prabhu kahe,—“eho haya, āge kaha āra”
Śrīman Mahāprabhu said, “O Rāmānanda, this may be called the sādhya, but please speak something more.” Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya said, “Prema-bhakti is the essence of all perfection.
Up until now, Śrīman Mahāprabhu had only responded to all proposals with “eho bāhya – this is external,” but now He says, “Eho haya –this may be.” When jñāna–śūnyā–bhakti was proposed, He said, “This is good,” because whatever Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya had explained before had not been conducive for the progressive understanding of the master-servant relationship. However, this jñāna–śūnyā–bhakti is favorable for its development.
Mahāprabhu’s request for him to speak further on this point reveals that Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya has now reached the correct path but should proceed further. From the verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.14.3) which Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya spoke to illuminate jñāna–śūnyā–bhakti, one may comprehend that practicing jñāna–śūnyā–bhakti and hearing hari–kathā is so powerful that Bhagavān becomes controlled by the sādhaka who does so. The Śruti also confirms that Bhagavān is controlled by bhakti (bhakti–vaśaḥ purusaḥ), yet the degree to which He is controlled is also gradated. He is not controlled equally by all the bhaktas.
Sādhakas engage in devotional services according to their individual tastes and desires, and thus they control Bhagavān to the degree of their devotion. They may even be performing the same limb of bhakti as each other, but due to the sādhakas’ individual natures, there will be differences in their practice, so they will not control Bhagavān to the same degree. Essentially, this means that to the degree of intensity with which a devotee desires to perform service, Bhagavān is then accordingly inclined to manifest His quality of being controlled by him. It is for this reason that the devotees of śānta, dāsya, sakhya, vātsalya, and kānta-bhāva1 do not each control Bhagavān to the same extent.
There is another point to consider: Is Bhagavān controlled simply by hearing the hari-kathā that comes from the mouth of His devotees? Or is Bhagavān controlled by a listener who attains some special state on hearing hari-kathā? It is with the intention of clarifying this that Mahāprabhu asked Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya to speak a little further on the subject. The listener controls Bhagavān just by listening to the narrations of Bhagavān’s pastimes – this is fine, but this takes place only when the hearer of hari-kathā is situated in the stage of prema.
Prema-bhakti – devotion endowed with the characteristics of divine love. That proclivity to render such service that it gives excessive happiness to Śrī Kṛṣṇa is called prema. Through the performance of hearing and chanting performed in the stage of jñāna–śūnyā–bhakti, by the mercy of Bhagavān, the contamination of the heart is gradually dispelled. Thereafter, knowledge of the servant’s relationship with the Lord as well as the tendency to serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa, manifest in the heart. Then, by the mercy of the svarūpa-śakti, the essence of the hlādinī and saṁvit-śaktis (Kṛṣṇa’s transcendental bliss and knowledge potencies) enters the heart of the sādhaka. The fully ripened, or mature, stage of śuddha-sattva is called prema. This devotional service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, which is filled with pure love, is known as prema-bhakti.
Bhagavat-kathā is both our sādhya and our sādhana; similarly, so is prema-bhakti. If there is prema within the heart of the sādhaka then he will perform all the limbs of bhakti with deep love, and Śrī Kṛṣṇa is pleased with him. Without prema, the sādhaka may perform bhakti but that bhakti will never satisfy Śrī Kṛṣṇa. For a person who is hungry, even dry bread seems most appealing, but if someone is neither hungry nor thirsty then he can easily ignore a delicious feast replete with the six types of tastes (salty, sweet, pungent, bitter, sour, and astringent).
Controlled by the prema of Vidura, Śrī Kṛṣṇa ate even banana skins, yet because Duryodhana had no prema, Śrī Kṛṣṇa abstained from a huge feast, composed of all six tastes, served by him. Śrī Kṛṣṇa ate the rice and yoghurt offered with prema by the wives of the brāhmaṇas, Śrī Rāmacandra ate the remnant fruits of Śabarī (a low-caste lady dwelling in the forest), and Śrīman Mahāprabhu consumed vegetables snatched from the devotee Śrīdhara. Bhagavān, hungry to eat whatever a premī–bhakta offers Him, very lovingly and enthusiastically accepts foodstuffs presented with prema.
Although Śrī Lakṣmī resides eternally on the chest of Śrīman Nārāyaṇa, she identifies as being the wife of a brāhmaṇa. Proud of this designation, her serving attitude was slackened and she was thus precluded from entering the pastimes of Vraja. When one has knowledge of the relationship between the master (sevya) and servant (sevaka), the tendency or desire to render service transforms into prema and the premī–bhakta chants the holy name, maintaining a vow to chant a fixed number of names daily. The devotee engages in sādhana-bhajana, absorbed in the moods expressed in these songs:
rādhā-kuṇḍa-taṭa-kuñja-kuṭīra, govardhana-parvata, yāmuna-tīra
“A bower on the bank of Rādhā-kuṇda, as well as Govardhana Hill, and the banks of the Yamunā River – all these places are my life and soul.”
he rādhe vraja-devīke ca lalite he nanda-sūno kutaḥ
śrī-govardhana-kalpa-pādapa-tale kālindī-vane kutaḥ
“O Rādhā, mistress of Vṛndāvana! O Lalitā! O son of Nanda Mahārāja! Where are all of you now? Are you seated beneath the kalpa-vṛkṣa (desire trees) of Śrī Govardhana Hill? Or are you roaming in the forests along the soft sandy banks of the Yamunā?”
