Raganuga Bhakti

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Can Spiritual Spontaneity Be Taught? Can It Be Learned?

Raganuga BhaktiQuestion: I have heard people say that your guru, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, taught his disciples Vaidhi-bhakti, the path based on scriptural injunctions, and not Raganuga-Bhakti, the path of spontaneous love of God. Is that true?

Answer: No. That is a misunderstanding. Srila Prabhupada taught the path of spontaneous love (raga-marga) in a way that, one is assured of success. He followed in the footsteps of Rupa Goswami, Sanatana Goswami, and Ragunatha dasa Goswami. Vaidhi-bhakti is of a lower order. Vaidhi-bhakti is devotion arising out of a sense of obligation to the rules and regulations (vidhi) of the Vedic scriptures. The fullest expression of vaidhi-bhakti is found in Vaikuntha, the spiritual domain where awe and reverence pervade one's relationship with divinity. Raganuga-sadhana, on the other hand, directs us to the devotees of Vrndavana, the spiritual realm where one's devotional inclinations are non-calculative, spontaneous, and overflowing with affection.

Sri Chaitanya chose Rupa Goswami as the most fit person to distribute the raga-marga. He explains raganuga-sadhana-bhakti in his Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, which Srila Prabhupada gave us in a summary study, the Nectar of Devotion. The two divisions of sadhana-bhakti, vaidhi and raganuga, are the means by which one attains love of Godhead. Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains in his Sri Chaitanya-Siksamrta that vidhi, regulation that forms the basis of vaidhi-bhakti, is not contrary to raga (spontaneity). Pure vidhi is helpful to raga, and pure raga is a result of vidhi that is in harmony with the will of God. Vidhi helps us cure diseased raga (spontaneous attachment to that which is not Godly), and when raga is healthy (centered on Godhead), vidhi retreats. Vidhi and raga are in one sense separate while simultaneously inseparable, in that they are complimentary components of the same substance-sadhana-bhakti. The relationship between vidhi and raga in sadhana is like the relationship between medicine and the body. When the body is sick, it needs medicine. When the body is healthy, medicine is needed only for preventive care. In the development of spontaneous love, vidhi is compulsory. In raga-maga there may be some relaxing of vidhi-and this was characteristic of Srila Prabhupada's movement. Saranagati and asta-kaliya-lila, full surrender and 24-hour engagement in the service of Radha-Krsna, were the sum and substance of all that Srila Prabhupada spoke of and every action he performed.

We Cannot Jump Into Vrndavana

Pseudo-devotees want to jump to spontaneous love without first transcending the material body and mind. They misinterpret Rupa Goswami when he says that the neophyte should follow in the footsteps of the eternal residents of Vrndavana while in the body of a practitioner (sadhaka-deha). In order to follow in the footsteps of the gopis (Krsna's milk-maids) one must first transcend the bodily conception of life through adherence to vidhi. Before doing so, the neophyte should follow the example of the Goswamis, who are eternal residents of Vrndavana appearing on Earth to instruct us by their example.

In Vrndavana many Western devotees think that raganuga-bhakti consists of bhajan (solitary worship), as opposed to preaching, or at least not to go out of one's way such that one's bhajan might be disturbed. This is a mistaken conception. We can understand everything correctly from the example of Sri Chaitanya's lila (pastimes). Chaitanya lila is audarya-lila, the distribution of spontaneous love of God. This audarya is the result of the most advanced stage of love of God, mahabhava. Tasting the mellows of ecstatic love for Krsna in the mood of Srimati-Radharani, Sri Chaitanya becomes like a madman and wishes to distribute that love in all directions. In other words, raganuga-bhakti is not exclusive of preaching; it is where realized preaching begins.

It was in the divine flow of tasting the drops of nectar that fell from the lotus feet of Sri Chaitanya that Srila Prabhupada carried on his campaign of distributing love of Krsna all over the world. In fact, his program of engaging everyone in spontaneous devotion was so dynamic that his rule of thumb was "Krsna consciousness now-rules and regulations later." As enunciated by Rupa Goswami:

yena tena prakarena manah krsne nivesayet
sarva vidhi-nisedhasyur etayor eva kinkarah

"An acarya should devise a means by which people may somehow or other come to Krsna consciousness. All rules and regulations are subordinate to this principle." (Brs.1.2.4)

Due to Srila Prabhupada's lack of concern about some points of regulation, less advanced Vaisnavas sometimes criticize him. For example, in the beginning of  ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada's sannyasa disciples carried tridanda staffs that were at least a foot taller than they were. In Mayapur a person complained, "Their dandas are too big!" The regulation for the staff is that it should be the same height as the sannyasi, but this detail was being overlooked. When Srila Prabhupada heard of this criticism he laughed and said, "That is because we are big preachers."

