I offer my prostrated obeisances to the lotus feet of Nitya-lila Pravistha Om Vishnupada Rupanuga-Acarya Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami Maharaja who has so expertly carried on the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the line of Srila Rupa Goswami in our modern age. He lived and preached the vani of Rupa and Ragunatha Goswamis in India exclusively for 50 years and in the last 15 years of his life, all over the world. May his glories forever be remembered.
I also offer my heartfelt pushpanjali to the lotus feet of Nitya-lila Pravistha Om Vishnupada Sri Srimad Gour Govinda Swami, my siksa guru, who fulfilled the innermost desire of Srila AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada by propagating the path of raganuga-bhakti. Despite the ecclesiastic restrictions he had placed on him by some of his godbrothers and suffering the attacks of institutional misconceptions, he still managed to propound the highest teachings of our Gaudiya line up until his last breath in Sridhama Mayapura. May his glories be known for many generations to come. Both these great acaryas desired that the illuminating path of raganuga-bhakti be taught all over the world.
This short essay will elucidate the essential teachings of Srila Rupa Goswami on Raganuga-bhakti and it hopes to dispel doubts in the minds of those who may have been confused by prevalent misunderstandings of this esoteric subject matter.
The intelligence of the practitioners of vaidhi-bhakti-sadhana is dependent on the logic and reasoning of sastra. Such practice is filled with obligation, fear and duty. Practitioners often have a misunderstanding and fear about raganuga-bhakti and therefore wrongly conclude that it is so esoteric and elevated that it is only meant for the very rare advanced devotees and not for them. Out of ignorance they try to dissuade others from entering the path of raganuga-bhakti, cheating themselves and others of the opportunity of this most precious gift. Although, raganuga-bhakti-sadhana is clearly explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya Caritamrita and especially the writings of Sri Rupa and Ragunatha Goswamis, it is very difficult to grasp until one has the good fortune to hear about it directly from the lips of a pure devotee, especially a high class rasik Vaisnava.
Prema Purusottama, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the most munificent avatar of the Supreme Lord, incarnated in this age of Kali to relish the highest mellows of devotional service and distribute Vraja-prema to everyone. He did this through the propagation of the pure name of Krsna and the practice of raganuga-bhakti. Devotees coming in His line are meant to be recipients of this special mercy by entering into pure and spontaneous devotional service. In fact only those in succession from Sri Caitanya and his principle followers are allowed entrance into this sublime practice, other sampradayas have little or no access to it. Life after life, we therefore pray and fall down at the lotus feet of the followers of Sri Caitanyadeva, such as Svarupa Damodara Goswami, Sri Rupa, Ragunatha and Sanatan Goswamis and all their successors. They all have revealed this sublime path both by example and precept. By their causeless mercy we may be able to follow in their footsteps and gain entrance into that divine love of Radha and Krsna in Vrindavana that they are relishing.
Under the order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Rupa Goswami compiled many bhakti-sastras. One of his most important works is Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu which gives the devotees a scientific understanding of the process of bhakti from beginning to end. It is referred to as ‘Paribhasa-bhakti sastra’ because of the many definitions it presents in bhakti. The demon of ignorance regarding raganuga-bhakti can be slayed by faithfully hearing the authoritative statements in this book. Following are excerpts that present clear and easy to understand definitions of raganuga-bhakti.
What is raganuga?
virajantim abhivyaktam vraja-vasi-janadisu
ragatmikam anusrta ya sa raganugocyate
Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu (BRS), 1.2.270 states, “That bhakti which is distinctly present in the eternal inhabitants of Vraja is called ragatmika-bhakti. Bhakti which follows in accordance with that ragatmika-bhakti is called raganuga-bhakti”.
This first verse describes two types of raga-bhakti. One is ragatmika-bhakti, which means the fully perfected bhakti that the eternal residents of Vrindavana possess, like Mother Yasoda, Nanda Maharaja, Krsna’s cowherd boyfriends and the Vraja gopis. The other type of raga-bhakti is raganuga-bhakti, which is practiced by sadhakas in this world who aspire for a particular type of love possessed exclusively by these eternal residents of Vrindavana, and who thus ‘follows in their footsteps’ with the aim of attaining their moods. Such practice includes hearing and chanting about their charming pastimes and meditating on them. There is a common misunderstanding that one has to be perfect before entering into raganuga-bhakti. It is not true. Those who are raganuga-bhaktas have not yet attained perfection but are on the ‘fast-track’ to perfection, by following those who are perfect. One may even be quite fallen, but by the causeless mercy of Sri Guru and Vaisnavas can gain the qualification for raganuga-bhakti. What is that qualification? It is not based on any amount of material piety or good qualities, but – only an intense greed to obtain the moods of the Vrajabasis.
raganuga-vivekartham adau ragatmikocyate BRS (Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindhu) 1.2.271
“In order to fully understand raganuga-bhakti, ragatmika-bhakti is being described first”.
