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An Analysis of the Qualification for Bhakti
karma-jnana viragadi-ceshtam hitva samantatah
shraddhavan bhajate yam shri-chaitanyam aham bhaje
“I worship Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is always served by faithful devotees who have completely given up the pursuit of karma, jnana and dry renunciation.”
In the first chapter we discussed the intrinsic nature of shuddha-bhakti, in the second chapter we discussed the intrinsic nature of bhakti-abhasa or that which appears to be bhakti but in fact is not, and in the third chapter we discussed the natural attributes of shuddha-bhakti. In this chapter we will discuss the adhikara or qualification for shuddha-bhakti. No one acquires any- thing without possessing the eligibility for it. This eligibility or qualification is the very foun- dation of success. When a devotee fully understands this, he will no longer remain doubtful concerning his eventual achievement of the ultimate goal. Many devotees think, “For a long time now I have been fully surrendered to my guru, I have accepted the diksha-mantra from him, I am also engaged in shravana and kirtana, but still I am not experiencing the desired result—what is the reason for this?” Gradually they become disinterested in their bhajana and in the end they become totally faithless. Sound knowledge of the conception of the proper qualification for bhakti can easily protect one from such doubts.
It should be carefully noted that the performance of devotional activities such as shravana and kirtana and the resultant appearance of symptoms like the shedding of tears and trembling should not be accepted as true bhakti for anyone and everyone. Hence, in order to take shel- ter of shuddha-bhakti it is compulsory to analyse the proper qualification for it. The hari-bha- jana performed by karmadhikaris and jnanadhikaris, or those who are eligible to perform karma and cultivate jnana, usually becomes a part of mere karma and jnana. Therefore, such people don’t obtain the auspicious fruit which is expected from the performance of bhajana. A devotee’s hari-bhajana becomes pure only when he obtains the proper adhikara or qualifi- cation for shuddha-bhakti, and when this happens, his bhajana will very quickly bear fruit in the form of bhava. For this reason I have undertaken an analysis of this very important topic. Scholars quote the following verse from Shrimad Bhagavad-gita(7.16):
catur-vidha bhajante mam janah sukritino ’rjuna
arto jijnasur artharthi jnani ca bharatarshabha
“My dear Arjuna! As a result of their accumulation of pious activities in innumerable lifetimes, four types of people engage in My bhajana: arta or those who are distressed, jijnasu or those 33 who are inquisitive, artharthi or those who desire wealth and jnani or those who possess spir- itual knowledge. These four kinds of virtuous persons are qualified to perform My bhajana.”
Those who are very anxious to eradicate their distress are called arta. Those who are inquis- itive to understand the absolute truth are called jijnasu. Those who desire to attain material happiness are called artharthi, and those who are realising spiritual truth at every moment are called jnani. Though one may be arta, jijnasu, artharthi or jnani, unless one has some sukriti or accumulated pious merit he will not be inclined towards bhajana. Shrila Jiva Gosvami has defined sukriti as “those activities in connection with transcendental personalities which give rise to an intense desire to perform bhakti.” There may be doubts concerning the existence of sukriti in the artas, jijnasusand artharthis, but in relation to the jnanis there are no such doubts. It is a fact that jnanis certainly engage in bhajana after their abundant accumulation of sukriti. Shrila Rupa Gosvami writes ( Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu1.2.20-21):
tatra gitadishuktanam caturnam adhikarinam
madhye yasmin bhagavatah kripa syat tat priyasya va
sa kshina-tat-tad-bhavah syac chuddha-bhakty adhikaravan
yathebhah shaunakadish ca dhruvah sa ca catuh-sanah
“When the four types of persons who are eligible to engage in bhakti as mentioned in the Gita and other scriptures receive the mercy of Bhagavan or His devotees, they become free from their particular motivations which are respectively desire for relief from distress, the desire to have their inquisitiveness satisfied, the desire to obtain wealth and the attachment to jnana. They then become adhikaris or rightful candidates for shuddha-bhakti. This is clearly vis- ible from the examples of Gajendra, the rishis headed by Shaunaka, Dhruva Maharaja and the four Kumaras.”
