Several months ago, we wrote an article called, ‘Hearing from A Rasika Ācārya’ wherein we put great emphasis on the qualifications of the person who hears hari-kathā of a confidential nature. Our emphasis was on anartha-nivṛtti, overcoming mundane impediments in the heart: first deserve, then desire.
Since then an old friend has taken much time and effort to compile a very lengthy essay to de-emphasize the necessity of anartha–nivṛtti. Personally, we feel that, although this essay was well written, it nonetheless amounted to 31 pages of ‘begging the question.’
anartha thākāra kāle līlā-gāna kare na
“While still contaminated with anarthas, one should never sing songs about the Lord’s confidential pastimes.”
This verse was composed by our param-guru Śrī Siddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura in Prākṛta-rasa-śata-duṣiṇī, a masterful discussion of one hundred defects of the sahajiyā school.
When two disciples of a particular guru disagree on any issue they may always turn to their param-guru for clarification. In this issue the param-guru is Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and his opinion is stated above, anartha thākāra kāle līlā-gāna kare na. Although many devotees propose that purification (anartha-nivṛtti) can be easily dismissed in favour of rasa-vicāra (hearing rāsa-līlā), such a standpoint is taken by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura as symptomatic of the sahajiyā practices.
Of course, such devotees are fond of quoting the last verse of the rāsa-līlā chapter of Bhāgavatam wherein it is stated as a benediction that even one with lusty desires becomes purified by hearing with great faith the Lord’s pastimes with the gopīs. The bona fide ācāryas always stress the holy name (with great faith and surrender) as the central focus in devotional life. To date no one has ever been able to show us where an ācārya has established a method of practice for conditioned souls based ONLY on the principle of hearing līlā-kathā.
Our friend has quoted Jīva Gosvāmī as stating that hearing rasa-kathā is one of the most powerful forms of sādhana. This is certainly true, but as amply proven with innumerable references from the teachings of our prominent ācāryas in Who is Following Whom, qualification is required. All the bona fide ācāryas since the time of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī have promulgated respect for the developmental practices of bhakti-yoga, and to avoid jumping over any particular stage.
In Bhakti-sandarbha, Śrīla Jiva Gosvāmī outlines the gradual process to spiritual realization:
prathamaṁ nāmnaḥ śravaṇam-antaḥkaraṇa-śuddhy-artham apekṣyam. śuddhe cāntaḥ-karaṇe rūpa-śravaṇena tad-udaya-yogyatā bhavati. samyag udite ca rūpe guṇānāṁ sphuraṇaṁ sampadyeta, sampanne ca guṇānāṁ sphuraṇe parikara-vaiśiṣthyena tad-vaiśiṣthyaṁ sampadyate tatas teṣu nāma-rūpa-guṇa-parikareṣu samyak sphuriteṣu līlānāṁ sphuraṇaṁ suṣṭhu bhavati
“First it is expected that one should hear the Lord’s names in order to purify the heart. Once the mind and intelligence have been purified in this way, one can hear about Kṛṣṇa’s form, through which one’s qualification to visualize it is obtained. When the form of the Lord has been clearly visualized, one can experience His qualities. Once these have been clearly understood, one develops one’s own individual spiritual characteristics through the particular characteristics of the Lord’s associates. Thus, once the name, form, qualities and associates of the Lord have been realized, a clear realization of Kṛṣṇa’s activities will follow.”
