Release of Sri Bhakti Sandarbha

Grace of a Devotee As Primary Cause of Bhakti

We have heard the famous payār from Caitanya Caritāmṛta—guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāye bhakti-latā-bīja—“one gets the seed of bhakti creeper by the grace of guru and Kṛṣṇa.” In Anuccheda 179 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains that the only way a conditioned being becomes devotionally inclined is by the association of a devotee. In Anuccheda 180, he gives the reasoning for it and goes on to say that it is the grace of a devotee which is the prime cause of acquiring bhakti. He gives the reasoning why Bhagavānn is not the primary cause, although He would seem so. Below we present the translation of this anuccheda and commentary.

Translation of Anuccheda 180

It has thus been established that sat-saṅga alone is the determinant cause in this regard [in the matter of inducing sāmmukhyatā in the form of bhakti], and this is certainly proper, because for those whose regard is diverted away from Bhagavān (tad-vaimukhyavatām), rooted in the beginningless absence of awareness of Him, this [sāmmukhyatā in the form of bhakti] is otherwise impossible. 

Accordingly, it is said in the Mahābhārata:

tarko’pratiṣṭhaḥ śrutayo vibhinnā
nāsāv ṛṣir yasya mataṁ na bhinnam
dharmasya tattvaṁ nihitaṁ guhāyāṁ
mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ

“Logic has no ultimate foundation; the scriptures (Śrutis) propound divergent viewpoints; and one cannot be known as a seer (ṛṣi) unless his philosophy is distinct from that of others. The essence of dharma is hidden in the innermost recesses of the hearts [of realized beings]; one should therefore follow the path traversed by an enlightened being (mahājana).” (Vana Parva 313.117)

The following two statements of Śrī Prahlāda confirm the same conclusion [that sāmmukhyatā in the form of bhakti is not possible by any means other than sat-saṅga]:

matir na kṛṣṇe parataḥ svato vā
mitho’bhipadyeta gṛha-vratānām
adānta-gobhir viśatāṁ tamisraṁ
punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām

“For those who are intent solely upon householder life, who, due to their unrestrained senses, are immersed in the hell [of saṁsāra], and who repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed, a devotional regard (mati) is never aroused toward Śrī Kṛṣṇa, either by the instructions of others [who are similarly attached], by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.” (SB 7.5.30

And further:

naiṣāṁ matis tāvad urukramāṅghriṁ
spṛśaty anarthāpagamo yad-arthaḥ
mahīyasāṁ pāda-rajo-’bhiṣekaṁ
niṣkiñcanānāṁ na vṛṇīta yāvat

“As long as these people [of materialistic regard] do not bathe in the dust of the feet of exalted devotees, who have abandoned all sense of possessiveness, their minds cannot touch the feet of Bhagavān Urukrama [Śrī Kṛṣṇa]—the object of contacting which is the cessation of vitiated existence.” (SB 7.5.32)

To attain sāmmukhya toward Bhagavān by carrying out prescribed duties (karma) that are indifferent to Him (tad-vimukha) is altogether impossible, as stated in the Śruti: anyatra dharmād anyatrādharmād anyatrāsmāt kṛtākṛtāt anyatra bhūtāc ca bhavyāc ca

The Absolute is beyond [i.e., unattainable by] dharma and adharma, beyond this [visible world of] cause and effect, and beyond past and future. (Kaṭhopaniṣad 1.2.14)

The Śruti does, however, speak of prescribed action employed specifically as a form of sāmmukhya toward Bhagavān: tam etam ātmānaṁ vedānuvacanena brāhmaṇā vividiṣanti yajñena dānena tapasā ‘nāśakena

The brāhmaṇas seek to realize the Absolute by study and recitation of the Vedas, and by sacrifice, charity, penance, and fasting. (Bṛhad Āraṇyakopaniṣad 4.4.22)

So then how does sāmmukhya toward Bhagavān come about? The cause of this is to be inquired into once again. 