When Gajendra was seized by the crocodile and was unable to free himself despite innu- merable strenuous efforts, he fervently prayed to Bhagavan. Then Bhagavan, the saviour of the distressed, appeared and delivered Gajendra by killing the crocodile. By the mercy of Bhagavan, Gajendra’s distress was removed and he became qualified for shuddha-bhakti. Shaunaka and the other rishis became very fearful upon the arrival of Kali-yuga. Understanding the inability of karma or fruitive activity to yield any benefit, they approached the great devo- tee Suta Gosvami and inquired how the people of this age could attain the ultimate benefit. In his reply Suta Gosvami instructed them on shuddha-bhakti, and as a result of receiving his mercy in this way, they attained shuddha-bhakti. Dhruva Maharaja worshipped Bhagavan moti- vated by the desire to attain an opulent kingdom. But when Bhagavan appeared before him, by Bhagavan’s mercy his desire for a kingdom vanished and he became qualified for shuddha- bhakti. Sanaka, Sanatana, Sanandana, and Sanat-kumara are the four Kumaras. Previously they were nirvishesha-jnanis or impersonalists, but later on, by the mercy of Bhagavan and His devo- tees, they completely rejected the conception of impersonalism and attained the adhikara for shuddha-bhakti.
The purport is that as long as all of them harboured desires within their hearts either for relief from their distress, to satisfy their inquisitiveness or to obtain wealth, or were attached to an impersonal conception of the absolute truth, they were ineligible for shuddha-bhakti. Therefore, in relation to the adhikara for shuddha-bhakti, Shrila Rupa Gosvami has written ( Bhakti- rasamrita-sindhu1.2.14):
yah kenapy ati-bhagyena jata-shraddho ’sya sevane
natisakto na vairagyabhag asyam adhikary asau
“When one is not too attached to or detached from this material world and by some good fortune develops faith in the service of Krishna’s lotus feet, he is considered to possess the adhikara for shuddha-bhakti.”
The purport is that when worldly people realise the futility of material existence after being afflicted by various types of distress and by suffering in the absence of their desired objects, they begin to lead their lives in a mood of detachment from the material world. If by some good fortune at such a time they acquire the association of Bhagavan’s devotees, they enquire from them and come to understand that there is no higher destination than the attainment of Bhagavan. Gradually they develop firm faith in this and engage in bhajana. At that time it can be said that they have developed shraddha in krishna-bhakti. This very shraddha is the root cause of the eligibility for shuddha-bhakti, as confirmed by Shrila Jiva Gosvami’s explanation (found in Bhakti-sandarbha, Anuccheda 172) of these verses from Shrimad-Bhagavatam(11.20.27-28):
jata-shraddho mat-kathasu nirvinnah sarva-karmasu
veda duhkhatmakan kaman parityage ’py anishvarah
tato bhajeta mam pritah shraddhalur dridha-nishcayah
jushamanash ca tan kaman duhkhodarkamsh ca garhayan
Shri Krishna says, “My devotees who have developed faith in hearing the narrations of My pas- times remain detached from fruitive activities and try to accept the objects of the senses just enough to maintain their lives, knowing well that sense enjoyment leads to a miserable result. Still enduring the reactions to their previous karma and endeavouring to become free from the cycle of the pleasant and unpleasant results which arise from such activities, they sincerely regret those fruitive activities and silently condemn them. They simply tolerate the reactions to those activities while simultaneously remaining engaged in My bhajana with firm faith and resolve.”
