No question has vexed me more than this one. It tormented me as I took my first toddling steps on the path of bhakti. Sri Radha-Krishna is my ishta devata, the form of the Divine I personally favor and worship over all others. And yet, this doubt plagued me —
Is Radha real?
It is a question echoed by many others across the centuries, the one I hear the most when Krishna is discussed.
What we usually mean by this is —
Did Radha exist?
If she is real, she must have existed physically in this material world. There must be a historical basis to her. That is how our minds have been trained and conditioned by the modern world to think.
But that is not how the ancients would have approached the question. They were not obsessed with history with a lower case ‘h’, one that busies itself with dates, geography and archaeology. The ancients understood that what mattered is meaning — not whether something existed in the past but whether it could exist within you as a living tangible reality, whether it could transform you and reveal to you the inner truths of existence and your own nature.
That is why viveka (discrimination) in the Vedic tradition is used to ascertain that which is nitya (beyond the reach of time) and anitya (that which is impermanent / transient). The first of the four requirements for sadhana (sadhana chatushtaya) in Vedanta — knowing the Truth of all truths — is ‘nitya anitya vastu viveka’ — the ability to discriminate between that which is nitya and anitya. Note, the question is not whether something existed in the past (which suggests that it also ceased to exist or will one day cease to exist, since that which came into existence is bound by time) but whether it transcends the confines of space and time.
When the young Narendranath who would one day become Swami Vivekananda was searching for a guru, he asked one question to all those he encountered — had they seen God? None could answer him satisfactorily. It was only Sri Ramakrishna who replied immediately and emphatically, Yes.
Swami Vivekananda’s question is the right one. It is the one we should be asking. He did not ask whether Krishna and Rama had walked on earth thousands or millions of years ago. What mattered was whether he…