Vanity thought #1689. Single purpose

I wonder if my recent speculation about single flavor experiences through an apparent variety of services can be applied elsewhere, in particular to Kṛṣṇa līlā? It’s not how we imagine it, that’s for sure, but there are good arguments in support of it, too.

The starting point was our possible connection with Lord Rāmacandra – we don’t seem to fit in His epic story with Sītā and then war with Rāvaṇa but if we think of Him as a perfect king then varṇāśrama could be our way. Lord Caitanya wasn’t interested in it, Kṛṣṇa wasn’t interested in it either, but Lord Rāmacandra seems like the perfect patron Lord of performing our varṇāśrama duties.

When we talk about varṇāśrama duties we can talk about our real life experiences and that’s where it might get real speculative but I don’t think that there could be a big disagreement here. We seem to do a lot of things under the aegis of varṇāśrama and going to work feels very different from relating to one’s wife or children but once we get over the duality of our experiences we can all see the underlying driver – desire to serve the Lord to the best of our ability.

I’d argue that it’s the same motivation regardless of external engagement. It doesn’t matter whether our duties are pleasant or stressful at each given moment, we still have to perform them because doing so would please the Lord. I’d argue that it’s the only way to find a real connection between our activities here and Kṛṣṇa – everything we do must be done for His pleasure only regardless of our feelings and regardless of the results. Our guru wants us to be perfect little soldiers in this battle, too, though following varṇāśrama rules is not very high on the list of things we should be doing for Lord Caitanya’s mission.

Speaking of Lord Caitanya – everything we do for Him must somehow be connected to saṅkīrtana, to spreading the glory of the holy name. I’ve written a couple of posts about this back in December – it’s entirely possible to build our entire society around this single preaching mission so that every devotee, from temple pot cleaner to best book distributor to temple president see themselves not as cooks, managers, or salesmen but as servants of saṅkīrtana. It’s a beautiful attitude to have, the best ever possible, and we have had experiences of implementing it successfully. Maybe now is not the time for it, I don’t know, but when it worked it worked wonders.

Once we learn to see that connection in each bit of our service we should realize that it is driven by one and the same “rasa”, just like following varṇāśrama. We want other people to appreciate Kṛṣṇa, that’s our single motive behind everything we do. I put “rasa” in quotes there because we don’t have a name for it – it’s not exactly dāsya, even though we are servants. Lord Caitanya’s mood is described as audārya, meaning magnanimity or generosity, and it could be a sub-rasa under mādhurya or something, I wouldn’t delve into Six Gosvāmīs literature just yet to find out exactly – if they even mentioned audārya it might have been in different context anyway.

The same attitude was displayed by Prahlāda Mahārāja, btw, who is in dāsya mood but there’s an argument that his compassion towards other living beings was manifestation of compassion of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. There’s an argument that rasas are not building up from śānti to mādhurya but rather spread down from Śrī Rādha to all other devotees who display parts of her complete spectrum of devotion. Some get this audārya and some choose to serve the Lord without it (if it’s even possible).

I’m not a sucker of compassion, a word I believe is generally abused in our movement, but that’s what Lord Caitanya’s mercy is – compassion. It’s what drives His saṅkīrtana movement even though saṅkīrtana itself can contain any other rasa. The best place to feel this magnanimity is in Māyāpura, it just permeates the whole atmosphere there and it is clearly different from the atmosphere of Vṛndāvana. To feel real sweetness of Vṛndāvana is impossible without being qualified for it but no one can escape the audārya of Māyāpura.

That’s probably why Śrīla Prabhupāda made us come to our annual festivals to Māyāpura so that we can recharge our batteries and return to preaching with full enthusiasm. It just doesn’t happen to those visiting Vṛndāvana where the most common reaction is to withdraw and dedicate oneself to chanting and recollecting Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes.

Anyway, it is possible to see all service under varṇāśrama as driven by one single motive, one single rasa. It’s possible to see all service under saṅkīrtana as driven by one single rasa, too. Is it possible to see all service to Kṛṣṇa in a similar way?

On the surface of it – no, because Kṛṣṇa has a variety of devotees serving in a variety of rasas. That is not the case with Lord Rāmacandra as the king of Ayodhyā and it’s not the case with Lord Caitanya. We reject Gaurāṇga-nāgarīs who pretend to have various relationships with Mahāprabhu from His pre-saṅkīrtana days and accept only serving to His preaching mission as legitimate means of relating to Him. Relationships with Kṛṣṇa are not so restrictive.