While explaining the above verses which describe how a faithful devotee performs bhajana, Shrila Jiva Gosvami has commented in the Bhakti-sandarbha, “ tad-evam-ananya-bhakty- adhikare hetum shraddha-matram uktva sa yatha bhajeta tatha shikshayati,” which means that shraddha is the sole cause of the adhikara to perform shuddha-bhakti. Shrila Jiva Gosvami also mentions, “ shraddha hi shastartha-vishvasah. shastram ca tad asharanasya bhayam tac charanasyab-hayam vadati. ato jatayah shraddhayas tat sharanapattir eva lingam iti,” which means faith in the words of the scriptures is called shraddha. The scriptures mention that those who have taken shelter of the lotus feet of Bhagavan have nothing to fear, but those who have not done so remain fearful. Thus, it can be understood from the symptoms of sharanapatti whether or not shraddha has developed within someone. What is sharanapatti? Shrila Jiva Gosvami writes “jatayam shraddhayam sada tad anuvritti-ceshtaiva syat” and “karma-parityago vidhiyate,” which means upon the appearance of shraddha, krishnanuvritti-ceshta or the constant endeavour to serve Krishna is always visible in a person’s behaviour and the tendency to perform karma or fruitive activities is altogether removed. This is sharanapatti. In Shrimad Bhagavad-gita (18.66), after giving separate explanations of karma, jnana and bhakti, through a most confidential statement Bhagavan has given instruction on sharanapatti:
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo mokshayisyami ma shucah
We should understand the words “sarva-dharma” in this verse to mean dharmas which are obstacles to sharanapatti such as the pursuance of one’s occupational duties within the varnashrama system and the worship of demigods. Shri Krishna is saying, “Rejecting all of these, one should perform sharanapatti unto Me, meaning one should develop exclusive shraddha towards engaging in My bhajana. Don’t be fearful of the reactions which come to those who commit the sin of rejecting their occupational duties. I assure you that I will free you from the reactions of all such sins.”
The doubt may arise that the word shraddha, meaning faith, actually refers here to respect. The paths of karma, jnana and so forth also require shraddha. Thus shraddha is not only the cause of bhakti, but of karma and jnana also. The philosophical principal is that the word shraddha actually means feelings of faith in the injunctions of the scriptures, and included within this feeling another sentiment certainly exists which is called ruci or taste. Despite possessing faith, one may not desire to participate in a particular activity unless he has developed ruci for it. Shraddha in the paths of karma and jnana is always mixed with a particle of bhakti in the form of ruci. Only through the influence of this fraction of bhakti are the paths of karma and jnana able to yield any result. Similarly, the shraddha which develops for bhakti is endowed with ruci, and this shraddha is none other than the seed of the bhakti-lata or creeper of devotion which is sown in the heart of the jiva. Shraddha in the paths of karma and jnana is mixed with ruci for the activities of karma and jnana respectively, but the nature of this shraddha is different. Only the shraddha which is endowed with ruci for bhakti culminates in the symptoms of bhakti. This is called sharanapatti. Only when one’s ruci for bhakti advances through the progressive stages of sadhu-sanga, the performance of bhajana, anartha-nivritti and finally assumes the form of nishtha does it become shuddha-ruci. Thus shraddha is a separate tattva or entity from bhakti. Shrila Jiva Gosvami writes in Bhakti-sandarbha, “tasmac chraddha na bhakty angam kintu karmany asamartha vidvat tavad ananyatakhyayam bhaktav adhikari-visheshanam eva.” Hence, shraddha is not a limb of bhakti, but an attribute for the adhikara for shuddha-bhakti resulting from one’s having become indifferent to the activities of karma-kanda. It says in Shrimad-Bhagavatam (11.20.9):
tavat karmani kurvita na nirvidyeta yavata
mat-katha-shravanadau va shraddha yavan na jayate
Shri Krishna says, “One should continue performing his occupational duties as long as he has- n’t become indifferent to them and hasn’t developed shraddha towards hearing the narrations of My pastimes.”
The purport is that one is qualified to renounce his occupational duties only when he develops shraddha in hearing the narrations of Krishna’s pastimes. This is the conclusion of the scriptures.
To clarify a possible doubt here, we must note that if shraddha, which is the very cause of the qualification for shuddha-bhakti, is itself not a limb of bhakti, then how can jnana and vairagya, which in some instances manifest before the appearance of shraddha, be limbs of bhakti? Shrila Rupa Gosvami says ( Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu1.2.248):
ishat prathamam eveti nangatvam ucitam tayoh
“In some particular instances jnana and vairagya may be useful while a devotee is in the ini- tial stages of entering into bhakti-tattva, but they can never be said to be limbs of bhakti.”
