Vrindavan, 2017.08.19 (VT): The following article by Vaisnavacharya Chandan Goswami of the Shri Radharaman Temple was originally published in 2013. It has been re-published here with permission. You can read more of Maharaj’s writings here.
People call me a spiritual master – one who is learned and has a grip on the scriptures, and who understands the essence of the Lord’s words. For me, the scriptures are important but I feel without bhajan all scriptures are ineffective; they remain dry until or unless you attain sacred love (prem) for the Lord. Scriptures can give basic knowledge, but realisation can only come from the performance of bhajan.
What is bhajan?
The Gopal Tapini Upanishad states that bhajan is ras (nectar) and through the practice of bhajan, one is always content. But nowadays, I find that in Bhakti Yog, people have become more afraid. They are fearful because they chastise themselves constantly, thinking and believing that they are fallen souls. Some religious groups have their own understanding of Gaudiya literature, and their instructions can lead to a life lived in constant anxiety. The blissful mood, the happiness, the very charm of Bhakti Yog is missing from it. I have observed that people are being mechanical in their practice instead of being joyful.
I belong to an orthodox family but I am happy that I am not here to give the fear of hell or its fire. Devotion is a very complex subject, and at the same time it is very simple. It depends on who is teaching and how one absorbs the instructions. Gaudiya philosophy is becoming more intricate now due to a variety of preaching styles from different religious factions, and when there is no simple explanation for anything, I find myself feeling uneasy. Either the answers offered are very superficial or very complex.
Personally, after researching and practicing the teachings of the Gaudiya Sampradaya and reviewing them against the teachings of various other groups, I came to the conclusion that the Gaudiya Sampradaya philosophy is easy, full of bliss and not something to be dreaded. I have known many devotees who were not able to experience the ras, even after 20 years of practice. They were still unable have a deep sentiment of love for Krishna (कृष्ण) because they did not have realised bhaav, in other words an extreme state of attachment to the Lord. The constant fear of being a fallen soul had captured their minds, and this fear wrapped and caged their hearts like an overgrown vine. Their only resolution was to chant Harinaam every day for a specific number of rounds. And no one can deny the power of the Holy Name, but what ever happened to the conviction that one is no longer a fallen soul the moment one receives the mercy of a spiritual master and Harinaam?
Many spiritual aspirants are told that by following rules and regulations they can attain devotion. Unfortunately, the fear and anxiety of feeling impure hinders the growth of bhaav. There is no more free flow, no happiness, no feeling and no opening of the heart. A heart which cannot flourish and expand to accommodate more love only hardens over the years; therefore chanting the Holy Name becomes a robotic action. Those who feel they are fallen souls resign themselves to thinking that the fulfilment and realisation of love for the Lord is beyond their reach; that its achievement might only take place in the distant future or even after death. This is not the definition of Gaudiya practice.
Gaudiya philosophy is not only the practice of some regulative principles, and such principles alone cannot blossom the flower of devotion in the heart. Gaudiya practice places more emphasis on emotional, rather than purely physical practice, although physical involvement is also necessary. But without the use of our feelings, we cannot grow in a way which can lead us to manjari bhaav, the mood which was practiced and instructed by our previous acharyas.
This emotional connection is not be confused with the worldly emotions which can be irrational, illogical and destabilising. When we talk about our previous acharyas, we say that they are eternal servants or by their bhajan they had received manjari bhaav. Yes, some people have misused this practice but still there are many elevated souls who have created milestones for us by practicing according to those instructions and proving to us that Gaudiya philosophy is not merely a theory, it is the blissful reality of the teachings.
I remember a devotee who came to Vrindavan in search of the Lord, and when Guru Maharaj prescribed six months of devotional practice with instructions for him to perform and asked him not to be fearful, in his fourth month of practice, the Lord with Radharani and the gopis appeared before him at the Radharaman Temple’s Raas-Chabutara (an outdoor theatre for the Divine Play). When he shared his realisation with me, I told him not to stop his devotional practice because this realisation showed that he was on the right path with the right mood.
It is most important to give people an approach to their emotions and a means to tap into their feelings. The most valuable question is: how can we give this treasure of devotion to Krishna to the ignorant and innocent people in a way that they can accept it? Some schools of philosophy place more importance on rules and regulations instead of imparting the nectar of Radha and Krishna, which was dearly relished by their own spiritual masters. We form connections through feelings and this is also the case when one wants to realise the Lord. We are not operating systems which only function by the execution of a correct syntax of code. In the same way, on the path of Bhakti Yog, we cannot connect ourselves to Krishna just by the execution of certain rules. This is why I feel that this yog has morphed into the path of “Fearful Yog.” I must clarify that rules and regulations are good to instil the aspirant with the quality of goodness (sattva-gun) but the highest importance should be placed on becoming nirgun (without material qualities) and the uninterrupted practice of bhakti or devotion.
