Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Raganuga-Bhakti

By Swāmī Śrī Bhaktivedānta Tripurāri

Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati was of the opinion that ajata-ruci raganuga sadhakas (practitioners without taste) should adopt the methods of raganuga sadhana that they are qualified to adopt in proportion to their development of sacred greed (lobhamayi sraddha), while following the angas (limbs) of vaidhi-bhakti (regulated devotion).

This follows Sri Jiva Goswami’s Bhakti-sandarbha 311:

ajata-tadrsa-rucina tu sad-visesa adaramatradrta raganugapi vaidhi-samvalitaivanus heya
tatha loka-sangrahartam pratis hitena jata-tadrsa-rucina ca atra misratve ca
tyatha-yogyam raganugayaikikrtyaiva vaidhi kartavya

One in whom this taste (ruci) has not arisen but who has come to appreciate raganuga-bhakti only on account of appreciation for a particular saint or scripture (sat), may still practice raganuga-bhakti but with an admixture of vaidhi-bhakti. In the same way, for the sake of preaching (loka-sangrahartaham) one who is advanced and in whom taste has manifested should also practice raganuga with an admixture of vaidhi. Such mixing of the two kinds of bhakti means that one practices vaidhi-bhakti by uniting it with whatever raganuga practices one is capable of.

In the opinion of Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, such mixing of the two kinds of bhakti means that one embrace the angas of vaidhi-bhakti with a view to attain greater eligibility for raganuga-bhakti and its sadhya (goal) by uniting them with whatever raganuga practices one is eligible for (yatah-yogyam). In his opinion this did not include an emphasis on meditating on the pastimes of Radha-Krishna from the vantage point of one’s siddha deha for those who had not attained the stage of nistha, based on the reasoning that dhyana (meditation) requires a pure heart, whereas kirtanam (chanting) does not. He reasoned, as has Sri Sanatana Goswami in Brhad-bhagavatamrta, that smaranam (remembering) arises naturally out of kirtanam. Thus he emphasized nama smaranam for beginners, stressing inoffensive chanting that would lead naturally to meditation on Krishna’s form (rupa samaranam), qualities (guna smaranam), and pastimes (lila smaranam). Of course he also emphasized mantra dhyana of Gopala mantra, kama gayatri, etc., and these mantras were given to sadhakas only after they had attained a degree of steadiness in nama smaranam (japa).

In some ways his position was a reaction to what he perceived as a sleight of hand in the name of giving—or in some cases making a business out of—a type of siddha deha. In this initiation one’s svarupa (spiritual identity) is thought to be revealed by the guru to the disciple for the purpose of aiding him in lila smaranam. Bhaktisiddhanta’s opinion was that while sadhakas were aspiring for Vraja bhakti they should do kirtanam, and as kirtanam qualified them, they should combine it with smaranam. Furthermore, he maintained that through kirtanam one’s svarupa would be glimpsed in the higher devotional stages of ruci and asakti, at which time effective and meaningful lila smaranam from the vantage point of one’s svarupa could take place, thus propelling the sadhaka into bhava-bhakti. As one’s svarupa arises though sadhana and the mercy of great souls, the guru helps the disciple to cultivate its realization.

The system (siddha pranali) that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura criticized, one traced to an eternal associate of Caitanya Mahaprabhu (Gopala-guru Goswami), is still current, but it should be made clear that Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura criticized what he considered a distortion of this system. Today there is debate on this topic among various Gaudiya lineages as to which lineages are appropriately following this system. I have met members of the Gadadhara parivara that do not accept the system as it is applied by the current Radha Kunda lineage, and I have heard from reliable sources that members of the Syamananda parivara also differ from both of these lineages in their approach. Members of Gaudiya Matha differ from all three of these. However, I doubt that there are many devotees from any of these lineages that have taken the time to seriously investigate each other’s approach, and most base their opinions on things that they have heard from third parties. While in some cases they have heard from their superiors, they often base their present position regarding the practices of other lineages upon things that superiors in their own lineages experienced decades ago.

As a current representative of the Gaudiya Saraswata sampradaya, I feel that we should not criticize unless we know something is amiss by first-hand experience. Furthermore, we should judge any approach to raganuga-bhakti by the results it brings. If someone attains bhava by any particular approach, no one can argue with that.


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10 Responses to Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Raganuga-Bhakti

  1. Maharaja writes: “I doubt that there are many devotees from any of these lineages that have taken the time to seriously investigate each other’s approach, and most base their opinions on things that they have heard from third parties. While in some cases they have heard from their superiors, they often base their present position regarding the practices of other lineages upon things that superiors in their own lineages experienced decades ago.”

    That is a nice way to put it. I also very much agree that “we should not criticize unless we know something is amiss by first-hand experience. Furthermore, we should judge any approach to raganuga-bhakti by the results it brings.”

    It is amazing how much common ground we can find if we only lay aside the prejudices we inherited from our superiors, and use some common sense in our own analysis.

