Raganuga sadhana bhakti is a devotional practice wherein an advanced devotee develops a genuine desire to serve Krishna just like the eternal residents of Vrindavan. So, the advanced devotee endeavours to cultivate the mood of a brajvasis of Goloka Vrindavan. Raganuga sadhana bhakta’s desire and attraction to serve Krishna is natural and spontaneous. This stage is achieved only when one has developed deep love and attachment for Krishna. And also is free from all material contaminations.
Raganuga Bhakti Explained
Raganuga bhakti cannot be practiced artificially. In Raganuga bhakti, an advanced devotee tries to serve Krishna by following the footsteps of an eternal associate of Krishna in Vrindavan. One may follow the footsteps of Nanda or Yashoda or Krishna’s cowherd friends or gopis. By serving Krishna following the footsteps of Krishna’s eternal associate, a devotee will also eventually get qualified to serve Krishna in that rasa in the spiritual world. Srila Prabhupada explains, “There is a gradual development of the ambition to become like a particular devotee, and this activity is called raganuga.” Nectar of Devotion, Chapter Sixteen. So, Raganuga bhakti develops gradually.
Srila Prabhupada elaborately explains in the purport of Sri Chaitanya Charitamṛta, Madhya Lila 22.153. “Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Ṭhakura says that a devotee is attracted by the service of the inhabitants of Vrindavana — namely the cowherd men, Maharaja Nanda, mother Yashoda, Radharaṇi, the gopis and the cows and calves. An advanced devotee is attracted by the service rendered by an eternal servitor of the Lord. This attraction is called spontaneous attraction. Technically it is called svarupa-upalabdhi. This stage is not achieved in the beginning. In the beginning one has to render service strictly according to the regulative principles set forth by the revealed scriptures and the spiritual master. By continuously rendering service through the process of vaidhi bhakti, one’s natural inclination is gradually awakened. That is called spontaneous attraction, or raganuga bhakti.”
Difference between Ragatmika-bhakti and Raganuga bhakti
There are two terminologies – Ragatmika-bhakti and Raganuga bhakti. Ragatmika-bhakti is practiced by the eternal residents of Vrindavan who are perfected devotees. Raganuga bhakti is means following the footsteps of ragatmika bhaktas. For example, Nanda Maharaj and mother Yashoda are practicing ragatmika bhakti. Now, if an advanced devotee develops a desire to serve Krishna like a parent in Vrindavan then he will follow the footsteps of either Nanda Maharaj or Mother Yashoda. This practice will be called as raganuga bhakti.
Skanda Purana tells the story of a man who was living in Hastinapur. He developed a desire to serve Lord Krishna as his son. Sage Narada explained him that to serve Krishna like a parent, he should follow the footsteps of Nanda Maharaj. He followed the instruction of the sage and achieved desired result. Here it should be noted that the man did not want to become Nanda Maharaj. But he wanted to serve like Nanda Maharaj.
So, an advanced devotee does not want to become Yashoda, Nanda or Lalita sakhi in Vrindavan. Instead, they follow their footsteps, perfect their lives and become qualified to serve like them eternally in Vrindavan.
Who is eligible to practice raganuga bhakti?
“ When an advanced, realized devotee hears about the affairs of the devotees of Vrindavana — in the mellows of santa, dasya, sakhya, vatsalya and madhurya — he becomes inclined in one of these ways, and his intelligence becomes attracted. Indeed, he begins to covet that particular type of devotion. When such covetousness is awakened, one’s intelligence no longer depends on the instructions of śāstra [revealed scripture] or on logic and argument.”
So, one of the most important requirements is to have intense longing to serve Krishna like a particular resident of Vrindavan. When one develops that deep genuine craving then one starts following the footsteps of Krishna’s eternal associate of Vrindavan.
Freedom from anartha nivritti is must
Raganuga bhakti can be practiced by only those devotees who are very advanced and pure. In the nine stages of bhakti there is a stage called anartha nivritti. It is the stage where devotees have to struggle the most. It is not easy to get free from anarthas like lust, greed, pride, anger, envy, illusion. But after determined practice of bhakti, one is able to pass the stage of anartha nivritti.
One cannot even think of practicing raganuga bhakti unless one has crossed the stage of anartha nivritti. For raganuga bhakti, freedom from all material contamination is a must. Practicing devotees like us still have desire to enjoy this material world. We are still struggling with anarthas, so we cannot serve Krishna spontaneously. So, it is recommended that we practice bhakti as per the direction of the spiritual master and the scriptures.
