Part Six of an overview of the Sat Sandarbha of Srila Jiva Gosvami

Lord Krishna in Goloka Vrindavana

THE FIFTH OF THE six sandarbhas (treatises) describes abhideya tattva, or the process for attaining love of God. As the name of the treatise suggests, that process is bhakti, devotional service. Bhakti is a scientific process, with many subtleties and nuances, which are discussed in this sandarbha.

What is bhakti? Who should perform it? Why should it be performed? What is needed to perform it? All these questions are answered here, largely from Srimad-Bhagavatam.

First Srila Jiva Gosvami shows that the central purpose of the Bhagavatam is to present bhakti. He does this by analyzing again the various speakers in the Bhagavatam. From this analysis he concludes that no other path can succeed without bhakti yetbhakti itself is independent; it does not rely on any other process.

Jiva Gosvami states, therefore, that a devotee should never independently worship any demigod. Still, a devotee should never disrespect the demigods (nor any living being). Rather, he should respect the demigods as the Lord's assistants, because even Lord Siva is a great Vaisnava, a great devotee.

Srila Jiva Gosvami tells us that the Supreme Lord is quickly pleased with a person who is merciful to every living being. If one is unable to help others and show them mercy, one can simply respect them; but one should give special respect to a devotee.

All good qualities reside in a devotee. A devotee who has progressed to the stage of faith (sraddha) need not engage in karma, or duties prescribed in the varnasrama social system. And bhakti is never destroyed; any devotion one accrues is never lost.

Pure Devotion Stands Supreme

By careful analysis of the Bhagavatam one can see that bhakti alone is the means to perfection. Indeed, in all goals, at all times, in all places, in all scripture, in all duties, in all conditions, bhakti is supreme.

Sometimes bhakti mixed with fruitive activities is encouraged, but that is only to attract people to pure bhakti, because bhakti is the supreme religion. It grants all desires and removes all obstacles.

Bhakti is so powerful that it frees the devotee from all fear and all sins. If one commits an offense, in bhakti one needs no separate means of atonement. Furthermore, birth in a low family or low species neither obstructs bhakti nor disqualifies one from performing it.

Only bhakti stands untouched by the modes of nature. It is even beyond the mode of goodness. One may argue that since bhakti is performed with the external and internal senses, and since those senses are influenced by the three modes of nature,bhakti is also mixed with the three modes.

Srila Jiva Gosvami counters by explaining that the power of transcendental knowledge and the power of transcendental action are powers that come directly from the Lord. The Lord enables the body and senses to become permeated with God consciousness and perform their devotional functions.

Bhakti is a consolidated form of the pleasure potency. Thus only bhakti can please Krsna, who is otherwise self-satisfied. Bhakti is granted to the living entities by the Lord, and yet it attracts Him.

How Can Pure Devotion Be Attained?

Even the semblance (abhasa) of bhakti is very powerful. To demonstrate this, Srila Jiva Gosvami relates a story. Once a rat ate a ghee wick burning in front of the Deity, and when the rat's mouth started burning, the rat jumped up and down in pain. The Lord took this jumping as an offering of the devotional arati ceremony. So when the rat died it became a queen in its next life, and she was attached to offering ghee lamps in the temple. She attained salvation in that life. Thus by abhasa, or an inadvertent expression of devotion, this living being got the full benefit of abhideya, or the process of bhakti.

Statements in praise of bhakti are not mere glorification indeed, it is offensive to minimize the power of bhakti by considering such praises to be emotional or hyperbolic outpourings of the enraptured devotee. Such an attitude obstructs one's progress on the path of bhakti.

Srila Jiva Gosvami proceeds by showing that even a liberated soul can go to hell because of offenses. Srila Jiva then speaks at length of the ten offenses to avoid in chanting the holy names. If one is not making advancement even after chanting the holy names, he says, it is because of offenses, past or present.

Furthermore, a duplicitous person can never get bhakti. Srila Jiva Gosvami cites the example of Duryodhana, who worshiped Krsna but never made spiritual advancement. Only qualified persons get the mercy of Krsna to attain prema bhakti, devotional service in pure love of Godhead. Prema bhakti is so powerful that it frees one from even hunger and thirst, as it did for Maharaja Pariksit.

What is the main way to attain this wonderful bhakti? Jiva Gosvami says the most essential element is association with devotees of the Lord. An offenseless person who gets even a little association with pure devotees, as Narada Muni did, develops attachment to Krsna in short order. Offenders, on the other hand, need special mercy. Nalakuvera and Manigriva are examples.

