Prakaṭa means ‘manifest’, and aprakaṭa is the negation of manifest, or ‘unmanifest’. These terms crop up in the discussions of the tenth canto in the context of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s leaving Vṛndāvana for Mathurā. The gopīs are distraught. Śrī Kṛṣṇa promises them that He would return, but He never seems to (at least according to popular understanding although Śrī Jīva Goswami does not agree). At the same time, there are verses that affirm that Śrī Kṛṣṇa never leaves Vṛndāvana ever, and that He is never separated from the gopīs.
The reconciliation proposed is that Kṛṣṇa’s leaving Vṛndāvana means that He becomes aprakaṭa or unmanifest. So he is still in Vṛndāvana. Presumably He continues to meet with the gopīs now and then and gives them solace that way. This proposal gives rise to more questions: what does aprakaṭa really mean? Is it that Kṛṣṇa is hiding in the bushes somewhere, showing Himself to the gopīs now and then? If the gopīs feel satiated by meeting Him, how can the distress caused by the separation be sustained? Wouldn’t the līlā of separation be rendered meaningless then? Also, why is it that the gopīs forget that He is present in Vṛndāvana?
The resolution is in understanding that prakaṭa and aprakata do not merely mean ‘manifest’ and ‘unmanifest’ but rather refer to parallel universes where Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs exist simultaneously. Śrī Jīva Goswami explains that Kṛṣṇa has innumerable forms called prakāśas. Each of these prakāśas has their own corresponding place, and devotees. Kṛṣṇa’s prakāśas are Kṛṣṇa Himself; in other words, they are all one, but they have different experiences, thoughts and concerns at any moment. Likewise, the gopīs have prakāśas. Each of these persons is present simultaneously in parallel universes.
Furthermore, the different forms are unaware of each other. Śrī Jīva Goswami explains in the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha that the prakaṭa and aprakaṭa lilas are parallel universes, in which the gopīs and Kṛṣṇa exist simultaneously. The gopīs in the prakaṭa līlā, that is the prakaṭa Vṛndāvana, do not know of their existence in the aprakaṭa līlās, and vice versa. This is clear from Śrī Jīva Goswami’s explanation in the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha, Anuccheda 155 cited below:
tad evaṁ tatra prakāśa-bhede sati tad-bhāvenābhimāna-kriyā-bhede ca sthite, tadānīṁ vṛndāvana-prakāśa-viśeṣe sthitena śrī-kṛṣṇasyāprakaṭa-prakāśena tāsām aprakaṭa-prakāśātmikānāṁ saṁyogaḥ, tat-prakāśa-viśeṣe prāk-sthitena samprati mathurāṁ gatena tat-prakaṭa-prakāśenaiva svīkṛtena sthāna-traye’pi saparikara-śrī-kṛṣṇa-nityāvasthāyitā-vākyam anupahataṁ syāt, prakaṭa-līlāyām anyatra sa-parikarasya tasya kadācid gamane’pi prakāśāntareṇāvasthānād iti | tasmāt sādhūktaṁ bhavatīnāṁ viyogo me [bhā.pu. 10.47.29] ity ādi |
In this way, it has been established that there are different prakāśas and distinct self-identities and actions corresponding to the difference in those prakāśas. Such being the case at that time the gopis in their forms within the aprakaṭa-prakāśa experienced union with an aprakaṭa-prakāśa of Śrī Kṛṣṇa situated in a specific manifestation of Vṛndāvana. The same gopis in their prakaṭa-prakāśa forms within the prakaṭa-prakāśa of Vṛndāvana felt separation from Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who had earlier been situated in that prakāśa but then left for Mathura. If we accept the concurrent reality of both these prakāśas, the statements established Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s eternal existence along with His associate in all three loci [of His līlā] remain unobjectionable. This is so because in the prakaṭa-līlā even if at any time He goes to another place along with His associates, He still remains situated in the original location in a separate prakāśa form. Therefore, Kṛṣṇa rightly said, “Your separation from Me is never possible in an absolute sense”.
The idea is that Kṛṣṇa consoles the suffering gopīs by reminding them of their parallel manifestation in the parallel aprakaṭa līlās where they are actually united with Kṛṣṇa. This way, they are separated from Kṛṣṇa and simultaneously united with Him. All this, of course, is inconceivable.
aprakaṭa and prakaṭa līlās are one
An important thing to keep in mind, also, is that aprakaṭa and prakaṭa līlās are one, and not different. Although they are parallel universes, they involve the same persons and abodes. This is akin to watching a show on stage- when the curtain opens on the līlās, people in the material world can see the līlā. When the curtain drops, the līlā is no longer visible. The līlā continues seamlessly; its visibility to the world versus lack of visibility qualifies the līlā as prakaṭa and aprakaṭa. When the curtain opens, not all of the infinite prakāśas of Kṛṣṇa and His līlās are visible. Those that are not visible when a given līlā is prakaṭa or visible are aprakaṭa.
As such, it is not true that there are no asuras in Vṛndāvana, in that they can exist there temporarily when the curtain opens so they can walk onto the stage. Care is taken to end their ‘performance’ before the curtain drops. People from the material world are invited temporarily to participate in the līlā when it becomes manifest to people on the earth. Likewise, birth of Kṛṣṇa, His growth, etc. also occur when the curtain opens, and can occur when the curtain drops as well. Thus, any difference between aprakaṭa and prakaṭa līlās is artificial.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s abode is Vṛndāvana, and that Vṛndāvana is in the geographical location in India of present day Vṛndāvana. It becomes manifest there, and also becomes unmanifest there. Even though unmanifest, it also becomes manifest to some fortunate devotees even today. Thus, the distinction between Vṛndāvana in the current geographical location in India and the actual Vṛndāvana is also artificial. Śrī Jīva Goswami provides an extensive analysis to establish this in Anuccheda 106 of the Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha. Goloka is not somewhere far away. It is right here on earth.
As long as this framework is kept in mind, everything makes sense in Kṛṣṇa līlā.