Not much is known or documented about the life of Prabodhananda Sarasvatipada. An incarnation of Tungavidya Sakhi in Vraja, he lived as a recluse in the holy land of Vraja, and is particularly famous on account of his writings full of abundant praise. His five famous works are the following:
1. Radha Rasa Sudhanidhi
2. Vrindavana Mahimamrita
3. Caitanya Candramrita
4. Sangita Madhava
5. Ascarya Rasa Prabandha
Sometimes the first of these titles is attributed to a Radha Vallabhi saint known by the name Hita Harivamsa, with whom Prabodhananda spent some of his time. In fact, it appears that Prabodhananda was rather unaffiliated with either the Gaudiya or the Radha Vallabhi sects, which contributes to the fact that not much is documented about him. This has given rise to confusion over his life and identity among the two Vaishnava traditions, and even within the Gaudiya tradition there are unresolved controversies over his personality. However, let us try and present whatever is at our disposal in regards to Prabodhananda. The following excerpts are drawn from an essay compiled by Jagadananda Das, from which we have tried to extract some of the non-controversial data for the joy and inspiration of our assembly to present his glory.
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Prabodhananda Sarasvati is primarily known as the author of a number of works, all of which are in the Sanskrit language and on the subject of Krsna or Krsna devotion. None of the works ascribed to him contain any explicitly biographical data, nor are any of them dated. The list of his works differs in each of the two schools which lay claim to him. Amongst the Gaudiyas, his most significant works beside the contested stotra kavya, Radha rasa sudha nidhi (RRSN), include four works of Sanskrit verse: Caitanya candramrta (CCA), Vrndavana mahimamrta (VMA), Sangita madhava (SangM) and Ascarya rasa prabandha (ARP). The first two of these are also stotra kavyas in the vein of Mukunda mala, Stotra ratna, and Krsna karnamrta, the stylistic influence of this last work being particularly noticeable. The two others compositions are descriptions of Radha and Krsna's amorous dalliances, the first (SangM) a giti kavya in the style of the Gita govinda in sixteen sargas, the second (ARP) an original reworking of the rasa lila in 284 verses, primarily in the pajjhatika metre. His other works consist of prose commentaries: the Sruti stuti vyakhya, on the 87th chapter of the Bhagavata purana's tenth book, another on the Gita govinda and two others on Gopala tapani Upanisad and the Gayatri mantra. These last two are somewhat doubtful, as they bear a great similarity to works also attributed to Jiva Gosvami. All of these works have been published in recent years, for which the efforts of Haridas Das are particularly notable. The CCA in particular is a continuing favourite of the Gaudiyas which has seen repeated publication.
In early Gaudiya Vaisnava literature, the name of Prabodhananda crops up only in those peculiar works, the Vaisnava vandanas, Bengali precursors to the bhakta malas of North India, in which Caitanya's associates’ names are listed with the sparsest of biographical detail. There we find oblique reference to a work glorifying Caitanya written by Prabodhananda. One of Caitanya's more important associates, Narahari (d.1568), in his Saparsad gauranga vandana writes “Oh Prabodhananda, I implore you. Intoxicate me just once with the glories of Gauranga!” Devakinandana Dasa, in his works Vaisnava vandana and Vaisnavabhidhana, also states simply that Prabodhananda (to whom he gives the respectful title gosani, i.e. gosvami) is particularly known for his pure devotion to Mahaprabhu, whose glories he described.
A bit more info
rmation is added by the important author Kavi Karnapura in his Gaura ganoddesa dipika (AD 1576), where Prabodhananda is identified as a yati -- an ascetic or monk, most likely of the Sankara orders. This is confirmed by the addition of the adjective gaurodgana sarasvati, “he whose words are used in enthusiastically singing out the glories of Gaura (Caitanya)”, where Sarasvati is also one of the titles or classes of dasa nami renunciates of the Sankara school. In Prabodhananda's own works, the title Sarasvati is used in the signature verses of SangM.
Prabodhananda is further described in Gaura ganoddesa dipika as having in Vraja the identity of Tungavidya, the most scholarly of all of Radha and Krsna's chief girl friends. This identity ranks him with Svarupa Damodara, Ramananda Raya, Narahari, etc. who are some of the other Caitanya associates identified as sakhis.
