Shree Chaitanya, the 15th century Indian saint held by Gaudiya Vaishnavas as the combined incarnation of Krishna and Radharani, instructed his foremost student and follower Rupa Goswami in the topic of bhakti-yoga – the system of self-realization based on loving exchanges with Godhead. Rupa Goswami’s main attempt to codify and communicate these teachings is the 2,127 Sanskrit verses of his book, Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu.
As its title indicates, the book is about bhakti-rasa. The term rasa literally denotes “juice.” Sanskritic thought considers juice or liquid to be the element responsible for flavor and, therefore, enjoyment. Thus, the term rasa connotes the pleasure relished in relating with various persons and objects.
Bhakti-rasa is the pleasure relished from bhakti – loving exchange with Godhead. Rupa Goswami’s title describes this pleasure as “ambrosial” and “imperishable” (amrita), and limitlessly abundant like the ocean (Sindhu).
Rupa Goswami treats the book itself like an ocean, dividing it into Eastern, Southern, Western and Northern parts, each containing a number of “Waves.”
The first division, the Eastern Ocean entitled “Classes of Bhakti” (Bhagavad-Bhakti-Bheda), has four waves. In the First Wave, Rupa Goswami defines exactly what he means by bhakti of the highest order – which he calls uttama-bhakti, and describes the six hallmarks of such bhakti. In the Second Wave, he states that there are three classes of uttama-bhakti: (1) uttama-bhakti practiced in the senses (“sadhana-bhakti”), (2) uttama-bhakti realized internally (“bhava-bhakti”), and (3) perfected uttama-bhakti (“prema-bhakti”). He devotes the Second Wave to studying sadhana-bhakti, the Third Wave to bhava-bhakti, and the Fourth Wave to prema-bhakti.
In the second division, the Southern Ocean, entitled “Relish of Bhakti” (Bhagavad-Bhakti-Rasa), Rupa Goswami describes what happens within the state of prema-bhakti: the individual soul and the Supreme Soul relish the exchange of such love. Rupa Goswami terms this “rasa.” There are five components of rasa, and the Southern Ocean devotes one wave to each: (1) the stimuli of love (vibhava), (2) the expressions of love (anubhava), (3) the involuntary expressions of love (sattvika-bhava), (4) the “bad” or contrary expressions of love (vyabhicari-bhava), and (5) the basic loving mood (sthayi-bhava).
Rupa Goswami identifies 12 categories of loving mood, five of which are “direct” (mukhya) and seven of which are “associated” (gauna). Each mood has specific stimuli, expressions, involuntary expressions, and contrary expressions suitable to intensify and transform it into a relish-able loving experience (rasa).
The third division, the Western Ocean entitled “Primary Loving Relish” (Bhagavad-Bhakti-Rasa), has five waves. Each wave takes one of the five “direct” loving moods and defines and illustrates the specific stimuli, expressions, involuntary expressions, and contrary expressions appropriate to transform that basic mood into rasa: (1) relish of purity – shudda-rasa, (2) relish of servitude – dasya-rasa, (3) relish of friendship – sakhya-rasa, (4) relish of parenthood – vatsalya-rasa, and (5) relish of romance – madhurya-rasa.
The fourth and final division, the Northern Ocean entitled “Associated Loving Relish” (Gauna-Bhakti-Rasa), similarly defines and illustrates the specific stimuli, expressions, involuntary expressions, and contrary expressions appropriate to transform an “associated” loving mood into rasa. Thus, its first seven waves concern (1) relish of humor – hasya-rasa, (2) relish of amazement – adbhuta-rasa, (2) relish of heroism – vira-rasa, (4) relish of compassion – karuna-rasa, (5) relish of anger – raudra-rasa, (6) relish of fear or worry – bhayanaka-rasa, and (7) relish of disgust – vibhatsa-rasa.
Rupa Goswami calls these seven moods “associated” loving moods (gauna-bhakti-rasa) because they are always enjoyed in association with one of the five “direct” loving moods. For example, humor is relished primarily in association with friendship. The Eighth Wave describes which “associated” and “direct” moods are compatible and which are incompatible. For example, disgust is very seldom compatible with romantic love. Incompatible association of moods produces a distasteful, less relish-able state Rupa Goswami calls virasa.
The ninth and final wave describes a similar situation: If the stimuli, expressions, involuntary expressions, or contrary expressions appropriate for one loving mood appear in connection with a different loving mood, that mood may not fully develop into a relish-able loving experience. Rupa Goswami gives the term rasa-abhasa for this semi-developed experience.