Bhakti Tattva VivekaBhakti Tattva Viveka - Chapter One
Bhakti Tattva VivekaBhakti Tattva Viveka - Chapter Three

An Analysis of Semblance of Bhakti

by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura

yad bhaktyābhāsa-leśo ’pi dadāti phalam uttamam
tam ānanda-nidhiṁ kṛṣṇa caitanyaṁ samupāsmahe

“We worship Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya, who is an ocean of transcendental bliss. Even a faint trace of devotion unto Him yields the highest result.”

My dear devotees, in the previous chapter we discussed the intrinsic nature (svarūpa) and extrinsic characteristics (taṭasthalakṣaṇa) of bhakti. In this chapter we will discuss bhaktiābhāsa, the semblance of devotion. We have already discussed a little about bhaktiābhāsa while reviewing the taṭasthalakṣaṇa of bhakti, and indeed, bhaktiābhāsa is actually included within the category of the taṭasthalakṣaṇa of bhakti. But since it is not really suitable for the semblance of devotion to be thoroughly analysed in a section where both the intrinsic nature and extrinsic characteristics of bhakti are being described, it has become necessary to write a separate chapter on the topic of bhaktiābhāsa. We hope that this article will serve to further clarify the subject matter of the previous chapter.

It has already been stated that the natural and unadulterated endeavour of the infinitesimal consciousness, the jīva, towards the complete consciousness, Kṛṣṇa, is called bhakti. Jīvas are situated in two stages, the liberated stage and the conditioned stage. In the liberated stage the living entity is free from all varieties of material relationships and is situated in his pure, constitutional position. In such a stage the jīva remains free from any material designation and hence within him there is no opportunity for the marginal characteristics of bhakti to exist. In the conditioned stage the jīva forgets his constitutional identity as his spiritual intelligence is deluded by the coverings of the subtle and gross bodies. In this stage the jīva acquires various material designations. When a mirror is free from dust, it gives a clear reflection of any object, but when it is covered with dust, it does not give a clear reflection. In such a condition we can say that the mirror has acquired a designation. When something covers the nature (svabhāva) of an object, then that covering is called the object’s designation. Material nature covers the pure constitutional nature of the jīva, and that covering is the jīva’s designation. It is said in ŚrīmadBhāgavatam (11.2.37):

bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād
iśād apetasya viparyayo ’smṛtiḥ
tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet taṁ
bhaktyaikayeśaṁ guru-devatātmā

The jīva’s innate tendency of unalloyed devotion towards the complete consciousness, Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is his eternal occupational duty (nityadharma). When the same jīva becomes opposed to Bhagavān, then he is gripped by fear and his intelligence is lost. Māyā is the external potency of Bhagavān (apara-śakti). Considering the existence of this material world, which has manifested from the external potency, to be an independent element from Bhagavān, the unfortunate living entity falls into material existence. Intelligent people, accepting the shelter of the lotus feet of a bona fide spiritual master, engage themselves in the exclusive bhajana of the Supreme Lord, Śrī Hari.

From the verse on the previous page we can conclude that the living entity’s absorption in the material energy (māyābhiniveśa) imposes a false designation upon him. In such an adulterated stage, the devotion of the living entity easily deteriorates and appears as bhaktiābhāsa. Those who desire nothing other than entrance into unalloyed devotion should completely cross over bhaktiābhāsa and take shelter of kevalabhakti, exclusive and uninterrupted devotion. For this reason we are reviewing the topic of bhaktiābhāsa in great detail. This in-depth analysis of the semblance of devotion is extremely confidential; only intimate devotees are qualified to hear it. This is because those who consider bhaktiābhāsa to be bhakti will never be pleased upon reading this book until they become truly fortunate. I am feeling immense pleasure in presenting this topic before the intimate devotees.

Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has not given a separate analysis of bhakti-ābhāsa in Bhaktirasāmṛtasindhu. Within the first half of the verse anyābhilāṣitāśūnyaṁ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam, he has given a complete yet hidden explanation of bhaktiābhāsa. While discussing the topic of rati-ābhāsa, the semblance of ecstatic spiritual emotion, in his review of the principle of rati, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has nicely explained bhaktiābhāsa. I am presenting this deliberation on the semblance of devotion upon the basis of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s conception.

Bhakti-ābhāsa exists prior to the stage of śuddhabhakti. From bhaktiābhāsa, the stages of unalloyed devotion and rati within unalloyed devotion appear in sequence. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says (Bhakti-rasāmṛtasindhu (1.3.45)): “pratibimbas tathā chāyā ratyābhāso dvidhā mataḥ – there are two types of bhaktiābhāsa: pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa and chāyābhaktiābhāsa.” The difference between the two is that pratibimba remains apart from the original object and appears as another separate entity, while chāyā is completely dependent on the original object and from a position of proximity to it appears as a partial manifestation of the original object. When a tree is reflected in water, the tree that is visible in the water is called the pratibimba, or reflection, of the original tree. The reflection is never in touch with the original object. The existence of the reflection is due solely to the existence of the original object; still, the reflection is accepted as a separate entity. The form that appears because of the tree’s blockage of the path of light and that resembles the form of the tree itself is called the chāyā, or shadow. The existence of the chāyā is entirely dependent upon the original object. Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says, tasmān nirupādhitvam eva rater mukhya-svarūpatvaṁ sopādhitvam ābhāsatvaṁ tattva-gauṇyā vṛttyā pravartamānatvam iti, which means that when bhakti is unadulterated, it is svarūpabhakti, devotion in its intrinsic state, but when bhakti is adulterated, then it is called bhaktiābhāsa. Bhaktiābhāsa is manifested by the gauṇavṛtti, the secondary inclination of the living entity. The living entity’s intrinsic inclination is called the mukhyavṛtti, and the inclination that is obstructed or covered is called the gauṇavṛtti. Pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa and chāyābhaktiābhāsa are both categorised as gauṇavṛtti, or secondary tendencies. When bhakti reaches its pure form, it is completely free from the tendencies of pratibimba (reflection) and chāyā (shadow). At that time only the original object itself, pure spontaneous devotion, is manifest.

Pratibimba-bhakti-ābhāsa

The semblance of devotion known as pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa can be divided into three categories:

(1) nirviśeṣa-jñānāvṛta-bhaktiābhāsa,
(2) bahirmukha-karmāvṛta-bhakti-ābhāsa 
(3) viparītavastu-bhakti-buddhi-janita-bhakti-ābhāsa.

(1) In nirviśeṣa-jñānāvṛta-bhakti-ābhāsa, bhakti remains hidden by a covering of impersonal knowledge (nirviśeṣajñāna). At that time a curtain of impersonal knowledge exists between the sādhaka and svarūpasiddhabhakti, making direct realisation of bhakti in its inherent form impossible.

The conception of impersonal knowledge is that within transcendental reality (cittattva), names, forms, qualities, pastimes and other attributes do not exist. According to this philosophy, these attributes exist only in material objects; when the jīva becomes liberated from material existence, he merges into undifferentiated Brahman. Wherever such impersonal knowledge exists, unalloyed devotion cannot manifest there. Kṛṣṇānuśīlana, the cultivation of devotion unto Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is called śuddha-bhakti. But the activities of bhakti are not possible in impersonal liberation because neither Kṛṣṇa, His servant the living entity, nor devotional endeavours are present. If someone believes that when the perfectional stage of liberation is achieved bhakti no longer exists due to the destruction of the mind, body and false ego, but simultaneously they continue to follow the process of bhakti to achieve such perfection, then how can their devotion to Kṛṣṇa be called eternal and free from deceit? Such a person tries to please Kṛṣṇa for the time being and in the end attempts to extinguish Kṛṣṇa’s existence. In precisely the same way, the demon Vṛkāsura pleased Lord Śiva with his worship, and after obtaining a boon from Śiva that he could kill anyone by merely placing his hand on their head, he tried to kill Śiva himself. The devotion of such a person is deceitful and temporary due to his ignorance of the intrinsic nature of eternally perfected devotion (nityasiddhabhakti). In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.3.44, 46) Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has described the attributes of such deceitful bhakti:

kintu bāla-camatkārakārī tac-cihna-vīkṣayā
abhijñena subodho ’yaṁ ratyābhāsaḥ prakīrtitaḥ

aśramābhīṣṭa-nirvāhī rati-lakṣaṇa-lakṣitaḥ
bhogāpavarga-saukhyāṁśa vyañjakaḥ pratibimbakaḥ