Devotion is attained by the practice of devotion, not by solely cultivating the sattva-gun. I have never read in the Srimad Bhagwatam that those devotees who attained Madhurya Bhaav followed specific rules and regulations. Anyone is eligible to become a devotee of Krishna and there is no need to gain sattva-gun by practicing some regulative principles, in the hope of attaining devotion. Even demons and animals were devotees of Krishna. I do not recall if they had to pass certain regulations first before devotion blossomed in their hearts.
In every era many persons whose personalities were rajasik (passionate) and tamasik (slothful or dark) attained me by virtue of associating with my devotees. Some such persons were demons, while others were heavenly beings. Birds and beasts attained me, and among humans, I have been attained by businessmen, simple labourers, women and others. Vritasur, Prahlad, Bali, Banasur, Maya and Vibhishan (born to demon families) attained Me, as did Sugriv, Hanuman, Jambavan, Gajendra, and Jatayu (animals). Tuladhar, Dharma-Vyadha, Kubja, the gopis and the wives of the Brahmins who were making the sacrificial offerings – all of them attained me, though they performed no austerities, nor did they study scripture to great lengths or worship the great saints. They attained me just by associating with me and my devotees. (Srimad Bhagwatam11.12.3-7)
In fact, the goddess of devotion, Bhakti Devi, personally decorates the aspirant with good qualities once he takes her shelter as the gopis and our previous acharyas did. Regulation itself creates conditioning. Krishna Himself says that suppression does not make the path of devotion easier; in fact the converse is true. This is also the conclusion of psychology. We should allow aspirants to have a small dose of their minute pleasures or maya. These will vanish as soon as the higher taste is strong enough to replace these material pleasures.
This process is very natural and the aspirant grows gradually. If the potential of fear and threat is too high, the risk of destroying the plant of devotion (the vine of bhakti) also increases. The vine of bhakti must be strong enough to quench one’s need to experience worldly happiness, to have fulfilling material relationships, to take part in earthly activities and to have a fulfilling identity and life content, all of which are temporary in nature.
In the Narad Bhakti Sutra, aphorism 67 states, “Until one has attained devotion, one should not discard the good worldly activities. But devotion should be practiced renouncing the fruit of those activities.” It is foolish to think that sacred love cannot manifest as long as material lust is in the heart and it is unintelligent to believe that one has to conquer material lust first before one qualifies for sacred love for Lord Krishna.
This highest form of devotion is raganuga-bhakti, which focuses on love towards Radha and Krishna in Vrindavan (Their eternal abode). This devotion is pure, spiritual emotion, and it starts to manifest itself when an aspirant has firm faith in hearing the Raas-lila of Lord Krishna and the gopis. The Srimad Bhagwatam states: “A person who faithfully hears or describes the Lord’s pastimes of Raas-lila with the gopis of Braj attains supreme devotion to the Lord. He quickly becomes steady and conquers over the senses, giving up lust, the disease of the heart.” (Srimad Bhagwatam 10.33.39) Chaitanya Mahaprabhu himself called the Srimad Bhagwatam a spotless scripture. Thus, by doubting its words, one denies the truth imparted by Krishna.
Here, I will try to simplify and summarize our Gaudiya practice, in other words what mood is essential to gain sacred love for Lord Krishna, which is the highest goal of life, “By following the footsteps of the inhabitants of Braj, one can attain the shelter of the Lord Krishna.” (Chaitanya Charitamrit, Madhya Lila 198)
In the abovementioned verse, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu instructs a simple method by which one can begin one’s journey on the path of devotion,
“By following the footsteps of the inhabitants of Braj ….”
In the Brhad-bhagavatamrtam, Sanatan Goswami has given a sequence of great devotees who were not a part of Braj-lila: Prahlad Maharaj, Ambarish Maharaj, Hanuman, Arjun and Uddhav. Whenever we follow in the footsteps of these noble devotees, we follow the path of vaidhi-bhakti and we attain Vaikunth (the abode of Vishnu) not Vrindavan.
One cannot enter Braj-lila with vaidhi-bhakti. The Chaitanya Charitamrit Madhya Lila (8.226) states how an aspirant can become close to Krishna, “One can attain such perfection only by spontaneous love of the Lord. One cannot attain Krishna in Vrindavan just by serving the Lord according to regulative principles.”
What is the mood of the Brajwasis, and the mood of the previous spiritual masters towards Krishna? These acharyas were manjaris, the maidservants of Radha.
