Srila Rupa Goswami has explained progressive devotional life as being comprised of three broad stages – devotional service in practice, devotional service in ecstasy and devotional service in pure love of godhead. In addition to these stages, he has also described six specific characteristics of pure devotional service, two of which are associated with each of the three stages. Klesangni (relief from all distress) and subhada (auspiciousness), are manifest during the first stage – devotional service in practice.
These three broad stages correlate with the nine more specific stages already described as follows:
- Devotional service in practice – sraddha, sadhu sanga, bhajana-kriya, anartha nivritti, nistha, ruci, asakti
- Devotional service in ecstasy – bhava
- Devotional service in pure love of God – prema
As one advances from devotional service in practice to devotional service in ecstasy the characteristics of klesangni and subhada become progressively more pronounced in the practitioner. As the stage of anistha bhajana kriya (unsteady devotional practice) draws to a close, auspiciousness becomes more pronounced in the following four ways: one’s devotional activities are (1) recognized as beneficial to everyone; (2) are attractive to everyone; (3) one displays saintly qualities and good character; and (4) one experiences a happiness superior to sense gratification, mystic perfection, and liberation in Brahman realization.
Stage 6: Frolicking in bhakti’s pleasant waves – taranga rangini
As this auspiciousness becomes progressively manifest, the advancing sadhaka (devotional practitioner) confronts what Srila Visvantha Cakravarti delineates as the sixth and final stage of anistha bhajana kriya – taranga-rangini.
“It is said that everyone is attracted to the reservoir of bhakti, Krishna’s devotee, for he is a treasure-house of good qualities and mercy. Distinguished in human society the devotee is awarded labha (profit), puja (adoration) and pratistha (distinction). In the vast and unlimited ocean of bhakti-rasa such rewards, by-products of bhakti, are only small waves (taranga) of personal pleasure (ranga). However, such benefits, when improperly utilized for self-aggrandizement, become weeds in the garden of the devotional creeper and can easily stunt its growth.”
Through the pen of Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami we learn that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in his teachings to Srila Rupa Goswami, has cautioned of unlimited weeds (upasakha) that grow around the bhakti creeper. He specifically mentions diplomatic behavior, animal slaughter and mundane profit, adoration and distinction as some weeds that sprout while one waters the creeper (bhakti-lata) of devotion, through constant performance of bhajana kriya. If one does not take great care to uproot these unnecessary weeds of self aggrandizement, the weeds will steal the creeper’s nourishment and stunt one’s devotional advancement.
Lingering materialistic mentalities during unsteady devotion foster the sense of being the doer and enjoyer, providing opportunity for the weeds of taranga rangini to germinate and grow. Falsely thinking that one’s personal endeavors in spiritual practice have created auspiciousness, one can easily lose proper understanding regarding the causeless nature of spiritual benedictions. Bewildered by appreciations from both the mundane and devotional society, one selfishly enjoys gifts, praise and fame – the devotional facilities of profit, adoration and distinction – and experiences these auspicious benefits of bhakti as personal pleasure. Often times characterized as subtle sex, this mentality obscures the selfless serving mood that is vital to the nurturing of pure devotion.
At this final stage, taranga rangini, of anistha bhajana kriya gross discrimination is fostered by the acceptance of the auspicious results of bhakti for one’s personal pleasure. Great care must be taken to uproot such weeds born of false prestige so that they do not overgrow the pure devotional creeper. Continual use of fine discrimination, cultured in good association, will assure that all the vital nutrients of one’s sadhana nurture only one’s pure intent directed towards attainment of the shelter and mercy of the spiritual master, as this goal alone guarantees one’s spiritual progress. All other desires must be recognized as obstacles and be dealt with according to one’s ability, under good guidance.
Although the circumstance of qualification may not afford one the opportunity to immediately remove all obstacles, the sincere desire to advance to selfless service insures continued progress. Until the deep humility of nistha is attained one can still be easily bewildered by the misconception that auspicious results from devotional practice are the result of personal endeavor. The fully developed stage of nistha is characterized by such deep humility, free of any tinge of false prestige, that the sadhaka conviction is “all spiritual advancement and realization is attained only by the krpa-shakti of guru, Krishna and the vaisnavas.” This depth of such humility is presented in the 3rd verse Sri Sri Siksastakam
trinad api sunichena
taror api sahishnuna
kirtaniyah sada harih
“One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige and should be ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.”
Using the head to soften the heart, one who deeply contemplates the causeless nature of bhakti will easily overcome this final stage of unsteady devotion and advance blissfully to the stage nistha.
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