Another Side of Bhaktivinoda 24: A Few Words About Raganuga Bhakti Sadhana
|Gadadhar Pran speaking with Vaishnava Pada Dasji, wirthy discipe of Radha Kund Mahanta Ananta Das Babaji..|
After a long hiatus, we are continuing with this great insightful series from Sri Gadadhar Pran Das, who is sharing this very personal document about his long relation with rāgānugā bhakti that began with his initiation by Srila Lalita Prasad Thakur, the son and direct disciple of Srila Saccidananda Bhaktivinoda Thakur. For other articles in this series, click here.
People interested in communication with the author can write to firstname.lastname@example.org
A Few Words about Rāgānugā Bhakti Sadhana
How can we attain the privilege to serve in Sri Gauranga and Sri Krishna’s nitya līlā? In this chapter we will discuss the sādhana which leads to this supreme goal in Gaudiya Vaishnava dharma.
To help understand the process, the svārasikī līlā that was presented in the last two chapters will be analysed in context with our Vraja Goswamis’ teachings. So to begin, let us examine Rupa Goswami’s following Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu verse, as it sets the standard for rāga mārga sādhana:
tat-tat-kathā-rataś cäsau kuryäd vāsaṁ vraje sadā
Rāgānugā bhaktas should perform smaran of Krishna in the company of His Vraja associates whom they hanker to associate with and eternally serve in the līlā. Such līlā kathā should always be discussed while permanently residing in Vrindavan.
Although this verse imbibes the very essence of Sri Rupa’s teachings, we may wonder, why is this process so rarely taken up by Vaishnavas today? And where can we find the Rūpānugā bhaktas who truly yearn to uncover their eternal relationship with Krishna in the līlā? Rupa advises rāgānugā sādhakas and sādhikās that they always reside in Vrindavan, as this transcendental environment is the most conducive for bhajan. And because the Lord performs His madhura pastimes here, this is also the ideal place to attain His sākṣāt darśana.
By saying Krishna smaraṇa, Rupa indicates that smaraṇa is the main activity in rāgānugā sādhana. Līlā smaraṇa should combine with our nama japa as we meditate on Krishna in the company of His Vraja associates who attract us the most.
Here the question of our personal ruci comes into the picture. Because to attain the Lord’s nitya sevā in the līlā, Rupa stresses that we meditate according to our adopted mood. Thakur Bhaktivinoda says something very wonderful about this:
āpanera yogyasmṛti kara nirantara ||80||
āpanera ayogya smaraṇa yadi haya |
bahu yuga sādhileo siddhi kabhu naya ||81||
In smaraṇa there is a beautiful consideration: You need only to contemplate the līlā scenes and the seva moods that you enjoy meditating upon. Because if you perform smaran that you don’t prefer, siddhi can never be attained. (HNC 15.80-81)
Concerning Sri Rupa’s teachings in this verse, a sensitive matter has come up that needs to be addressed: In a few places in this essay, intimate rati keli scenes have been depicted that some readers may not appreciate. On the other hand, however, there are others who like to read them.
After hearing one devotee’s suggestion to remove these narrations from the book, we did think about it for a while, weighing the pros and cons of following their advice. But after due consideration we just had to let them stay for a few good reasons: First of all Gaudiya Vaishnava literature (in English) that features divine erotic scenes (such as these) hardly exists. Thus we feel that this intimate side of our Vaishnava tradition needs some exposure.
And secondly, if we hear these srngara rasamaya narrations in a mature way from their transcendental point of view (and can appreciate the rasa contained therein) we stand to gain a lot from hearing them.
Let us explain why:
Elsewhere in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Rupa Goswami offers madhura-rasāśrita bhaktas a choice: they can take up either the sambhogecchāmayī process, where one desires to serve Krishna as His consort, or we can choose the tad-bhāvecchātmikā method to serve in mañjarī bhāva. Although Rupa presents both processes neutrally, and lets us choose which method suits our personal ruci, the trend in our current Vaishnava samaja today has become so onesided that bhaktas will be made to feel very uncomfortable if they do not choose manjari bhāva. [We can testify that during our Radhakund tenure if we had ever uttered just once our hidden desire for kanta bhāva our siksa guru would have certainly clobbered us!] We should not be afraid to mention, however, that there is another side of the coin – a side which is very beautiful indeed. And without sampling a few drops of its nectar, how can we ever come to know about this?
After examining Sri Rupa’s Krishnam smaran janan rasija verse, isn’t this what he advises: to always discuss the līlā topics which directly relate to our adopted mood? In the Bhagavatam, Sukadeva Goswami tells how Krishna’s gopi kantas worship Him with their kama, and mentions that this is the best way to attain Him. Then he goes on to say that hearing or reciting such transcendental pastimes our hṛd-roga, or heart disease of material lust, can be destroyed.
