prabhu kahe,—“eho bāhya, āge kaha āra”
rāya kahe,—“jñāna-miśrā bhakti—sādhya-sāra”
Upon Śrīman Mahāprabhu saying that renouncing one’s sva-dharma, or occupational duties, is external, Rāmānanda Rāya proposed that jñāna-miśrā-bhakti, or devotion mixed with empiric speculation, is the essence of perfection.
Jñāna-miśrā-bhakti – bhakti mixed with empiric knowledge. Jñāna (knowledge) has three divisions: tat-padārtha-jñāna – knowledge of the Absolute Reality (para-tattva), or the Lord (bhagavat-tattva); tvaṁ-padārtha-jñāna – knowledge of the constitutional position of the jīva, which includes knowledge of the relationship between the jīva and Brahman; and jīva-brahma-aikya-jñāna – knowledge of the oneness between the jīva and Brahman.
This last limb, namely, jīva-brahma-aikya, is completely opposed to devotion because therein, knowledge of the constitutional relationship between Brahman as master and the jīva as servant cannot manifest, or rather, awaken. The first two limbs of jñāna, namely knowledge of jīva-tattva and knowledge of brahma-tattva, or bhagavat-tattva, are not in opposition to bhakti, because they do not hinder nourishment of a master-servant relationship.
The meaning of the word jñāna in the current verse might be stretched, and thus interpreted in such a way as to suggest that bhakti mixed with these three limbs of jñāna is called jñāna–miśrā-bhakti (devotional service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa with a desire to enjoy the fruits of transcendental knowledge), but that would not be correct.
It is worth considering here that without the help of bhakti, nirviśeṣa-jñāna (knowledge of the impersonal Brahman effulgence) on its own is completely incapable of bestowing sāyujya-mukti, or impersonal liberation. Thus, in the verse under consideration the jñāna-miśrā–bhakti referred to specifically indicates the third type of jñāna, or jīva-brahma-aikya-jñāna, which promulgates knowledge of the non-difference between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul.
In addition, there are even some sādhakas on the path of bhakti-yoga whose predominant goal is to attain knowledge that does not obstruct bhakti, such as bhagavat-tattva-jñāna (knowledge of the reality about the Supreme Personality of Godhead), jīva-tattva–jñāna (knowledge about the reality of the minute spiritual living entity), and sambandha-jñāna (the accompanying knowledge of the relationship between both), as well as māyā-tattva-jñāna (knowledge about the reality of the illusory energy). For this reason, their practice of the limbs of bhakti also remains mixed with jñāna. Therefore, one might include their practice in the definition of jñāna-miśrā-bhakti.
Regardless, the jñāna-miśra-bhakti referred to in this verse by Śrī Rāmānanda only equates with that bhakti which is mixed with jīva-brahma-aikya-jñāna. We shall see that this is indicated directly in the next verse, brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā. In their commentaries on this verse, Śrī Śaṅkarācārya, Śrīpāda Śrīdhara Svāmī, and Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura have all accepted that the jñāna mentioned here is jīva-brahma-aikya-jñāna.
Although on the path of śuddha-bhakti there is a statute allowing one to abandon his sva-dharma, a certain level of qualification to do this is required. An edict to that effect appears in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam:
tāvat karmāṇi kurvīta
na nirvidyeta yāvatā
śraddhā yāvan na jāyate
“As long as disinterest in karma has not arisen, or until, by the mercy of some mahā-puruṣa, one experiences the awakening of faith in the process of hearing and chanting bhagavat-kathā, one should continue to perform karma.”
It is only upon the awakening of extremely thick śraddhā by the grace of a pure devotee that one receives the qualification to enter kevalā-bhakti, or exclusive devotion, and it is then that one becomes qualified to abandon prescribed duties (sva-dharma).
When an unqualified person renounces prescribed duties, there is fear of an inauspiciousness occurrence. For this reason, Śrīman Mahāprabhu is saying that it is external. If hearing and chanting are not coming from love within the heart, but rather from some mentally conceived sense of duty, then this practice, too, is external or superficial. Śrīman Mahāprabhu is looking for an explanation of something superior; therefore, Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya describes jñāna–miśrā-bhakti as the sādhya, or state of perfection.
Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Prabhupāda explains that while in this universe, one who is advancing in his activities along the path of self-realization will still be subject to some asmitā1, or material identification, but when that false conception of the self is dispelled, he crosses over the Virajā River, which is beyond the influence of the three modes of material nature, and reaches the neutral (sāmya) or unmanifest (avyakta) state of the three modes.
