Category Archives: Bhakti

Diving into Bhakti-Rasamrita Sindhu

Question: We are reading the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu in a workshop. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has ten practices considered “primary in the beginning”—including worship of the banyan tree, etc. Then he speaks of the last five practices as having “extraordinary and incomprehensible power.”

My question is, why are śravaṇa, smaraṇam (smṛti), and dhyāna placed in the middle of the 64 items and not commented upon as especially important when they seem to be the highest goal?

Answer:  Bhakti is the path of turning a non-devotee, bahirmukha-jīva, into a person whose regard is turned toward Bhagavān i.e an antarmukha-jīva. This is its distinction from all other paths.  Therefore, the process of bhakti begins with taking shelter of a guru, prapatti or śaraṇāgati. 

Śravaṇa, kīrtana, etc., can be done by anyone, i.e., they can be done without accepting śaraṇāgati. But that would not make one a bhakta if he is not prapanna or śaraṇāgata. You can witness many people coming to a kirtan-fest and participating in śravaṇa and kīrtana. Even Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla performed smaraṇa, but that did not count as bhakti. Therefore, you will see that prapatti or śaraṇāgati is always the first step in bhakti, e.g., Gītā 18.66, SB 11.3.21, Gītā 4.34.

Thus Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī writes that the first three limbs are the foundation of bhaktitrayaṁ pradhānamevoktaṁ gurupādāśrayādikam (BRS 1.2.83). These three are guru-pādāśraya, dīkṣā and śikṣā, and guru-sevā. All other limbs of bhakti are based on these three. Without these three, there is no bhakti. Why? Because the person is still a bahirmukha. This is a very important point to understand and a very crucial one for a serious sādhaka. We see a lot of stress given to śravaṇa and kīrtana. That is fine but we should not overlook the requirement to take shelter of a guru.

Question: In verse 270, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī begins his discussion on rāgānugā but states rāgātmikā needs first to be understood. Having divided rāgātmikā into kāma-rūpā and sambandha-rūpā, he then jumps into a ten-verse discussion (verses 274–282) about various ways of fixing the mind on Kṛṣṇa, favorably or unfavorably, all of which belong to vaidhī. He does not announce he is taking this excursion—it seems to come under the rubric of rāgātmikā-bhakti. Any thoughts on this from a structural point of view?

Answer: It is not true that in verses 274-282, he describes vaidhī bhakti. Verses 274–275 are examples of kāma-rūpā and sambandha-rūpā-bhakti, as mentioned in verse 273. In these verses, the gopīs are examples of kāma-rūpā-bhakti, and the Vṛṣṇis are examples of sambandha-rūpā-bhakti. In verses 274 and 275, he describes how many people in the past have attained Kṛṣṇa by absorbing their mind in Him. Absorption of mind is the essence of rāga bhakti. He gives examples of different people who attained Kṛṣṇa by absorption. There is no vidhi mentioned in these verses; there is no verb of an injunction. There cannot be any vidhi for kāma or sambandha. Then in verses 276 and 277, he explains that although there cannot be any injunction for fear, bhaya, and hatred, dveṣa, they cannot be counted as bhakti. One may doubt how bhaktas and enemies can attain the same position; he explains that from verse 278 onwards until verse 282. The purpose of all this description is to explain rāga bhakti and not vaidhī. A hint of this was already given in verse 1.2.3, 4.

Question: I had no idea rāgātmikā included Kaṁsa, etc. I had always associated rāgātmikā exclusively with the Vraja community. But it makes sense to think of Kaṁsa and such as utterly and spontaneously absorbed in Kṛṣṇa. 

Answer: He is rāgātmikā but not a bhakta. His absorption in Kṛṣṇa is natural. It was not achieved by any practice or because of some injunction. He feared Kṛṣṇa that he would kill him. Thus his absorption was not favorable. Therefore, it is not accepted as bhakti. Similarly Śiśupāla was also absorbed in thoughts of Kṛṣṇa but out of hatred, dvēṣa. This is stated by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmi in 1.2.276 – ānukūlya-viparyāsād bhīti-dveṣau parāhatau. 

Question: I’m not clear, in verse 276, why sneha denotes only sakhya, and if so, denotes specifically vaidhi-bhakti. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī does say later that if sneha denotes prema, it would be rāgānugā.

Answer: In verse 275, sneha is used in reference to the Pāṇḍavas—snehād yūyam (Nārada spoke this to Yudhiṣṭhira). The Pāṇḍavas were sakhās (see Gītā 4.3 and 11.41). This bhāva is considered vaidhi because the Pāṇḍavas were very much aware of Kṛṣṇa’s aiśvarya-jñāna. Pure rāgātmikā does not have aiśvarya-jñāna in it. The second part of your question is a misunderstanding. He says that if the word sneha is to be taken to mean prema, then it does not have any utility in the description of rāgānugā sādhana-bhakti. Prema is sādhya and not sādhana.

Question: Is the point that the lower level sneha is of lesser intensity than prema and so still needs to be bolstered by vaidhi?

