ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-
saṅgo ’tha bhajana-kriyā
tato ’nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt
tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
athāsaktis tato bhāvas
tataḥ premā bhyudañcati
sādhakanām ayaṁ premṇaḥ
prādurbhāve bhavet kramaḥ
There are many stages leading to the manifestation of prema. Among them, those which are most famous in the scriptures will be described here. The bhagavad-vimukha-jīva, or one whose face is averted from Bhagavān, has from a time without beginning fallen into the unlimited flow of the insurmountable ocean of material existence and is thus wandering here and there. When by the special mercy of Bhagavān the jīva’s material existence begins to wane, he obtains the association of the Lord’s devotees. At that time, in the company of sādhus, he obtains the extraordinary fortune of hearing from the mouths of elevated devotees the scriptures that are filled with the glories concerning the three topics of bhaktas, bhakti and Bhagavān.
The stages leading to the appearance of prema, as described in the above verses from Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.4.15–16), are as follows:
- By hearing the śāstras, pāramārthika or transcendental śuddha-śraddhā appears. The word śraddhā here implies firm belief in the meaning of the bhakti-śāstras such as Bhagavad-gītā, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and so forth.
- Upon the appearance of such śraddhā one again obtains sādhu-saṅga and, in such company, begins to receive instructions regarding the methods for executing bhajana.
- Thereafter one takes up the practices of bhajana (bhajana-kriyā) beginning with śrī-guru-padāśraya and so on.
- By constant engagement in bhajana, anarthas gradually disappear (anartha-nivṛtti).
- This elimination of anarthas takes place in successive stages. As one becomes progressively freed from anarthas he attains niṣṭhā and freedom from all distractions (vikṣepa). At that stage one-pointedness (ekāgratā) characterised by incessant striving arises in the pursuit of bhajana.
- Thereafter ruci (taste), or in other words an intense hankering for bhajana, develops.
- When ruci becomes very deep it is called āsakti. The difference between niṣṭhā and āsakti is that niṣṭhā involves application of the intelligence, whereas āsakti is spontaneous. In the stage of niṣṭhā, even if the mind is not attracted, by one’s intelligence one remains devoted to the performance of bhajana. However, when one comes to the stage of āsakti, he has no more dependence on any kind of reasoning by the faculty of the intelligence. At that stage he is deeply immersed in the performance of bhajana in a spontaneous manner.
- After the stage of āsakti, bhāva makes its appearance.
- At the final stage prema manifests. This is the order of the stages leading to the appearance of prema within the heart of the sādhaka.
To elaborate further on point (4) above, anarthas are of four kinds:
- svarūpa-bhrama (illusion about spiritual identity),
- asat-tṛṣṇā (thirst for that which is unreal; that is, material enjoyment),
- aparādha (offences) and
- hṛdaya-daurbalya (weakness of heart).
Svarūpa-bhrama is of four kinds:
- sva-tattva- or jīva-svarūpa-bhrama (illusion about one’s own spiritual identity),
- para-tattva-bhrama (illusion about the spiritual identity of the supreme absolute truth),
- sādhya-sādhana-tattva-bhrama (illusion about sādhana-bhakti, the means of spiritual perfection, and sādhya, the object to be obtained by such sādhana, or in other words prema-bhakti) and
- māyā-tattva-bhrama (illusion about the Lord’s external energy, māyā).
Asat-tṛṣṇā is of four types:
- varieties of desires for material enjoyment in this world,
- desires for enjoyment in the higher planetary systems of Svargaloka,
- desires for the attainment of the eight mystic siddhis and the nine divine jewels of Kuvera (padma, mahāpadma, śaṅkha, makara, kacchapa, mukunda, kunda, nīla and kharva) and
- the desire for mukti.
Aparādha is of four kinds:
- offences towards Śrī Kṛṣṇa,
- offences towards kṛṣṇa-nāma,
- offences towards kṛṣna-svarūpa (the deity form of the Lord) and
- offences towards the tadīya-cit-kaṇa-jīvas (living entities who are infinitesimal particles of spirit belonging to the Lord).
Hṛdaya-daurbalya is of four kinds:
- tuccha-āsakti (attachment for useless things),
- kūṭī-nāṭī (deceitful behaviour – the word kūṭī-nāṭī may be broken down into the constituent parts kū, bad or evil, and na or nāṭī, that which is forbidden. In that case it would mean doing wicked deeds or doing that which is forbidden),
- mātsarya (envy) and
- sva-pratiṣṭhā-lālasā (desire for one’s own fame and prestige).
Aside from the above, there are four additional varieties of anartha:
- duṣkṛti-uttha (arising from past sins),
- sukṛti-uttha (arising from previous pious activities),
- aparādha-uttha (arising from offences) and
- bhakti-uttha (arising in relation to bhakti).
(1) Duṣkṛti-uttha: anarthas arising from past sinful activities refer to five types of kleśa or distress, which are
- (i) avidyā (ignorance or forgetfulness of Kṛṣṇa),
- (ii) asmitā (the false egoism arising from the conceptions of “I” and “mine” in relation to the material body),
- (iii) rāga (attachment for the objects of sense gratification),
- (iv) dveṣa (hatred or aversion to unpleasant, disagreeable or adverse situations) and
- (v) dur-abhiniveśa (attachment for or absorption in sinful activities).
(2) Sukṛti-uttha: various kinds of material enjoyment arising from the pious activities of one’s previous birth.
(3) Aparādha-uttha: suffering arising from nāmāparādha and other types of offences.
(4) Bhakti-uttha: desires for lābha (material gain), pūjā (worship) and pratiṣṭhā (prestige) arising from the performance of sakāma-bhakti or sopādhika-bhakti (conditional devotional service).
One should endeavour to uproot all these anarthas; otherwise niṣṭhā will not develop.
One further point should be clarified in regard to the appearance of prema. In the verse under consideration (ādau śraddhā…), the word ādau refers to the initial contact with devotees (sādhu-saṅga). This sādhu-saṅga is not obtained coincidentally. It is the result of sukṛti, pious activities accumulated over many, many lifetimes.
bhaktis tu bhagavad-bhakta-
Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa (4.33);
Bhakti becomes manifest by the association of the Lord’s devotees. The association of devotees is obtained by previous accumulated piety.
In the scriptures pious activity is called sukṛti, which is of two kinds: that which promotes bhakti and that which instigates some secondary result other than bhakti. Sukṛti that begets ordinary fruits arises from such activities as service to one’s parents or husband, material welfare work, charity, execution of nitya-naimittika-karma (one’s daily and occasional duties), cultivation of sāṅkhya and other types of jñāna, and so on.
Sukṛti that gives rise to transcendental (pāramārthika) results, or in other words bhakti, arises from contact with places such as a temple or holy place, holy times or days, or objects related to bhakti or sādhu-saṅga. When heaps and heaps of sukṛti that yields bhakti accumulate over countless lifetimes, bhakti makes its appearance through the via-medium of sādhu-saṅga.
Laukika or material sukṛti, after producing its desired fruits, is exhausted. The fruits of laukika-sukṛti extend no further than the limit of material enjoyment. Sukṛti that is rooted in brahma-jñāna produces its fruit in the form of mukti and is then dissipated. These two types of sukṛti are thoroughly incompetent to produce the fruit of bhakti.
Sukṛti that yields bhakti arises from association with Vaiṣṇavas; observance of Ekādaśī, Janmāṣṭamī, Gaura-pūrṇimā and other occasions which produce a saintly attitude; seeing or touching tulasī, the temple, Śrī Vṛndāvana and other holy places connected to the Lord, or a holy river like the Gaṅgā or Yamunā; honouring mahā-prasāda; and other such activities. When these activities are performed unknowingly it is called sukṛti. When, however, these activities are performed in the association of devotees and in full knowledge of their greatness, they become limbs of bhakti. In Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.62) it is said:
śraddhā-śabde viśvāsa kahe sudṛḍha niścaya
kṛṣṇe bhakti kaile sarva-karma kṛta haya
Simply by performing bhakti unto Śrī Kṛṣṇa all obligations of this human form of life will be fulfilled. Such firm, decisive faith is called śraddhā.
śraddhā tv anyopāya-varjaṁ bhakty unmukhī citta-vṛtti viśeṣaḥ
That particular disposition of the heart (citta-vṛtti) which remains always inclined towards Śrī Kṛṣṇa alone, leaving aside all other methods of sādhana such as jñāna, karma and yoga, is called śraddhā.
