Observing Proper Rules of Deity-worship

Question: I have questions regarding offenses to uninstalled Deities. Recently I informed a devotee that keeping dogs in the home is an offense to the Deity, because the dog contaminates the entire house. It is impossible to maintain basic sadācāra with a cat or dog inside the home. Then another devotee said that most devotees have not installed their Deities at home so they cannot commit sevā-aparādhas. Is it true that if a Deity is not installed, then we cannot commit sevā-aparādhas? 

Hari-bhakti-vilāsa describes how to install a Deity. It is a very elaborate and complicated process; hardly someone does this. In the West, it’s hardly possible to do so because certain ingredients for the installation are only available in India.

Some gurus say that receiving mantra-dīkṣā is an automatic installation of the home Deity. If you are initiated, then your Deities are installed as well at the same time.

Can you comment on these topics?

Answer: A dog and the Deity do not go together. The dog has to be kept out of the Deity area. If there is a dog in the house, the Deity must have its own place, where the dog is not allowed to go. The dog should also be not allowed in the kitchen where the Deity’s bhoga is prepared.

If a Deity is being worshiped, whether installed or not, it is offensive not to observe the rules of worship.

The installation of a Deity can be elaborate, as described in Hari-bhakti-Vilāsa, or it can be abridged as per one’s means and the availability of ingredients. Both are fine. Receiving dīkṣā-mantra does not install the Deity automatically.

Question: Is there a specific verse to verify that worshiping an uninstalled deity and not following the rules is an offense?

Answer: You cannot expect a verse for everything. Certain things or customs did not exist in the past. For example, there were no markets to sell and buy Deities. Deities were made on order. Therefore, people did not worship uninstalled Deities. Thus there may not be any reference to offenses or no offenses to uninstalled Deity worship in śāstra. At least I have not come across it.  One should also apply one’s intelligence and logic based on śāstric knowledge. If you are worshiping an uninstalled deity, then you have accepted that Deity as Bhagavān. Otherwise, why would you worship that Deity? You accept the worship as part of bhakti and expect to get spiritual benefit from it. Otherwise, you would not do so.

But you do not want to follow the rules of worship and therefore you suggest that there is no offense in not following the rules because the Deity is not installed. Moreover, you also cannot give any śāstric evidence that no offense is involved. You also cannot give any logic for it.

But I have the logic. If you expect a benefit from your worship, then you should also expect harm if you commit an offense because you accept the Deity (uninstalled) as Bhagavān. If you act wrongly towards a person whom you consider worshipable, would he not feel offended if you misbehave? Otherwise, it is called ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya—the half-hen logic. This means to accept only the back part of the hen, which delivers eggs, but not the front part, which needs to be fed. The meaning is that I only want the benefit but not to pay the price.

If there is no offense done to an uninstalled Deity but you can still worship it, then everyone should only worship an uninstalled Deity. In this way, there is no chance to commit offenses. You may say that logic is not a pramāṇa. But Kṛṣṇa Himself accepts anumāna as one of the pramāṇas. See SB 11.28.9, 11.19.17, and Manu-smṛti 12.105–106.

Moreover, in his commentary to HBV 19.2, Sanātana Gosvāmī writes that Bhagavān is manifest in every mūrti as soon as the mūrti is ready. By installing the Deity, He becomes more specifically manifest. Even otherwise, Bhagavān is omnipresent. So He is also present in the deity.


Question: Many temples use chemical colors to perform aṅgarāga-seva. Is this permissible?

Answer: It is common sense not to use chemical colors for aṅgarāga-seva, just as we would prefer not to apply chemicals to our bodies.


Question: Isn’t it offensive to bring a coffin with the corpse of a devotee into a temple in front of the Deities? 

Answer:  Personally, I see no purpose in bringing the dead body in front of the Deity. I understand that a Vaiṣṇava’s body is not material and thus not impure, still what is the point in bringing it in front of the deities? The body cannot see the deities and I am not sure if the deities are keen to see it. So I really see no purpose behind it. But somehow, it seems to have become the norm for some.







Bhakti in Other Traditions?

Question: The impersonal aspect [of God] (Nirakara, Nirguna) is called Brahman, or ‘unknowable’ by Herbert Spencer, ‘will’ by Schopenhauer, Absolute Noumenon by some ‘substance’ by Spinoza. The personal aspect (Sakara) of that Being is termed ‘Ishvara’ or Allah, Hari, Jehovah, Father in Heaven, Buddha, Siva, etc. Just as vapor or steam is formless, so also God is formless in His unmanifested or transcendental state. (Swami Sivananda)

Where are the inaccuracies in the above quote? Other Advaitavādīs accept God and bhakti as the only means to liberation. How then are they not devotees? 

Answer: A true bhakta is a śuddha-bhakta, one who engages in bhakti to attain bhakti and not to attain something else. The Advaitavādī’s bhakti is covered in jñāna because they want to achieve Brahman.

I hope you understand the definition of bhakti and bhakta. Bhakta means one who wants to do seva and does not want anything in return. Do you think this is the mood of Advaitavādī?

Question: Recently I went to a Seventh Day Adventist (Christian) church with relatives. They worship God very nicely in their own way, so that is bhakti. Once again, here is another religion that worships Kṛṣṇa in their own way. We know that Kṛṣṇa is the fountainhead of all religions, but is their liberation any less than that of a Kṛṣṇa bhakta? I have a hard time believing this.

Answer: I advise you to spend time studying the first chapter of Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, especially the definition of bhakti. Unless you become clear about the definition of bhakti, such doubts and questions will keep coming up. Bhakti may look very simple but it is not that simple to understand.  

