Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #7 – Rāgānugā-bhakti and the Art of Management

February 17th, 2020

Rāgānugā-bhakti is about doing things from the heart. Management is mostly about organization and policies. Can they be reconciled?


People who have been on my retreats notice that I am a stickler for the details of managing it.  During my Puri retreat, one younger devotee noticed how intensely I was making sure that the prasādam was served according to traditional Vaiṣṇava standards and joked that they were surprised that a Vrajavāsī was so much into vaidhī-bhakti.[1] Although the comment was innocent, and they were, in fact, appreciating what I was doing, I could see that they had some misunderstanding about what rāgānugā-bhakti, or spontaneous devotional service, is. I quickly replied in the form of questions to help them reconcile the concepts of management and spontaneous devotion.


When there is good management, you don’t see the management. When there is bad management, all you see is the management. Which is more conducive to rāgānugā-bhakti?


When Krishna arrives home in the evening “as required according the scheduled round of each pastime”[2] is His adherence to time an imposition on His līlā or pastimes, or an asset to it?


After arriving home in the evening from the cow pasture, Krishna’s mother bathes, dresses, and decorates Him so that He may join the other men and boys in the community for the scheduled milking of the cows. Was her attention to detail and time connected to her motherly devotion, or her desire to advance in religiosity by doing her duty?


Krishna’s day is described in books like Govinda-līlāmrita as aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā, the eight-fold daily pastimes, meaning that His daily activities are scheduled practically down to the minute. If Krishna’s activities are scheduled so rigidly by His līlā-śakti, or pastime potency, how can we say that keeping things orderly is antithetical to spontaneous devotion?


Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī is recognized as the prayojana-ācārya, the authority on prema-bhakti. His practices, like chanting and paying hundreds of obeisances to the Vaiṣṇavas, were so fixed that they are described as like the lines on a stone. Considering whom Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī was, how we can divorce his mood of rigid discipline from the realm of the highest devotion?


Kirtan is described as “when the bhava in the heart is expressed through the discipline of music”.[3]  Is the effort to make a beautiful kirtan within the parameters of classical musical discipline enhancing or obstructing spontaneous devotion?


At the Ratha Yatra festival in Puri, Śrī Caitanya meticulously organized the kirtan into four parties with six chanters in each party: one lead singer and five to accompany him. He then assigned two expert mṛdaṅga players to each party. In addition, he made sure the dancing was appropriate by assigning one lead dancer to each party. Śrī Caitanya came to give rāgānugā-bhakti. Was His strict oversight of the kirtan party a result of His spontaneous devotion or something else?


Śrī Radha learned sixty-four arts in order to please Krishna. Among them were carpentry (takṣaṇa), engineering (vastu-vidyā), mechanics (yantra-mātṛkā), and enforcing discipline (vaināyikī vidyā). Why then can’t we manage on the platform of spontaneous devotion for the pleasure of Krishna?


I think it is obvious by the questions I raised that one on the level of spontaneous devotion is not limited in what one does for Krishna’s service, including regulation and organization. It is thus not the activity that makes something spontaneous devotion, but the inspiration or impetus for doing it. Can rāgānugā-bhakti be reconciled with organization and management? As long as it’s born out of the deepest intimate love for Śrī Krishna, then why not?


[1] Vaidhī-bhakti is devotion inspired by faith in the potency of following the rules or prescriptions of devotion. Rāgānugā-bhakti, or devotion following the eternal residents of Vṛndāvana, is devotion inspired by one’s intimate relationship with Krishna.

[2] Bhāg. 10.13.23

[3] This is a definition of kirtan from the Sikh tradition from an article by Satyahari Singh published in the Journal of Vaiṣṇava Studies.

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