By observing the symptoms of shedding tears and trembling in persons who desire material enjoyment and liberation, it may seem that they have developed kṛṣṇarati, ecstatic emotion based on excessive attachment for Kṛṣṇa. But only foolish people, who are easily influenced by a show of external symptoms, will consider such so-called rati genuine. Those who are knowledgeable know it to be rati-ābhāsa. Such a person’s trembling and shedding of tears are due to two reasons. The first reason is that they have a hankering for impersonal liberation and by remembering Kṛṣṇa, who alone can award such mukti, they feel great pleasure. This pleasure is the cause of their shedding tears and trembling; it is not due to spontaneous love for Kṛṣṇa. The second reason for their shedding tears and trembling is the happiness derived from thinking that simply by the performance of such bhaktiābhāsa their inner desires for material enjoyment will be easily fulfilled.

vārāṇasī-nivāsī kaścid ayaṁ vyāharan hareś caritam
yati-goṣṭhyām utpulakaḥ siñcati gaṇḍa-dvayī-masraiḥ

“Once, in the city of Vārāṇasī, a renunciant was chanting the names of Hari in an assembly of sannyāsīs and eventually he began trembling and tears started flowing from his eyes. While chanting the holy name he was thinking, ‘Aha! By such a simple process I will attain impersonal liberation.”

Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī describes the cause of such a condition (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.3.47–8):

daivāt sad-bhakta-saṅgena kīrtanādy-anusāriṇām
prāyaḥ prasanna-manasāṁ bhogo mokṣādi-rāgiṇām

keṣāñcid dhṛdi bhāvendoḥ pratibimba udañcati
tad-bhakta-hṛn-nabhaḥ-sthasya tat-saṁsarga-prabhāvataḥ

Exhibiting such trembling and shedding of tears is not easy for an impersonalist because knowledge and renunciation make the heart hard and push away all the symptoms of bhakti, which is very tender by nature. Even though in the process of hearing (śravaṇa) and chanting (kīrtana) conducted by the impersonalists the disease of the desires for sense gratification and liberation exists, they still feel a little pleasure in their hearts from their performance of śravaṇa and kīrtana. If at such a time by some good fortune they obtain the association of a pure devotee of Bhagavān, then by the effect of that association the bhāva that has arisen like the moon in the sky of the hearts of pure devotees is reflected even in their hearts, which are contaminated by the impersonal conception. Such an occurrence can sometimes cause a little ecstasy and shedding of tears. But when again they lack the association of such a devotee, they deride the tears and trembling of their own disciples as fraud or cheating. Hence, bhakti can never appear in the heart covered by impersonal knowledge, but sometimes there is the appearance of bhaktiābhāsa.

(2) In bahirmukhakarmāvṛtabhaktiābhāsa a blockage comprised of an external covering of fruitive activity (karma) is produced by the secondary tendency (gauṇa-vṛtti) of bhakti. It is as if a curtain of fruitive activity is present between the relisher, the living entity, and that which is to be relished, bhakti. This curtain covers the intrinsic nature of bhakti. Pursuing the path of mystic yoga and strictly adhering to the occupational duties corresponding to one’s caste and stage of life (varṇāśramadharma) are both classified as karma. Karma is of two types: nitya (activities performed regularly) and naimittika (activities performed occasionally). All actions that result in piety are considered karma, fruitive activity. A detailed explanation of karma here would greatly enlarge this presentation. Those who specifically want to understand the concept of karma may read the initial pages of my book Śrī Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta.