A devotee who performs sādhana-bhajana in this way very much pleases Bhagavān, who becomes restless to taste even his ordinary offerings. In order to taste prema, He will dance for just a cup of buttermilk.
premṇaiva bhakta-hṛdayaṁ sukha-vidrutaṁ syāt
yāvat kṣud asti jaṭhare jaraṭhā pipāsā
tāvat sukhāya bhavato nanu bhakṣya-peye
“ ‘As long as one feels acute hunger and thirst, one enjoys eating and drinking. In the same way, even if one worships ārtta–bandhu Bhagavān (the Lord who is the friend of the distressed) with many different types of paraphernalia, only when that pūjā is performed with prema will that devotee’s heart melt with happiness.’
The essential meaning is that if very strong hunger and thirst are not present, then even if one is offered very tasty, fragrant, and appetizing dishes, one will still not have a desire to eat. Likewise, if there is no prema, then even if one worships Śrī Kṛṣṇa with many, many different articles, still He is not pleased. And, on the other hand, if one has a raging hunger and thirst, then one will appreciate and be greatly satisfied by taking common rice and water. Similarly, if prema is present in a devotee’s heart, Śrī Kṛṣṇa receives great happiness by accepting even ordinary items the devotee gives Him.
Some people may doubt that the example and the idea being clarified actually correspond because, in the example it says that only if a person is hungry and thirsty can taking simple rice and water give him happiness. Yet in the idea being clarified, it says that Bhagavān indeed feels hungry upon being given anything with prema. Thus the doubt may come in the mind that, if the devotee is hungry to serve, then how does this makes Bhagavān hungry? Yet such a doubt is unfounded.2
We can thus see that since Bhagavān lovingly accepts a devotee’s service, according to the degree of strong love that he has for Bhagavān, that such a doubt has no basis. If prema is not present in the heart of the devotee, then the desire to accept service cannot possibly awaken in the heart of Bhagavān. Once prema awakens in the heart of the devotee and reaches the stage of extreme eagerness and longing to serve, then the desire to accept service awakens in the heart of bhakta–vatsala Bhagavān (the Lord who is always affectionate to the devotee). That is why here, Bhagavān is called ārtta–bandhu (friend of the distressed). With regard to the object of sādhana, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has said:
kṛti-sādhyā bhavet sādhya-
bhāvā sā sādhanābhidhā
prākaṭyaṁ hṛdi sādhyatā
“Sādhana-bhakti is the engagement of the mind and senses in the limbs of bhakti for the purpose of attaining bhāva-bhakti. This bhāva is a potentiality which eternally exists in the heart of the jīva and is manifested in the heart purified by sādhana (through the mercy of a nitya-siddha, a living sad-guru).”
Pure devotion is the ever-present, eternal constitutional position of the jīva. The living being is a tiny particle of blissful consciousness, likened to a spark of sunshine (cit-kaṇa) of the all-blissful spiritual sun (cit-sūrya) Śrī Kṛṣṇa. This naturally occuring happiness is known as nitya–siddha–bhāva (eternally present love for Kṛṣṇa) and it is awakened in the heart of the jīva by the practice of sādhana–bhakti. In this stage, the eternally perfect object, namely, the potency of pure love for Godhead, reaches its perfection. When the bound jīvas, endeavoring by their senses, strive to attain bhāva, their practice is called sādhana–bhakti. The goal of sādhana–bhakti is to awaken bhāva–bhakti.
At the time of initiation, or dīkṣā, the holy master instructs the sādhaka on his relationship with Śrī Bhagavān. Fixed in this relationship, the devotee performs sādhana with firm determination, and thus he achieves bhāva–bhakti. When this bhāva–bhakti reaches a completely ripened condition it is known as prema–bhakti. The sādhaka–bhakta becomes extremely blessed when śrī guru bestows realization of his position as a maidservant of Śrī Rādhā. Only by the devotion of His devotees does Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s love swell. The term sādhana–bhakti includes all of the progressive stages of bhakti – śraddhā (faith), sādhu-saṅga (association with pure devotees), bhajana-anuṣṭhāna (performance of devotional service to Kṛṣṇa), anartha-nivṛtti (the diminishing of all unwanted habits), niṣṭhā (firm faith), ruci (taste), and āsakti (attachment).