Answer: It is lower intensity because it is vaidhi and not the other way around.

Question: Would this then be referencing Kṛṣṇa’s aiśvarya friends in Dvārakā and the Mahābhārata?

Answer: Yes. The point is that when one has aiśvarya-jñāna, the level and intensity of prīti go down. You cannot be intensely intimate with someone if he or she is much superior to you, and you are aware of this dynamic. Prema gives intimacy and aiśvarya brings distance, a sense of reverence.

Question: Why only sakhya? Why can’t this type of sneha be found in the other bhāvas?

Answer: It is possible in other bhāvas but here it refers specifically to the Pāṇḍavas.

Question: Sārūpya can be of two modalities, yes? One can have a form like Viṣṇu’s and reside in Vaikuṇṭha as a separate being, one of the five kinds of mokṣa frequently referred to, or one can merge into Kṛṣṇa’s body like Agha? In the latter case, one is no longer a separate entity and so cannot express prema but can experience the ānanda of Kṛṣṇa’s body, which would be greater than brahmānanda—is this correct?

Answer: The latter one is not called sārūpya but sāyujya. It is sāyujya, which is of two types—brahma-sāyujya and bhagavad-sāyujya. You are mixing bhagavad-sāyujya with sārupya.

Question: In verse 280, siddha-loka seems to be equated with brahma-sāyujya. I thought it was an actual loka with enlightened siddha beings.

Answer: You are right. It is a place beyond the Virajā River. Those who are śānta-rasa bhaktas live there, and those who attain brahma-sāyujya also exist there without a body.

Question: I am unclear about verse 303. Riraṁsā is the desiderative of ram, meaning that such persons have an intense spontaneous desire. Is this discounted as rāgānugā because it is not focused on a role model in Vraja? If so, does this mean rāgānugā can only be Vraja-centered? Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī seems to say this in 291. Even then, if one has an intense and spontaneous desire to serve Kṛṣṇa in Dvārakā, why would that be classified as vaidhibhakti?

Answer: First, riraṁsā is not pure rāgātmikā. Secondly, it is attained by vaidhi-bhakti. Vaidhi cannot be considered spontaneous. Pure rāgānugā is only in Vraja. Thus, it can be called a type of mixed rāgānugā-bhakti.

Furthermore, verse 303 itself says vidhi-mārgeṇa sevate. That means one is not following the mood of the rāgātmikā-bhaktas, which is the very definition of rāgānugā-bhakti. So, how can it be rāgānugā-bhakti? The word kevalena implies that there is no mood of rāgātmikā-bhakti. To become a gopī, one must follow rāgānugā-bhakti, not vaidhi-bhakti.

Question: What if such a person was not a Vraja-bhakta but a Dvārakā-bhakta but needed no vidhi—what would that be called if it is technically neither rāgānugā-bhakti nor vaidhi-bhakti?

Answer: It is still mixed rāgānugā because such a person would have aiśvarya-jñāna, which will constrict the prīti and cause him to follow specific protocols with Kṛṣṇa because Kṛṣṇa is royalty. He cannot jump on Kṛṣṇa’s shoulders—even if he is in sakhya-bhāva. The friendship would not be like that of the cowherds. Kṛṣṇa will also not be as relaxed as He is in Vraja. He has to maintain His royal demeanor. The mood in Dvārakā is not free as in Vraja. There Kṛṣṇa is a royal person and observes royal protocol. Friends, queens and other devotees are also aware of it and thus their love is not free as those of Vraja residents.

Paramatma and Krsna, Sattvic Lifestyle as Gateway

Question: I read elsewhere that it is Paramātmā who is present everywhere, in the atoms and in the hearts of every living entity. So, do Kṛṣṇa and Paramātmā both exist everywhere? Or is it Kṛṣṇa that exists everywhere but some see Him as Paramātmā? I am trying to understand the difference in all-pervasiveness of Kṛṣṇa and Paramātmā.

Answer: Paramātmā is an expansion of Kṛṣṇa to look after the affairs of the material creation. He is nondifferent from Krṣṇa. It is Paramātmā who exists everywhere in the material creation. Kṛṣṇa thus pervades the creation through His Paramātmā aspect. This is hinted at by Him in Gītā 9.45.

Question: Kṛṣṇa says in Gītā 10.42, ekāṁśena sthito jagat. Does this mean that Kṛṣṇa pervades as Paramātmā and as well as He Himself? Because here He clearly says ekāṁśena.

Answer: He pervades by His part, Paramātmā, not personally as Kṛṣṇa. There is no need for Him to pervade the creation personally. He achieves His purpose through Paramātmā.

Question: Is it true that the Paramātmā of the devotees is Kṛṣṇa Himself, and not his aṃśa?