A Thousand Times Worse Than Hell

It is true, however, that in the days of Srila Prabhupada his disciples could not always catch the deepest meaning of everything. Srila Prabhupada was very cautious about discussing certain confidential areas of krsna-lila, specifically madhurya-rasa (the Lord's intimate conjugal affairs). Although they are the subject of mature contemplation in advanced stages of raganuga-sadhana, he cautioned us not to "rush in where angels dare to tread." His caution was to save us from becoming sahajiya's (imitative pseudo-devotees who think they can enter the pastimes of Krsna with their materially contaminated minds), which is a fate a thousand times worse than hell. It is incorrect to think that he did not give us the path of raganuga, or that he did not want his disciples to discuss and contemplate higher things in due course. We must find the balance between necessary caution in approaching the highest conception of bhakti and the necessity for progress beyond the primary stage.

Sri Sri Radha-KrsnaThere is another reason for Srila Prabhupada not speaking at length or in great detail about certain subjects, such as radha-dasyam, the divine service of Srimati Radharani (Krsna's eternal consort). The reason is similar to why Sukadeva Goswami has not directly mentioned the name of Radharani in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Jiva Goswami points out that if Sukadeva spoke the name of Radharani directly, he would have entered avista-citta, a state of trance, and become inert for six months. Thus Pariksit Maharaja, who was destined to die in seven days, would not have been able to hear the Bhagavatam. Similarly, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, while speaking about Srimati Radharani in a public place, lost his external consciousness and fell from the chair in which he was sitting. Such was his deep devotion for Srimati Radharani. Had Srila Prabhupada entered into discussions of the intimate love affairs of Radha and Krsna and their confidential associates, he clearly would not have been able to carry on his worldwide preaching activities. Therefore, for the benefit of the world, he checked his deeper interests and emotions so he could stay in connection with us.

By Service We Can Know

In Vrndavana many devotees now want to know about all the confidential aspects of madhurya-rasa. To collect some knowledge and show their learnedness on the subject, they run here and there talking to anyone and everyone, and reading anything and everything. After that, some want to produce literature about rasa. This is a faulty process. The madhurya-lila is most confidential. By acquiring only categorical knowledge of the subject, one does not enter that realm of consciousness. One can only know the super-subjective plane of intimate lilas of Radha-Krsna by submissive inquiry and service to the lotus feet of one who is connected with that realm. The confidential lilas of Krsna are never knowable by the primary students of Krsna consciousness. The proof that we have no standing there, even after researching so much knowledge, is that we utter the name of Radharani and her confidential friends, but we remain absorbed in kanaka, kamimi and pratistha: money, sex, and name and fame. The fact that we talk about the confidental pastimes of Radha-Krsna and remain conscious is proof that we have no real devotion. Sri Chaitanya used to say that the proof of his not having any love for Krsna was the fact that he did not die immediately out of separation.

Raganuga Bhakti

Srila Prabhupada has made a most significant contribution to the world in the line of raganuga-bhakti. Unfortunately, some of his disciples have not understood this contribution maturely. This has caused some senior members of the Vaisnava community in India to think that Srila Prabhupada may have given his disciples only the ABC's of Krsna consciousness. Due to offenses to the holy name and to devotees, some of my godbrothers have lost sight of the path of pure devotion. Others, captured by the grandeur and glamour of a big society, have divorced themselves from the inner spirit of spontaneous devotion, which originally attracted them to Srila Prabhupada's movement. All of this is unfortunate.

When the sun sets, darkness follows. Similarly, after the disappearance of Srila Prabhupada, maya again overcame many of his disciples. In the presence of the spiritual master, we find our way in Krsna consciousness more easily due to his illuminating presence. But after his departure from this world we are put to the test. Maya will try to cover our faith and impede our progress.

The sudden departure of Srila Prabhupada from our midst created a great need in the hearts of his sincere disciples. Just to increase our attachment, Krsna called the very life of our life back to his eternal abode. Our spiritual master had returned to the supreme realm of Goloka Vrndavana to engage in eternal lila, but the direction in which he was leading us somehow became unclear for many. Many were lost and others prayed earnestly for help from above. Krsna fulfilled their prayers and met the necessity in the hour of their greatest need by manifesting again in the form of Srila Bhakti Raksak Sridhara Deva Goswami.

We are very much grateful for and indebted to Srila Sridhara Maharaja, our siksa-guru, who out of his infinite mercy and kindness saw the need of Srila Prabhupada's disciples. Taking us by the hand, he has shown us, from another angle of vision in the same lineage, the full-fledged glory of Krsna consciousness.

By the grace of these two renowned agents of Krsna, Srila Prabhupada and Srila Sridhara Maharaja, we have obtained a clear picture of raganuga-bhakti and are moving forward on the path. That is our good fortune.