In this regard, it may be conjectured that the mercy (kṛpā) of Bhagavān by itself is the primary cause of this turning of regard toward Him (tat-sāmmukhya), when in fact His mercy is secondary.  Bhagavān’s grace does not independently favor those whose regard is turned away from Him (tad-vimukheṣu), even though they are tormented by endless, insurmountable, worldly miseries, because its doing so would entail the following impossibility.

Mercy (kṛpā) is a transformation of the heart (ceto-vikāra) that occurs only when another person’s suffering touches one’s own heart. Bhagavān, however, has been established in Śruti as distinct from the living being (jīva) in that He is the direct embodiment of the transcendental bliss of “One Taste” (paramānandaika-rasatvena) and altogether untouched by any impurity (apahata-kalmaṣatvena). Therefore, because it is impossible for the jīva’s suffering, arising out of ignorance, to touch Bhagavān’s heart, any more than darkness can obscure light, there is no possibility of mercy being aroused in His heart. Thus, although Bhagavān is ever-present [as the Immanent Self, Paramātmā], and although action, inaction, and contradictory action are all well within His power, there is no cessation of worldly anguish for those whose regard is turned away from Him (tad-vimukhānām).

Thus, the only remaining alternative is the grace of authentic devotees (the sat). Although devotees while residing in this world are untouched by temporal miseries, they may sometimes recall their own previous suffering in the same way as a person recalls a nightmare upon waking. Devotees are thus able to bestow their grace on wordly people, just as Śrī Nārada blessed Nalakūvara and Maṇigrīva. 

Therefore, in this scenario as well, material misery itself is not the cause of obtaining Bhagavān’s mercy. Rather, the mercy of Parameśvara manifests only in relation to bhakti characterized by humility, such as when a person declares, “Bhagavān is my only shelter.” An example of this is seen in the case of Gajendra [who expressed such a sentiment in the midst of material calamity and received Bhagavān’s mercy]. The counterexample is the denizens of hell [who neither pray for Bhagavān’s mercy nor receive it].

Bhakti is a special potency (śakti-viśeṣa) of Bhagavān, which upon entering the hearts of His devotees acquires the condition of being able to melt Bhagavān’s heart. This has been explained earlier and will be explained in detail later on [in Prīti Sandarbha]. By coming in contact with the [supplicant’s] attitude of humility, this special potency of bhakti surges all the more and becomes greatly enhanced in the devotee. Thus, it is established that Bhagavān’s mercy, which is present in His devotees, is transmitted to another living being either through the medium of sat-saṅga or by the blessings of an authentic devotee (sat-kṛpā), but not independently.

The devas conveyed this idea in a prayer to Bhagavān, while He was present within the womb of Devakī devī:

svayaṁ samuttīrya sudustaraṁ dyuman
bhavārṇavaṁ bhīmam adabhra-sauhṛdāḥ
bhavat-padāmbhoruha-nāvam atra te
nidhāya yātāḥ sad-anugraho bhavān

“O effulgent One (dyuman), You are sad-anugrahaḥ, “He whose grace manifests through the saints.” Having personally crossed the fearful ocean of material existence, which is most difficult to traverse, these great souls, who abound with compassion for all living beings, have reached the other shore, while leaving behind in this world the boat of Your lotus feet.” (SB 10.2.31)

The word dyuman, “O effulgent One,” is an invocation meaning, “O self-revealing One” (sva-prakāśa!). Bhagavān’s lotus feet (bhavat-padāmbhoruha) are characterized as a boat that is the means to cross the ocean of material existence. Although the great souls have traversed this ocean by using the boat of Bhagavān’s lotus feet, they have simultaneously left it here on this side, meaning that they have revealed the method to cross for future aspirants.