Answer: Yes. Paramātmā is the ruler of the nondevotees and when one takes shelter of Bhagavān, then such a person comes under the jurisdiction of Bhagavān. Bhagavān also takes the role of Paramātmā for such a person. Although there is no difference between Bhagavān and Paramātmā, yet there is also some difference. Paramātmā, also called Īśvara, means the regulator or controller. To do the function of the regulation, Kṛṣṇa expands Himself into the Paramātmā form. Paramātmā is like an official form of Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is like a head of a state in His private life, with His family members. In the material world, a person with a big post may have an official dress but at home, he remains in his casual dress. In the case of Kṛṣṇa, He has two forms. You can compare the two forms and see the difference, which is indicative of the difference in their roles.


Is Bhakti Based on Sattva-guṇa?

Question: In one of your talks, you said that bhakti is not dependent upon sattva-guṇa and therefore can manifest in a rajasic or tamasic person. I have a doubt about this. In SB 1.2.24, it is said sattvam brahma-darśanam. This makes it seem that only those in sattva-guṇa can have darśana of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. After all, how could bhakti appear in a heart that is full of rajas and tamas? We may cite the case of Ajāmila or Prahlāda (being an asura) but aren’t such instances the Lord’s līlā? I am getting hung up on the fact that as devotees, we observe regulative principles, rise early, etc. in order to be in sattva-guṇa because when we are in sattva-guṇa, knowledge of bhakti may arise. It cannot arise when we are in ignorance or have too many attachments to the world. So, is it that sattva-guṇa is needed to become more favorable to Yugala Kiśora? If not, why not just eat, drink, and be merry? Bhakti will surely come… I understand that bhakti is all-powerful and supremely independent, and to say that bhakti is not dependent on sattva-guṇa is true, but I am trying to understand—why do we self-regulate?

Answer: When we speak or write, we have an intention to convey. The important thing is to understand the intention of the speaker or the writer. The next thing which is important to know is the context.

Therefore, when it is said that bhakti is not dependent on sattva-guṇa, what it means is that it is not that by becoming sattvic, bhakti will manifest automatically. Bhakti is the transcendental energy of Bhagavān. Therefore, it cannot be caused by anything material or by that which consists of the guṇas of prakṛti. In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.3.31, it is clearly said that bhakti comes from bhakti. This is a very clear principle of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism. However, for bhakti to manifest, certain factors may be more conducive than others.

I will explain this with an example. Imagine that you have seen cars running on the highway, but you have never used a car, nor have you ever sat in a car. Then someone tells you that a car runs on gas. But you see the car running on four wheels! You may then argue that how is it possible that a car runs on gas?! I see cars running all the time on wheels, but the fact is that even if you have wheels on the car, but there is no gas, it will not run.

Another example is that if someone is drowning in a river, and you are walking by, you are free to either save that person or not, even if that person is not asking for help. But you see the person struggling, and you may decide to help. On the other hand, if the person is asking for help, you may be more inclined to help. In both cases, you are free to help or not help.

Similarly, if one is following a sattvic life, then there is more possibility for this person to understand bhakti and to strive for it. On the other hand, if someone is following a rajasic or tamasic life, then one has a very bleak chance of understanding bhakti, let alone trying to practice bhakti. When it comes to the cause of something, there is a primary cause and assisting causes, but the assisting causes cannot produce the thing itself. Therefore, just because someone is sattvic, does not mean that bhakti will manifest in such a person. There are many people in this world who lead a sattvic life, and they don’t have the faintest idea about bhakti. If you tell them about bhakti, they may show no interest in it or may even argue against it because they see it as a disturbance to their sattvic life. So, sattva is favorable for bhakti, but it is not the cause of bhakti.

Concerning your quote from SB 1.2.24, it means that sattva helps you to reach Brahman, but it does not mean that it is the cause. In Bhagavad Gītā 14.26, Śrī Kṛṣṇa says very clearly that only by engaging in bhakti one can transcend the guṇas and then become Brahman-realized. By following sattvic life, one cannot transcend sattva. Without transcending the guṇas, one cannot have brahma-darśanam. Sattva is a gateway but not the cause of darśanam.

Coexistence of Bhakti and the Spirit of Enjoyment

Question: Sādhana of uttamā-bhakti leads to bhāva and prema. If sādhana-bhakti has as its taṭastha lakṣaṇa the total absence of the desire to enjoy, what happens in the anartha-nivṛtti stage when there are no saṃskāras left to enjoy?

Answer: The very word sādhana means “a means to achieve a goal”. At the sādhana stage, one is not at the level of anyābhilāṣitā śūnyam and ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanaṁ, but one has the desire or resolve to achieve it. Otherwise, as you rightly wrote, there will be no sādhanabhakti.

Pāṇiṇi has a sūtratad adhite tad veda (4.2.29). It means that a student as well as one who has studied, both are called “knowers of the subject”—e.g., one who studies vyākaraṇa as well as one who knows it, both are called vaiyakaraṇa. So, one who performs sādhana for uttamā-bhakti is also doing uttamā-bhakti, albeit at the sādhana level. That is why Rūpa Gosvāmī makes three divisions of uttamā-bhaktisādhana, bhāva, and prema. In other words, the practice that leads to the perfection stage of uttamā-bhakti is also called uttamā-bhakti but at the sādhana stage. For example, in modern times, a person studying music, dance, or painting is called a musician, dancer, or a painter respectively.

