The ecstasy of transcendental love has two components—the context and the cause of the excitement. The context is also divided into two parts—the subject and the object. The exchange of devotional service is the subject, and Kṛṣṇa is the object. His transcendental qualities are the causes of excitement. This means that a devotee who becomes enamored by the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa becomes excited to serve Him. The impersonal (Māyāvādī) philosophers say that the Absolute Truth is nirguṇa, "without qualities," but the Vaiṣṇava philosophers say that the Absolute Truth is described as nirguṇa because He has no material qualities. This is not to say that He has no spiritual qualities. Indeed, the Lord's spiritual qualities are so great and so enchanting that even liberated persons become attracted to Him. This is explained in the ātmārāma verse of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.7.10), where it is said that those who are already situated on the platform of self-realization are attracted by the transcendental qualities of Kṛṣṇa. This means that Kṛṣṇa's qualities are not material but are pure and transcendental.
The highest stage of ecstasy is characterized by the following thirteen transcendental activities: (1) dancing, (2) rolling on the floor, (3) singing, (4) clapping, (5) stretching the body, (6) thundering, (7) yawning, (8) breathing heavily, (9) forgetting social conventions, (10) drooling, (11) laughing, (12) shaking the head, and (13) hiccoughing. All these symptoms are not awakened simultaneously; they appear according to the exchange of transcendental mellows. Sometimes one symptom is prominent, and at another time another is prominent.
There are five transcendental rasas, or mellows. The initial stage is called śānta-rati, wherein one who is liberated from material contamination appreciates the greatness of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who attains this stage does not exactly engage in the transcendental loving service of the Lord, for this is the neutral stage.
In the second stage, which is called dāsya-rati, a person appreciates his position as being everlastingly subordinate to the Supreme Lord, and he understands that he is eternally dependent on the causeless mercy of the Supreme Person. At that time there is an awakening of natural affection, such as is felt by a son who grows up and begins to appreciate his father's benedictions. At this stage the living entity wants to serve the Supreme Lord instead of serving māyā, illusion.
The third stage in the development of transcendental love is called sakhya-rati. In this stage one associates with the Supreme as a friend on an equal level, with love and respect. As this stage is further developed, there is joking and such relaxed exchanges as laughing. On this level there are fraternal exchanges with the Personality of Godhead, and one is free from all bondage. At this stage one forgets his inferior position as a living entity, but at the same time he has the greatest respect for the Supreme Person.
In the fourth stage, called vātsalya-rati, the fraternal affection of the preceding stage develops into parental affection. At this time the living entity acts as the parent of God. Instead of worshiping the Lord, the living entity, as a parent of the Supreme Person, becomes an object of worship for Him. At this stage the Lord depends on the mercy of His pure devotee and puts Himself under the control of the devotee to be raised nicely. Such a devotee can embrace the Supreme Lord and even kiss His head.
In the fifth stage, called madhura-rati, there is a transcendental exchange of conjugal love between the lover and the beloved. It is at this stage that Kṛṣṇa and the damsels of Vraja glanced lovingly at one another, for on this platform there is an exchange of glances, movements of the eyebrows, pleasant words, attractive smiles, etc.
Besides these five primary rasas there are seven secondary rasas, which consist of laughing, wonder, chivalry, pity, anger, ghastliness and devastation. For example, Bhīṣma related to Kṛṣṇa as a warrior in the chivalrous rasa. Hiraṇyakaśipu, however, experienced an exchange of the ghastly and devastating rasas. The five primary rasas constantly remain within the heart of the pure devotee, and the seven secondary rasas sometimes appear and disappear to enrich the flavors and tastes of the primary ones. After enriching the primary rasas, they disappear.
Examples of śānta-bhaktas, or devotees in the neutral stage, are the Nine Yogendras, namely Kavi, Havi, Antarīkṣa, Prabuddha, Pippalāyana, Avirhotra, Draviḍa (Drumila), Camasa and Karabhājana. The Four Kumāras (Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanat-kumāra and Sanātana) are also examples of this stage. Examples of devotees in the second stage, servitorship, are Raktaka, Citraka and Patraka. These are all servants of Kṛṣṇa in Gokula. In Dvārakā there is Dāruka, and in the Vaikuṇṭha planets there are Hanumān and others. Devotees in the third stage, friendship, include Śrīdāmā in Vṛndāvana and Bhīma and Arjuna in Dvārakāor on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra. As for those relating to Kṛṣṇa in parental love, they include His mother, father, uncle and similar relatives. In conjugal love there are the damsels of Vraja (Vṛndāvana), the queens in Dvārakā, and the goddesses of fortune in Vaikuṇṭha. No one can count the vast number of devotees in this rasa.
In general, attachment to Kṛṣṇa is of two kinds. The first kind is attachment with awe and veneration. Characterized by a lack of freedom, such attachment is exhibited in Mathurā and on the Vaikuṇṭha planets. In these abodes of the Lord, the flavor of transcendental loving service is restricted. But in Gokula (Vṛndāvana) love is freely exchanged, and although the cowherd boys and damsels of Vṛndāvana know that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they do not show awe and veneration, because of the great intimacy of their relationship with Him through thick and thin. In the five principal transcendental relationships, awe and veneration are sometimes impediments to one's service to the Lord. When there is friendship, parental affection or conjugal love, such awe and veneration are impediments. For example, when Kṛṣṇa appeared as the son of Vasudeva and Devakī, they prayed to the Lord with awe and veneration because they understood that the Supreme Lord Kṛṣṇa or Viṣṇu had appeared before them as their little child. This is confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.44.51): "Devakī and Vasudeva, knowing their son to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, began to pray to Him although He was present before them as their child." Similarly, when Arjuna saw the universal form of the Lord, he was so afraid that he begged pardon for his dealings with Kṛṣṇa as an intimate friend. As a friend, Arjuna often behaved unceremoniously with the Lord, and upon seeing the awesome universal form, Arjuna said:
- sakheti matvā prasabhaṁ yad uktaṁ
- he kṛṣṇa he yādava he sakheti
- ajānatā mahimānaṁ tavedaṁ
- mayā pramādāt praṇayena vāpi
"My dear Kṛṣṇa, sometimes I insulted You by calling You "my dear friend Kṛṣṇa" without knowing the greatness of your inconceivable power. Please forgive me. I was mad to address You like a common friend or a common man." (Bhagavad-gītā 11.41)