The Nature of Raganuga
Posted January 30, 2008
In "Progressive Bhakti - Part One," Srila prabhu wrote that in my previous article (When's the Time for Raganuga, Anyway?), Srila Prabhupada "tended to avoid discussion of 'higher topics,' and raganuga-bhakti in particular."
In that article I never suggested that Srila Prabhupada avoided topics of raganuga. To the contrary, I was suggesting that he did speak on such things, but we never realized they were raganuga topics. The example I gave of the spontaneous service of the King's servant in risking disobeying his rules to save him is actually the same topic as that of Radharani and the rasa dance. The gopis disobeyed Krsna's rules in the vedic sastra about acceptable behavior for women — to love Him. The servant disobeyed the king's rules — to love him. The servant of Ramanuja disobeyed his rules — to love him. When we risk spiritual life and limb, it is raganuga, not diving into the topics of the rasa dance and other intimate dealings of Krishna and the gopis, which may be just an opportunity for exciting the senses.
There is a great controversy among the disciples of Narayan Maharaja and the ISKCON members in regard to discussing rasa lila. ISKCON members will quote Srila Prabhupada's warning about avoiding this topic until one is on the liberated platform, particularly in regard to sexual desire. The disciples of Narayan Maharaja counter that listening to rasa lila frees one from sex desire. Both are true, being quotes from the same person, Srila Prabhupada.
How they can both be true depends on one's motive. If one hears rasa lila with a sole motivation to purify oneself of material desire through attraction to Krsna's transcendental form and pastimes, it will work, because the Lord in the heart grants each one of us our innermost hankerings. However, if our innermost hankering is subtle sense enjoyment, we will get that instead. We will get subtle sense gratification and not even recognize it as such; under the influence of maya we will think it is because we are very advanced devotees, simply hankering for rasa. This is the risk, and each individual has to decide where his true motivation is.
There are certain qualities that one must first cultivate before hearing rasa lila, and my article distinguishes the attitude of the sadhana bhakta/bhaktin from that of the raganuga bhakta/bhaktin through seeing beyond the letter of the law to the spirit behind it.
For example, one of our rules is to avoid meat-eating, and the sadhana bhakta follows it because it is a rule to be obeyed, whereas the raganuga bhakta follows it because it is uncompassionate to eat meat. But doesn't that amount to the same thing? Not so. When Harikesa was instructed by Srila Prabhupada to preach in Russia, he replied that it would be bad for him to go, as there would be only meat to eat there; how could he break this rule? But Srila Prabhupada saw the spirit of the rule was compassion. If Harikesa went to Russia, even if he had had to eat meat, his preaching might inspire thousands to give up this cruel habit. He was pushing his disciple to risk spiritual life and limb for Krsna. He was pushing him into raganuga bhakti, which is an alarming prospect for one who is used to the safety, security and social acceptability of strict rule-following.
In the same spirit, the gopis gave their footdust for Krsna, though they were sure that they would go to hell for it. They entered the hell of social condemnation — for love of Krsna. When one is absorbed in the essence of things, one is a paramahamsa, separating milk from water. That is what I am saying, and if Srila or other interested persons could respond to that, even if they disagree, I would be very appreciative.
To follow my own advice, I will address the first seven paragraphs of Srila prabhu's article, not word for word, but in essence. The paragraphs after this point deal with the topic that Prabhupada supposedly avoided raganuga topics. The first seven, however, deal with a different point: that controversy should be resolved by reference to the previous acaryas.
I welcome any comments by our acaryas which shed light on the question as to how to know when one is ready for raganuga without having to assess or admit one is pure enough for it, for such would be impossible for any vaisnava. I have instead laid stress on the teachings and example of Srila Prabhupada which display his own symptoms of raganuga and his trying to inculcate an attitude of raganuga in his disciples, without exactly identifying it as such for them to see, as doing so would pave the way for pride to develop.
It is, after all, this sort of pride — the distinction of being
an advanced devotee — which Srila Bhaktivode Thakura described
as being a great pitfall for vaisnavas who have even been able to
overcome the snare of the illusory energy in her form of the opposite
sex. A spiritual master never gives instructions which may ensnare
his disciples in maya, no matter how subtle she may appear. It
appears that Srila Prabhupada chose not to say to anyone: "Now you
are ready." Instead he lay stress on the essence of the rules,
showing by his own example how the rules are not a foundation —
at least not a permanent foundation — for bhakti. Whenever they
are in the way, discard them immediately, and with no regrets.