Everything Related to Bhakti is Nirguṇa

[The following is the last part of a transcription of a class on Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 134]


As Śukadeva Goswami explains in SB 8.9.29:

yad yujyate ’su-vasu-karma-mano-vacobhir
dehātmajādiṣu nṛbhis tad asat pṛthaktvāt
tair eva sad bhavati yat kriyate ’pṛthaktvāt
sarvasya tad bhavati mūla-niṣecanaṁ yat

“Whatever is done by human beings for their body, children, and other related purposes, through the medium of their life force, wealth, actions, mind, and speech, is all without value, because it is enacted from the viewpoint of duality or separateness [from Bhagavān]. But whatever is executed through these very same instruments becomes endowed with essential value due to being enacted from the viewpoint of non-separateness [from Bhagavān], just as watering the root of a tree is beneficial for all of its limbs.”

Pṛthak-buddhi is also called vaimukhya, or having one’s face turned away from Bhagavān. This is what people are doing in the material world. Otherwise, one will see that Bhagavān is everything, as explained in śāstra: vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ; sarvam-khalvidam brahma. These ślokas describe when our face is turned towards Him, not otherwise. It is not that you can enjoy how you like and then say that this is nirguṇa.

Bhakti is the religion of the heart. If you are externally doing the activities of bhakti, but your heart is somewhere else, Bhagavān knows, because He is sitting inside the heart. Therefore, He knows where your heart is. What He wants is your heart, not anything else. If you give everything else, but don’t give your heart, He is laughing, thinking that this guy is trying to trick me. But He cannot be tricked. You may be smart, but He is smarter. Your smartness cannot work in front of His smartness, because after all, your smartness is borrowed—it is not even yours. Therefore, it’s a big mistake to show our smartness to Him.

This is why bhakti is the path of non-deception, dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavo, as the Bhāgavata says. People are practicing deception and cheating, but it doesn’t work here. You can cheat the whole world, but you cannot cheat the one who is inside your heart, because He knows what you intend to do even before you know it. Whatever plan you make, even before you make it, He knows what you are planning, because you cannot make plans without His anumantā (GĪTĀ 13.22), His permission.  If He is permitting you, it means He already knows. How will He permit you without knowing what you are going to do? So He is draṣṭā, He is anumantā, and He is bhoktā. If you remember this, then your mind will change a little bit. That’s why He says mām anusmara yudhya ca. If you can have this smṛti, this remembrance, then your problem is solved. That’s why bhakti is easy.

Śukadeva says, “Whatever is executed through these very same instruments becomes endowed with essential value due to being enacted from the viewpoint of non-separateness”. This is the meaning of śaraṇāgati, the meaning of dīkṣā, and the meaning of prapatti. It is done from the heart. It is nothing external, and a person must do this himself—no one can force him to do it.

Why does non-separateness cause essential value? Kṛṣṇa gives an example of connectedness with the analogy of the tree and its root: Watering the root of a tree is beneficial for all of its limbs. And further, “I am the source of everything and everything functions because of Me. Knowing thus, the wise, endowed with devotion, worship Me,” ahaṁ sarvasya prabhavo mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate iti matvā bhajante māṁ budhā bhāva-samanvitāḥ (GĪTĀ 10.8). The compound word bhāva-samanvitā, endowed with bhāva, or full of bhāva is indicative of non-separateness. This bhāva means that I am not independent, I am not separate. This is also the real meaning of the famous great statement (maha-vākya) tat-tvam-asi, not that there is only Brahman as is commonly understood. This is what it truly means, otherwise, everything becomes useless. The idea that there is just one Brahman, and everything else is mithyā, is very inauspicious.

The viewpoint of separateness must also be understood. Right now, we have our shelter in the dollar. This is pṛthak-bhāva, to have the idea that “the dollar will save me”. This causes us to act independently because we think “I have money (or wealth) why do I care”. This is the perspective of the wealthy, “Why are you talking about all this, I’m fine, I worked hard, I made money”. This is material consciousness. But the dollar can (and ultimately will) be taken away from you, or its value can go down. This attitude is called pṛthaktvat. Primarily, that’s what duality, or separateness, is—we don’t only need to think in terms of duality amongst devatās, “here is Śiva, here is Gaṇeśa.” There are not too many options. Really speaking, there are only two possibilities—either you surrender to dollar, or you surrender to Kṛṣṇa.  Essentially this is the only choice you have—dollar or Dāmodara.

Just as one accepts the dollar as his absolute shelter, in the same way, one should accept Kṛṣṇa as one’s absolute shelter. The only difficulty is that dollar is pratyakṣa-pramāṇa, whereas Kṛṣṇa is śabda-pramāṇa. This is a problem because people have more faith in pratyakṣa-pramāṇa than in śabdapramāṇa. But if you can somehow, by sādhu-saṇga, get śraddhā in śabda-pramāṇa, then it is possible to switch from the dollar to Dāmodara.

