Spontaneous Devotional Service
Examples of spontaneous devotional service can easily be seen in Kṛṣṇa’s direct associates in Vṛndāvana. The spontaneous dealings of the residents of Vṛndāvana in relationship with Kṛṣṇa are called rāgānugā. These beings don’t have to learn anything about devotional service; they are already perfect in all regulative principles and have achieved the spontaneous loving service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For example, the cowherd boys who are playing with Kṛṣṇa do not have to learn by austerities or penances or yogic practice how to play with Him. They have passed all tests of regulative principles in their previous lives, and as a result they are now elevated to the position of direct association with Kṛṣṇa as His dear friends. Their spontaneous attitude is called rāgānugā-bhakti.
Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has defined rāgānugā-bhakti as spontaneous attraction for something while completely absorbed in thoughts of it, with an intense desire of love. Devotional service executed with such feelings of spontaneous love is called rāgānugā-bhakti. Devotional service under the heading of rāgānugā can be further divided into two categories: one category is called “sensual attraction,” and the other is called “relationship.”
In this connection, there is a statement by Nārada Muni to Yudhiṣṭhira in the Seventh Canto, first chapter, verse 30 of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. There Nārada says, “My dear King, there are many devotees who first become attracted to the Personality of Godhead for purposes of sense gratification, from being envious of Him, out of fear of Him or from desiring to associate affectionately with Him. Ultimately these attractions become freed from all material contamination, and gradually the worshiper develops spiritual love and achieves that ultimate goal of life desired by the pure devotee.”
The gopīs may be considered to be examples of spontaneous love in sensual attraction. The gopīs are young girls and Kṛṣṇa is a young boy. Superficially it seems that the gopīs are attracted to Kṛṣṇa on grounds of sex. Similarly, King Kaṁsa was attracted to Kṛṣṇa because of fear. Kaṁsa was always fearful of Kṛṣṇa because it had been foretold that his sister’s son, Kṛṣṇa, would kill him. Śiśupāla was also always envious of Kṛṣṇa. And the descendants of King Yadu, due to their family relationship with Kṛṣṇa, were always thinking of Him as one of their members. All of these different kinds of devotees have a spontaneous attraction for Kṛṣṇa in different categories, and they achieve the same desired goal of life.
The attraction of the gopīs for Kṛṣṇa and the affection of the members of the Yadu dynasty are both accepted as spontaneous, or rāgānugā. The attraction of Kaṁsa to Kṛṣṇa in fear and the attraction of Śiśupāla in envy are not accepted as devotional service, however, because their attitudes are not favorable. Devotional service should be executed only in a favorable frame of mind. Therefore, according to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, such attractions are not considered to be in devotional service. Again, he analyzes the affection of the Yadus. If it is on the platform of friendship, then it is spontaneous love, but if it is on the platform of regulative principles, then it is not. And only when affection comes to the platform of spontaneous love is it counted in the category of pure devotional service.
There may be some difficulty in understanding that both the gopīs and Kaṁsa achieved the same goal, so this point should be clearly understood, because the attitudes of Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla were different from that of the gopīs. Although in all these cases the focus is on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and all of the devotees are elevated to the spiritual world, there is still a distinction between these two classes of souls. In the First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is said that the Absolute Truth is one and that He is manifested as impersonal Brahman, Paramātmā (Supersoul) and Bhagavān (the Supreme Personality of Godhead). Here is a spiritual distinction. Although Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān are the same-and-one Absolute Truth, devotees like Kaṁsa or Śiśupāla could attain only to the Brahman effulgence. They could not have realization of Paramātmā or Bhagavān. That is the distinction.
An analogy can be given with the sun globe and the sunshine: to remain in the sunshine does not mean one has gone to the sun globe. The temperature of the sun globe is different from the temperature of the sunshine. One who has gone through the sunshine in jet planes or in spaceships has not necessarily gone to the sun globe. Although the sunshine and the sun globe are actually one and the same, still there is a distinction, for one is the energy and one is the energetic source. The Absolute Truth and His bodily effulgence are in the same way simultaneously one and different. Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla attained to the Absolute Truth, but they were not allowed to enter into the Goloka Vṛndāvana abode. Impersonalists and the enemies of the Lord are, because of attraction to God, allowed to enter into His kingdom, but they are not allowed to enter into the Vaikuṇṭha planets or the Goloka Vṛndāvana planet of the Supreme Lord. To enter the kingdom and to enter the king’s palace are not the same thing.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī is trying here to describe the different achievements of the impersonalists and the personalists. Generally, those who are impersonalists and are inimical to the Supreme Personality of Godhead get entrance only into the impersonal Brahman, when and if they reach spiritual perfection. The impersonalist philosophers are in one sense like the enemies of the Lord because the out-and-out enemies of the Lord and the impersonalists are both allowed to enter only into the impersonal effulgence of the brahma-jyotir. So it is to be understood that they are of similar classification. And actually the impersonalists are enemies of God because they cannot tolerate the unparalleled opulence of the Lord. They try always to place themselves on the same level with the Lord. That is due to their envious attitude. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has proclaimed the impersonalists to be offenders of the Lord. The Lord is so kind, however, that even though they are His enemies, they are still allowed to enter into the spiritual kingdom and remain in the impersonal brahma-jyotir, the undifferentiated light of the Absolute.
