Chakra Discussions

Natural Bhakti

by Ram das

Posted December 23, 2007

Bhakti is the natural function of the soul. The science of attraction is an approach to Bhakti that works with this natural function. This requires the absence of force. By forcible demands and strict rules a pressure is developed that is unfavorable for Bhakti. No pressure is necessary as the transcendental, self-manifesting position of Bhakti means that she is not dependent on karma, jnana and vairagya (ritual, knowledge and renounciation). Bhakti is the transcendental emotion of bhava, a feeling. Without the pressure of moral and ideological affright no fear and guilt is provoked. Then Bhakti grows in a natural and very intense way. Bhakti is completely independent. Bhakti only comes from Bhakti, as Srimad Bhagavatam states in 11.3.31: bhaktya sanjatayah bhaktya. Natural Bhakti is Bhakti beyond fear and guilt, an integral approach that is based on freedom and equal vision.

Natural Bhakti
Bhakti without fear - the lost science of attraction (rati)
by Ram das

This text is a thesis paper without the claim of having final or absolute validity. It is an attempt to find a natural bhakti and to found her on the scriptures. These are theses and not absolute truth. The devotees are invited to experiment with these theses and to make their own experiences. Nobody can avoid his or her own experience and it is not enough to deal with ready-made and preconceptive attitudes or methods. This text is driven by the desire to find the truth. I pray to all devotees of Radha-Krishna to forgive my offences and impudence.

When Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came to the West in 1965, he was 69 years old and for the first time outside of India. His cultural background therefore was exclusively Indian and brahminical standard. His cultural understanding therefore was very different from that what he encountered in the Lower Eastside in New York. The hippies just had thrown out their cultural taboos and conventions and were living a free, effusive und bacchanal life. The revolution against the conservative values of the main-culture was on its peak. Old taboos were crushed, repressions and fears, which were coming from the repressive moral concepts and from the conservative values, had been challenged and fought back. Freedom was the motto of the day. In the midst of this mood of start up and questioning the old values, Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami came with a solid, conservative worldview model as it was fully valid at that time in India. For instance, it was not allowed for a woman to stay with a man in the same room except with her husband.3 The women had to serve the men, bring them food and wait until all are finished in order to take her meal afterwards. Which Western woman or man today would accept such forms of conduct? We are used to a high degree of freedom and emancipation. We have lead the individuum out of its immaturity. The ›age of enlightenment‹, in which we are living since 300 years, is only concerned about this point: to realize the individual person, the »I«, free from paternalism and mythical anxiety. This kind of enlightenment and autonomy of the subject had not been developed in the traditional Indian society, although there had been a superficial intellectual reception of these ideas by the influence of the English colonialists and the Christian missionaries. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura is a splendid example for the intense discussion of these modern concepts and the acceptance of the positive findings of the Western intelligence for a recovery and revival of the Vedic spirituality in a non-ideological, non-culturalistic but transcendental sense.4

Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja in his direct encounter with the situation in New York must have faced a drastical contrast and cultural shock. The abyss between his solid traditional Indian culture and the revolting subculture of the West must have been quite a horror for him (the hippies dancing naked and drunken in the park). In correspondence with this background it has to be understood that Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja introduced the four regulative principles (no meat, fish and eggs, no illicite sex, no intoxication and no gambling) and put a strong emphasis on them. His successors later on absolutized them so massively that hardly any devotee sees the relativity and conditionality of these principles anymore. They live in the equation: four regulative principles = bhakti. In this treatise I want to show that and why this equation is not correct.

Especially the devotees of Iskcon lived for decades practically isolated from the tree of disciplic succession. Many of them, mainly the GBCs, are until today of the opinion that only their line is certified. All other branches of the tree like the succession of Nityananda Prabhu and the other Goswamis, they consider insignificant, imperfect or even deviating. In that way certain principles can be made absolute, which are unknown in other branches. So Bhaktivedanta Sadhu Maharaja from the Mungir-Ashram in Vrndavana reports that the four regulative principles in that sense are unknown in his line. Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja had introduced these principles as a response to the specific situation in New York and his own moral affright.

In his purport to Caitanya Caritamrta, Madhya-lila 23.105, Bhaktivedanta Swami states: »A candidate for Krishna-consciousness in the Western countries should be taught about the renunciation of material existence, but one would teach candidates from a country like India in a different way.« Here we can clearly see his interpretation of the situation of the Western countries and how he was thinking to change it. When he says that the Western culture lacks renunciation, this is definitely correct. So the purification of the Westerners was one strategic goal of his mission. As the tactical mean to achieve this goal he designed the four regulative principles.

