We have already mentioned that according to the scriptures, bhakti is the only means of attaining Bhagavān. Only bhakti can cause the jīvas to have the vision of Bhagavān and bring them into His presence. Only bhakti can control Bhagavān, the Supreme Person. We shall now deliberate upon the intrinsic nature of bhakti.
In determining the definition of bhakti, Maharṣi Śāṇḍilya has stated: “sā parānuraktir īśvare – transcendental attachment to Īśvara is devotional service” (Śāṇḍilya-sūtra 1.2). Śrī Nārada-pañcarātra (quoted in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.12) states: “sarvopādhi-vinirmuktaṁ tat-paratvena nirmalam / hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate – Bhakti is service rendered by the transcendental senses to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Lord of the transcendental senses. Such bhakti, in which all endeavours are undertaken for the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa, is free from obstructions arising from the nature of the body and mind. It is also pure; it is not covered by the creepers of karma, reward-seeking activity, or jñāna, knowledge in pursuit of impersonal liberation.”
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (3.29.11–12) defines bhakti thus:
yathā gaṅgāmbhaso ’mbudhau
yā bhaktiḥ puruṣottame
I am the Supreme Enjoyer, the Lord who dwells within the hearts of all. When there is unmotivated and unimpeded natural affection for Me, and when simply upon hearing My qualities, the mind flows towards Me, like an unbroken stream of oil, just as the Gaṅgā flows without interruption towards the ocean. It is called nirguṇa bhakti-yoga, transcendental devotional service.
Although such definitions of bhakti have been given in the scriptures, Svayam Bhagavān Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s dear associate Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has combined all previous definitions of bhakti, and has given in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11) a beautiful, new definition, which is the life and treasured aspiration of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas:
Uttama-bhakti, pure devotional service, is the cultivation of activities that are meant exclusively for the pleasure of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. It is the uninterrupted flow of service to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, performed through all endeavours of body, mind and speech, as well as through expression of various spiritual sentiments (bhāvas). It is not covered by jñāna (speculative knowledge aimed at impersonal liberation), karma (reward-seeking activity), yoga or austerities; and it is completely free from all desires other than for Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s happiness.
In this verse, both the intrinsic (svarūpa) and marginal (taṭasthā) characteristics of bhakti have been lucidly presented. The purport of the words uttama-bhakti is pure bhakti. Karma-miśra-bhakti and jñāna-miśra-bhakti are not pure. The goal of karma-miśra-bhakti is material enjoyment, and the goal of jñāna-miśra-bhakti is liberation. Only bhakti that is devoid of the desires for material enjoyment and liberation is called uttama-bhakti – this is the means to attain prema for Bhagavān.
What is this bhakti? We shall describe its intrinsic characteristic (svarūpa-lakṣaṇa) and its marginal characteristics (taṭasthā-lakṣaṇa). Its intrinsic characteristic is the full endeavour, by body, mind and speech, and the cultivation of loving sentiments (bhāva) for the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa. Endeavours and bhāvas – these two remain ever-active to bring Kṛṣṇa delight. The svarūpa-lakṣaṇa, or intrinsic nature, of bhakti arises when the special function of Bhagavān’s svarūpa-śakti (the function of the essence of hlādinī and saṁvit) appears in the svarūpa of the jīva by the mercy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa or His devotee.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has described the two marginal characteristics, or taṭasthā-lakṣaṇas, of bhakti. The first is that bhakti is completely devoid of all desires other than to serve Kṛṣṇa. All types of aspirations other than to advance one’s devotion are opposed to bhakti, and they are included within anyabhilāṣitā. The second marginal characteristic is that it is not covered by jñāna, karma and so on. Knowledge of the oneness of jīva and brahma, the smārta’s daily and occasional performances of prescribed duties for the sake of material self-interest, activities filled with indifference to Bhagavān such as atonement (prāyāścitta), knowledge of atheistic sāṅkhya philosophy, dry renunciation and so on – these are all opposed to bhakti. Only when the cultivation of activities for the pleasure of Kṛṣṇa is free from these two types of unfavourable marginal characteristics is it called śuddha-bhakti.
