Devotee: Several months ago you wrote an article called, “Hearing from A Rasikācārya” wherein you put great emphasis on the qualifications of the person who hears hari-kathā of a confidential nature. The emphasis was on anartha-nivṛtti, overcoming mundane impediments in the heart. Some persons have complained that you give too much importance to anartha-nivṛtti when in fact if we simply sing songs and discuss about the Lord’s confidential līlās that we will become purified. Does this sound agreeable?
Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: Certainly not. Personally we feel that minimizing anartha-nivṛtti simply amounts to begging the question and nothing more.
Anartha thākara kāle līlā-gāna kore na, “While still contaminated with anarthas, one should never sing songs about the Lord’s confidential pastimes.” This verse was composed by our parama-guru Śrī Siddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura in Prākṛta-rasa Śata-dūṣiṇī, a masterful discussion of one hundred defects of the sahajiyā school.
Although many devotees now propose that purification (anartha-nivṛtti) can be easily dismissed in favor of rasa-vicāra (hearing rāsa-līlā), such a standpoint is taken by Śrī Siddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura to be symptomatic of the sahajiyā practices.
Of course, such devotees are fond of quoting the last verse of the rāsa-līlā chapter of Bhāgavatam wherein it is stated as a benediction that even one with lusty desires becomes purified by hearing with great faith the Lord’s pastimes with the gopīs. However, the bona-fide ācāryas always stress the Holy Name (with great faith and surrender) as the central focus in devotional life. To date no one has shown us where an ācārya has established a method of practice for conditioned souls based only on the principle of hearing līlā-kathā.
Jīva Gosvāmī has been quoted as stating that hearing rasa-kathā is one of the most powerful forms of sādhana. This is certainly true, but qualification of the hearer is still required. All the bona-fide ācāryas since the time of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī have promulgated respect for the developmental practices of bhakti-yoga, and they have cautioned us to avoid jumping over any particular stage.
In Bhakti-sandarbha, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī outlines the gradual process to spiritual realization:
prathamaṁ nāmnaḥ śravaṇam antaḥkaraṇa-śuddhy-artham apekṣyam /
śuddhe cāntaḥ-karaṇe rūpa-śravaṇena tad-udaya-yogyatā bhavati /
samyag-udite ca rūpe guṇānāṁ sphuraṇaṁ sampadyate /
sampanne ca guṇānāṁ sphuraṇe parikara-vaiśiṣṭyena tad-vaiśiṣṭyaṁ sampadyate /
tatas teṣu nāma-rūpa-guṇa-parikareṣu samyak sphuriteṣu līlānāṁ sphuraṇaṁ suṣṭhu bhāvati //
“First it is expected that one should hear the Lord’s Names in order to purify the heart. Once the mind and intelligence have been purified in this way, one can hear about Kṛṣṇa’s form, through which one’s qualification to visualize it is obtained. When the form of the Lord has been clearly visualized, one can experience His qualities. Once these have been clearly understood, one develops one’s own individual spiritual characteristics through the particular characteristics of the Lord’s associates. Thus, once the Name, form, qualities and associates of the Lord have been realized, a clear realization of Kṛṣṇa’s activities will follow.”