krīyatāṁ yadi kuto ’pi labhyate
tatra laulyam api mūlyam ekalaṁ
janma-koṭi-sukṛtair na labhyate
“ ‘O men of virtue, if consciousness that is saturated and perfumed with the nectar of kṛṣṇa-bhakti is available anywhere, then purchase it at once without delay. The only price to get it is greed to obtain vraja-rasa (the moods of Vraja). Without this divine greed, then even heaps of spiritual credits (sukṛti) accumulated over millions of lives will not be enough to procure that bhakti for Śrī Kṛṣṇa.’ ”
Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says that this type of devotion, where the heart is soaked in kṛṣṇa-bhakti-rasa (the nectar of loving service to Kṛṣṇa), has only one price and that price is greed. Bhakti is of two types: the first is śāstra–avadhāraṇā-mayī vaidhī–bhakti, the path of bhakti inspired by the governing principles of the scriptures, and the second is lobha-mūlaka rāgānuga–bhakti, devotion impelled by greed to follow the loving sentiments of the eternally perfected residents of Vraja. Here Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya is alluding solely to this second type of devotion, namely lobha-mūlaka rāgānuga–bhakti. Śrīla Cakravartī Ṭhākura tells us that the only method to give happiness to Śrī Kṛṣṇa is kṛṣṇa–bhakti-bhavitā mati, to have a consciousness infused with the flavors of loving service to Him. A fortunate person may enter this rāgānuga–bhakti, spontaneous devotion.
In this case “Śrī Kṛṣṇa” means “Vrajendra-nandana Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the son of the king of Vraja,” and bhakti signifies bhāva–bhakti, the initial stage of perfection in devotion, which matures into prema–bhakti. The phrase prema–bhakti–rasa–bhāvitā mati refers to that person whose every pore is utterly saturated with śrī-kṛṣṇa-bhakti-rasa, and whose intelligence has become one with that bhakti–rasa3. This mood may only be attained by the mercy of Bhagavān. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it has been said:
satāṁ prasaṅgān mama vīrya-saṁvido
bhavanti hṛt-karṇa-rasāyanāḥ kathāḥ
taj-joṣaṇād āśv apavarga-vartmani
śraddhā ratir bhaktir anukramiṣyati
“In the assembly of pure devotees, powerful discussions illuminating My heroic deeds become a rejuvenating tonic for both the ears and the heart. By hearing these narrations, one quickly advances on the path of emancipation from ignorance. First he develops śraddhā, then rati, and finally prema-bhakti.”
This bhakti–bhāva is received by two methods – by the mercy of the devotee (bhakta–prasādaja) and by the mercy of Bhagavān (bhagavat–prasādaja). The mercy of Bhagavān strictly follows the mercy of the devotee. This is the very reason why Svayam Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa descended in the form of the topmost devotee, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and poured His mercy everywhere.
Śrīla Narottama Ṭhākura has prayed to Śrī Lokanātha Gosvāmī:
kabe lokanātha more saṅge laiyā jābe
śrī rūpera pāda-padme more samarpibe
“O Gurudeva! When will you bestow upon me your mercy and offer me to the feet of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī?”
In the same manner we see Śrī Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja praying at the end of almost every chapter of Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta:
śrī-rūpa-raghunātha-pade yāra āśa
caitanya-caritāmṛta kahe kṛṣṇa dāsa
“Always praying at the lotus feet of Śrī Rūpa and Śrī Raghunātha for their mercy, I, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja, recite this Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.”
Bhagavān can give bhakti but not a mood of service to Him. Along with bhakti, the devotee can also give his own bhāva and his own personal realizations. By accepting these bhāvas, or moods, it no longer remains difficult for one to attain bhakti. In the same way that sugar syrup permeates every atom of a rasagullā, similarly every pore of the body of a vraja-rasa–rasika guru or Vaiṣṇava is completely saturated with prema–bhakti-rasa. At every moment, the rasika Vaiṣṇava continuously distributes the most purifying sweet discussions of Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. His mind, intelligence, affection, and character are all completely filled with Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s rasamayī–bhakti (ambrosial devotion).
By associating with these rasika devotees, greed is awakened to serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa with prema. If due to that greed, one has to give up his very life, Bhagavān will indeed become dearer to him than his own existence. We all possess this prema–rasa in our hearts, but now it is dormant. It is by hearing discussions saturated with bhakti–rasa that this prema will be awakened. The devotee hears bhakti–śāstras (devotional scriptures) and cultivates his Kṛṣṇa consciousness by following the instructions given in them; thus he becomes immersed in this bhakti–bhāva.
1Kānta-bhāva – another name for mādhurya-bhāva.
2Here in this verse Rāya Rāmānanda is explaining, that when the devotee has prema and yearns for Kṛṣṇa to accept his offering, then the love in the devotee causes a hunger and thirst in Kṛṣṇa. The devotee’s affection creates in Kṛṣṇa a hunger and thirst to accept the offering. The offering itself may consist of ordinary items, but still Kṛṣṇa comes, and with great relish He tastes what the devotee has offered. Why? It is because the prema in the heart of the devotee has created a great hunger in Him.
3Bhakti-rasa – attachment to Śrī Kṛṣṇa in the mood and manner of those eternally perfected devotees, particularly the Vrajavāsīs.