The relationship between mundane and spiritual rasa seems to be unavoidable. In the conditioned state we can’t talk about rasa without referencing its mundane equivalents. Literally can’t talk – the words we use are defined by mundane reality. Whenever we say something about rasa we might mean well but what we actually mean is examples of materialistic relationships.
On such a platform nothing good can come out of discussions on rasa-tattva and so we need a different approach, we need to try to define rasa negatively – it’s not this and it’s not that, and all of it must be rejected. This is attitude is non-devotional, however, we are not impersonalists with their “neti neti”, our spiritual reality is positive, so we need to adapt our approach again – it’s not this, not that, but that other thing is genuine and we should seek it every moment of our lives.
When we talk about ranking rasa we say that śāntā is the lowest, then comes dāsya, then sakhya, then vātsalya, and then finally mādhurya, we know this progression by heart. It makes total sense to us and it explained very nicely in our Nectar of Devotion.
In śāntā rasa devotees are aware of Lord’s presence but they do not come in direct contact with Him, there’s no service to speak of. In Vṛndāvana these devotees get engaged by others on higher platforms. Flowers get picked up and presented to Kṛṣṇa by gopīs, for example. Milk get churned and fed to Kṛṣṇa by Mother Yaśodā, ropes come in contact with Lord’s body by Mother Yaśodā’s mercy, too. On their own these inanimate things just sit and wait, sometimes impatiently, but they do not initiate contact themselves.
In dāsya rasa service is full blown. It’s what service means in the material world – servants carry out orders and they are always subordinate. By contrast, we don’t talk about friendship as a service. That rasa, sakhya, is unique in this way – parents do offer service to their children, they serve each and every whim, and so do wives, but not friends, who are completely free from all service obligations. They never submit their own interests against their will, like parents are forced to do when the baby is crying. Wives have to put aside their egos, too, but not friends. If egos got bruised then there’s no friendship, as simple as that. It’s like there should be no service in friendship by definition or it will become weird.
This is probably where we should get the clue that describing spiritual rasa in terms of our mundane experience here isn’t of much help. Take the case of a crying baby. Parents might be willing to sacrifice their sleep to attend to the baby but this will has its limits, as well as the will to change diapers, wash clothes, warm milk and do all the other bothersome things. Exemplary parents might never fail in execution of these duties but even they won’t lie that sometimes they wish that the baby wasn’t there. This attitude obviously has no place in the spiritual world. And yet Kṛṣṇa can be extremely annoying there, too, especially for Mother Yaśodā’s friends who often come to complain to her about Kṛṣṇa’s behavior. It’s impossible to reconcile their anger at Kṛṣṇa with their constant, uninterrupted love for Him. When they are at Mother Yaśodā’s demanding action they are not kidding, they want punishment. It would take us major word jugglery to call this anger an expression of love. In our world it simply doesn’t compute.
Then there’s a little twist with parakīyā rasa, too – in our world, Prabhupāda noted very often, this kind of behavior is abominable but in the spiritual world it is the most sublime. It’s probably not very difficult to explain this away because as far as enjoyment is concerned, extra-marital relationships are right there at the top, condemned or not, but they feel very very good, practically irresistible.
Okay, we more or less understand all of that, and some of us understand it better than others. Some argue that discussing these pastimes is what we need to enter into actual Kṛṣṇa līlā and they engage in reading and contemplating this stuff as their daily sādhana.
I’m firmly against this approach, however. Our appreciation for these pastimes is purely material, we learn to understand and value them based on our material experiences of love, anger, gratitude, jealousy etc. We think that if we arrange these mundane rasa is a certain way they will unlock the spiritual reality. By “arrange” I mean avoiding rasa-ābhāsa and putting experiences in a certain order – first gopīs did that, then Kṛṣṇa responded as follows, then gopīs felt this and did that etc. One mellow follows the other, only certain mellows are admitted, there are books where all this is very nicely described, so if we can mentally recreate these pastimes it’s as good as seeing them for real.
Of course not. It has as much in common with spiritual reality as little girls’ tea parties with entertaining actual guests.
We cannot experience any spiritual rasa in a non-liberated state. It simply won’t happen, it can’t happen by definition. And yet our ācāryas do give us positive spiritual engagement – they give us service. Out of all spiritual rasas we are ordered to practice dāsya. It might not be real dāsya yet but this is what we are authorized to do.
We serve our guru, who is the external manifestation of the Lord. We do not fraternize with our guru, we do not practice sakhya or vāstalya, we do not practice śāntā either. We must only serve and always be subordinate, never equal. It’s the same rasa we must exhibit in deity service, too.
Does it mean that the bliss we derive from this kind of service is spiritual? Does it mean it’s a reflection of a genuine spiritual dāsya? I hope so, but if we ever get to experience glimpses of spiritual bliss it doesn’t always come from service itself, it’s just bliss, sometimes it feels that it’s Kṛṣṇa’s reciprocation, His mercy, that we earned it. Spiritual dāsya, however, is not about the rewards but about service itself. We can sit and enjoy moments of our bliss but actual servants never do that.
My point here is that our bliss is still not rasa. I think that at the very best it’s just droplets of ānanda being blown our way, real rasa, by comparision, is the ocean itself.
So, whenever we talk about this rasa coming first, or this rasa being contained within that, we have no idea what we are doing. It’s only mental speculations. The very first person to introduce rasa into our sampradāya, Mādhavendra Purī, is a tree in the spiritual world. The very first person to talk about rasa at all was Śukadeva Gosvāmī, and he is a parrot. Constitutionally they are both in śāntā rasa and yet they have no problems expertly educating us on all other mellows which, in our classification, should be beyond them.
There’s one more rasa available to us, we can taste it to our heart’s content, but it’s impossible to classify it with certainty. It’s a special case and it deserves a separate post, so tomorrow.