Regulated and Spontaneous Devotion

By Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami

Devotional service in practice is of two types: vaidhi-bhakti (devotion based on regulative principles) and raganuga-bhakti (devotion that follows in the wake of spontaneous love). These have also been explained in the Chaitanya Caritamrta:

One who has no spontaneous attachment for the God worships him because it is ordained in the scriptures. All scriptures call such devotional service vaidhi-bhakti.1

The word raga means a natural desire for the supreme soul, a natural attachment or affection. If such a natural affection has not arisen in one’s heart, but one has developed faith in the scriptural injunctions after hearing from the saintly persons, they may perform devotional service beginning with accepting a guru. Such devotional service is called vaidhi-bhakti. There are sixty-four different activities and prohibitions which make up this type of regulated devotion. The three main regulations are taking shelter of a spiritual master, being initiated by him, and serving him. Among the other sixty-one activities, five are considered to be the most important: associating with devotees, singing the holy names, hearing the Bhagavatam, residing in Mathura (i.e., the holy dhama), and worshiping the deity with faith. Only a small amount of effort in these activities will result in the practitioner developing love for Krishna. The great authorities or mahajanas say that whether you practice only one of these five activities or all of them, unless you practice with constancy, or nistha, you will not be washed by the waves of prema. Nistha has been defined by Jiva Goswami as aviksepena satatyam, or steadfastness without distraction. The idea is that one should be fixed in a particular practice with unshakable faith.

Whether a person executes only one or many of the processes of devotional service, the waves of love of Godhead will arise if he or she practices with fixed determination or nistha.2

Elsewhere, Mahaprabhu says that the nine types of devotion named by Prahlada are the best amongst the sixty-four devotional practices. Of these nine, the first three (hearing, chanting and remembering) are considered superior. Of these three, kirtana is the best. Kirtana itself is subdivided into several categories: glorification of Krishna’s names, his form, his attributes, and his activities. Of these, pride of place is given to the chanting of his names. Anyone who takes up the chanting of the holy names with constancy is sure to obtain the mercy of the name and will quickly relish the taste of love of God.

The great authorities say that the practice of devotion purely on the strength of the scriptural injunctions leads to the majestic feature of Godhead in the abode of Vaikuntha, not to that aspect which resides in Vraja. To attain Vraja, one must take up the practice of raganuga-bhakti. This is stated in the Chaitanya Caritamrta:

Everyone throughout the world worships me according to scriptural injunctions; but by this process of vaidhi-bhakti one cannot attain the loving moods of Vraja3.

The preceding verses certainly tell us that only worship on the raga path can result in obtaining the service of Krishna in Vraja. However, what we must try to understand here is that if one thinks on that basis that the various regulative principles of the vidhi-marga can be dispensed with before acquiring a readiness for the manifestation of raganuga-bhakti, such a person will become a religious hypocrite—a pretender and a prakrta-sahajiya. For this reason, Bhaktivinoda Thakura has written in his song “Krishna-nama Dhare Kata Bal?”:

vidhi-marga-rata jane svadhinata ratna dane
raga-marge karan pravesa
raga-vasavarti haiya parakiya bhavasraye
labhe jiva krishna-premavesa

“To the person fixed in the regulative principles, the holy name gives the jewel of independence, placing him on the path of spontaneous devotion. That person, overcome by spontaneous attachment to the Lord, takes shelter of the parakiya mood and goes on to become absorbed in love for Krishna.”

One who aims for the ultimate goal of pure love for Krishna should start by taking shelter of a spiritual master according to the scriptural injunctions and following the vidhi-marga by continuously chanting the holy names of God. Such a person will thus very quickly obtain the qualifications necessary for the manifestation of spontaneous affection. As the undesirable elements of one’s character (anarthas) are destroyed, spontaneous affection automatically awakens. On the other hand, if one does not rid themselves of these undesirable elements, the discussion of subjects for which they are not qualified will in all likelihood have disastrous consequences.

This article originally appeared in the text of the book, The Art of Sadhana.

  1. 2.22.106 []
  2. Chaitanya Caritamrta 2.22.130 []
  3. 1.3.15 []

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6 Responses to Regulated and Spontaneous Devotion

  1. I really appreciate Srila B.P. Puri Goswami’s clear and concise explanation of the development and qualifications for raganuga- bhakti.

    The Art of Sadhana is a must read for any serious bhakti practioner. One of my favorites.

  2. “To the person fixed in the regulative principles, the holy name gives the jewel of independence, placing him on the path of spontaneous devotion. That person, overcome by spontaneous attachment to the Lord, takes shelter of the parakiya mood and goes on to become absorbed in love for Krishna.”

    Sorry, I fail to understand how Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami concludes from this sentence of Bhaktivinode Thakur that vaidhi is a pre-requisite to raganuga?

    Bhaktivinode’s statement doesn’t imply that al all — it simply states that to a person fixed in principles holy name gives independence from them. This first part looks more like an invitation to anyone, and because those who follow regulations of different sorts in a caste system are in majority, it implies to them. But this statement could imply to anyone else. It doesn’t requite a person to undergo a life in regulations first. Bhaktivinode might have as well writen “politician”, “cook”, “mum”, etc.

    Nama is independent. It doesn’t require anything to please it, no regulations or principles. Nama is above principles. Thus Bhakti Promode Puri Goswami’s opinion is illogical and quite frankly, not true. He’s pre-assuming and imposing own conclusion. In my opinion, Bhaktivinode Thakur proves his mastery because he has tailored this sentence beautifully to suit the needs of the society he lived in, and still lure them somehow into the embrace of raganuga.

