This is a couple of old posts from Gaudiya Discussions. I made no changes.

utpanna-ratayaḥ samyaṅ
nairvighnyam anupāgatāḥ
kṛṣṇa-sākṣāt-kṛtau yogyāḥ
sādhakāḥ parikīrtitāḥ
“These devotees who have attained rati (or bhāva), yet are still not completely free from obstacles, who are worthy of attaining a direct vision of the Lord, are known as sādhakas.” (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 2.1.276)
Bhaktivedanta Swami : “A person who has attained the stage of attraction for Krishna and who is not freed from the material impasse, but who has qualified himself to enter into the kingdom of God, is called sādhaka. Sādhaka means one who is cultivating devotion in Krishna consciousness.” (NOD, 203)

Dhanurdhara Swami : “Sādhaka refers to an advanced devotee, not just to any practitioner. Only one who has ecstatic love can inspire that love to arise in others. Therefore, in this context, Srila Rupa Goswami has defined sādhaka as a devotee on the platform of rati, or one who feels attraction for Krishna. In other words, it refers to a bhāva-bhakta."

Such a sādhaka is at the stage of bhāva, he is qualified to periodically receive Krishna’s direct darshan. However, since he has not yet attained prema, he is not quite out of the material impasse. Bilvamangala Thakur (see verse 279), who began to manifest sāttvika bhāvas in the process of attaining perfection, is the example of this. (Waves of Devotion, 174)

Comment : Dhanurdhara Maharaj has astutely picked up on the idea of "inspiration" ("Only one who has ecstatic love can inspire that love to arise in others."), but I don't think that he has made sufficiently clear what Rupa Goswami is getting at.

In order to understand this section of four verses (276-279), we must understand the context. Srila Rupa Goswamipada is discussing the various ingredients of rasa; this is the chapter on the vibhāvas, which consists of ālambanas and uddīpanas. He has described the viṣayālambana, Krishna, and is now discussing the āśraya. The āśraya of Krishna bhakti is obviously Krishna’s devotee, who can be either in a sādhaka-deha or a siddha-deha.

There are three kinds of vibhāva: āśraya, viṣaya and uddīpana. These may have interchangeable aspects. So a devotee may be any one of these in different circumstances. Recently I heard a discussion of the "reaction shot" in films. The speaker was making the point that the "reaction shot" (i.e., when in a film, you see someone reacting to an event -- e.g. the child with eyes popping out when Superman flies overhead; closeups of people in the crowd smiling as the baby is returned to its mother, etc.) is really a cue to the audience how to react.

Now the “reaction shot” may help us to understand the āśrayālambana. The two examples I gave parenthetically above are adbhuta and karuna rasas; the people in the reaction shot are the āśrayas of those sentiments, and they are providing the cue to the audience how to feel.

Bhakti-rasa is analogous to the rasas of ordinary entertainments, but endowed with specific significance because God is not limited and therefore genuinely present in the rasa. But in the case of the saints as āśraya-ālambana, they give us the cue how to react. In this passage, however, the sādhaka is not just an "inspiration" or uddīpana as Dhanurdhara Maharaj says in his Wave of Devotion comment above, but the āśraya of rasa.

Now this passage is not meant to be a commentary on who or what is a sādhaka, i.e., it is not meant for the instruction of edification of practising Vaishnavas, but it is rather to explain the questions of whether and how a practicing devotee (either in literature or reality) can function as an element in the process of creating rasa in you or me.

The significance of Bilvamangala as an example comes directly from his book, Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta, which at least in part is about Bilvamangala the sādhaka, who is not relating to Krishna in his siddha-deha, i.e., as a participant in the eternal pastimes directly with Krishna, or at least not all the time, but rather as one who is seeking a vision of Krishna.

Of course, the sādhaka's consciousness of his siddha-deha may also be part and parcel of his sādhaka personality. This is why you get the Gaudiya tradition of commentary on books like Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta, Vilāpa-kusumāñjali and Rādhā-rasa-sudha-nidhi, where the hearers are asked to visualize the author (Bilvamangala, Raghunath Das or Prabodhananda) slipping in and out of his siddha identity.

And that is exactly the point that Rupa Goswami is making here. He is continuing the discussion that began in BRS 1.2.295 (sevā sādhaka-rūpeṇa siddha-rūpeṇa cātra hi). Rāgānugā bhakti is essentially about cultivating the rasa experience, which is one of the reasons Kunjabihari Dasji's Manjari-svarūpa-nirūpana is such a useful book.

This is something that I have also been pointing out in relation to guru-tattva, because for a Gaudiya Vaishnava, the guru is precisely this: a sādhakāśrayālambana. Even though we may consider the guru a siddha, he is in fact on the cusp of the material and spiritual worlds. The guru is a half-real, half-mythologized person. Thus we see in the guru the play of devotional bhāvas in his sādhaka-deha; we believe that he is experiencing the siddha-deha, and this can indeed inspire the initial experience of rasa.

