For two days I was speaking about rasa derived from reading the news. At one point I said that it must be rejected while at another time I said that we have no choice but to engage in relishing these rasas, albeit in connection to Kṛṣṇa. Well, not in connection with Kṛṣṇa personally, of course, but in connection with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, activities of the devotees etc.
This rasa thing, however, goes deeper than news, it’s all around us, and experiencing these rasas is our primary motivator in this world. I’d say when we talk about desires we mean we want rasa, so dealing with rasa is the same as dealing with desires – they need to be directed to Kṛṣṇa, not given up altogether. However, it’s not a simple, fit all solution – some desires need to be purified, some forgotten, some replaced.
Maybe nothing gets forgotten forever but some desires need to be rejected altogether for the moment, like the desire to inflict pain on others. Cruelty feels good but we don’t have a ready substitution for it in our daily practice. I mean Kṛṣṇa conscious practice, in our daily lives we enjoy subtle forms of cruelty very often, and if you watch the news there are plenty of people in the world who like to subjugate and torture people. The possibility of such attraction is there but we should not let it inside our heads, ie forget about it.
Rasa means different things in different disciplines, in mundane sense it means juice or tree sap, in Auyrveda it refers to medicine, in Vedic philosophy it means essense, but in Kṛṣṇa consciousness it means relationships with the Lord. The kind of rasa I’m talking about here has nothing to do with juices or medicine, of course, but it has nothing to do with devotion either.
There’s an ancient art of Vedic drama, Nāṭyaśāstra, and it has a section on rasa where it means human emotions elicited through theatrical performances. This is probably the closest to what I mean but it would be difficult to define emotions appealed to by news writers according to Nāṭyaśāstra classification. There are also further developments to that classification added by later authors, respected in that tradition but ignored by vaiṣṇavas. In fact, in our Gauḍiyā vaiṣṇavism we ignore Nāṭyasāstra, too.
Some say that Rūpa Gosvāmī took his rasa teachings from there but this theory is advanced by suspicious characters, not authoritative devotees. As far as I can tell, the source of it is one Graham Schweig, a wannabe yogī who rose through the ranks of academia, too. He is surely a knowledgeable man but that does not qualify one to speak on devotion and certainly not to interpret the minds of our ācāryas like Rūpa Gosvāmī.
This idea of putting Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism in historical context and seeing it as an evolutionary step in Indian thought is quite attractive but it needs to be rejected. Rūpa Gosvāmī learned the science of devotional rasa from Lord Caitanya and Lord Caitanya described it as pertaining to the spiritual world. It takes a certain kind of atheist to implicitly reject Lord Caitanya’s divinity and suggest that he actually stole His teachings from Nāṭyaśāstra (and books like Gītā-Govinda on the transcendental eroticism).
This kind of atheism is common in ex-ISKCON circles, however. Deprived of Prabhupāda’s mercy and, therefore, genuine spiritual progress, they explain our teachings in terms they can understand themselves, which are empiric in nature – historical evidence and its speculative interpretations. They can’t accept that either Lord Caitanya or Six Gosvāmīs had genuine spiritual visions, they insist that it was all reinterpretation of existing works. Ordinary devotees simply don’t know the real roots but these “scholars” have discovered where Gauḍiyā Vaiṣṇavism really comes from.
They can speculate all they want but we should not let ourselves affected by their atheistic association. There are obvious objections to their theory even on empirical grounds – Rūpa Gosvāmī never acknowledged taking science of rasa from Nāṭyasāstra, never mentioned later authors like Kashmiri Śaiva Abhinavagupta, and his classification of rasa is entirely different. All our rasas are expressions of bhakti but bhakti has no place in Nāṭyaśāstra and was suggested later as a rasa of its own. Nāṭyaśāstra also speaks of seven primary rasas that are totally different from our five. You can have a look at how another ex-ISKCON devotee tries to fit it altogether here. It’s another speculative effort but it illustrates my point, makes certain sense, and it doesn’t reduce our ācāryas to plagiarism, even though the author is probably the biggest offender in describing them as products of their age. Just look how he tries to define progression from śānta to madhurya as stages in one’s material life. That’s not where rasas arise from.
The one interesting aspect of Nāṭyaśāstra is that it describes mundane rasas in terms of presiding deities and colors. It’s exactly what I need, even though I don’t trust its conclusions. The rasas we seek in the world are defined by guṇas – that’s why colors and deities. You mix a bit of this with a bit of that and get a complex flavor. It is beyond me to reduce the entire range of our emotions to three primary qualities of nature but I don’t see why it shouldn’t be the case. Combinations of the three guṇas are the source of both colors and deities, after all.
I bet the three guṇas can explain Baskin Robbins, too, but that’s not what we should be wasting out time on. It is possible and that’s all that we need to know.
Having all this in mind it’s easy to see how we get attracted to various mundane rasas – according to the influence of the guṇas we seek certain kind of shelter, in goodness, passion, or ignorance, but the tricky part is in connecting these emotions to Kṛṣṇa. There are no material guṇas there, there’s no equivalent of goodness or passion, there’s no ignorance. Surely, material guṇas have their ultimate source in the spiritual world, too, but that’s not a connection open to our understanding, let alone practical application.
We don’t have the experience of spiritual rasas yet and so we can’t express our mundane emotions in spiritual terms, as reflection of our spiritual feelings, and that’s why there’s nothing particularly wrong with rejecting these material experiences altogether. The way we perceive them now they are fully material and thus have no place in spiritual life.
Yes, they need to be purified and the only means for that we know of is somehow or other connecting them to Kṛṣṇa but it’s this presence of Kṛṣṇa, either as a thought or as a name, that is important, not the presence of emotions. We should not aspire to enjoy them and so should not waste time on seeking them. Somehow or other they will come as awarded by our karma, we don’t have to make separate efforts for it.
It’s the same answer Śrīla Prabhupāda once gave about teachings of Queen Kuntī. She prayed for calamities, devotees asked, so shouldn’t we pray for calamities, too? No need, said Prabhupāda, they will come on their own, don’t worry about it.
That’s why when I flick through ostensibly devotional news trying to steal my attention with promises of mundane feelings I tell myself “Do not bite, do not give in to this type of pleasure, do not let the mind indulge in it.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this solution, and I didn’t think it up, it came on its own and it’s already there. Maybe it’s driven by false renunciation but when such indulgence is supported by “It’s all about Kṛṣṇa” it stinks of sahajiyā. Kṛṣṇa is not present in mundane emotions just as he is not present in sex orgies imitating rasa līlā.
Forget the explanations, these rasas are meant for our own enjoyment, not Kṛṣṇa’s, and that’s why they fully deserve to be rejected, too.