So at the sādhana stage, one has the resolve to be anyābhilaṣitā śūnyam but has not achieved it yet. So that is where anarthanivṛtti fits in. 

Question: If in sadhana-bhakti one is allowed to have the desire to enjoy independently of Kṛṣṇa, what place does anyābhilāṣitā śūnyam have? Maintenance of body and bhakti coexist. Can the desire to enjoy and the desire to please Kṛṣṇa coexist?

Answer: It is not that one is allowed to enjoy, or one is allowed to have desire to enjoy. One does not desire to enjoy but one is not completely free from attachments. A practicing musician desires to be a perfect musician but is not perfect yet. Thus he will falter in his singing. This does not mean that he is desiring to falter.

Question: If one allocates an hour for chanting and ensures that it is done without any personal desire but only to please Kṛṣṇa, and the remaining 23 hours he works to gain pleasure (non-sinful), can this be called sādhana-bhakti and will this one hour of chanting help him to advance in uttamā-bhakti? In my opinion, the desire to enjoy and the desire to please Kṛṣṇa can never coexist.

Answer: One who is doing an hour of japa but enjoying his senses the remaining 23 hours of the day is not doing uttamā-bhakti sādhana. He must have the resolve to be an uttamā bhakta 24 hours a day. This question sounds hypothetical to me and is not a practical situation. Why would one do uttamā-bhakti for one hour and do material activities for 23 hours? This means that the person has not understood what uttamā-bhakti is. Moreover, I do not think that such a thing is possible.

Question: How can the desire to enjoy and detachment coexist?

Answer: This is called ambivalence. People have love-hate relationships. These generally do not manifest simultaneously. When love is manifest, hatred is unmanifest, and vice versa. This is explained in Sāṁkhya-kārikā (12,13).  

But attachment and detachment can coexist simultaneously. It is also possible that they both exist in a manifest state. We tend to think in black and white terms—e.g., “wherever there is light, there is no darkness”. But that is not always true. At dawn, both light and darkness are manifest. First, there is complete darkness, then light gradually appears and darkness gradually disappears. When the sun has fully risen, there is no darkness. So, you can think that the sum total of darkness and light is 100 percent. The extreme points manifest when darkness is 100 percent and light is zero percent, or light is 100 percent and darkness is zero percent. In between, there is a mixture of percentages.

Similarly, in the beginning, a sādhaka may have a strong desire for material enjoyment and a weak desire for detachment. As he progresses, the percentage of desire for enjoyment reduces and the percentage of desire for detachment increases. At the bhāva stage, he has 100 percent detachment and zero percent desire for enjoyment. Anyone who is actually practicing bhakti has experience of this.


Question: In Bhagavat Sandarbha, it is explained that Bhagavān’s energies are divided into three parts: antaraṅga-, bahiraṅga-, and taṭasta-śakti. Each energy acts harmoniously in its own domain and does not interfere with the others. However, the inferior bahiraṅga-śakti, because of its proximity, imposes the illusory concept (identification with the body) on the jīva (taṭastha-śakti). Can’t this superimposition be interpreted as the intrusion of one energy onto the domain of another?

Answer: No. While influencing the jīva, the bahiraṅga-śakti still acts in its own domain. It does not enter into the taṭastha-śakti. It simply influences the taṭastha-śakti, like a magnet influences iron filings from afar.

Question: Did I understand correctly, that the bahiraṅga-śakti, the external potency of Bhagavān, is inferior because she cannot influence Kṛṣṇa in any way and is completely dependent on Him? I know that she is inert by nature and Kṛṣṇan energizes and infuses her with His intrinsic potential.

Answer: Being inert, the bahiraṅga-śakti is also inferior to the jīva.

Samanya-bhakti, Bhakti-yoga and Sharanagati

Question: I heard you say that sāmānya-bhakti can be attained without dīkṣā and that it would grant one sālokya. How does sāmānya-bhakti manifest in this world and where does it bring the sādhaka who practices it? Is there any diversity in it?

Answer: The word sāmānya means general. The word meaning itself implies that it is not any specific type. “Specific” means any particular kind of relation with Bhagavān. Sāmānya also means common or basic. In that sense, it signifies the common or basic characteristic of bhakti, which is surrender.  

Question: Can it also be dāsya or is it only śānta?

Answer: Sāmanya is not dāsya. Among the five types of primary bhakti, it can be only śānta.

Question: If sāmānya-bhakti can be attained without dīkṣā (which presupposes receiving a particular bhava from a guru), how can one become genuinely inspired to perform bhakti, to begin with?

Answer: Inspiration for bhakti primarily comes by the association of a devotee. Inspiration for sāmānya bhakti comes from the association with other sāmānya-bhaktas.

Question: This implies that there are various types of bhakti, yet they are grounded in the svarūpa-śakti of Kṛṣṇa. Is this correct?