As we saw in the following decades and also today, the Westerners have great difficulties with these four regulative principles. Since some devotees claim that there is a causal connection between keeping the principles and the success in bhakti and even a causal relation between the four regulative principles and going to hell, many people suffer from great psychic pain feeling guilty, dirty or sinful. They give up the path of bhakti-yoga because they cannot bear the psychic suffering by being sentenced impure, dirty, guilty, sinful or unqualified; they cannot enjoy the fear- and guilt-provoking belief systems and cannot feel attraction to bhakti-yoga because no attraction is given but pressure and restriction by threat of hellish suffering etc. So in this way the goal of Bhaktivedanta Swami is not achieved: to purify the Westerners. While the goal is correct and on this level the absolute authority of Bhaktivedanta Swami can be confirmed, the mean took a problematic shape in the reception of Swami Maharaja's followers. So the followers exaggerated the four regulative principles even more due to lack of rasa in their own spiritual development. I suggest that Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja had a completely different understanding of »rules and regulations« than his Western followers having a Christian/Puritanistic connotation of that term. I cannot imagine that Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja had in mind a repressive threatening concept with these principles that should force the individuals by fear and guilt. He was an uttama-bhakta and full of compassion and mercy. But some of his today-followers overpronounce the regulative principles and lack the compassion and mercy of Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaja. As we, as conditioned jivas, come usually from a more or less collectively ignorant and suffering society we come from a sick totality. So we are completely unaware of the neurosis created by sticking to rules and regulations having lack of faith due to our own unfortunate situation.

My point in this treatise is that renunciation is the effect of bhakti and not the cause. In order to make the Westerners more renounced, their engagement in the limbs of bhakti needs to be a prominent factor, that is nava-anga-bhakti. The renunciation is easily achieved by the practice of pure bhakti, as stated in Caitanya Caritamrta, Srimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, Bhaktirsamrtasindhu etc. Pure bhakti consists out of the nine angas of bhakti but is not dependent on restrictions or bans. Pure bhakti comes natural. By performing natural bhakti, sustainable renunciation without force and bad feelings is achieved. From the very beginning to the end everything is the practice of pure bhakti. The four regulative principles are useful to come to the platform of sattva-guna. From sattva-guna it is easier to get to the plane of nirguna, i.e. to surpass the modes of nature and to enter the transcendental platform. Sattva-guna is religion, but religion is distinct from spirituality. To reach the spiritual plane it is therefore necessary to transcend all gunas. This work therefore follows the question: To what extent the pronunciation of the purification-rules by threat of hellish conditions and punishment should be favourable for pure bhakti?

My thesis is that an exaggerated sticking to rules and regulations as well as forcible demands of purity block the emotions of the living entities and makes the heart like stone. Emotions are suppressed by the mental regulation and control of mind and senses. In the usual Vedanta, which is about karma-yoga and jnana-yoga, this may be favourable, but in bhakti-yoga, which is about the emotion in the heart, this method is a hindrance, and it even may be detrimental. There are many examples of devotees, who even after 25 years don't experience rasa. Even after 25 years they don't have a deep sentiment of love for Krishna, they don't have realized bhava. This does not result - so the thesis of this essay - from the enormous impurity of these devotees, but from the false philosophies and beliefsystems, which by abstract rules and bans create mentally operated people isolated from their emotions. They were told that by following the rules and regulations (which are missunderstood as the four regulative principles instead of nava-anga-bhakti) they can achieve bhakti.

It is the fear and anxiety of impurity that stops bhava. There is no more free flow, no happiness, no feeling and no opening of the heart. The heart becomes more and more like stone over the years, chanting becomes a roboteric doing. These people wait for the future in the hope that the fulfilment and realization of love to Godhead will happen once, projected in a future far away or even after death. But this is not the definition of lila. The lila performed by Radha, Krishna and the gopis in Goloka Vrndavana is eternal. It happens here and now. There is no way to get there on our own and no action to force it. Only the unconditioned and causeless mercy of Krishna, Guru and sadhu combined with our inner decision can bring us there. This inner decision is the empathy to open one's heart to sadhu-sanga. The mirror of the heart is cleansed (ceto darpana marcanam), when we go to sadhu-sanga with open heart in order to perform sravanam and kirtanam there. The more the heart is open, the more it can be touched by bhava, the faster the purification is going on and the more pure is the bhakti. Bhakti then is not mixed with karma and jnana. The bans and precepts, which are disciplination by fear (if I don't follow, it is a sin and I will be punished), close the heart, make it narrow and impede emotions. It is a big misconception to consider the emotions negative because they are focused on material things in the material sphere. Emotions are very necessary and indispensable to reach the higher stages of bhakti such as ruci, raga, rasa and bhava. Every mental intervention into the emotions is counterproductive. Instead, it is most important to give people an approach to their emotions. The most valuable question is: how can we give this treasure of Krishna-bhakti to the ignorant and innocent people outside in a way that they can accept it?