There are three types of gopis:
- Those who are more inclined towards Krishna
- Those who are equally inclined towards Radharani and Krishna
- Those who are more inclined towards Radharani
The third type of gopis can be further categorised into two kinds: sambhogeccatmika and tat-tad-bhavecchatmika. Of these, the tat-tad-bhavecchatmika gopis are manjaris. They decorate Radharani to attract Krishna and compel him to come and spend time with her at a meeting place they themselves have arranged. They derive unending pleasure by uniting the Divine Couple and become part of their divine play. The manjaris assist Radharani in meeting Krishna without any ulterior motive or gain for themselves.
The Murali Vilas (verse 6) says, “Shri Roop Manjari, Anang Manjari and others are attached and attracted towards the service of Radharani. They are happy in the Divine Couple’s bliss. They do not know anything else except this service.”
Narottam Das Thakur describes the same mood of Vraj in his scripture, “Shri Roop Manjari, Rati Manjari, Lavang Manjari, Manjulali, and Shri Ras Manjari eagerly and lovingly serve Radharani, supplying her with musk and various other articles. I am the follower of all these gopis (manjaris). I shall serve them with great love. I will completely understand their orders, even when hidden in casual hints or gestures. I shall become immersed in wonder at their divine virtues and beauty, and I shall dearly love them. I shall always remain in their company. Immersed in the happiness of serving the Divine Couple surrounded by their gopi-friends in Vrindavan, I will understand these gopis‘ hints, and, taking up the chamar wisk I will fan the Divine Couple, and after that I will place betel nuts in their moonlike mouths.” (Prem Bhakti Chandrika, verses 52-55)
The effect of raganuga-bhakti is more potent than that of devotion saturated in regulations. The raganuga devotee starts his devotional practice with feeling. Thus his experience has a completely different meaning. The feeling comes from within and gradually manifests externally. It is an experience which wholly belongs to our entire personality; it is a power from within.
In contrast, regulatory practice (vaidhi-bhakvi) consists of external action, performed mechanically in the hope that feeling will manifest. This does not necessarily happen although in certain cases this can happen. A more likely result of this external approach is that the action remains outside and does not allow deeper experiences. Therefore the progress on the path of regulative principles is much slower than the progress on the path of raganuga-bhakti.
People sometimes say that raganuga-bhakti has to keep the same rules as the ones in vaidhi-bhakti. This cannot be true otherwise there is an implication that raganuga-bhakti is dependent on vaidhi-bhakti and inferior to it, which is not the case. In fully developed raganuga-bhakti the same actions are performed as in vaidhi-bhakti, in the form of rules and regulations, for instance all aartis, the detailed offering of the food, right through to manas-seva of asta-kaliya-lila which is performed according to a fixed schedule. But the manas-seva in raganuga-bhakti is not performed as a rule or a duty, but as an inner desire that comes very naturally from the inner feelings. For example, Radha and Krishna must wake up at a specific time in the asta-kaliya-lila, otherwise they cannot reach home before their relatives wake up and find out that they are not in their respective homes.
One who longs to hear about the pastimes of the inhabitants of Braj and asks himself how he can participate in these pastimes is an eligible candidate for raganuga-bhakti.
In my experience, many people are interested in these topics, especially those who have already elevated themselves from a moralistic approach to religion and the mental concept of guilt and atonement. Moralistic devotees fear conversations involving Braj-lila because they suspect the speaker has an immoral attitude.
Why are they in fear? Their fear arises from only practicing regulative bhakti. The Jaiva Dharma (chapter 21) states, “The principles at work in vaidhi-bhakti are fear, respect and reverence, whereas the only principle at work in raganuga-bhakti is greed in relation to Shri Krishna’s lila.” So our devotees should really contemplate upon their practice.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s path, the path of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan, the path of all of our acharyas, our Gaudiya path and my path is an experience of sublime bliss. All the staunch servants of ideology are quick to scare devotees by suggesting that they will forfeit their devotion as a punishment unless they maintain a strict adherence to rules and regulations. We should not be too hasty to consider ourselves sinful, impure and fallen, in order to fight against this impurity. Devotion is not dependent on any regulative principles. Bhakti manifests independently, out of her free will. In a conversation between Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Ramanand Ray, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu states that the point of devotion is not to act piously. Pious behaviour is no condition for bhakti. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu repeatedly says in the Chaitanya Charitamrit Adi Lila (3.15), “But simply by following such regulative principles one cannot attain the loving sentiments of the devotees in Braj.”
Thus, one really needs to revaluate himself or herself by asking if he or she is truly following the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and experiencing the joy Mahaprabhu and other acharyas felt. Is the path or procedure practiced by him or her leading to raganuga-bhakti? By suppressing emotions and believing himself or herself to be a fallen soul who is not worthy of attaining bhakti, in other words the practice of “Fearful Yog”, isn’t one needlessly placing a huge obstacle on the path to sacred love for the Lord?