However, an advanced devotee can practice raganuga bhakti, but Srila Prabhupada cautions that even if one has become completely pure and is eligible to practice raganuga bhakti still he should follow the principles of sadhana bhakti. At our stage we should not think that we have become qualified to practice raganuga bhakti and foolishly try to imitate Krishna’s eternal associates in Vrindavan.
Srila Prabhupada on siddha pranali
There are certain people residing in Vrindavan who follow a process call siddha pranali. In siddha pranali they imagine that eternally they are gopis or gopas of Vrindavan. Or they think that be imitating goipis and gopas or eternal residents of Vrindavan they will become like them. And so, they start imitating their behaviour externally. Since they are not pure, their activities create disturbance in the society. Sometimes we see that some people start claiming that it is revealed to them that they are gopis of Vrindavan. Not just women, even men start claiming. So, men dress like gopis. They wear saris, nose rings, earrings and decorate themselves like gopis. None of the Vaisnava acharyas have approved this.
There are some pseudo gurus in Vrindavan who claim that they can reveal the eternal swarupa (identity) of a person in Vrindavan or can train a person to become a gopi or gopa. There are instances that some Iskcon devotees too get carried away by the unscrupulous teachings of such unauthorized gurus and start imitating the footsteps of eternal associates of Krishna.
For example, one of the devotees who had come to Vrindavan with Srila Prabhupada, one day started making the sound of a peacock and started behaving like a peacock.
When he was asked why he is doing so then the devotee said that one of the guru’s in Vrindavan told him that his real identity is of a peacock in Vrindavan. And so he should practice becoming a peacock in this life. When Srila Prabhupada heard, he disapproved this and said this is nonsense.
As a practicing devotee we should first practice the regulative principles of sadhana bhakti diligently and get free from all the anarthas.
Iskcon devotees should never give up sadhana bhakti
In fact, the acharyas have said that even if one has become pure and is completely qualified for raganuga bhakti, still he should follow the principles of sadhana bhakti. Srila Prabhupada gives following guidelines to advanced devotees, “….he should always continue to act as a neophyte devotee as long as his material body is there. Activities in devotional service under regulative principles must be followed even by the pure devotee.”
So, for all the devotees of Iskcon irrespective of their number of years of practice, Srila Prabhupada has instructed that they should follow the regulative principles of sadhana bhakti given in the scriptures. This is why we see many Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, Iskcon Sannyasis although are very advanced but they still practice vaidhi sadhana bhakti. They attend mangal arati, Narasimha arati, Tulasi arati, darshana, arati, guru puja and chant 16 rounds of Hare Krishna Mahamantra daily. They do not neglect any guideline laid down by Srila Prabhupada.
Referring to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Ṭhakura’s explanation to Sri Chaitanya Charitamṛta, Madhya Lila 22.165, Srila Prabhupada says, “Externally a devotee performs all the items of devotional service in nine different ways, beginning with sravaṇa and kirtana, and within his mind he always thinks of his eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa and follows in the footsteps of the devotees of Vṛndavana.”
Importance of attachment to nine process of devotional service
Prahlada Maharaja says that there are nine process of devotional service – sravanam (hearing), kirtanam(chanting), visnu smaranam (remembering), pada sevanam (serving the lotus of the Lord), arcanam (deity worship), vandanam (praying), dasyam (serving the Lord as a servant), sakhyam (serving as a friend) and atma nivedanam (surrendering everything to the Lord).
There are examples of devotees who attained complete perfection by following one of these processes
- sravanam (hearing),- Maharaj Parikshit
- kirtanam(chanting)- Sukhadeva Goswami
- visnu smaranam (remembering): Prahlad Maharaja
- pada sevanam (serving the lotus of the Lord): Lakshmi
- arcanam (deity worship): Prithu Maharaj
- vandanam (praying): Akrura
- dasyam (serving the Lord as a servant): Hanuman
- sakhyam (serving as a friend): Arjuna
- atma nivedanam (surrendering everything to the Lord): Bali Maharaj
Maharaj Ambarisa followed all the process and attained perfection.
Srila Prabhupada says that among these nine process a devotee should chose the one which he likes the most. And then earnestly follow that process of devotional service. In this way he can become a pure and perfected devotee.
Raganuga bhakti is an advanced stage of devotional practice. Two most important qualification to practice raganuga bhakti are:
- Intense craving to serve Krishna in a particular relationship like the eternal residents of Vrindavan
- Freedom from all material contaminations.
One cannot practice raganuga bhakti artificially. Srila Prabhupada and great Vaisnava acharyas have said that even if someone is qualified to practice raganuga bhakti, still he should not give up the principles of Vaidhi bhakti. So, we see that many advanced devotees of Iskcon who have been sincerely practicing bhakti for than 50 years follows all the rules and regulations of vaidhi sadhana bhakti.