    • Have you studied it in the context BVT wrote it? Thakura Bhaktivinoda’s writing if full of such statements that make a connection between vaidhi and raganuga sadhana. By vaidhi he refers to to ajata ruci raganuga bhakti, as explained by Sri Jiva in Bhakti-sandarbha, who explains therein that without ruci raga is weak in the least and must be supported with vaidhi bhakti. But of course this does not mean practicing vaidhi bhakti in pursuance of reverential love of God. Sri Rupa also advises that ones raga should be supported with vaidhi bhakti of sravanam kirtanam, etc.

      Do you understand Bengali? BVT wrote viddhi-marga-ratna jane svadhinata-ratna-dane raga-marge karan pravesa

      And what are “the principles of the holy name” you refer to?

  3. Perhaps too long. To conclude, by observing the consequences Gaudiya Vaishnavism made in the 20th century, Bhaktivinode was a man torn between a dying tradition of Radha Krishna devotion and the predominance of formalism on one side, and a new world that is not ready to understand him on the other side (or West, one he is so willing to reach).

    The problem is not even in Bhakti Promode Goswami’s off balanced remarks here, but in forced editorial; the article was obviously selected with a presupposition, and excerpt quoted to force a conclusion even in the headline. You’re forcing a certain conclusion through the words of a man who simply tries to justify his life’s choice and belief, who lived in a different world and circumstances and understanding. Quite different from today.

    What you personally believe vaidhi marg and raganuga marg is today? Can you describe them? Ajata ruci raganuga bhakti is an oxymoron in itself, a thing paradoxical. Goswamis probably made it — a move of a few desperate men to explain a simple thing called love in a segregated society with little human care. A tasteless tasty candy. What it meant in the context of life and circumstances Jiva Goswami who lived 450 years ago, what it meant in Bhaktivnode’s time 130 years ago, and what it means in modern civilization and democracy today?

    You can’t say for sure, because our experiences today are different and non comparable with those from the past. My conclusion was that vaidhi marg, as so emphsized in Chaitanyism, has no relevance in the modern world or Radha Krishna devotion today, and A.C. Bhaktivedanta’s failed ISKCON experiment proves it. I find the way it’s conducted and applied destructive and counterproductive because it gives emphasis on the tasteless and crude side of reality, inside the society that has gone over that stage of development (of the feudal world 500 years ago) and is capable of more.

    Unfortunately your editorial still believes in it, and highlights it in a way that can be objected from a modern perspective. So, the answer to your question is: yes, I know in which context Bhaktivinode wrote about it, but although I think his words can be interpreted in few different ways today, it’s not what’s relevant today. I also think many things Jiva Goswami said are not relevant today either.

    We need to learn from past mistakes and move on. Perhaps try to think differently and according to time and circumstances.

    • You make sweeping statements about vaidhi bhakti that apply only to a particular sect’s fundamentalist orientation to spiritual life and fail to see the universality of bhakti as expressed through nava laksana bhakti (vaidhi bhakti) in the name of broad mindedness and a progressive outlook. Properly understood vaidhi bhakti is as irrelevant today as yoga is. Good luck if you want Joe the plumber to embrace bhakti, whereas alternative culture is embracing it in the context of yoga and Eastern spirituality when it is thoughtfully presented and backed by example.

      And this leads me to believe that you have your own heterodox understanding of raganuga-bhakti as well. That’s fine, but all this talk of having a more dynamic understanding of the essence of the Gaudiya tradition requires more than that. If you could at least write a book about it so that its coherence can be demonstrated it would help your cause. But when you put words in Thakura Bhaktivnoda’s mouth and then accuse others much senior to you such as Puri Goswami of doing the same it appears unbecoming. Even your talk leaves something to be desired, as far as I understand it. Again, what are “the principles of the holy name” you speak of?

      As for the editorial policy, the article was so titled since the time it was written and published in the Gaudiya a century past. And after all that is what it is about, the distinction between and the extent to which the two, vaidhi and raga, overlap. And it does not matter how modern a twist you want to give these terms in attempting to explain them today. They represent reverential and spontaneous love for God, neither of which is outdated or ever will be, and both of which are related to one another in terms of a progression from dutiful self sacrificing love to self forgetfulness.

      You ask what I believe raganuga and vaidhi bhakti are today. I have taken the time to write that down in my book Aesthetic Vedanta. So I refer you to that text. In my opinion your remarks also betray a confidence in modernity that is unwarranted given its track record, despite its tangible advances. Good luck.

  4. Luke, you said:

    We need to learn from past mistakes and move on. Perhaps try to think differently and according to time and circumstances.

    This is no doubt true. However, we do ourselves a huge disservice when we take things out of context, as I think you have here. To assume that Puri Goswami Maharaja was mistaken because he explained bhakti in ways that seem outdated or because his explanation somehow does not jive with your understanding of bhakti is a mistake. If you have read his other work I think you will find that he knew very well the difference between vaidhi bhakti as a path unto itself culminating in love for Laksmi-Narayana, raga-bhakti culminating in love for Vraja Krsna, and raga-bhakti being practiced in a regulated way to lend support to the developing raga of beginners.

    So, while there is certainly some scope to question the relevance of certain culturally- or time-influenced statements by previous acaryas like Puri Goswami or Sri Jiva, we must be careful to not take it too far or in directions that will compromise the siddhanta, which I think you have done here. Ajata ruci raganuga bhakti is not an oxymoron if understood correctly. And to conclude that vaidhi-bhakti is no longer relevant today because of the failings of one institution is naive at best. What else are those who are attracted to the path of raga but who have none to do but practice in a dutiful way until raga awakens? Whether that is called vaidhi-bhakti by Bhaktivinoda or ajata-ruci-raganuga by Sri Jiva does not change the fact that such a stage in bhakti exists.

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