ELIGIBILITY FOR SPONTANEOUS DEVOTIONAL SERVICE
Persons desiring to follow in the footsteps of such eternal devotees of the Lord as the Vṛṣṇis and Vṛndāvana denizens are called rāgānugā devotees, which means that they are trying to attain to the perfection of those devotees. These rāgānugā devotees do not follow the regulative principles of devotional service very strictly, but by spontaneous nature they become attracted to some of the eternal devotees such as Nanda or Yaśodā, and they try to follow in their footsteps spontaneously. There is a gradual development of the ambition to become like a particular devotee, and this activity is called rāgānugā.
We must always remember, however, that such eagerness to follow in the footsteps of the denizens of Vraja (Vṛndāvana) is not possible unless one is freed from material contamination. In following the regulative principles of devotional service, there is a stage called anartha-nivṛtti, which means the disappearance of all material contamination. Sometimes someone is found imitating such devotional love, but factually he is not freed from anarthas, or unwanted habits. It has been seen that a so-called devotee proclaims himself a follower of Nanda, Yaśodā or the gopīs, while at the same time his abominable attraction for mundane sex life is visible. Such a manifestation of divine love is mere imitation and has no value. When one is actually spontaneously attracted to the loving principles of the gopīs, there will be found no trace of any mundane contamination in his character.
Therefore, in the beginning, everyone should strictly follow the regulative principles of devotional service according to the injunctions of the scriptures and the spiritual master. Only after the stage of liberation from material contamination can one actually aspire to follow in the footsteps of the devotees in Vṛndāvana.
It is said by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, “When one is actually liberated from material contamination, he can always remember an eternal devotee in Vṛndāvana in order to love Kṛṣṇa in the same capacity. And developing such an aptitude, one will always live in Vṛndāvana, even within his mind.” The purport is that if it is possible one should go and physically be present at Vraja-bhūmi, Vṛndāvana, and be engaged always in the service of the Lord, following the devotees in Vraja-dhāma, the spiritual realm of Vraja. If it is not possible, however, to be physically present at Vṛndāvana, one can meditate anywhere on living in that situation. Wherever he may be, one must always think about life in Vraja-dhāma and about following in the footsteps of a particular devotee in the service of the Lord.
A devotee who is actually advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, who is constantly engaged in devotional service, should not manifest himself, even though he has attained perfection. The idea is that he should always continue to act as a neophyte devotee as long as his material body is there. Activities in devotional service under regulative principles must be followed even by the pure devotee. But when he realizes his actual position in relationship with the Lord, he can, along with the discharging of regulative service, think within himself of the Lord under the guidance of a particular associate of the Lord, and develop his transcendental sentiments in following that associate.
In this connection, we should be careful about the so-called siddha-praṇālī. The siddha-praṇālī process is followed by a class of men who are not very authorized and who have manufactured their own way of devotional service. They imagine that they have become associates of the Lord simply by thinking of themselves like that. This external behavior is not at all according to the regulative principles. The so-called siddha-praṇālī process is followed by the prākṛta-sahajiyā, a pseudosect of so-called Vaiṣṇavas. In the opinion of Rūpa Gosvāmī, such activities are simply disturbances to the standard way of devotional service.
Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī says that learned ācāryas recommend that we follow the regulative principles even after the development of spontaneous love for Kṛṣṇa. According to the regulative principles, there are nine departmental activities, as described above, and one should specifically engage himself in the type of devotional service for which he has a natural aptitude. For example, one person may have a particular interest in hearing, another may have a particular interest in chanting, and another may have a particular interest in serving in the temple. So these, or any of the other six different types of devotional service (remembering, serving, praying, engaging in some particular service, being in a friendly relationship or offering everything in one’s possession), should be executed in full earnestness. In this way, everyone should act according to his particular taste.
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