Question: Are you saying that other theist systems are not doing bhakti? How can the bhakti of our tradition be the only kind of bhakti that is accepted as pure? I understand kṛṣṇa-anuśīlanam but just because someone doesn’t call God “Kṛṣṇa” doesn’t change their love or devotion to Him. Jesus Christ was an empowered incarnation of the Lord and taught pure bhakti; I know this to be a fact. Is cognizing every little detail of the tattva obligatory for bhakti to manifest? Most of the theistic systems of the world, especially Abrahamic religions at their core, are teaching the exact same attitude and loving service to God. So, if that is cultivated in the right way and their service is favorable, I don’t see how they could not receive entrance into the spiritual world. Like you said—Vaikuntha is a kingdom with many planets. I’m sure that Jesus Christ has his planet with Viṣṇu there. I’d like to believe that Kṛṣṇa Consciousness is not so much the specific practices that we as Vaiṣṇavas do but more so a mood, an attitude, and a practice of devotion.

Answer: I did not comment anything on other traditions—whether they perform bhakti or not. It is not my position to evaluate other traditions. I only advised you to understand the definition of bhakti because your questions were all related to bhakti. My understanding is that if the definition of bhakti is clear, then many of the doubts you raised will be cleared. Christians, etc. may be doing bhakti in their own way. But their bhakti does not fit into our definition of bhakti. Words such as “bhakti” or “love” do not have just one objective meaning like the word “apple.” Therefore, a Christian may also use the word bhakti but that does not mean his bhakti conveys the same sense as when we use it. I use the word bhakti as it is defined in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11). Unless you give the meaning of bhakti as used in other traditions, I have no means to answer you. But I can say that their bhakti does not fit our definition of bhakti.




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.

Shastra Quiz 50

This quiz is designed to motivate you to study the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava scriptures in specific, and the Sad Darshanas in general, which are necessary to understand Gauḍīya philosophy properly.


Jnana or knowledge related to bhakti is also part of bhakti. In fact, hearing, which includes studying shastra, is the first limb of bhakti. Learning, followed by consolidating and then testing our knowledge in the form of a quiz is a fun and effective way to help us retain information.

This quiz is in multiple-choice questions format. (MCQs). If you see the response that you anticipated simply click on it. The quiz will immediately show which answers are correct or incorrect so we can learn as we go.

1 / 10

What is ātma-tattva?

2 / 10

Which potency of Bhagavān upholds the existence of the individual ātmās and prakṛti?

3 / 10

In Śrīmad Bhāgavata (3.26.3), Lord Kapila describes the nature of the ātmā as svayaṁ-jyoti (self-luminous). What does this mean?

4 / 10

Ātmā is said to be conscious by nature and self-luminous (jñāna svarūpa and svayam prakāśa). But when it identifies with a particular body, it is darkened by ignorance. What happens to its quality of self-luminosity?

5 / 10

In Śrīmad Bhāgavata (3.26.3), why does Śrī Kapila describe the ātmā as nirguṇa ("devoid of the guṇas of prakṛti," i.e., sattva, rajas and tamas) and prakṛteḥ paraḥ ("beyond prakṛti")?

6 / 10

The word jñāna is used both for ātmā, and for knowledge acquired as a vṛtti (specific impression or modification of the mind). What is the distinction between the two?

7 / 10

In Śrīmad Bhāgavata (3.26.4), Śrī Kapila describes the ātmā as vibhu ("all-pervading"). What does this mean?

8 / 10

If the ātmā does not have inherent knowledge of Bhagavān, then how does it receive this knowledge?

9 / 10

If knowledge is mano-vṛtti, or a modification of the mind, and remains external to the ātmā, then how are bhajana memories transferred to the spiritual world with the ātmā, as the citta is also material?

10 / 10

The ātmā is ?

Your score is


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Everything Related to Bhagavan is Nirguna

[The following is a continuation of a class given on Anuccheda 134 of Bhakti Sandarbha]


Someone may object that knowledge about Bhagavān is not nirguṇa, but is only called nirguṇa figuratively (lakṣaṇika-artha) because it leads to the nirguṇa position. In other words, because it leads to the nirguṇa position it is called nirguṇa, but in itself it is not actually nirguṇa.

For example, when hailing a taxi or rickshaw, the driver of a taxi can be called “taxi”, or a rickshaw driver can be called “rickshaw”. This is a secondary meaning – the person is neither a taxi nor a rickshaw.

Jīva Gosvāmī explains that this argument is an instance of forced interpretation (kaṣṭa-kalpanā). This interpretation is unwanted, unnecessary and has no basis, because it militates against the statements we have heard earlier (e.g. SB 11.25.33) which indicate that worship of Bhagavān is beyond the guṇas – so how then would those statements be explained? Therefore, it is wrong to give such an interpretation.

Another reason this figurative meaning of nirguṇa has no basis is that since kaivalya-jñāna also leads to the nirguṇa state, there would be no difference between bhakti and kaivalya-jñāna, since they would both be means which lead to the nirguṇa state. If this were the case, why has a difference been made between these two categories?

It is therefore concluded that a lakṣaṇika, or figurative secondary, meaning need not be applied, but that knowledge of Bhagavān is indeed nirguṇa. That is the nature of knowledge of Bhagavān.



Even the happiness arising from the realization of Bhagavān is to be affirmed as nirguṇa. Jīva Gosvāmī first discusses knowledge, then subsequently he discusses different categories of happiness.

sāttvikaