Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Raganuga-sadhana-bhakti

those learned in sastra and cognizant of their relationship with Krishna. Even the Brihad-bhagavamrita, mentioned before for its promotion of nama-sankirtana, ends with Bhakti-rasayana, a process of deep meditation on Krishna’s pastimes based on the Bhagavatam. In other words, as the mind becomes sufficiently purified, smarana or concentrated remembrance is recommended, for it not only assists one to further purify the mind27, but it helps a budding realization of one’s spiritual identity become fully mature. Acaryas like Narottama dasa Thakura thus taught the need for focused meditation along with nama-bhajana:

Whatever I contemplate during my spiritual practices, I will attain when I have a spiritual body. That is the path of devotional service. The treasure I hanker for during my sadhana. I will attain in my siddha body. It is simply a matter of being ripe or raw. (Prema-bhakti-candrika, Song 5 Verse 8)

It is interesting to note that along with cautioning his followers repeatedly about the dangers of reaching beyond their level of sraddha in their devotional practices (such as prematurely adopting ashtakaliya- lila-smarana), Srila Bhaktisiddhanta also saw it necessary, at least on one occasion, to warn them about the pitfalls of not practicing to their full potential (such as not adopting ashta-kaliya-lila-smarana when qualified). His lecture delivered at Radha-kunda during the Vraja-mandala parikrama in 1932 should be noted for his effort to make sure that his legacy in terms of raganuga-sadhana would not be misunderstood amidst his fervent opposition to sahajiyism. Three short excerpts of that lecture below demonstrate that attempt:

All these days we have not spoken about lila. Why? Because this is our most confidential asset. This is our only sadhya. But one should not make the mistake of thinking that anartha-nivritti is the prayojana. One thinking like this will never enter into artha-pravritti. For this reason I will begin speaking about ashta-kaliya-lilasmarana.

[…] This is transcendental reality. If we do not know of this transcendental realm, then all of our efforts may end in nirvisesha-vada.

[…] Those who have chanted the harinama for fifteen or twenty years should know such things. The beginners need not hear these topics or they will be misunderstood. (The Gaudiya 1934)

I’ve heard from a number of sources that it was also a standard practice in the Gaudiya Math to read the complete Bhajana Rahasya in the month of Karttika during the time of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. The Bhajana Rahasya is Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s personal guide to nama-bhajana based on the Sikshashtaka. It includes many verses relevant to higher levels of meditation.

To complete the picture of Srila Bhaktisddhanta’s approach to raganuga-sadhana something more needs to be added to the portrait. Bhaktisiddhanta adopted the role of an acarya, in the sense that he thought it was necessary to repackage the principles of Krishna consciousness for his audience.28 To fairly gauge his presentation we thus need to understand his audience.

It is important to note that Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura began his mission at the beginning of the 20th century, which meant that the world was in the early stages of its transition to industrialism, changing from its predominantly agrarian roots for the first time in history. He was thus helping to usher Gaudiya Vaishnavism into modernity, into a world that was becoming increasingly materialistic and impious, both from the standpoint of history and the predictions of sastra.29 An argument could thus be made that at the time of Bhaktisiddhanta, and certainly in the years to come after him, as society became increasingly absorbed in activities for the pleasure of the body (a primary symptom of industrialism) an even stronger stress on sastric cautions regarding the eligibility for raganuga-bhakti was required. The rigid requirements for meditation have already been touched upon by citing references from Sri Bhakti-sandarbha. It could also be contended that a more conservative adjustment was necessary due to the nature of the meditation itself, basically the amorous life of God, a process prone to exploitation for sensual motives, either subtle or gross.

The general hearers of Bhaktisiddhanta’s message, especially as he began his mission in Calcutta, weren’t like the audience that can be seen practicing raganuga-bhakti in scripture such as Jaiva Dharma: renunciates free to practice nama-bhajana day and night in the sublime pastoral ashrams of Godrumadvipa. This raises an interesting question: if the deeper meditations of raganuga-sadhana ideally require such an environment, were even the general associates of Sri Caitanya,