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What is Raganuga Bhakti?
Adapted from an article by
Suhotra Dasa Vanachari
(SPL 38) Prabhupada replied, “Well, you may be fit to hear rasa-lila, but I do not feel that I am qualified to speak it. So kindly ask someone else."
Part of the problem of understanding exactly what raganuga-bhakti is, is that there are different categories of explanations of this subject in Shrila Prabhupada's books. Some devotees find it difficult to put these different explanations together in a coherent form. Below I've given a list of four of the different categories of Shrila Prabhupada's explanations of raganuga-bhakti. With examples and explanations I hope
to help the reader better understand what I mean by these categories.
1. Introductory explanation 2. Substantive explanation
3. Progressive explanation 4. Practical explanation
The introductory type of explanation is quite straightforward. What follows is what most devotees understand to be vaidhi- and raganuga- bhakti, from Nectar of Devotion, Chapter Two (The First Stages of
"Now this sadhana-bhakti, or practice of devotional service, may also be divided into two parts. The first part is called service according to regulative principles: one has to follow these different regulative principles by the order of the spiritual master or on the strength of authoritative scriptures, and there can be no question of refusal. That is called vaidhi, or regulated. One has to do it without argument. Another part of sadhana-bhakti is called raganuga. Raganuga refers to the point at which, by following the regulative principles, one becomes a little more attached to Krishna and executes devotional service out of natural love. For example, a person engaged in devotional service may be ordered to rise early in the morning and
offer arati, which is a form of Deity worship. In the beginning, by the order of his spiritual master, one rises early in the morning and offers arati, but then he develops real attachment. When he gets this attachment, he automatically tries to decorate the Deity and prepare different kinds of dresses and thinks of different plans to execute his devotional service nicely. Although it is within the category of practice, this offering of loving service is spontaneous. So the practice of devotional service, sadhana-bhakti, can be divided into two
parts--namely, regulative and spontaneous."
Now I'll give some examples of substantive explanations of raga-bhakti. By "substantive", I am thinking of the third definition given for this word in the dictionary, which is "essential." This example is from
Cc Adi-lila 4.15-16:
prema-rasa-niryasa karite asvadana
raga-marga bhakti loke karite pracarana
rasika-sekhara krishna parama-karuna ei dui hetu haite icchara udgama
"The Lord's desire to appear was born from two reasons: He wanted to taste the sweet essence of the mellows of love of God, and He wanted to propagate devotional service in the world on the platform of
spontaneous attraction. Thus He is known as supremely jubilant and as the most merciful of all."
Here the Lord's desire to propagate raga-marga (devotional service on the platform of spontaneous attraction) is explained as an essential or substantive reason for Lord Gauranga's appearance. Thus raga-marga is essential to Lord Gauranga's movement. If it is true that raga- marga is not being practiced while preaching, then how can preaching be a part of Lord Gauranga's mission?
A further substantive explanation of raga-marga is found in the same chapter of the Adi-lila, texts 32-35.
ei saba rasa-niryasa kariba as vada ei dvare kariba saba bhaktere prasada
"I shall taste the essence of all these rasas, and in this way I shall favor all the devotees.
vrajera nirmala raga suni bhakta-gana
raga-marge bhaje yena chadi dharma-karma
"Then, by hearing about the pure love of the residents of Vraja, devotees will worship Me on the path of spontaneous love, abandoning all rituals of religiosity and fruitive activity."
anugrahaya bhaktanam manusam deham ashritah
bhajate tadrsih krida yah srutva tat-paro bhavet 34
"Krishna manifests His eternal humanlike form and performs His pastimes to show mercy to the devotees. Having heard such pastimes, one should engage in service to Him."
'bhavet' kriya vidhilin, sei iha kaya
kartavya avasya ei, anyatha pratya vaya 35
"Here the use of the verb "bhavet," which is in the imperative mood, tells us that this certainly must be done. Noncompliance would be abandonment of duty."
We learn from this that the mellows of prema-rasa that Lord Gauranga relished are meant to be tasted by His devotees through the hearing process. The path of worship and service in the spontaneous devotional
mood that is engendered by such hearing is called raga-marga. If one does not perform this raga-bhakti, he abandons his duty to Lord Gauranga.
Next, let us examine some progressive explanations of raganuga-bhakti. By "progressive", I am taking the third meaning of this word given in the dictionary, which is "passing from one step to the next." Here is
such a progressive explanation from the Nectar of Devotion, Chapter Sixteen (Spontaneous Devotion).
"Persons desiring to follow in the footsteps of such eternal devotees of the Lord as the Vrsnis and Vrndavana denizens are called raganuga devotees, which means that they are trying to attain to the perfection of those devotees. These raganuga devotees do not follow the regulative principles of devotional service very strictly, but by spontaneous nature they become attracted to some of the eternal devotees such as Nanda or Yasoda, and they try to follow in their footsteps spontaneously. There is a gradual development of the ambition to become like a particular devotee, and this activity is called raganuga.