Answer: Yes. All types of bhakti are the antaraṅgā-śakti of Bhagavān. Even when Bhagavān Kapilā describes bhakti as sāttvikī, rājasī or tāmasī, it is not that bhakti is sāttvikī, rājasī or tāmasī, but the intention of the person who executes it. Because the intention of the person is a product of sattva, rajas or tamas, the bhakti takes the corresponding appellation. Otherwise, bhakti by its very nature is beyond guṇas of prakṛti.

Question: Then, what is the adhikāra for this type of bhakti

Answer: Śraddhā is the adhikāra for it.

Question: Is it correct to think that even for this type of bhakti, one should have śāstriya-śraddhā?

Answer: It is not necessary.

Question: Are there śānta-bhaktas in Vrindavana who attained perfection through sāmānya-bhakti? Or does it apply exclusively to Vaikuṇṭha?

Answer: Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī defines it in Bhakti-rasāmrta Sindhu and gives the example of young girls of three or four years of age. I do not know of any example who attained it by sādhana. However, it primarily applies to Vaikuṇṭha.

Question: How then does one attain śānta-rasa in Vrindavan?

Answer: By association with other śānta-bhaktas of Vrindavan and by practicing bhakti under their guidance.

Question: Are there examples in śāstra of those who attained Vaikuṇṭha through sāmānya-bhakti?

Answer: The Kumaras are given as examples of śānta bhaktas. I think examples of people such as Ajāmila in the sixth canto of the Bhāgavata will apply to sāmānya-bhakti. Many of the kings described in the Ninth Canto may also belong to this category.


Question: I have a question regarding bhakti-yoga and śaraṇāgati. In the Śrī-sampradāya, the bhakti-yoga and śaraṇāgati paths are separated. It is also said in Śrī-sampradāya that only brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, and vaiśyas, not śūdras, can perform bhakti-yoga. Śrī-sampradāya similarly says that women are ineligible to perform bhakti-yoga. Śaraṇāgati is the only path through which everyone can attain mokṣa, according to Śrī-sampradāya.

But in the Gauḍīya-sampradāya, it is said that bhakti-mārga or bhakti-yoga is open to all. I have also never seen Gauḍīyas separate bhakti from śaraṇāgati.

Answer: No, Gauḍīyas do not separate śaraṇāgati and bhakti. For us, śaraṇāgati is part of bhakti. We also do not discriminate on the basis of birth, gender, or social status. Everyone is eligible to execute bhakti. The essential qualification is śraddhā or trust in the meaning of śāstra. Anyone who has śraddhā can take to bhakti.

The reason for distinguishing bhakti from śaraṇāgati in the Śrī-sampradāya is that bhakti is only for those who are part of the varṇāśrama system. For them, it is not recommended to give up their varṇāśrama duties. Those who are not part of varṇāśrama can take to śaraṇāgati. From their point of view, bhakti practiced by Gauḍīyas is not bhakti-yoga but śaraṇāgati.

Diksha Guru Is Also Shiksha Guru

The following are the last questions in the context of Babaji’s podcast interview with Namarasa.


Question: If dīkṣā and śikṣā are never separated, why did Narottama, Śyāmānanda, and Śrīnivāsācārya all take śikṣā from Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī who was not their dīkṣā guru? 

Answer: First of all, I did not say that dīkṣā and śikṣā are never separated. In exceptional cases, there may be separation. I said that one takes dīkśā to take śikṣā. This is a statement of Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī—it is not my opinion. While describing the limbs of sādhana-bhakti, he begins with the following verse (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.74): 

Atha aṅgāni

“Now the limbs of bhakti are described.”

guru-pādāśrayastasmāt krṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam
visrambheṇa guroḥ sevā sadhu-vartmānuvartanam

“Therefore, [one should] 1. Take shelter of the feet of a guru; 2. Study [bhāgavata-dharma or principles of bhakti from the guru] after taking dīkṣā in Kṛṣṇa-mantra [from the guru]; 3. Serve the guru with trust; and 4. Follow the path of the devotees.”

While commenting on the krṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇam part of the verse, both Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī and Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravarti write that one should study from the guru after taking dīkṣādīkṣā-pūrvaka-śikṣaṇam. 

Thus it is very clear from the original verse and the commentaries that one should study from one’s dīkṣā guru. Dīkṣā means the beginning of the education and practice of bhakti. That is why it is translated as “initiation,” which means “a beginning.” The beginning of what? One may reply that it is the beginning of bhakti, which is correct. But every act is preceded by knowledge of it, and bhakti is no exception. Dīkṣā, or initiation, is like accepting admission to a school. Everyone knows that one needs admission to study. Traditionally, in India, the ending ceremony of education is called dīkṣānta (dīkṣā + anta), literally the end of dīkṣā. That shows that the purpose of dīkṣā is education.

However, in exceptional cases, one may not be able to study under one’s dīkṣā guru. This may happen if the guru is not physically present or too old to teach. Then, if the guru is alive, on his order or with his permission, one studies from another teacher. It may also be that the guru is not an expert in a particular subject and sends his disciple to another expert teacher. Such cases are exceptions and not the general tradition. At present, however, this seems to have become the norm, so much so that people do not even know the general principle. And if told the śāstric principle, they have difficulty accepting it. Of course, anyone is free to do whatever suits one, but we should be aware of what our original ācāryas stated. 

