Sastra and Raganuga Bhakti

Q: Does raganuga bhakti necessarily mean that there should be no regard for sastra as long one is under the influence of the modes of nature (gunas)?

A: Raganuga-bhakti has all regard for scripture. It has faith in sastra but it is not driven by faith in scriptural statements that inform us, for example, that through bhakti one can attain freedom from birth and death. It is not driven by scriptural mandates such as “One should always remember Visnu and never forget him.” It is not driven by what one should or should not do. It is driven by a thirst to attain prema like that of the Vrajabasis. And in ardent pursuit of that love one carefully follows all the angas of vaidhi-bhakti that are favorable to its culture, excluding the few angas that are not, such as meditation on the queens of Dvaraka.

But even without developed thirst that has the power to cleanse one’s heart and qualify one for lila samaranam in the full sense of the term, prevailing interest in this ideal of Vraja prema resulting from sadhu sanga puts one on the map of raganuga sadhana-bhakti, wherein one seeks the blessing of further eligibility. Our orientation in sadhana derives from the association we are blessed with, be it raga or vaidhi bhakti. And it is one’s orientation, one’s ideal, that determines one’s path.

If by good fortune you have embraced the ideal of Vraja prema, how can you follow vaidhi-bhakti aimed at attaining majestic love of God? If this is one’s position, one’s task is to increase one’s interest in the ideal of Vraja prema through sadhu sanga, while adhering to vaidhi-bhakti with this ideal in mind. And to do so, one studies the sastra with this in mind.

Vaidhi-bhakti is like caring for someone else’s child—baby sitting—and raganuga-bhakti is like caring for one’s own child. In either case one must learn how to do it, but the motivation for doing it is different. So the raganuga sadhaka also studies sastra and has full regard for it.


Faith in Sastra, Guru and Sadhu

If we look closely we find that some persons’ faith is really doubt. Faith is inherently virtuous. However, according to the Gita, it is nonetheless of three kinds, sattva, rajas, or tamas. Sattvic faith is that faith that is informed by sastrasastriya sraddha. This is faith that optimally readily enables one to understand the scriptural conclusions. Tamasic faith on the other hand doubts the scriptural conclusions. In extreme forms it rejects the sastra altogether. In less extreme forms it accepts the scripture but imagines what its conclusions are and often fights with these conclusions.

In the Bhagavata Krsna speaks of transcendental faith, faith in himself. However, Sri Rupa speaks of this faith as threefold. These divisions are determined by the measure of ones’ understanding of sastra. The highest faith is informed by taste that enables one to engage in sastra-yukti, effective and conclusive reasoning as to the import of sastra on any given topic. It involves readily understanding the spirit of sastra.

On the other end of the threefold spectrum we find komala sradhha (tender faith). This faith is not well informed by sastra, and unto itself it can result in misunderstanding of its conclusions. Perhaps the most prominent example of such misunderstanding is a distrust of sadhus. Intermediate faith by contrast has an essential understanding of sastra that manifests in understanding the importance of sadhu sanga. Moving from tender faith to intermediate faith is accomplished through sadhu sanga. Such intermediate faith is focused more on the Vaisnava than it is on Krsna. It prefers hearing from the Vaisnavas more than seeing the Deity of Krsna.

Similarly this faith translates into faith in the advanced disciples of ones’ guru, as opposed to faith only in the guru and distrust of his or her dear ones. And if some of the guru’s dear most prove less than worthy, we must still consider the measure of our guru’s trust in them that he or she has consistently expressed. We may have to distance ourselves from them for some time and “wait and see.” But in the meantime in good faith we should seek out the association of others who the guru also indicated were advanced enough to warrant his or her trust in their ability to understand explain the conclusions of sastra.