When's the Time for Raganuga, Anyway?
Posted January 6, 2008
In Srila Prabhupada's books we see a stress on the need for following sadhana bhakti- up to a point- and then rejecting rules and regulations in favor of the spontaneous loving platform. The difficulty is knowing exactly when to make the transition, and again Srila Prabhupada's books have the answer- when one is pure, free from material desires. But this presents another problem- devotees never think themselves pure, or advanced. So does this mean that by definition, devotees never approach raganuga? That cannot be right as the implication of this would render meaningless much of Srila Prabhupada's teachings and that of the line of acaryas before him. How can one approach raganuga while still maintaining the vaisnava standard of humility? Is it that when one is free from material desires one is automatically in raganuga, without even knowing it? That cannot be so, for then there would be no meaning to the instruction to give up rules and regulations. Clearly there must be a conscious deliberate move towards it, and one not based on an assessment of one's personal level of purity. What then is the basis of this conscious decision to move towards spontaneity?
Fortunately Srila Prabhupada gives some enlightening examples of spontaneous service. A servant is forbidden to enter the king's bed chamber and on no account is he to wake the king- that is his firm instruction. One night, however, he notices the chamber is on fire and he spontaneously breaks all rules to serve the king. Then there is the example of the gopis and elderly cowherd women, who broke religious rules that forbid one to act disrespectfully towards the Lord, by offering Him their foot dust, scolding him and so on. Similarly, the servant of Ramanuja Acarya was given a firm instruction not to lie on his master's bed, yet he was found to do so- with the reason that he wanted to make sure it was comfortable enough to sleep on. In these examples, there is never an assessment of "I have served these regulations for 25 years. Now it is time to become spontaneous". Such a calculation is like saying I will become wet by staying dry. Calculation does not enter into spontaneity, by definition. Should we then wait for some event to happen that spurs us on towards spontaneity? Is that all that is required? Why then an instruction to give up rules and regulations at some point, if all that is required is for the right event to occur? Indeed, the Brahmans were given the same opportunity as the gopis to offer their foot dust and they refused. Some may say that they didn't have the mercy of the Lord, which is not true, for soon after they realized their mistake. They could not have gotten this realization without the Lord's mercy.
Let us return to the first example. Clearly the servant is breaking the letter of the law to serve the spirit of the law which is the wellbeing of the king. Similarly, the gopis scolded Krsna and gave Krsna their foot dust, and even broke all the religious regulations for married women, specifically for the purpose of serving the very spirit and essence of religion- expressing love for God. It seems that while following rules and regulations, these servants of the Lord did not consider them very important, and certainly did not consider them the basis of their love. Yet in our temples we see, painted all over, the assumption that one can judge a person's merit by how many mangalarati's he attends each week, and, generally speaking, how strictly he follows all the rules and regulations, right up to how perfect he has applied his tilaka.
Yet it is not right either to assume that everyone who is following strictly is "stuck in the rut" and "following the rules and regulations for the sake of following". That is not the import of these stories. Rather, they show that possessing a strong desire to cultivate the spirit and essence of the rules is part of, and precedent to, spontaneity. One who is trying to be spontaneous does not try see a rule on its own, but in its relation to the spirit and essence of a thing, which sometimes it may serve, and sometimes not. It is not hard to see from even a brief perusal of our books that the essence of our practice is love for Krsna, and that part of that essence is to love His devotees, and all things associated with Him- which are expressions of his creative delight. In order to develop this love, and avoid the anarthas which choke it, one requires a vigilance which gives birth to the qualities of a devotee- one tolerates, humbles oneself, subdues ones passions, works for another's benefit, to this end. One attempts to love and serve all living entities because they are related to the Lord, being inseparable from Him. To the extent that one focuses on this inner development, to that extent he sees the rules and regulations as external. Thus, even as the devotee is performing them, he is ready to give them up at any time, if for example, they are found to be infusing a sense of pride and superiority, or are procuring for him the undesirable situation of being adored and honored as very advanced. He may miss mangalarati or even the whole morning program just to counsel or offer comfort to a fellow devotee who is having a crisis of faith, or is distressed in some way. This is a good example of spontaneous love.
After all, the process we are following is about purification- and it is specifically purification of motives. If ones is following the rules and regulations to please the Lord, it is not an impediment, but if one is doing it just to please the Lord, it is unlikely that one will always follow, as there are other ways to please the Lord, which at times become apparent to the devotee. They may not be apparent to others though, and for this the inner followers may be judged by others to be not so strict- maybe even a "fringie" but he cares not. Even Prabhupada was judged by his god brothers to be a "rotten grihasta" but he was not discouraged. The desire for fame as a great devotee is a poison we must be vigilant to avoid, as Bhaktivinode Thakura warned us that it lingers on even after gross sex desire has waned.
Taking all this into consideration, let us examine again the question
"When's the Time for Raganuga?". It appears the time is now, in fact, don't
waste a minute, but not because you are pure, but because you have started
to cultivate an understanding of the spirit of vaisnavism, as opposed to all
its rules, to the letter. Don't give them up prematurely, but don't make
them your foundation, for they are not. The foundation is love and all the
qualities that nurture it. If you cannot love, try to, for even the attempt
is loving. Then Krsna will help you from within. It might be that you need
to take his mercy in the form of helping words from a counselor or
psychotherapist, to find out what history of abuse you suffered long ago,
that now impairs your ability to give yourself to others, which is your
inner nature. It might break the rule of "avoiding association of
non-devotees" but it might be, in this case, a rule that needs to be broken.
And who is a non-devotee anyway, someone who helps devotees to find their
hidden inherent nature, or someone who judges everyone by appearance alone-
like at 4.30 am?