In reply to the devas’ statement, Bhagavān may well ask: “Why must they [the saints] do so? Why don’t I just reveal the means Myself? Indeed, why am I dependent on them?” This question is answered in the verse by the compound sad-anugrahaḥ, which qualifies Bhagavān. Sad-anugrahaḥ means that “Bhagavān is He who blesses others (anugṛhṇāti) only through the gateway of His authentic devotees (the sat).” Alternatively, it means that “Bhagavān is He whose grace is the devotees themselves.” In either case, the import is that the grace of Bhagavān that is available in the world is present only in the form of authentic devotees and not in any other form.

As is said in the Rudra-gīta:

athānaghāṅghres tava kīrti-tīrthayor
bhūteṣv anukrośa-susattva-śīlināṁ
syāt saṅgamo’nugraha eṣa nas tava

“Therefore, O Bhagavān, whose feet remove all sins, may You grant us the association of those whose sins have been cleansed by bathing internally in Your glory and externally in Your holy places [like the Gaṅgā], who are compassionate toward all living entities, established in unalloyed being (su-sattva), and endowed with virtues, such as simplicity. This indeed would be Your grace upon us.” (SB 4.24.58)

Alternatively, even if the compound sad-anugrahaḥ [in SB 10.2.31] is interpreted as, “He whose grace (anugraha) is directed toward the devotees (the sat),” the implication is that Bhagavān’s grace is not obtained by those whose regard is turned away from Him (tad-vimukheṣu) and who are thus involved with inauthentic being (asatsu). It is therefore fitting that Bhagavān’s grace be manifested only through the medium of the sat. This indeed is the conclusion.

Such being the case, even in the following statement from Mokṣadharma, the mention of a person being liberated immediately after taking birth by the mercy of Bhagavān’s glance should be understood as referring specifically to one who already received sat-saṅga in a previous life:

jāyamānaṁ hi puruṣaṁ paśyed yaṁ madhusūdanaḥ
sāttvikaḥ sat tu vijñeyo bhaven mokṣārtha niścitaḥ

“If Bhagavān Madhusūdana glances upon a person the moment he takes birth, that person should be understood as established in authentic being (sāttvikaḥ) and one whose liberation is assured.” (Mahābhārata 12.348.73)


In this anuccheda, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī establishes the reason why bhakti is transmitted to the living beings only by the grace of an authentic devotee (the sat). The conditioned beings are subject to the beginningless prior absence of awareness (anādi-jñāna-prāg-abhāva) of their own true identity and of Bhagavān. The technical term prāg-abhāva, or “prior absence,” implies that although this absence of awareness is without beginning, it may still come to an end someday. Śrī Jīva explains how this is made possible—there is no means other than the grace of an authentic devotee, because no one else is established in the immediate awareness of Bhagavān. 

The verse from Mahābhārata (Vana Parva 313.117) is spoken by King Yudhiṣṭhira, a great devotee of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. He was asked one hundred questions by Dharma, who was disguised as a Yakṣa. Among the questions was the following inquiry: “What is the means by which Reality may be known?” In response, the king spoke the well-known verse cited here.

Yudhiṣṭhira declares that Reality cannot be grasped by logic and arguments. Logic is a product of the mind and thus material. It cannot approach the transempirical. Moreover, any conclusion arrived at by mere logic is not certain. It can be refuted at any time by another logician who is more adept (BRS 1.1.46).

Additionally, even great philosophers and contemplatives necessarily have differing opinions, if they do not adhere to the conclusions of the Vedas. They study the world and nature from their own angle of vision and come to different realizations. In formulating their ideas, they also have recourse to mental or logical inferences, even if they are able to access directly the state of samādhi. Thus, Yudhiṣṭhira’s conclusion is that Reality can be known only by following the mahājanas, or the greatly realized devotees. Without the grace of a devotee, no one can know Reality in truth, even if they study the scriptures. This is the definite opinion of Prahlāda, who speaks from experience (in SB 7.5.30, 32).

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī makes the point that even Bhagavān Himself is not the direct cause in regard to the turning of awareness toward Him. This is to say that He blesses a person through His devotee and not directly. Being completely transcendental to phenomenality, He has no contact with material misery and thus cannot empathize with  the suffering of worldly beings. This is the reason why people continue to suffer in spite of the fact that Bhagavān is fully capable of removing their suffering.

