Abhidheya: Rasa and Bhava Sadhana

The three aspects of theological doctrine, namely sambandha, abhidheya and prayojana, are so interconnected that each part hinges on the two others. If one understands the sambandha in a certain way, it will imply a certain kind of abhidheya or sādhana, and of course, if our goals are clear, that will also influence the means we take to attain them.

We have expressed the sambandha as the Divine Couple, the sakhis and Vrindavan, equivalent to the three categories of God, man and the world. This understanding informs the way we see the entire world and its purpose, and therefore determines our general and specific course of action, which is the abhidheya or sādhana.

At the beginning of his chapter on sādhana-bhakti, Rupa Goswami writes:

kṛti-sādhyā bhavet sādhya-bhāvā sā sādhanābhidhā
nitya-siddhasya bhāvasya prākaṭyaṁ hṛdi sādhyatā
The devotion that is executed by [external] actions but is meant to produce feelings of love [or the sthāyi-bhāva] is called sādhanā bhakti. The goal of the practice (sādhanā) is to manifest eternally existent loving feelings in the heart. (BRS 1.2.2)
This verse has deliberately been expressed in a playful way, with cognate words siddha, sādhya, sādhana, etc., all being used together simultaneously, but with slightly differing meanings.

The important thing to note in the first line is that sādhana-bhakti is said to be using the external senses (all the commentaries agree) to produce internal feelings. So, as many other verses from the Bhāgavata, etc., show: there are two kinds of bhakti, one external, one internal. The mind is the midpoint, but still external. A few verses further on from the above, Srila Rupa Goswami defines vaidhī bhakti by saying that the goal of all injunctions and prohibitions is to remember Krishna and never forget him, this is still external unless we think of Krishna with love. The sādhya is prema, which is of the heart not the mind.

The second line gives a caveat that is somewhat confusing. Nitya-siddha means that these feelings are not created by the sādhana, but that they are eternally existing. The goal of the practice is to manifest that eternally existing bhāva in the heart. There is some debate about whether those feelings are eternally existing in the jiva or in the svarūpa-śakti, but all Gaudiya acharyas beginning with Jiva Goswami agree that the latter is the correct position. In actual fact, bhāva is the essence of the svarūpa-śakti and the ultimate goal for the marginal potency is to become identified with the svarūpa-śakti.

Prema exists eternally in Radharani, but when through the combination of our efforts and her grace it manifests in our hearts, we have achieved the goal of the sādhana. What this means, simply, for those who are following the process of mādhurya-bhakti, is that the individual soul attains tādātmya or a state of identification with Radha, the svarūpa-śakti. And this, of course, is the reason that sādhu-saìga, or the association of advanced premi bhaktas is such a necessity.

To repeat: The activities of the external senses, which are also included within the general category of bhakti, must lead to bhāva or they are a failure. This is why Sri Rupa Prabhu says that bhakti is sudurlabhā.

sādhanaughair anāsaṅghair alabhyā sucirād api
hariṇā cāśvadeyeti dvidhā sā syāt sudurlabhā
Bhakti is hard to obtain for two reasons: one is that one may engage in great amounts of sadhana acts but if they are not "attached", they will not bear fruit. On the other hand, Krishna does not [even then] bestow it so easily. (BRS 1.1.35)
So, there is little we can do about Divine Mercy, but certainly we can do something about the first part. Actually, the second part may not be as big a problem as it apparently seems, because clearly Krishna promises to respond immediately to those who have the sincere desire for devotion and prema, especially those who have received the grace of his beloved devotees who have already attained that identity with the internal potency.

But all things being equal, love for Radha and Krishna begins with a love for sādhana-bhakti. But if one is sincerely trying to make an effort to attain Radha and Krishna in Vrindavan, one must be careful to yoke the horse to the right carriage. And this leads to rāgānugā bhakti.

Rāgānugā bhakti is primarily executed in the mind. There is a verse in the vaidhī bhakti section of the BRS that discusses mānasī sevā, but as Krishnadas Kaviraj makes clear, that is different from the practices engaged in rāgānugā bhakti. If one is thinking of devotional activities conducted with the material body, that is vaidhī bhakti; if one is thinking of directly participating in the nitya-līlā pastimes of Radha and Krishna, that is rāgānugā bhakti.

śrī-rādhā-prāṇa-bandhoś caraṇa-kamalayoḥ keśa-śeṣādy-agamyā
yā sādhyā prema-sevā vraja-carita-parair gāḍha-laulyaika-labhyā |
sā syāt prāptā yayā tāṁ prathayitum adhunā mānasīm asya sevāṁ
bhāvyāṁ rāgādhva-pānthair vrajam anu caritaṁ naityikaṁ tasya naumi ||
The sādhya (ultimate goal) of spiritual practices is loving service to Radha’s prāṇa-bandhu, Sri Krishna. Although such loving service (prema-sevā) is unknown to Brahma, Shiva and Ananta, it is available to those who follow in the Vrajavasis’ footsteps with deep hankering. So, as I now begin to elaborate on this system, the mānasī sevā performed by those who travel on the rāgānuga bhakti path, I first offer my prostrate pranams to the pastimes that daily unfold in Vraja. (GLA 1.4)
The key is laulyam, or lobha, greed or intense eagerness to have it. We must remember that the goal of the rāgānuga bhakti practices is not the expert execution of mental exercises in the manner of tantric visualizations (mantra-mayī). These may be helpful in terms of mental control, but if that is all they are, they will fall short of our real goal of prema.

In fact, Rupa Goswami has presented the rasa theory to show how we progress from the mental stage to the emotional one, because rasa is essentially concerned with the creation of emotion.