What could be restrictive is our personal relationships with Him. In the spiritual world we might indeed be a one trick pony. Even those devotees playing in manjarīs focus on one single aspect of their service, afaik. Usually it’s decorating something in preparation of the visit of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. From description of other gopīs we can see that they are all expert in one particular field. Some are good a putting tilakas, some are good a cooking, some are good a playing musical instruments and so on. It is quite possible that they do not know how to do anything else and can’t care less about Kṛṣṇa’s relationships with calves or cowherd boys, it just doesn’t occur to them because they are too busy doing their own thing.

We also have examples of seemingly inanimate objects that serve only one single purpose – like the rope and the milk in Dāmodara līlā. They might be aware of everything else that is going on but all their lives they wait for that single moment when the Lord finally interacts with them.

Another argument is the fact that devotees on higher stages of progress are given one single mantra to worship the Lord and these mantras disclose one single devotional sentiment. From Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta’s commentary on Brahma-Saṁhitā I remember that everyone worships the Lord with mantras there. It’s only for us there’s a difference between mantra and the “real life” but in the spiritual world the sound and the reality are non-different.

One mantra, one sentiment, one rasa, one service – seems logical. It does not allow for personal variety but it should allow for variety of actions to express that sentiment, just as saṅkīrtana or varṇāśrama.

The only problem is pastimes where gopīs and Kṛṣṇa interact in unpredictable ways, especially when other devotees are involved, too. In those pastimes there aren’t any restrictions on what each and every person would do. Within limits, of course, because gopīs behave as gopīs and gopas behave as gopas. Still, some of these personalities are very versatile in their service. To this I could answer that we are never going to reach their platform, and that even with this versatility there’s always one single motive behind it anyway. Gopīs do not have any other interest but Kṛṣṇa or Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa, as the case may be, everything they do serves this singular purpose in one single mood.

Hmm, it seems my new speculation is holding up very nicely. It would be great to check it out personally but for that one would need to visit the spiritual realm which is not on the cards, unfortunately. Maybe one day…

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Vanity thought #1688. One trick pony

Last time I talked about our possible connection with Lord Rāmacandra – service to varṇāśrama. It’s a speculative idea, of course, and I’m just getting started. Well, I used to say “I’m just getting started” but these days fifteen minutes after start I’m already thinking about a nap so nothing big will come out of it.

As I explained in the previous post, it’s hard to imagine how we could be useful to Lord Rāmacandra in any other way. We aren’t conditioned for Rāma līlā, we are conditioned for the mission of Lord Caitanya. We can fit very nicely in there even if removed from Lord’s appearance by five hundred years. The mission is the same – spread chanting of the holy name, the service is the same – chant, go out, meet people, tell them about Kṛṣṇa, the environment is the same – toxic, just to a different degree, the orders are the same, the philosophy is the same, so we are all set.

There’s a possible way to fit into Rāma līlā if we consider the inner meaning of battle with Rāvaṇa, though. If we consider Rāvaṇa not as a person, a demoniac king with plans to conquer the universe, but as an attitude – a demoniac wish to enjoy Lord’s property. In this sense we all have Rāvaṇas inside our hearts and we all have to battle them.

Are we going to kill this demoniac attitude? Nope, according to the story Lord Rāmacandra does that, we only assist to the best of our abilities. Considering that this demoniac attitude is rooted deep inside our hearts we are both the enemy and Lord Rāma’s soldiers, so our role here gets a bit confusing. Aren’t we also Sītā? We are being held hostage to our demoniac desires, too. Sītā didn’t fight, she just kept her chastity and patiently waited for the Lord to come to her rescue.

On one hand we aren’t supposed to sit and wait but actively fight against our anarthas, on the other hand, after many years of trying, we can also admit that until the Lord comes and helps us we are not going to achieve anything worthwhile. We can’t grow the tree of bhakti on our own, it has its own schedule. We can nourish it with chanting and pull out weeds of anarthas but bhakti, just like any other plant, ultimately needs the bright sun of Lord’s mercy. If that mercy is not there nothing will grow despite best attempts at gardening.

In that last metaphor our role as gardeners is only minor but pulling the weeds is Rāma’s battle with Rāvaṇa so it must be central to the story. As I said, translating Rāma līlā into our own lives is confusing and all these metaphors can easily get away.

Service within varṇāśrama, on the other hand, is solid. It’s always, always available, no matter what condition we were born into. We might not qualify by our occupational duties for the four varṇas and we might not qualify for the four aśramas by our personal behavior but we know what to be done and have the work cut out for us anyway. We know we have to get up, go to work, we know what we have to do there, we know when we have to come home, we know our chores around the house and our duties towards our families. It will never ever go away. We all have mothers and fathers and we all have sexual desires that need to be controlled even in the most degraded of relationships. We also all have to aim at eventual renunciation at the end of our lives even if full sannyāsa is prohibited in this age.

