Here's an excerpt from a letter I wrote to a fellow devotee concerning the matter of anubhAvas, applied in particular in the context of sAdhana-bhakti. It came up as a follow-up to this letter of mine.
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You write: "Maybe I have misunderstood something in my study of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, but what sadhaka will legitimately experience proper spiritual anubhavas?"
How will you possibly "legitimize" spiritual anubhAvas? Will you take them to Mathura court and judge their properness?
As you undoubtedly know, the five ingredients of rasa bundle together as prema is attained, producing the experience of rasa. Prior to that, they exist as individual constituents in varying possible combinations. Take for example sthayI-bhAva, understood as the five primary ratis. Is it so that there is absolutely no experience of sthayI-bhAva before the attainment of bhAva-bhakti?
When you feel an inclination towards a certain mood and eventually become fixed in your determination to attain that very mood, is that not a ray from the sun of sthayI-bhAva? Is that not a sprout from the seed of devotion planted into your heart by the merciful Sri Guru? Is that not the very same creeper of devotion that grows those tasty fruits of prema? Does that creeper wait until the sAdhaka crosses the "line" at which bhAva-bhakti begins, then all of a sudden casting forth fruits out of the blue? Do the fruits not grow gradually, in proportion to the growth of our devotion?
In the mind, you may feel greatly jubilant upon receiving a vision of your desired services, you may feel shivers running down your spine, eyes wet in joy. Does one not sometimes feel joy so much that he wishes to jump up and dance? Does the breath not become heavy in response to a touching vision? Do smiles and laughter not arise in meditations? Such responses do not arise from concoctions.
That aside, you'll be pleased to know that the word anubhAva has also a more general application outside the thirteen anubhAvas included in the rasa-samAgri (five ingredients of rasa). Translated, it means "sign or indication of a feeling". You may think of them as various responses to meditations and services rendered, responses that may appear both in the body and in the mind.
With regards to understanding the context of anubhAvas outside the thirteen, you may for example study Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu 1.3.25-26 to read of the anubhAvas arising with the first sprouts of bhAva. This is the verse beginning kSantir avyartha-kAlatvam. You'll note that they are mentioned in the chapter discussing bhAva-bhakti. Are these qualities exclusive to the domain of bhAva, or do they already arise prior to that in some capacity?
You may also have read of sattvAbhAsa-bhAva, second among the four kinds of sattvikAbhAsa, in the course of your studies of Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. (You'll find that featured in 2.3.) Even reflections of sattvika-bhAvas may arise prior to the attainment of concrete sthayI-bhAva.
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