Rasa Theory

Rupa Goswami's rasa theory is contingent on the development of the sthāyi bhāva. This is the purpose of the whole description of the three divisions of bhakti into sādhana, bhāva and prema bhaktis. In fact, the sādhyā bhakti is divided into two, bhāva and prema, but as we have seen above, Rupa is giving immediate precedence to bhāva. Bhāva can legitimately be translated as love, because in Rupa Goswami's system, sthāyi-bhāva, or the basic emotional foundation, is kṛṣṇa-rati, or love for Krishna. This then is divided into the five kinds of love.

But before we go into that, it is necessary to understand a little about sthāyi-bhāva as it is explained by the various teachers of Sanskrit drama prior to Rupa Goswami. In particular, Vishwanath Kaviraj has made a nice summary in his Sāhitya-darpaṇa which may or may not have influenced Rupa Goswami's description. We will look at that in a moment.

vibhāvenānubhāvena vyaktaḥ saṣcāriṇā tathā |
rasatām eti raty-ādiḥ sthāyī bhāvaḥ sa-cetasām ||
sattvodrekād akhaṇḍa-sva-prakāśānanda-cin-mayaḥ |
vedyāntara-sparśa-śūnyo brahmāsvāda-sahodaraḥ ||
lokottara-camatkāra-prāṇaḥ kaiścit pramātṛbhiḥ |
svākāravad abhinnatvenāyam āsvādyate rasaḥ ||
When the sthāyi-bhāvas of love, etc., are combined with the vibhāvas, anubhāvas and vyabhicārīs, then it becomes rasa in those who are equipped with the right level of consciousness. Due to their being situated in the sattva guna, this rasa, which is unbroken, self-manifest, joyful and spiritual, which drives out even the slightest awareness of other sensations, which is the twin brother of the taste of Brahman, whose life is a transcendent sense of wonder is relished by certain perceptive rasikas (pramātṛ) as non different from oneself, as though it had the very same form as oneself. (SD 6.1-3)

Rupa Goswami's verses
bhakti-nirdhūta-doṣāṇāṁ prasannojjvala-cetasām |
śrī-bhāgavata-raktānāṁ rasikāsaṅga-raṅgiṇām ||7||
jīvanī-bhūta-govinda-pāda-bhakti-sukha-śriyām |
premāntaraṅga-bhūtāni kṛtyāny evānutiṣṭhatām ||8||
bhaktānāṁ hṛdi rājantī saṁskāra-yugalojjvalā |
ratir ānanda-rūpaiva nīyamānā tu rasyatām ||9||
kṛṣṇādibhir vibhāvādyair gatair anubhavādhvani |
prauḍhānanda-camatkāra-kāṣṭhām āpadyate parām ||10||
For those whose faults have been entirely removed by the performance of devotional practices and whose minds are peaceful [making them suitable for the appearance of pure goodness’ special features] and effulgent [and thus equipped with full knowledge], who are attached to hearing the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and who find happiness in the association of devotees, for whom the joy of service to Govinda has become the raison-d’être of their existence, and who are always engaged in the most confidential processes of developing love for Krishna, [namely hearing and chanting about his qualities and pastimes], have a love (rati) for Krishna that is effulgently manifest due to conditioning from both this and previous lives.

This love, which is an embodiment of the divine joy, becomes experienced as rasa [without any dependence upon the fine quality of the poetry or dramatic performance being witnessed as is the case in material æsthetic experiences], but simply due to the different inspirators, etc., connected with the person of Krishna.

N.B. The term rati is synonymous here with sthāyi-bhāva. Rati is being described as the raw material for rasa or sacred rapture.

But first it will be necessary to speak a little about literal and allegorical truth.

Allegorical understanding and Myth


God is a difficult concept to grasp and therefore only accessible to the tiny human brain through philosophy, myth and metaphor. For those with a literal bent of mind, this is perhaps the hardest leap to take. But the fact is that whenever we interpret Radha Krishna in terms of what they represent, we enter the realm of allegory and metaphor. I have written about these matters at length on this blog, and I suggest looking at the following tags for more information: symbolism, myth, metaphor, automythology, etc.

All Indian traditions are fundamentally experiential, and the bhakti tradition depends more on hearing as an experience, and only secondarily as an intellectual exercise in the way that, say, the jnana marga does. Of course, the theological/philosophical component is necessary as a part of the tripartite process – śravaṇa, manana, nididhyāsana – that is common to the mechanics of knowledge/experience (jïāna/vijïāna) in all spiritual paths. The difference is that in bhakti-yoga, through rasa theory, śravaṇa or hearing is also an element of direct experience.

The first thing to look at is what is common to both myth and to ordinary aesthetic experience in relation to ordinary, "mundane" literary products (by which I mean any artistic product such as literature, theatre, film, music, etc., that bring about a strong sentimental response). Though the rasa shastra and Western dramatic theory debate about the various genres, we will accept the conclusion that love or romance forms the backbone of all such products and speak primarily in terms of how rasa theory applies to this one genre. By so doing, we are making an implicit assumption about human psychology that is accepted by the Rupa Goswami, by the kundalini yogis, and by Freudian psychologists, namely the fundamental role of sexuality in the human psyche q. The sheer predominance of romantic themes in popular music (to take but one example) should be ample proof of this.

In rasa terms, they are called the viṣaya and the āśraya, the object and subject of love. Generally Krishna is the object, Radha the subject, but it is well known that in love each is the āśraya and viṣaya of love for the other. Nevertheless, since Radha is identified with love itself, pleasure, she is the principal āśraya.


parasya na parasyeti mameti na mameti ca
tad-āsvāde vibhāvādeḥ paricchedo na vidyate

In the relishing of the vibhāvas, etc., no distinction remains and one can no longer tell whether they are one's own or not, or whether they are the other's or not. (SD 3.12)