Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Raganuga-sadhana-bhakti

with maternal affection. Similarly, one aspiring for the mood of the gopis will continue chanting and hearing about Krishna, but will mostly select songs and readings about the pastimes of Radha and Krishna.4

Srila Rupa Gosvami outlined the basic principles of raganuga-bhakti, as seen above. The details of the practice developed in various ways based on his outline. For example, in perhaps one of the most popular practices of raganuga-sadhana today, the guru reveals to the spiritual aspirant at the time of initiation (or soon thereafter) the eleven characteristics (ekadasa-bhava) of one’s spiritual identity, including such details as one’s name, parents, dress, service, and so on.

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura himself was initiated into this process and discusses its history in chapter thirty-nine of his novel Jaiva Dharma. He explains that Sri Caitanya initially entrusted the teaching of worship in raga-marga (rasamaya-upasana) to Svarupa Damodara. Svarupa Damodara in turn taught the external path, one of the parts of this worship,5 to Vakresvara Gosvami who passed it on to Gopala Guru, whose disciple, Dhyanacandra Gosvami, finally wrote the basic step-by-step manual of this lineage. This is where the adoption of ekadasa-bhava is first formally described as a recommended practice.

As the basic system outlined in Dhyanachandra’s paddhati, which includes initiation into ekadasabhava, is still quite prominent among the various practitioners of raganuga-bhakti, especially those connected with Radha-kunda, the followers of this process often profess to be “the traditionalists” of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. This method of worship based on initiation into ekadasa-bhava, however, though rooted in the teachings of the six Gosvamis, is a practice developed in depth after them. Nowhere in their books is it explicitly described. 6

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, wary of the effects of prematurely dwelling on the Lord’s intimate pastimes, especially in more modern times where people are generally less pious, often spoke strongly against the premature introduction of ekadasa-bhava, such as giving it indiscriminately at the beginning of a person’s spiritual life. After all, his father, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, dedicated himself to restoring the dignity of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, which had been cheapened in the public eye by various deviant Gaudiya Vaishnava sects. Among the various deviations, it was not uncommon even to find the spiritual erotic in Radha-Krishna-lila misinterpreted as a license for mundane sex.

Besides its gross misuse, Bhaktisiddhanta saw other reasons to be cautious in approaching raganugasadhana prematurely. To meditate on one’s siddha-rupa in relation to Krishna’s pastimes is the devotional item of concentrated remembrance called smarana.7 Smarana entails controlling the mind by withdrawing the external senses from all engagement during one’s practice. If one adopts this process before the heart is purified, his or her desires will inevitably force the mind outward to the senses in the course of meditation. As the meditator’s senses have already been withdrawn from devotional activity— unlike during kirtana, for example, where all the senses are engaged in devotional activity—the premature practitioner of smarana has no recourse but to dwell on the mundane. Therefore, Srila Jiva Gosvami, the foremost devotional scholar in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, in his main treatise on bhakti cautions:

A pure heart is required, however, for remembrance (smarana). Therefore, it is not as effective as kirtana. (Sri Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuccheda 276) 8

And what is that purification? One must first cleanse the heart by devotional practices that engage the senses. He thus also writes in the same text:

“If one’s heart has become pure by surrender, sadhu-sanga, and hearing and singing the names, forms, attributes and pastimes of the Lord, one can perform smarana, or remembrance of the Lord” (Sri Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuccheda 274). 9

The practice of raganuga-sadhana-bhakti, as described by Srila Rupa Gosvami (B.r.s. 1.2.295), which entails meditation on one’s siddha-rupa, is thus an advanced process and not recommended until one is qualified.10

Interestingly, although there is a high qualification for smarana, and smarana is the basis of raganugabhakti, Srila Rupa Gosvami never mentions mental purity as a pre-requisite for raganuga-bhakti.11 He simply describes the qualification as a genuine longing (lobha) for service in Vrindavana. There is no contradiction, however. Although obtaining a genuine eagerness to achieve the service of an eternal resident of Vrindavana is not exclusively dependent