Raganuga Bhakti and Sahaja Sadhana, Part III

I left off talking about association with devotees and saying that aṅga-saṅga was an element of service to a devotee. In this case, however, I did mean to place some restrictions: it is not that every bhakta is somehow to receive this kind of intimate service. It is restricted to the most antaraṅga association; and without the central element of love, it will most definitely be counterproductive.

Love cannot be reduced to a mere sentiment, nor to the mere mechanics of physical sexuality. To do so is to make the same kind of mistake the beginning devotee makes when he confuses the bliss of first discovery with spiritual perfection. The love between sādhakas is the raw material of their sādhanā.

But let us press on with our understanding of the compatibility of the Orthodox tradition with this way of thinking. Actually, no one has contributed to the revival of Sahajiyaism more than Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati himself, who emphasized the concept of yukta-vairāgya. If something can be used in the service of Krishna, hari-sambandhi-vastu, and one does not do so, that is called phalgu-vairāgya. If one uses such a thing without an attitude of attachment (anāsaktasya viṣayān), then that is called yukta-vairāgya.

The world is real. This is, as you may well recall, a central distinction in the Vaishnava philosophy distinguishing it from Advaita-vāda. The reality of the world is understood in this way: though it is temporary, one can extract many benefits from it if one sees the relationship it has to Krishna. The way that understanding has been handed down to us is that the world is (1) a reflection of the transcendental reality, (2) a place where Krishna is engaged in enacting an infinite number of lilas.

Thus it is possible to transform the material world and its elements into spiritual ones by proper consciousness. For this reason it is said that the Vaishnava's body is not material because his senses are being used in the optimal fashion for the development of his pure consciousness.

Now the main objections to the above from the Orthodoxy can be expressed as follows: Sexual activity and love of another person in this world automatically fall under the category of asakti. Engaging the senses in sexual activity is automatically personal sense gratification and therefore cannot be engaged in by the spiritual body and the spiritual senses.

As a reference, one could point to Jiva Goswami's following statement in the Bhakti-sandarbha 311,
ruci-pradhānasya mārgasyāsya manaḥ-pradhānatvam tat-preyasī-rūpeṇāsiddhāyās tādṛśa-bhajane prāyo manasaiva yuktatvāt| anena śrīmat-pratimādau tādṛśīnām apy auddhatyaṁ parihṛtam |

The ruci-pradhāna path is primarily executed in the mind, for since one does not have the spiritual body of a Krishna preyasī, it is only logical that it be conducted in the mind rather than the body. This precludes any kinds of excesses performed in relation to the Deity, etc.
It should be noted as an aside that this passage is primarily concerned with the sambhogecchāmayī kāmānugā bhakti, not the tad-bhāvecchātmikā bhakti. Nevertheless, the latter is also clearly executed in the mind (mānasi sevā).

But this is no more true about sexuality than it is about any other kind of sense activity. Eating, seeing, singing, hearing, all can be transformed, and the central problem in the objector’s theory is that the only good sex is reproductive sex. And, as I have said so many times, the very fact that non-reproductive sexual love is announced as the pinnacle of human experience and is used as a metaphor for the highest love for God, indicates that sexual love is filled with values that are worthwhile and cannot be rejected as universally negative. In this respect, it may even be said that the elements that are the most binding about sexuality are its reproductive elements, which lead to the expansion of saṁsāra, etc.

Nevertheless, let us accept that if sexual love takes us away from God, it certainly is problematic for someone who has made the culture of love of God the be-all and central element of his or her existence. If sexual love is automatically external and entirely sensual in nature, then this objection might be acceptable, but such an understanding of sexuality is manifestly false. Sex is as much in the mind as it is in the body. The trick is to take the powerful associations that arise in the mind from sexual love and merge them into the Divine Love of the Supreme Couple. Like everything in life that is worth pursuing, it requires technique.

Our objective is to achieve a kind of consciousness imbued with love, and that the culture is inward and not purely material. The beginning point is to learn what it means to be in the mode of goodness where sexuality is concerned. In the mode of goodness one’s intelligence is clear and effulgent and not muddled by the pursuit of unachievable performance statistics or the ultimate orgasmic experience, nor clouded by fetishistic associations springing from the chthonic regions of the unconscious. This sattva state cannot be achieved without spiritual culture, through bhakti, through yoga, through sādhu-saṅga.


From this point, one must learn the technique of āropa. I have talked about this before at length, but it is hard for many people to understand, so please bear with me. Aropa is a term used by Sahajiyas and not used much by the Orthodox, though in fact it is used in rāgānugā bhakti in relation to the siddha-deha.

Aropa means “the conscious attribution of certain properties or identity to something else.” As such it is different from adhyāsa, which is unconscious projection and applied in reverse. For instance, we say that our identification with the body, which seems so natural to the conditioned soul, is actually a false attribution. However, in order to cultivate our true identity, we must consciously attribute to ourselves a spiritual identity, "I am Krishna das. I am Radha dasi."

