a flock of white ducks, dipping and bathing and offering their oblations. It is said that half of Vrndavana's twenty-five thousand residents are these Bengali widows. They have come to Vrndavana to die. Having brought whatever life savings they had and deposited it with one of the temples, they receive a room and bare necessities, and in this way they count their days and their prayer beads until they pass away. Although to die in Vrndavana is certainly auspicious, Krsna recommends in the Bhagavad-gita that wherever one may die, if he can at that time remember Krsna or His activities, name, form, or abode, then he is immediately transferred to the transcendental planet of Krsna.
Other inhabitants of Vrndavana are the artisans, the silver craftsmen, the doll makers, the bead carvers, the carpenters, and the shopkeepers. They are all Vrajavasis (people born in Vrndavana) who can trace their families far, far back, and who themselves will never care to leave Vrndavana. There are also the caste gosvamis, who by birthright are the mentors of the temples. They are the town's brahminical aristocrats and are given all respect. Finally, there are the pujaris or temple priests and the numerous babajis. The latter are simply humble beggars, frail and nearly naked, who wear broad clay marks called tilaka on their dark bodies. They eat at the free kitchens called chatras and have no fixed address.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam recommends that when one visits a holy place like Vrndavana, he should take spiritual instructions from the holy persons residing there. Unfortunately, most visitors to Vrndavana fail to do this, and they leave Vrndavana having done little more than take a bath there. Even so, anyone who goes to Vrndavana will be benefited. His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada explains in his Srimad-Bhagavatam: "Any person may go [to Vrndavana], and even if he is sinful, he will at once contact an atmosphere of spiritual life and will automatically chant the names of Radha and Krsna. This we have actually seen and experienced." In the Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada further comments: "The places in the eighty-four square-mile district of Mathura, [in which Vrndavana is located] are so beautifully situated on the banks of the river Yamuna that anyone who goes there will never want to return to this material world." Srila Rupa Gosvami has confirmed in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu that even non-devotees who come to Vrndavana can experience transcendental emotions.
But to fully appreciate the transcendental quality of Vrndavana, you must be transcendentally qualified. Krsna and His abode are visible only to His devotees; to others they remain a mystery. As Srila Prabhupada explains in his Srimad-Bhagavatam,"The mystery [of God] is unfolded before the eyes of His pure devotees because their eyes are anointed with love for Him. And this love of Godhead can be attained only by the practice of transcendental service to the Lord, and nothing else. Factually, the spiritually developed person is able to have the vision of the kingdom of God always reflected within his heart…"
The best way to experience Vrndavana is to humbly approach a pure devotee of Krsna and try to receive his mercy. Because he has seen the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he can open our eyes and anoint them with love so that we can also get a glimpse. In the same way that a pair of eyeglasses enables a person with poor vision to see everything clearly, the pure devotee is the transparent via medium through which we can clearly perceive God. Therefore to fully appreciate Vrndavana, one should become a devotee of Krsna and become Krsna conscious.
What does it mean to become a devotee? A devotee is one who has purified himself of all material lust by performing devotional service under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master. In that pure state of mind and heart, he can devote himself to the Lord and experience transcendental love for God. As Srila Prabhupada explains in his Teachings of Lord Caitanya: "Vrndavana is actually experienced as it is by persons who have stopped trying to derive pleasure from material enjoyment. 'When will my mind become cleansed of all hankering for material enjoyment so I will be able to see Vrndavana?' one great devotee asks. The more Krsna conscious we become and the more we advance, the more everything is revealed as spiritual."
Anyone who goes to Vrndavana should carefully avoid committing any offense there. Vrndavana is the sacred abode of the Lord, and to act sinfully there is equivalent to offending Lord Krsna Himself. A sin committed in the Lord's abode is calleddhama-aparadha, and is severely punishable one hundred times more so than if committed outside Vrndavana. Conversely, a pious act performed in Vrndavana yields one hundred times greater benefit than one performed outside. The numerous hogs, dogs, monkeys and turtles who inhabit Vrndavana attest to many impure devotees who in their last life committed sins in Vrndavana. They've taken birth in one of these lower species, but in their next life, due to developing an attachment for the sacred dust of Vrndavana, they will be promoted back to Godhead by the Lord's mercy.
One should not make the mistake of prematurely retiring in Vrndavana. If one is not advanced in Krsna consciousness and goes there to retire from material activities, he is quite likely to perform material activities in Vrndavana. To prevent this, the Vedic system of varnasrama-dharma provides for a gradual disentanglement from material life. Before taking sannyasa, or complete renouncement, one may enter the order of vanaprastha, in which all family and business responsibilities are handed over to the elder sons. Thus one can travel to various places of pilgrimage with his wife, always, however, maintaining strict celibacy.
But one who is pure enough to actually reside in Vrndavana can develop love of Godhead by following in the footsteps of one of the eternal residents of that land. He should try to emulate the deep devotion of Krsna's friends, parents, or conjugal lovers. Consider Krsna's uncle Akrura: when he entered the outskirts of Vrndavana and saw Krsna's footprints in the dust, his ecstatic love for Him increased so much that the hairs on his body stood up. His eyes were flooded with tears, and in ecstasy he jumped from his chariot and fell down on the ground, calling out, "How wonderful this is! How wonderful this is!" Such pure devotion is the ideal way of seeing Vrndavana. When one loves Krsna this intensely, he also loves Vrndavana in the same way, for one cannot separate Vrndavana from Krsna. Indeed, Krsna is eternally present there, inviting us back to His wonderful abode.