Raganuga-bhakti in ISKCON


I feel it’s an unfortunate aspect of ISKCON culture that it marginalizes raganuga-sadhana (particularly in madhurya-bhava) to the point it appears non-existent and even undesirable.


H.D. Goswami Profile Picture

Regarding the statement that Raganuga-bhakti is marginalized, that may be a good thing because it should be, literally, at the margins, and not in the center of a large, sprawling, and largely neophyte spiritual society. A margin is “an edge or border” not in itself pejorative, though the verb “marginalize” may have negative connotations.

I believe there are three historical reasons that explain why some devotees marginalize raganuga-bhakti in the negative sense:

1.  The danger of sahajiya eroticism which has rarely surfaced among Western devotees, but has appeared.

2. Political fear that devotees outside the management structure will claim to be, or be seen as, the most advanced, enlightened devotees, and thus destabilize power structures.

3. As mentioned earlier, unqualified devotees promote raganuga-bhakti among other unqualified devotees. This became a huge issue with non-ISKCON gurus’ groups. Even among ISKCON devotees I see devotees whose general behavior and character do not indicate true spiritual advancement, using raganuga as a way to brag and show they are better than other devotees.

Apart from that, Prabhupada and his predecessor acharyas urged discretion in raganuga matters and clearly the terms ‘discretion’ and ‘margin’ may be synonymous in some senses of the words. Consider that although Prabhupada’s followers accept that he is “with Krishna,” speculation on Prabhupada’s specific relationship with Krishna was never encouraged, and often not tolerated. This shows that a most advanced raganuga devotee can be absolutely discreet, whereas the “marginalized” raganuga-bhaktas often do not at all display Prabhupada’s discretion. That is the real issue, in my view.

Let’s take Francis of Assisi for example. Interestingly, during his lifetime he was marginalized from his own Franciscan order, because of his extreme practices, such as public nudity, and sleeping under the stars, even in the cold Italian winter.

The Franciscans today, and even during his life, are and were far more moderate. So, can we point to a single successful (surviving, growing) religion that began with ecstatic experience and continued to develop along those ecstatic lines?

Many American evangelical groups stress ecstatic experience and those groups are often notorious for hypocrisy and sexual indulgence by the ecstatic leaders. There are serious historical challenges and problems for those who want to develop permanent religious communities based on esoteric, and in that sense unverifiable, ecstasy.

Please note that Prabhupada always equated true spiritual ecstasy with following the 4 regulative principles. Prabhupada often spoke of the ecstasy of his disciples during kirtan, for example.