Sometimes an impersonalist may gradually elevate himself to the personal conception of the Lord. Bhagavad-gītā confirms this: “After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me.” By such surrender, an impersonalist can be elevated to the Vaikuṇṭha-loka (spiritual planet) where, as a surrendered soul, he attains bodily features like those of the Lord.
In the Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa it is stated, “Those who have achieved liberation from material contamination and those who are demons and are killed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead become absorbed in the Brahman concept of life and reside in the spiritual sky of the brahma-jyotir.” That spiritual sky is far beyond the material sky, and it is confirmed also in Bhagavad-gītā that beyond this material sky there is another, eternal sky. The enemies and the impersonalists may be allowed to enter into this Brahman effulgence, but the devotees of Kṛṣṇa are promoted all the way to the spiritual planets. Because the pure devotees have developed their spontaneous love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they are allowed to enter into the spiritual planets to enjoy spiritual bliss in association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In the Tenth Canto, eighty-seventh chapter, verse 23 of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the Vedas personified address the Lord in this way: “My dear Lord, yogīs meditate upon Your localized feature, and thus they achieve the spiritual perfection of being merged in the impersonal brahma-jyotir. Persons who treat You as an enemy achieve the same perfection without meditating. The gopīs, who are embraced by Your serpentine hands and who have such lusty attitudes, also achieve the same perfection. And as far as we are concerned, being different demigods in charge of the different parts of Vedic knowledge, we are always following in the footsteps of the gopīs. Thus we hope to attain the same perfection.” By “the same perfection” we must always remember the example of the sun and the sunshine. Those who are impersonalists can merge into the sunshinelike brahma-jyotir, whereas those who are in love with the Supreme Person enter into the supreme abode of the Lord, Goloka Vṛndāvana.
The “lusty attitude” of the gopīs does not refer to any sort of sex indulgence. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī explains that this “lusty desire” refers to the devotee’s particular attitude of association with Kṛṣṇa. Every devotee in his perfectional stage has a spontaneous attraction to the Lord. This attraction is sometimes called the “lusty desire” of the devotee. The lust is the devotee’s excessive desire to serve the Lord in a particular capacity. Such a desire may seem to be a desire for enjoying the Lord, but actually the endeavor is to serve the Lord in that capacity. For example, a devotee may be desiring to associate with the Personality of Godhead as His cowherd friend. He will want to serve the Lord by assisting Him in controlling the cows in the pasturing ground. This may appear to be a desire to enjoy the company of the Lord, but actually it is spontaneous love, serving Him by assisting in managing the transcendental cows.
This extreme desire to serve the Lord is manifest in the transcendental land of Vraja. And it is specifically manifested among the gopīs. The gopīs’ love for Kṛṣṇa is so elevated that for our understanding it is sometimes explained as being “lusty desire.”
The author of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Kavirāja Kṛṣṇadāsa, has explained the distinction between lusty desire and the service attitude in this statement: “ ‘Lusty desire’ refers to the desire to gratify one’s personal senses, and ‘transcendental desire’ refers to the desire for serving the senses of the Lord.” In the material world there is no such thing as a lover’s wanting to please the senses of his beloved. Actually, in the material world, everyone wants mainly to gratify his own personal senses. The gopīs, however, wanted nothing at all but to gratify the senses of the Lord, and there is no instance of this in the material world. Therefore the gopīs’ ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa is sometimes described by scholars as being like the “lusty desire” of the material world, but actually this should not be taken as a literal fact. It is simply a way of trying to understand the transcendental situation.
Great devotees up to the standard of Uddhava are very dear friends of the Lord, and they desire to follow in the footsteps of the gopīs. So the gopīs’ love for Kṛṣṇa is certainly not material lusty desire. Otherwise, how could Uddhava aspire to follow in their footsteps? Another instance is Lord Caitanya Himself. After accepting the sannyāsa order of life, He was very, very strict about avoiding association with women, but still He taught that there is no better method of worshiping Kṛṣṇa than that conceived by the gopīs. Thus the gopīs’ method of worshiping the Lord as if impelled by lusty desire was praised very highly even by Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. This very fact means that although the attraction of the gopīs for Kṛṣṇa appears to be lusty, it is not in the least bit material. Unless one is fully situated in the transcendental position, the relationship of the gopīs with Kṛṣṇa is very difficult to understand. But because it appears to be just like ordinary dealings of young boys and girls, it is sometimes misinterpreted to be like the ordinary sex of this material world. Unfortunately, persons who cannot understand the transcendental nature of the love affairs of the gopīs and Kṛṣṇa take it for granted that Kṛṣṇa’s love affairs with the gopīs are mundane transactions, and therefore they sometimes indulge in painting licentious pictures in some modernistic style.
On the other hand, the lusty desire of Kubjā is described by learned scholars as being “almost lusty desire.” Kubjā was a hunchbacked woman who also wanted Kṛṣṇa with a great ecstatic love. But her desire for Kṛṣṇa was almost mundane, and so her love cannot be compared to the love of the gopīs. Her loving affection for Kṛṣṇa is called kāma-prāyā, or almost like the gopīs’ love for Kṛṣṇa.