The material universe manifests from the external energy, whereas Vaikuṇṭha dhāma, the abode of the Lord, is manifest from the internal potency. In between the two are Brahma-loka and the Virajā River. This river is the place of shelter for those jīvas who are detached from dull matter and who deny the material varieties within the material creation. Those who have acquired this unmanifest state may not enter Vaikuṇṭha but must remain outside; therefore it is termed as bāhya, or external. Just as the realization of the sādhakas who have abandoned their prescribed duties within this world does not equate to realization of Vaikuṇṭha or Goloka-dhāma, similarly those who make their goal detachment from material enjoyment only receive realization of a non-conscious impersonal reality. For this reason, it is also external. In fact, only prema-bhakti qualifies as parā-bhakti (transcendental devotional service to the Supreme Lord). Unless one reaches the state of sāmya or avyakta (the neutral state of the three modes), it is actually impossible to attain prema-bhakti.
In jñāna-miśrā-bhakti, jñāna remains prominent, and thus it is not bhakti at all. Rather, it is merely an offense at the lotus feet of Bhagavān. It becomes possible to obtain bhakti from the sāmya or avyakta platform if one somehow gets the association of a pure guru and Vaiṣṇavas. If a piece of gold, the size and shape of a mustard seed, is mixed into a huge heap of golden mustard seeds, it is extremely difficult to distinguish it, but once the pile of seeds is set on fire and reduced to ashes it is easy to find that piece of gold.
In the same manner, in the saintly association of the pure spiritual master and Vaiṣṇava devotees, that mountain-like heap of jñāna is burned to ashes by the fire of hearing and chanting, whereupon pure bhakti (that piece of gold) may easily be obtained. Accordingly, where jñāna-miśrā-bhakti ends, śuddha-bhakti, or pure devotion, begins. Jñānīs desire to obtain sāyujya, which is the liberation of merging with the effulgence of the Lord, yet they cannot attain their goal by the process of jñāna alone. They may obtain it only by virtue of mixing this jñāna with bhakti.
The practice of this jñāna-miśrā bhakti is never capable of awakening prema; therefore, this type of jñāna presents an obstruction to śuddha–bhakti. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.20.31) states:
yogino vai mad-ātmanaḥ
na jñānaṁ na ca vairāgyaṁ
prāyaḥ śreyo bhaved iha
“Thus the yogī who is connected with My bhakti and absorbed in thinking of Me, need not cultivate jñāna or renunciation. His auspiciousness is achieved only through devotion to Me.”
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā (18.54)
“ ‘A person happily absorbed in Brahman neither laments for nor desires anything. Being equipoised in his vision of all living beings, he obtains parā–bhakti (transcendental devotional service to Me) which is endowed with the symptoms of prema.’ ”
There is a multitude of mantras in the Vedas establishing the dif-ference between the jīva and Brahman. Some examples are given here:
(1) “Pradhāna-kṣetra-jña-patir guṇeśaḥ – that Paramātmā is the controller of the guṇas and master of the living entities” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 3.6.16).
(2) “Tam āhur agryaṁ puruṣaṁ mahāntam – sages declare Him to be the foremost and greatest of persons” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 3.3.19).
(3) “Yāthātathyato ’rthān vyadadhāt – it is He who awards the many jīvas’ necessities” (Īśopaniṣad 3.8).
(4) “Tenedaṁ pūrṇaṁ puruṣeṇa sarvam – by that Person’s arrangement, this universe is complete in every respect” (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 3.3.9).
(5) “Nityo nityānāṁ – He is supreme among all eternal beings” (Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.2.13, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 3.6.13).
This compilation of sutras directly demonstrates that the jīva can never dissolve and become one with Brahman in any situation. Persons who attain the brahma-bhūta platform are in one of two categories. One type, despite reaching this platform, disrespects the names, forms, qualities, and pastimes of Bhagavān, as well as His devotees. Such persons continue to endeavor exclusively for sāyujya–mukti. The brahma-bhūta (self-realized) persons of this category are offenders. Instead of achieving liberation, this kind of person continues to rotate in the cycle of birth and death, taking birth in demonic species. The other kind of brahma-bhūta souls, being non-offenders, easily achieve the shelter of the devotees and attain parā–bhakti.
1Asmitā: the false egoism arising from the conceptions of “I” and “mine” in relation to the material body.