Friday, February 29, 2008

Raganuga Bhakti and Sahaja Sadhana, Part I

In general, I have until now primarily written for an audience of people who have some experience of bhakti, i.e., either have or have had faith in the path of devotion to Krishna. This is why I am periodically asked to defend my ideas with quotations from shastra.

Now, the fact of the matter is that, amongst those who have some experience of the bhakti path, there are very few who have progressed beyond the stage of vidhi-bhakti. Even those who have gone to Narayan Maharaj or some other rasika guru, only a few have taken initiation in the rāgānugā process by receiving ekādaśa-bhāva from him. Even less in number are those who have actually taken up a serious study of the līlā-granthas and practiced aṣṭa-kāla līlā smaraṇa, even briefly, what to speak of with intensity and niṣṭhā.

Of those foreign students who have either done or not done these things, there are probably even a smaller number who have learned Bengali and attended Nama kirtana yajnas or listened to lila kirtan and thus gotten a deep saṁskāra in Radha-Krishna lila pastimes. In fact, it is far more likely, if anyone has come through the Gaudiya Math or ISKCON, that they have been starkly warned of the dangers of listening to or hearing the madhura-līlā pastimes of Radha and Krishna. And so, when they do it, they do it with a slight sense of naughtiness and even downright rebelliousness.

Those who don’t, however, are often puzzled about how they should respond to them. For most, I believe, they are stories about which they do not think too deeply. If they did, it is not unlikely that their reaction would be similar to our sardonic anonymous poster.

It is quite true that the first élan of faith, which pushes us along in innocence down paths that a cynic would never travel, is a powerful gift that comes from the subconscious. It leads us to places where, when we suddenly find ourselves in them, make us wonder whether we have not just awakened from some kind of amnesia, folly or drunken escapade. Nevertheless, when the memories slowly come back to us, we remember parts of the journey to this no-man’s land with fondness, and we start to consider the rest of our adventure: Do we push on, or do we undertake the equally perilous journey back to whence we started?

For those who have not traveled very far or deep, the latter course seems the easy one. They can mock those who, in their eyes are foolish, have gone too far into strange places on this adventure, and even laugh at them when they see them puzzled or lost without a map or idea of where to go.

There are a few reading these pages who will have little devotional saṁskāra whatsoever and are simply curious about the “reforming” tendency, or interested in Tantrik sex or whatever. In other words, those whose primary interest may be with sexuality rather than Krishna consciousness, or as I prefer to say, prema. I don’t know that I really have much to say to these people, because the only purpose of this site is to explore the meaning of “prema prayojana,” which was the motto of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and to explore that meaning in a spirit of faith and commitment to Sri Chaitanya, to Rupa and Raghunath, to Krishna Das Kaviraj Goswami and those who have followed them. To all those on this path, of varying realizations, we offer our humble pranams.

To readers who do not share this community of faith, I also offer my pranams and hope that they will profit by comparing my realizations to their own and be able to make progress along their chosen path. I will try to make a post in a few days about the contrast between a specific path and universal attainments in a day or two.

But, there are many of my readers whose first plunge into Krishna consciousness only took them as far as ISKCON and perhaps a venture into some of the meaty sections of the Chaitanya Charitamrita. They may find my critiques of celibacy or women’s issues appealing, but have some difficulty understanding the Sahajiya part of things. After all, sex is sex. Let’s just do it and be done with it. These people are somewhat naturalistic in their approach and are thus more interested in what is wrong with Krishna consciousness than what is right.

There are others who still have a touch of innocence and who like to hear the quotes and translations of songs about Radha and Krishna, but whose opportunity to actually get association in the processes of rāgānugā bhakti is not so great and are therefore more or less puzzled by my apparent obsession with real life sexuality and so on. To this group I say that they should follow me: first of all by taking initiation from a rasika guru, taking siddha-praṇālī and plunging head first into the practice of līlā-smaraṇa. They may read the Govinda-līlāmṛta edition of Gadadhar Pran which should come out in a few months. It is very detailed and gives plenty of information. Enjoy this ride.

Now I need to say a few words about those who have only been through the Gaudiya Math and who have turned to various speculations, etc., without ever having engaged more deeply with the rasika traditions, Gaudiya or other.

