Bhakti Tattva VivekaBhakti Tattva Viveka - Chapter Two
Bhakti Tattva VivekaBhakti Tattva Viveka - Chapter Four

An Analysis of the Natural Attributes of Bhakti

by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura

śuddha-bhakti-svavhāvasya prabhāvān yat-padāśrayāt
sadaiva labhate jīvas taṁ caitanyam ahaṁ bhaje

“I worship Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. By taking shelter of His feet, the living entity forever obtains the potency issuing from the very nature of unalloyed devotion.”

Śuddhabhakti manifests along with six symptoms:

(1) kleśaghnī – it brings immediate relief from all kinds of material distress;
(2) śubhadā – it brings all auspiciousness;
(3) mokṣalaghutākṛt – liberation becomes insignificant before it;
(4) sudurlabhā – it is rarely achieved;
(5) sāndrānandaviśeṣātmā – it grants intense transcendental pleasure; and
(6) kṛṣṇākarṣaṇī – it is the only means to attract Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

In the stage of sādhanabhakti only the first two symptoms appear, in the stage of bhāva the first four symptoms appear and in the stage of prema all six symptoms appear. These six symptoms will now be systematically discussed.

(1) Kleśaghnī – Bhakti-devī completely removes all the distress (kleśa) of those who take shelter of unalloyed devotion. Kleśa is of three types: sin (pāpa), sins in their seed form (pāpabīja) and ignorance (avidyā). Due to the sins committed by the jīva in innumerable lifetimes or the sins that he may commit in his present or future lives, he has to suffer various types of distress. The prominent sins have been analysed in the fifth wave of the second shower of my book Śrī Caitanyaśikṣāmṛta. These sins can be further divided into two categories: prārabdha and aprārabdha.

Prārabdha sins are those for which the living entity must suffer the reactions in his present life span. The sins whose reactions will be suffered in one’s next life are called aprārabdha. The sins committed by the living entity in innumerable lifetimes combine together as aprārabdha sins and in his next birth fructify as prārabdha sins. Hence, within the jurisdiction of eternal law, the jīva is bound to suffer the reactions of the sins he has committed in his innumerable lifetimes. Birth in a brāhmaṇa family, a Muslim family, a wealthy family or a poor family, or having beautiful personal features or being ugly are all the results of prārabdhakarma. Birth in an untouchable (yavana) family is due to prārabdha sins. Unalloyed devotion destroys both types of sin, prārabdha and aprārabdha. If the path of jñāna is followed properly, it destroys aprārabdhakarma. But according to the scriptures of the jñānīs, one must suffer the reactions of his prārabdhakarma. But bhakti also destroys prārabdhakarma:

yat-prahvaṇād yat smaraṇād api kvacit
śvādo ’pi sadyaḥ savanāya kalpate
kutaḥ punas te bhagavan nu darśanāt

“Devahūti said: O my dear Lord, by hearing and chanting Your holy names, by offering obeisances unto You and by remembering You, even a person born in a family of dog-eaters immediately obtains the right to perform Vedic sacrifices; in other words, he acquires the status of a brāhmaṇa. What to speak then of the benefit one can achieve by receiving Your direct darśana?” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.33.6)

This verse highlights how bhakti easily destroys the prārabdha sins that result in taking birth in a low-class family. Now see how bhakti also destroys aprārabdha sins:

aprārabdha-phalaṁ pāpaṁ kūṭaṁ bījaṁ phalonmukham
krameṇaiva pralīyeta viṣṇu-bhakti-ratātmanām

For those who have undeviating and exclusive attachment for devotion unto Lord Viṣṇu, their (1) aprārabdha, the accumulated stock of sins that are lying in a dormant condition, (2) kūṭa, sins that are tending towards producing seeds, which means that they are beginning to take shape as sinful desires, (3) bīja, seeds that are already established as sinful desires, and (4) prārabdha, fructified sins, are all destroyed in sequence.” (Padma Purāṇa; Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.23)

The purport is that for the destruction of their sins, the devotees need not perform any separate acts of either karma or jñāna as atonement.