Considering the above points, it is indeed appropriate to conclude that the knowledge and action that constitute bhakti for Bhagavān Hari are nirguṇa, and, in particular, that bhakti does not manifest in connection with the guṇas.


This, however, is not the case for brahma-jñāna, which does manifest in relation to the guṇas.

kaivalyaṁ sāttvikaṁ jñānaṁ rajo vaikalpikaṁ ca yat” (SB 11.25.24).

The sāttvika nature of brahma-jñāna can be explained using the following example. Draw a straight line and put a point somewhere in the center, marking it as zero. Everything on the left side is negative, and everything on the right side is positive. The center, zero, is where it is neither negative nor positive. The left side represents all material things. The ātma is on the left, identifying with the material body and the material qualities. On the right side are all spiritual entities—the devotees and Bhagavān, who have spiritual bodies and spiritual qualities.

Thus, material qualities are considered negative, and spiritual qualities are positive, but in between is zero, where there are neither material nor spiritual qualities. If you consider ātma, it has neither a material nor a spiritual body, and Brahman is also like that. It does not have any manifest qualities. Zero is the point up to which sattva goes, the point at which you have disassociated yourself from all material things, meaning rajas and tamas, practically speaking, because all material varieties are rajas. Vikalpa means variety, and when there is no variety, that is sattva, “The knowledge by which one sees one imperishable and undivided reality, sarva-bhutesu yenaikam bhavam avyayam iksate” (GĪTĀ18.20).

To have one bhāva in everything is the meaning of sat in sat-cit-ānanda. Brahman is the sat part, Brahman only has existence and therefore, it doesn’t manifest the other qualities. If you apply tva-pratyaya on sat, it becomes sattva, so therefore brahma-jñāna is sāttvika.

All the objects around us, which are divided, have one thing in common, and that is that they exist. In English, if we say, “This is a table”, “This is a book”, “This is a computer,” “This is a camera,” etc., the “is” is always present. “Is” refers to the existence part. “Is” is the one thing which passes like a thread through all the objects you see. That “is” is called “sat” in Sanskrit. Sattā or sattva literally means “is-ness” or “being-ness”.

The existence of all these objects cannot be destroyed. Their name and form can be changed, but existence cannot be changed. This is the avyaya-bhāva referred to in GĪTĀ 18.20. Bhāva means existence, and avyaya means imperishable, therefore, that by which you see one imperishable reality in everything is sāttvika-jñāna. It also means the existence of the pure self, ātmā, in all different forms of life. That vision has neither material viśeṣaṇas, or qualifiers, nor spiritual ones. When you have material qualifiers, it becomes sadhana, and when you have spiritual qualifiers, it becomes devotional and thus nirguṇa. This is sāttvika and explains why brahma-jñāna manifests in relation to the guṇas.


Having explained that both bhāva-bhakti and sādhana-bhakti are nirguṇa, one may object that in the Bhāgavata (SB 3.29.8-12), four types of bhakti have been defined: tāmasika bhakti, rājasika bhakti, sāttvika bhakti, and nirguṇabhakti.

Jīva Gosvāmī explains that these states refer to the qualitative conditions of the heart, or the interior psychic instrument (antaḥkaraṇa), of the different performers, which are then figuratively attributed to bhakti.

In other words, when it is said that this is tāmasika bhakti, it is not that bhakti is tāmasika. Rather, it is the person who is tāmasika—his antaḥ-karaṇa, his intention, is tāmasika. Because “abhisandhāya yo hiṁsāṁ dambhaṁ mātsaryam eva vā saṁrambhī bhinna-dṛg bhāvaṁ mayi kuryāt sa tāmasaḥ” (SB 3.29.8). Tāmasika bhakti is when a person performs bhakti with the intention to commit violence, or out of pride, to make a show, or with jealousy, envy, or anger, and with the viewpoint of separateness, bhinna-bhāva. So, it is the person who makes bhakti tāmasika, not that bhaktibecomes tāmasika.

Those who are nirguṇabhaktas are also described: “mad-guṇa-śruti-mātreṇa mayi sarva-guhāśaye mano-gatir avicchinnā yathā gaṅgāmbhaso ’mbudhau” (SB 3.29.11). This is the nirguṇa-bhakti-yoga-lakṣaṇam. Their mind is immediately with Kṛṣṇa, just by hearing His qualities. Their minds are continuously flowing toward Kṛṣṇa like the water of the Gaṅgā toward the ocean. That is nirguṇa—there are no material desires obstructing the natural flow of bhakti. In tāmasika, rājasika, and sāttvika bhakti, there is a pṛthak-bhāva, or bhinna-bhāva, but nirguṇabhakti isapṛtthak-bhāva, or abhinna-bhāva: There is non-separateness of heart.

One thought on “Everything Related to Bhakti is Nirguṇa”

  1. A very charming take on the concept of nirgana… far surpassing saguna… Danyabat Maharaja.. All glories for sharing your acute and learned insights!

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