Chakra Discussions

Progressive Bhakti

by Srila Dasa

Posted January 29, 2008

Whoever comes in contact with Krsna consciousness in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Srila Prabhupada and our Vaisnava Acaryas is very fortunate. I therefore applaud all of my readers who are attracted to that rarest of all treasures, the goal of all goals, Krsna prema. While we welcome any discussion where someone genuinely seeks to comprehend devotional topics (bhakti-tattva), inevitably issues will arise that beg our further attention. After all, bhakti-yoga is a science, a practical one at that, and there are many pitfalls along the way. The teachings about bhakti are not fanciful or theoretical, and only after being properly imbibed can we put them into practice, one step at a time.

In the context of what I hope will be an ongoing discussion about raganuga and "natural bhakti," it is essential for us to first recognize that Srila Rupa Goswami, the chief disciplic follower from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, has provided us with the foundational text by which to understand bhakti from A to Z: Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, which Srila Prabhupada in his summary study (The Nectar of Devotion) so prudently subtitled, "The Complete Science of Bhakti-Yoga."

While on the one hand, Rupa Goswami is the rasacarya who revealed the unparalleled love and beauty of Radha and Krsna's confidential pastimes in Vrndavan, in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu he has taken great pains to elucidate the process of Krsna consciousness in a systematic and progressive manner for beginners to adopt and follow. Should there be any further doubt or misapprehension about it, subsequent acaryas -Siddhanta-acarya Jiva Goswami, Rasika-acarya Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura and Seventh Goswami Bhaktivinode Thakura have also added their commentaries as supplements to Rupa Goswami's original work. Srila Prabhupada has kindly made the conclusions of those teachings available to the entire world through his books - most notably, The Nectar of Devotion and Caitanya-caritamrta. Srila Prabhupada's books undoubtedly possess an extraordinary power to impress the hearts of innocent souls everywhere with pure bhakti conceptions.

While it is natural for someone to feel that Srila Prabhupada's books can teach us everything, in the course of our advancement in Krsna consciousness, we shall find the contributions from the previous acaryas in our Gaudiya Sampradaya (rupanuga-guru-varga) indispensable for a progressive understanding of what is actually written within those pages. There should be no doubt about this. A simply analogy can help in this regard: To thoroughly study any intricate subject matter such as law or medicine, it is necessary to acquaint oneself with the technical terms mentioned in the basic texts along with their subtle and alternate meanings in order to understand and implement that science practically. To that end, a reference library of case histories and precedent knowledge along with expert guidance on all these texts must be available. Otherwise, the would-be practitioner is almost certain to read things superficially, misinterpret or commit malpractice.

"Everything is there in Prabhupada's books" in the sense that all the essential information about how to develop Krsna consciousness is explained in a condensed, comprehensive way. However, to go a step further and consequently declare that Prabhupada's books obviate the need for ever studying the writings of our previous acaryas is a heresy of grave proportions: it is an insult to the entire disciplic line of acaryas and anathema to the very principle of guru-parampara itself. We worship a guru - be it Srila Prabhupada or anyone else - in terms of his being a qualified representative of the disciplic succession, not as an end unto himself.

Therefore, the more appropriate maxim should be, "Srila Prabhupada gave us everything and everyone." (an expression coined by Tripurari Swami) "Everyone" includes both parampara, the historical lineage of disciplic succession, and more broadly, parivara, the greater community of bona fide Gaudiya Vaisnava followers throughout time. An institutional or narrow-minded conception of Krsna conscious practice shall only serve to keep us misinformed and maintain inbred neophyte conceptions. Ill-defined or overly restrictive doctrines of what does or does not constitute Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition (sampradaya) are themselves cause for further deviation and subsequent misunderstanding (apa-sampradaya). We need to always keep a bigger picture in mind.

I hesitate to be so forthright, but it should be frankly stated here: ISKCON is not the sole proprietor of Mahaprabhu's storehouse of Krsna-prema. The more we can recognize this fact and take benefit from exalted souls in our extended family, the Gaudiya Matha, the more we will comprehend the speciality and universality of Krsna consciousness itself. A liberal-minded quest for devotional truth will lead us to higher conceptions of bhakti. Conversely, if our heart is not open to Love (bhakti), we will not notice her even when she is standing right in front of us.

When is it Time for Raganuga?

As already suggested in a previous article [by Niscala Dasi, "When is it Time for Raganuga?"], Srila Prabhupada tended to avoid discussion of "higher topics," and raganuga-bhakti in particular. We can speculate as to his reasons - such as his disciples being too young or not sufficiently qualified and self-controlled, etc. - and all that may be well and good. However, from my standpoint, not only as his disciple but acknowledging him as Jagat-guru (world Acarya), a more propitious approach is not to excuse his actions but affirm them. In other words, Srila Prabhupada's focus on elementary topics was a didactic based upon a sound philosophical as well as brilliant practical genius. He was well aware of the limitations and aptitude of his audience, his fledgling western followers fresh out of the 1960's. Beyond that, even from the mundane perspective, a distinguished scholar or outstanding authority in any field has the prerogative to impart that expertise at his own discretion. Who is there on a par with Srila Prabhupada with such astounding achievements and missionary success who can criticize or judge his pedagogy? (Let "fools rush in where angels fear to tread"...)

Everyone is certainly free to discuss their concerns or doubts in a spirit of genuine inquiry. At the same time, it behooves us to exercise caution before projecting prejudices upon persons or situations that are beyond the scope of our experience and wisdom - that is, if we are serious about expanding the field of our knowledge. The lives and teachings of the previous acaryas, who are all realized souls, are often mysterious if not confounding; as such, they are not subject to mundane scrutiny. While we can and should apply the best of our mental or intellectual efforts to fathom them, we must ultimately recognize that such transcendental subject matters are understandable by revelation. Vaisnavera kriya-mudra vijneha na bujhaya (Cc Mad 23.39): "Even highly learned persons cannot understand the activities of self-realized Vaisnavas." Teachings about bhakti are therefore secret and confidential (SB 2.9.31: jnanam paramam-guhyam me).

While confidential, bhakti is also a simple truth. Srila Prabhupada has explained how a child or even an animal can participate. "This mystery is love of Godhead." (SB 2.9.31 purport) Even in our material experience, love is a power that often transcends social rules or rational thinking. At the same time, there is a certain 'rhyme and rhythm' to it: signs and symptoms that indicate wherein love does or does not occur, natural impetuses for it to appear, etc.. (continued in "Bhakti Begets Bhakti")

Srila Dasa