VAISNAVAS, devotees of Lord Krsna, use the term prakrta-sahajiya to refer to persons who imitate the signs of prema, pure love for God, while still addicted to the low-class pleasures of illicit sex and intoxication. The sahajiyas imagine that they feel the divine emotions of Krsna and His dearest devotee, Srimati Radharani. Yet they don’t understand that before we can savor the pleasure shared by Radha and Krsna, we must rid ourselves of lustful desires for sensual pleasure.
The word sahaja means “easy.” A prakrta-sahajiya wants the bliss of spiritual life without the struggle to attain it. And the word prakrta means “materialistic.” Because the sahajiyas forgo the standard disciplines of bhakti-yoga, the divine love they apparently show never gets beyond material lust.
The prakrta-sahajiyas mistake lust—the disease of the soul—for spiritual advancement. So instead of curing lust, they wind up cultivating it. Bhagavad-gita (16.23-24) recommends that we follow sastra-vidhi, the directions of the scriptures, to purify ourselves of lust. Sastra-vidhi especially calls for us to give up meat-eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication and to chant the Hare Krsna mahamantra.
This gradually readies us for raga-marga, the path of natural attraction to Krsna, reserved for highly advanced devotees. The prakrta-sahajiyas, however, go easy on the scriptural regulations. They stay attached to materialistic enjoyment of the senses. But this sense enjoyment blinds them, and therefore their ideas of Krsna, Krsna’s devotees, Krsna’s service, and love of Krsna are but a faulty creation of their lower nature.
According to the Bengali historian Dr. S. B. Das Gupta, the Bengali sahajiya movement can be traced back long before the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, to the reign of the Buddhist Pala dynasty (c. A.D. 700-1100). At that time a secret cult of the name Sahajayana arose within the Vajrayana (“Diamond Vehicle”) school of Buddhism.
Sahajayana Buddhists abandoned ritualism and study of scriptures as useless. They practiced a “yoga of sex” in which they took consciousness to be the unity of the male and female principles, sometimes called upaya and prajna, or karuna and sunyata. The Sahajayana Buddhists wrote many songs, known as the Caryapadas, expressing their philosophy in mysterious language.
Later, under the Sena kings, Vaisnavism became ascendant in Bengal when the great spiritual master Jayadeva Gosvami won royal patronage for it. The Buddhist sahajiyas then absorbed aspects of Vaisnava philosophy and twisted them. They renamed their upaya and prajna principles “Krsna” and “Radha,” imagining Radha-Krsna to represent the highest state of bliss attained by men and women on the sahajiya path.
In the thirteenth century, with the Islamic occupation of northern India and Bengal, the sahajiyas were influenced by the practices and philosophy of the Sufis. The word sufi order of mendicants. Their goal is a state of inspiration called fana, or oneness in love with Allah.
Sufis seek to attain fana through song and dance. In the Middle Ages they faced persecution as heretics in Arabic countries, especially because some Sufi preachers announced that they were themselves the very Allah worshiped by all Muslims. But in India the Sufis could flourish, not in the least because their ideas had much in common with Mayavada, or impersonalistic, philosophy.
The sixteenth century saw the advent of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His movement of sankirtana, congregational chanting of the holy names of God. In a typical social blur, the sahajiyas who had arisen from the Buddhists and merged with the Sufis now sang and danced on the fringes of the sankirtana movement. There they celebrated their mundane sexual mysticism with song and dance.
This, of course, was a perversion of the sankirtana movement. So Lord Caitanya and His followers rejected the sahajiyas. This is evident in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, which tells us how strictly Lord Caitanya followed the rules of celibacy and how sternly He dealt with those devotees who broke them.
By the 1700’s, however, the great movement begun by Lord Caitanya appeared to have become corrupted by the caste gosvamis and the ritualistic smarta brahmanas [see the part one]. This offered a chance for the sahajiyas to influence the common people, and various prakrta-sahajiya sects became popular.
In the next century, therefore, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura took pains to distinguish the pure teachings of Lord Caitanya from prakrta-sahajiya perversions. Following his example, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati strongly opposed those who deviated from Lord Caitanya’s teachings. And Srila Prabhupada kept to this same strong, uncompromising course.
As Srila Prabhupada mentions in his commentary on Caitanya-caritamrta, the sahajiyas “indulge in sense gratification in the name of devotional service.” In this way they “throw mud into transcendence.” They churn their materialistic emotions into a state of sentimental ecstasy, and this they take to be spiritual. But the first step in spiritual advancement is to distinguish between spirit and matter. The sahajiyas confuse the two.
“The name of Krsna is all-powerful,” the sahajiyas say. “So the spiritual state of a guru and disciple at initiation doesn’t matter, because the holy name works by its own power. There’s no need to tell anyone to follow rules—let them chant Hare Krsna, smoke, drink, gamble, and have sex. The holy name will cleanse them of sinful reactions.”
Genuine spiritual masters reject such notions as offenses to the holy name of Krsna. The holy name of the Lord is certainly all-powerful, just as a fire is powerful. But fire can give life, and fire can kill. So too, the holy name of Krsna, properly chanted under the guidance of a spiritual master, burns up the devotee’s lingering material attachments. It nourishes his spiritual life. But if the power of the holy name is used as a tool to mix spiritual life with intoxication and illicit sex, the effect is ruinous.
Another feature of the sahajiya attitude is its perverse “humility” (really just envy). The sahajiyas consider themselves simple and modest and the strict devotees haughty. For example, sahajiyas think that a devotee who becomes known for spreading Krsna consciousness has fallen into the grip of name and fame. A devotee who refutes atheists and materialists is proud. Congregational singing of the Lord’s holy names is showy.
Devotees fussy about giving up illicit sex, smoking, and other harmless enjoyments are fanatical and inwardly attached to these pleasures.
Sahajiyas look down on devotees who take disciples and train them in scriptural principles. The scriptures, the sahajiyas think, oppose true devotion. So the sahajiyas either interpret the scriptures in their own way or write new scriptures to prove that sex and intoxication promote rather than obstruct spiritual awareness.
In summary, prakrta-sahajiyas are stubborn sense enjoyers. They may have talents for singing, dancing, acting, speaking, joking, and seducing women or men. They may try to pass off these talents as spiritual accomplishments. And they may dress as Krsna conscious devotees. But in fact they can’t see the difference between offensive and pure chanting of the holy name. They take worldly service to be devotional service, lust to be love, and illusion to be spirituality.