Another work of this type ascribed to Jiva Gosvami specifies that Prabodhananda wrote Candramrta and adds to this information that this Prabodhananda was the spiritual master of Gopala Bhatta. In his important Sanskrit compilation of ritual, the Hari bhakti vilasa, sometimes known as the Vaisnava smrti, Gopala Bhatta, one of the renowned “six gosvamis” of Vrindavan, does indeed make his obeisance to Prabodhananda as his guru, describing him as dear to bhagavat, which according to Sanatana, the commentator, means Caitanya.
It would appear from certain clues in CCA that Prabodhananda had personally met Caitanya, and if so, certainly at Puri, though not necessarily for the first time there. This is surmised from the importance that is placed on the vision of Caitanya (CCA, 27, 29, 59, 77, 82) as well as the vivid descriptions given of the saint at Puri.
May the golden bodied Hari deliver you
as he brings joy to your eyes by his pacing back and forth,
his face bathed in tears from his desire to see Jagannatha.
To count the world saving Hare Krsna names which he chants,
he ties knots in a rope tied around his waist
with a shaking, love-filled hand.
Other lines such as “How amazing, the Supreme Truth dances on the shores of the salt-water sea!” (17) and “On the beaches of the salt ocean, a certain form made of molten gold pleases my mind as he remembers the sweet pastimes of his previous incarnation...” (45) support this view.
It also seems likely that Prabodhananda visited Mahaprabhu’s birthplace in Nabadwip, (100 2), but not while Caitanya was there, for he glorifies the dhaman of Nabadwip as the place where Caitanya had appeared and one which had been transformed by his influence, but he makes no descriptions of any of his pastimes there. Prabodhananda knew Caitanya as a sannyasin. The poem itself may well have been written in Puri not long after the death of Caitanya, for several verses indicate that Caitanya is no longer alive, especially 83:
and this too the same ocean beach,
this, the town of Purusottama (Puri)
and these, the identical names of Krsna;
but nowhere, alas! can I see the same festival of love.
Ah, Caitanya, source of all compassion,
will I ever again see your glories?
It would also appear that Prabodhananda knew Caitanya's associates, whom he praises in several verses, naming in particular Advaita (134) and Vakresvara (116), whose dancing had impressed him. He also accepted the doctrine that these were various deities or associates from Krsna's lila who had joined him in this incarnation, specifically mentioning the five who come to be known as the Pancatattva (52).
Other of Prabodhananda's verses reflect some well known Sanskrit and Bengali statements made by Caitanya associates, including one attributed to Caitanya himself: verse 85 (trnad api sunicata, etc.) quotes in part Padyavali 47, (trnad api sunicena, etc.). Some of the others will be noted below.
Prabodhananda mentions Kasi, the classical name for the town o
f Benares, on two separate occasions. Not a place of great religious significance for Caitanya's followers, Kasi is spoken of by Prabodhananda only in relation to the life he has left behind. When this clue is added to indications that he was a sannyasin on the path of monism and his conversion by Caitanya, Prabodhananda begins to bear an uncanny resemblance to the Prakasananda encountered in CC.
Prabodhananda tells us clearly that he is a sannyasin, though he does not give this status much value. He curses both his learning and his asrama, which to him are nothing more than misfortunes preventing him from developing even a hint of a relationship with Caitanya (ha dhig api me vidyam dhig apy asramam, 117). The same sentiment is also found in 106: dvijatvam api dhik param vimalam asramadyam ca dhik. In 23, he speaks of sannyasins giving up their regulated cultivation of knowledge upon discovering the devotional path set forth by Caitanya (jnanabhyasa vidhim jahus ca yatayah).
In verse 8 he condemns those who in ignorance prattle the words brahmaham: "I am brahman", (dhig astu brahmahamvadanapari phullan jadamatin), but he does not hesitate to call Caitanya brahman or param brahman while underscoring his personal nature: (param brahma svayam nrtyati, 17). In another place, he calls Caitanya param jyotir Gaurah (15). Caitanya is also called koty advaita siromani -- “the jewel at the crown of a hundred-million monistic truths” (140).