Speaking of sannyāsa – perhaps we shouldn’t look at that prohibition as simply an order, which would imply the choice of obey or disobey, but also as a description of Kali yuga conditions. It would mean that we can’t disobey this order even if we tried. It is said that in Kali yuga our prāṇa is attached to our flesh while in previous ages it was attached to the nervous system and even only the bones. It means that we cannot possibly survive without food while people like Rāvaṇa could undergo severe tapasyā for thousands of years. I mean even what is now considered fossils could still be, theoretically speaking, a living body of a meditating sage. That kind of sannyāsa is out of question, of course. We can’t survive by begging and living under the trees either, not in the present climate, not even in Vṛndāvana where summer temperatures require substantial shelters and electric fans not to die of a heat stroke.

Where was I? Ah, varṇāśrama – it seems we have multiple duties varied with our positions and our ages but in its essence the service is one and the same – following what needs to be followed. It’s in this sense that I meant “one trick pony” as a title. On the surface it would appear that we are doing so many different things but with practice we should all see that it’s all the same service, following orders, and there won’t be any other rasa involved in it ever.

We are not going to sit and watch our family duties being performed all by themselves, so no śānta, we are not going to treat the Lord and His orders as our friends and we are certainly not going to give orders ourselves, so no sakhya and no vātsalya. The only possible relationship with the Lord we can have under varṇāśrama is dāsya, there’s no other option.

As I said, it can manifest in a variety of ways but I’m not sure if this variety adds any transcendental flavors. In varṇāśrama these extra flavors come from interaction with other people, not with the Lord Himself, and they come only on the material level. Do these extra relationships exist in Vaikuṇṭha? Apparently yes – they have families, houses etc there, but it’s not how citizens of Vaikuṇṭha are defined – they are defined by their flawless service and by their constant absorption in the Lord. The fact that they also have families barely registers. We are taught to think that despite of the variety of engagements and personal flying airplanes all they can ever think of is their service.

So, I don’t think it’s dāsya mixed with attraction for their wives or with the exhilaration of flying your own vimāna. Nope, it’s just dāsya, so “one trick pony” description is true even there, albeit it carries negative connotations in modern language. I intend to overrule this negative connotation when talking about service but I’ll leave it for another day.

Vanity thought #1559. The gift of purnamrita

There’s a huge variety of rasas in the spiritual world. There are only five primary ones, of course, but all the variety in our world is a product of only three guṇas so mixture of five should give a far richer environment, not to mention that primary rasas are also aided by secondary ones.

None of those rasas are available to us while in the conditioned state, however. We get only perversions of rasa just as we get only perversions of spiritual bodies. Everything in this world is like an upside down reflection of a tree, as Kṛṣṇa allegorically explained in Bhagavad Gītā. When engaged in Lord’s service here, however, we get to practice dāsya, the service attitude. I doubt that it’s exactly the same rasa as experienced by Kṛṣṇa’s servants in Vṛndāvana, maybe when we achieve perfection in our service here but certainly not on a neophyte stage. As I mentioned yesterday, there’s one more rasa available to us and it’s a mysterious one – I am talking about saṅkīrtana.

As Lord Caitanya declared in the first verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka (CC Antya 20.12) it “enables one to taste full nectar at every step” – meaning it IS a kind of rasa. He also said that it increases the ocean of transcendental bliss so even if it isn’t a rasa in its own right it still acts like one, what do we care about its proper classification?

In Lord Caitanya’s words saṅkīrtana is pūrṇa-amṛta, full nectar, so it could mean that it carries the flavor of all rasas. When devotees achieve perfection in chanting they can, indeed, derive all kinds of rasa from the holy name so it’s not an unsubstantiated speculation. The question is, how much and what kind of rasa trickles down to us. Do we get to decide what flavor is there? Liberated devotees serve the Lord according to their spiritual inclinations, we don’t have those yet, so what kind of bliss is shown to us when we serve in the saṅkīrtana mission?

There’s an explanation that saṅkīrtana embodies the highest rasa, that of gopīs. Being brought in the line of Rūpa Gosvāmī we appreciate the service of mañjarīs higher than of anyone else but I’m not an expert on exact definition of their rasa. Sometimes they act asexually, is it a deficiency on their part or is it an evolution of their love for Kṛṣṇa? They also don’t see their service as more intimate than that of Śrī Rāḍhā, nor anyone else thinks this way, so it can’t be the highest.