The process of karma delineated in the books of the smārta brāhmaṇa as is all superficial activity. Activities such as sandhyā-vandana, prayers to be recited daily at dusk, that are suitable for the proper execution of one’s varṇāśrama duties and that are mentioned in the books of the smārtas are called nityakarma, daily routine activities. The smārtas consider the performance of these daily activities to be bhakti. Yet an in-depth review of these activities will reveal that they are superficial. The symptoms of bhakti that are visible in them are due merely to pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa and not real bhakti. This is because the desired fruit of these activities is either the attainment of impersonal liberation or the pleasures of this world or the heavenly worlds. Some people consider the limbs of bhakti such as hearing and chanting to be karma and the hearing and chanting of the karma-yoga process to be bhakti. These misconceptions are caused by their ignorance of the proper philosophical conception. Although externally there appear to be many similarities between the processes of karmayoga and sādhanabhakti, there exists a fundamental difference between the two. Whatever action is performed to attain mundane happiness in this world or in the heavenly worlds is called karma. This happiness is classified as either sense gratification or relief from suffering in the form of impersonal liberation.

On the other hand, bhakti is the action performed with absorption in those sentiments which only help to increase our natural inborn inclination for love of Kṛṣṇa and where the performer has no other desire whatsoever. Despite accruing some other fruits by the performance of such activity, the performer considers those fruits to be very insignificant. Those acts which nourish unalloyed devotion are also considered bhakti because bhakti alone is the mother of bhakti; the processes of jñāna and karma can never be capable of producing bhakti. My dear intimate devotees, you cannot satisfy the people engaged in gross activities by presenting before them this subtle difference between karmayoga and bhakti. Only when their faith in the processes of karma and jñāna dwindles by the accumulation of heaps of pious activities and by the effect of association with pure devotees of Bhagavān will the seedling of undeveloped bhakti appear in their hearts in the form of faith. Unless in possession of such faith, no one can understand the subtle difference between karmayoga and bhakti.

We should understand that if someone thinks that bhakti is simply another form of karma, then he won’t be able to relish the transcendental sentiments of unalloyed devotion in his heart. The difference between bitter and sweet can be distinguished only by tasting them, not by reasoning. After actually tasting them, it becomes much easier to consider and then determine which of them is superior. Those inclined towards karmayoga sometimes dance, tremble and shed tears while chanting the holy name, but all of this is a mere reflection of bhakti, not śuddhabhakti. It is the result of their previous good fortune of having associated with devotees, as described in the verses quoted previously such as daivāt sadbhaktasaṅgena…. Their trembling and shedding of tears are just symptoms produced by sensual pleasure and are considered mere reflections (pratibimba) only. At such times they are either immersed in thoughts of heavenly pleasure or absorbed in an imaginary ocean of the pleasure derived from liberation. This is pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa.

(3) In present times we can easily point out viparīta-vastu-bhakti buddhi-janita-bhakti-ābhāsa, which is produced by the visualisation of bhakti in activities that are actually opposed to bhakti and which is prevalent in the pañcopāsanā and in the īśvarapraṇidhāna, concentration upon the Supersoul within the yoga process. Those known as pañcopāsanā consider that there are five sampradāyas: Śaiva (worshippers of Śiva), Śākta (worshippers of Durgā), Gānapatya (worshippers of Gaṇeśa), Saura (worshippers of Sūrya) and Vaiṣṇava (worshippers of Viṣṇu). All five are followers of impersonalism. The Vaiṣṇava line mentioned here is not the Vaiṣṇava line that follows the genuine principle of bhakti. The four genuine Vaiṣṇava sampradāyas are not included within the Vaiṣṇava pañcopāsanāsampradāya mentioned here. Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Śrī Madhvācārya, Śrī Viṣṇusvāmī and Śrī Nimbāditya are the four ācāryas of the four bona fide sampradāyas of unalloyed devotion that are described in the verse śrī-brahmarudra-sanakāś catvāraḥ sampradāyinaḥ. To indicate these four sampradāyas, it is said in the scriptures sampradāya-vihīnā ye mantrās te niṣphalā matāḥ, which means mantras not accepted from the four bona fide sampradāyas yield no results.

