Question: We are reading the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu in a workshop. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has ten practices considered “primary in the beginning”—including worship of the banyan tree, etc. Then he speaks of the last five practices as having “extraordinary and incomprehensible power.”
My question is, why are śravaṇa, smaraṇam (smṛti), and dhyāna placed in the middle of the 64 items and not commented upon as especially important when they seem to be the highest goal?
Answer: Bhakti is the path of turning a non-devotee, bahirmukha-jīva, into a person whose regard is turned toward Bhagavān i.e an antarmukha-jīva. This is its distinction from all other paths. Therefore, the process of bhakti begins with taking shelter of a guru, prapatti or śaraṇāgati.
Śravaṇa, kīrtana, etc., can be done by anyone, i.e., they can be done without accepting śaraṇāgati. But that would not make one a bhakta if he is not prapanna or śaraṇāgata. You can witness many people coming to a kirtan-fest and participating in śravaṇa and kīrtana. Even Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla performed smaraṇa, but that did not count as bhakti. Therefore, you will see that prapatti or śaraṇāgati is always the first step in bhakti, e.g., Gītā 18.66, SB 11.3.21, Gītā 4.34.
Thus Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī writes that the first three limbs are the foundation of bhakti—trayaṁ pradhānamevoktaṁ gurupādāśrayādikam (BRS 1.2.83). These three are guru-pādāśraya, dīkṣā and śikṣā, and guru-sevā. All other limbs of bhakti are based on these three. Without these three, there is no bhakti. Why? Because the person is still a bahirmukha. This is a very important point to understand and a very crucial one for a serious sādhaka. We see a lot of stress given to śravaṇa and kīrtana. That is fine but we should not overlook the requirement to take shelter of a guru.
Question: In verse 270, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī begins his discussion on rāgānugā but states rāgātmikā needs first to be understood. Having divided rāgātmikā into kāma-rūpā and sambandha-rūpā, he then jumps into a ten-verse discussion (verses 274–282) about various ways of fixing the mind on Kṛṣṇa, favorably or unfavorably, all of which belong to vaidhī. He does not announce he is taking this excursion—it seems to come under the rubric of rāgātmikā-bhakti. Any thoughts on this from a structural point of view?
Answer: It is not true that in verses 274-282, he describes vaidhī bhakti. Verses 274–275 are examples of kāma-rūpā and sambandha-rūpā-bhakti, as mentioned in verse 273. In these verses, the gopīs are examples of kāma-rūpā-bhakti, and the Vṛṣṇis are examples of sambandha-rūpā-bhakti. In verses 274 and 275, he describes how many people in the past have attained Kṛṣṇa by absorbing their mind in Him. Absorption of mind is the essence of rāga bhakti. He gives examples of different people who attained Kṛṣṇa by absorption. There is no vidhi mentioned in these verses; there is no verb of an injunction. There cannot be any vidhi for kāma or sambandha. Then in verses 276 and 277, he explains that although there cannot be any injunction for fear, bhaya, and hatred, dveṣa, they cannot be counted as bhakti. One may doubt how bhaktas and enemies can attain the same position; he explains that from verse 278 onwards until verse 282. The purpose of all this description is to explain rāga bhakti and not vaidhī. A hint of this was already given in verse 1.2.3, 4.
Question: I had no idea rāgātmikā included Kaṁsa, etc. I had always associated rāgātmikā exclusively with the Vraja community. But it makes sense to think of Kaṁsa and such as utterly and spontaneously absorbed in Kṛṣṇa.
Answer: He is rāgātmikā but not a bhakta. His absorption in Kṛṣṇa is natural. It was not achieved by any practice or because of some injunction. He feared Kṛṣṇa that he would kill him. Thus his absorption was not favorable. Therefore, it is not accepted as bhakti. Similarly Śiśupāla was also absorbed in thoughts of Kṛṣṇa but out of hatred, dvēṣa. This is stated by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmi in 1.2.276 – ānukūlya-viparyāsād bhīti-dveṣau parāhatau.
Question: I’m not clear, in verse 276, why sneha denotes only sakhya, and if so, denotes specifically vaidhi-bhakti. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī does say later that if sneha denotes prema, it would be rāgānugā.
