Aesthetic Vedanta: The Sacred Path of Passionate Love by Swami Tripurari
Vedanta refers to the body of ancient, sacred texts. They happen to be heady texts about the nature of being and consciousness, therefore the word “aesthetic,” at first blush, seems an unlikely adjective for Vedanta – unless you’re a brainiac and your joys come from the gesticulations of the mind.
Yet the term Aesthetic Vedanta, though novel – and coined by the author — is exactly the correct phrase. Bhakti, or divine love, is all about aesthetics: beauty, loveliness, allure, artistry, wonder, truth, delight, pleasingness, harmony, fascination, gracefulness.
“Truth is beauty,” writes the author, and this is the premise of Aesthetic Vedanta which is about the highest love.
The book focuses on the poem in the Bhagavata Purana conveying the spiritual experience of the rasa lila, the dance of divine love between Krishna and his beloved Sri Radha – also sometimes considered the dance of love between the Godhead and humanity. At the least, the rasa lila is an invitation to humanity to enter into God’s love story.
The mystery of the rasa lila is profound and is known as the greatest love story ever told. And, as Georg Feuerstein writes in the Introduction, has been “retold by poets, depicted by artists, sung about and celebrated in music, philosophized about, and meditated upon for thousands of years.”
Before retelling the rasa lila itself in the middle chapter, the first chapter explores and defines “truth” and “beauty” from a philosophical metanarrative. This seems the appropriate introduction to the poem itself. Just as in the Purana where we find the rasa lila poem it is prefaced by many books of philosophy grounding us in the nature of the spiritual love affair so that we may enter into the mysteries of the divine love dance with proper understanding, which is the only way to birth our own genuine spiritual emotions.
The retelling of the rasa lila is lucid, inviting, and nuanced with subtleties the author brings, seemingly effortlessly, to our awareness.
The final chapter unpacks the essence of what we heard about the rasa lila and points us in the direction of how to enter the path of passionate love.
Aesthetic Vedanta is a book that is an introduction to the esoteric path of divine love and a handbook for the serious practitioner to refer to regularly.
Finally, I must comment on the physical book itself.
This book is the epitome of excellent aesthetics in book manufacturing. It’s a hardbound book with three-quarter binding: cloth on the spine and a four-color printed case. A die-cut oval on the jacket tastefully opens to a portrait frame of Radha – the embodiment of the highest divine love. The painting on the case is an exquisite rendering of a scene where Radha and her friends are sharing a confidential conversation and Krishna is sneaking a listen from behind a tree. All of this is revealed only if you remove the jacket, which, of course, you must. The painting itself is a miniature, done by renowned Rajasthan artist Mahaveer Swami using an ancient art form using squirrel hairs as the artist’s paintbrush and natural pigments. In other words, the art is made of fine detail and draws us to the beauty of such finery. The pages are adored with deckled edges and the typography design is superb. Loving attention has been given to every detail of the book – a sign of bygone times I wish we could return to, for I believe books a most valuable asset and they ought to be presented as such. Especially when their content is worthy, and this is one of those books. Nowadays we get square blocks off a machine that churns out “print-on-demand” and many of the aesthetics of book manufacturing are lost.