By the association of saintly devotees, śraddhā, which is the seed of the creeper of devotion (bhakti-latā-bīja), arises in the heart of the sādhaka. This is stated in various places in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta:
kṛṣṇa-bhakti-janma-mūla haya sādhu-saṅga
kṛṣṇa-prema janme, teṅho punaḥ mukhya aṅga
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.83)
Sādhu-saṅga is the root cause of kṛṣṇa-bhakti. This sādhu-saṅga waters the creeper of kṛṣṇa-bhakti (sādhana-bhakti) through the medium of śravaṇa and kīrtana and thus transforms it into kṛṣṇa-prema. When kṛṣṇa-prema is awakened, sādhu-saṅga becomes the most essential limb once again.
brahmāṇḍa bhramite kona bhāgyavān jīva
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 19.151)
While continuously wandering throughout the innumerable material universes, some extremely fortunate jīvas obtain the bhakti-latā-bīja in the form of śraddhā by the causeless mercy of Śrī Śrī Guru and Kṛṣṇa.
kona bhāgye kāro saṁsāra kṣayonmukha haya
sādhu-saṅge tabe kṛṣṇe rati upajaya
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.45)
When the material entanglement of the living entity who is wandering throughout this worldly existence begins to diminish, then he obtains sādhu-saṅga by the causeless mercy of the Lord. By that sādhu-saṅga he obtains kṛṣṇa-bhakti successively in the stages of śraddhā, niṣṭhā, ruci, āsakti and rati.
kṛṣṇa yadi kṛpā kare kona bhāgyavāne
guru-antaryāmi-rūpe śikhāya āpane
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.47)
When Śrī Kṛṣṇa, who is an ocean of mercy, becomes causelessly merciful towards some fortunate jīva wandering throughout material existence, then inspiring him from within as the caityaguru and from without as the elevated dīkṣā- and śikṣā-gurus, He personally gives him instructions about how to perform bhajana.
śraddhāvān jana haya bhakti-adhikārī
uttama, madhyama, kaniṣṭha – śraddhā-anusārī
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.64)
Devotees are categorised in accordance with the degree of their śraddhā. Those whose faith is the least are known as kaniṣṭha-bhaktas, those whose faith is intermediate are known as madhyama-bhaktas and those whose faith is highly developed are known as uttama-mahā-bhāgavatas.
sādhu-saṅge kṛṣṇa-bhaktye śraddhā yadi haya
bhakti-phala prema haya, saṁsāra yāya kṣaya
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.49)
When a sādhaka-bhakta obtains faith in the association of soft-hearted and affectionate rasika Vaiṣṇavas who are more advanced than himself, who are thoroughly versed in all the conclusions of the revealed scriptures, and who are of the same disposition (sajātīya), he very quickly obtains prema-bhakti and his material entanglement is easily dissipated.
mahat-kṛpā vinā kona karme bhakti naya
kṛṣṇa-bhakti dūre rahu, saṁsāre nahe kṣaya
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.51)
Without the mercy of elevated devotees, bhakti cannot be obtained by any method. To say nothing of kṛṣṇa-bhakti, one cannot even obtain freedom from material attachment and repeated birth and death.
Sādhu-saṅga is the root of bhagavad-bhakti – kṛṣṇa-bhakti-janma-mūla haya sādhu-saṅga (Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 22.83)). In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.20.8) the Supreme Lord has said: “yadṛcchayā mat-kathādau jāta-śraddhas tu yaḥ pumān – by virtue of the good fortune of their previous births, those in whom śraddhā is awakened towards My līlā-kathā are eligible to take up bhakti.”
Jīva Gosvāmī, in defining the word yadṛcchayā (voluntarily, spontaneously or by their own will) used in this śloka, has said: “kenāpi parama-svatantra bhagavad-bhakta-saṅga tat-kṛpājāta parama-maṅgalodayena – by the association of the Lord’s supremely independent devotees and as a consequence of the mercy obtained from them, one obtains great fortune (saubhāgya). That saubhāgya itself becomes the eligibility for bhakti.”
The meaning of saubhāgya is that by the contact of sādhus in one’s previous life and by the mercy obtained from them, a very deep impression (saṁskāra) is formed upon the mind or heart. When it is nourished again in the present life, it arises in the form of śraddhā. This śraddhā is the cause of the awakening of bhakti. In this connection it is said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.25.25):
satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido
bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani
śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati
In the association of pure devotees one hears descriptions of My heroic deeds, which are very pleasing to the ear and the heart. Such descriptions bestow real knowledge of My excellence. By regular hearing and contemplation of such topics one is liberated from ignorance, as a result of which one successively attains śraddhā, rati (bhāva-bhakti) and prema-bhakti towards Me.
According to the above-mentioned conclusion, sādhu-saṅga is the passageway which brings one face to face with the Lord. By the influence of sādhu-saṅga, the living entity who is averted from the Lord becomes turned towards the Lord. Furthermore, by that association, śraddhā, rati and prema arise one after another.
By the association of sādhus whose attention is not incessantly and exclusively drawn upon the Lord, and in whom śraddhā, rati and prema have not arisen, the conditioned soul cannot be turned towards the Lord, nor can śraddhā, rati or prema develop in him. By the association of sādhus who are attached only to the rituals of proper conduct that are in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Vedas, bhagavad-unmukhatā (attentiveness towards the Lord) and śraddhā, rati and prema cannot arise.
Sādhu-saṅga is of two types: the association of siddha-mahāpuruṣas, or perfected souls, who pursue the path of knowledge (jñāna-mārga) and the association of siddha-mahāpuruṣas who pursue the path of bhakti (bhakti-mārga). By the association of jñānīs, śraddhā, rati and prema cannot awaken. Although material attachments may be dissipated by the association of such persons, śraddhā, rati and prema towards the personal form of the Lord do not arise in the jīva. Therefore their association is irrelevant.
Siddha-mahāpuruṣas who pursue the path of bhakti are of three types:
- bhagavat-pārṣada-deha-prāpta (those who have obtained perfected spiritual bodies as eternal associates of the Lord),
- nirdhūta-kaṣāya (those who have thrown off all material impurities) and
- mūrcchita-kaṣāya (those in whom a trace of material contamination still lies dormant).
After giving up the gross material body, those who have perfected themselves through the practice of bhakti obtain sac-cid-ānanda spiritual forms, which are just suitable for the service of the Lord as associates (pārṣadas). Such persons are the best of all uttama-bhāgavatas.
Those who, although still residing within the gross material body made of five elements, have no trace of material desire (vāsanā) nor any material impressions (saṁskāras) within their hearts are called nirdhūta-kaṣāya (those who have thrown off all material impurities). They belong to the intermediate class of uttama-bhāgavatas.
Those siddha-mahāpuruṣas pursuing the path of bhakti in whose hearts there remains a trace of desire (vāsanā) and impressions (saṁskāras) based on the material mode of goodness are known as mūrcchita-kaṣāya. Due to influence of their bhakti-yoga, these desires and impressions remain in a dormant or unconscious state. As soon as there is a favourable opportunity, their worshipful object, Śrī Bhagavān, somehow causes their desire to be consumed and attracts them to His lotus feet. Such elevated souls belong to the preliminary stage (kaniṣṭha) of uttama-bhāgavatas.
Devarṣi Nārada is an example of the topmost uttama-bhāgavata. Śukadeva Gosvāmī belongs to the intermediate stage of uttama-bhāgavatas (nirdhūta-kaṣāya). Śrī Nārada in his previous birth as the son of a maidservant is an example of the preliminary stage of uttama-bhāgavatas (mūrcchita-kaṣāya). The association and mercy of these three kinds of mahā-bhāgavatas is the cause of the production of śraddhā. By discussing the gradations of the bhakti of different categories of devotees, one can automatically understand the gradations of the effect of their association.
Some people think there is no need to take shelter at the lotus feet of a spiritual master. Is there any harm in reading books by oneself and thus performing bhajana? Some persons accept dīkṣā from their mother, father or other relatives, considering that there is no need to take shelter at the lotus feet of a sad-guru. Such persons think as follows: “Some elevated personalities appeared in our dynasty and we are their descendants. Therefore we are already gosvāmīs or mahāpuruṣas. Why should we accept dīkṣā from any other person?” But Śrīman Mahāprabhu has said in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 8.128):
kibā vipra, kibā nyāsī, śūdra kene naya
yei kṛṣṇa-tattva-vettā, sei guru haya
Whether one is a brāhmaṇa, a sannyāsī or a śūdra, if he is learned in all the truths regarding Śrī Kṛṣṇa, then he is to be accepted as a guru.
It is also stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.3.21):
tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta
jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam
śābde pare ca niṣṇātaṁ
How can a person who is desirous of knowing what is duty and what is not duty obtain the topmost benefit? In order to understand this, one must approach the lotus feet of a sad-guru. One who is expert in understanding all the conclusions of the revealed scriptures such as the Vedas, who has direct experience and realisation of Bhagavān, and who is not influenced by any kind of material agitation is known as a sad-guru.
