Q. In Sanga volume V, No. 4: The Possibility of Changing Rasa you wrote: “Because the nature of one’s rasa is such that it fully satisfies the soul and causes one to think that one’s particular loving sentiment is best, there is no question of changing it on one’s own part, nor on the part of Krishna.” How are we to understand your comments in relation to the following quote from Srila Prabhupada’s book Nectar of Devotion:
“Some of the liberated persons who have achieved these four stages of liberation (salokya, sarsti, samipya, sarupya) may also develop affection for Krishna and be promoted to the Goloka Vrindavana planet in the spiritual sky. In other words, those who are already promoted to the Vaikuntha planets and who possess the four kinds of liberation may also sometimes develop affection for Krishna and become promoted to Krishnaloka.”
A. In this citation Srila Prabhupada refers to those who go back to Godhead step by step (krama-vikrama). In the Gaudiya literature the best example of this course found is that of Gopa-kumara in Sanatana Goswami’s Brhad-bhagavatamrta. Sri Gopa-kumara attained Vaikuntha in the course of proceeding to his ultimate destination in Krishna’s Vraja-lila. This does not mean that he changed rasas, but that his own rasa was not fully developed in Vaikuntha, and thus he had to proceed upward from there in pursuit of his spiritual destiny.
Q. I have been a devotee of Krishna for over twenty years but I am starting to think that in essence I am not a devotee of Vraja Krishna because I seem to be attracted to God in the form of Narayana. Regardless of this my Gurudeva told me that he will give me sentiment for Radha-Krishna but all things considered I feel that I haven’t the adhikara (qualification) for that sentiment. Therefore my question is: Would it be possible for me to develop devotion for Narayana in the Gaudiya sampradaya or must I change sampradayas in order to do so?
I don’t want to change sampradayas because I love to read Prabhupada’s books, especially Sri Caitanya-caritamrta as well as sing the songs of Gaudiya acaryas like Sri Narottama dasa and Bhaktivinoda Thakura. What are your thoughts about this? What I must do?
A. You wrote that you are attracted to Narayana and Vaikuntha bhakti yet you love to read Caitanya-caritamrta and listen to the songs of Narottama dasa and Thakura Bhaktivinoda, all of which are about Vraja bhakti. Although you are attracted to Narayana it appears that you have strong sentiment for Krishna bhakti as well. This is not a problem or contradiction, especially in the beginning stages of devotion, because Rupa Goswami tells us that Narayana and Krishna are one in tattva but different in terms of rasa.
It is possible for one destined for devotion to Narayana in Vaikuntha to attain this through the Gaudiya sampradaya without having to join another lineage. This is so because Vaikuntha (dasya/santa bhakti) is contained within the ideal of Goloka, which is also known as Maha Vaikuntha. Furthermore, Mahaprabhu is svayam bhagavan and the Hare Krishna maha mantra is a universal mantra from which one can attain any spiritual ideal. Indeed, the easiest way to attain any particular spiritual ideal is through the lineage of Sri Caitanya. Thus it excels not only in terms of the extent of its reach, but also in terms of its inclusiveness and ease. So do not worry; continue to chant Hare Krishna and read Caitanya-caritamrta and discuss this issue further with your Guru.
Q. I read in a previous Sanga that Krishna chants the names of his cows on a mala of jewels at the end of the day. In which scripture is this mentioned? I also heard that Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura said that Krishna and Srimati Radhika are fully manifest only in the rasa dance. Is this true?
A. The pastime of Krishna chanting the names of his cows is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.35.18-19, and yes, it is true that Krishna and Radha are only fully manifest in the rasa dance. The most complete manifestation of Krishna is he who stands next to Radha. This is so because she represents the highest love of God, and God manifests in reciprocation with the heart of his devotee. In this way, Radha and Krishna are one. He corresponds, that is, with her heart.
Q. You have written that the istadevata (worshipable deity) of Prahlada is Krishna but other teachers say that his istadevata is Visnu. In Brhad-Bhagavatamrta, Prahlada is said to be in santa rasa (neutrality) but there is no santa rasa in Vraja, rather what is perceived as santa rasa in Vraja is actually dasya (servitude), sakhya (friendship) etc. So how can you say that the “istadevata of Prahlada is Krishna and no one else”?
A. Prahlada’s guru was Narada, whose istadevata is Krishna. When asked by his father about what he learned Prahlada said, matir na krsne paratah svato va… : “Inclination toward Krishna is never aroused in persons too addicted to sense gratification and materialistic life.”
Sukadeva Goswami tells Raja Pariksit that Prahlada had rati for the son of Vasudeva (Krishna), vasudeve bhagavati yasya naisargiki ratih, and further, krishna-graha-grhitatma, “He was fully absorbed in thought of Krishna, who affected his consciousness like an astrological influence.” Sukadeva also said, govinda-parirambhitah: “He was embraced by Govinda (and thus oblivious to the normal functions of life).” It is also mentioned in Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.12.19) that Pariksit Maharaja would “be patient like Bali Maharaja and a stauch devotee of Krishna like Prahlada,” dhrtya bali-samah krsne prahrada iva sad-grahah. Finally, the Prahlada-Narasimha lila is described as a narration about Krishna, esa brahmanya-devasya krishnasya ca mahatmanah. Because it is also obviously about the devotion of Prahlada, it follows that Prahlada’s devotion is for Krishna.