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura confirms:
adhikāra avicāra rūpānugā kore nā
anartha-anvita dāse rasa-śīkṣā deya nā
“The followers of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī are never neglectful in assessing anyone’s spiritual qualifications. The followers of Śrī Rūpa never instruct a servant who is engrossed in material impediments about the science of rasa.” (Prākṛta-rasa Śata-dūṣiṇī 56)
rati āge, śraddhā pāche rūpānugā bole nā
krama patha chāḍi siddhi rūpānugā bole nā
“The followers of Śrī Rūpa never preach that transcendental attachment is reached before one develops pure faith. The rūpānugās never teach that the perfection of devotion can be reached by abandoning the consecutive order of developmental stages on the path.” (Prākṛta-rasa Śata-dūṣiṇī 33)
sādhana chāḍile bhāva udaya to haya nā
rāgānugā jānile-i sādhana to chāḍe nā
“If the preliminary practices of devotional service (sādhana) are neglected, then the awakening of ecstatic emotions (bhāva) can never occur. Even one who has attained realization of spontaneous devotional service (rāgānugā-bhakti) should never give up practicing the regulative principles of devotional service.” (Prākṛta-rasa Śata-dūṣiṇī 63)
The most practical evidence which may indeed help us to arrive at a final conclusion as to with whom and where the higher līlā of the Supreme Lord can be discussed, might be as easy as walking down Bhaktisiddhānta Road in Māyāpura. The Gauḍīya Maṭha mission with all its branches (including ISKCON) on Bhaktisiddhānta Road, together with Caitanya Sārasvata Maṭha and Devānanda Gauḍīya Maṭha in Koladvīpa, were originally inspired by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. For close to one hundred years the mission he established has been functioning with its various branches, and in none of those establishments do we find lavish discussions on rāsa-līlā, mañjarī-bhāva, and all such things going on in public or in the presence of unqualified devotees. Recently, this has become somewhat of a novelty in the western countries among certain groups, but it is far from the standard practices established by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta.
Action speaks louder than words. The missions of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda, Śrīla B. R. Śrīdhara Deva Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla B. P. Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla B. D. Mādhava Mahārāja, Śrīla B. S. Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Śrīla B. P. Keśava Mahārāja and all others in the illustrious line of the Śrī Caitanya Sārasvata paramparā have put into action in all of their institutions the concept of pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge. “The path of rāga-mārga, spontaneous love of God, must always be kept above our head, observing a respectful distance.”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja many times commented as follows: “The real existence of Bhaktisiddhānta is there in this verse, pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge.” Although unknown to some devotees in the western world, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja kept the pūjala-rāga-patha verse as the motto of his maṭha, engraved on an arch above the kīrtana hall.
Beginning sometime in 1981, greatly fortunate western devotees began to hear from the lotus lips of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja many of the intricate points of pure devotion and spontaneous love of God (rāgānugā and rūpānugā-bhajana) following in the line of Śrī Rūpa-Raghunātha. In the years that followed, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja revealed a great treasure of the inner wealth of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism to the western world. Such noteworthy gems of siddhānta were drawn to our attention by the grace of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, such as the mādhurya commentary (Nigūḍārtha) on Brahma-gāyatrī – the acme of dedication as found in our prayojanācārya, Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī, and the mood of Rādhā-dāsyam, Rādhā-pāda-sevā, the service of Śrī Rādhā.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja revealed these and many more charming and beautiful aspirations of pure devotion. But with every breath came “ pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge.” Do not rush ahead, fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Do not become a fool —follow the angels.
Whenever asked about the path of rāgānugā-bhakti, Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja always responded in the same way: “pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge— The path of rāga-mārga, spontaneous love of God, must always be kept above our head, observing a respectful distance.” There was never any other explanation of rāgānugā-bhakti coming from the lotus mouth of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja than this.
Once, when Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was asked to speak about the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa he replied as follows:
“I am sorry, but we are not to enter into the discussion of such higher and subtle position of the līlā of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa. That is not to be brought into public, and that is the distinction between Gauḍīya Maṭha and the sahajiyā section. The sahajiyās are trying to imitate all these things, but we have no faith in imitation. The higher līlā will come in an individual case, and it will awaken in an irresistible way. When the program of the sādhana stage is finished it will come automatically, spontaneously. We are believers in that, and not to know the form already and then we will reach there. That is not the policy accepted by Guru Mahārāja, Prabhupāda. pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has also said, ‘Stick to the rulings of the class you are fit for, then you will see automatically.’”