Here a doubt may be raised. Does it mean that Bhagavān who is called omniscient, sarvajña is ignorant about the suffering of the connditioned beinngs? The reply is that He is not ignnorant but the suffering does not touch His heart. He does speak about the suffering of living beings in the material world. Numerous times Kṛṣṇa refers to  suffering of conditioined beings while instructing Arjuna in Gītā, as well as to Uddhava in eleventh canto of Bhāgavata. In modern psychology, they divide empathy into two groups called Cognitive Empathy and Affective Empathy. A person who has cognitive empathy knows about the suffering of others and may act to help them but such a person does not feel their suffering. However, one who has affective empathy feels the suffering. Thus, it can be said that Kṛṣṇa has cognition of living beings’ suffering but does not feel it. Therefore, He does not grant bhakti to them although he does instruct about bhakti. 

Conventional logic dictates that the unabated experience of worldly suffering could be possible only if there were no God, or if God were incapable of removing suffering, or if, even though capable, God were not compassionate. None of these options are true. The fact is that God does not directly feel the pain of a suffering living being. If this were not so, there would be no meaning to His being transcendental. Therefore, Bhagavān makes the following declaration in the Gītā:

samo’haṁ sarva-bhūteṣu na me dveṣyo’sti na priyaḥ
ye bhajanti tu māṁ bhaktyā mayi te teṣu cāpy aham

“I am equal to all beings. There is no one detestable or dear to Me, but those who worship Me with devotion are in Me and I am also in them.” (Gītā 9.29)

Bhagavān transmits His own svarūpa-śakti in the form of bhakti to His devotees. By His constitutional nature, Bhagavān is directly and personally involved only with His svarūpa-śakti. Thus, He reciprocates directly only with His devotees, in whom svarūpa-śakti is present. In regard to those whose awareness is diverted away from Him, He remains neutral. This means that His manner of dealing with them is indirect, via the impersonal laws of cosmic administration.

The laws of nature including the law of karma have been instituted by Bhagavān for living beings in general, meaning for all those who are not devotionally turned toward Him. This system also entails the appointment of various divinities to implement and preserve universal law. Bhagavān Himself does not personally interfere with these laws or the lives of the non-devotees. This is the reason why people often speak of God as an energy. Because of the impersonal character of natural law, it is very hard for people in general to believe that God is actually a person.

Devotees are the link between Bhagavān and the conditioned living beings, because they have had experience of the material world before attaining bhakti. Although devotees are disidentified with material suffering, they can remember past experiences and can thus empathize with the misery of the conditioned beings. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī gives the example of an unpleasant dream. After waking up, one is no longer tormented by the dream images and threatening situations but can still remember how it felt. Thus, devotees can transmit the grace that ultimately stems from Bhagavān, because  they do not act independently, being fully attuned to His will. When it is said that devotees have independent will, it means that they are not ruled by the material laws but only by bhakti, which is the intrinsic potency of Bhagavān.

The conclusion, therefore, is that the grace of Bhagavān in the form of bhakti is transmitted either through the association or the grace of a devotee. If a person is free of offences, then his or her regard can be turned toward Bhagavān, merely by the association with a devotee. If, however, offences are present, a conditioned being needs to be specifically graced by a devotee to become devotionally inclined. Bhakti is not bestowed upon a conditioned living being directly by Bhagavān just because the person is suffering materially. The grace of Bhagavān comes directly only when one surrenders to Him in humility, which is a form of bhakti. Mere suffering is not the cause of obtaining Bhagavān’s grace, otherwise He would have delivered all the residents of hell.