So, once again, the point of this verse is not to ascertain which sādhakas are eligible to be considered sādhakāśrayalambana, but only that he is one of those Vaishnavas we are supposed to be following in our sādhaka-rūpa: Gopa Kumar in Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta, Narada, Rupa Goswami himself--these are the sādhakas Rupa is talking about.

There is further significance to this in that this allows that rasa also exists in the context of sādhana  This is why Rupa specifies in the verse that this sādhaka is not free from obstacles (nairvighnyam anupāgatāḥ): rasa cannot arise in a non-dramatic situation. There must be obstacles to overcome, which provides drama to his spiritual quest.

This is why reading about saints, like the devotees of Vrindavan or Bhaktivinoda Thakura or Bhaktivedanta Swami, is a source of joy to the devotee. Rasa is being experienced through hearing about the devotee, and sometimes even more so, than we do in hearing actual Krishna lila katha.

Finally, this is one of the reasons there is significant rasa in Gauranga-lila.

Some may object to the characterization of Bilvamangala as a sādhaka as offensive. Is Bilvamangala not a siddha-mahapurusha whose śikṣā guru was Lord Krishna Himself?

This misunderstanding of Rupa Goswami’s intention is quite typical. This is exactly why the passage has been consistently problematic for devotees who wonder, "Bilvamangala is siddha, so how can he be a sādhaka?"

The point I am making is that he is sādhaka-āśrayālambana, not a sādhaka. He is "doing a lila" in the sādhaka-deha, if you like.

Of course, I made the point above that since drama, or obstacles, are a part of the process of generating rasa, therefore it is more glorious to think of those obstacles mentioned in Rupa Goswami’s definition as real, rather than illusory. (Of course, that is a shaky distinction: the only obstacle to attaining Krishna is his will to reveal himself.) So for me, to think of the guru as being genuinely human makes his quality as an āśrayālambana that much more acute.

Part of the confusion in the BRS section under discussion is verse 2.1.277, where Sri Rupa gives the Bhagavatam 11.2.46 as the first example of a sādhaka.

īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca
prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ

The devotee of the middle class loves the Lord, makes friendship with those who depend on Him, is kind to the innocent, and avoids the enemies of God.

This is the famous description of the madhyama bhakta, so it seems as though Rupa is saying that Bilvamangala is a madhyama bhakta. Not so. A madhyama bhakta is one who deals with the world in four distinct ways. Mukunda's commentary points out that this example is rather being given specifically to show that such a bhakta still faces external obstacles (madhyamaḥ samyaṅ-nairvighnyābhāvāt), even though it clearly states that he loves Krishna, as given in the definition of the sādhakāśrayālambana (2.1.276)--prema karotīty utpanna-ratitvam.

This has nothing to do with whether Bilvamangala is a “Sri-Rādhā-bhāva-rasika saint.” Whatever Bilvamangala has on the inside, this definition is concerned with what he has on the outside.

Most people know the frame story for the Kṛṣṇa-karṇāmṛta that visualizes Bilvamangala as a blind man walking to Vrindavan while being led there by Krishna. This is the way that at least Gaudiya commentators like Krishnadas Kaviraja look at the story.

So when we say "siddha" or "sādhaka" in this context, we do not mean that Bilvamangala was an ordinary human being or anything like that, or that his inner bhāva was not perfect, but that as a literary character he is functioning as a sādhaka.

Let us take another look at what is meant by āśraya. This is a psychological function that goes into the appreciation or tasting of rasa. Whenever reading a book, poem, watching a film or play, the audience (sahṛdaya) undergoes a subtle or unconscious process of identification (sādhāraṇīkaraṇa) with the āśraya or seat of the particular mood that is being created.

Normally, the major (or at least significant) rasa in any dramatic work is śṛṅgāra, or love, but in this case we are talking bhakti-rasa. In other words we ourselves are sādhakas who are cultivating or developing bhakti-rasa, and it is thus natural for us to identify with other sādhaka devotees who have also suffered in Krishna's absence, who search to encounter Krishna, and who have achieved success, etc. So Bilvamangala is just one example. But we can also think of Narada in Bhagavatam 1.5-6, which is an extremely good example. Or Dhruva, or Prahlada, or Raghunath Das in Chaitanya lila. Indeed any story of the struggles of a devotee to achieve perfection functions as an example of the sādhakāśrayālambana.

Because these great devotees appear as a sādhakas, it makes it possible for other aspirants like you or me to identify with them. It is in fact easier to identify with a sādhaka and experience bhakti rasa through them because they, as āśrayas of the bhāvas, are setting an example that is more akin to our own.

This is an important aspect of Mahaprabhu's āpani ācari dharma jīvere śikhāya.

This identification is extremely important on the bhakti path, but only Rupa has talked about it in this psychological way on the analogy of the aesthetic experience. It would be silly for anyone to think that this means that Rupa was minimizing Bilvamangala, Prahlada, Dhruva, Raghunath Das, or Mahaprabhu because they are acting like sādhakas.

And, as I intimated above, Rupa's rasa theory is intimately connected with his ideas about raganuga bhakti and manjari bhāva. Why is Radha dasya more important than Radha bhāva itself? The manjaris identify with Radha, but they certainly don't want to be Radha, because that would mean a diminishing of their bhāva.

This is the purport of verses like these from Govinda-lilamrita.

sakhyaḥ śrī-rādhikāyā vraja-kumuda-vidhor hlādinī-nama-śakteḥ
sārāṁśa-prema-vallyāḥ kiśalaya-dala- puṣpādi-tulyāḥ sva-tulyāḥ
siktāyāṁ kṛṣṇa-līlāmṛta-rasa-nicayair ullasantyām amuṣyāṁ
jātollāsāḥ sva-sekāc chata-guṇam adhikaṁ santi yat tan na citram

Radha’s girlfriends are the twigs, branches, and fruits,
of the vine of the essence of love, Radha herself;
they are equal to even her--the pleasure-giving potency
of the Moon of the lilies of Vraja.
Considering this, it is not so strange
that when she is sprinkled with the nectar
of Krishna's embrace and soaked in that bliss,
her girlfriends are a hundred times more joyful
than had they themselves been watered.

spṛśati yadi mukundo rādhikāṁ tat-sakhīnāṁ
bhāvati vapuṣi kampa-sveda-romāñca-bāṣpam |
adhara-madhu mudāsyāś cet pibaty eṣa yatnād
bhāvati bata tad āsāṁ attatā citram etat

If Krishna should touch Srimati Radharani,
then lo and behold! her sakhis start to tremble;they sweat and their body hairs stand on end,and tears well in their eyes.
And if Krishna should attentively sipthe spirituous liquor of Radha’s lips,it is they who become intoxicated!Is this not something truly wonderful?

This does not mean that one cannot identify with siddha bhaktas as well, for the passage following the one refered to above, that is BRS 2.1.280ff., includes a variety of siddha bhaktas up to and including the nitya-siddha Vrajavasis. But even the sādhana-siddha and kripa-siddha devotees here are being named in terms of their "literary" function, i.e. as āśrayālambanas to be identified with. Thus their attainment of siddhi is a source of rasa that we mystically participate in through the magic of bhakti rasa.

Indeed, it may be said that the complete bhakti rasa would include all aspects--from sādhana to siddhi. This is why O.B.L. Kapoor's book about Vraja bhaktas is such a delight. It is fun and inspiring to read about bhaktas who decide to sit down like Ramakrishna Pandit Baba and do a purascharan, saying "I ain't getting up until Srimati gives me her mercy." We take part in his success through identifying with him, even if we are incapable of chanting more than four rounds of japa a day, what to speak of sitting in one place for seventeen days without eating. We identify with his sadhana, and we identify with his siddhi. And of course, the deeper our own sadhana, the more meaningful this rasa experience becomes.

And, it must be said, that the dīkṣā sambandha, the special relationship established through initiation, makes these identifications more real and personal. Ramakrishna Baba is our guy, and we are his. So his bhajan is especially meaningful to us and therefore a source of rasa.

This is one of the ways that bhaktas spread their mercy in the form of bhakti rasa. Just by their doing it, just by their experiencing it, they make it real for us all.

And what is happening here is a universal religious principle. The various prophets establish different variants on the bhakti-rasa principle. So that when a Bhaktivedanta Swami or a Kripalu comes along with his own particular personal myth, it takes on meaning for their disciples that shapes their (the disciples') own specific spiritual character.

Having been in Iskcon for a long time, I also feel that certain elements of the Prabhupada myth infuse my spiritual life--the long wait in householder life, Krishna's powerful hand pulling him out of it--yasyāham anugṛhṇāmi hariṣye tad-dhanaṁ śanaiḥ, being given shelter in Jiva Goswami's own home at Radha Damodar and then thrust out into the great exploit, the Hare Krishna explosion. This is a powerful myth that will keep Iskcon illuminated for centuries, no doubt.

Many Indians seem to prefer the avatar model--the nitya-siddha falling out of the sky, ready made. Personally, I find this a less rasika and more passive model for the sādhaka, but that's me.

These are all variants of the bhakta-āśrayālambana. And inspired by them, we create our own personal myth, which ultimately follows the pattern of the rasa lila, from the call of the flute (ādau śraddhā), to finding Radha (guru) in the woods, and so on to the great circle dance. We participate mystically, and when our own lives truly become realized myth, that is when we become guru.

And that could happen today, with Radharani's mercy.


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