Ecstatic Symptoms in Neophytes???

In response to my article, Accusations Against Rāgānugā Sādhana, someone asked:

Who is the source of the “accusations” you are responding to?

An ISKCON Sannyāsī recently said these things while doing an otherwise excellent job of explaining the subject during a seminar.

It seems to me that ISCKON leaders are very cautious about allowing devotees to feel that they have experienced high states of spiritual bliss or elevation.

Rāgānugā-sādhana has nothing to do with experiencing a high state of spiritual bliss or elevation. All that is required is a strong and clear desire to achieve a certain type of friendly, parental, or romantic love for Krishna. Rāgānugā is a practice for conditioned jīvas, by which we can eventually attain those three types of relationships with Krishna. It is not a perfected state. A person in the perfected state is known as a Rāgātmikā. A person who is not in the perfected state, but strives for it, is known as a Rāgānugī.

In the early days of the Hare Krishna movement, the “hippies” of that time may have been more inclined toward “imaginative ecstasy” based on cultural conditioning, drug experiences, etc. Maybe that is why leaders caution against it?


In general the assumption that you have achieved something monumental only goes to demonstrate that you really don’t even comprehend what “monumental” truly means. And thinking myself “advanced” is a fairly sure sign, most all of the time, that I don’t really even know what “advanced” truly is.

If one experiences some ecstatic feelings during kirtan, how can such feelings/visible actions be accommodated and honored without pessimism? Is there any precedent for how to regard such displays in a congregational setting? I feel like the default perception might be a pessimistic one.

Love (bhakti) produces emotions – so its no surprise that practices of love (bhakti-sādhana) would often produce emotional responses in the practitioner. In fact, we should be extremely skeptical of our practices if they don’t. 

Real bhakti is called bhāva-bhakti, and it produces real emotions continuously and very powerfully. Bhāva-bhakti is the initial stage of perfection in bhakti-yoga. It is “sudurlabha,” a very extremely rare accomplishment. Safe to say that basically no one that we see practicing bhakti is at that stage. Out of a few million practitioners, I estimate, I would expect to find 1 who has attained bhāva.

However, the two stages preceding bhāva (ruci and āsakti) also consistently produce relatively profound emotional states. And even in the stages preceding these, the same results begin to dawn occasionally. So, even the new practitioner should expect to occasionally experience significant emotional responses from their devotional practices.

In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu, Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī explains that Bhāva can be “approximated” by people who have not actually attained it. This approximation is called an abhāsa. He says there are two types of bhāva-abhāsa: The first is an intentional imitation with ulterior motives (prati-bimba bhāva-abhāsa). The second is a genuine reflection of bhāva, which comes as a result of the power of bhakti (chaya bhāva-abhāsa). By contact with the powerful practices of bhakti, and with deep practitioners of bhakti, some “shadow” of that power falls on our heart, and even that shadow moves our emotions as powerfully as our more profound conventional emotional experiences.

So, when we encounter or experience an emotional response to our devotional practices, in kīrtan for example, we simply need to assess if it is an intentional imitation or not. Intentional imitations are done to become famous, get respect, get money, get attention, and so on. These should be discouraged, and rooted out from the family of practitioners, because they only disturb the communal garden of bhakti. If it is not a nefarious imitation, we should be happy and welcome it as confirmation that the practices we are engaged in, and the guru and saṅga in which we engage in them, are genuine and empowered.

Vraja Kishor das

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  1. Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu 1.3.46 says
    tatra pratibimbaḥ—
    aśramābhīṣṭa-nirvāhī rati-lakṣaṇa-lakṣitaḥ |
    bhogāpavarga-saukhyāṁśa-vyañjakaḥ pratibimbakaḥ ||46||

    “Pratibimba or reflection is described as follows:
    When there are apparent qualities of rati, accompanied by desires for enjoyment and liberation, it is called the pratibimba (reflection) raty-ābhāsa. This pratibimba raty-ābhāsa awards the goals of enjoyment and liberation to those persons without
    their having to exert effort.”