A doubt is raised in this regard. In the 348th chapter of Śānti-parva of Mahābhārata, sage Vaiśampāyana elaborated the greatness of bhakti and how it was propagated in the past. He emphasized that the ekāntibhaktas are extremely rare. Hearing this, King Janamejaya inquired as to the reason. In the course of his reply, the sage spoke the verse cited at the end of this anuccheda. From this verse, it might appear that Bhagavān also bestows His grace directly, since a person who is liberated at birth by the mere glance of Bhagavān would not have had any opportunity to associate with devotees. Śrī Jīva replies that this statement is applicable only to one who has already attained the association of a devotee in the previous life. Only such a person can become the recipient of Bhagavān’s grace.

14 thoughts on “Grace of a Devotee As Primary Cause of Bhakti”

  1. Maharaji, it is a very complete and clear explanation about a very interesting point, I have some questions around this issue and I find very useful your explanation on the anucchedas written by Shri Jiva Goswami…I would like to understand why the jiva (as marginal potency) is located in the conditioned position without doing a personal choice on it, so, considering that you have studied for several years the gaudiya view, I would like to know your answer about such question

  2. Babaji Maharaja asked me to reply to this since he is busy.
    The question “why” can only be asked in reference to things or events that have a cause, and thus a beginning. The conditioning of the jīva is anādi, without any beginning, which means there is nothing prior to it. Therefore it is causeless. So there is no personal choice involved here, neither of Kṛṣṇa nor of the jīva. At the same time, this conditioning is not independent of Him, but under His jurisdiction. And even though the ignorance of the jīva has no cause and beginning, it can have an end if that jīva attains the grace of a devotee and comes to the path of bhakti.

    1. Pranam. But Srila Baladev Vidyabhusan Prabhu described the spiritual cause in his Govinda bhasya 2.3.26 (prithag-upadeshat) as Bhagavad vimukhata on the part of jiva. And Srila Vrindavan Das Thakur wrote in Chaitanya Bhagavad Antya lila ch. 3, verse 132 (bandi koriyacho more asesa bandhane) that Sarvabhaum Bhattacarya said to Mahaprabhu that He bound him in unlimited bondage, i.e. giving him the result of his Bhagavad-vimukhata. Do you not accept this?

    2. I am not clear how your comment is related to the article. I do not see the relevance. Please clarify.

    3. It is related to the comment by Malatimanjari (that is why reply to that comment particularly). To this part of her comment: “The conditioning of the jīva is anādi, without any beginning, which means there is nothing prior to it. Therefore it is causeless. So there is no personal choice involved here, neither of Kṛṣṇa nor of the jīva.”.

      Baladev Vidyabhusan in comment to that sutra says that the spiritual cause of bondage of jiva is her Bhagavad vimukhata, i.e. jiva’s choice to be averse to Bhagavan. And the CB verse says that Sarvabhaum Bhattacarya understood that he was put into bondage by Mahaprabhu (as a result of his Bhagavad vimukhata). So here we see that personal choice of jiva and that of Bhagavan is involved in the bondage of jiva. So I was asking whether you (as she was replying on your behalf) don’t accept this description of personal choices by Baladev Vidyabhusan and Vrindavan Das Thakur?

    4. “Baladev Vidyabhusan in comment to that sutra says that the spiritual cause of bondage of jiva is her Bhagavad vimukhata, i.e. jiva’s choice to be averse to Bhagavan.”

      A: Baladeva does not say that jiva chose to be bhagavad-vimukha. The word bhagavad-vimukhta simply menas “averseness to Bhagavan”. Someone has wrongly translated it as “jiva’s choice to be averse to Bhagavan.” Bhagavad-vimukhata is anadi. So there is no contradiction.

      “And the CB verse says that Sarvabhaum Bhattacarya understood that he was put into bondage by Mahaprabhu (as a result of his Bhagavad vimukhata). So here we see that personal choice of jiva and that of Bhagavan is involved in the bondage of jiva. So I was asking whether you (as she was replying on your behalf) don’t accept this description of personal choices by Baladev Vidyabhusan and Vrindavan Das Thakur?”

      A: I think again the misunderstanding is due to wrong translation. Sarvabhauma does no say that jiva chose to be bhagavad-vimukha. Bhagavad vimukhata is anadi and thus bondage by maya is anadi. Maya belongs to Mahaprabhu, so Sarvabhauma is attributing the cause to Mahaprabhu. But this cause has no beginning.
      It is just a different way of saying the same thing. Krsna is the cause of all causes behind all actions. But in the Gita, Krsna Himself defines various causes depending on what he wants to stress. Sometimes He says there are five causes, sometimes prakriti and purusa, sometimes only prakriti, sometimes svabhava and so on. We need to understand the meaning of sastra by understanding the intention of the speaker, otherwise we will impose our misconceptions. How to understand the intention? There are basic rules for that and it is a subject in itself called mimamsa.

  3. Dear Maharaj,

    Hare Krsna. My humble obeisances to you. It is a beautiful article. I have a question and please answer me when you find time.

    When we say Dharma, artha, kama and Moksha and if we define moksha as liberation, does this liberation mean freedom from material conditioning or entry into Vaikunta planets?

    Please clear my (mis)understanding because I was thinking to get Bhava and Prema bhakti, that will take many lifetimes and devotees state Bharata maharaja took several life cycles to go from Bhava to Prema. It is also difficult to estimate how much time it would have taken to come to the stage of Bhava although Bharata was a powerful personality belonging to great family lineage. On the contrary, Guru Narada instructed Mrgari and He attained Prema very quickly (3 months?). But if our objective is not Prema and want to enter into Vaikunta planets (on understanding difficulties of boring material world), the chanting of Hare Krsna with due respects to ALL Vaishnavas (let us take a strong determination not to comment on any vaishnava) would do? There are statements such as honour Acharyas and be sincere to chanting process – you would go back to Godhead? So, if it is assumed that this going back to Godhead means- Vaikunta planets for which Prema is not required ( because it is so difficult to realize Prema) then are there any simple procedures that Gosvamis addressed?


    1. When the word moksa is used along with dharma, artha, and kama, it usually means brahma-sayujya or merging into Brahma-jyoti.
      But moksa can also mean entry into the Vaikuntha planets. That can be attained by simply chanting the maha-mantra without offense. It can happen in one lifetime.

  4. Hare Krsna. Thank You Maharaj for taking your time to reply. My Dandavat Pranams.

  5. Yes, it is not explicitly written, but it is self-understood, as who else than jiva (eternally endowed with her own specific qualities (Govinda bhasya 2.3.26) of which relative freedom to choose how to act is one, Govinda bhasya 2.3.31-40) can decide to be averse to Bhagavan or not? That this averseness is anadi does not exclude that jiva decided it. For example, Mahavishnu is eternal, anadi, but still it is written that Krishna is his cause (sarva karana karanam). It refers to spiritual cause in which there is no material time gapping to the effect as it is in material cause and effect. In spiritual time, or beyond/above material time, all events are eternal. So, that jiva’s bondage is anadi (nothing prior to it) denies the material cause to it, but it doesn’t deny it’s spiritual cause. Spiritual cause is Bhagavad vimukhata on the part of jiva (personal choice). And Bhagavan gives the result, covering of maya, bondage. Both jivas and Bhagavan are eternal persons with their personal free will (Bhagavan absolute will, jivas have relative free will as explained in Govinda bhasya 2.3.31-40). And for example, when baddha jiva attains vastu siddhi, it also “enters” and “starts” (it is eternal event) his seva in Goloka Krishna lila which is eternal (for example Gopakumar in BB). So similarly, eternal jiva also “enters” into anadi bondage due to her anadi Bhagavad vimukhata. From the eternal event of Mahavishnu’s manifesting of tatastha sakti jivas into eternal event of Mahavishnu’s sristi lila (sristi, sthiti, pralay).

    1. Thank you for your explanation of the word anadi.
      You are not obliged to accept what is written by Malati on my behalf.
      Therefore, there is no need for me to comment.

  6. p.s. I think I made a mistake in usage of english words. For no “material time gapping” I meant no material time interval (between cause and effect).

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