So let us consider: Since these loving pastimes are with Svayam Bhagavan, can we dare to say that something impure, unwholesome or wrong is contained within them? Or to speak positively, can we not rightly say that instead of being gross, these narrations are very beautiful, and rather than being despicable they are supremely attractive, and rather than being dirty they are the most pure? I find it ironic that so many Vaishnavas stand opposed to accepting the very process which will lead to our attaining Gaura and Krishna in Their sweetest, most loving feature.
rādhā kṛṣṇa prema-keli karṇe rasāyana
What is the most rewarding topic to hear? Radha Krishna’s prema-keli is simply nectar for the ears. (CC 2.8.254)
As we continue to discuss Rupa’s Krishnam smaran janan casya verse, its meaning will apply to Gaura līlā as well – since our Gaudiya Mahajanas unanimously agree that Gaura and Krishna are non different. So Rupa’s instruction may be interpreted in this way as well:
Rāgānugā bhaktas should perform smaran of Gauranga in the company of His priya Nabadwip bhaktas whom they hanker to associate with and serve in the līlā. Such līlā katha should always be discussed while residing permanently in Nabadwip.
Now it looks like we are ready to analyse the previous svārasikī meditation. And the priya Gaura bhaktas whom we wish to follow are Vishnupriya, Jahnava and Vamsivadan – who are the leading members of Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s guru parampara in Nabadwip. The story centers around a mahotsava that takes place in our home, and the main event is the Bhagavat Patha that Vamsivadan delivers to Gauranga and His bhakta assembly.
To enter this līlā a residence will be required from where everything can begin. And the Gutika provides some interesting maps that show the overall layout of Goloka Nabadwip – where the bhaktas' homes are located – and how the Ganga and Her tributary surround the entire dhama, etc.
Our home is located within Gadadhara’s vast garden abode in the dhama’s south west side, and the Alakananda Ganga’s tributary flows nearby. As Rupa Goswami advises that we follow the Lord’s nitya parshadas to whom we are most attracted, we wish to be closest to Gadadhar Pandit.
And if we stop to think about it, what kind of a home will be an ideal venue for Gaurasundar and His bhaktas to perform His pastimes? Won’t some attractive gardens, a lovely sarovara, and a large family of bhaktas all be required to serve them appropriately?
But in our world, where can we find such a bhakta family? Because if the wife is devoted, the husband may not be so – or it may be the other way around. Then, even if the husband and wife happen to be great devotees, very often their children don’t wish to follow their example. This is when manasi seva can work wonders. Because when meditating on the līlā if we nurture the desire to live in a premika bhakta family, where each of the members is qualified to serve the Lord and His nitya siddha parshadas, Narottam das assures us:
rāga pathera ei se upāya
Whatever you contemplate in your sādhana you will attain in your siddha-deha. For this is the process on the rāga mārga. Prema-bhakti-candrikā
Although it is not possible to associate with Gauranga and His līlā associates in our world, it can be done in the mind. So when our mind travels to the unseen world of Gaura līlā and performs service in our mentally conceived siddha deha, this is called mānasī sevā. In his Bhakti Sandarbha, Jiva Goswami reveals what kind of fortune mānasī sevā can bring:
For the bhakta who always serves the Lord within the mind (during līlā-smaraṇa) Sri Bhagavan will directly appear, offer Himself, and even remain subjugated by such love!
Jata Rati (Attaining Bhava)
In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Rupa Goswami defines bhāva bhakti as follows:
rucibhiś citta-māsṛṇya-kṛd asau bhāva ucyate ||
When the Lord’s special śuddha sattva śakti appears in a bhakta, like the first ray of the prema sun, ruci causes his or her heart to moisten, and become soft. This is the stage called bhāva. (BRS 1.3.1)
Vishwanath Chakravarti comments on this verse in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu-bindu as follows:
When bhāva’s main ingredient, the śuddha sattva, enters one’s heart and softens it, sāttvika emotions awaken, this is the sign that prema is beginning to blossom. The śuddha sattva is Sri Bhagavan’s sarva-prakāśinī svarūpa-śakti. Because it has no connection with the Māyā śakti of our world, it can manifest divine miracles and bring about the Lord’s saksat darshan. The term śuddha sattva viśeṣātmā refers to the śuddha sattva that contains the hlādinī śakti, the same śakti that is within Radha, Lalita, Visakha and Rupa Manjari. The only difference is: Bhava is prema’s first awakening which will later increase to the stages of sneha, māna, praṇaya, rāga, anurāga, bhāva and mahā-bhāva.”