First of all, just as ISKCON devotees take these accounts of Radha Krishna lila in an unsophisticated manner, the acharyas of the sampradaya, like Krishna Das Kaviraj, did also. They were not primarily interested in figurative, metaphorical, allegorical, or mythological interpretations. They were following a path in whose divinities they believed in literally and naively, and that is the point we must start from if we are to understand anything about Sahajiyaism.

siddhānta boliye citte nā koro alasa
ihā hoite kṛṣṇe lāge sudṛḍha mānasa
caitanya mahimā jāni e saba siddhānte
citta dṛḍha hoyā lāge mahimā jṣāna hoite

Do not be lazy and avoid discussing these doctrines, for such discussions strengthen the mind’s attachment to Sri Krishna. I know Sri Chaitanya’s glories through my study of all these teachings and have become strong and fixed in attachment to him through the knowledge of his greatness (CC 1.2.117-8).

The beginning point in attaining God is bhakti, bhaktyā mām abhijānāti. There is no other path to attaining God as a Person.

What is bhakti? Well, it is of two kinds, one is external, the other internal. Since bhakti is a type of consciousness, the inner type is more important than the external. That is why Srila Rupa Goswami says,

sādhanaughair anāsaṅgair alabhyā sucirād api

Bhakti is sudurlabhā or extremely rare because it is unattainable even by great amounts of external practice without the appropriate attachment, i.e., mental or emotional engagement. (BRS 1.1.16)

The difference between rāgānugā bhakti and vaidhī bhakti is primarily in the culture of the mind. Vaidhī bhakti may be very intensely performed and even performed with strong mental engagement—prayer, meditation on the mantras and holy names, deity worship and so on. But it is done without any awareness of a svarūpa in relation to Krishna, and is usually done passively, “Whatever you want, God.” It is like someone who walks into a restaurant and says, “I won’t bother with the menu. Just give me whatever is today's special. I have heard this is a good place to eat.”

Vaidhī bhakti can be very beautiful, and many of its attitudes are assimilated into rāgānugā practice, especially when the sādhaka is in external consciousness. For instance, look at this delightful prayer from Mukunda-mālā-stotram.

nāhaṁ vande tava caraṇayor dvandvam advandva-hetoḥ
kumbhīpākaṁ gurum api hare nārakaṁ nāpanetum
ramyā-rāmā-mṛdu-tanu-latā nandane nāpi rantuṁ
bhāve bhāve hṛdaya-bhavane bhāvayeyaṁ bhavantam

I do not worship your lotus feet in order to attain a state of non-duality, nor to avoid descent into the worst hells like Kumbhipaka. Nor do I worshp you to attain a state in heaven where I am surrounded by thin-waisted heavenly beauties. I pray only to be able to meditate on you in the abode of my heart, birth after birth.

But rāgānugā bhajana is about what you want, bhakta. This is why Krishna says in Chaitanya Charitamrita,

Everyone throughout the world worships me according to scriptural injunctions; but by this process of vidhi-bhakti one cannot attain the loving moods of Vraja. The whole world looks upon me with awe and veneration, but devotion which has been diluted by such consciousness of my majesty is not prefered by me. One who worships according the scriptural injunctions in a mood of awe and veneration attains the four kinds of liberation and goes to Vaikuntha. (CC 1.3.15-7)

āmāre īśvara māne āpanāke hīna
tāra preme vaśa āmi nā hoi adhīna

Someone who thinks of me as the Supreme Lord and Controller and himself as insignificant does not conquer me with his love and I never become subservient to him. (CC 1.3.18)

The goal of the devotee is to attain a specific relationship with God. This is done not in a haphazard fashion, but consciously and with defined purpose. This is why I often refer to a section from Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu that has been so badly misunderstood in Prabhupada's Nectar of Devotion. It is about the three types of preliminary attitudes that are called śuddha-rati. Śuddha here means “pure,” but also means, in a sense, "devoid of content." In other words, it is good, but unformed or empty in one way or another.

Śuddha rati is of three types—(1) sāmānya, like a child who is too young to have specific kinds of feelings, especially not sakhya, vatsalya or madhura; (2) svaccha, which reflects the moods of those in whose company one is, and (3) śānta, which is basically the same as śānta-rasa, a fundamentally formless or passive kind of devotion. I want to just focus briefly on svaccha-rati by quoting the relevant passage:

tat-tat-sādhanato nānā-vidha-bhakta-prasangatḥ |
sādhākānāṁ tu vaividhyaṁ yāntī svaccā ratir matā ||
yadā yādṛśī bhakte syād āsaktis tādṛśaṁ tadā |
rūpaṁ sphaṭikavad dhatte svacchāsau tena kīrtitā ||

A devotee who takes on various moods and practices because he associates with devotees of different types, is said to have svaccha rati, or transparent love. It is called transparent because it is like a piece of glass through which the moods of the devotee to whom he is currently attached shine through.

kvacit prabhur iti stuvan kvacana mitram ity uddhasan
kvacit tanaya ity āhvayan kvacana kānta ity ullasan |
kvacin manasi bhāvayan parama eṣa ātmety asāv
abhūd vividha-sevayā vividha-vṛttir āryo dvijaḥ ||

For example: There was a cultured brahmin who on occasion praised the Lord as his “master,” at other times he laughed and called him “friend”; sometimes he addressed him as “son” and again at other times would enthusiastically call him “beloved.” Then at other times, he would meditate on the Lord as the Supreme Soul within his heart. In this way, he would engage in different behaviors according to his different services. (2.5.12-14)
Rupa Goswami is not condemning the person who is acting in this way; that is why he refers to him as "Arya," and also why he still calls his attitude a kind of rati. But such a haphazard approach cannot be called rāgānugā bhakti and is certainly very limited in what it can accomplish. Without a fixed sthāyi bhāva or dominant attitude, it is impossible to achieve prema or rasa. Moreover, the substance of the vaidhī-bhakti approach is that it cannot abandon the duality inherent in the aiśvarya mood.

This is furthermore why dīkṣā is so important, though this is little understood by most devotees. Dīkṣā is about fixing this unsteady mentality and setting the devotee on the straight path to a sthāyi bhāva. That is what is known as sambandha-viśeṣa in the commentaries to the oft-quoted divyaṁ jñānam yato dadyāt verse about initiation (Hari-bhakti-vilāsa, 2.6). The term sambandha-viśeṣa has been interpreted in various ways by those who do not follow the rāgānugā model as it evolved in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, but this is the way it is generally understood, and correctly, in my opinion.

In this connection, another justly famous verse from the Bhagavata should be remembered.

tvaṁ bhakti-yoga-paribhāvita-hṛt-saroja
āsse śrutekṣita-patho nanu nātha puṁsām |
yad-yad-dhiyā ta urugāya vibhāvayanti
tat-tad-vapuḥ praṇayase sad-anugrahāya ||

O Lord! The path to whom is seen through the ears! Who takes a seat in the lotus heart that has been made worthy of your presence through bhakti-yoga! Out of mercy for your devotees, O Glorious One, you take the very form that they meditate on, appearing to them in that form. (SB 3.9.11)

I could talk about this verse for a long time, because there is so much to be said. But let us point out the main contradiction. Lord Brahma says that Krishna is known through hearing, and yet he takes on the form that the devotee desires to see. This is simultaneously a gift to the relativists, individualists and independentists, and a rebuke to those who reject tradition.

If anyone has become attracted to Radha and Krishna, it is likely because they have met a rasika sadhu who communicated his love through sound vibration. And ultimately, it came through the rasika saints of the 16th century beginning with Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who revealed the glory of Radharani’s love to the world. This verse demands that we recognize this through the proper procedure, beginning with gratitude. This statement is also a confirmation of the above reference to initiation and the divyaṁ jñānam given by the guru in the form of the mantra.

Nevertheless, the very fact that God responds to the mood of the devotee, according to his desire, reveals that this process is suited to the rāgānugā bhakta. The second reason that bhakti is su-durlabhā is because Hari does not grant it easily. And yet he grants to those whose hearts are inundated with love. This means that God’s form is completely adjustable to the individual. God has form, let us be clear about that. Just like he has personality, he has form. But his form, his personality, the variety that exists within him as reality and as potential, is unlimited. Just look at the varieties of forms he takes to everyone, who knowingly or unknowing worships him in this world—money, sex, drugs, war, etc., are all Gods, or in Christian terms, idols, false gods. Nevertheless, even the false gods are forms, reflections of the True God.