The argument could be made that mañjarīs are actually in dāsya rasa, since all they do is serve someone else, but that is not the conclusion of our ācāryas. Somehow or other they list mañjarī bhāva under śṛṅgāra/madhurya. There are verses describing how mañjarīs, though not engaged in direct contact with Kṛṣṇa, experience the same transcendental emotions as Śrī Rāḍha herself, sometimes even to a higher degree. Again, I’m not an expert and I don’t even understand how I got myself in the position of having to explain it. Way above my paygrade.

Anyway, the point is that saṅkīrtana, and I’m talking mostly about book distribution here, though any kind of preaching would do, too, is exactly like the service of mañjarīs. Saṅkīrtana devotees find suitable souls and introduce them to Kṛṣṇa, thus increasing His and someone else’s transcendental pleasure rather than indulging in their own.

The greatest joy of saṅkīrtana is to see someone else’s soul lit up when hearing about the Lord, see the hunger for Lord’s service suddenly awakening in unsuspecting people. That’s what saṅkīrtana devotees go for – bring bliss of Kṛṣṇa consciousness to other people. Mañjarīs do the same thing, they find someone who catches Kṛṣṇa’s eye and introduce her to Him. Actually, this behavior is attributed to Śrī Rāḍha herself but mañjarīs are her extensions, they all share the same attitude of transcendental humility and eagerness to forgo their own pleasure for the sake of others.

The last verse of Śikṣāṣṭaka comes to mind here, too – if breaking our hearts is what pleases Kṛṣṇa at the moment than we ought to assist Him in this endeavor, and not just ought to but offer our services with enthusiasm. Lord Caitanya displayed the highest levels of bhakti, conjugal love in separation, so if we find similar attitudes in saṅkīrtana then it’s another argument for it to be the rasa of the highest caliber.

The argument can be made here that initial contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness can be intoxicating but it eventually wears off. Shouldn’t we seek more mature displays of devotion than chasing those first impressions? This can be answered in two ways. First is that this initial contact is made in innocence and simplicity. It’s not inferior in any way, it’s just that with passing of time this initial simplicity and implicit faith gets lost and replaced by elaborate speculative constructions that make us into guarantors of devotion – we do things and learn things and deserve positions on devotional ladder. This contaminating attitude is absent on the initial stages where everything is seen as Kṛṣṇa’s grace.

Secondly, it’s not just tiny jīvas little highs that we are after. Kṛṣṇa experience the pleasure of reunion with the lost souls, too. It’s His pleasure that we should be seeking out first and foremost when serving the saṅkīrtana mission. Beginners ecstasy will gradually fade away and get covered by ignorance but Kṛṣṇa’s bliss won’t. One could see saṅkīrtana as making people happy and being pleased with it but one could also see saṅkīrtana as pleasing to the Lord and it’s in this second aspect of it that there’s no limit to the possible ānanda. It’s this ānanda that gets increased at every step – Kṛṣṇa’s ānanda, not ours.

The argument can also be made that we engage in saṅkīrtana on the orders of our guru and if that’s all that drives us then it’s dāsya rasa at best. Fair enough – not everybody gets to taste the bliss of book distribution, most fail miserably. In this case we need to persevere despite the failings and carry out our guru’s orders regardless. We might not qualify for the ultimate bliss this way but we WILL learn to appreciate the taste of selfless service which can raise us to brahma-bhūta platform. One can’t engage in bhakti until one reaches that level anyway, if we are not there yet we have little hope of appreciating saṅkīrtana in full.

Or, perhaps, Lord Caitanya’s saṅkīrtana is pūrna-amṛta and includes both dāsya and madhurya rasas as I argued here, and probably more. One thing is certain – He has given it to us and therefore we all are eligible to partake. It’s only out of foolishness and ignorance that we choose to pursue any other types of service for which we might never get the blessings. I mostly mean those into high end literature but those who settle on deity worship or management, too. Even though these are legitimate engagements but if they exclude saṅkīrtana they will not be fruitful.

Vanity thought #1558. Ranking rasa

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.

Vanity thought #1556. Raso vai sah

Lord Caitanya often invoked this statement from Taittirīya Upaniṣad as proof of the blissful nature of the Absolute. One who knows rasa knows all the bliss and one who knows Kṛṣṇa knows all rasa, it’s further stated there. Or maybe not, but the essential meaning is the same.

Looking for the verse itself I found it in a somewhat different place, not 2.7.1 as given by Śrīla Prabhupāda in this purport, for example. He probably got the number from Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. This translation comes with commentary by Śaṅkarācārya, I’ve read it, still can’t understand how they avoid the conclusion that relationship with the Absolute is eternal. Apparently, they have to reduce rasa to simple, undifferentiated bliss and substitute it with happiness derived from Brahman realization of the Absolute. In our understanding it’s not even ānanda but only “sat”, eternity, and absence of misery that comes with liberation.