Rupa next reminds us: “Bhāva isn’t possible by performing sādhana bhakti alone, it comes by the mercy of Krishna or His premika bhakta. Although sādhana-bhakti is necessary to prepare ourselves for bhāva, only Krishna or His premika bhakta can award it.”
To become eligible for bhāva, Rupa lists nine qualities that we will need to acquire:
1) kṣānti, tranquility, even during calamity;
2) avyarthakālatva, engaging in bhajan full time without wasting a second;
3) virakti, disinterest in worldly pleasure;
4) māna śūnyatā, the absence of pride;
5) āśā-bandha, strong faith that Bhagavan will reveal Himself;
6) samutkaṇṭhā, intense lobha for attaining one’s Ista devata;
7) nāmagāne sadā ruci, eagerness for nāma kīrtana;
8) tad-guṇākhyāne āśakti, zeal for Krishna kathā;
9) tad-vasati-sthale prīti, loving attachment to reside always in Vrindavan (or Nabadwip).
After reading this list, I think to myself: “O my God! It’s not going to be easy to acquire these qualities!”
Yet after hearing about them, let us not think, “Now that we know about this topic, let us go on to the next.” Because, frankly speaking, these nine qualities are so important for all of us. Rupa herein advises us how to reach the goal, what it will take to get there – and he leaves no scope for our cheating whatsoever.
But what often happens to us devotees? After attaining a certain level of Krishna consciousness (or Gaura consciousness) don’t we think that we have made it? And that if we simply continue at this pace we will attain the Lord at the time of death.
This is a great illusion or trap that we often fall into. Because Rupa Goswami’s teachings in his śuddha-sattva-viśeṣātmā verse tell us what it will take.
We find in Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s guru-paramparā the Mahajana poet Premananda (Premadas Mishra), the author of Vamsi siksa, offering the following realization:
jadi tāo dekhite na pāo, marile dekhibe ke?
As sādhana and bhajan takes place in this world, our attaining bhāva and seeing the Lord face to face will happen here too. Otherwise, how will we see Him at the time of death?”
Bhaktivinoda Thakur concludes his Harināma-cintāmaṇi with this advice: Those determined to attain siddhi in a short time will require three things:
1) ideal Vaishnava saṅga
2) a firm vow, and
3) an ideal solitary place for bhajan.
Now someone might ask: Here we are in this temporary material world that is filled with so much illusory pleasure, strife and calamity. So how can conditioned souls such as ourselves become eligible to enter the nitya līlā and serve alongside the Lord’s eternal associates who are all premika bhaktas?
This is something we can practice right now by being there mentally. As the previous svārasikī meditation demonstrates a sādhaka’s personal desires for attaining siddhi, we can practice a svārasikī meditation of our own. And everyone’s meditation will naturally be unique and personal.
Now how is this done? It comes from our lobha. For when we strongly desire to serve in the līlā in a particular way, our svārasikī meditation will automatically come about.
Rupa Goswami labels rāga sādhana “lobha pravartita dharma”, a religion that is impelled by hankering. Lobha is a very powerful vehicle, because if we have it, it can transport us to the līlā-rājya, the beautiful world where the Lord’s pastimes are taking place.
Before attempting to perform līlā-smaraṇa, however, Thakura Bhaktivinoda recommends that we complete two preliminary stages first: those of hearing (śravaṇa-daśā) and choosing (varaṇa-daśā).
Śravaṇa-daśā means the stage of hearing. Because to enter the līlā in the right way, which will not be imagination or mental concoction, we need to carefully study all the related līlās and rasa-tattva from our Vraja Goswamis' shastras. And if we are fortunate enoughto learn these topics from an advanced līlā-smaraṇaānandī Vaishnava, that is best.
When the guru awards his qualified disciple’s siddha svarūpa for contemplation in the līlā, this is the stage of accepting, called varaṇa daśā. It is recommended that we receive our siddha svarūpa from a guru who belongs to an unbroken siddha mañjarī paramparā.
When I read how Bhaktivinoda Thakur explained the way the guru awards his disciple’s ekādaśa-bhāva (the eleven items that form his manjari svarupa) in Harināma-cintāmaṇi, I thought to myself: “This is what I have been searching for; this is what I really want!” And this first awakening of lobha led me to the lotus feet of Thakur Bhaktivinoda’s son and disciple, Lalita Prasad Thakur in 1980. Prabhu was merciful and he fulfilled my heart’s ambition.
But in most cases, what usually happens after that? Bhaktas will have no other choice but to leave behind the institution that they previously belonged to. And Caitanya-caritāmṛta predicts exactly such a fate: