Book excerpts Sri Upadesamrta Śrī Upadeśāmṛta, Verse 2: Six Impediments to Bhakti

Śrī Upadeśāmṛta, Verse 2: Six Impediments to Bhakti

अत्याहारः प्रयासश्च प्रजल्पो नियमाग्रहः ।
जनसङ्गश्च लौल्यञ्च षड्भिर्भक्तिर्विनश्यति ॥२॥

atyāhāraḥ prayāsaś ca
prajalpo niyamāgrahaḥ
jana-saṅgaś ca laulyaṁ ca
ṣaḍbhir bhaktir vinaśyati

atyāhāraḥ – eating too much or accumulating more than necessary; prayāsaḥ – endeavours opposed to bhakti; ca – and; prajalpaḥ – unessential and mundane talks; niyamāgrahaḥ – abandoning the rules prescribed for one’s eligibility or adopting those rules that are meant for others; ca – and; jana-saṅgaḥ – association with worldly and sensualistic persons, association with women or men who are attached to women, association with māyāvādīs, atheists and other non-devotees; ca – and; laulyam – greed, or the restlessness of the mind to adopt worthless opinions; ṣaḍbhiḥ – by these six faults; bhaktiḥ – pure devotion; vinaśyati – is destroyed.

Bhakti is destroyed by the following six kinds of faults: (1) eating too much or collecting more than necessary, (2) endeavours that are opposed to bhakti, (3) useless mundane talks, (4) failure to adopt essential regulations or fanatical adherence to regulations, (5) association with persons who are opposed to bhakti and (6) greed, or the restlessness of the mind to adopt worthless opinions.


In the beginning stage of the practice of bhakti the material proclivity is prominent in the hearts of the sādhakas. Therefore they are unable to subdue the six overwhelming passions described in the first verse. Consequently, in this condition, many tendencies that are very harmful to bhakti develop in the hearts of the sādhakas.

In this verse those injurious tendencies are being described for the benefit of the sādhakas. The word atyāhāra means to eat more than required or to accumulate material objects. The word prayāsa means to endeavour for worldly objects or to be engaged in activities that are opposed to bhakti. The word prajalpa means to uselessly criticise and gossip about others, which is a gross misuse of time.

The word niyamāgraha, when broken into its constituent parts, has two meanings:

  • niyama + āgraha – over-zealousness in following rules and
  • niyama + agraha – failure to accept rules.

When the first meaning is applied, it refers to enthusiasm for those rules that yield an inferior result, such as promotion to the heavenly planets, leaving aside the endeavour for the superior attainment of the service of the Lord. When the second meaning is applied, it refers to indifference towards those rules that nourish bhakti. The words jana-saṅga mean to give up the association of pure devotees and keep company with others. In the conversation between Devahūti and Kardama Muni in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.23.55), there is a very nice instruction about giving up worldly association:

saṅgo yaḥ saṁsṛter hetur
asatsu vihito ’dhiyā
sa eva sādhuṣu kṛto
niḥsaṅgatvāya kalpate

O Deva, association is the cause of both material bondage and liberation from material existence. When due to ignorance one keeps company with worldly-minded persons who are diverted from the path of bhakti, that association brings about one’s material entanglement. When, however, one keeps company with pure devotees of the Lord, that association liberates one from material existence and causes one to obtain the lotus feet of the Lord.

Furthermore, Bhagavān Kapiladeva gives the following instructions to Devahūti:

saṅgaṁ na kuryāt pramadāsu jātu
yogasya pāraṁ param ārurukṣuḥ
mat-sevayā pratilabdhātma-lābho
vadanti yā niraya-dvāram asya

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.31.39)

Those who desire to obtain kṛṣṇa-prema, which is the ultimate fruit of bhakti-yoga, should never indulge in illicit association with women. Learned sages who know the absolute truth say that for those who desire liberation from material existence and attainment of the lotus feet of the Lord, illicit connection with women opens wide the door to hell.

teṣv aśānteṣu mūḍheṣu
khaṇḍitātmasv asādhuṣu
saṅgaṁ na kuryāc chocyeṣu
yoṣit-krīḍā-mṛgeṣu ca

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.31.34)

One should never associate with foolish, agitated, materialistic men, who identify the body as the self, who are most deplorable and who are dancing dogs in the hands of women.

Having pointed out the defects of material association, the revealed scriptures (śāstra) forbid it. The agitation of the mind for compatible objects and the unsteadiness of the mind that results from associating with persons of many different opinions is known as laulya. Such unsteadiness of the mind is like an unchaste woman, wandering sometimes upon the path of karma, sometimes on the path of yoga, sometimes on the path of jñāna and sometimes upon the path of bhakti. By this the predilection for bhakti is destroyed.