To them it’s all the same – rasa, ānanda, sat, Brahman, Self. So many terms without any actual distinction between them, they can’t have all this variety. We can, and we say that they are simply in denial. To us it all makes perfect sense because we are not advaitins, we are eternal souls in eternal relationships with God. Once you declare yourself to be one with God you can’t explain the variety that comes from relationships and so reduce it all to one vague bliss, which isn’t even bliss but absence of suffering, as I already said.

Interestingly, the subject of rasa poses a problem even for fellow vaiṣṇavas of the Madhva sampradāya. It is actually OUR sampradāya but the relationship is not that simple when it comes to rasa-tattva, or, indeed, to the rest of our Gauḍiyā philosophy, too.

When Lord Caitanya traveled in South India He went to Uḍupī, the headquarters of the Tattvavādīs, as followers of Madhvācārya are known. Instead of accepting them as His spiritual preceptors Lord Caitanya defeated them, which is not how we should normally relate to our predecessor ācāryas. At first Tattvavādīs considered Mahāprabhu a māyāvādī sannyasī and avoided talking to Him and only when they noticed His ecstatic love as He danced for the pleasure of their deity. Gopala, that they paid Him any attention.

First thing Caitanya Caritāmṛta says about Tattvavādīs is that they were very proud of their devotion and their knowledge of the scriptures, which is never a good sign. Lord Caitanya politely asked their chief about goal of life. Dedicating one’s life under the rules of vaṛnāśrama-dharma to Kṛṣṇa leads to five types of liberation, ācārya replied. Lord Caitanya, however, offered a different answer – hearing and chanting Kṛṣṇa’s name with nine kinds of devotional service that follow. When one attains this platform of loving devotional service he attains the fifth goal of life, which is premā.

Fruitive activities needs to be given up, and by analyzing duties under varṇāśrama one should come to the conclusion that they should be given up, too, and then Lord Caitanya quoted sarva-dharmān parityajya verse from Bhagavad Gītā. He further expanded on the topic of pure devotional service but offered a way out for the Tattvavādī ācārya at the end – seeing Lord Caitanya as māyāvādī he didn’t offer pure devotion as the ultimate goal of life on purpose, so it wasn’t really the lack of his knowledge but a matter of etiquette. The ācārya accepted everything said by Lord Caitanya as truth and that they, indeed, follow these precepts in their sampradāya.

This is where Lord Caitanya delivered His verdict (CC Madhya 9.276-277):

    Both the fruitive worker and the speculative philosopher are considered nondevotees. We see both elements present in your sampradāya. The only qualification that I see in your sampradāya is that you accept the form of the Lord as truth.

Twice in these verses He used the word tomāra – YOUR sampradāya, not our sampradāya, meaning He clearly saw the difference. The explanation is that the sampradāya got contaminated by non-devotional mentality and as such we can’t pledge our allegiance to it. It doesn’t mean we reject Madvhācārya himself and it doesn’t mean we reject their philosophy, it’s just that they have become deviant in their goals and practices and lost the spirit of pure devotion. If it happens to us we would reject such dead branches, too, and god knows we have plenty of deviants ourselves.

Because Tattvavādīs got even the basics wrong there’s no point in arguing about rasa tattva, they don’t teach it at all. When liberation is considered the highest goal of life, which is a contamination by jñāna, there’s naturally no talk about relationships with the Lord in the spiritual world, they just don’t go that far.

Consequently, they reject rasa as a product of the material guṇas and treat our worship of relationships between Kṛṣṇa and gopīs the same way as māyāvādīs do – it’s not real, it’s just māyā pastimes of saguṇa Brahman. They can’t understand how we can possibly put Śrī Rādhā above Lakṣmī, it sounds ridiculous to them.

I actually understand their bewilderment. The scope of their spiritual inquiry is limited by the universe – what we can experience in pre-liberation stage. In the universal scheme of things Śrī Rādhā is just a cowherd girl, at best she appears once in a day of Brahmā, how can she possibly be greater than Lakṣṃī? How could Kṛṣṇa be greater than Viṣṇu? He is just one of the incarnations, which is true – from the universe perspective.

We, however, look at it from the POV of Goloka, which is far far above not only our universe but innumerable Vaikuṇṭhas that fill the spiritual sky. When we say that Kṛṣṇa or Rādhā are greater than Viṣṇu/Nārāyaṇa and Lakṣṃī we talk about Goloka Kṛṣṇa and Goloka Rādhā, not their appearances within the universe. Tattvavādīs, however, do not have a concept of Goloka, they only see Vṛndāvana as a village in northern India, that’s all.

