Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Raganuga-sadhana-bhakti

who were, with few notable exceptions, householders, engaged in the types of intense meditation on ashta-kaliya-lila-smarana described in Jaiva Dharma?30 At least in Sri Caitanya’s authorized biographies such descriptions are not revealed. What one does see is his associates immersed in nama-kirtana, especially the nocturnal ones at the house of Srivasa. And when such a level of meditation is witnessed, it is only in the later stage of Sri Caitanya’s life at Puri, where He remained deeply absorbed throughout the night in the mood of Sri Radha. Nourished in His longings by narrations and songs of devotion, and in the company of his most intimate associates, He set the perfect example for the practice and context of internal meditation in Krishna consciousness, one calling for emulation, but at higher levels of renunciation and devotion.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s seeming prudence towards such types of raganuga-sadhana was apparently not just due to the lack of qualification of his audience, or his insistence, like his predecessors, on a stepby- step approach to Krishna consciousness. It was also likely that following his father’s mission, he had imbibed a legitimate concern for the stature of Sri Caitanya’s movement. Although I have not seen a thorough analysis of the condition of Gaudiya Vaishnavism during his time, we do know that it had become substantially marginalized. Srila Bhaktvinoda Thakura could not even locate a copy of the Caitanya-caritamrita, the main text of the tradition! What we do know for certain is how Srila Bhaktisiddhanta viewed the state of contemporary Vaishnavism through the many statements he made vigorously opposing the premature awakening of transcendental mellows. For instance:

Selfish enjoyment of one’s senses in mundane lust is never called prema by the genuine devotee. A bona-fide spiritual master never tells his disciple you are absorbed in the mellows of divine rasa. (Prakrita-rasa-sata-dushini)31

It appears Srila Bhaktisiddhanta perceived another threat to the Vaishnava spiritual community from the premature adoption of raganuga-bhakti. By taking to advanced practices, immature devotees could too easily fall prey to pride, thinking themselves better than others, a serious impediment in spiritual life considering that dainya, utter humility, is the foundation of prema. 32 It is thus significant that when challenged at Radha-kunda about having a siddha-mantra, he quoted the third verse of the Sikshashtaka:

One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor yet is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord. (C.c. Adi 17.31)

Finally, one cannot properly understand the Bhajana-siksha of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, his particular recommendation for spiritual practice (sadhana), without discussing his passion for the wide scale proliferation of kirtana. He certainly considered the propagation of kirtana central for the internal spiritual development of his disciples. The essence of raga-bhakti is the disposition of selfless service to the residents of Vrindavana. He thus viewed the propagation of kirtana, which requires an allconsuming dedication to the service of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna, as a powerful yet safe process to both purify the mind and awaken spontaneous devotion.

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, however, was aware that any activity can be subject to exploitation, not just ragamarga. Missionary activities must thus be accompanied by internal development: Preaching without proper conduct falls within the category of karma, mundane activity. Without criticizing the nature of others, one should correct oneself—this is my personal instruction. (Upadesavali, 8)

Thus although he discouraged solitary bhajana based on ashta-kaliya-lila-smarana, he was a strong proponent of intense nama-kirtana-sadhana for personal purification: “By profusely performing harinama-kirtana upon relinquishing the body, we will experience the ultimate reward of embodied life” (Upadesavali 15).

By doing both kirtana and preaching, he reasoned, one had the best chance to cultivate the selfless absorption in service at the heart of vraja-bhakti. Certainly, this was also the central element of the mission of his eminent disciple Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, who successfully carried Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s teachings to the western world.

Anytime there is a legitimate innovation in presenting spiritual principles, danger lurks both for those who resist change and those who adopt it. The resisters of change risk becoming ineffective in the communication of their principles by keeping them in a format no longer relevant. In