The Force of Affection

Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj explains the transition from ritual worship to affectionate service.

Student: Are the Vaiṣṇavas supposed to follow the rituals described in Śrī Hari‑bhakti‑vilāsa? It is important for us to follow all of those rituals?

Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: Those who are in the lower position, the kaniṣṭha-adhikār [beginning stage], should strictly observe the rituals and formalities, but when taste (ruchi) is created, then the Bhāgavata‑mārga [the path given in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam] begins: then śravaṇ, kīrtan, smaraṇ, vandan, and so on [hearing, chanting, remembering, bowing, and so on] become principal. In that stage, there is not much stress on archan or rituals; the practitioner becomes more free as they make progress towards bhajan [service] and anurāga, love, affection, taste. When taste and affection for God is created, then the formalities of ritual are of lesser importance. But the beginners should try to strictly follow those rituals for their own good.

The path of vaidhī, vidhi-bhakti, entails rituals.

vaidha-bhakty-adhikr tu bhvvirbhavanvadhi
(Bhakti‑rasāmṛta‑sindhu: 1.2.292)

In Bhakti‑rasāmṛta‑sindhu, Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī gives this line to us: the jurisdiction of vaidhī-bhakti, regulated devotion, goes up to the stage in which our taste for the service of the Lord awakens. Āvirbhavanāvadhi: when our taste, our affection and attraction, for Kṛṣṇa is created, then the stress on the strictness of following the rituals is lessened. Not so much stress is given on rituals in that stage, but before that taste—laulya, lobha, greed—we are to follow very strictly the rules and regulations of devotion as prescribed in the religious books. There are so many Purāṇas, so many smṛtis and saṁhitās, and the Vaiṣṇavas collected from all these texts and made Hari‑bhakti‑vilāsa for the devotees.

Student: Is that the stage of bhāva, Guru Mahārāj? When one reaches the stage of bhāva, is that when the rituals become less important?

Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: When bhāva arises, one is established in rāga‑mārga, but it is so also even before that in the stage of ruchi. First is śraddhā [faith], then sādhu‑saṅga [association with the sādhus], then bhajana‑kriyā [service activities], then anartha‑nivṛtti [elimination of obstacles], and then niṣṭhā [constancy]. Niṣṭhā means nairantarya, continuous awareness of Kṛṣṇa. In niṣṭhā, there is no break; one is always thinking about Kṛṣṇa and not otherwise. This is niṣṭhā, continuous remembrance of Kṛṣṇa and His own. There, real taste is created, after this stage. After continued remembrance comes taste. Otherwise, in the lower position, sometimes some taste is seen to be present within us, and sometimes our mind is thrown in another way. That is not taste proper. Taste proper is to be located after niṣṭhā, nairantarya, that is, continuous recollection of Kṛṣṇa. If we feel any taste within our heart at that stage, then that is bona fide taste.

From there, we can trace rāga‑mārga, rāgānugā-bhakti. There, one can depend on one’s own inner tendency and may not care much about the formalities of worship. For example, rules and regulations are necessary for a midwife taking care of another woman’s child: how she should nurse and take care of the child. But for the mother who has affection for the child, such regulations are not necessary. Out of affection, the mother will look after the child. No rules and regulations are necessary because the mother’s natural affection for the child will force her to look after the child. Formalities are necessary only for a midwife, for someone who is not taking care of her own child: she should give the child milk twice or thrice, she should do this thing and that thing—duty. When affection comes from within, then regulations are slackened. When affection, the inner awakenment of our soul, the inner affection and attraction we feel for Kṛṣṇa, the Lord of our heart, arises, then the regulations are slackened.

vaidha-bhakty-adhikr tu bhvvirbhavanvadhi
(Bhakti‑rasāmṛta‑sindhu: 1.2.292)

As long as that inner taste for the service of Kṛṣṇa does not arise, we must follow the scriptural regulations in our daily activities and worship, and thereby, we shall hope that our inner awakenment will be done and our inner taste for the service of the Lord will awaken.


Spoken 1 February 1983


vaidha-bhakty-adhikr tu bhvvirbhavanvadhi
atra śstraṁ tath tarkam anuklam apekṣate
(Bhakti‑rasāmṛta‑sindhu: 1.2.292)

Those who are situated in vaidhī-bhakti should rely on scripture and favourable reasoning until the appearance of rati.”

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