The desires to commit sinful activities that are situated within the heart of the living entity are called pāpabīja, the seeds of sins. Pāpabīja can only be destroyed by bhakti:

tais tāny aghāni pūyante tapo-dāna-vratādibhiḥ
nādharmajaṁ tad-dhṛdayaṁ tad apīśāṅghri-sevayā=
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.2.17; Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.24)

The systematic methods for the atonement of sins that are prescribed in the scriptures, such as the performance of difficult vows like cāndrāyaṇa * and other activities on the path of ordinary karma, as well as the performance of austerities and the giving of charity, destroy only those sins for which they are specifically prescribed. Those atonements do not destroy the seeds of sin, or in other words the sinful desires that have arisen due to ignorance. Sinful desires can be removed only by engaging in the service of Kṛṣṇa, meaning that besides bhakti there is no other means that can expunge sinful desires from the heart. As soon as Bhakti-devī appears in the heart, all sinful desires – as well as any desires for piety – are destroyed at the root. The following verses from the Padma Purāṇa and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describe how bhakti eradicates avidyā, ignorance:

* Cāndrāyaṇa is a vow where one takes only fifteen mouthfuls of food on the full moon day, decreasing by one mouthful each succeeding day until one fasts completely on the new moon day. Then one gradually increases his intake by one mouthful per day up until the next full moon.

kṛtānuyātrā vidyābhir hari-bhaktir anuttamā
avidyāṁ nirdahaty āśu dāva-jvāleva pannagīm

“When hari-bhakti appears in the heart, she is followed by the knowledge potency (vidyāśakti), which immediately dispels the ignorance situated within the heart of the living entity, just as a serpent is burnt by a blazing forest fire.”(Padma Purāṇa; Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.26)

karmāśayaṁ grathitam udgrathayanti santaḥ
tadvan na rikta-matayo yatayo ’pi ruddhasroto-
gaṇās tam araṇaṁ bhaja vāsudevam

“Ascetics who have detached their minds from the objects of the senses by keeping their senses away from those objects cannot easily untie the knot of false ego from their hearts, whereas devotees who are exclusively engaged in transcendental loving service unto the lotus feet of Śrī Kṛṣṇa can untie this knot in no time. Hence, one should engage in bhajana of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the supreme shelter.”(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 4.22.39; Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.25)

Though the cultivation of knowledge can dispel ignorance to some extent, without taking shelter of bhakti, a sādhaka will certainly fall down:

ye ’nye ’ravindākṣa vimukta-māninas
tvayy asta-bhāvād aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ
āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ
patanty adho ’nādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ

“The demigods prayed: O lotus-eyed Lord, although by the cultivation of netineti, the negativity principle, non-devotees endeavour to attain something different from dull matter and consider themselves liberated, their intelligence is impure. With great difficulty they cross the ocean of nescience to attain the stage of Brahman, but because they have not taken permanent shelter of Your lotus feet, they fall down from such a stage.”(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.2.32)

O intimate devotees, having surely heard the word avidyā before, you must be eager to know its intrinsic nature. Therefore I will explain a few points in this regard. Śrī Kṛṣṇa possesses unlimited varieties of potencies (śaktis). Amongst them, citśakti, jīvaśakti and māyāśakti are prominent. Citśakti displays Bhagavān’s abode (dhāma) and all the paraphernalia necessary for His pastimes (līlā). Another name for citśakti is svarūpaśakti. Jīvaśakti produces innumerable living entities. By nature jīvas are purely spiritual (cittattva), but due to their incomplete constitution they can be trapped by māyā, the illusory energy. By harbouring selfish desires they become opposed to Kṛṣṇa and are trapped by the illusory energy, and by desiring to be disposed towards Kṛṣṇa they are freed from māyā and engage in His service. This is the difference between conditioned and liberated jīvas.

The illusory energy acts in two ways upon the intrinsic nature of the conditioned living entity: through the avidyā potency and through the vidyā potency. Through its avidyā aspect, māyā covers the constitutional pure ego of the living entity, thus creating a false or distorted ego by which the jīva identifies himself with gross matter. This shackle of ignorance is the cause of the jīva’s conditioned state. Becoming free from avidyā and devoid of false designations, the living entity attains the stage of liberation. Thus avidyā is nothing more than a special potency of māyā that makes the living entity forget his constitutional position. Ignorance causes the desire for fruitive activity in the jīva. These desires initiate the process of sin and piety. This ignorance is the root cause of all the difficulty experienced by the jīva. Besides bhakti, no other process is capable of eliminating this ignorance. Karma can only destroy sins, and jñāna can destroy at the root the desires that cause both sin and piety. But bhakti totally eradicates at the root the sins themselves, the desires to perform both sin and piety, and the prime cause of these desires, ignorance.

(2) Bhakti is auspicious by nature, śubhadā. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.27):

śubhāni prīṇanaṁ sarvajagatām anuraktatā
sad-guṇāḥ sukham ity ādīny ākhyātāni manīṣibhiḥ

“Scholars define true auspiciousness (śubha) as possessing love for all living entities and becoming the object of affection of all living entities as well as possessing all good qualities, happiness and other similar auspicious achievements.”