Atyāhāra, prayāsa, prajalpa, niyamāgraha, jana-saṅga and laulya are six faults that are directly opposed to bhakti.

  1. The word atyāhāra is a compound word formed by combination of the prefix ati, which means too much or excessively, with the word āhāra, which means to seize, grasp or consume for one’s own enjoyment. Excessive enjoyment of sense objects through any one of the senses and the endeavour to accumulate in excess of one’s requirements are known as atyāhāra. Devotees who have renounced householder life are forbidden to accumulate material goods. Gṛhastha Vaiṣṇavas must acquire goods sufficient for their maintenance, but if they accumulate beyond their needs it is known as atyahara. Those who are eager to perform bhajana should not accumulate worldly goods like materialistic sense enjoyers.
  2. The word prayāsa refers to activities that are opposed to bhakti or performed for the enjoyment of the senses.
  3. To waste time in useless, mundane talks is called prajalpa.
  4. The word niyamāgraha has two meanings. When one has obtained a progressively higher qualification but remains over-zealous to adhere to the rules pertaining to a lower qualification, it is known as niyama-agraha. Failure to observe the rules that nourish bhakti or, in other words, an absence of firm faith is known as niyama-āgraha.
  5. To associate with persons other than Bhagavān’s devotees is known as jana-saṅga.
  6. The word laulya means both unsteadiness and greediness. In the first sense it refers to the fickleness of the mind to accept many different kinds of false doctrines or uncertain conclusions. In the second sense it refers to attachment for worthless material sense enjoyment. By prajalpa one indulges in criticising sādhus, and by laulya one awakens a taste for many different temporary, uncertain conclusions. Both of these lead to nāma-aparādha. Therefore one should very carefully give them up.


Excessive acquisition of knowledge, which is the preoccupation of the jñānīs; accumulation of the fruits of work, which is undertaken by the fruitive workers; and amassing too many material objects, which is the business of those who are plagued with many desires, are all known as atyāhāra. The cultivation of knowledge, which is taken up by jñānīs, the austerities and vows undertaken by karmīs and the hard labour done by those possessed of many desires to obtain wife, children and wealth, are called prayāsa.

The dry scholarship of the jñānīs, which amounts to nothing more than useless scriptural argumentation; praise of the benefits of pious deeds, which generates fondness for religious rituals in the karmīs; and the talks pleasing to the senses of those who are possessed of many desires, are called prajalpa. To accept the rules of the jñāna-śāstras in order to obtain liberation is called āgraha, over-zealousness. Attachment for the rules outlined in the scriptures promoting pragmatism (practical as opposed to idealistic results) with a desire for sensual enjoyment both in this world and the next is known as niyama-āgraha.

Establishment of certain rules of conduct appropriate for one’s own status in order to achieve immediate happiness as advocated by the utilitarians or those who promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number is also known as niyama-agraha. To remain indifferent to the rules that are prescribed for the attainment of bhakti is known as niyama-agraha. Such persons are so audacious that they try to pass off even their detestable wantonness and depravity as the most sacred and elevated path of spontaneous devotion (rāga-mārga). In Hari-bhakti-vilāsa the disposition of such persons has been explained in the following words:

pañcarātra-vidhiṁ vinā
aikāntikī harer bhaktir
utpātāyaiva kalpate

Although engaged in single-minded devotion to Lord Hari, if one transgresses the regulations mentioned in the Śruti, Smṛti, Purāṇas and the Nārada-pañcarātra, great misgivings (anarthas) are produced.

In the Kalyāṇa-kalpataru also, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura has said, “My dear mind, what have you done? Being in a very immature stage you have cheated yourself unknowingly by perpetrating the fault of narrow-mindedness upon the pure Vaiṣṇava sampradāya. You have supposed the pure conceptions and validity of the sampradāya to be hypocrisy and thus abandoned them. You have given up wearing the Vaiṣṇava tilaka markings and neck beads (tulasī-mālā) and put aside your chanting beads (bhajana-mālā).

You think, ‘What is the use of wearing tilaka? I can chant within my mind, so what need is there of beads? One’s diet has nothing to do at all with bhajana. So don’t think that you have to give up eating meat, fish or eggs. Don’t think that you must stop drinking wine or tea and taking intoxicants such as pāna, tobacco, marijuana, hemp or opium.’ You have cast aside the need for taking initiation (dīkṣā). You have begun to refer to yourself as an incarnation. You have begun to propagate your new theories very powerfully through different agents.