Vaiṣṇavas who belong to the pañcopāsanā section are basically impersonalists, not pure devotees. All the pañcopāsakas believe that the mūrtis of their five worshipful deities are ultimately imaginary. In other words they believe that Brahman has no form and that these forms are conceived only as a convenience for worship while still in the bodily conception of life. According to their concept, when one’s worship becomes perfect he merges into impersonal Brahman and the devotion he offered to those “imaginary” mūrtis whom he considers to be the Supreme is not eternal. This activity is simply jñānāvṛtabhaktiābhāsa, devotion that is covered by impersonal knowledge. One cannot attain unalloyed devotion as long as he believes such semblance of devotion to be real bhakti. If symptoms of bhakti such as trembling and the profuse shedding of tears are detected in the performers of this type of bhaktiābhāsa, they should be taken only as symptoms produced by sensual pleasure and a mere reflection (pratibimba) of the genuine symptoms.

Just as the pañcopāsakas display a semblance of devotion towards their “imaginary” deities of demigods, similarly yogīs also display trembling and shedding of tears towards their “imaginary” deity of the Supersoul. These are all examples of pratibimba-bhaktiābhāsa. The concept that pratibimba-bhakti-ābhāsa will gradually develop and ultimately transform into unalloyed devotion is totally false because by rejecting impersonal meditation and the benefits sought from fruitive activities the existence of this semblance of devotion totally vanishes. There remains no possibility of those practising pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa actually being benefited unless they completely purify their consciousness from its very root. Impersonalists such as the four Kumāras and the topmost jñānī Śukadeva Gosvāmī could only begin new and more exalted lives when they completely renounced their previous faiths and accepted the path of bhakti. By the strength of their new, exalted lives they achieved the status of our ācāryas. Regarding pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.3.42–3):

vimuktākhila tarṣair yā muktair api vimṛgyate
yā kṛṣṇenātigopyāśu bhajadbhyo ’pi na dīyate

sā bhukti-mukti-kāmatvāc chuddhāṁ bhaktim akurvatām
hṛdaye sambhavaty eṣāṁ kathaṁ bhāgavatī ratiḥ

“How is it possible for the rare bhagavadrati, ecstatic emotion for Bhagavān that appears in the stage of bhāva, to appear in the hearts of those desiring material sense gratification and impersonal liberation when such rati is being eagerly sought after by liberated souls who have completely renounced all varieties of material desires and is not easily granted by Śrī Kṛṣṇa to those engaged in His exclusive bhajana?”

It is imperative to mention here that those who consider the pleasure derived from illicit association with women and taking intoxication to be love of God are themselves polluted and may pollute others also.

Chāyā-bhakti-ābhāsa

It is very important for a sādhaka to understand chāyābhaktiābhāsa. Unlike pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa, chāyābhaktiābhāsa is not crooked and shrewd; it has simplicity and virtue. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has written as follows regarding chāyābhaktiābhāsa (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.3.49–53):

kṣudra kautūhalamayī cañcalā duḥkha-hāriṇī
rateś chāyā bhavet kiñcit tat-sādṛśyāvalambinī

hari-priya-kriyā-kāladeśa-pātrādi-saṅgamāt
apy ānuṣaṅgikādeṣā kvacid ajñeṣv apīkṣyate

kintu bhāgyaṁ vinā nāsau bhāvāc chāyāpy udañcati
yad abhyudayataḥ kṣemaṁ tatra syād uttarottaram

hari-priya-janasyaiva prasāda-bhara-lābhataḥ
bhāvābhāso ’pi sahasā bhāvatvam upagacchati

tasminn evāparādhena bhāvābhāso ’py anuttamaḥ
krameṇa kṣayam āpnoti khastha-pūrṇa-śaśī yathā