Now to your question: “Why did Narottama, Śyāmānanda, and Śrīnivāsācārya all take śikṣā from Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, who was not their dīkṣā guru? I hope you know that those were the formative years of the Gauḍīya school. The core literature of our sampradāya’s philosophy and practice was composed primarily by Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī and Śrī Rupa Gosvāmī under the direct instruction of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, and by Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī under the instruction of the latter. In this sense, our sampradāya is different from other Vaiṣṇava-sampradāyas. The main ācāryas of other Vaiṣṇava-sampradāyas wrote books themselves and then taught them to their disciples. Therefore, they were much more organized when it came to the education of their school. But in our sampradāya, the story is much different. We do not have one central authority. Mahāprabhu neither wrote any books about His teachings nor did He give dīkṣā to anyone. 

Generally, an avatāra does not write books. Those who wrote books, among them Śrī Sanātana, did not give dīkṣā to anyone; Śrī Rūpa gave dīkṣā only to Śrī Jīva, and Śrī Jīva may have given dīkṣā to a few—if at all he gave. The founders of three main branches of the Caitanya tree, i.e., Śrī Nityānanda Prabhu, Śrī Advaitācārya, and Śrī Gadādhara did not write any books about the core principles of our samprādaya. Therefore, the gurus coming from these three branches and other branches needed to study the Gosvāmī literature; then they could continue their lineage based on the literature of the Gosvāmīs. For this reason, Śrī Narottama Mahāśaya, Śrī Śyāmānanda Prabhu, and Śrī Śrīnivāsācārya studied under Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī and then carried this knowledge as well as the Gosvāmī literature to Bengal and Odissa

Question: You have implied that the system of having separate śikṣā and dīkṣā is a mistake, but śāstra says that we have many gurus.

Answer: It would have been nice if you had given an exact śāstric reference to support your claim. Since you have not done so, I am not sure what śāstric reference you have in mind. But I know that your guru would not appreciate it if you told him that you have several other gurus besides him. Give him the śāstric reference that you have in mind. If you do not believe me, try it and see what happens.

Moreover, if I ask you who your guru is, you will probably not give me a list of names. Also, when you do your pūjā, you probably have only one guru on your altar, not a collection of gurus. And I am sure you have only one guru paramparā in your mind, not a few of them starting from different gurus.

In case you have the story of Dattātreya from the Eleventh Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in mind to substantiate your point of having many gurus, that is not applicable in the present context. He gives a list of 24 gurus, which includes insentient objects such as earth, water, fire, air, and space, and lower beings like a pigeon, deer, fish, etc. He learned from them by observation and not through a sermon.

Question: How am I to conceive the point of getting personalized śīkṣā from the guru? Many Prabhupāda disciples didn’t have much personal association with him. Even Prabhupāda didn’t have much personal association with his guru. 

Answer: Prabhupāda personally taught his disciples. Wherever he was present, he gave classes. I do not think he refused to teach anyone. He also wrote numerous books for his disciples to study.

These are the points that I have understood from the writings of the Gosvāmīs and my own experience. If it does not suit others, and they can achieve their goal otherwise, that is fine with me. I was interviewed about my own journey, which I spoke about. If my journey does not match yours or anyone else’s, that is also fine with me. I can speak about my journey without having to reconcile it with others. 


Nāma-aparādha: The Ninth and Tenth Offenses

Offenses of the Instructor and the Instructed

To give a valuable object to an unqualified person is indirectly disrespectful to the valuable object. An unqualified person does not understand the value of the object and thus will not respect it. The holy name of Kṛṣṇa is as respectable as Kṛṣṇa Himself, being nondifferent from Him. Therefore, it should not be given to those persons who do not understand its value. Such people will only be offensive towards the name. This offense is discussed in the following subsection of Bhakti Sandarbha.

Anuccheda 265.9

The ninth offense, to instruct the glories of the name to a person who is devoid of faith, oblivious to Bhagavān, and disinterested in hearing, is applicable to anyone who instructs such faithless people.

Having pointed out the offense of the instructor (upadeṣṭṛ), the text goes on to describe the offense of the person to whom the instruction is given (upadeśya) in the next verse. Because of the person’s singular absorption in the conceptions of “I” and “mine” in regard to the body, he remains devoid of reverence for the name.

Previously [in Anuccheda 153], this verse was quoted from Padma Purāṇa:

It is indeed a fact that just one holy name appearing in the midst of a person’s speech, on the pathway of his recollection, or in the root of the ear, whether it is enunciated correctly or incorrectly, and with or without the intervention of other syllables, certainly delivers that person. But if the same name is cast among atheistic people who are greedy to enjoy the body, wealth, or followers, then, O vipra, it does not quickly manifest its result. (Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.24)

In this verse, the word pāṣaṇḍa, “an atheist,” who is so designated because of his greed to enjoy the body, wealth, and similar pursuits, indicates the ten offenses against the name because of the atheism (pāṣaṇḍamayatva) that is inherent in them.