Prabodhananda says that until one sees Caitanya, talk of brahman, the goal of liberation, will not taste bitter, nor the chains of fruitive works according to the Vedic path loosed, and the learned will chatter amongst themselves about the relative merits of different superficial paths of spiritual practice (35). He further warns his mind not to follow the path of monistic spirituality: na karnabhyarne 'pi kvacana nayatadhyatma saraneh (63), and in a well loved verse, states that monistic liberation is like hell to one who has received Caitanya's mercy (95):
the heavenly kingdoms like so many figments of the imagination,
the indomitable black snakes of the senses
appear to have had their fangs extracted,
the universe appears to be full of joy
and the gods Brahma and Mahendra
seem as insignificant as worms
to those who have become wealthy
with the grace of Gaura's merciful glance:
I offer my praises to him.
Caitanya came to show the insignificance of salvation and the other goals of human life including mukti (57). This attitude is further expressed in Prabodhananda's description of even Caitanya's uneducated disciples chastising pandits learned in all the scriptures (80); 'the disciples of Caitanya condemn the scholars of the paths of knowledge and ritual' (dhik kurvanti ca jnana karma vidusah, 99). He berates the uselessness of all other practices of renunciation, knowledge, yoga, even devotion to other forms of Narayana. All gains were found more easily simply through the worship of Caitanya.
Prabodhananda uses the term pum arthanam maulih (6) 'crown of the goals of life', a phrase which is clearly echoed in the CC account of Prakasananda for, according to Krsnadasa, Caitanya explained to Prakasananda that love of Krsna was the fifth or parama purusartha.
In other words reminiscent of the conversion of Prakasananda described in CC, Prabodhananda indicates that the embarrassment he had felt about publicly dancing and singing disappeared by the mercy of Caitanya:
has stolen everything from me,
whether it be the performances of worldly and ritual duties,
all of which had attained faithful regularity,
or the embarrassment which held me back
from festivals of laughter, loud song and dance,
and even, wonder of wonders,
the natural activities of maintaining my life and body!
Other verses in Caitanya-c
andramrta show resemblances to descriptions used in the CC which arise in the context of the conversion of Prakasananda. Compare, for example, the following two passages from the CCA and CC:
he does not see some people as friends and others as enemies;
he does not ruminate over whether this gift is to be given or not,
nor does he consider the correctness of the occasion;
that Gaura who gave the rare taste of devotion
by simply being heard, seen, bowed to or meditated upon,
is my destiny.
He does not judge who is worthy and who is not; there is no place which is suitable or unsuitable; he there gives the gift of love to whomever he finds.
Though many verses in Caitanya-candramrta imply the sudden conversion of Prabodhananda, the use of the word akasmat, 'without a why or a wherefore, suddenly', in verses 33 and 88, etc., lend further credence to the CC account.
Prabodhananda's panegyric shows a sophisticated theological conception of Caitanya as the godhead Krsna himself, fully incarnate (purna evavatirnah, 142) both to taste love for Krsna (Vrajapati kumaram rasayitum, 1) and to distribute that taste of love to all and sundry (visuddha svapremonmada madhura piyusa laharim pradatum canyebhyah, 1), irregardless of their caste, sinful character or previously held beliefs (3, 4, etc.). This shows that he understood both the internal (antaranga) and external (bahiranga) causes for Caitanya's incarnation, as outlined by Krsnadasa Kaviraja.
Prabodhananda appears to have come under the influence of several of Caitanya's associates: Svarupa Damodara and Narahari in particular, for some of their ideas are reflected in his verses. He thus seems to have alternately described Caitanya according to each of several theological points of view which were extant without making any effort at differentiation. Thus, in one place he follows the position attributed to Svarupa Damodara in postulating that Caitanya is both Radha and Krsna in a combined form: “May the body of Madhava, united with Radha, give you salvation” (ekibhutam vapur avatu vo radhaya madhavasya, 16) or “Gauracandra is directly manifest as the form of Radha and the enemy of Madhu” (saksad radha madhuripu tanur bhati gauranga candrah, 103)
On the other hand, he more often describes Caitanya as Krsna himself with a golden colour.41 In particular, one verse (90) describes Caitanya as nagara, a concept which was adopted by Narahari and his followers. The idea of Caitanya as sannyasi kapatam or 'deceptive sannyasin' (64, 96) also appears to be derived from Narahari's Sacinandanastaka. The idea of Caitanya 'abandoning' Vrindavan (126) also appears to be an idea of Narahari's. B. B. Majumdar, S. K. De, and more recently R. K. Chakravarty, refer to Prabodhananda as a founder of Gaura paramya vada, or the doctrine of the supremacy of Gaura. It would seem rather that he kept the company of Narahari who is traditionally accepted as the author of this viewpoint. As in the case of Kavi Karnapura, not too much should be made of this concept, for the later writings of Prabodhananda, as well as the various conceptions of devotion and the contributions made by Caitanya, indicate that he (as Karnapura) ultimately considered the Vrindavan-lila, i.e. Radha and Krsna, to be the ultimate goal of his spiritual life. Both he and Karnapura did, however, apparently believe in the identity of the two lilas.