What is ‘raga’, and what is ‘ragatmika’?
iste svarasiki ragah
tan-mayi ya bhaved bhaktih
satra ragatmikodita BRS 1.2.272
Raga is defined as the unquenchable loving thirst (prema-mayi trsna) for the object of one’s affection (Sri Krsna) which gives rise to spontaneous and intense absorption (svarasiki paramavisthitah) in that object. These are not ordinary mundane feelings, but transcendental love and affection that Sri Krsna’s eternal associates have for Him in the spiritual world. ‘Perfected’ persons who have this raga are called, ‘ragatmika-janas’ and their bhakti is called ‘ragatmika-bhakti’. Their devotion has ‘raga’ at its heart and soul. All the eternal residents of Vrindavana possess this raga or intense love for Krsna, even the animals, birds, trees and creepers, what to speak of Krsna’s dear friends, family members and confidants, the Vraja-gopis.
There are two types of raga, kama-rupa and sambandha-rupa. Kama-rupa pertains to the conjugal attraction of Sri Krsna’s beloved, the gopis. Sambandha-rupa refers to all other relationships including Krsna’s parents and elders in vatsalya-rasa, Krsna’s friends in sakhya-rasa, and Krsna’s servants with a mixture of two, including all other creatures in Vrindavana like the cows, peacocks, birds, trees and plants. There are only 3½ rasas in Vrindavana, conjugal, parental, friendship and servitorship mixed with any of these higher rasas. There is no pure dasya-rasa in Vraja, as it would not please Krsna due to a lack of intimacy. Remember, the word ‘raga’ denotes intense love and affection, which is lacking in pure dasya-rasa.
Outside of Vrindavana, in Mathura, Dvarka, Ayodhya or Vaikuntha, the rasas lack intense affection due to the presence of aisvarya-bhava, the awareness of the Supreme Lord’s majesty and opulence. Reverential moods create a distance between the Lord and the worshipper which limits or ‘shrinks’ the expression of love. The Lord is not as satisfied by such restrained love as He is with the natural, spontaneous and overflowing love in Vrindavana. Vraja-prema is unique. It binds the lover and beloved in a very tight bond of affection. Krsna even becomes controlled by the charming love of the Vrajabasis.
Who is eligible for raganuga-bhakti?
tatra adhikari-ragatmikaika-nistha ye
tesam bhavaptaye lubdho
BRS 1.2.291, “The qualification for raganuga-bhakti is as follows: Those who have intense greed to obtain the bhava of the Vrajabasis (who are exclusively established in ragatmika-bhakti) are alone eligible for the path of raganuga-bhakti.”
kriyatam yadi kuto ’pi labhyate
tatra laulyam api maulyam ekalam
janma-koti-sukrtair na labhyate
In Srila Rupa Goswami’s Padyavali 14, he substantiates this point, “Pure devotional service in Krsna consciousness cannot be had even by pious activities in hundreds and thousands of lives. It can be obtained only by paying one price; that is, intense greed to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.”
One may ask then, “Where that greed is available?” Transcendental ‘greed’ is available in the association of rasik Vaisnavas. By the faithful and submissive hearing of their powerful Hari-katha, coupled with their mercy, the moods and sentiments within their hearts are passed on to ours.
The question then arises, “Who is eligible to take the association of such rasik Vaisnavas?” Until one has accumulated sufficient bhakti-sukriti (spiritual credit) one will not be able to properly appreciate or associate with high class Vaisnavas. Bhakti sukriti or spiritual credit is created by performing profuse vaidhi-bhakti sadhana, repeatedly coming into contact with the times, places and persons associated with bhakti (i.e., following holy tithis like Ekadasi, Janmastami, Gaura Purnima, visiting holy places like Vrindavana, Navadvipa, and Puri) and coming in contact with pure Vaisnavas. When such transcendental ‘pious’ credits accumulate to a high degree, the result is that one gets the opportunity for very high class Vaisnava sanga and the ability to properly associate with them. To further qualify Srila Rupa Goswami’s statement, it is true that no amount of ‘material piety’ is required to obtain transcendental greed, but a certain amount of bhakti-sukriti, or transcendental ‘piety’, is required to enter properly into sadhu-sanga.