In addition, the Vaiśākha Māhātmya of Padma Purāṇa mentions another offense that is applicable to such people:

Those people who disrespect the singing of Bhagavān’s names and leave the area are destined for a terrible hell because of this sinful act. (PP 5.96.63)

That the name is the only atonement for all these offenses is also stated in Padma Purāṇa:

The divine names alone can cleanse the sins of those who commit offenses against the name. Only when these names are sung ceaselessly will they bring about the intended result. (PP Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.23)

If, however, one commits an offense toward a devotee, one should continuously sing the names of Bhagavān with the specific intent to appease that devotee, for it is seen in the history of King Ambarīṣa that [Durvāsā’s] offenses could be forgiven only by Ambarīṣa alone [and not even by Bhagavān Himself]. In Nāma-kaumudī also, it is said: “An offense to a great devotee is mitigated either by suffering the result or by the grace of that devotee.” Therefore, because of the absence of any other means, it was appropriately said in the beginning of this anuccheda:

O King, for those seeking fulfillment of material desires [icchatām, i.e., kāminām], for those who are indifferent to worldly existence and seeking liberation [nirvidyamānānām, i.e., mumukṣūṇām], and for those already established in immediate realization of the Truth [yoginām, i.e., jñāninām], this constant chanting of the holy name of Bhagavān Hari has been ascertained [both as the means of attainment (sādhana), in the case of the first two, and as the completion state (sādhya), in the case of the last]. (SB 2.1.11)

Śrī Nārada made a similar statement in Bṛhat Nāradīya Purāṇa:

Even the great sages and the Manus cannot fathom the glory of the name of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. So how can I, of petty intellect, worship Him.

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

One should not impart instructions about the name to a person who has no faith in it, who is not at all devotionally inclined, and who has no interest in hearing about it. To insist on instructing such a person is the ninth offense against the name. If a person is not interested in hearing but is forced to hear, he will only disrespect the name, which is an offense. The instructor will also become implicated in the offense, because he is the cause impelling the disinterested person to become offensive. The conclusion is that if an instructor becomes instrumental in making another person commit an offense, then he is also an offender.

The tenth offense applies to the person who receives instructions about the name. Even after hearing the glories of the name, if one does not take an interest in surrendering to it but remains entangled in materialistic ways, then he demonstrates disrespect toward the name. Such a person can be compared to a patient who is suffering from a terminal disease and, on coming to know of a sure remedy, does not show any interest in it. By the same token, if the patient rejects the person who mercifully offers the cure, will the latter not feel hurt by the rejection of his selfless offer of help?

The main point to understand is that the name is a fully conscious entity, endowed with all noble qualities and inconceivable powers. It is not inert sound. Consequently, one has to be careful while dealing with the name, just as one would adopt a respectable manner of behavior when dealing with a person of honor. One should try to use one’s common sense besides what has been described in these ten offenses. For example, one should not despise or create obstacles for those who are performing kīrtana. On the other hand, a practitioner should not do loud kīrtana if it is disturbing to the neighbors, because this will incite them to commit offenses. As stated above, this too falls into the category of offensive behavior.

If one offends a devotee, one should try to pacify her or him. It is not that one simply takes recourse to chanting the name but does not try to appease the offended devotee. Durvāsā offended Ambarīṣa, a great devotee, by creating a hobgoblin to kill him. Viṣṇu’s disc, however, came to the rescue of Ambarīṣa, and Durvāsā had to flee for his life. He approached various devas, such as Śiva, seeking protection from Viṣṇu’s weapon, but all of them expressed their powerlessness in this regard. Finally, he approached Viṣṇu Himself. Viṣṇu, however, advised Durvāsā to go back to Ambarīṣa and take shelter of him. He informed Durvāsā that there was no one else who could help him. Thus, if one commits an offense to a devotee, one should either pacify that devotee or face the consequences. There is no third solution. If, however, one does not know the cause of one’s offenses, one should continuously chant the name while avoiding further offenses.


Nāma-aparādha (The Ten Offenses)

There is a very interesting and popular śloka related to Āyurveda—pathye sati gadārttasya kim auṣadha-niṣevaṇaiḥ / pathye’ sati gadārttasya kim auṣadha-niṣevaṇaiḥ. It says that if one follows a proper diet, then what is the use for a sick person to take medicine? And if one does not follow a proper diet, then what is the use for a sick person to take medicine? The beauty of this śloka is that both lines read the same although their meanings are different.

The intended meaning of the śloka is that it is more important to avoid an improper diet than to take medicine to cure one’s illness. A similar thing can be said about the chanting the name of Kṛṣṇa, which is the panacea for all material diseases. More important than chanting the name is to avoid offenses to the name, nāma-aparādha. In Anuccheda 265 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī gives an elaborate explanation of the ten offenses. My translation and commentary of the subsections will be presented in the upcoming weeks.