    So pratibimba is not that a person try to fake ecstatic symptoms, it is when a devotee has desires other than bhakti, for liberation or sense gratification.
    Jiva goswami comments:
    “The type of rati for the Lord which is contaminated by desires for enjoyment or liberation is called pratibimba-raty-ābhāsa. This pratibimba awards liberation without extreme efforts because of two qualities existing in the Lord—His power to bestow material enjoyment and His power to bestow liberation. This is the extraordinary power of pratibimbaraty-ābhāsa.”
    So pratibimba is not only not “intentional imitation” it is even considered very fortunate and auspicious.
    Jīva goswami continues to explain:
    “Those who are attached to enjoyment and liberation,
    through occasional rather than constant association with devotees (daivāt), imitate devotional activities, such as chanting,“

    here we have the imitation. Not of ecstatic symptoms, but of devotional ectivities.
    BRS 1.3.49 continues with explaining the chāyā type:
    “atha chāyā—
    kṣudra-kautūhala-mayī cañcalā duḥkha-hāriṇī |
    rateś chāyā bhavet kiṁcit tat-sādṛśyāvalambinī ||49||”

    “The splendorous type of semblance of bhāva is now described:
    That which has some similarity to real rati, which possesses a small amount of interest in the Lord, which is unstable, and which destroys suffering, is called chāyā-raty-ābhāsa.”

    chāyā means “resemblance to beauty”,
    “Little interest (kṣudra-kautūhala) means that though the Lord and bhakti are spiritual, the person has interest in them only as material objects.
    Because there is curiosity relating to the Lord, even though material, there is an appearance of a little splendor (kānti).”

    So it is explayned that pratibimba bhavabhasa is seen in devotees who also have intrest in liberation and sense gratification, chāyā bhavabhasa is seen in persons who have only a slight intrest in the Lord.

    BRS 1.3.50-51 continues:
    hari-priya-kriyā-kāla-deśa-pātrādi-saṅgamāt |
    apy ānuṣaṅgikād eṣa kvacid ajñeṣv apīkṣyate ||50||
    kintu bhāgyaṁ vinā nāsau bhāva-cchāyāpy udañcati |
    yad abhyudayataḥ kṣemaṁ tatra syād uttarottaram ||51||

    “This chāyā-raty-ābhāsa appears sometimes even in ignorant people by a combination of performing actions dear to the Lord, observing the festivals of the Lord, residing in the dhāma of the Lord, and associating with the devotees of the Lord. Even this chāyā-raty-ābhāsa, which eventually bestows auspiciousness to those people, appears only with great good fortune.”
    What about faking ecstatic symptoms?
    That is explained in BRS 2.3.82-83
    kiṁ ca –
    athātra sāttvikābhāsā vilikhyante catur-vidhāḥ ||82||
    raty-ābhāsa-bhavās te tu sattvābhāsa-bhavās tathā |
    niḥsattvāś ca pratīpāś ca yathā-pūrvam amī varāḥ ||83||
    “However, four types of ābhāsas of sāttvika-bhāva should be described. They are called ratyābhāsa-bhava (generated from raty-ābhāsa), sattvābhāsa-bhava (generated from sattvābhāsa), niḥsattva (false sattva) and pratīpa (enmity). They are listed in order from superior to inferior.”
    The faking it falls under the category of niḥsattva, ecstatic symptoms not coming from sattva (inner joy).

    BRS 2.3.89:
    atha niḥsattvāḥ –
    nisarga-picchila-svānte tad-abhyāsa-pare ’pi ca |
    sattvābhāsaṁ vināpi syuḥ kvāpy aśru-pulakādayaḥ ||89||
    “When a person has a hard heart and practices exhibiting the sāttvika-bhāvas, without even a touch of emotion, the appearance of tears or other symptoms are called niḥsattva.”
    Jīva Gosvāmī comments:
    “This niḥsattva, or external manifestation of symptoms, arises by practice in persons who have hardness (no emotions) internally.”

    Maybe it should be noted that the category of pratibimba might apply to quite some devotees who show ecstatic symptoms but lack real rati (bhāva).
    How do you know if a devotee have real bhāva or not?
    You don’t, unless you have rati yourself. Likely, most ecstatic symptoms you see in devotees are of the pratibimba versions, since real rati is very rare. But that is not bad, it can lead to either the goal (liberation or sense gratification), or to real rati in the devotee who is fortunate enough to get the mercy of a devotee with real rati.

    Which of course mean that the person who think everyone else are cheaters will also never get such association.


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