We are supposed to take it very seriously even on our neophyte level, especially on our neophyte level. There are examples of Śrīla Prabhupāda nipping all instances of rasa-ābhāsa, inappropriate mixture of devotional flavors, in the bud. Sometimes devotees would pick up concocted mantras somewhere in India, sometimes they would pick up unauthorized traditions or rituals. Sometimes they would pick up innocuous practices but from the wrong kind of people and Prabhupāda would prohibit it so that we, ISKCON, wouldn’t invoke associations with deviant vaiṣṇava sects.
Rasa-ābhāsa was mentioned in Caitanya Caritāmṛita several times and never favorably. Lord Caitanya was rather strict in this sense and never listened to any unscientific expositions on devotional service. Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī was tasked with screening all poetry and presentations before they reached the Lord because, from experience, any deviations from bhakti-siddhānta made the Lord very angry. It’s a serious thing.
So, should we study it? Here’s a sample from Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu:
A mellow temporarily appearing transcendental but contradicting mellows previously stated and lacking some of a mellow’s necessities is called rasābhāsa, an overlapping mellow, by advanced devotees who know how to taste transcendental mellows. Such mellows are called uparasa (submellows), anurasa (imitation transcendental mellows) and aparasa (opposing transcendental mellows). Thus the overlapping of transcendental mellows is described as being first grade, second grade or third grade. When the twelve mellows — such as neutrality, servitorship and friendship — are characterized by adverse sthāyi-bhāva, vibhāva and anubhāva ecstasies, they are known as uparasa, submellows. When the seven indirect transcendental mellows and the dried-up mellow of neutrality are produced by devotees and moods not directly related to Kṛṣṇa and devotional service in ecstatic love, they are described as anurasa, imitation mellows. If Kṛṣṇa and the enemies who harbor feelings of opposition toward Him are respectively the object and abodes of the mellow of laughter, the resulting feelings are called aparasa, opposing mellows. Experts in distinguishing one mellow from another sometimes accept some overlapping transcendental mellows (rasābhāsa) as rasas due to their being pleasurable and tasteful.
Should we have a test on this?
Probably not in the beginning but if we are exposed to unauthorized and unscientific practices from the start we might suffer in the long term. Maybe offenses are committed, maybe it’s just far more difficult to correct bad habits then to learn good ones anew, better to stick to what is given to us by Prabhupāda.
Some devotees take this rasa science very seriously and study Six Gosvāmī’s books very deeply. I don’t know if they succeed and make genuine progress, one noticeable side effect is that they assume elevated positions from which they lecture everyone else and even dare to correct our immediate predecessor ācāryas because they learn “straight from the source”.
Even if that does not happen they start to see everything through rasa relationships taken from the books. I don’t know how appropriate this is. I mentioned a while ago a wise quote that if all you have is a hammer then very problem is going to look like a nail. Some get fixated on varṇāsrama and explain everything through that prism. Some see everything through pañca kośa – anāmaya, praṇāmaya etc. Some see everything through sambanda, abhidehya and prayojana. Some see everything through the prism of book distribution. They are all right in their own kind of way but it’s still like blind men trying to figure out an elephant – no one is quite right and even if taken altogether it’s not guaranteed that you get a complete picture. One actual look at an elephant, otoh, clarifies the matter completely.
Similarly, one taste of actual spiritual relationships with the Lord should put an end to all speculations, however scientific and reasonable they appear.
Still, we have the books, and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu is just an introduction, there’s a lot more in, say Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi I mentioned yesterday. These books were written for us to study, were they not?
Right, of course we should study them, but I think we shouldn’t approach it as lightly as those who are doing it now. Śrīla Prabhupāda warned us about getting into this deep stuff prematurely. We aren’t supposed to delve into the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam until we realized the subject matter of the first nine, for example. We shouldn’t even think about enjoying rasa until we are completely free from the influence of the material energy. We can talk about rasa but without actually tasting it it will be like sex-education classes for pre-school kids.
Personally, I think we should also remember that books on rasa were written by personalities who had real, first hand experience of them. They were describing what they saw, what they felt, what they directly observed. We, otoh, are approaching it as ordinary text books written for ascending process of acquiring knowledge. “Read the book, understand the subject, pass the test, become qualified” kind of process, which in itself is a kind of rasa-ābhāsain spiritual progress, it won’t work.
Every time I hear someone talking about rasa on the basis of theoretical understanding gleaned from the books I feel like I should leave the place immediately. People boasting about knowledge of things they have absolutely no clue about are to be avoided even if the subject is Kṛṣṇa Himself.
One particularly annoying kind is self-appointed rasika bhaktas who claim to relish transcendental mellows displayed in Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. One of their first arguments in favor of this practice is that one cannot develop attraction to Kṛṣṇa if he doesn’t hear about Him. That is true but only up to a point. We cannot develop attraction to Kṛṣṇa if we still identify ourselves with our bodies and express ourselves through them.
One easy example is developing gopīs’ attraction to Kṛṣṇa by discussing His pastimes with them, which are sexual in nature. Sounds legit, because that’s what they did together, yet we do not have a transcendental point of reference here, only our mundane understanding of sex, so everything we say or think or imagine will necessarily be expressed in relation to our mundane sexual experiences. All the alleged “mellows” will be misappropriation of known sexual or romantic relationships we observed or experienced ourselves and transferring them to Kṛṣṇa and His “girlfriends”.
Perhaps I can use the example of gopīs giving Kṛṣṇa their foot dust once again. Their relationships with the Lord are considered topmost and unrivaled because it’s the highest possible kind of selfless service. Our rasika-bhaktas, however, reduce their relationships to sexuality. There was absolutely nothing sexual in foot dust episode, only the highest form of devotion.
Another example would be preaching and book distribution. There is no higher form of selfless service in the material world at the moment. Our ācāryas, who are all gopīs in Kṛṣṇa līlā, were all preachers down here and there was not a tint of sexuality visible in their service to the Lord when they were present. I don’t think anyone can translate the mellows they certainly enjoyed in their service here into romantic or sexual relationships between them and Kṛṣṇa in the spiritual world. It’s unthinkable to look at them this way, they are too pure to place them into our mundane representations of Kṛsṇa’s sexuality.
And yet their rasas weren’t lacking in anything, they couldn’t be. Perhaps we need to write a new book on rasas, the one that describes progressive stages of devotion as manifested by pure devotees in the material world. I don’t think it’s possible but we can certainly compare levels of surrender of different devotees as well as describe ideal situations just like Rūpa Gosvāmī was studying devotion of Kṛṣṇa’s associates in Vṛndāvana.
Maybe it’s a totally bogus, speculative idea but I can see one good outcome already – we will learn to respect everybody’s contributions and cleanse our hearts of offensive mentality.
PS. Is it just me or has Sampradāya Sun cleaned up their act in this respect? There’s a surprising absence of critical posts there.