Hence, it is an established fact that only that shraddha which is endowed with the symptoms of sharanapatti is the cause of the qualification for shuddha-bhakti. Sometimes people are heard saying that faith in hearing the narrations of Krishna’s pastimes is developed by some through the strict performance of their occupational duties, by some through the cultivation of jnana and by others through renunciation of the objects of the senses. But such statements are erro- neous. It is possible that these processes may have been cultivated just prior to the appearance of shraddha, but through a more detailed analysis it becomes apparent that somehow or another there must have been some sat-sanga or association with devotees just between the two instances; that is, between the cultivation of the above-mentioned processes and the appearance of shraddha. In this context the following verse from Shrimad-Bhagavatam (10.51.53) is worthy of consideration:
bhavapavargo bhramato yada bhavej
janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samagamah
sat-sangamo yarhi tadaiva sad-gatau
paravareshe tvayi jayate matih
“O my dear infallible Lord! Becoming opposed to You, the living entity sometimes attains worldly sense pleasure by pursuing the path of karma and sometimes attains liberation through the cultivation of jnana. Thus he is entangled in the repeated cycle of birth and death. If while wandering in this way the jiva somehow becomes fortunate and receives the associa- tion of Your devotees, with great determination he fixes his intelligence at Your lotus feet, understanding You to be the only shelter of saintly persons, the origin of all creation, both material and spiritual, and the ultimate goal.”
Thus karma, jnana, vairagya and so on can never be the cause of the appearance of shraddha; only sat-sanga can cause the appearance of shraddha. In this regard Shrila Rupa Gosvami has composed lines such as, “ yah kenapy ati-bhagyena jata-shraddho ’sya sevane.” Thus only per- sons endowed with shraddha are the adhikaris or rightful candidates for shuddha-bhakti. There is another consideration here. Sadhana-bhakti is of two types, vaidhi-sadhana-bhakti and raganuga-sadhana-bhakti, as confirmed in this verse from Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.5): vaidhi raganuga ceti sa dvidha sadhanabhidha. It is essential to understand the difference between vaidhi-sadhana-bhakti and raganuga-sadhana-bhakti because without this under- standing there may remain many suspicions which can harm the development of one’s bhakti. Concerning vaidhi-bhakti, Shrila Rupa Gosvami has written:
yatra raganavaptatvat pravrittir upajayate
shashanenaiva shastrasya sa vaidhi bhaktir ucyate
Bhakti is the jiva’s natural inclination and the inseparable occupation of his intrinsic nature. In the conditioned stage, the jiva is opposed to Bhagavan and becomes attached to the world- ly enjoyment presented by the illusory energy. As the jiva becomes immersed in worldly plea- sure, his natural inclination to render loving devotional service unto Krishna becomes dormant. The jiva is fully satisfied only when by some good fortune his intrinsic raga or strong loving attachment for Krishna reawakens, however it may happen. When premaappears, raga natural- ly appears alongside it. But the raga or attachment for material sense objects which is visible in the conditioned soul is distorted raga, not shuddha-raga. In that stage the inborn raga of the jiva remains covered or dormant. To awaken this inherent raga, the acceptance of spiritual instruction is essential. The Vedas and their subordinate literatures are storehouses of such instructions. The bhakti which is performed within the framework of the instructions of the scriptures is called vaidhi-bhakti.
Now I will give a brief review of raganuga-bhakti. Shrila Jiva Gosvami writes in Bhakti-san- darbha, “ tatra visha-yinah svabhaviki vishaya-samsargecchatishaya-mayah prema ragah. yatha cakshur adinam saundaryadau, tadrisha evatra bhaktasya shri-bhagavaty api raga ity ucyate.” The powerful loving affection which naturally develops within a materialistic person by his affilia- tion with the objects of sense pleasure is called raga. Just as eyes become excited upon seeing any beautiful form, the similar inclination of a devotee towards Krishna is also called raga. The taste which develops from following in the footsteps of a personality who possesses natural 38 ruci or taste for such raga is called raganuga-bhakti. Regarding the qualification for raganuga- bhakti, Shrila Rupa Gosvami writes:
ragatmikaika-nishtha ye vraja-vasi-janadayah
tesham bhavaptaye lubdho bhaved atradhikaravan
tat-tat-bhavadi-madhurye shrute dhiryad apekshate
natra shastram na yuktim ca tal lobhotpatti-lakshanam
“The vraja-vasis’ sentiments for Krishna are the most exalted and exceptional example of ragat- mika-bhakti. Such sentiments cannot be seen anywhere other than Vraja. The fortunate soul who develops the greed to attain sentiments for Krishna such as those displayed by the vraja- vasis is the adhikari or rightful candidate for raganuga-bhakti. Despite having heard about the sweetness of such sentiments, one cannot enter into them until he becomes ‘greedy’ for them. The sole cause of the qualification for the practice of raganuga-bhakti is this spiritual greed, not careful study of the scriptures and the skilful use of logic.”
