Yesterday’s rant is not over yet, there’s more to say about self-proclaimed rasika bhaktas. It all revolves about their premature dabbling in subjects they are not ready for. They take descriptions from esoteric works by pure devotees and apply them to their incomplete realizations and imagine the rest.
I thought calling it “rasa in a bottle” would be appropriate – the content of the science of rasa is genuine, it works exactly as advertised on the bottle, but reading the label is not the same as actually tasting it. Bottle needs to be opened first and it’s not a simple task.
Śrīla Prabhupāda often compared similar problems with licking a bottle of honey from outside. He applied it to materialists trying to imagine what devotion to the Lord feels like, I’m applying it to rasika bhaktas telling themselves they KNOW what rasa tastes like. They don’t.
That is not to say that genuine rasika bhaktas do not exist or cannot exist. I’m talking about annoying know-it-alls trying to make a new life outside ISKCON. I also talk about a general malaise that affects us all regardless of our affiliation – we all need to watch out for the symptoms and uproot this weed in our hearts as soon as possible.
We cannot treat transcendental relationships between Kṛṣṇa and His intimate devotees as an ordinary subject matter expressed through ordinary words. It’s not some teenage girl’s diary even though all the scenes and characters are familiar. The fact that we can appreciate sweetness of all the joking and flirting doesn’t mean we appreciate the real thing. All we get is a material reflection coming through the prism of our material experience.
Perhaps we should rethink progression of rasa altogether, it’s not enough to simply say that friendship is better than servitorship, parentship is better than friendship, and conjugal love beats them all. While objectively correct, this simplified progression does not sufficiently guard us against corrupting the whole idea, we need to stress some other aspects to prevent misunderstandings.
Look at the example of Mādhavendra Purī, the first rasika bhakta in our sampradāya. No one knew about perfection of conjugal love for Kṛṣṇa before him. Did he go around talking about it non-stop? How did it manifest in his own life? Could he be called rasika bhakta if he appeared amongst us again? I’m afraid not.
We have no evidence that his appreciation for conjugal love had ever manifested itself externally, and it’s not like his relationsips with Kṛṣṇa were always hidden from view, they were not.
First, Kṛṣṇa personally appeared before Mādhavendra Purī as a cowherd boy, made sure that Mādhavendra Purī had something to eat, and told him where to find the deity of Gopāla that was later installed on top of the Govardhana Hill. There was absolutely nothing conjugal in that episode. Kṛṣṇa didn’t relate to him like that at all.
Later on this same deity of Gopāla decided to test Mādhavendra Purī’s devotion and asked him to bring sandalwood from Jagannātha Purī, over a thousand kilometers away in a straight line. Just think how you would go about it, on foot, without any transport.
On the way back Mādhavendra Purī got held up in Remuna where Kṛṣṇa appeared before him again and stole a pot of sweet rice from His own offerings. That’s where Lord Caitanya told the devotees this whole story.
Was there anything conjugal about it? Any sign of higher rasas? Anything more exalted than what is described in Bhagavad Gīta or Śrīmad Bhāgavatam? Nope. Just a servant faithfully executing orders of His worshipable Lord. Can anyone say that this service was lacking in anything?
So, once again, I propose to “grade” devotion on its own merits, not by comparing it to relationships in Vṛndāvana. Highest possible devotion would still be in mādhurya rasa even though it would look nothing like pastimes in Goloka.
This part is easy, it’s defining “lower” grades of bhakti that is difficult. It would also put permanent labels on devotees who, for some reason, look somewhat incomplete in their service at the moment. Once again, we have to remember that Kṛṣṇa appreciate ALL service and there’s nothing imperfect in it.
Take Puṇḍarīka Vidyānidhi, for example. On the surface it appeared that he enjoyed his material position and even if he didn’t he wasn’t going to renounce everything and become a mendicant like most of Lord Caitanya’s close associates. However, when Gadādhara Puṇḍita realized his real position he begged Puṇḍarīka for initiation, whatever was apparently lacking for the material eye became completely perfect once proper knowledge was established in his heart.
With some of His devotees Kṛṣṇa loves them to appear as superior to Him, take their orders and show His respect. So what if this superiority doesn’t externally look like proper renunciation – Kṛṣṇa wants it this way, who are we to dictate how He should enjoy our service.
Yet I think we can all agree that sacrificing everything for the Lord is relatively higher. Some devotees are perfectly adjusted in their material lives and Kṛṣṇa doesn’t need any additional sacrifices from them, He likes to see them as wealthy and respectable, yet it doesn’t mean that there are no higher levels, or that those higher levels are “better”.
There’s an invitation sent out to our local ISKCON community inviting people to attend a seminar on stress management, promising to develop a positive outlook to life. I don’t know what they are going to tell people, nothing from Kṛṣṇa conscious outlook to material life is particularly positive. Our core message is that everyday brings you closer to death, save your soul before it’s too late. Life as we know it is unsaveable, we will all get old, sick, and then die, what’s so positive about it?
Having said that, I also agree that there’s a lot we can promise to people and be fairly sure Kṛṣṇa would help to fulfill those promises. We perform saṅkīrtana yajña and results should come regardless of our desires. We’ll get healthier, we’ll get wealthier, we’ll get better mental health, less stress, it’s all true. Up to a point.
Can we say that life in Vṛndāvana was free from stress for years and decades after Kṛṣṇa left for Mathurā? That would be gross misrepresentation. Would Lord Caitanya in His later life look happy and content in materialists’ eyes?
Likewise, there are perfectly adjusted devotees and there are those who are never content with amount and quality of their service. They might appear always stressed out and their lives unplanned and haphazard, ruled by modes of passion and ignorance, but that would only be a superficial analysis. They could be very attuned to Kṛṣṇa’s desires and place more value on fulfilling them than on trying to maintain a stable lifestyle. They, of course, should not be confused with neophytes who ARE ruled by passion and ignorance.
So, once again, rasika bhakta is not the one who talks about rasa but the one who seeks full and unconditional surrender every second of his life, consciously trying to relinquish all his attachments and material instincts. Those who dedicate their lives to improving service of other devotees would be even better. Those who, for the sake of the Lord’s pleasure, appear less devoted are not worse in any way, too, just different