There is a criticism of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in certain Gaudiya Vaishnava circles, concerning his approach to sadhana. In short, the claim is that by overemphasizing vaidhi bhakti he did not faithfully pass down the traditional teachings on the practice of raganuga-bhakti. This is not a minor criticism. After all, raganuga-bhakti is precisely what Sri Caitanya came to give. To fairly judge Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's approach to raganuga-bhakti I suggest that we must start by examining what Sri Caitanya's immediate successors taught, especially Sri Rupa, as they were the ones entrusted to codify and establish His teachings. The intention of this paper is to explore such teachings, in order to demonstrate that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's approach to raganuga-bhakti—his emphasis on kirtana and his strong cautions regarding smarana—is firmly within the bounds of Gaudiya tradition. Moreover, I will suggest that it is especially warranted given the historical circumstances in which he developed his mission.
Sri Rupa Gosvami’s main description of raganuga-sadhana-bhakti is found in the second wave of the first division of Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. All Gaudiya developments in the practice of raganuga-sadhana stem from this account. Sri Rupa naturally begins his description with the qualification to adopt the practice:
The basic prerequisite for practicing raganuga-bhakti is simply a genuine longing (lobha) for a mood of devotion similar to that of one of the eternal residents of Vraja.” (B.r.s. 1.2.291)1
He next describes the symptoms of such lobha:
The appearance of greed (lobha) is shown when one’s impetus to execute devotional service no longer rests on scriptural rule and logic, but is reliant solely on one’s natural attraction for serving Krishna. (B.r.s. 1.2.292)
Such yearning to serve Sri Krishna in a manner akin to a specific devotee in Vraja arises in the heart by faithfully hearing scriptures such as Srimad-Bhagavatam where such perfect devotees are described.2 This also implies associating with qualified Vaishnavas who know scripture and can instill faith.
Immediately following his discussion of eligibility, Sri Rupa, in three verses, gives his seminal description of how to practice raganuga-bhakti. In the first of these verses he explains the basis of raganuga-sadhana:
One should constantly hear about and remember Vraja-Krishna and one of His dear associates whose devotion one genuinely craves. This practice should be done while living in Vraja. (B.r.s. 1.2.294)
Living in Vraja also implies residing there within the mind if one is not able to physically live there.3
He elaborates in the second verse what following a resident of Vrindavana entails:
One should emulate the activities of an eternal resident of Vrindavana (vrajalokanusaratah) both externally in one’s physical body (sadhaka-rupa) and internally in one’s perfected body (siddha-rupa) coveting that specific eternal associate’s particular mood of devotion (tad-bhava-lipsuna). (B.r.s. 1.2.295)
For example, if one develops a strong desire (lobha) for manjari-bhava, the mood and activities of the younger gopis such as Sri Rupa Manjari, one should first, in his or her present body (sadhaka-rupa), follow in the footsteps of Srila Rupa Gosvami. In other words, one should chant, hear, and perform other devotional services while emulating his life as a resident of Vrindavana at the time of Sri Caitanya. The raganuga-sadhaka legitimately coveting the devotion of Sri Rupa Manjari also serves internally in a spiritual body (siddha-rupa), which is necessary for meditation on one’s personal seva to Radha and Krishna in Sri Rupa Manjari’s footsteps (and devotional attitude).
It should be noted that siddha-rupa is not exactly referring to one’s eternal spiritual body (siddha-deha), but to a body developed by internal meditation under the direction of the spiritual master based on one’s eternal relationship with Krishna. If the siddha-rupa was the fully manifested spiritual body, or the goal of practice, then what would be the need to practice in the first place?
Finally, the third verse instructs the raganuga-sadhaka to not reject vaidhi bhakti, but to accept with discrimination those practices that nourish one’s maturing eternal relationship with Krishna. For example, one who is aspiring to serve Krishna in the mood of Mother Yasoda will not give up Deity worship, but will worship the form of Krishna as a small child (Bala-Krishna)