  2. Personally, I have found that raga in it’s purest and most pristine form is exactly that – spontaneous, intuitive and naturally occurring.
    We will get hints and clues and gradually we start to naturally think of ourselves as serving Krishna in Vrindavan in a particular way.
    Even Lord Brahma did not understand fully all the details, but he did understand to some degree that he was an eternal maidservant of Krishna.
    So, the law of raga allows all of us to look within ourselves, examine our feelings, aspirations and spiritual intelligence to arrive at some basic understanding of our siddha-deha and nitya-seva.

    Being told by someone else about these things in a line of false siddhas who make a living selling siddha-dehas is simply a big block to the actual true development of raga bhakti and realizing who we are in Vrindavan and Navadvip simulataneously.

    As is well presented in the lineage of Bhaktivinode, the only way in is really through Navadvip so firstly and foremost we have to realize who we are in Gaura-lila and then automatically understand who we are in Krishna-lila.

    So, great preachers and teachers like Tripurari Maharaja who are great sannyasis in the Gaura-lila of Mahaprabhu’s Sankirtan movement automatically understand their rasa with Krishna and their siddha-deha in considerable detail. This is raga bhakti and it comes automatically in the heart of the purified Saraswata Goswamis.

  3. Dandavats pranams Maharaj!

    What are the diferences btw this systems of Gadadhar parivar, Shyamananda parivar and Gaudiya Math? I’m sure there are differences even inside the same parivar.

  4. Where does the International Society for KRSNA Consiousness fall into all this?

  5. How is it that we are not able to go to the root and keep looking at the twigs? I say it for myself … now that I read this blog it reminds me of something that I have heard him say and it has been very recorded in me about the origin of the distortions that generally end in apasampradayas and apasiddhantas by giving more weight to relative or details issues than to absolute ones or fundationals, they creep generationally into established and new missions. I refer to the latter that is mentioned here, being something we could meditate on for this end of the year and perhaps during the next until we drop the twenty level.

    “As a current representative of the Gaudiya Saraswata sampradaya, I feel that we should not criticize unless we know something is amiss by first-hand experience. Furthermore, we should judge any approach to raganuga-bhakti by the results it brings. If someone attains bhava by any particular approach, no one can argue with that.”

    May the Light of Truth continue to shed on All Sadhus who share it for the benefit of all our thirsty souls. Thank you very much and Pranamas for this enriching forum and to all those who make it possible headed by Srila BV Tripurari Maharaj, Jaay!

    Happy New Year! =)

  6. Pranams Maharaji
    Thank you for writing such a clear , balanced and fair article on such a sensitive issue.
    Your analysis is very helpful for sadhaks like myself , in not offending the vaishnavs of all the various lineages of Sriman Mahaprabhu .
    May you kindly continue to enlighten us , on such apparent differences between various Gaudiya vaishnavs.
    Jai RadheShyam 🙏

  7. Out of the four groups you mentioned three have the lineage stemming from original nitya parsads like Gadadhar, Syamanda, Nityananda, Advaita etc. The practice of raganuga sadhan is based on the diksha mantras and system handed down and developed called siddha parnali. In order for raganuga sadhan to work this is a requirement for a sincere sadhaka. The system and mantras will not suffice however without the participation of a bhakta. Similarly only the sincerity and eagerness will not work. Both are required.

    But lets be honest Gaudiya Math has been for decades and is still to some extend critical about siddha parnali, some even uninformed gurus label it as sahajiyamizm. Ironically Gaudiya Math is not claiming to be in any parivar or lineages stemming directly from parsads of Mahaprabu in an unbroken diksha tradition as the others. Even if the bhav is obtained through ones sincere practice how does a bhakta who have no diksha mantras from parshads along with siddha pranali obtains the siddhi of the mantra, the fulfilment of the mantra? That means siddha deha and nitya seva. One of the respected vaishanva of Varshana said what is a common knowledge, that “you can obtain prema by nam, but without siddha parnali you cannot attain nitya seva.” This is of course provided a bhakta is in a diskha line but did not receive siddha pranali.

    I am sorry if this brings a little steer to this nice article but it feels right to set the balance.

    • I think you are mistaking details for principles. Over time the “system” of siddha pranali was developed. But the term siddha pranali itself, although not mentioned anywhere in the founding acaryas texts, simply means a line (pranali) of siddhas.

      Now we see Bhaktivinode Thakura as a siddha and we refer to our line as the Bhaktivinode parivara, just as others refer to their line as the Narottama parivara or Syamanada parivara, although neither of these two were among the associates of Gaurasundara during his manifest lila. If BVT is a siddha, we have a siddha pranali. Now in the opinion of Bhaktivinode, others may have a line going back to one of Mahaprabhu’s associates, but in many such lines all of the members are siddhas in name only and arguably his own line was an example.

      Bhaktivinode Thakura accepted diksa in the Bhagnapara line that in some ways departs from the teachings of the Goswamis, but he himself remained faithful to the Goswami’s siddhanta. He served as a prominent guru figure in the life of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and encouraged him to accept diksa from Gaura Kishore das babaji, which he did. However, Babaji was unconventional. He did not give a diksa patra or include other details in imparting his grace to Bhaktisiddhanta, and it is the grace of such raga marg siddhas alone that qualifies one to tread the raga marg, as explained by Sri Rupa in Brs. And with the combined grace of BVT and GKDB, BSST began initiating disciples himself in their presence. In doing so he included various details in his ritual of initiation, as other lines do. He did not tell each disciples the siddha name, etc. of BVT or GKDB, nor did he tell each of his disciples their lila seva, etc., as was customary in other lines, even when in some lines such insight was, to be generous, less that fully realized. But neither is this a requirement. It is not mentioned in Bhakti-sandarbha, Hari-bhakti-vilasa, or any other seminal text. We do, however, find what could be considered a reference to it in Ragavatma-candrika.

      In his Rāga-vartma-candrikā Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura cites two means by which knowledge required for meditative līlā-sevā is acquired. In this regard, he paraphrases Uddhava’s words to Kṛṣṇa:

      “Śrī Bhagavān inspires the sādhaka by manifesting himself in two ways: Externally he gives instructions in the form of the ācārya. Alternately, he provides this same instruction internally as the caitya-guru—God himself within—inspiring a sādhaka from within the heart concerning the means to achieve the desired goal.”

      In his commentary on the above verse, Viśvanātha Cakravartī cites and paraphrases the essence of Bhagavad-gītā 10.10, which further substantiates his latter claim that the caitya-guru in some instances provides all one needs to know through gradual internal realization: “Inspiring them with intelligence to attain you, and making them worship you, you reveal to them the goal of becoming an associate with prema.”

      In his Rāga-vartma-candrikā Ṭhākura Viśvanātha also cites Bhāgavatam 11.14.26:

      “To the degree that the ātmā becomes purified by hearing and chanting my glories, a person is able to perceive my real form and qualities, just as the eye when smeared with special ointment is able to see finer objects.”

      This verse supports the idea that all that one needs to know—the details of one’s siddha-rūpa and how to engage in meditative līlā-sevā with it—will arise naturally through gradual realization derived from one’s appropriately rāga-marga-oriented sādhana. Perceiving Kṛṣṇa’s form in meditation on the path of rāga-bhakti also includes perceiving one’s siddha-rūpa because Kṛṣṇa is perceived relative to how he is approached. If we approach him influenced by sakhya-rati, we will experience him as he appears to his cowherd friends of Vraja. In other words, the beauty of Gopāla Kṛṣṇa is not separate from or independent of the eye of its beholder. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam explains that Kṛṣṇa enters his devotee’s heart in a particular form and in doing so simultaneously bestows upon his devotee a spiritual form that corresponds with this particular form as well as with the nature of the devotee’s worship—tat-tad-vapuḥ praṇayase sad-anugrahāya. The implication of Bhāgavatam 11.14.26 cited by Viśvanātha Cakravartī is that this is a gradual development and one approach to acquiring all that is required for meditative līlā-sevā.

      Your idea that one cannot attain the siddhi of the Gopala mantra, our samapradaya’s principal diksa mantra—simply be chanting it unless it is received through the particular siddha pranali system you are familiar with is not correct. Bhakti-sandarbha teaches that this mantra as well as Krsna nama is not dependent upon diksa in order to reveal itself. Of course, at the same time if we do not receive nama from a qualified guru and ignore this important principal, we will commit nama aparadha and thus the name will not reveal itself. But that does not mean one has to receive nama and mantra with the later developed system you refer to as siddha pranali. And there are examples of devotees attaining perfection of the mantra without this system with its diksa patra, etc. Sanantana Goswami’s Brhad-bhagavatamrta offers a prominent example.

      The substance of it all is that one must take shelter of a qualified guru and receive mantra and siksa from him or her. Then one must practice and further qualify oneself for internal lila seva, which is an important aspect of raganuga sadhana for advanced sadhakas. Unlike kirtana, dhyana, and lila seva smaranam that much more so, requires more qualification than faith alone. But nama and mantra, guru bhakti and Krsna bhakti will bring about that qualification in due course.

    • I should mention that our parivara also considers Gaura Kishore dasa Babaji a siddha, despite his unconventional behavior and approach to diksa. And in both Gaura Kishore and Bhaktivinoda we see realization that exceeds that of their diksa gurus and others in their line. Also note that the Goswamis did not establish a standard that mandated all diska guru must be siddhas, and historically speaking there are many instances where siksa gurus played a more prominent role in the life of a devotee that did his or her siksa guru.

      Of course we also consider Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura a siddha, and his contribution to the dissemination of Mahaprabhu’s precepts that gave shape to the desire and insight of Bhaktivinoda speaks for itself—kali-kālera dharma—kṛṣṇa-nama-saṅkīrtana kṛṣṇa-śakti vinā nahi tāra pravartana.

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