So Krishna is attained in the form we wish, with the caveat that there is a menu and the choices, though far reaching, are not infinite. There are things like rasābhāsa, rasa-virodha, etc., that are not on the menu, or at least not on the transcendental menu.

Those who don’t like the menu are free to open their own restaurant, but that is a circuitous process fraught with misadventure. And even those who open their own restaurants usually borrow recipes from somewhere. There are limits to originality. And then you have to market your restaurant. You might like your own cooking, but what if nobody else does? Restaurants have the highest bankruptcy rate of any new businesses. But the failure rate of new religions is probably even higher.


Parrot ck3100 said...

Its really great to love krishna which will make you free from the worst situation.

I would like to share one of my experience that i chant constantly for seven days this mantra "om shri bhagvate vasudevayh namah" and you know from the eight day i am constantly feeling some unbelievable experinces like during day and night i can hear some unique words in my ear and can view some images which cannot be describe.
I will tell eveyone to chant this mantra you will become free from every attraction.

~ ~ said...


Thank you for such a well-thought out blog. I have read your invaluable blogs on raga bhakti many times.

What i particularly liked was your comments on svaacha rati - Krishna is so kind. I am troubled by one thought and by afternoon He makes sure my research has fruit.

Every kArtik i fall head over heals in love with my Baby Damodar, while KRshNa is my Lord. When He is VAsudev Dwarkadhesh i am ___
*When He is Shyamsundar i am ___
*When He is Damodar/Bal KRshNa i am ___
When He is Partha sarthi i am ___
When He is RAmchandra i am ___ (rare)
When He is NRsimha i am ___ (rare)

I switch between vatsalya and madhurya. Is that very bad ? My seasonal phases.

Hare KRshNa

Jagat said...

Dear ~-~,

No doubt, we are capable of all rasas. But as with the ishta-nishtha of choosing one specific deity form, we also need to strengthen and deepen our devotion by picking one mood, etc., and sticking to it.

Between Worlds said...

Whether one agrees with all your conjectures or not is not the point. The point is you are the best writer around on Vaishnava/bhakti subjects and it is a joy to read the poetic, articulate flow of your muse.

Much Love & Gratitude
Mathura das

Gauraharidas Avadhuta said...

Yes this is a very well thought out blog and covers a lot of bases or classes of Vaishnavas who we taking to the path on some platform. Good job on this and you are helping and encouraging many devotees. I wanted to share as a alternative idea to explore from my own Bajan experience I am beginning to get why their has been a disagreement in this Siddha pranali controversy where Bhaktisidhanta Saraswati Thakur did not seem to emphasise it like the bhabajis initiated into siddha pranali, including his own brother. I can see by what you say you are personal committed that it is most essential to be intiated into the Siddha Pranali process inorder to go deeper in Radha Krishna worship. Personally I believe both views of emphasis on or not emphasis on going through the Siddha Pranali process as viable ways to make it to the platform of Radha/Krishna loving service. The latter is based on my own years developing experience. I have went the route of taking shelter of Lord Caitanya and his associates intensely. After so many years and so many twists and turns, successes and bewilderments and getting up after falling on my face many times, by the grace of Lord Caitanya , the attraction, mood and the desire to serve as a maid servant of the queen of Vrndavana is spontaneously developing. This is not in the mood of boasting here. To be honest I am astounded by the mercy of Lord Caitanya to work such a miracle with a fallen fool like myself and I would love to see many more miracles like this and already am seeing encouraging results in our sanga. As you mention bhakti is rare and even rarer is Vraja bhakti! I mention my personal experience and this path only as a workable alternative that actually works based on my own experience and I have not heard of any others who actually are getting such results yet, as I don't think many have went down this road or know clearly that such a road exists. Nectar Moon of Lord Caitanya praises this road, yet I have not met many who understand the intentions and teachings of Prabhodanana Saraswati Thakur about the potency of Lord Caitanya to make up the difference.