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja has also quoted the following śloka:
yathā yathā gaura-padāravinde
vindeta bhaktiṁ kṛta-puṇya-rāśiḥ
tathā tathot-sarpati hṛdya-kasmād
(Śrī Caitanya-candrāmṛta 88)
“Strictly stick to Gaura-līlā, Mahāprabhu, and you will automatically find within your heart that Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi is flowing. Don’t attempt directly to have it. It will come automatically, spontaneously. Not intellectually you shall approach that, for that will give you a bad prejudice. Not only that, but it will be harmful prejudice and you will have to expend more energy to do away with that layer of misunderstanding. So our Śrīla Prabhupāda did not allow these things. Do your duty in your plane, according to what you deserve, and that will come naturally. That is his instruction all through, not only temporarily, but all through. Don’t do like that, for then you will get māyā instead of yogamāyā.”
It appears that many western advocates of rāga-mārga are not very familiar with the books of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, or with those of Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. Some may say that Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja was only a philosopher, while they themselves are rasika-bhaktas, but such a statement is more telling of one’s ambition than of one’s position as a real ācārya.
Pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge is not merely a warning, so that one might not make a mistake and go forward prematurely, although it certainly is that also. Pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge is a direction that implies the recognition of an intrinsic quality, a fundamental aspect of the nature of the soul. The soul (taṭasthā-jīva) is not a pārṣada of Kṛṣṇa or of Rādhā. The position of the jīva is that of a humble servitor —a little distant and below.
The place of residence of the liberated jīva in the Gauḍīya-paramparā is Govardhana, not Rādhā-kuṇḍa. And the service of the jīva there is also selected according to the necessity of the master. So to practice pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge in this life will bring about the greatest fortune for all conditioned souls and prepare us (in the sense of making us fit) for eternal service in the spiritual realm.
Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja commented that this conception (pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge) should be preached in every nook and cranny of the world for all time. It is not something to dismiss so easily. If we do dismiss this instruction, then it is we who are the losers.
It came as a shock to us when one evening, while sitting in Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja’s room in Māyāpura, he mentioned that those sannyāsīs who want to hear rāsa-līlā but are actually not qualified will have to take the risk of becoming mundane women in their next birth. They will not, he said, get the aprākṛta-gopī-svarūpa. They will attain just the opposite, the material body of a woman.
Sannyāsa itself is the life of pure devotion, a life of service to Guru and Kṛṣṇa, twenty-four hours a day. Yet we see in these unfortunate times that a man gives up his vows of sannyāsa, then enjoys the shackles of marital life for some years, criticizes pure devotees and their followers, and then reappears on the scene after a decade or two, but this time as a rāgānugā-bhakta. We are not impressed.
The real question is why do those who want kṛṣṇa-līlā resent it when stress is placed on purity first, anartha-nivṛtti? First deserve and then desire. Is it too much to ask? Purity is the price one has to pay. The actual price one has to pay for eternal life is surrender to one’s guru.
prasanna haile guru sarva-siddhi haya’
gaura-kṛṣṇa-kṛpā tāṅre haya suniścaya
“If the guru is satisfied with his disciple, then all perfections are possible. Without any doubt, Gaura and Kṛṣṇa’s mercy will be showered upon him.” (Śrīla B. P. Purī Gosvāmī Mahārāja, Of Love and Separation, p. 131)
To establish the process of hearing from a rasikācārya, some devotees have given evidence from Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura. In this regard Śrīla Purī Mahārāja has stated as follows:
“Āpnāder videśe ek-ti prākṛta-sahajiyā-dol śṛṣṭha ho’yechhe.” In your foreign countries there has appeared a party of prākṛta-sahajiyāism. And it is not a matter of inventing something; what they speak is there in 10th Canto, in the works of the Gosvāmīs, and Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura. But the very fact of their speaking such higher topics to unprepared audiences, ignoring the glories of the Holy Name, Who is the only real path to this higher līlā, is nāmāparādha. Mahāprabhu never did like this. He was relishing these topics with few of His antaraṅga-bhaktas, and He was inspiring masses to perform nāma-saṅkīrtana, and Himself performed saṅkīrtana with great numbers of people. Pracāra should be nāma-pracāra. Remember: I don’t like pseudo-Vaiṣṇavism. I don’t like pseudo-Vaiṣṇavism. I don’t like pseudo-Vaiṣṇavism.”