We must always remember, however, that such eagerness to follow in the footsteps of the denizens of Vraja (Vrndavana) is not possible unless one is freed from material contamination. In following the regulative
principles of devotional service, there is a stage called anartha- nivrtti, which means the disappearance of all material contamination."
Raganuga-bhaktas follow in the footsteps of the eternal residents of Vrndavana, who are ragatmika devotees (i.e. they have spontaneous loving attraction for Krishna). In the above quote are two references to stages of progress on the raganuga path. The first reference is: "There is a gradual development of the ambition to become like a particular devotee, and this activity is called raganuga." The stages of the gradual development of raganuga-bhakti referred to here are given in the Nectar of Instruction, Verse 8, Purport. When a devotee becomes especially eager to hear about the pastimes of Krishna with a particular Vrajavasi, that stage is called sravana-dasa. When the devotee accepts these pastimes in his heart, that stage is called
varana-dasa. We may note that varana-dasa entails the acceptance of a mantra that conveys a particular pastime of Krishna in essence; the mantra will be composed of names of Krishna that are associated with
specific pastimes (i.e. Govinda, Gopijanavallabha, Gopala). Smarana-vastha is the stage of always remembering these pastimes. Sampatti-dasa is the stage of actually entering these pastimes with one's own spiritual body. The second reference to stages of advancement pertaining to raganuga-bhakti is: "In following the regulative principles of devotional service, there is a stage called anartha-nivrtti, which means the disappearance of all material contamination." This indicates the ninefold levels of development from sraddha to prema given in the Purport to Bg 4.10 (cited from Brs 1.4.15-16). Accordingly, unless the devotee surpasses anartha-nivritti, he cannot practice raganuga-bhakti. From the introductory explanation of raganuga-bhakti quoted previously from NOD Chapter 2, we see that raganuga-bhakti actually begins at the stage of real attachment (asakti). Thus vaidhi-bhakti extends from sraddha to ruci, raganuga- bhakti is performed on the asakti stage, bhava-bhakti is performed on the bhava stage and prema-bhakti on the prema stage. The very beginning of NOD Chapter 2 therefore informs us that there are three categories of bhakti--sadhana, bhava and prema--and that of the six characteristics of pure devotional service listed in Chapter 1, the first two characterize sadhana, the first four characterize bhava and
all six characterize prema.
Finally, here are two examples of a practical explanation of vaidhi- and raganuga-bhakti. "Worship according to the pancaratrika-vidhi is called vidhi-marga, and worship according to the bhagavata-vidhi principles is called raga-marga." (SB 4.24.45-46, Purport) "This arca, arca, this is pancaratriki-vidhi. According to pancaratrika system, Narada-pancaratra, this worship of the Deity is there. And bhagavata-marga, the path of Shrimad-Bhagavatam, is simply sravanam kirtanam. Out of the nine processes recommended, sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam pada-sevanam, so up to sravanam kirtanam smaranam, that is Bhagavata-marga. That is the best. And pada-sevanam arcanam vandanam dasyam, that is pancaratriki-vidhi. So both the vidhis, both the systems have been introduced. One will help the other. That is the way. Simply Bhagavata-marga... Just like in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, in the beginning, is simply sravanam--param satyam dhimahi; janmady asya--smaranam, simply remembering, memorizing the Supreme Truth. But, of
course, the pancaratrika-vidhi is recommended in the Second Canto.
That, another pancaratrika-vidhi, is worshiping the gigantic form of the Lord. These things are there. But both, combined together, it is very much helpful. Bhagavata-marga. Bhagavata-marga will help the pancaratrika-marga, or process, and the pancaratrika process will help Bhagavata process. Both together is helpful. Therefore my Guru Maharaja introduced... You have seen the, what is called? That signia? One side,
pancaratriki-vidhi, one side bhagavata-vidhi. That is... I have seen that Gaudiya Math emblem. Yes. And, so actually, Bhagavata-marga is very strong. That is sufficient. But without pancaratrika-vidhi this
polluted body, polluted mind of the devotee, cannot be purified. Therefore both the process should be adopted in preaching Krishna consciousness movement." (From a 1971 Shrimad-Bhagavatam lecture)
Thus we conclude our look at a few examples of introductory, substantive, progressive and practical explanations of raganuga-bhakti given by Shrila Prabhupada. After reading them through, you may find
yourself confused as to how all these explanations fit together. But they do fit together, and once you understand how they fit together, you will also understand that raganuga-bhakti is the standard method of
devotional service given by Shrila Prabhupada. It performed by all devotees who are Shrila Prabhupadanugas (followers of Shrila Prabhupada).
Adapted from some writings of His Holiness Suhotra Swami.