Vrindavana dhama also holds special significance in the path of raga-marg. Tisthan Vraje tad-anuragi jananugami (Upadesamrita 8), “While residing in Vraja as a follower of the eternal residents of Vraja, who possess inherent spontaneous love for Sri Krsna, one should spend all his time in meticulously hearing, chanting and remembering the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of Sri Krsna. This is the essence of all advice”. Vrindavana dhama also awards the eligibility to enter raga-marg. Its land, dust, moving and non-moving creatures and residents are all cintamani, wish fulfilling gems that grant bhakti to those who come in contact with them. Even those visitors who do not know the glory of the dhama, or are just ‘passing through’ will be benefited unknowingly. This is called ajnata sukriti. Vrindavana dhama is extremely powerful and merciful. It contains so much sakti, because it is the intimate home of Radha-Krsna and is filled everywhere with Their loving associates and pastimes.
What is the symptom that ‘divine greed’ has arisen?
srute dhir yad apeksate
natra sastram na yuktim ca
BRS 1.2.292, “Upon hearing the incomparably sweet lila-katha and realizing the sweetness of the loving moods of the eternal associates of Sri Radha-Krsna in Vraja, one develops an intense desire to obtain those moods and be like them. At that time one’s intelligence will no longer depend on the rules and logic of the scriptures. This is the symptom of the awakening of divine greed.”
How do we practice raganuga-bhakti?
krsnam smaran janam casya prestam nija-samihitam
tat-tat-katha-ratas casau kuryad vasam vraje sada
BRS, 1.2.294, “The devotee should always think of Krsna within himself and should choose a very dear devotee who is a servitor of Krsna in Vrindavana. One should constantly engage in topics about that servitor and their loving relationship with Krsna and one should always live in Vrindavana.”
seva sadhaka-rupena siddha-rupena catra hi
tad-bhava-lipsuna karya vraja-lokanusaratah
BRS, 1.2.295, “The devotee should serve Krsna in his external body as well as his internally conceived spiritual (perfect) body by following in the footsteps of a particular dear servant of Krsna in Vrindavana, desiring to obtain their bhava.”
Outwardly we may follow the example of the followers of Sri Caitanyadev, the Goswamis, and Gurudeva, by performing various activities like hearing and chanting, preaching and serving Vaisnavas. Internally, in our minds and hearts, we will follow the eternal residents of Vraja, particularly those who have the same mood for which we aspire, by rendering service to Radha and Krsna under their guidance. Thus, at different times or even simultaneously, we will perform external and internal seva. Srila Gurudeva would often tell the pujaris, kirtaniyas, and preachers to give prominence to cultivating the proper internal moods while performing their seva instead of perfecting the mechanical or artistic aspect of it. This instruction can be applied to any seva, cooking, book publishing, book distribution, temple management, preaching, gardening, etc.
It is not enough to mentally imagine the eternal associates of Vraja and their transcendental seva. By forcing the mind to remember Krsna’s asta-kaliya-lila it will be material and can never be called ‘siddha rupena catra hi’, internal absorption in seva. The process of raganuga-bhakti sadhana is not an artificial imposition on the mind, but rather, a natural manifestation from the heart. Having acquired transcendental greed, the devotee engages in the process of hearing and chanting with the proper moods and naturally the heart becomes saturated with bhakti-rasa. Internal meditation on Krsna’s lilas will manifest automatically. This is not a figment of the imagination, but a reality.
nitya-siddha krsna-prema ‘sadhya’ kabhu naya
sravanadi-suddha-citte karaye udaya (CC Mad 22.107)
Pure love for Krsna is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens.
In the Krama Sandarbha (7.5.18), Srila Jiva Goswami’s commentary on the 10th canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, he writes, “Aural contact with the sound vibrations describing the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of Vrajendra-nandana Syamasundara Sri Krsna and His devotees is called sravana. At first, hearing of sri-nama is necessary to purify the mind from the contamination of sense gratification. When the mind has been purified by means of hearing about His beautiful rupa (form) then eligibility (to realize that rupa) arises within ones heart. When such eligibility has fully manifested there, the revelation of the 64 qualities of Sri Krsna which exist within His transcendental form takes place. Thereafter, through the revelation of the various unique and special qualities of His associates, as well as paraphernalia, abode etc., Sri Krsna’s own excellences become more clearly manifest. Thus through the full manifestation of His name, form, qualities, and associates the revelation of His lila or pastimes becomes beautifully manifest in the heart of the sadhaka. In regard to sravana, the hearing of Srimad-Bhagavatam is supremely exalted.
