Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Raganuga-sadhana-bhakti

Or the statement by Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja:

The Absolute Truth is Sri Krishna, and loving devotion to Sri Krishna exhibited in pure love is achieved through congregational chanting of the holy name, which is the essence of all bliss. (C.c.Adi 1.96)

According to Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti, the practices of devotion can independently awaken one’s eternal relationship with the Lord, as implied by Sri Uddhava in a discussion with Sri Krishna. You appear in two features—externally as the acarya and internally as the Supersoul— to deliver the embodied living being by directing him how to come to You. (S.B. 11.29.6)

Visvanatha comments:

Thus, according to the words of Srila Uddhava Mahasaya, some receive instructions from the mouth of Srila Gurudeva, some attain all knowledge through hearing from the mouth of an anuragi-bhakta who is conversant with the feelings to be followed, and in some, whose consciousness has become purified through the practice of devotion, the knowledge manifests by itself. (Raga-Vartma-Candrika, text 1.9)23 In other words, this key verse in Visvanatha’s seminal treatise on raga-marga affirms three ways in which one can realize one’s eternal relationship with Krishna:

1) Revealed by the initiating spiritual master (externally)

2) Revealed by another advanced Vaishnava (externally)

3) Revealed by the Lord in the heart in response to one’s sincere devotional practices (internally)

Even if Srila Bhaktisiddhanta did not directly give his disciples their siddha-rupa—and the best one can say is that it is not known for sure if he ever did—on the basis of sastra (above) it can still be argued that by giving his disciples the standard practices of devotion based on nama-kirtana he was leading them to the internal manifestation of their siddha-rupa. In this way he would also be avoiding the risk of artificially putting an advanced meditation in the hands of the unqualified. And he would not be alone in this choice, both within and beyond the Gaudiya Vaishnava world. The Vallabhas and Nimbarkas, the only other two Vaishnava lines offering raga-marga, also prescribe the path of internal revelation by the practice of devotional service.

In one sense there is no difference in the path of revelation by the acarya (externally) and the path of revelation by the Supersoul (internally). The spiritual master is the external manifestation of the Supersoul. The Supersoul is the internal manifestation of the spiritual master. Both are equal manifestations of Sri Krishna to bestow divine wisdom. Thus in either case it is ultimately Krishna revealing to a qualified soul his or her spiritual identity when he or she is ready. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s criticism of ekadasa-bhava was therefore certainly not that the acarya was incapable of serving as a medium for the revelation of a qualified disciple’s spiritual identity. It was a censure against the attempt to supersede Krishna’s will by the indiscriminate and premature imposition of a specific role in Krishna-lila upon those obviously not fit:

A Vaishnava should never speak on rasa to one who has pliable faith. A Vaishnava should never attempt to bestow qualification for rasa upon one who is unqualified to receive it. (Prakrita-rasa-sata-dusini)24

This practice of the detailed revelation of one’s svarupa at initiation usually finds its justification from the definition of diksha from the agama quoted by Sri Jiva in Sri Bhakti-sandarbha. There diksha is defined as the process of bestowing divya-jnana (divine wisdom). The definition of divya-jnana is further expanded by reference to the Padma Purana as “awareness of the Lord’s constitutional identity and one’s specific relation with the Lord transmitted through a mantra”. 25 Certainly initiation into the diksha mantras of a particular Vaishnava lineage gives one the form of God to be worshiped in that line and the potentiality to awaken that specific relationship, in our case Vrajendra-nandana Krishna, but that cannot mean the revelation of one’s spiritual identity before one has the legitimate eagerness to appreciate it. We have already documented (B.r.s. 1.2.291) that intense eagerness (lobha) is the pre-requisite for entering the path to such revelation. 26

Although Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had good reasons for establishing boundaries for advanced practices, it would also be a mistake to think he was divorcing himself from the rich tradition of devotional meditations practiced by Sri Caitanya and His followers. After-all, the six Gosvami’s left a mine of literary treasures for guided meditation under the direction of