The Padma Purāṇa explains what is meant by possessing love for all living entities and being the object of affection of all living entities (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.28):

yenārcito haris tena tarpitāni jaganty api
rajyanti jantavas tatra jaṅgamāḥ sthāvarā api

“Those who have worshipped Śrī Hari have satisfied the entire universe. Therefore all living entities, both animate and inanimate, love them.”

The purport is that those who are devoted exclusively to haribhajana love everyone without any envy; therefore others also love them.

In devotees all varieties of good qualities develop naturally. This is easily verified by examining the lives of devotees. In this regard it says in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.18.12), as well as in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.29):

yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiñcanā
sarvair guṇais tatra samāsate surāḥ
harāv abhaktasya kuto mahad-guṇā
manorathenāsati dhāvato bahiḥ

“Those who possess undeviated and exclusive bhakti for Bhagavān become the residence of all the demigods and all good qualities. How can such great qualities exist in non-devotees, whose illicit desires compel them to run after sense gratification? The qualities of compassion, truthfulness, humility, detachment, spiritual awareness and so forth appear only in those hearts in which bhakti has arisen. Even by great endeavour these qualities do not appear in those hearts which are occupied with desires for sense gratification. Though happiness is included within auspiciousness, it is being reviewed separately. By nature bhakti bestows all auspiciousness.”

Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has written that the happiness of the conditioned soul can be divided into three categories: vaiṣayikasukha, brāhmasukha and aiśvarasukha. Vaiṣayikasukha is all the varieties of mundane pleasure that are found within this material world. The eighteen types of mystic perfection and heavenly enjoyment are also considered vaiṣayikasukha. Upon realising that mundane pleasure is ultimately distressful and temporary, the endeavour to eradicate it through the process of netineti is called vyatireka, the principle of negation. The impersonal pleasure derived from these vyatireka efforts, through eliminating all mundane feelings and imagining oneself to be one with the unchangeable Brahman, is called brāhmasukha. The happiness derived from taking permanent shelter of Bhagavān, who possesses all opulences in full, is called aiśvarasukha. By nature haribhakti bestows all varieties of happiness. According to one’s specific qualification and desires, it bestows either vaiṣayika-sukha, brāhma-sukha or aiśvarasukha.

siddhayaḥ paramāścaryā bhuktir muktiś ca śāśvatī
nityaṁ ca paramānandaṁ bhaved govinda bhaktitaḥ

“The eight types of mystic yoga perfection, all varieties of material enjoyment, the happiness of impersonal liberation, and the supreme bliss (paramānanda) can all be achieved by devotion unto Śrī Govinda.” (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.31)

It is written in Śrī Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.32):

bhūyo ’pi yāce deveśa tvayi bhaktir dṛḍhāstu me
yā mokṣānta-catur-varga-phaladā sukhadā latā

“O Lord of the demigods, I repeatedly beg for the boon of attaining exclusive devotion unto You by which, according to their specific qualification, some devotees obtain the fruits of wealth, religiosity, sense gratification and liberation while others obtain the fruit of the happiness of possessing love for You.”

The purport is that bhakti is capable of bestowing all types of happiness but the unalloyed devotees, considering the pleasure derived from sense gratification and impersonal liberation to be insignificant, search exclusively for premasukha, the happiness of possessing love for the Supreme Lord. Without the help of bhakti, the paths of jñāna and karma are incapable of yielding any result. Hence, in any condition, happiness cannot be obtained without bhakti.

(3) Mokṣa-laghutākṛt – By nature bhakti renders the conception of liberation (mukti) insignificant. It is said in the Nāradapañcarātra (and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.34):

hari-bhakti-mahādevyāḥ sarvā muktyādi-siddhayaḥ
bhuktayaś cādbhutās tasyāś ceṭikāvad anuvratāḥ

“The various kinds of perfection headed by mukti and the entirety of mundane pleasures follow behind the goddess of haribhakti, Bhakti-devī, as her maidservants.”

Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has also said this very beautifully (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.33):

manāg eva prarūḍhāyāṁ hṛdaye bhagavad-ratau
puruṣārthās tu catvāras tṛṇāyante samantataḥ

“Only when one understands the fourfold achievements of economic development, religiosity, sense gratification and liberation to be very insignificant can it be accepted that unalloyed devotion is appearing within him.”