The oscillating moods of Caitanya are described as follows:
imitating many different postures;
sometimes he would take the mood of Radha
and would cry the name of Hari in pain [of separation];
sometimes he would crawl like a baby or behave like a cowherd.
In the sweetness of all these different moods
Gaura astonishes the universe.
A description of Caitanya absorbed in the identity of a gopi suffering in s
eparation from Krsna is also found elsewhere in the work (78).
It would not be an exaggeration to say that during the life or in the period immediately following the death of Caitanya, no other author wrote a description of the saint in the same sophisticated terms which were later popularized by Krsnadasa's Caitanya caritamrta. The same may be said about the summary that Prabodhananda made of the type of devotion which Caitanya disseminated.
Prabodhananda apparently came to appreciate the supremacy of Radha from Caitanya, for he says that Hari, in his form as Gaura, exhibited his devotion to the feet of Radha: svayam vitanute Radha padabje ratim (87) As one progresses in devotion to Mahaprabhu, a pious person suddenly gets a vision of Radha's feet, which are an ocean of nectar (89). He prays for the time when by Caitanya's mercy, upon attaining a pure, ingenuous love for Caitanya, the light from the jewel like toenails of Radha's feet will illuminate his heart. As we shall see later, the words 'the light of the nails of Radha's feet would arise' (Sri Radha pada nakha jyotir udagat; 86), 'the ocean of the ambrosia of love [filled with] the new flavour of condensed brightness' (sandrojjvala nava rasa prema piyusa sindhoh, 88), 'the ocean of nectar of Radha's lotus feet' (radha padambhoja sudhambu rasih, 89) are all particularly reminiscent of the language of RRSN and VMA.
Furthermore, in a verse which bears close resemblance to a well known Bengali song by Narahari Sarkar, Prabodhananda indicates that he takes Caitanya to be the source of this type of devotion:
Who'd have heard that the wonderful purpose of life is preman?
Who would have known the glories of the names (of Krsna)?
Who would have been able to enter
into the tremendous sweetness of the forests of Vrindavan?
And who would have known the extent of the amazing glories
of the supreme rasa that is Radha?
Caitanya alone revealed all these things by his supreme mercy.
By the same token, different associates of Caitanya developed different relations with Krsna through Caitanya: the four chief relationships are listed, but those who were the luckiest attained 'the sweet ocean of Radha rasa' (anye dhanyatama dhayanti madhuram Radha rasambho nidhim; 113). Something similar to this is stated in the RRSN. These verses show a knowledge of Rupa Gosvami's gradation of the five rasas (BRS, i.5.6, etc.)
Finally, it needs to be pointed out here that Prabodhananda showed a great enthusiasm for the apparent antinomianism which was an apparent feature of Caitanya's democratic religion. This, of course, was very much the mood of the early stages of the devotional movement as described in Caitanya-bhagavata, etc. Caitanya's merciful glance was sufficient to give what hundreds of years of spiritual practice might or might not give. As the movement became sanskritized, the necessity of various forms of sadacara became integral to the practice of devotion. Prabodhananda's insistence on bhakti's transcendence to any other practice, its independence from any kind of karman is evidenced by many verses in both this and other works, such as that glorifying Vrindavan (e.g. VMA, 2.1, etc.).
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There is no certain information about Prabodhananda's birth and departure. His samadhi is located at Kaliya Ghata in Vrindavan.
