The vaidhi bhakti is the path of devotion with rules, regulations and formality as laid down by Vedic Scriptures and exalted saints.
Just as how two new friends at the beginning of their friendship behave with caution, formality and respect for each other, similarly one approaches devotional life with formality in initial days.
The friendship is there but it's not thickened and spontaneous at the early stage. As one knows each other, the relationship thickens with time. There is no free exchange of loving reciprocation at initial stages but this friendship ripes further with time.
When husband and wife are newly married, they respect each other but don't know each other very well. There is love but not a free flow of love. It develops with time. (These are just examples. True love is only with Krishna and Radharani. Read this if you are a beginner in the spiritual path).
Similarly, vaidhi bhakti is important to know Krishna of who He is, what are His qualities, why He is special and how we are connected to Him.
These rules and regulations are there so that one can't take this rare loving devotional service (prema-bhakti) casually. One needs to abide by scriptural injunctions, 4 regulative principles, discipline, waking up on time, attending mangala (morning arti and darshan), doing nama japa attentively, offering respect to deities and Vaishnavas, reading books, having a daily routine and rendering services to Vaishnavas apart from many other such rules.
All these are to meant to keep the seeker engaged in some or the other devotional practices and it is for a reason.
As in initial stages, one can't necessarily have the taste for chanting holy names (which is the conclusion of all vaidhi bhakti and scriptural knowledge), so vaidhi bhakti is important for the devotees to help them advance gradually. The fruit of practising vaidhi bhakti would be to go to the next stage of raganuga bhakti, or spontaneous bhakti where there is a full free flow of love (We will discuss it in some moments from now).
Vaidhi bhakti is aishwarya mayi (laden with awe, reverence, formality and rules). It's exactly as how you behave when some senior office colleagues in initial stages. Love can't be expressed freely but you need to know the other person well before becoming free with each other. The senior is big in stature so you have to have respect for him. Similarly, Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and to know Him, to approach Him, one needs to have respect and learn the intricacies of devotional life via this path of vaidhi bhakti.
However, for very rare few, owing to a lot of guru kripa, past life karma, simple heart and sincerity, they can straight away take to raganuga bhakti. Though this is very very rare and those rare devotees don't need anybody's permission or authority to bypass the vaidhi bhakti stage. They will be automatically pulled into raga bhajan by the guru tattva. This should not be imitated at all.
In raganuaga bhakti, love is spontaneous. A rough example of this can be couples who are successfully married for many years and develop that deep connection and bonding with each other which is very natural such that they can know their better half's mind without any exchange of words! (Again, just for a reference. The original true tattva of prema or love is only with Radharani and Krishna).
There is a free exchange of prema in raganuga bhakti.
Raganuga bhakti is in sakhya, vatsalya or madhurya rasa.
Here, one doesn't need scriptural references and regulations but yet the primary compulsory rules of Vedic scriptures are automatically taken care of.
If one wants to attain topmost prayojana (goal) of chanting Hare Krishna Mahamantra and following this devotional path, then one needs to take to raganuga bhakti in a natural manner under the guidance of bonafide vrajvasi Premi Rasika Vaishnav who are in this very rare path of raganuga bhakti.
Whenever preaching is done by Rasika Acharyas, they first give vaidhi bhakti to all primarily as not everybody is qualified (adhikari) for raganuga bhakti. (Read Who is eligible for preaching).
The platform of raganuga bhakti can't be artificially implemented. It is internal and very confidential. It can't be shared with all and especially those who don't have adhikar (eligibility).
No scriptural rules, society and institution can bind prema bhakti. Only those who are in this inner confidential rasamayi raganuga bhakti path can identify those who are following this rare path. It is not possible by devotees in vaidhi bhakti stage to understand the gud (essence) of raganuga bhakti. How will one explain in words how sugar tastes?
Hence, devotees in vaidhi bhakti should keep chanting Hare Krishna Mahamantra (or holy names) but pray for vraj-premi-bhakti internally and have a desire and greed to understand the prema-rasa. When they do that, then that becomes raganuga bhakti automatically! The guru tattva will guide them very quickly!! Aindra Prabhu writes this in his book. Srila Prabhupada explains this in The Nectar of Devotion. Srila Rupa Goswami explains this in Ujjvala Nilamani.
This is just for information and one should not imitate this: Those who are in raganuga bhakti by the kripa (mercy) of their guru tattva, there might be no need for attending mangla (morning darshan) for them as they might be stuck in a particular part of astayam lila. If they are meditating in midnight passtime, they can offer prasadam to Divine Couple at night (which might sound weird for vaidhi bhakti devotees).
Raga bhakti devotees can go in lila chintan (immersed in the meditation of Divine Couple) for day or might get stuck in just one lila (passtime) of Divine Couple for life! They don't necessarily have to do deity worship as they are stuck in lila chintan, and deity worship can't be executed by them as it becomes a barrier in their free flow of prema.
They prefer to be in deep meditation while chanting and are always in mansi seva. But by default 4 regulative principles and rules of Vedic scriptures are taken care of by raga bhakti devotees. Hence raganuga marg rasika vaishnav cannot be identified by all. One can't understand this all at primitive stages of bhakti hence it is better not to judge this raga-bhajan. Prema for Krishna is not bound by any rules. That is madhurya prema bhakti, in the mood of Radharani and vraj-gopis. It would be impossible to digest for those don't have eligibility for this rasa yet.
Also, a seeker can't decide one day that I have to follow raganuga bhakti. No. That is imitation. It can't be arbitrary. This path manifests by kripa (mercy) of Divine Couple and guru tattva, and a seeker is automatically pulled in it with time.
One should sincerely read all the points (one by one) of Advanced Guide to grow 1000x spiritually to augment their prema-bhajan if they want to dive in this confidential inner rasa.
Vaidhi bhakti is nice for initial seekers but is not the prayojana (goal).
Aindra Prabhu tells in his lecture "It is by desire that we come here, and by desire, we go back. We deserve to desire when our desire is big enough."
Thus when one's desire becomes immense for vraj prema bhakti, the path of raganuga bhakti is directed to them by guru tattva. They can't take to raganuga bhakti marg (path) whimsically or as per own mind.
That will result in them falling down bad and will take a long time to attain original prema bhakti (maybe even 5, 10, or 500 births maybe). When one is not adhikari (eligible) for raga marg and just acts in it for clap and praises from the so-called world, that is called as sahijaya. This world is a perverted reflection (Bhagavad Gita Chapter 15) and sahiyajas are perverted reflection of perverted reflection. Hence, Rasika Acharyas strongly condemn this "fake acting of raganuga bhakti" time and again. One should chant intensely and let nama direct the way.
All is just to convince one to chant nama sincerely. Chanting sincerely, desperately and greedily reveals everything from within to the sincere seekers.
Nama Nama Nama
Harer Nama Eva Kevalam
Jai Jai Shri Radhe!
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