The rasas enjoyed by Kṛsṇa with His devotees here, therefore, are non-different from rasas enjoyed by ordinary boys and girls and their parents, there’s no way, in Tattvavādīs view, that they can even approach the divinity of Lakṣmī-Nārāyaṇa, let along surpass it. They see these pastimes as temporary and insignificant, in other words as māyā, and that makes them practically māyāvādīs, if not for the acceptance of the eternal existence of Nārāyaṇa, which is the only good thing left in their sampradāya, as stated by Lord Caitanya.

Btw, what I said about them above is not some five hundred year old stuff, it’s what they are saying now.

How do they explain “raso vai saḥ”? I do not know, but the only meaning that makes perfect sense is that the Lord is always engaged in spiritual pastimes with His devotees and these blissful relationships constitute His very nature. Kṛṣṇa is greater than Viṣṇu on the basis of rasa – He gets to experience more varieties of bliss than Nārāyaṇa, while Madhvas and others judge greatness in relation to the observable universe, by the degrees of opulence, power, and control, which is at best dāsya. Followers of Rāmānuja at least appreciate rasa in dāsya, but, unfortunately, not Madhvas.

The only remedy for Tattvavādīs is to accept Lord Caitanya but they somehow can’t come to grips with that, so we get to keep all rasa to ourselves even if sharing it would have been better.

Vanity thought #1554. Baskin Robbins

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.

Vanity thought #1201. Paradigm shift

Paradigm shift – I hate big words like these, they never amount to much in real life, their best place is probably in Dilbert cartoons to be endlessly ridiculed, but sometimes we come across ideas and realizations that can really upend our perception of the world. I think I’ve stumbled across something like that when I suddenly figured that our progression of rasa actually flows in the opposite direction.

Not that it has any obvious practical application but that’s what’s great about ideas – they eventually change the world and it takes a while to comprehend their full impact. After all, Kṛṣṇa consciousness is primarily about changing out attitudes, everything else follows. Here I sense a potentially seismic attitude adjustment and it won’t come about on its own, new ideas need to be internalized and fleshed out, they need to grow and mature, they need to be contemplated and discussed. Here’s my initial attempt.

From the very beginning I assumed that our progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness follows progressive stages. What I mean is that we assume that as we progress we move from lower stages to the higher ones. First it’s sense gratification, then realization of a higher purpose, intellectual enlightenment, then beginnings of devotional service, then gradual transition to madhyama level, then anartha nivṛtti, then growth of attachment to Kṛṣṇa, then development of a particular kind of taste in relationship with Him, and so we rise up step by step until we reach, hopefully, a place in service to gopīs, as befitting devotees in the line of Rūpa Gosvāmī.

For us it always ends there even though we have plenty of Lord Caitanya’s associates who were in parental or fraternal relations with Kṛṣṇa or even in unbreakable bond with Lord Rāmacandra. It’s not for us, we think, we shoot for the stars, we are being prepped for the highest form of devotion, one would be a fool to aim for anything lower than that when all our ācāryas were in that mood.

Then there’s the story of Gopa Kumāra and his gradual progress through the universe to Goloka Vṛndāvana. His example is supposed to be a lesson for us as well as a clear delineation of spiritual hierarchy. He ended up as Kṛṣṇa’s friend, not a lover, but that doesn’t stop us from making our own plans.

Gopa Kumāra traveled up the material universe first, from Indra to Lord Brahmā, then onto to Vaikuṇṭha to Lord Nārāyana, and nowhere he felt truly at home, his soul yearned for something better, something closer to his worshipable Lord. If we aren’t lucky we are bound to repeat his journey, too – first the heavenly planets, then another human birth, possibly stopping by Vaikuṇṭha on the way to Kṛṣṇaloka.

Progression of relationships in Vṛndāvana is similarly described from lowest to the highest. First it’s neutrality, then servitorship, then friendship, then parental attachment, and, finally, conjugal love. Each new step adds something missing on the previous stage.

Animals and trees in neutral love of Kṛṣṇa aren’t engaged in active service most of the time. When the living entity needs to actively serve the Lord it takes the form of His servants, but what is missing on that stage is familiarity. When one’s love grows to see Kṛṣṇa as one’s close companion, forgetting awe and veneration, he becomes Kṛṣṇa’s friend. When he becomes so close to the Lord that he feels not just as equal but as superior and as Lord’s protector he becomes Kṛṣṇa’s parent. When sexual attraction is added to one’s love then he graduates to gopī.