“There are a few similarities between chāyābhaktiābhāsa and śuddhabhakti, but by nature the practitioner of chāyābhakti-ābhāsa feels some slight curiosity concerning what fruit will be attained by following this process, his mind is restless and some of his material distress is eradicated. Chāyābhaktiābhāsa is sometimes visible even within a person bereft of spiritual knowledge, just by the influence of their having come into contact with the times, places and devotees that are related to Bhagavān. Whether one be a follower of pañcopāsana or of a bona fide disciplic succession, one cannot attain the stage of chāyābhakti-ābhāsa without some special good fortune having arisen within him, because upon the shadow of bhāva arising just once – in whatever minute degree it may be – it will certainly grow and result in progressive benefit for the sādhaka. Upon obtaining the mercy of a pure Vaiṣṇava, bhāvaābhāsa can suddenly progress up to the stage of bhāva. But on the other hand, if one commits offences at the feet of pure Vaiṣṇavas, even the topmost semblance of bhāva gradually deteriorates, just like the gradual waning of the moon in kṛṣṇapakṣa, the dark fortnight of the lunar month.”

Chāyā-bhakti-ābhāsa is of two types:
(1) svarūpa-jñānābhāvajanita-bhakti-ābhāsa, the semblance of devotion that appears in the absence of knowledge of one’s inherent identity, and
(2) bhakti-uddīpaka-vastu-śakti-janita-bhakti-ābhāsa, the semblance of devotion in which the stimulation for bhakti is caused by the influence of having come into contact with objects such as time, place and circumstance that are related to Bhagavān.

(1) The intrinsic knowledge (svarūpajñāna) concerning the sādhaka (the practitioner), sādhana (the practice) and sādhya (the object of achievement) is non-different from the inherent nature of śuddhabhakti. When such svarūpajñāna has not yet arisen within a sādhaka but the desire to cross over the ocean of material existence has come within him, then whatever symptoms of bhakti visible in him in that condition are merely bhaktiābhāsa. This semblance of devotion transforms into śuddhabhakti when one obtains this intrinsic knowledge. Even for Vaiṣṇavas who are duly initiated into the genuine sampradāya, the illumination of one’s eternal identity arising from the dīkṣāmantra that they received from their dīkṣāguru will not appear until they are fortunate enough to receive instruction on this intrinsic knowledge. Due to ignorance of this intrinsic knowledge of the bhaktiyoga process, svarūpasiddhabhakti remains covered and hence only the semblance of devotion is visible.

The devotion of pañcopāsakas who remain aloof from the teachings of impersonalism and perform the worship of their favourite deity by considering him or her to be a direct expansion of Bhagavān and the supreme goal is also chāyābhaktiābhāsa. Still, there is a great deal of difference between pañcopāsaka Vaiṣṇavas and sāmpradāyika Vaiṣṇavas. The resolute faith of sāmpradāyika Vaiṣṇavas in the personal aspect of Bhagavān is much stronger than that of pañcopāsaka Vaiṣṇavas. By receiving proper instruction on philosophical principles, a sāmpradāyika Vaiṣṇava remains hopeful of reaching a very exalted stage of pure Vaiṣṇavism, but a pañcopāsaka cannot be as hopeful of achieving such an exalted stage of Vaiṣṇavism by receiving instruction on philosophical principles according to their own custom.

The accessibility of association of pure devotees for sāmpradāyika Vaiṣṇavas is much better than it is for pañcopāsakas. If by some fortune the pañcopāsakas obtain the association of devotees and simultaneously keep themselves aloof from the association of impersonalists, they can then be refined by the sāmpradāyika system and can begin pursuing the path of unalloyed devotion. Two scriptural evidences mentioned in Bhaktisandarbha are being quoted here. In the Skanda Purāṇa it is confirmed that sāmpradāyika Vaiṣṇavas achieve their desired result even by the practice of chāyābhaktiābhāsa. Śrī Mahādeva says (Haribhakti-vilāsa 11.200):

dīkṣā-mātreṇa kṛṣṇasya narā mokṣaṁ labhanti vai
kiṁ punar ye sadā bhaktyā pūjayanty acyutaṁ narāḥ

“Just by receiving initiation into the kṛṣṇamantra one can obtain liberation, so what can be said about what one can achieve by performing devotion unto the Supreme Lord?”