(4) Attainment of haribhakti is extremely rare, sudurlabhā. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī writes about the extreme rarity of bhakti (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.35):

sādhanaughair anāsaṅgair alabhyā sucirād api
hariṇā cāśv adeyeti dvidhā sā syāt sudurlabhā

There are two reasons for haribhakti being so rare. First, it cannot be achieved in spite of engaging in many varieties of sādhana for a long period of time as long as one is bereft of firm faith and unwavering persistence. Secondly, Śrī Hari does not easily grant bhakti unto Him even though one may be engaged in āsaṅgayuktasādhana, spiritual practice endowed with unflinching attachment. The word āsaṅga implies expertise in bhajana. Without expertise in bhajana, no spiritual practice can grant haribhakti. By executing sādhana with expertise in bhajana for a long period of time, and after offences to both the holy name and Vaiṣṇavas have been dispelled, by the mercy of the Lord unalloyed devotion, which establishes one in knowledge of his constitutional identity, arises in the heart.

jñānataḥ sulabhā muktir bhuktir yajñādi puṇyataḥ
seyaṁ sādhana-sāhasrair hari-bhaktiḥ sudurlabhā

“By the cultivation of impersonal knowledge one can easily obtain liberation (mukti) and by the performance of sacrifices and other pious activities one can easily obtain sense gratification (bhukti), but despite performing innumerable sādhanas one cannot achieve haribhakti so easily.”(Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.36)

Bhagavān does not easily grant bhakti unto Him, as confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.6.18) and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.37):

rājan patir gurur alaṁ bhavatāṁ yadūnāṁ
daivaṁ priyaḥ kula-patiḥ kva ca kiṅkaro vaḥ
astv evam aṅga bhajatāṁ bhagavān mukundo
muktiṁ dadāti karhicit sma na bhakti-yogam

“Śukadeva Gosvāmī said: My dear King Parīkṣit, Lord Mukunda Himself was the protector, spiritual master, worshipful deity, well-wisher and head of the Pāṇḍavas and the Yadu dynasty. Sometimes He even became their obedient servant. It is a matter of great fortune because Bhagavān easily grants liberation to those engaged in bhajana unto Him, but He doesn’t easily award prema for Him, which is far superior to liberation.”

In his commentary to this verse, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī comments: “tasmād āsaṅgenāpi kṛte sādhana-bhūte sākṣād bhakti-yoge sati yāvat phala-bhūte bhakti-yoge gāḍhāsaktir na jāyate tāvan na dadātīty arthaḥ – those who engage in bhajana unto the Supreme Lord by executing the ninefold limbs of bhakti are not granted unalloyed devotion by Bhagavān until they develop strong attachment for activity executed on the platform of ecstatic emotion (bhāva), which is the fruit of perception of one’s eternal identity. Until that time comes, one’s devotion is simply chāyābhaktiābhāsa.”

(5) Sāndrānanda-viśeṣātmā – By nature bhakti is very intense transcendental pleasure (ānanda). It has already been mentioned that Bhagavān is saccidānandasvarūpa, the complete embodiment of eternity, knowledge and bliss, and that the jīva is anu-cidānanda, an infinitesimal particle of spiritual bliss who is likened to a single particle of light situated within a ray of the unlimited spiritual sun. Hence, spiritual knowledge (cit) and spiritual bliss (ānanda) are also present within the living entity in minute quantity. The word ānanda is generally understood to mean mundane pleasure, but whatever pleasure can be derived from all material pleasures combined is extremely negligible when placed before spiritual pleasure. Material pleasure is extremely weak and momentary, whereas cidānanda, transcendental pleasure, is extremely intense. Bhakti is very intense transcendental pleasure and the intrinsic pleasure of the living entity. The happiness derived from impersonal liberation (brahmānanda) is negligible before bhakti. Brahmānanda is not the eternal bliss of the living entity; it is the so-called pleasure obtained from the negation of matter and material activities. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has said (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.38):

brahmānando bhaved eṣa cet parārdha-guṇī-kṛtaḥ
naiti bhakti-sukhāmbhodheḥ paramāṇu-tulām api

“Even if the happiness of liberation experienced by impersonalists is multiplied by ten million times, the resulting pleasure will not be equal to even a drop of the ocean of pleasure derived from bhakti.”