There’s a big side tour to be taken here – do we have to go through all these stages or can we jump straight to our svarūpa? Gopa Kumāra tried everything else first but he stayed in his own form, it just that his form didn’t really fit. Perhaps we’ll follow the similar route even if only in training. Even if we happen to be gopīs we’ll have to learn humble service first, then friendship, then, perhaps, providing care. It will be a long way before we realize our true aspirations, we need to be extremely pure and well trained not to screw it up.

Even for those who were born as gopīs in Kṛṣṇa’s presence participation in pastimes like rasa dance was not guaranteed – training and experience must come first.

Never mind, where was I? Ah, yes, so far I’ve been talking about ascending process through ascending steps, and what I assumed until a couple of days ago was that this staircase to devotion is built from bottom up, gradually adding realizations not available on previous steps.

I now think that this is the wrong way to look at things. The staircase doesn’t go from bottom up but starts from the top and stretches all the way down here. We don’t build it ourselves, it’s like a rope ladder thrown to people drowning in the ocean.

Or think of a fire engine and its telescopic ladder. The usual picture is that it spreads from bottom up but what we should note instead is that it stretches from safety towards people burning in flames. We are those people, it comes towards us.

When we look at devotional progress this way we should realize that ALL forms of devotion come from the fountainhead of all rasas – Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. We get just tiny drops of bhakti but we get it from Her, it’s not ours.

When we look at it this way we should realize that ALL forms of devotion are absolutely perfect, coming from the perfect source. They are not lacking anything, as soon as there’s need, Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī will automatically supply what’s necessary. There’s no such thing as “inferior service” either.

It’s not that we make our own progress, we just get assigned different kinds of service by Her. Needless to say, even a tiny drop of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s mercy can completely satisfy the soul and, most importantly, Kṛṣṇa.

It’s like the Holy Name – we do not demand Kṛṣṇa appear to us separately, we beg for the Holy Name to reveal itself. We know that it contains all Kṛṣṇa’s potencies and is non-different from Him. We never think that once we master the Holy Name we’ll move onto something better and bigger. No, even one tiny drop of realization would be more than enough, there’s nothing better nor bigger than the Holy Name even it appears as only two ordinary looking syllables.

If we see every bit of service is graciously granted to us by Śrī Rādhikā Herself, what more can we possibly want?

In this vision of the world there’s no place for hubris displayed by self-proclaimed rasikas, there’s no trace of disrespect or criticism of any devotee, no guru-shopping, no pride, no envy of others’ service, only deep appreciation of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī’s gifts. Even those rasikas are doing their own part, even outright sāhajīyās serve their purpose, though not immediately obvious.

That’s why I like this idea better and better with every passing day.

Vanity thought #1200. Top shelf stuff

I’m still trying to imagine how otherwise purely spiritual relationships with Kṛṣṇa would manifest in the material world. The reason for this interest is that I’m highly skeptical of how it’s presented among “rasika” devotees.

Their common wisdom goes that we can’t develop love of Kṛṣṇa if we do not hear about His pastimes. They say things like Śrīla Prabhupāda published Kṛṣṇa Book before Bhagavad Gīta because reading about Kṛṣṇa’s life is more important for devotees in our sampradāya than learning philosophy. That argument is wrong, of course, because Gīta was published before Kṛṣṇa Book, and also because Prabhupāda spent far more time lecturing devotees on philosophy than on telling stories from Kṛṣṇa’s life.

Btw, this attachment to good story telling is all-pervasive. When giving Bhāgavatam classes some devotees openly set time aside for stories as opposed to discussing verses themselves. Everybody loves a good story, they assume correctly, but that doesn’t mean they should tell people what they want to hear as opposed to what Kṛṣṇa wants speakers to say. We have Bhāgavatam format set by Śrīla Prabhupāda and this time should be spent on discussing Bhāgavatam, not our personal stories, however inspiring.

There’s a thin line between incorporating episodes from the lives of devotees and Śrīla Prabhupāda into Bhāgavatam related narrative and an unstoppable itch to tell a story anyway. Easy to cross, easy not to cross, too, we just have to be aware of it and approach storytelling responsibly and in spirit of service to the Bhāgavatam, not our impatient tongues.

I love a good story just as anybody else but sometimes it makes me uncomfortable – Bhāgavatm is meant for self-realization, not self-gratification. Otoh, devotees telling inspiring stories are doing legitimate service, too, just possibly at the wrong time in a wrong place, but if they invoke devotional feelings in people’s heart it shouldn’t matter. Time and place don’t have much control over when and where glorification of the Lord can be conducted. Thin line, as I said.