Regarding pañcopāsakas who, remaining free from pratibimba-bhaktiābhāsa, have developed chāyābhaktiābhāsa, the Ādivarāha Purāṇa (211.85) says:

janmāntara-sahasreṣu samārādhya vṛṣadhvajam
vaiṣṇavatvaṁ labhet kaścit sarva-pāpa-kṣaye sati

“If one worships Gaṇeśa for thousands of births and becomes free from all sins, then it is possible to come to the platform of Vaiṣṇavism.”

The scriptural conclusion is that Śaktas, worshippers of the goddess Durgā, are gradually elevated to bhakti by first becoming worshippers of the sun-god, then worshippers of Gaṇeśa, then worshippers of Śiva, then pañcopāsaka Vaiṣṇavas, and finally sāmpradāyika Vaiṣṇavas. By the careful analysis of the words of the scriptures it is understood that by the influence of association with pure devotees, chāyābhaktiābhāsa transforms into pure devotion.

(2) In the scriptures there are many examples of bhaktiuddīpakavastu-śakti-janita-bhakti-ābhāsa. The tulasī plant, mahāprasāda, vaiṣṇavaprasāda, the days of devotional observance such as Ekādaśī, the deity of Bhagavān, the holy dhāmas, the Gaṅgā, the foot-dust of Vaiṣṇavas and so on are various objects that act as bhaktiuddīpaka, stimuli to devotion. The living entity receives immense benefit even by coming in contact with these objects unknowingly. Sometimes benefit is accrued even when the innocent jīva unknowingly commits an offence to them. Coming into contact with these objects in this way is also bhaktiābhāsa. Devotees will not be astonished upon witnessing such remarkable results of bhaktiābhāsa; all such results are due solely to the immense power of śuddhabhakti. If the processes of jñāna and yoga are not executed purely and if they are not supported by bhaktiābhāsa, then they are incapable of granting any result. On the other hand, Bhakti-devī is completely independent; regardless of the motives of those who take shelter of her, she fulfils their innermost desires. Although all these results are visible in the semblance of devotion, it is not the prescribed conduct. The execution of unalloyed devotion is our only duty. Those who desire absolute success should not under any circumstance give a place to pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa within their hearts. By the strength of bhajana performed under the guidance of pure Vaiṣṇavas, they should cross beyond chāyābhaktiābhāsa and take exclusive shelter at the lotus feet of Bhakti-devī. Therefore all of you kindly accept the following principle presented by Viśva-vaiṣṇava Dāsa:

pratibimbas tathā chāyā bhedāt tattva-vicārataḥ
bhaktyābhāso dvidhā so ’pi varjanīyaḥ rasārthibhiḥ

“Those who desire to relish the liquid mellows of devotion (bhaktirasa) should always remain aloof from both types of bhaktiābhāsa. By reviewing this subject matter, it is concluded that the semblance of devotion is of two types, pratibimbabhakti-ābhāsa and chāyābhaktiābhāsa. Pratibimbabhaktiābhāsa has a tendency to make the living entity commit offences, while chāyā-bhaktiābhāsa is incomplete in itself. The execution of unalloyed devotion is the only recommended activity for the living entity.”

Offences Towards Bhakti

This is a very dangerous item. We execute so many limbs of bhakti, such as accepting the dīkṣāmantra from a bona fide spiritual master, every day applying tilaka to twelve different parts of the body, performing arcana unto Śrī Kṛṣṇa, observing the vow of Ekādaśī, chanting the holy name and remembering Kṛṣṇa according to one’s ability, visiting the holy places like Vṛndāvana and so forth. But unfortunately we don’t try hard enough to avoid committing offences at the feet of Bhakti-devī. Giving the example of the activities of Mukunda, Śrīman Mahāprabhu highlighted (Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata, Madhyakhaṇḍa 10.185, 188–190, 192):

