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12 Forests of Braj

Braj is an ancient pilgrimage tradition in India which involves a circular path through 12 forests.  This path goes nowhere.  “Walking the goal-less circuit of Braj, hearing and living the stories of Krishna’s play, has a particular effect: it opens up a new perspective, namely, that all life is lila, or purposeless play.”

In trying to understand the tradition of Braj, it is best to ask not “Who is Krishna?” but “What is Krishna?”  Krishna is reality in its “unexpected forms.”  Krishna – as a principle – is the “unknowable” quality of reality.  The circular futility of Braj is a dance of acceptance of the fundamental uncertainty of reality: “only those who can surrender the desire for mastery [over reality] and let go [of the desire for control and certainty] in a world of uncertainty are free to dance with [Krishna].”

Krishna-view of Reality is that of a “crooked lover.”  What is meant by this?  Reality cheats and betrays our expectations.  Reality is unreliable, tricky.  Reality pranks and punks our naive predictive models about What Should Be.

Reality is a series of forests to be lost in.  And finding the way (out of one forest of uncertainty) is part of getting lost in yet another forest of illusion.

Realization of the inevitable uncertainty of life is not passive surrender – on the contrary, it is an act of acceptance.  It is a joyous, fearless joining in the cosmic dance of Whatever Is.

Life is a pilgrimage, a movement through a given circumstance to another.  This process is endless, life-long.  So, on this pilgrimage, in this circular search for meaning and destination (destiny), we have but two options – to keep moving forward or to stop and stand still now and then, witnessing the Ordinary Perfection of where (spatially and temporally) we are.

Another calendar circles around us to its arbitrary end.  All over the English-speaking world, we are completing yet another seasonal pilgrimage.  Minds are a-humming “The 12 Days of Christmas …”  What if, in a daring culture-bending thought-experiment, you took Krishna – the “crooked lover” – as your “true love” of the moment, what would you ask for?  Ladies dancing?  Lords a-leaping?  Drummers drumming?  Or, perhaps, the serenity of accepting the unknown ahead?  The courage to be lost in the woods of existence?



D. Haberman (1994), Journey through the 12 Forests

P. Somov (2010), Present Perfect: Letting Go of Control

12 Forests of Braj

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2017). 12 Forests of Braj. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Dec 2017
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