This is called āropa: it seems false and unnatural to the non-devotee, but to the devotee it forms the central part of their entire sādhanā. All processes are meant to lead to this. Indeed, it is so central that Jiva Goswami says, astu tāvad-bhajana-prayāsaḥ, kevala-tādṛśatvābhimānenāpi siddhir bhavati: "Enough with all the efforts at performing bhajan! Simply by having this sense of identity, that I am Krishna's eternal servant, as specifically imagined as possible, you will attain success." (BhaktiS 304).

Ahaṅgrahopāsanā (identifying oneself consciously with the Deity) is also a kind of āropa, and the Gaudiya Math sometimes argues that the worship in a mentally conceived siddha-deha is a kind of ahaṅgrahopāsanā. But please look a little more carefully at BRS 1.2.305 and its commentary, where a distinction between the two attitudes is clearly made. Identification with a nitya-siddha pārṣada like Nanda or Subala is there criticized, but not identifying oneself as a follower of these parshads in their mood.

Looked at a little more broadly, āropa is something that we are constantly doing in Krishna consciousness already. For instance, the Deity form of the Lord is a case of āropa, although the orthodox Vaishnava might consider it blasphemous to say such a thing. Saying the Guru is Krishna is another form of āropa. Saying prasāda is "spiritual food" is yet another.

What makes a statue in wood or metal Krishna's arcā-vigraha? Is it not a convention that has been agreed upon for the sake of bhakti practice? If you say it really is the presence of Krishna, then is it not simply that Krishna has agreed to follow, or has himself institutionalized this convention? After all, as critics of idol worship have stated since time immemorial, God is present everywhere. What is the necessity of specific sites of sacredness?

The entire creation is sacred with the presence of God. But in order to make it possible to experience the creation as sacred, we enter into a kind of agreement or convention among ourselves or with God to call a certain place, or time or individual sacred. This is actually a legitimate means for experiencing the sacred. The most sacred places are those in which sacred actions are performed by highly realized souls, and this coincidence of āropa of the sacred becomes genuine experience.

Those who say all things are sacred are usually in danger of making nothing sacred, because without an extremely profound spiritual culture it is impossible to maintain such consciousness. Therefore, āropa is really the essence of all sādhanā, especially in its earlier stages.

If you say, it is not the consciousness of the devotee that makes the deity a Deity, this is not altogether true. Bhaktir evainaṁ nayati. God's presence in the world or in the Deity form is still a matter of awareness, an awareness that needs to be cultivated. What appears like or is called svarūpa-siddha bhakti is simply those activities that are conventionally or traditionally accepted as bhakti and that therefore are able to more immediately create associations with the Deity. This is why svarūpa-siddha bhakti is generally prescribed for beginners who are advised to favor such devotional activities over less direct methods. The more one advances, however, the more one is capable of making associations in less direct circumstances. The highest Vaishnava sees everything as Krishna's svarūpa and knows that he is the soul of everything. This is why an advanced Vaishnava's activities may appear mysterious to someone on a lesser level of advancement.

Conversely, certain aspects of svarūpa-siddha bhakti may become problematic for one whose spiritual culture has developed past a certain point.

Three kinds of devotees

Now the Bhāgavatam clearly says that someone who only worships the Deity without a consciousness of God's presence in other creatures, and particularly in the devotees, is a prākṛta, i.e., a mundane or materialistic devotee.

ahaṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu bhūtātmāvasthitaḥ sadā |
tam avajñāya māṁ martyaḥ kurute'rcā-viḍambanam||
yo māṁ sarveṣu bhūteṣu santam ātmānam īśvaram|
hitvārcāṁ bhajate mauḍhyād bhasmany eva juhoti saḥ||
dviṣataḥ para-kāye māṁ mānino bhinna-darśinaḥ|
bhūteṣu baddha-vairasya na manaḥ śāntim ṛcchati||
aham uccāvacair dravyaiḥ kriyayotpannayānaghe|
naiva tuṣyercitorcāyāṁ bhūta-grāmāvamāninaḥ||
arcādāv arcayet tāvad īśvaraṁ māṁ sva-karma-kṛt|
yāvan na veda sva-hṛdi sarva-bhūteṣv avasthitam||
I am always situated in all beings as the soul of their being. The person who shows disrespect for that soul of all being is simply engaged in a pretense of worship.

One who disregards my presence in all creatures as the Soul and Lord, but engages in other kinds of worship is simply engaged in making oblations into ashes.

One who shows enmity to me who am present in the bodies of other people, who is proud and sees things separate from me, will never attain peace because of this enmity.

I am not satisfied even by the most opulent worship or elaborate rituals if they are performed by someone who disrespects my creatures.