kṣaṇe dante tṛṇa laya, kṣaṇe jāṭhī māre
o khaḍa-jāṭhiyā – beṭā nā dekhibe more
prabhu bole – o beṭā jakhana yathā jāya
seī mata kathā kahi tathāya miśāya
vāśiṣṭha paḍaye jabe advaitera saṅge
bhakti-yoge nāce gāya tṛṇa kari dante
anya sampradāye giyā jakhana sāmbhāya
nāhi māne bhakti jāṭhi māraye sadāya
bhakti-sthāne uhāra haila aparādha
eteke uhāra haila daraśana-bādha

(Śrīman Mahāprabhu said:) “I can never bestow mercy upon Mukunda because sometimes he displays his humility by taking straw between his teeth and at other times he attacks Me; in other words, he keeps one of his hands at My feet (displaying humility) and the other at My neck (attacking Me). According to his own convenience, sometimes he behaves as My follower and at other times he criticises Me. Hence, I cannot reward him. Wherever he goes, seeking his own benefit he represents himself accordingly and mixes with people. Sometimes he supports the doctrine of māyāvāda by reciting from the book Yogavāśiṣṭhā, which is endowed with Advaita philosophy, and at other times he shows his faith by abandoning the impersonal concept and cultivating kṛṣṇabhakti by becoming meek and humble, and by dancing and performing kīrtana. When he enters the sect of the impersonalists, he rejects the eternality of bhakti and condemns the devotees with the weapon of argument and logic. In this way he has committed an offence at the feet of Bhakti-devī. Therefore I cannot give him My darśana.”

Mukunda Datta is an eternal associate of the Lord, so whatever Mahāprabhu said to him in this regard is only a pastime. But Mahāprabhu’s objectives are very grave, so there must be an extremely confidential reason for His statements here. His confidential instruction is that we cannot please Kṛṣṇa just by accepting initiation and executing the various limbs of bhakti. Only those who have unwavering faith in exclusive devotion can satisfy Him. Those who have developed such faith accept the path of unalloyed devotion with great determination. They do not visit places where doctrines that are unrelated to śuddhabhakti are discussed. They go to places where the topic of pure devotion is being discussed and they listen with great interest. Simplicity, determination and exclusive desire for bhakti are the natural characteristics of such unalloyed devotees. They never approve of statements or activities that are opposed to the principles of bhakti merely to gain popularity; pure devotees always remain indifferent to such things.

These days most people don’t try to avoid the above-mentioned offences. Just from seeing the devotees or hearing narrations of the Lord’s activities, they display symptoms of apparent spiritual ecstasy such as trembling and the shedding of tears and they support spiritual philosophy in assemblies, but afterwards they are again seen becoming mad after sense gratification. Therefore, dear readers, what can be said about the so-called firm adherence (niṣṭhā) of those who display these bogus sentiments? We understand that just to earn fame they display these symptoms before the devotees. Out of greed to acquire fame or other material benefits, they display varieties of this sort of conduct. It is a matter of great sorrow that these people not only commit an offence at the feet of Bhakti-devī by propagating deceitful philosophies in the name of bhakti, but also completely ruin the spiritual lives of the living entities of this world.

Dear readers, we should remain very careful not to ever commit any offence at the feet of Bhakti-devī. First of all, we must vow to perform bhakti while remaining indifferent to all else. We must never do anything or speak anything that is contrary to bhakti just to gain popularity or collect followers. We must remain simple and straightforward in our actions. There shouldn’t be any difference between our words and our actions. We must never try to gain the favour of those who are indifferent to bhakti by displaying to them artificial symptoms of advanced devotion. We will always remain chaste to the principles of unalloyed devotion and will never support any other doctrine. Our external conduct and the feelings within our hearts should be one and the same.

Bhakti Tattva VivekaBhakti Tattva Viveka - Chapter One
Bhakti Tattva VivekaBhakti Tattva Viveka - Chapter Three

Share this chapter!

Read More Books by Bhaktivinoda Thakur