Prahlada was a devotee of Krishna and Krishna protected him by manifesting his cakra in the form of Narasimhadeva. However, his devotion to Krishna does not mean that he was a Vraja bhakta. Only those who worship Krishna in raga-marga following the bhava of the residents of Vrindavana attain the ideal of Vraja bhakti. Prahlada is a vaidhi bhakta.
Regarding santa rasa, all acaryas do not agree with the idea that there is no expression of santa rasa in Vraja where Krishna is Rasaraja. The name Rasaraja indicates one who relishes rasa to the fullest extent, thus including all rasas.
Q. Is raganuga-sadhana-bhakti a type of sadhana (spiritual practice) that is predominantly stimulated by greed to attain the feelings of the residents of Vrindavana in contrast to sadhana stimulated by faith in and respect for the scriptures?
A. Raganuga sadhana is based on eagerness (lobha) to attain the sentiments of Vraja bhakti. To the extent that this eagerness is based on words of scripture that extol the virtues of Vraja bhakti and reasoning in support of its virtues, as opposed to eagerness arising from a purified heart, one’s eagerness is that of a neophyte raga bhakta.
While Jiva Goswami refers to this kind of raganuga-bhakti as ajata-ruci raganuga, Thakura Bhaktivinoda sometimes refers to it as vaidhi-bhakti in books such as Harinama Cintamani. The reasoning of Bhaktivinoda seems to be that as long as and to the extent that one’s eagerness for following the Vrajabasis is based upon the reasoning of its excellence and the scriptural statements about it, such lobha arises more from intelligence than it does from the heart and is thus related more to vaidhi-bhakti than raganuga proper.
However, Thakura Bhaktivinoda also refers to such neophytes as those who have kanishta lobhamayi sraddha. Their faith (sraddha) arising from a drop of eagerness (lobhamayi) for Vraja bhakti is tender and needs support from the limbs (angas) of vaidhi-bhakti. Mature raganuga-bhakti, on the other hand, does not require the same degree of support. It thrives on eagerness alone and often overrides vidhi (rules) that are designed to foster love.
Q. Is acquaintance with one’s siddha-deha (spiritual form) and meditation on it a necessary part of raganuga sadhana?
A. Devotees on the raga-marga will realize their svarupa (spiritual identity) in the course of practice, glimpsing it at the stage of asakti and realizing it in bhava-bhakti. In some Gaudiya Vaisnava lineages the guru tells the disciple his or her svarupa in the beginning stages of practice. But in almost every case what these gurus are really doing is giving the disciple a prototype of the svarupa and fixing the goal to assist the disciple in realizing his or her actual svarupa.
Such prototypes are mentioned in scripture. The lineage of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura puts more stress on hearing about the prototypes from scripture than on having one assigned to the sadhaka at initiation. In his lineage, disciples are engaged in hearing, chanting, and service in a way that naturally gives rise to meditation. As the disciple purifies his heart and becomes qualified to meditate, a general acquaintance with a particular svarupa—described in scripture and corresponding with one’s own arising sentiment—may be introduced. Qualified disciples will then identify with that prototype such that they come to view the lilas of Krishna from the viewpoint of the svarupa of their heart’s desire.
Thus acquaintance with one’s svarupa, or siddha-deha, is an integral part of raganuga sadhana and is realized over time by spiritual cultivation. First one purifies the heart, then one becomes acquainted with the svarupa in a general sense, and gradually one increases one’s identification with the essence of the svarupa, which results in realizing one’s actual service identity in Krishna lila under the direction of Sri Guru.
Q. Is it wrong to want to have to have a siddha-deha revealed by Sri Guru in a line where this tradition (siddha-pranali) is not a regular practice? I am in the lineage of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and I am progressing and getting so much experience and eagerness for attaining my siddha-deha. Should I go to another lineage for my siddha-deha?
A. I mentioned previously that some lineages give the disciple a prototype of the svarupa to meditate on in the beginning stages of practice, but this is not required and in many cases may even be harmful. Bhaktivinoda Thakura clearly warns in his Bhajana Rahasya that the attempt to meditate on one’s svarupa without the proper adhikara is detrimental to one’s spiritual advancement. He writes, adhikari na labhiya siddhadeha bhave viparyaya buddhi janme saktira abhave: “If one meditates on his siddha-deha without achieving adhikara his intellect becomes bewildered.”
Do not fear that something is missing in the lineage of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura. The spiritual experience you are getting in his lineage should make you that much more convinced that your spiritual prospect lies within it. You wrote that you feel you are making spiritual progress, so why should you think that you need to go elsewhere? Spiritual experience is confirming and not the product of doubt, and the practice of raganuga-bhakti is not motivated by fear.
Q. Are there some books (in English) you could recommend that might be helpful reading in this regard?
A. My booklet “Sri Guru-parampara” discusses these matters in relation to the teachings of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and the esoteric life of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. I can also recommend my book entitled “Aesthetic Vedanta”, which deals with this subject in a general way. You can also read Jaiva Dharma, the final portion of which is based on Ujjvala-nilamani and which deals with this subject in some detail. Overall, I sense that your level of anxiety does not fit with the description of your spiritual progress, and this concerns me. However, I do not know you and you really need to discuss these matters with your Guru.