Essentially, sat sanga spiritual association means the association of guru, the spiritual master. The diksa guru, the guru who gives one initiation, is also generally the siksa guru, or the guru who gives one instruction. But whereas there is only one diksaguru, the siksa gurus may be many. The siksa guru is accepted with the permission of the diksa guru. Srila Jiva Gosvami describes the qualifications of a guru at length.

What Kinds of Devotion Are There?

Next Srila Jiva Gosvami explains the various types of bhakti. We shall briefly touch on the main three. The first is aropsiddha bhakti, perfection attained by offering the fruit of one's karma in devotional service. When works are offered to the Lord, devotion is attributed to them, even though the activity itself is not devotional. This is called attributed devotion.

Aropsiddha is further divided into two types offering of works done against the Vedic rules and offering of works done according to the Vedas. Although works cause bondage in this material world, they can also remedy material suffering if offered to God. A thorn causes pain, but it can also pry another thorn loose.

Here Srila Jiva Gosvami refutes the philosophy of purva mimamsa, which says that the piety of an act resides in the performer and gives its fruit automatically, with no need of consent from the Supreme Lord. The reality is that piety causes bondage as well. Only when pious activity is offered to God does it bring salvation. That is aropsiddha bhakti.

The second type of bhakti is called sangasiddha bhakti. This is devotional service accompanied by other spiritual processes. Karma (work) and jnana (knowledge), for example, are not devotion, but by association with bhakti they take on the nature of devotion. That is to say, something which is not directly bhakti but which helps bhakti is counted as bhakti.

An example that applies is that of electricity. An object may have no electricity, but when put in contact with electricity it becomes electrified and acts like electricity. Another example: detachment of the mind from sense gratification is not devotion, because it has no relation to the Lord, but such detachment helps one perform devotional service; therefore, it is counted as part of abhideya, or the process of devotion.

Sangasiddha bhakti is further divided into three categories. The first is sakama devotional service mixed with material desires. The second is kaivalya kama devotional service mixed with the desire to merge into Brahman. (This is of two types bhakti mixed with work and bhakti mixed with knowledge and work.) The third is bhaktimatra kama desire to attain devotion to the Lord. (This again is of three types: devotion mixed with fruitive work; devotion mixed with fruitive work and knowledge; and devotion mixed only with knowledge.)

After sangasiddha bhakti, the third main type of devotion is called svarupasiddha bhakti devotional service by itself, intrinsic, and not dependent on anything else. Devotional practices such as hearing and chanting, which put one in direct contact with the Lord, are examples of svarupasiddha bhaktiSvarupasiddha is called by various names suddha, kevala, niskama, nirguna, akincana, ahaituki. The list goes on.

Jiva Gosvami states that the purpose of explaining all the other aspects of bhakti is to explain svarupasiddha bhakti, which has two main parts, called vaidhi (devotional service performed according to rules) and raganuga (spontaneous devotional service).

Srila Jiva Gosvami further divides all the categories of devotional service into two sincere and insincere.

Highlights on the Spiritual Path

Srila Jiva Gosvami now discusses vaidhi bhakti and raganuga bhakti in even greater detail than that given in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu by Srila Rupa Gosvami.

He says that the raganuga bhakta, the spontaneous devotee, is guided by love alone. Even if he acts in precise accord with the scriptures, his bhakti is not vaidhi but raganuga. Further, raganuga is possible only in relation to Krsna and not with any of the incarnations or other forms of the Lord.

Worship of Krsna in His abode called Gokula is topmost. And in Gokula, worship following in the footsteps of the gopis is supreme. Srila Jiva Gosvami advises that a devotee never reveal his personal realizations in public; rather, he should keep his progress confidential.

He says that to develop a taste for hearing krsna-katha, topics of Krsna, is the greatest good fortune and it will definitely lead one to Krsna. Of all practices, nothing compares to hearing krsna-katha; it is the very best.

Srila Jiva Gosvami explains that offenses committed during Deity worship are removed by reciting the Bhagavad-gita, by reciting the thousand names of Visnu, by offering prayers to Tulasi Devi, and by similar acts, which are themselves devotional service. For one on the path of bhakti, there is no separate method of atonement.

Diksa, spiritual initiation, removes all sins in a disciple. A wealthy householder must engage in Deity worship for his spiritual progress. If unable to do so he should witness another's worship, or he may worship in the mind.

As in the other Sandarbhas, in this Sandarbha we find many more enlightening details given by the mercy of Srila Jiva Gosvami, the learned acarya and protector of the path of unalloyed devotion. In a synopsis such as this we cannot go into all these details. We have given some highlights to enliven those on the spiritual path. We pray that our humble attempt may be successful.

Kundali Dasa and Satya Narayana Dasa are living in Vrndavana, India, working on a translation of the Sat Sandarbha.