We'll conclude with a famous stanza from his Caitanya Candramritam (5) and the fifteen first verses of Vrindavana Mahimamrita.
vizvaM pUrNa-sukhAyate vidhi-mahendrAdiz ca kITAyate
yat kAruNya-kaTAkSa-vaibhavavatAM taM gauram eva stumaH
“For him who has received the merciful sidelong glance of Gaura, monistic liberation appers hellish, and the pleasures of the heavenly realm as a flower in the sky. For him, the formidable fa
ngs of the snake of the senses are broken, the universe is filled with abundant bliss, and the position of the devas such as Brahma, Indra and so forth appears insect-like. Unto this Gaura I offer my obeisances.”
zrI-caitanya-mahAprabhoH pada-rajaH svAtmAnam evArpayan |
zrImad-bhAgavatottamAn guNa-nidhIn tayAdarAdAt naman
zrI-vRndAvana-divya-vaibhavam ahaM stotuM mudA prArabhe ||1.1||
Meditating on the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha-Muralimanohara, placing myself at the dust of Lord Caitanya's feet, and respectfully offering obeisances to the great devotees of the Lord, who are so many oceans of transcendental virtue. I shall now happily begin to praise the transcendental opulences of Sri Vrndavana.
pAraM prayAtum analambata tatra ke’nye |
kintv alpam apy aham ati-praNayAd vigAhya
syAM dhanya-dhanya iti me samupakramo’yam ||1.2||
I am not strong enough to go to the far shore of the great nectar ocean of Vrndavana's glories. Who can go there? However, because I love Vrndavana I will now dip into that ocean. I pray that this endeavour may become successful and bring an auspicious result.
atyAzcarya prakRti paramAnanda vidyA rahasyam |
pUrNa brahmAmRtam api hriyA vAbhidhAtuM na neti
brUte yatropaniSada ihAtratyA vArtA kutastyA ||1.3||
O Sri Vrndavana, please reveal in my heart Your wonderful transcendental form full of the most confidential spiritual knowledge and bliss. Embarrassed to describe the highest nectar, the Upanishads only say "not this, not this". Where are you described?
sAra-sphAra-camatkRtiM hari-rasotkarSasya kASThAM parAm |
divyaM svAdya-rasaika-ramya-subhagAzeSaM na zeSAdibhiH
sezair gamya-guNaudha-pAram anizaM saMstaumi vRndAvanam ||1.4||
Day and night I glorify Vrndavana, which is filled with the wonder of Sri Sri Radha and Krsna's pastimes, the wonder of the greatest sweetness, the ultimate nectar of Lord Hari, the sweetest, most beautiful auspiciousness and a flood of virtues Ananta-sesa, Siva, and a host of others cannot cross.
dehasyAsya samarpaNena sudRDha-premA samAsthIyatAm |
rAdhA-jAnir upAsyatAM sthira-cara-prANIha santoSyatAT
zrI-vRndAvanam eva sarva-paramaM sarvAtmanAzrIyatAm ||1.5||
Think of Vrndavana with love. Roll in its dust. Love it ardently. Please its moving and non moving residents. Worship Sri Radha's birthplace. With all your heart take shelter of Sri Vrndavana, the best of all holy places.
manyante bata zAstra-garta-patitA dustarkiNaH kiM tataH |
no ced bhAgavatAnubhUti-padavIM yAtas tataH kiM mama
svAtmA vajra-sahasra-biddha iva na spandeta vRndAvanAt ||1.6||
If the Vedanta does not directly describe Vrndavana, why should that matter to me? If the faulty logicians, who are like serpents living in the Vedic literatures, ignore Vrndavana, why should I care? If even the devotees of the Lord do not understand the glories of Vrndavana, how does that affect me? Even if my heart were pierced by thousands of thunderbolts. I would never leave Vrndavana.
zAkhA-khaNDa-zikhaNDi-tANDava-kalaM prollAsi-vallI-drumam |
bhrAjan-maJju-nikuJjakaM khaga-kulaiz citraM vicitraM mRgair
nAnA-divya-saraH-sarid giri-varaM dhyAyAmi vRndAvanam ||1.7||
I meditate on Vrndavana, where the cuckoos sing the fifth note, the flute plays splendid melodies, peacocks si
ng and dance, vines and trees bloom, splendid and charming forests are wonderful with many birds and deer, and there are many splendid lakes, streams and hills.