Answer: In verse 275, sneha is used in reference to the Pāṇḍavas—snehād yūyam (Nārada spoke this to Yudhiṣṭhira). The Pāṇḍavas were sakhās (see Gītā 4.3 and 11.41). This bhāva is considered vaidhi because the Pāṇḍavas were very much aware of Kṛṣṇa’s aiśvarya-jñāna. Pure rāgātmikā does not have aiśvarya-jñāna in it. The second part of your question is a misunderstanding. He says that if the word sneha is to be taken to mean prema, then it does not have any utility in the description of rāgānugā sādhana-bhakti. Prema is sādhya and not sādhana.
Question: Is the point that the lower level sneha is of lesser intensity than prema and so still needs to be bolstered by vaidhi?
Answer: It is lower intensity because it is vaidhi and not the other way around.
Question: Would this then be referencing Kṛṣṇa’s aiśvarya friends in Dvārakā and the Mahābhārata?
Answer: Yes. The point is that when one has aiśvarya-jñāna, the level and intensity of prīti go down. You cannot be intensely intimate with someone if he or she is much superior to you, and you are aware of this dynamic. Prema gives intimacy and aiśvarya brings distance, a sense of reverence.
Question: Why only sakhya? Why can’t this type of sneha be found in the other bhāvas?
Answer: It is possible in other bhāvas but here it refers specifically to the Pāṇḍavas.
Question: Sārūpya can be of two modalities, yes? One can have a form like Viṣṇu’s and reside in Vaikuṇṭha as a separate being, one of the five kinds of mokṣa frequently referred to, or one can merge into Kṛṣṇa’s body like Agha? In the latter case, one is no longer a separate entity and so cannot express prema but can experience the ānanda of Kṛṣṇa’s body, which would be greater than brahmānanda—is this correct?
Answer: The latter one is not called sārūpya but sāyujya. It is sāyujya, which is of two types—brahma-sāyujya and bhagavad-sāyujya. You are mixing bhagavad-sāyujya with sārupya.
Question: In verse 280, siddha-loka seems to be equated with brahma-sāyujya. I thought it was an actual loka with enlightened siddha beings.
Answer: You are right. It is a place beyond the Virajā River. Those who are śānta-rasa bhaktas live there, and those who attain brahma-sāyujya also exist there without a body.
Question: I am unclear about verse 303. Riraṁsā is the desiderative of ram, meaning that such persons have an intense spontaneous desire. Is this discounted as rāgānugā because it is not focused on a role model in Vraja? If so, does this mean rāgānugā can only be Vraja-centered? Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī seems to say this in 291. Even then, if one has an intense and spontaneous desire to serve Kṛṣṇa in Dvārakā, why would that be classified as vaidhi–bhakti?
Answer: First, riraṁsā is not pure rāgātmikā. Secondly, it is attained by vaidhi-bhakti. Vaidhi cannot be considered spontaneous. Pure rāgānugā is only in Vraja. Thus, it can be called a type of mixed rāgānugā-bhakti.
Furthermore, verse 303 itself says vidhi-mārgeṇa sevate. That means one is not following the mood of the rāgātmikā-bhaktas, which is the very definition of rāgānugā-bhakti. So, how can it be rāgānugā-bhakti? The word kevalena implies that there is no mood of rāgātmikā-bhakti. To become a gopī, one must follow rāgānugā-bhakti, not vaidhi-bhakti.
Question: What if such a person was not a Vraja-bhakta but a Dvārakā-bhakta but needed no vidhi—what would that be called if it is technically neither rāgānugā-bhakti nor vaidhi-bhakti?
Answer: It is still mixed rāgānugā because such a person would have aiśvarya-jñāna, which will constrict the prīti and cause him to follow specific protocols with Kṛṣṇa because Kṛṣṇa is royalty. He cannot jump on Kṛṣṇa’s shoulders—even if he is in sakhya-bhāva. The friendship would not be like that of the cowherds. Kṛṣṇa will also not be as relaxed as He is in Vraja. He has to maintain His royal demeanor. The mood in Dvārakā is not free as in Vraja. There Kṛṣṇa is a royal person and observes royal protocol. Friends, queens and other devotees are also aware of it and thus their love is not free as those of Vraja residents.