Spontaneous devotion

“The original inhabitants of Vrindaban are attached to Krishna spontaneously in devotional service. Nothing can compare to such spontaneous devotional service, which is called ragatmika-bhakti. When a devotee follows in the footsteps of the devotees of Vrindaban, his devotional service is called raganuga-bhakti.” (p 53)

Following in the footsteps of the devotees of Vrindaban by conceiving oneself to be one of them engaged in the pastimes of Radha Krishna is the essence of raganuga-bhakti. This is what Prabhuji taught me to do when he gave me siddha pranali and ekadas bhav (eleven moods of a cowherd girl in Vrindaban). These eleven moods or aspects of me in my perfect spiritual body are my eternal identity in relation to Radha Krishna.

This style of meditation is widely practiced by followers of Sri Krishna Chaitanya. It came down to me through the siddha pranali or perfect line of gurus coming from Sri Jahnava Thakurani. In this way there is a connection with those who have gone before me to the eternal Goloka Vrindaban and will be there waiting to welcome me when I arrive. This is all relational. The disciple is related through the guru to the whole line who are all cowherd girls in Vrindaban engaged in the service of Sri Radha. Again, this is pure grace which is passed on from guru to disciple.

By studying the writings of those who came before me in this line and related lines, I can learn the different ways in which they interact with the Divine Couple and adapt their moods as my own. In this way, the spiritual identity of the practitioner is developed gradually until we identify more with our spiritual self than our outward self.

“The primary characteristic of spontaneous love is deep attachment for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Absorption in thought of Him is a marginal characteristic.” (p 54)

Deep attachment to Radha Krishna has kept me going all these years since I first fell in love with them. After leaving Swamiji, I gave up most formal devotional practices. I wanted to see what is real and would stick no matter what. I abandoned the external, devotional practices that no longer seemed to fit. I adapted those that were still beneficial and continue those practices. All along, that deep attachment, especially to Radha, remained. That can not be given up.

“If one follows in the footsteps of the inhabitants of Vrindaban out of…transcendental covetousness, he does not care for the injunctions or logical reasoning of the shastra (scripture). That is the nature of raganuga.” (p 54)

When one realizes the highest goal in life, everything else pales in comparison. All that has been said and heard and all the rules and regulations no longer matter much. One becomes fixed in who one is and spontaneously acts in love, both on the external and spiritual levels. Everything becomes spiritual when seen in relationship to Radha Krishna. We can live in Vrindaban wherever we are and everything we do can be devotional service. Duality can be transcended when we realize all is Krishna and Krishna’s energies. The eternal is now.

“Krishna has many types of devotees—some are servants, some are friends, some are parents and some are conjugal lovers. Devotees who are situated in one of these attitudes of spontaneous love according to their choice are considered to be on the path of raga-marga, spontaneous loving service.” (p 55)

By following the path of regulative devotion, I came to realize my love for Krishna in a conjugal mood like that of the cowherd girls. I longed to deepen this relationship. Swamiji wanted his disciples to stick with regulative devotional service. It is a much safer, slower path of devotion than spontaneous love (also more effective for building an organization).

My heart was bursting to delve deeper into the esoteric pastimes of Radha Krishna. I went to see Prabhuji against the orders of Swamiji. Nothing could hold me back. He had the nectar and I wanted nothing more than to drink it. He watered the devotional creeper that had sprouted in my heart and allowed it to grow unhindered. When one longs for God/Goddess as the most dearly beloved, how can one be held back by injunctions which are detrimental to the growth of love?

“However, it is simply a cheating notion to think that the goal of life is for clerks, farmers, business people and kshatriyas, etc., to elevate themselves gradually to higher positions in varna and ashrama and then finally to the positions of brahmana and sannyasi. Such a conception of occupational duties is in terms of material advancement alone and cannot produce any real progress for the soul.” (p 56)

Unfortunately, one of Swamiji’s endeavors was to introduce varnashram dharma to the West. I quickly rose to the position of brahmin and sannyasi. I functioned quite well in those positions in Swamiji’s organization and in India. However, when I returned to the West and left Swamiji and his organization, I could not maintain such strict standards without a support system, and one did not exist for me in the West. I became a casteless devotee and married.

Swamiji was very ambitious and wanted to change the world to his version of Krishna consciousness which included varnasharam dharma, the Indian system of four castes and orders of life. He believed his teachings were the best religious system in the world for everyone. However, the results were disastrous for many of his disciples. They were uprooted from their culture and thrust into an artificial “Vedic” culture. When they left that way of life, they were faced with putting their lives back together so that they could function in Western society again.

I have been doing that for 31 years. I feel good about where I am at now. However, I still struggle with how to present the teachings of Bhaktivinode Thakur in a way that will be widely acceptable to Westerners and not cause major disruption to their lives. This is my latest attempt. I hope you find it helpful.

I have been a spiritual teacher for the past 39 years, and it is about all I have any interest in doing. I had a successful career as a Christian pastor and teacher for eleven years. However, there were too many compromises. For the last three years, presenting my own understandings of spiritual life without compromise has been my ministry. It is spiritually fulfilling if not financially lucrative. This is the task I feel called to.

Swamiji had most of his disciples live in communal temples and developed a large world wide organization. Prabhuji, had thousands of disciples, but most of them lived at home with their families. He had no institutional organization that he created. I believe a more decentralized, loosely structured association of disciples living “normal” lives is much more desirable. Organized religion is not conducive to spontaneous devotional service. Institutional preservation becomes too important.

Rather than trying to gradually elevate ourselves through the varnashram system, it is better to simply take to devotional service from whatever position in life a person happens to be in. That is most beneficial spiritually.

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