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura confirms:
adhikāra avicāra rūpānuga kare nā
anartha-anvita dāse rasa-śikṣā deya nā
“The followers of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī are never neglectful in assessing anyone’s spiritual qualifications. The followers of Śrī Rūpa never instruct a servant who is engrossed in material impediments about the science of rasa (intimate devotional mellows).” (Prākṛta-rasa-śata-duṣiṇī,)
rati age śraddhā pāche rūpānuga bale nā
krama patha chāḍi siddhi rūpānuga bale nā
“The followers of Śrī Rūpa never preach that transcendental attachment is reached before one develops pure faith. The Rūpanugas never teach that the perfection of devotion can be reached by abandoning the consecutive order of developmental stages on the path.” (Prākṛta-rasa-śata-duṣiṇī,)
sādhana chāḍile bhāva udaya ta haya nā
rāgānuga jānile-i sādhana ta chāḍe nā
“If the preliminary practices of devotional service (sādhana) are neglected, then the awakening of ecstatic emotions (bhāva) can never occur. Even one who has attained realization of spontaneous devotional service (rāgānuga-bhakti) should never give up practicing the regulative principles of devotional service.” (Prākṛta-rasa-śata-duṣiṇī,)
The most practical evidence which may indeed help our readers to arrive at their own conclusion as to with whom and where the higher līlā of the Supreme Lord can be discussed, might be as easy as walking down Bhaktisiddhānta Road in Māyāpura. The Gauḍīya Maṭha Mission with all its branches (including ISKCON) on Bhaktisiddhānta Road, together with Caitanya Sārasvata Maṭha and Devanānda Gauḍīya Maṭha in Koladvīpa, were originally the creation of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. For close to one hundred years the mission he established has been functioning with its various branches, and in none of those establishments do we find lavish discussions on rāsa-līlā, mañjarī-bhāva, and all such things going on in public or in the presence of unqualified devotees. Recently, this has become somewhat of a novelty in the western countries among certain groups, but it is far from the standard practices established by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta.
Action speaks louder than words. The missions of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda, Śrīla B.R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla B.P. Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla B.D. Mādhava Mahārāja, Śrīla B.S. Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla B.P. Keśava Mahārāja and all others in the illustrious line of the Śrī Caitanya Sārasvata paramparā have put into action in all of their institutions the concept of pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge – “The path of rāga-marga, spontaneous love of God, must always be kept above our head, observing a respectful distance.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja once commented, “the real existence of Bhaktisiddhānta is there” in this verse, pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge. Although unknown to some devotees in the western world, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja kept the pūjala-rāga-patha verse as the motto of his maṭha, engraved on an arch above the kīrtana hall inside the compound.
Beginning sometime in 1981, greatly fortunate western devotees began to hear from the lotus lips of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja many of the intricate points of pure devotion and spontaneous love of God (rāgānuga/rūpānuga-bhajana) following in the line of Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha. In the years that followed, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja revealed a great treasure of the inner wealth of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism to the western world. Such noteworthy gems of siddhānta were drawn to our attention by the grace of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja as the mādhurya commentary (Nigūḍhārtha) on Brahma-gāyatrī, the acme of dedication as found in our prayojana-ācārya, Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī, and revealed in his inner mood of rādhā-dāsyam, rādhā-pāda-sevā.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja revealed these and many more charming and beautiful aspirations of pure devotion. But with every breath came “ pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge.” Do not rush ahead, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Do not become a fool, follow the angels.
Whenever asked about the path of rāgānuga-bhakti, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja always responded in the same way: pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge – The path of rāga-marga, spontaneous love of God, must always be kept above our head, observing a respectful distance. There was never any other explanation of rāgānuga-bhakti coming from the lotus mouth of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja than this. Once, when Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was asked to speak about the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa he replied as follows:
“I am sorry, but we are not to enter into the discussion of such higher and subtle position of the līlā of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. That is not to be brought into public, and that is the distinction between Gauḍīya Maṭha and the sahajiyā section. The sahajiyā are trying to imitate all these things, but we have no faith in imitation. The higher līlā will come in an individual case, and it will awaken in an irresistible way. When the program of the sādhana stage is finished it will come automatically, spontaneously. We are believers in that, and not to know the form already and then we will reach there. That is not the policy accepted by Guru Mahārāja, Prabhupāda. Pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge.
“Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura also said, ‘Stick to the rulings of the class you are fit for, then you will see automatically.’
yathā yathā gaura-padāravinde
vindeta bhaktiṁ kṛta-puṇya-rāśiḥ
tathā tathotsarpati hṛdy akasmād
(Śrī Caitanya-candrāmṛta 88)
“Strictly stick to gaura-līlā, Mahāprabhu, and you will automatically find within your heart that rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi is flowing. Don’t attempt directly to have it. It will come automatically, spontaneously. Not intellectually you shall approach that, for that will give you a bad prejudice. Not only that, but it will be harmful prejudice and you will have to expend more energy to do away with that layer of misunderstanding. So our Śrīla Prabhupāda did not allow these things.
“Do your duty in your plane, according to what you deserve, and that will come naturally. That is his instruction all through, not only temporarily, but all through. Don’t do like that, for then you will get māyā instead of Yogamāyā.”
It appears that our old friend is not familiar with the books of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, or those of Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. Some may say that Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was only a philosopher, while they themselves are rasika-bhaktas, but such a statement is more telling of one’s ambition than of one’s position as a real ācārya.
Pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge is not merely a warning, so that one might not make a mistake and go forward prematurely, although it certainly is that also. Pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge is a direction that implies the recognition of an intrinsic quality, a fundamental aspect of the nature of the soul. The soul (taṭasthā-jīva) is not a pārṣada of Kṛṣṇa or of Rādhā, but a servitor whose eternal position is lower and a little distant.
The place of residence of the liberated jīva in the Gauḍīya paramparā is Govardhana, not Rādhā-kuṇḍa. And the service of the jīva is also selected according to Their necessity. So to practice pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge in this life will bring about the greatest fortune for all conditioned souls and prepare us (in the sense of making us fit) for eternal service in the spiritual realm.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja commented that this conception (Pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge) should be preached in every nook and cranny of the world for all time. It is not something to dismiss so easily. If we do dismiss this instruction, then it is we who are the losers.
It came as a shock to us when one evening, while sitting in Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja’s room in Māyāpura, he mentioned that those sannyāsīs who want to hear rāsa-līlā but are actually not qualified will have to take the risk of becoming mundane women in their next birth. They will not, he said, get the aprākṛta-gopī-svarūpa. They will attain just the opposite, the material body of a woman. At that time, just to keep a sense of humour, a sannyāsī standing nearby said, “Oh Guru Mahārāja, that might explain why there are so many sincere Vaiṣṇavīs on the planet.”
Sannyāsa itself is the life of pure devotion, a life of service to Guru and Kṛṣṇa, twenty-four hours a day, aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā. Yet we see in these unfortunate times that a man gives up his vows of sannyāsa, then enjoys the shackles of marital life for some years, criticizes pure devotees and their followers, and then reappears on the scene after a decade or two – but this time as a rāgānuga-bhakta. Shame, shame, shame. We are not impressed.
The real question is why do those who want kṛṣṇa-līlā resent it when stress is placed on purity first. First deserve and then desire. Is it too much to ask? Purity is the price one has to pay. The actual price one has to pay for eternal life is surrender to one’s guru.
prasanna haile guru sarva-siddhi haya
gaura-kṛṣṇa-kṛpā tāṅre haya suniścaya
“If the guru is satisfied with his disciple, then all perfections are possible. Without any doubt, Gaura and Kṛṣṇa’s mercy will be showered upon him.” (Śrīla B.P. Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, On Love and Separation, pp. 131)
To establish in his essay, the glories of hearing from a rasika-ācārya, my old friend has given us evidence from Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura. In this regard Śrīla Purī Mahārāja has stated as follows:
“Āpnāder videśe ek-ti prākṛta-sahajiyā-dol śrīṣṭa haiyechhe” – In your foreign countries there has appeared a party of prākṛta-sahajiyaism. And it is not a matter of inventing something; what they speak is there in 10th Canto, in the works of Gosvāmīs, and Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura. But the very fact of their speaking such higher topics to unprepared audiences, ignoring the glories of the holy name, Who is the only real path to this higher līlā, is nāmāparādha. Mahāprabhu never did like this. He was relishing these topics with few of His antaraṅga-bhaktas, and He was inspiring masses to perform nāma-saṅkīrtana, and Himself performed saṅkīrtana with great numbers of people. Pracāra should be nāma-pracāra. Remember – I don’t like pseudo-Vaiṣṇavism. I don’t like pseudo-Vaiṣṇavism. I don’t like pseudo-Vaisnavism.”
