sarva-vidhi-niṣedhāḥ syur etayor eva kiṅkarāḥ
One must always remember the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu and never forget him for even a moment. All scriptural prescriptions and prohibitions are subservient to these two. (BRS 1.2.8, CC 2.22.113)
Narottam Das expresses the same idea as follows:
yugala vilāsa smṛti sāra
sādhya sādhana ei, ihā boi āra nāi,
ei tattva sarva tattva sāra
Meditation or remembering is the life of the mind. It is an abode of ever increasing sweetness, the essence of which is the Yugala Kishor’s vilāsa-keli, Radha and Krishna's most intimate pastimes. This is our sādhana and this is the goal of our sādhana (the sādhya); this particular truth is the essence of all theological teaching. (Prema-bhakti-candrikā, 61)
In Prema-bhakti-candrikā, Narottam again emphasizes the relationship of the rāgānugā devotee’s desire and the fruit of his practice.
rāga mārge ei sei upāya |
sādhane je dhana cāi, siddha dehe tāhā pāi,
pakvāpakva mātra se vicāra |
pākile se prema bhakti, apakve sādhana-gati,
bhakti-lakhaṇe tattva-sāra ||
That which you meditate on in your spiritual practice (sādhana) is what you obtain in your spiritual body, for this is the method on the rāgānugā bhakti path. The goal we hanker for during sādhana will be attained with the suitable siddha-deha; the only difference is in the degree of ripeness. When one’s sādhana matures, prema will bring one to the supreme destination. This is the essence of all bhakti tattva. (Pbc 54-55)
Now it is no doubt clear to all that though direct contact with God will always be far more wondrous than anyone could possibly imagine, it could not be different in its fundamental specifics. In this restaurant, if you order crêpe suzette, you should not get boeuf bourgignon. You get what you order.
On the other hand, it is said that Krishna sometimes shows special mercy even to a bhakta who is engaged in bhajan for some trivial reason; sometimes he brings crêpe suzette to even the non-gourmet who has ordered Kraft Dinner.
naivārthado yat punar arthitā yataḥ
svayaṁ vidhatte bhajatām anicchatām
It is true that Lord Krishna fulfills one’s desire whenever someone petitions him to do so. However, he does not award anything which, once having been received, will be asked for again and again. Even if these worshipers show no desire for them, the Lord personally bestows them his lotus feet, whereby they forget all their transitory material desires. (SB 5.19.27)
In the same way, though the Bhagavata says that one should remember Krishna in any way possible (tasmāt kenāpy upāyena manaḥ kṛṣṇe niveśayet, 7.1.36), still some methods are superior to others. Hatred and fear are not good, but desire is. But such examples are always accompanied by the a fortiori argument, "If such is the case for one who barely desires the Lord, such a one as Putana, or the demons who gained liberation at his hand, then how much more would he be merciful to one whose desires are for pure service in a particular mood?"
Now let us just briefly remember the exalted status that is given to the madhura-rasa, the topmost of the sentiments.
saba rasa hoite śṛṅgāre adhika mādhurī
If we compare the sentiments in a spirit of impartiality, we find that the conjugal sentiment is superior to all the other rasas in sweetness. (CC 1.4.44)
ratir vāsanayā svādvī bhāsate kāpi kasyacit
Each of the devotional flavors is successively tasted as having some special delightful qualities not present in the previous. [Even so,] according to the individual character of the devotee, any one of these kinds of love may seem more delectable to him. (BRS 2.5.38, CC 1.4.45)
The hierarchy of rasas can be found in the Rāmānanda-saṁvāda from Caitanya-caritāmṛta (CC 2.8), ending with Radha's love in the topmost place, which is accompanied by a brief description of the exalted position of her sakhis.
Chaitanya, “Of all songs, which is to be considered the actual religion of the living entity?”
Ramananda Raya, “Songs describing the loving affairs of Sri Radha and Krishna are superior to all others.”
Chaitanya, “Of all topics a jiva should listen, what is the best?"
Ramananda Raya, "The love games played by Radha and Krishna are the best of topics a jiva should hear."
Now here basically is where the orthodoxy ends, unless you want to argue that other zones of smaraṇa like Gaura-nāgara are in a separate category, which I do not think is possible since they too remain within the scope of madhura-rasa.