Sādhana-bhakti is the practice of śuddha-bhakti, which is performed under the guidance of śuddha-bhaktas, after one has received initiation and instructions from a bona fide spiritual master. In Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.17, Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has described the six special characteristics of bhakti:
kleśaghnī śubhadā mokṣa-
śrī-kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī ca sā
Śuddha-bhakti has six characteristics: (1) kleśaghnī – it destroys all types of distress, (2) śubhadā – it bestows complete auspiciousness, (3) mokṣa-laghutākṛtā – it makes the attainment of liberation insignificant, (4) sudurlabhā – it is extremely rare, (5) sāndrānanda-viśeṣātmā – it is the embodiment of condensed bliss, and (6) śrī-kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī – it attracts Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
In the very beginning of sādhana-bhakti, the first two symptoms, kleśaghnī and śubhadā, become visible. Mokṣa-laghutākṛtā and sudurlabhā are then manifest in the stage of bhāva, and in the stage of ultimate attainment, or sādhya (prema), sāndrānanda-viśeṣātmā and śrī-kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī are observed in addition to the previously mentioned four symptoms.
Sin, the desire to sin, the seed of sin, pious activity, the desire to perform pious activity and the seed of pious activity – the destruction of all these afflictions (kleśas) is the first symptom of bhakti. The second symptom of bhakti, called śubhadā, includes the following four qualities: bhakti makes one pleasing to all, affectionate towards all living entities and the abode of all good qualities, and it also bestows pure happiness. These first two symptoms are observed at the time of sādhana-bhakti.
The third characteristic is that bhakti renders even the attainment of liberation insignificant or worthless. The quality of sudurlabhā, being extremely rarely attained, is the fourth characteristic of pure bhakti. Although one may be detached from sense gratification and may have practised the limbs of bhakti for a long time, still one may not attain it. These two characteristics are the symptoms of bhāva-bhakti.
The fifth characteristic is that bhakti is the embodiment of condensed blissfulness, and the sixth is that it attracts Śrī Kṛṣṇa. These last two features are the symptoms of the ultimate goal of life (sādhya), or prema-bhakti. The first four symptoms are also observed in the stage of perfection (sādhya-bhakti ). The first stage of sādhya-bhakti is called bhāva-bhakti and its highest stage is called prema.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has defined sādhana-bhakti thus:
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.
This sādhana-bhakti is of two types, vaidhī and rāgānuga. In vaidhī-bhakti, śravaṇa, kīrtana and the limbs of bhakti are not undertaken out of a natural affection and inclination; rather they are performed solely out of fear of scriptural rules. The duties the śāstras prescribe for the jīva are called vidhi, and the prohibitions are called niṣeda. To comply with these is to follow the discipline of the scriptures. When the jīva’s engagement in bhakti is out of fear of this scriptural discipline it is called vaidhī-bhakti:
śāsanenaiva śāstrasya sā
That bhakti in which the cause of engagement is not greed (lobha), but rather the command of scriptures, is called vaidhī-bhakti.
There are many limbs of sādhana-bhakti, but in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu sixty-four limbs have been described in particular, beginning with accepting the shelter of a spiritual master (guru-padāśraya), accepting initiation and instructions from one’s spiritual master (dīkṣā-śikṣā), serving one’s spiritual master (guru-sevā), and so on. Those sixty-four limbs are naturally included within the nine prominent practices mentioned in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (7.5.23). These nine limbs are known as navadhā-bhakti:
śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ
arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁsakhyam ātma-nivedanam
Some attain perfection even by practising just one limb from among these nine. Some also practise many at once. In fact, the chief result of all the practices of sādhana-bhakti is one – rati for the transcendental Reality.
The second type of sādhana-bhakti is rāgānuga-bhakti. This is the method of bhakti performed by sādhakas who practise the limbs of bhakti such as śravaṇa and kīrtana out of greed to attain the service of their worshipful deity, Vrajendra-nandana Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Rāga is the quality of natural, excessive absorption in the object of one’s devotion and attachment to it. Kṛṣṇa-bhakti endowed with such rāga is called rāgātmika-bhakti, and that bhakti which follows in the wake of such rāgātmika-bhakti is called rāgānuga-bhakti.
In conclusion, vaidhī-bhakti is subordinate to the regulative principles and disciplines of the scriptures, and rāgānuga-bhakti follows in the wake of rāgātmika-bhakti. Neither of these two are sādhya-bhakti; they are both sādhana-bhakti. Only rāgātmika-bhakti, the devotion of the eternal residents of Vraja, Mathurā and Dvārakā, is sādhya-bhakti. When one reads or hears about their devotion, and greed, or lobha, arises in the heart to attain it, one becomes an eligible candidate for rāgānuga-sādhana-bhakti. Eligibility for vaidhī-bhakti comes from faith in the scriptures; eligibility for rāgānuga-bhakti is attained by greed for the loving sentiments of the rāgātmika devotees.
