Bhava and Prema

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When asakti or deep attachment for Sri Shyamsundar intensifies greatly, it is called Bhava, which further progresses into Prem, unalloyed unprecedented, unrestrained, fathomless pure love which eternally flows in an uninterrupted stream like that of honey towards the object of love, Sri Sri Radha Shyamsundar. Reaching this platform, the sadhaka finds a moment’s separation from the Lord like 12 years and the entire universe to be null and void in the absence of Govinda. This has been expressed by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in Sri Shikshashtakam,

yugayitam nimeshena
chakshusha pravrishayitam
shunyayitam jagat sarvam
govinda-virahena me

O Govinda! Feeling Your separation, I am considering a moment to be like twelve years or more. Tears are flowing from my eyes like torrents of rain, and I am feeling all vacant in the world in Your absence.

In this exalted stage, the sadhaka serves the Lord both internally and externally, as directed by Srila Rupa Goswami,

seva sadhaka-rupena
siddha-rupena catra hi
tad-bhava-lipsuna karya
vraja-lokanusaratah

The advanced devotee who is inclined to spontaneous loving service should follow the activities of a particular associate of Krishna in Vrindavan. He should execute service externally as a regulative devotee as well as internally from his self-realized position. Thus he should perform devotional service both externally and internally.

With the mercy of the Lord and the associates of the Lord, under whom the sadhaka desires to serve, the sadhaka is able to realise his eternal form in the spiritual world and start serving the Lord internally in that form. The sadhaka may be following in the footsteps of the associates of the Lord in one of the four main Rasas, namely dasya, sakhya, vatsalya or madhurya. At this point, the Sadhaka is actually no longer a practitioner but a realised soul or siddha. In this pure love of Godhead, the devotee is so much immersed in transcendental love that he knows no one other than the Lord and desires for nothing but the pleasure of the Lord, disregarding even one’s own distress, as expressed in Sri Shikshashtakam,

ashlishya va pada-ratam pinashtu mam
adarshanan marma-hatam karotu va
yatha tatha va vidadhatu lampato
mat-prana-nathas tu sa eva naparah

I know no one but Krishna as my Lord, and He shall remain so even if He handles me roughly by His embrace or makes me brokenhearted by not being present before me. He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipful Lord unconditionally.

At this stage, the devotee is no longer concerned with the external body and is internally immersed in service. After achieving Prema, one constantly associates with the Lord, and when bereft of that internal vision, feels the entire universe to be void and cries in great separation. After leaving the body, which has actually already been spiritualised, because it is impossible for the material body to contain the great strength of Prema, the devotee joins the Lord in his eternal pastimes and serves the Lord directly under the direction of the nitya siddha parikaras, eternal associates, of the Lord. This is the gradual progress of a sadhaka on the path of Bhakti from the platform of Shraddha to Prema.