So it is safe to say that those who are actually followers of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and also of Śrīla Purī Mahārāja will not go to such places where the intimate līlās of the Supreme Lord are being discussed among unqualified persons. I might add that the standard of my Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla A.C. Bhaktivedānta Svāṁī Prabhupāda, was no different than that of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, Śrīla Purī Mahārāja or of any of the stalwart followers of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.
There is a fundamental defect in those who quote Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura in an attempt to justify their involvement with rasa-vicāra (discussions of rāsa-līlā), and that is that they are jumping over the head of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.
But this is not the first time such a mistake has been made. There is the precedent of Hari-vaṁśa (and his followers), a disciple of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī who took support for engaging in rasa-vicāra from Prabhodānanda Sarasvatīpāda, but failed to follow Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja explains:
“That sort of deviation is found in many places in the succession. Just as there is one Hari-vaṁśa, he was a disciple of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa. But he practically deviated. It is thought that he is supported by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa’s guru, Prabhodananda Sarasvatī, who was a great devotee, and who has written many books: Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi and many books of high-style writing are there. He supported Hari-vaṁśa to a certain extent, who was a disciple of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa. There is a line from Hari-vaṁśa. Hari-vaṁśa was not accepted in-toto by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, who was guru of Hari-vaṁśa. Another branch, as if coming down from Hari-vaṁśa, they are known as Hari-vaṁśinī. Theoretically they have recognition of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, but practically there is some deviation. They are more addicted to the rasa-vicāra (discussion of līlā). But Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, the direct connection (his true followers), they are very careful to deal with this rasa, high type. Just as our Guru Mahārāja, he is very cautious about to deal with the higher rasa. Pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge. That rasa should be kept always over our heads. We are talking something about Him very hazy, and giving much respect.”
The standard for dealing with the higher Subjective Plane of Reality has been given to us by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. He has come down from the eternal līlās of Lord Gaurāṅga to show us how to adjust our relationship with the Absolute Truth, the Super Subjective Plane of Reality, pūjala rāga-patha gaurave bhaṅge.
There are no losers among those who accept the path shown by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. When you are qualified you will be accepted in that higher realm: Back to Home, Back to Godhead.
However, if you are not qualified but insist on engaging in higher topics of discussion, then you are, in effect, creating a disturbance in the Lord’s līlā. Then unfortunately in your next life you will get the corresponding body in material nature.
We are not saying one should never hear kṛṣṇa-līlā. What we are saying is that one should first be concerned with attaining the proper qualifications necessary to enter such a high plane of existence. It should not be considered so cheaply. I wonder why my old friend is so adamantly opposed to my emphasis on attaining the basic qualifications before entering into higher topics prematurely. His own śikṣā-guru has recommended the same thing in the book Śrī Vraja Maṇḍala Parikramā, as follows:
“So whenever the Vaiṣṇavas are discussing any topic, it is correct to approach that assembly in a mood of reverence. My Guru Mahārāja instructed us never to read the 10th Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. I remember that although he restricted us from reading these particular pastimes it was not because he was forbidding us from reading it; but it was just to make sure that we would be extremely careful in approaching these subjects with the utmost care and reverence without a tinge of mundane contamination.
“Therefore these topics and this sentiment should be carefully exposed and partially hidden; but nevertheless they must be revealed according to time and circumstance, taking into consideration each individual’s qualifications and eligibility.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.