Thus we understand that just as shraddha is the only cause of the adhikara for vaidhi-bhakti, similarly greed is the only cause of the adhikara for raganuga-bhakti. Here a doubt may arise concerning whether the shraddha which has been previously established as the cause for the eligibility for shuddha-bhakti is incomplete. If that shraddha is the cause of the eligibility only for one type of bhakti, then why has it been said to be the cause of the eligibility for all types of bhakti? To dispel such a doubt, it is again stressed that shraddha is the only cause of the adhikara for shuddha-bhakti. In the absence of shraddha, no variety of shuddha-bhakti can ever appear. The conclusion is that shastra-vishvasamayi-shraddha or shraddhaderived from faith in the injunc- tions of the scriptures is the only cause of the adhikara for vaidhi-bhakti and bhava-madhurya- lobhamayi-shraddha or shraddhaderived from intense greed to experience the sweet sentiments of the vraja-vasisis the only cause of the adhikara for raganuga-bhakti.
Only shraddha—whether it be vishvasamayi or lobhamayi—is the cause of the eligibility for both types of shuddha-bhakti.
There are three types of adhikaris or rightful candidates for vaidhi-bhakti: uttama, madhyama and kanishtha, as confirmed by Shrila Rupa Gosvami in Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu(1.2.16), “ uttamo madhyamash ca syat kanishtha-shceti sa tridha.”
The symptoms of an uttama-adhikari in vaidhi-bhakti are:
shastre yuktau ca nipunah sarvatha dridha-nishcayah
praudha shraddho ’dhikari yah sa bhaktav uttamo matah
“One who is conversant with the scriptures, expert in all types of logic and possesses unwa- vering determination is the uttama-adhikari or one endowed with firm shraddha.”
The symptoms of the madhyama-adhikari in vaidhi-bhakti are:
yah shastradishv anipunah shraddhavan sa tu madhyamah
“One who is not so expert in understanding the scriptures and yet is faithful is a madhyama- adhikari; in other words, although when presented with difficult arguments he is unable to answer them, within his mind he remains firmly faithful to his own principle.”
The symptoms of the kanishtha-adhikari are:
yo bhavet komala-shraddhah sa kanishtho nigadyate
Kanishtha devotees have very little expertise in understanding the scriptures and their shraddha is very delicate and immature. Their shraddha can be changed by others’ logic and arguments.
It is to be noted here that the shraddha which is visible in these three types of faithful persons is characterised by faith in the injunctions of the scriptures and by being mixed with logical evidences which are dependent on the scriptures. According to the degree of greed possessed by the rightful candidates for raganuga-bhakti, they can also be divided into the three categories of uttama, madhyama and kanishtha.
The conclusion is that every human being has the right to perform bhakti. Brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, shudrasand antyajas (untouchables), grihastas, brahmacaris, vanaprasthasand sannyasis—all of them can be qualified for bhakti if they have shraddha in the injunctions of the scriptures and the instructions of the sadhu and guru. Either an educated person through the study of the scriptures or an uneducated person through hearing the principles of the scriptures in the association of devotees is said to have developed shraddha when he realises the supremacy of bhakti as described in the scriptures. Alternatively, if one develops lobhamayi- shraddha by continually hearing the narrations of Bhagavan’s pastimes in the association of devotees while desiring to follow in the footsteps of the ragatmika devotees of Vraja, then it can be said that he has acquired the adhikara to perform shuddha-bhakti. The adhikara for shud- dha-bhakti cannot be achieved by the processes of jnana, vairagya, philosophical analysis, reli- gious discussion, self-control or meditation. Despite receiving sampradayika-diksha or initiation into a bona fide disciplic succession one cannot enter into the previously discussed uttama- bhakti until he becomes an uttama-adhikari. Until that time one’s bhakti can be said to be bhakti-abhasa.