So one should worship me in the deity form, performing his prescribed duties, for as long as he does not know that I am present in the hearts of other beings. (BhP 3.29.21-25)
So the idea is to expand outward from this narrow understanding. We are nearly all familiar with the following three verses from the Eleventh Canto:

sarva-bhūteṣu yaḥ paśyed bhagavad-bhāvam ātmanaḥ|
bhūtāni bhagavaty ātmany eṣa bhāgavatottamaḥ||
Havi said, “O King! One who sees the existence of his worshipable Lord in all living entities and the presence of all living entities in his worshipable Lord, is known as bhāgavatottama, or best of the bhāgavatas. (11.2.45)
īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca|
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ||
One who behaves with love towards God, friendship to those who depend on the Lord, with compassion to those who are innocent, and indifference to those who hate the Lord, is on the middle level of devotional life. (SB 11.2.46)
arcāyām eva haraye pūjāṁ yaḥ śraddhayehate|
na tad-bhakteṣu cānyeṣu sa bhaktaḥ prākṛtaḥ smṛtaḥ||
One who reveres the Lord in His deity form with faith, but does not revere the Lord’s devotees or other living beings is called a mundane devotee. (SB 11.2.47)
The procedure, one will immediately observe, is one that is leading outward. The kind of bhakti that is described as the activity of the prākṛta-bhakta is the type that is usually criticized by non-devotees, and with some justification. It is, in fact, filled with certain characteristics of the mode of ignorance:

yat tu kṛtsnavad ekasmin kārye saktam ahaitukam
atattvārthavad alpaṁ ca tat tāmasam udāhritam
And that knowledge by which one sees the all-in-all in a single manifestation, to which one is causelessly attached, which is meager and bereft of clear understanding, is called tāmasika. (Gita 18.22)
By this I don't mean to say that beginning devotees are entirely covered by the mode of ignorance, but that their faith, etc., shows signs of an admixture of elements of the mode of ignorance that need to be overcome. I would further say, along with many Western psychologists, that immaturity, ignorance and solipsism are roughly synonymous.

A prākṛta-bhakta can worship his deity in complete freedom and self-righteousness. Although he worships the Other, in a way, that Other is illusory, because it is exclusively existing in his mind or in the minds of his limited group. In other words, he accepts the existence of the Absolute Other, but does not accept the challenge presented by the Other. His Deity does not talk to him, or if he does, he would only speak banalities confirming his own superiority bias and religious ego. This is not, I should clarify, limited to devotees and Deity worship: All religions, indeed mind-sets, have this sequence of realization.

The madhyama-bhakta shows signs of the mode of passion:

pṛthaktvena tu yaj jṇānaṁ nānābhāvān pthag-vidhān
vetti sarveṣu bhūteṣu taj jṇānaṁ viddhi rājasam
The knowledge by which one knows the various categories of nature in all things, seeing them as divided and different, is said to be rājasika. (Gita 18.21)
The rājasika person has recognized differences and this leads to the discovering underlying unity. So the madhyama bhakta accepts the challenge of Otherness.

The person who sees the underlying unity is closer to the mode of goodness. However, this kind of analysis is somewhat uncomfortable for devotees, especially those in the prākṛta and madhyama stages, whose entire effort is based on distinctions, and anything that even smacks vaguely of Mayavada has to be adjusted and interpreted away from the obvious meaning. But in fact, there is a cultural transformation towards unity that develops with spiritual advancement, even where the very basis of the process is difference.

It should also be noted that institutions are conservative and promote differences and distinction for their own survival, in exactly the same way an individual protects his own ego. In fact, the protection of  illusory false identity is one of the reasons that institutions exist. This is why a healthy distrust of institutions becomes desirable at some point.

tasmāt priyatamaḥ svātmā sarveṣām eva dehinām|
tad-artham eva sakalaṁ jagac caitac carācaram||
kṛṣṇam enam avehi tvam ātmānam akhilātmanām|
jagad-dhitāya so'pyatra dehīvābhāti māyayā||
vastuto jānatām atra kṛṣṇaṁ sthāsnu cariṣṇu ca|
bhagavad-rūpam akhilaṁ nānyad vastv iha kiñcana||
sarveṣām api vastūnāṁ bhāvārtho bhavati sthitaḥ|
tasyāpi bhagavān kṛṣṇaḥ kim atad-vastu rūpyatām||
Therefore the dearest thing for every embodied entity is his own self. And whatever else in the world is dear is dear for that reason. Know that Krishna is the soul of all souls. In order to benefit the world he has descended and appears like an embodied being. For those who know Krishna in truth, they recognize that whether animate or inanimate, all things are simply forms of the Lord. There is really no other thing in existence. There is an essential meaning that exists in all things, and the essence of that is Lord Krishna. So what else exists other than him, pray tell? (10.14.51-54)
So this is the consciousness that we are trying to achieve through sādhanā. It is not, however, that the acquisitions of the prākṛta stage are abandoned as one progresses, it is simply that one's frame of reference widens. Those who try to skip the prākṛta stage and progress directly to the uttama mostly end up being Mayavadis. Advanced devotees, however, progress beyond this stage to one of Unity-in-Difference, which is differentiated from the bhakti of the prākṛta devotee as parā bhakti.

brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
One who has come to the stage of identification with Brahman, is entirely satisfied in the Self, and neither laments nor craves anything, who is equal to all living beings attains my supreme bhakti.


Anonymous said…
I fail to understand why would somebody want to desire such a "universal consciousness" rather than the heavenly realm of Goloka? The very concept of such a "universal cosciousness" is self defeating.
Jagadananda Das said…
It is hard for me to understand how I can be so misunderstood.

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