nātra śāstraṁ na yuktiñca
kṛṣṇaṁ smaran janaṁ cāsya
kuryād vāsaṁ vraje sadā
siddha-rupeṇa cātra hi
Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.291, 293, 294)
The cause of rāgānuga-bhakti is greed (lobha) for the sentiments of the rāgātmika devotees. This greed is not aroused by the arguments of the scriptures. Rather, pure greed is the aspiration to become immersed in the moods of the rāgātmika devotees, and it arises on hearing about the sweetness of their feelings for Kṛṣṇa. Those who have developed a greed to attain the moods of Kṛṣṇa’s intimate associates of their own choice will always reside in Vraja in their sādhaka forms, their present bodies, and with their siddha forms, their internally conceived, perfected bodies, they will render service following Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s most dear Vraja associates and those who are under their guidance. Thus they will hear, chant and remember the narrations of Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes. This is the method of practice, or sādhana-praṇālī, for rāgānuga-bhakti in connection with Vraja.
Rāgānuga-bhakti is of two types, namely kāmānuga and sambandhānuga. Kāmānuga is also of two types: sambhoga-icchāmayī and tat-tad-bhāva-icchamayī. Sambhoga-icchāmayī-bhakti means the desire to engage in amorous meeting with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Tat-tad-bhāva-icchāmayī-bhakti is the longing to experience the sweetness of the moods of the Vraja gopīs.
At this point we must understand that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu has bestowed upon the jīvas of this world instructions that awaken the desire to follow rāgānuga-bhakti. Only bhajana through rāga-mārga is approved by Him. If, by extreme good fortune, the jīvas attain the association of the dear associates of Śrī Gaurasundara, then greed for the mood of the residents of Vraja must certainly be evoked. However, the sādhaka should take shelter of vaidhī-bhakti until such association is available. One will certainly enter rāga-mārga by taking shelter of the lotus feet of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
The duty of those very fortunate sādhakas who have attained greed for the moods of the residents of Vraja is to practise rāgānuga-bhakti. When such greed is evoked, there no longer remains any taste for subjects other than Bhagavān. One is released from sin, pious activity, karma, akarma, vikarma, dry knowledge and renunciation; and ruci, or taste, in the practice of bhakti arises. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has written in relation to the gradual development of bhakti:
ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-
saṅgo ’tha bhajana-kriyā
tato ’nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt
tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
athāsaktis tato bhāvas
sādhakānām ayaṁ premṇaḥ
prādurbhāve bhavet kramaḥ
This verse describes advancement on vaidhī-mārga, in which there is first faith (śraddhā), then the association of sādhus and then the eradication of unwanted desires (anarthas), through engagement in bhajana. Immediately after that comes niṣṭhā, ruci, āsakti and bhāva. In this process, bhāva remains the sādhya, the final goal, for a very long time.
With the appearance of transcendental greed, however, unwanted desires (anarthas) are vanquished very easily, because of a lack of greed for other subjects; bhāva also arises simultaneously along with this greed. In rāga-mārga, it is only necessary to drive away pretentiousness and duplicity. If these are not driven far away, then the mind will become highly agitated and anarthas will grow. In such a condition, debased attachment will be mistaken for pure rāga. In the end, the association of sense objects becomes very strong, and that attachment becomes the cause of the jīva’s downfall.
The sādhakas who are under the shelter of the lotus feet of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu take shelter of rāgānuga-bhakti through pure spiritual greed. After taking shelter of the lotus feet of a sad-guru in vaidhī-bhakti, such sādhakas serve the deity. Then, associating with Vaiṣṇavas, showing respect to bhakti literature, residing in the places of the Lord’s pastimes and continually chanting Śrī Bhagavān’s names, they render service to Kṛṣṇa within their minds by the path of bhāva. They completely follow the moods of the residents of Vraja with their siddha-deha. Among them, sādhakas who are extremely fortunate, who have remained in the association of sādhus, and who have taken shelter of harināma, which is the best of the limbs of bhakti, are appointed to the service of Bhagavān.
When taking shelter of harināma, there is no consideration of regulations such as taking formal initiation (dīkṣā) and preliminary purifying activities (puraścaryā). They avoid chanting a mere semblance of the holy name (nāmābhāsa) and chanting with offences (nāmāparādha), and gradually they come to the point of continuous chanting. While chanting incessantly and meditating on the merciful glance of the deity, they constantly meditate on the holy name and the deity’s beautiful form. Gradually they begin to review the aggregate of the qualities of the deity, His form and name all at once. Immediately thereafter they begin to reflect on all of these, as well as the pastimes in accordance with their own eternal identities (svarūpa). Gradually rasa also appears – this is the ultimate attainment. One special point worthy of attention is that the appearance of rasa occurs within a very short time if from the very beginning of the cultivation of nāma the sādhaka anxiously longs for rasa to appear.