kRSNasyAtho goSTha-vRndAvanaM tat
gopy-AkrIDaM dhAma vRndAvanAntaH ||1.8||
The transcendental, subtle, expansive Brahman effulgence, which is the secondary cause of material creation, is last. Before it is Vaikuntha, then Dvaraka, then Krsna's birthplace, Mathura, then Krsna's Vrndavana, the shelter of the surabhi cows, and first is the place in Vrndavana forest where the gopis enjoyed pastimes.
zrImad-rAdhA-kuJja-vATI cakAsti |
Adyo bhAvo yo vizuddho’tipUrNas
tad-rUpA sA tAdRzonmAdi sarvAH ||1.9||
Radha's grove, which fills us with wonder and which is the form of the highest purest love, which maddens everyone there, is splendidly manifest.
rAdhA-kRSNau khelataH svAli-juSTau ||1.10||
Wonderfully flooded with handsomeness, intelligence, and mutual love, Sri Sri Radha-Krsna, eternally enjoy passionate amorous pastimes in the company of Their friends there.
doSAn dRSTAn nija-hata-dRzA vAstavAn ye vadanti |
tAdRk mUDhA hari hari mama prANa-bAdhe’py adRzyAH
sambhAvyA vA katham api nahi prAyaH sarvasva-hAsyAH ||1.11||
Srila Vrndavana is perfect in every way. Blind fools say there are genuine defects there. Oh! Oh! I pray that I may not see these fools at the moment of my death! Are they not the object of everyone's laughter?
gorUpAH sakalA ihopaniSadaH kRSNe ramante vraje |
vRndAraNya-tRNaM tu divya-rasadaM nityaM carantyo’nizaT
rAdhA-kRSNa-pAdAmbujottama-rasAsvAdena pUrNAH sthitAH ||1.12||
After attaining the platform of Brahman happiness by performing severe austerities, the personified Upanishads worshipped the Personality of Godhead without any reservation, and thus obtained His mercy. By the mercy of the Lord they were able to become surabhi cows in the land of vraja and enjoy the direct association of Sri Krsna, and by constantly grazing on the grass of Vrndavana, they become filled with the nectarean taste of the topmost mellows of pure devotional love for the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna.
yo’sau kiM zatadhA chinatti nahi mATzastrair athAstraiH zitaiH |
sarvAdhIzitur eva jIvana-vane dveSan ca mAtraM cared
ekasyApi tRNasya ghora-narakAt taM kaH kadA voddharet ||1.13||
If someone relates to me the faults of one of the moving or non-moving residents of Vrndavana, then how is his action different from cutting me with hundreds of sharpened swords, arrows and other weapons? The residents of Vrndavana are all as dear to the Personality of Godhead as His own life. If one is a little bit inimical to even a blade of grass in Vrndavana, then who will be able to rescue him from the horrible hell that awaits him? When will that rescue occur?
dRSTir vA bhAtu vRndAvana-mahima-sudhA-vAridhau majjatAd dhIH |
zrI-vRndAraNya-bhUmau luThatu mama tanur vihvalAnanda-pUraiH
zrI-vRndAraNya-sattveSv ahaha tata ito daNDavan me natiH syAt ||1.14||
May my eyes become overwhelmed with ecstasy by seeing the nectar waves of Vrndavana's beauty. May my intelligence drown in the nectar ocean of Vrndavana's glories. May my body become agitated by the swiftly movin
g currents of ecstatic bliss and thus roll about on the ground of Vrndavana. Falling down like a stick, may I offer my respectful obeisances to all the residents of Vrndavana.
modante yatra rAdhA-ratimaya-lalitAdy-ujjvala-zrI-kizoryaH |
AzcaryAnaGga-raGgair ahaha nizi-divA khelanAsakta-rAdhA-
kRSNau raty-eka-tRSNau mama samudayatAM zrIla-vRndAvanaM tat ||1.15||
May the land of Srila Vrndavana where Subala and the other wonderful cowherd boys, who are all dear friends of Sri Krsna, play, where Lalita and the other splendidly beautiful young gopis, who are all filled with love for Srimati Radharani, enjoy transcendental bliss, and where Sri Sri Radha-Krsna thirst to enjoy wonderful transcendental amorous pastimes day and night, become manifest in my heart.