Now we have already said since bhakti is a type of consciousness, the culture of the mind is central to rāgānugā bhakti, and that smaraṇa therefore predominates in its practice. Nevertheless, prema goes beyond the mind and into the realm of pure being; therefore the real culture of bhakti is not so much in the mind, but in the heart. This is one reason for the incredible importance of the Holy Names and kirtan--i.e., the Holy Name accompanied by music, especially as sung by someone with bhāva, has tremendous power to touch the very core of our being, beyond the dualities indulged in by the mind.
This is why bhakti is divided into means and end, sādhana and sādhya-bhakti, with the principal realms of sādhana-bhakti being the body and senses (vidhi), and mind (rāgānugā), bhāva to the realm of self-identity, and prema, the ultimate sādhya, i.e., the heart. We have briefly touched upon the culture of bhāva above when talking about sthāyi-bhāva, because this is really what is meant by bhāva. Sometimes people define it as "ecstasies," but this is misleading. Bhāva means knowing one's spiritual self-identity; it means love itself. Prema is the state of divine reciprocation.
The Gaudiya Math criticizes the giving of mañjarī- or ekadaśa-bhāva to "beginning" students, but it is difficult to know how one is supposed to cultivate bhāva without it, since bhāva is so closely tied to one's specific spiritual identity. So generally speaking, if ekadaśa-bhāva is not given explicitly or formally, it will be given indirectly or informally, such as from a book like Bhajana-rahasya).
In Rupa Goswami's description in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, prema is the consequence of bhāva, and in practical terms it follows close behind as divine reciprocation.
Now in the culture of the sādhya, five activities are considered to be most valuable. Of these, one is sādhu-sanga:
Chaitanya, “What is the most painful kind of suffering?”
Ramananda, “I know of nothing more unbearable than separation from the devotees of Krishna.” (CC 2.8.248)
Chaitanya, “What is the most auspicious and beneficial activity for the living entity?”
Ramananda, “There is nothing more auspicious than association with the devotees of Krishna.” (2.8.251)
The association of devotees is characterized by friendship and love. The Vaishnavas are the representatives of Radha and Krishna in this world. There are six kinds of affectionate exchange that are shared with devotees, called prīti-lakṣaṇam, the signs of love. The devotee is a harbor, a storehouse of love. Even if we know only a somewhat advanced sādhaka, we will recognize the greater presence of natural affection in him, an attractiveness that is attributable more than anything else to his quality of love.
If one falls in love with such a sādhaka, male or female, and wishes to share the process of sādhana with him or her, then how can this be considered faulty or negative?
The use of all the senses, including touch, is included in bhakta-saṅga:
tvacaḥ phalaṁ tvādṛśa-gātra-saṅgaḥ
jihvā-phalaṁ tvādṛśa-kīrtanaṁ hi
sudurlabhā bhāgavatā hi loke
The goal of the eyes is to see someone like you; the goal of the skin is to embrace the body of one such as you. The goal of the tongue is to sing the glories of one such as you, for great devotees of the Lord are rare in this world. (Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 13.2, quoted in Madhya-līlā, 21)
A devotee in love with another devotee, both of whom are in love with Radha and Krishna, is not the same as the sexual union of two persons whose intent is purely sense gratificatory in nature. This is, I repeat over and over again, a form of devotional association that is highly privileged and sacred.
Since sādhu-saṅga is a svarūpa-siddha devotional activity, so too is this activity. Nevertheless, because of its volatile nature and the necessity for maximizing one's devotional culture, it is still advised to exercise great care.
Now here, obviously is where we first start to lock horns with the orthodoxy and where the principal debate lies. And it is more than just a symbolic matter, because it does change rather significantly the whole way of looking at everything that has already been said above, as it transforms our way of looking at the world and of looking at Radha and Krishna. Preliminarily, it will appear that we are moving away from a "pure" concept of Radha and Krishna and compromising it with matter, but in the long run, it will strengthen our understanding of the Divine Couple, indeed will purify it so that it no longer becomes a prisoner of cultural and historical accidents but a divine, transcendent and eternal truth.
At the same time, the principal point I am trying to get across here is that in order to really understand the culture of sahaja-sādhana, it is somewhat necessary to have at least begun the madhura rasa sādhana in the rāgānugā mode, as shown by the traditional orthodoxy and described above. It is my feeling that one who approaches the subject of sacred sexualithy without having had his subconscious molded by an innocent faith in Radha and Krishna, will likely overemphasize the purely symbolic and metaphoric elements in Radha and Krishna and lose sight of the reality of the Transcendent Person existing in that form.