Anuccheda 265.2

The Ten Aparādhas to the Name

In regard to the practice of singing Bhagavān’s names, one should avoid the ten offenses described in Padma Purāṇa, as in the words of Sanat Kumāra:

Even a person who has committed all kinds of offenses is redeemed by taking shelter of Bhagavān Hari. Thus, if a human being commits offenses even to Bhagavān Hari, he is no more than a two-legged animal. If ever such a person takes shelter of the holy name of Śrī Hari, he is certainly delivered from all offenses by the name. Therefore, the holy name is the best friend of all. But if one offends the name, his falldown is inevitable. (PP Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.12–13)

The offenses against the name are as follows:

satāṁ nindā nāmnaḥ paramam aparādhaṁ vitanute
yataḥ khyātiṁ yātaṁ katham u sahate tad-vigarihām

1) To criticize genuine devotees of Bhagavān (the sat) is a grievous offense against the name. How can the name tolerate criticism of those who are responsible for spreading its glories?

śivasya śrī viṣṇor ya iha guṇa-nāmādi sakalaṁ
dhiyā bhinnaṁ paśyet sa khalu harināmāhitakaraḥ

2) One who considers the name, qualities, and other attributes of Śiva as independent (bhinnam) of the name, qualities, and other attributes of Bhagavān Viṣṇu, displeases the name.

guror avajñā śruti-śāstra-nindanaṁ tathārtha-vādo harināmni kalpanam 

3-6 ) To disrespect one’s spiritual teacher; to criticize the Vedic scriptures; to consider the scriptural praises of the name as mere commendations (arthavāda); and to ascribe one’s own imaginary meaning to the name are all offenses.

nāmno balād yasya hi pāpa-buddhir na vidyate tasya yamair hi śuddhiḥ 

7) For one who intentionally commits sins on the strength of the name, the means of purification through rules simply does not exist.

dharmavrata-tyāga-hutādi sarva-śubha-kriyā-sāmyam api pramādaḥ 

8) It is an offense to equate the holy name with all the other pious works (śubha-kriyā) recommended in scripture, such as prescribed duties, vows, renunciation, and sacrifices.

aśraddadhāne vimukhe’py aśṛṇvati yaś copadeśaḥ śiva-nāmāparādhaḥ 

9) It is an offense to the auspicious (śiva) holy name to instruct a person who is devoid of faith, oblivious to Bhagavān, and disinterested in hearing.

śrutvāpi nāma-māhātmyaṁ yaḥ prītir ahito’dhamaḥ
ahaṁ-mamādi paramo nāmni so’py aparādha-kṛt

10) A person of low character who, in spite of hearing the glories of the name, remains devoid of affection for the name, being immersed instead in the conceptions of “I” and “my” in regard to the body, is also an offender against the name. (PP Brahma-khaṇḍa 25.15–18)

Regarding the statement, “Even a person who has committed all kinds of offenses is redeemed by taking shelter of Bhagavān Hari,” which precedes the list of the ten offenses, one should also consider the following from the Viṣṇu-yāmala:

I forgive even millions of offenses of a person in this world who chants My names with faith. There is no doubt about this.

Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

After explaining the importance of nāma-kīrtana, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī underlines that chanting should be performed without committing the ten offenses stated in Padma Purāṇa. For a serious practitioner, it is critically important to carefully understand and avoid the offenses, because they impede the power of the name, just as a cloud can obstruct the vision of the sun.

It was said in SB 6.2.10 (Anuccheda 262) that uttering the name attracts Bhagavān’s attention toward the utterer. Śrīdhara Svāmī comments in this regard: “The words idam eva suniṣkṛtam mean ‘this alone [i.e., the utterance of the name] is the best form of atonement’ (śreṣṭhaṁ prāyaścitam). The reason for this is that when a person utters Viṣṇu’s name, Viṣṇu’s attention (mati) is drawn toward him (tad-viṣayā), the utterer of the name (nāmoccāraka-puruṣa), and Viṣṇu thinks, ‘This person is My very own (madīya), and as such, he is to be protected by Me in every way.’”

If, however, one commits an offense to the name, it is particularly displeasing to Bhagavān. Even if Bhagavān Himself is the object of an offense, He at once forgives the offender if the latter chants His name, but if the offense is to the name, there is no remedy or atonement for such a transgression. A powerful medicine can offer tremendous relief from a patient’s ailment, if consumed as prescribed. The same medicine, however, can prove to be extremely perilous if taken in an unprescribed manner. Instead of alleviating the disease, it could even kill the patient. Similarly, the name can award the highest benefit of prema to the chanter, but if offended, it can also intensify the person’s objectionable attitude. Therefore, just as it is important to understand the greatness of the name, it is even more important to understand the offenses to be avoided. In Āyurveda, for a medicine to be effective, the patient has to follow the prescription and also avoid the forbidden food. Similarly, for Holy name to be effective one has to chant it and also avoid the offenses listed in this anuccheda.


Editor’s Note: This excerpt is from our new edition of Bhakti Sandarbha in two volumnes, which is currently in print.