There is great necessity to strive for the stage of uttama-adhikari. This is possible only when one engages in shravana and kirtana in the association of devotees. We should never think that one becomes an uttama-adhikari simply by diligently practicing shravana and kirtana and then displaying the symptoms of shedding tears, trembling and dancing, because these symptoms can also manifest in bhakti-abhasa. Whatever little softening of the heart and determination to realise one’s inherent identity which are visible in the beginning stages of shuddha-bhakti are far superior to the display of symptoms such as falling unconscious and so on which arise as a result of pursuing the path of bhakti-abhasa. Therefore, we should strive to attain shuddha- bhakti with the utmost care. We should make a special effort to pursue the proper method to attain the qualification for bhakti; otherwise there is no possibility of attaining the eternal asso- ciation of Bhagavan. Vishva-vaishnava dasa puts forward the following verses:
shraddha lobhatmaka ya sa vishvasa-rupini yada
jayate ’tra tada bhaktau nrimatrasyadhikarita(1)
na sankhyam na ca vairagyam na dharmo na bahujnata
kevalam sadhu-sango ’yam hetuh shraddhodaye dhruvam (2)
shravanadi-vidhanena sadhu-sanga-balena ca
anarthapagame shighram shraddha nishthatmika bhavet(3)
nishthapi rucitam prapta shuddha-bhaktyadhikaritam
dadati sadhake nityam esha pratha sanatano (4)
asat-sango ’thava bhaktav aparadhe krite sati
shraddhapi vilayam yati katham syac chuddha-bhaktata(5)
atah shraddhavata karyam savadhanam phalaptaye
anyatha na bhaved bhaktih shraddha prema-phalatmika(6)
When shraddha which is based either on faith in the injunctions of the scriptures or on greed to follow in the footsteps of a ragatmika-bhakta appears in the heart, a person attains the adhikara for shuddha-bhakti. Sankhya, vairagya, varnashrama-dharma or becoming a scholar do not cause the appearance of shraddha. The sole cause of the appearance of shraddha is the asso- ciation of a sadhu who has deep love for the narrations of Krishna’s pastimes. When shraddha appears, one becomes a kanishtha-adhikari. When one executes the limbs of sadhana-bhakti such as shravana, and when by the influence of sadhu-sanga one becomes free from anarthas and his shraddha becomes dense and transforms into nishtha, one develops the madhyama- adhikara or intermediate qualification for shuddha-bhakti. By the further pursuance of the activ- ities of sadhana-bhakti such as shravanaand by the influence of associating with devotees who are more advanced than oneself, one’s nishtha intensifies and assumes the form of ruci. The sadhaka within whom such ruci has developed is called an uttama-adhikari. Only such an uttama-adhikari attains shuddha-bhakti. This is the eternal process for the attainment of shuddha-bhakti. But if during the execution of this gradual process of sadhana one keeps the bad association of those who are attached to sense pleasure or those attached to an impersonal conception of the absolute truth, or if one disrespects a pure devotee or commits any other offence to him, shraddha at the kanishtha level as well as that at the madhyama level will dry up from its very root and the sadhaka will be unable to achieve shuddha-bhakti. In such a condition the sadha- ka is either entangled in chaya-bhakti-abhasa or, in the case of committing numerous offences, even glides down into pratibimba-bhakti-abhasa. Therefore, until one attains the stage of utta- ma-adhikara, the faithful and sincere sadhaka should remain extremely careful. Otherwise it will be very difficult to achieve shuddha-bhakti which ultimately bears the fruit of prema.
Shri-krishnarpanam astu—may this treatise
be an offering unto Shri Krishna.