Persons desiring to follow in the footsteps of such eternal devotees of the Lord as the Vṛṣṇis and Vṛndāvana denizens are called rāgānugā devotees, which means that they are trying to attain to the perfection of those devotees. These rāgānugā devotees do not follow the regulative principles of devotional service very strictly, but by spontaneous nature they become attracted to some of the eternal devotees such as Nanda or Yaśodā, and they try to follow in their footsteps spontaneously. There is a gradual development of the ambition to become like a particular devotee, and this activity is called rāgānugā.
We must always remember, however, that such eagerness to follow in the footsteps of the denizens of Braja (Vṛndāvana) is not possible unless one is freed from material contamination. In following the regulative principles of devotional service, there is a stage which is called anartha-nivṛtti, which means the disappearance of all material contamination. Sometimes it is found that someone is imitating such devotional love, but factually he is not freed from anarthas, or unwanted habits. It has been seen that a so-called devotee proclaims himself a follower of Nanda, Yaśodā or the gopīs, while at the same time his abominable attraction for mundane sex life is visible. Such a manifestation of divine love is mere imitation and has no value. When one is actually spontaneously attracted to the loving principles of the gopīs, there will be found no trace of any mundane contamination in his character.
Therefore, in the beginning, everyone should strictly follow the regulative principles of devotional service, according to the injunctions of the scriptures and the spiritual master. Only after the stage of liberation from material contamination can one actually aspire to follow in the footsteps of the devotees in Vṛndāvana.
It is said by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī: "When one is actually liberated from material contamination, he can always remember an eternal devotee in Vṛndāvana in order to love Kṛṣṇa in the same capacity. And developing such an aptitude, one will always live in Vṛndāvana, even within his mind." The purport is that, if it is possible, one should go and physically be present at Brajabhūmi, Vṛndāvana, and be engaged always in the service of the Lord, following the devotees in Brajadhāma, the spiritual realm of Braja. If it is not possible, however, to be physically present at Vṛndāvana, one can meditate anywhere upon living in that situation. Wherever he may be, one must always think about life in Brajadhāma and about following in the footsteps of a particular devotee in the service of the Lord.
A devotee who is actually advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, who is constantly engaged in devotional service, should not manifest himself even though he has attained perfection. The idea is that he should always continue to act as a neophyte devotee as long as his material body is there. Activities in devotional service under regulative principles must be followed even by the pure devotee. But when he realizes his actual position in relationship with the Lord, he can, along with the discharging of regulative service, think within himself of the Lord, under the guidance of a particular associate of the Lord, and develop his transcendental sentiments in following that associate.