So it is safe to say that those who are actually followers of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and also of Śrīla Purī Mahārāja will not go to such places where the intimate līlās of the Supreme Lord are being discussed among unqualified persons. We might add that the standard of our Guru Mahārāja, Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedānta Svāmī Prabhupāda, was no different than that of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, Śrīla Purī Mahārāja or of any of the stalwart followers of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.
There is a fundamental defect in those who quote Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura in an attempt to justify their involvement with rasa-vicāra (discussions of rāsa-līlā), and that is that they are jumping over the head of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura.
But this is not the first time such a mistake has been made. There is the precedent of Harivaṁśa and his followers. Harivaṁśa was a disciple of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī who took support for engaging in rasa-vicāra from Prabodhānanda Sarasvatīpāda, but failed to follow Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī. Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja explains:
“That sort of deviation is found in many places in the succession. Just as there is one Harivaṁśa, he was a disciple of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa. But he practically deviated. It is thought that he is supported by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa’s guru, Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī, who was a great devotee, and who has written many books: Rādhā-rasa-sudhā-nidhi and many books of high-style writing are there. He supported Harivaṁśa to a certain extent, who was a disciple of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa. There is a line from Harivaṁśa. Harivaṁśa was not accepted in-toto by Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, who was guru of Harivaṁśa. Another branch, as if coming down from Harivaṁśa, they are known as Hari-vaṁśinī. Theoretically they have recognition of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, but practically there is some deviation. They are more addicted to the rasa-vicāra (discussion of līlā). But Gopāla Bhaṭṭa, the direct connection (his true followers), they are very careful to deal with this rasa, high type. Just as our Guru Mahārāja, he is very cautious about how to deal with the higher rasa, pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge. That rasa should be kept always over our heads.”
The standard for dealing with the higher subjective plane of reality has been given to us by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. He has come down from the eternal līlās of Lord Gaurāṅga to show us how to adjust our relationship with the Absolute Truth, the super subjective plane of reality, pūjala rāga-patha gaurava bhaṅge.
There are no losers among those who accept the path shown by Sarasvatī Ṭhākura. When you are qualified you will be accepted in that higher realm: back to home, back to Godhead.
However, if you are not qualified but still insist on engaging in higher topics of discussion, then you are, in effect, creating a disturbance in the Lord’s līlā. Unfortunately in your next life you will get the corresponding body in material nature.
It is also stated in the book Śrī Vraja Maṇḍala Parikrama by Śrīpāda Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, as follows:
“So whenever the Vaiṣṇavas are discussing any topic, it is correct to approach that assembly in a mood of reverence. My Guru Mahārāja (Śrīla Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Mahārāja) instructed us never to read the 10th Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.”
“I remember that although he restricted us from reading these particular pastimes it was not because he was forbidding us from reading it; but it was just to make sure that we would be extremely careful in approaching these subjects with the utmost care and reverence without a tinge of mundane contamination.”
“Therefore these topics and this sentiment should be carefully exposed and partially hidden; but nevertheless they must be revealed according to time and circumstance, taking into consideration each individual’s qualifications and eligibility.”
We are not saying one should never hear kṛṣṇa-līlā. What we are saying is that one should first be concerned with attaining the proper qualifications necessary to enter such a high plane of existence. It should not be considered cheaply. Why some devotees are so adamantly opposed to the emphasis of attaining the basic qualifications before entering into higher topics prematurely is shocking —when all members of the Gauḍīya Maṭha sampradāya know the real standard— first deserve and then desire.