Often we don't see how high people in the West have developed their consciousness and how intelligent they are. The kanistha-adhikari likes to address the non-devotees as karmis, which is a bad name, and to consider the whole society as nuts or crazy. With this attitude any further dialog is obsolete. In this way not one person is attracted to Krishna. And this is the reason why out of all the spiritual movements coming from the Far East/India to the West in the sixties, the Hare Krsnas are those who play the most insignificant role in the society. Other movements like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Yogi Bhajan, Mother Amma, Brahma Kumaris, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and all the advaita-traditions today are solid parts in public life and their followers count in hundreds of thousands. Also this phenomenon cannot be finished simply by the argument that these groups all are presenting primitive materialistic philosophies and that's why the silly materialistic karmis are attracted, whereas the bhakti-philosophy would be too high and elaborated for them (and we are so high because we understand it).

I think it is more important to look for the fault in our own. In my opinion the problem is the wrong approach of the devotees. The elitist attitude and the middle age moralistic ideas cause the new guests to run away, the faster the more intelligent and conscious they are.

Intelligent conscious people of today have severe objections against dogmatic structures or belief systems based on moral pressure. They are very sensitive towards repressive structures because they have the experience of the institutional church-Christianity and the fascism. It is a general cultural consensus in the intelligent parts of society that repressive philosophies and belief systems are historically obsolete. And it is like that. As long as devotees do not consider this cultural situation and still try to promote their ethnocentric-mythical dogma and repressive moral concepts, they will not reach the people they want to reach. Anyway, a transcendental spirituality does not need these dogmas and repressive moral. In contrast: dogma obstructs the manifestation of spiritual realization.

I have personally spent years and years releasing myself from the injuries and armouring, which I caused myself having blind faith in a repressive Catholic morality, in order to again become more of a living and feeling entity. Now I have achieved this and now the devotees tell me that these impulses of life and emotion are under suspect of being sinful and that I should stop this liberation and should function conformed, regulated and disciplined in the institution. A young man who met the (Iskcon-) devotees in a rainbow gathering brought it in a conversation with me into the very simple formula: »Hare Krishna is catholizism5 for hippies.«

Isn't it a pitty that Krishna-bhakti is seen like this in the West? Isn't it awkward that bhakti in that understanding in not more than a moralism, a religion? That along with this sour moralistic preaching the sweet Krishna gets lost? That the Krishna-faith is charged up against a cigarette or a coffee? They talk about rules and regulations instead of Krishna. They only want our best, but the experience shows us that it does not work like this. We cannot treat modern or postmodern Westerners (including myself) like rural analphabetics in the middle age.

The purpose of this text is not to open a new philosophy and also not to reject the principles of sattva-guna. The purpose is a new balance between sattva-guna and nirguna, while the highest importance should be put on nirguna, respectively on bhakti. The question is not that of a new goal, but that of a new way to that goal. There are humans who are not with Krishna so far. These living entities must be given a path to Krishna that works. This makes it necessary to consider time, place and circumstances. This essay is a plea for a more released handling of the needs of the individual persons without instantly dividing these needs in good and evil or pious and sinful. Bhakti is completely transcendental and beyond the material modes of nature. She therefore is not dependent on rules and regulations. It is nice if one follows them, and surely it is for his benefit. It is also in my sense to recommend the four regulative principles and the other purification-rituals. They are helpful and a good advice but not ultimate conditions. If we consider bhakti as ultimately dependent on rules of material purity this is an inadequate shift of levels. With such an understanding the progress in bhakti is hindered and is therefore to be understood as an offence against bhakti. Devotees who are attached to the exact performance of the rituals and exercises perform karma-misra-bhakti. Devotees who are attached to purity and austerities perform jnana-misra-bhakti. From these positions it is not possible to attain Vraja-prema.

Now to the elaborations in detail.

Continue: (page 19)

3 Srimati Patak in: Our Srila Prabhupada. A Friend to All, early Contemporaries remember Him. Compiled by Mulaprakrti d. d., Brij Books, 2004, S. 160

4 See Shukavak N. Dasa: Hindu Encounter with Modernity. Kedarnath Datta Bhaktivinoda Vaishnava Theologian, Sanskrit Religions Institute 1999. Bhaktivinoda Thakura: »When the river of ancient tradition meets the stream of logic, the whirlpools of illusion are swept away.« (Quote from the back cover of the book.) The young urban modernists in this book are called »bhadralokas«, upper class well educated Indians interested in modern culture and reluctant towards their Vedic heritage.

5 Catholizism can be defined as a neurotic psychic pattern that causes suffering to many people in society, in the form of psychic diseases like depression, neurosis, psychosis etc., as they have a very rigide system of pious and sinful, guilt, blame and shame. All these concepts are on the mental plane and do not reach the transcendental truth. This is called »ecclesiogeneous neurosis« in western psychology.

About the author:
Ram das (Ronald Engert) was born 1961 in Germany. He studied philosophy, philology and religion at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University in Frankfurt/Main. He practices Bhakti-Yoga since 1989 and took initiation into the Gaudiya Vaisnava Sampradaya, namely the Gaudiya Vedanta Samiti, from Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Maharaja in the year 2003.

Since 1994 he is publishing a public magazine in Germany: »Tattva Viveka. Forum for science, philosophy and spiritual culture«


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