You are criticising the opinions of the previous great personalities (mahājanas) and ācāryas of the path of bhakti, considering them to be mistaken. Some cunning persons put on tilaka and tulasī-mālā and cheat others. Therefore you avoid the association of anyone who wears tilaka and mālā, considering them all to be cheaters. But, my dear brother mind, please consider, what have you gained by this? You have given up gold for ashes. Your present life and the next have both been utterly ruined. You address everyone as a hypocrite, knave and cheater. But you have failed to attain bhagavad-bhakti. What will be your fate at the time of death?

“O mind, what should I tell you? You utter the words ‘prema, premabut what good will it avail? Prema is a rare and priceless jewel. You will have to undertake arduous sādhana to attain it. By deceitful practice you make a show of tears, trembling, horripilation and fainting at the time of kīrtana or hearing spiritual discourses, yet your real business is simply to accumulate wealth, women and prestige.

When you have not even a trace of attachment for pure sādhana-bhakti, which is essential for the acquisition of prema, then how will you obtain such pure bhagavat-prema? You will have to first give up the ten offences against the holy name and chant harināma continuously. You should hear hari-kathā in the association of pure Vaiṣṇavas. Then, by the mercy of Śrī Nāma Prabhu, unalloyed prema will arise automatically in your heart.

“You have not performed bhajana in a regulated manner; you have not performed saṅkīrtana in the association of pure devotees. You have not withdrawn your mind from sense objects and engaged it in remembering the Lord in a secluded place. Without first climbing the tree, your attempt to pluck the fruit with your own hand has simply gone in vain. The most sacred and pure kṛṣṇa-prema is extremely rare. By misleading others you will simply cheat yourself. First make yourself fit by performing sādhana. Then prema will become easily accessible to you.

“O brother, although lust (kāma) and love (prema) appear identical by external indications, they are not at all the same. Kāma is like rusted iron, whereas prema is like pure gold. You have seized kāma, imagining it to be gold. Can anyone obtain prema by such absurd means?

“O foolish mind, you have become intoxicated by uselessly considering kāma to be prema. The lust for bones and flesh appears alluring for the time being. That lust chases endlessly after the objects of the senses. But unalloyed love is the natural disposition of the jīva. That prema is fully sentient and spiritual by nature. The object of that prema is Śrī Hari alone – not a dressed-up doll of bones and flesh. At present prema is in a dormant condition being covered by kāma. Therefore you must endeavour to dispel this lust and to initiate the awakening of love.

“First, by good fortune due to the devotional pious credits (sukṛti) accumulated over many previous lifetimes, pure faith (śraddhā) arises. Then, by hearing hari-kathā and performing harināma-kīrtana in the association of pure devotees, śraddhā is matured and evolves successively into steadfastness (niṣṭhā), taste (ruci) and deep attachment (āsakti). From āsakti, bhāva makes its appearance, and from bhāva, prema is manifested. This is the order of development by which prema is awakened. Prema may be obtained only by taking support of this progressive evolution and never by any other means.

“O wicked mind, why do you fear to take up this step-by-step method of sādhana? By mere imitation of prema you will not obtain anything. By such an imitative display you will attain only the temporary happiness of sense enjoyment, which will also result in misery in the end. With this understanding, you should give up all offences and impediments (anarthas) and engage yourself in pure sādhana-bhakti. In this lies your good fortune.”

The association of jñānīs, whose aim is voidism or liberation; of fruitive workers, who covet the fruits of their work; and of hedonistic enjoyers, who are attached to sensual enjoyment, which is momentarily pleasing but ultimately culminates in distress, is known as jana-saṅga. When one obtains the association of Bhagavān’s pure devotees, detrimental materialistic association automatically disappears.

The word laulya literally means greed or restlessness. This restlessness refers to the tendency of the mind to run after various pursuits with greed to taste their fruits. With a desire to enjoy worldly sense enjoyment or to attain liberation, the mind sometimes runs in the direction of the eightfold yoga system, sometimes towards the process of meditation, sometimes towards the performance of sacrifices, and sometimes towards the practice by which one can attain impersonal Brahman. This is known as laulya.

Thus one should give up the six kinds of faults – atyāhāra, prayāsa, prajalpa, niyamāgraha, jana-saṅga and laulya – and engage in pure sādhana-bhakti. If one fails to do so, then the power to understand that kṛṣṇa-bhakti bestows the highest good for all living entities will be lost and one will be forever deviated from the path of bhakti.

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