Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has defined rāgānugā-bhakti as spontaneous attraction for something while completely absorbed in thoughts of it, with an intense desire of love. Devotional service executed with such feelings of spontaneous love is called rāgānugā-bhakti. Devotional service under the heading of rāgānugā can be further divided into two categories: one category is called sensuous attraction, and the other is called relationship.
In this connection, there is a statement by Nārada Muni to Yudhiṣṭhira in the Seventh Canto, 1st Chapter, 29th verse, of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. There Nārada says, "My dear King, there are many devotees who first become attracted to the Personality of Godhead for purposes of sense gratification, from being envious of Him, out of fear of Him, or from desiring to associate affectionately with Him. Ultimately these attractions become freed from all material contamination, and gradually the worshiper develops spiritual love and achieves that ultimate goal of life which is desired by the pure devotee."
The gopīs may be considered to be examples of spontaneous love in sensual attraction. The gopīs are young girls, and Kṛṣṇa is a young boy. Superficially it seems that the gopīs are attracted to Kṛṣṇa on grounds of sex. Similarly, King Kaṁsa was attracted to Kṛṣṇa because of fearfulness. Kaṁsa was always fearful of Kṛṣṇa because it had been foretold that his sister's son, Kṛṣṇa, would kill him. Śiśupāla was also always envious of Kṛṣṇa. And the descendants of King Yadu, due to their family relationship with Kṛṣṇa, are always thinking of Him as one of their members. All of these different kinds of devotees have a spontaneous attraction for Kṛṣṇa, in different categories, and they achieve the same desired goal of life.
The attraction of the gopīs for Kṛṣṇa and the affection of the members of the Yadu dynasty are both accepted as spontaneous, or rāgānugā. The attraction of Kaṁsa to Kṛṣṇa in fearfulness and the attraction of Śiśupāla in enviousness are not accepted as devotional service, however, because their attitudes are not favorable. Devotional service should be executed only in a favorable frame of mind. Therefore, according to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, such attractions are not considered to be in devotional service. Again, he analyzes the affection of the Yadus: If it is on the platform of friendship, then it is spontaneous love, but if it is on the platform of regulative principles, then it is not. And only when affection comes to the platform of spontaneous love is it counted in the category of pure devotional service.
There may be some difficulty in understanding that both the gopīs and Kaṁsa achieved the same goal, so this point should be clearly understood, because the attitudes of Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla were different from that of the gopīs. Although in all these cases the focus is on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and all of the devotees are elevated to the spiritual world, there is still a distinction between these two classes of souls. In the First Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is said that the absolute truth is one, and He is manifested as impersonal Brahman, Paramātmā (supersoul), and Bhagavān (the Supreme Personality of Godhead). Here is a spiritual distinction. Although Brahman, Paramātmā and Bhagavān are the same and one absolute truth, still devotees like Kaṁsa or Śiśupāla could attain only to the Brahman effulgence. They could not have realization of Paramātmā or Bhagavān. That is the distinction.