The difference between this kind of storytelling and “rasika” storytelling is that the first kind comes from devotees’ genuine desire to share incredible realizations while the second kind is a matter of sādhana. The more you hear stories about Kṛṣṇa the more you’ll appreciate them, they argue. It’s like training meat-eaters’ kids to eat vegetables – there’s zero appreciation at first but with time they develop new habits and new tastes. It works on everybody, from dogs to adults, but it’s a mechanical, not spiritual process.

Ironically, they hope to develop spontaneous devotion by forcing themselves to hear the same stories over and over again until they come to like them. When they eventually succeed in developing this taste they proclaim themselves as true rasikas, those who relish Kṛṣṇa’s nectarean pastimes.

It also so happens that they concentrate only on top shelf rasa, dealings between Kṛṣṇa and gopīs, and consider everything else as inferior. They wouldn’t listen to Bhāgavatam, because it’s a book for neophytes, let alone Bhagavad Gīta, which is written for non-devotees, I guess. They wouldn’t listen to Kṛṣṇa spending time with His cowherd boyfriends or being nursed by His parents – not our rasa, they claim. We come in the line of Rūpa Gosvāmī and so we should go straight for the honey pot of mādhurya and do not divert our attention to any other flavor.

When I put it this way it’s easy to see why I am extremely skeptical. Personally, I think that a real rasika devotee wouldn’t be able to either tell or listen to Kṛṣṇa related stories, he’d immediately lose his external consciousness. We have plenty of examples from our literature where exalted devotees would start crying and fall on the ground at a mere sight of another soul who equally appreciates these same pastimes, there never had been any talking.

There were conversations between Lord Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya but they were never conducted in public and no one knows their actual content, and no one else was able to speak with the Lord in a similar way. Who among present day rasikas can claim being on the same level as Rāmānanda Rāya? Did Rāmānanda Rāya discussed these topic with anyone else? Who among modern rasikas can claim to be his worthy associate? It’s all nonsense, ideas concocted by people who do not trust in a path chartered for us by our ācāryas.

There’s one devotee who stands out among ISKCON rasikas – Aindra Prabhu who, unfortunately, left us some years ago. He often talked on the subject giving basically the same arguments, but, unlike stock rasikas, he was incensed by suggestions that Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t teach us any higher taste. I feel like he talked about importance of developing rasa only to prove that we in ISKCON are in no way deficient in this area.

I don’t remember him ever talking about Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes themselves, btw. If he did I either didn’t hear it or it was so different from vomit inducing sweetness prevalent in rasika circles that it didn’t even register with me.

Being ISKCON most prominent kīrtanīyā he never sang any bhajanas, only Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. That’s another proof of his unorthodox approach to rasa – it’s all contained in simple words of our ācāryas or in syllables of the mahāmantra and that’s where we should go looking for it. If one is unable to appreciate sweetness of the mahāmantra it’s his problem and it can’t be fixed by artificial sweeteners of wannabe rasa-kathā.

Instead of expanding rasa carrying topics he distilled the essence of ordinary looking instructions. Not long ago I listened to his talk about Prabhāda Mahārāja whose prayers are considered inferior by wannabe rasikas but Aindra managed to explain them as manifestations of Rādhārāṇī’s love for Kṛṣṇa.

Usually rasas are explained incrementally, each higher rasa adding something non-existent in lower rasas but Aindra saw it the other way – inferior rasas stem from superior and so he didn’t see Prahlāda Mahārāja as lacking something comparing to Rādhārāṇī but as carrier of Her original love and compassion.

This looks like a far better, far more mature way to look at the wide spectrum of devotional flavors. Where wannabe rasikas sigh that this or that devotee doesn’t have this or that emotion we should see whatever they do have as a gift from Śrīmatī Rādhika Herself.

When it comes to personal behavior Aindra was also unlike any self-proclaimed rasika. As I mentioned, he didn’t seek taste anywhere outside the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra but the story of his arrival to Vṛndāvana is exemplary, too. He didn’t go there to enjoy rasa, he came as a one man traveling band, with a trunk packed with travel-size instruments, microphones, amplifiers etc. He planned on going from place to place and doing hari-nāma, not telling Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes to a few selected hangers-on. It so happened that he was asked to do 24 hour kīrtan in Vṛndāvana so he got stuck there.

To wrap it up – I do love the approach where we see not inferior rasas and tastes but traces of supreme devotion of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī in everything and in every devotee. I also like that ALL rasas are best expressed through chanting of the Holy Name, no separate story-telling necessary, not beyond what is prescribed by our ācāryas.

Vanity thought #1198. Rasa in a bottle

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

Vanity thought #1197. Science of rasa

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.