The purport is that by simple imagination we may extend the happiness derived from impersonal liberation to whatever extent, but in reality it cannot even come near the intrinsic pleasure of the living entity, what to speak of equalling it. The constitutional pleasure of the jīva is inborn and hence natural. The happiness derived from impersonal liberation is unnatural due to arising from the living entity’s distorted endeavours and hence it is temporary. It is said in Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (and Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.39):

tvat-sākṣāt-karaṇāhlādaviśuddhābdhi-sthitasya me
sukhāni goṣpadāyante brāhmāṇy api jagad-guro

“O Bhagavān, by attaining darśana of You I am now established in the ocean of pure bliss. What to speak of material pleasure, even the pleasure of impersonal liberation now seems as insignificant as the water in a calf’s hoof-print.”

There are many similar statements found in the scriptures.

(6) KṛṣṇākarṣiṇīBhakti is the only means to attract Kṛṣṇa. As Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī writes (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.41):

kṛtvā hariṁ prema-bhājaṁ priya-varga-samanvitam
bhaktir vaśī karotīti śrī-kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī matā

“Unalloyed devotion overpowers Śrī Kṛṣṇa and all His dearmost associates with love; this very ability to attract Śrī Kṛṣṇa is actually the inherent nature of Bhakti-devī.”

The purport of this is that in the stage of sādhanabhakti, as long as unalloyed devotion has not arisen within the heart, a sādhaka is performing a semblance of devotion (bhaktiābhāsa). At this stage the attainment of śuddhabhakti is very rare. But when unalloyed devotion does appear in the heart – even in the stage of sādhana – a little of the splendour of the limbs of bhajana begins to blossom. At that time realisation of the jīva’s eternal identity and realisation of the true intrinsic nature of the Lord is kindled by the medium of that splendour. Subsequently, a powerful agitation in the form of deep attachment for bhakti develops within the heart of the devotee. Thus, the appearance of this stage of bhajana causes the pure practice of bhakti to quickly unfold into the stage of bhāva and to ultimately fully blossom into prema. In the stage of bhāva, bhakti attracts Śrī Kṛṣṇa along with His dearmost companions, but in the stage of prema, bhakti makes the sādhaka an instrument of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes and thus induces him to relish the topmost rasa. This topic will be explained more clearly ahead.

Viśva-vaiṣṇava Dāsa summarises this topic in the following five verses:

kleśaghnī śubhadā bhaktir yadā sā sādhanātmikā
hṛdaye baddha-jīvānāṁ taṭastha-lakṣaṇānvitā

kleśaghnī śubhadā mokṣalaghutākṛt sudurlabhā
sā bhaktir bhāva-rūpeṇa yāvat tiṣṭhati cetasi

prema-rūpā yadā bhaktis tadā tat-tad-guṇānvitā
sāndrānanda-viśeṣātmā śrī-kṛṣṇākarṣaṇī ca sā

muktānām eva sā śaśvat svarūpānanda-rūpiṇī
sambandha-svarūpā nityaṁ rājate jīva-kṛṣṇayoḥ

bhaktyābhāsena yā labhyā muktir māyā nikṛntanī
sā kathaṁ bhagavad-bhakteḥ sāmyaṁ kāṅkṣati ceṭikā

There are three stages of bhakti: sādhana, bhāva and prema. Bhakti in the stage of sādhana has two aspects: kleśaghnatva, meaning it removes all types of material distress, and śubhadatva, meaning it offers the supreme auspiciousness. In the stage of bhāva, four aspects of bhakti are visible: kleśaghnatva, śubhadatva, mokṣalaghutākāritva, meaning it reveals to the practitioner the insignificance of liberation, and sudurlabhatva, meaning it is extremely rare. In the stage of prema, over and above these four attributes, two more aspects are visible: sāndrānandaviśeṣātmā, meaning it grants extremely intense transcendental pleasure, and śrīkṛṣṇākarṣaṇī, meaning it is the only means to attract Śrī Kṛṣṇa. In the conditioned stage of the living entity, the three intrinsic attributes of bhakti, that is sāndrānandasvarūpatva, śrīkṛṣṇākarṣatva and sudurlabhatva, remain mixed with its three marginal characteristics, that is kleśaghnatva, śubhadatva and mokṣalaghutākāritva. In the liberated stage, the bhakti of the living entity acts between the jīva and Kṛṣṇa as eternal loving service in a particular relationship and as the living entity’s intrinsic transcendental pleasure. The liberation that dispels the covering of the illusory energy can be attained simply by the performance of a semblance of devotion. Since such liberation is just one of the ordinary maidservants among the many maidservants of Bhakti-devī, how can she aspire to be equated with Bhakti-devī?

Bhakti Tattva VivekaBhakti Tattva Viveka - Chapter Two
Bhakti Tattva VivekaBhakti Tattva Viveka - Chapter Four

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