The purport of this statement is that only a person who is situated in śuddha-bhakti, who is learned in all the conclusions of the scriptures, whose actions are pure, who is simple and honest, who is free from greed, who is free from deviant conclusions such as māyāvāda, who is expert in all functions related to the service of the Lord, who is free from lethargy, and who is intently devoted to the holy name of the Lord is fit to become a guru. It does not matter what family, race, social classification (varṇa) or stage of life (āśrama) he may be in.
Another consideration is that only a person who is free from lethargy, who is faithful, whose activities are pure, and who is desirous of bhagavad-bhakti is eligible to become a disciple. When the guru considers the disciple fit and when the disciple ascertains the guru to be a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa and thus reposes his faith in him, the spiritual master will then impart instructions unto the disciple.
There are two kinds of guru: the dīkṣā-guru and the śikṣā-guru (the śravaṇa-guru and the śikṣā-guru are here considered as one). One should accept initiation from the dīkṣā-guru and take instructions regarding the process of worship (arcana). There is only one dīkṣā-guru, but there can be many śikṣā-gurus. The śikṣā-guru gives instructions on how to perform bhajana. According to Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta and other scriptures, one should not discriminate between the dīkṣā- and śikṣā-guru – there is no difference between them.
The dīkṣā- and śikṣā-guru have been described respectively as bhagavad-rūpa or prakāśa (the external form or feature of the Lord) and bhagavat-svarūpa (the internal identity or form of the Lord). This is clearly mentioned in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. The dīkṣā-guru has been described in the following words:
guru kṛṣṇa-rūpa hana śāstrera pramāṇe
guru-rūpe kṛṣṇa kṛpā karena bhakta-gaṇe
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi-līlā 1.45)
According to the evidence of the revealed scriptures, the [dīkṣā-] guru is directly the outward form of the Supreme Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇa-rūpa). Kṛṣṇa in the form of the spiritual master bestows mercy upon the devotees.
The śikṣā-guru is described as follows:
śikṣā-guruke ta’ jāni kṛṣṇera svarūpa
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Ādi-līlā 1.47)
One should know the śikṣā-guru to be the internal form or identity of Śrī Kṛṣṇa (kṛṣṇa-svarūpa).
Jagad-guru Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura has given an elaborate explanation of these verses in his commentary to Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.
There is very little difference between the words rūpa and svarūpa. The word rūpa conveys the sense of form, figure or appearance, whereas the word svarūpa conveys the sense of form, nature or condition. For example Śrī Kṛṣṇa appears very charming as He holds the flute to His lips in His threefold-bending form (tribhaṅga-lalita). This is kṛṣṇa-rūpa. The various moods He expresses as dhīrodātta, dhīra-lalita, dhīra-śānta, dhīroddhata and so on are all kṛṣṇa-svarūpa. In Kṛṣṇa there is no difference between rūpa and svarūpa. There is no difference between His external form and His internal moods. Similarly there is no difference between the dīkṣā- and śikṣā-guru. The dīkṣā-guru reveals Kṛṣṇa’s rūpa and the śikṣā-guru reveals Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa.
Without thoughtful consideration, some people take shelter at the feet of a māyāvādī sannyāsī or a prākṛta-sahajiyā who is a Vaiṣṇava in name only, or a family guru (kula-guru) who is ignorant in the matter of bhajana. Having taken shelter of such persons, they think that they have obtained a genuine spiritual master or sad-guru. They think that there is no need for sādhana-bhajana or for sādhu-saṅga, but this kind of consideration is blind faith. Such a spiritual master simply hinders one’s attainment of prema.
After taking shelter of the lotus feet of a sad-guru and performing bhajana in a regular way, the disciple should discern whether or not his anarthas are going away. One can consult the book named Mādhurya-kādambinī written by the same author, Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, for a detailed description of anarthas and the method to obtain freedom from them. Those who perform bhajana but make no endeavour to become free from anarthas cannot make any advancement in bhajana. Only by performing bhajana in accordance with the appropriate methods can the sādhaka make steady progress beginning from śraddhā and culminating in one’s desired goal of prema.
 A prākṛta-sahajiyā is one who abandons the fundamental procedures of sādhana and imitates the symptoms of advanced devotees by a material display.