To illustrate this point, once Srinivasa Acarya was doing bhajan in Vrindavana and meditating on Radha and Krsna’s Holi pastime, and was experiencing internally the incomparable beauty of the aprakrta (unmanifest) Sri Vrindavana-dhama. Vrnda devi was gathering all the paraphernalia for the festival with the help of other gopis who were collecting colored powders and tuning musical instruments like vinas. When everything was ready, Srimati Radharani and Krsna, along with Their sakhis, began playing Holi, throwing colored powders on each other’s bodies and squirting each other with tinted water scented with musk and saffron. As Srinivasa watched the fun, the sakhis winked at him, and by their mercy he assumed the form of a maidservant, and stood by the side of Radharani, supplying Her with colored powders and dyes. The scene was so beautiful that hundreds of Cupids would have fainted if they had seen it. The sky was filled with so much colored powder that the sum was almost blocked out, and the air was filled with the deafening sounds of the musical instruments. Krsna showered the gopis with color and then offered various excuses so He could embrace and kiss them.
Lalita and Visakha then placed Srimati Radharani and Krsna on a throne, and Srinivasa in his manjari form fanned Them both with a camara, removing Their exhaustion after the vigorous game, and fulfilling his own spiritual desires. When the pastime came to an end, Srinivasa returned to external consciousness and saw that his regular body was covered with colored powders that he was unable to conceal from the other devotees. The colors glittered and were so fragrant that they drove everyone mad. (Excerpt from ‘Vrindavana the Playground of God’ by Bhakti Caitanya Swami).
sravanotkirtanadini vaidhi-bhakty-uditani tu
yany angani ca tahny atra viheyani manisibhi
BRS, 1.2.296, “The angas of bhakti such as sravana, kirtana, sri-guru-padasraya, and others, which have already been described in regard to vaidhi-bhakti, are recognized to be also useful and necessary in raganuga-bhakti by intelligent persons. It is not that one who is practicing raganuga-bhakti sadhana will only meditate of Sri Krsna’s pastimes, rejecting all the other angas of bhakti. Indeed, they may be even more careful in executing the angas of vaidhi-bhakti, particularly the most important ones like hearing, chanting and remembering under the shelter of Sri Guru, and may elect to disregard the less important angas that do not nourish their particular bhava. Thus the rules and regulations of scriptures serve to increase one’s love and affection, not that one becomes a slave to blindly following sastra and losing sight of the final objective, Krsna-prema.
Raganuga-bhakti is superior to vaidhi-bhakti from many perspectives. It awards the highest level of perfection in Krsna-prema, which can even control Krsna. It is a sublime path full of nectar even from the very beginning. Because it is so rare, it may take many lifetimes to achieve, unlike vaidhi-bhakti which can be perfected relatively quickly. Being thoroughly convinced of the superiority of raganuga-bhakti, and more importantly, developing an intense greed to enter into it, a sincere sadhaka will persevere on the path until his goal is reached. He will not be dissuaded by any other sadhana (practice) or sadhya (goal). This rare gift that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu came to give the world is so precious.
prema-rasa-niryasa karite asvadana
raga-marga bhakti loke karite pracarana
rasika-sekhara krsna parama-karuna
ei dui hetu haite icchara udgama
(Caitanya Caritamrita Adi. 4.15-16)
The Lord’s desire to appear was born from two reasons: the Lord wanted to taste the sweet essence of the mellows of love of God, and He wanted to propagate devotional service in the world on the platform of spontaneous attraction (raga-marga). Thus He is known as supremely jubilant and as the most merciful of all.
In conclusion, although the practice of raganuga-bhakti-sadhana is very rare, it is obtainable and understandable by those who follow the process. By accumulating bhakti-sukriti one comes to properly associate with high class rasik Vaisnavas and thus becomes permeated with greed to obtain the mood of the Vrajabasis, enabling one to enter into raganuga-bhakti.
Srila Rupa and Ragunatha das Goswamis are expert guides on this path and have given many jewels in the form of their literatures. Their successors, Srila Krsna das Kaviraja Goswami, Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur, and our Rupanuga-guru-varga have all contributed by writing their literatures describing Radha and Krsna’s Vrindavana pastimes and the process of raganuga-bhakti.
In Narottama das Thakur’s Prathana song one, Lalasamayi (Longing for the service of the Lord), ‘Gauranga’ Balite Ha’be, he sings:
rupa-ragunatha-pade ha-ibe akuti
kabe hama bujhaba sri-yugala-piriti (1)
“When will I eagerly follow the path of Sri Rupa Goswami and Sri Raghunatha das Goswami? By their instructions I will be able to understand the divine love of Sri Radha and Krsna.”
By the mercy of Rupa and Raghunatha we may be able to enter into this elevated path of raganuga-bhakti and reach the highest goal of life, service to the divine youthful couple of Vraja, Sri Sri Radha-Krsna in loving ecstasy.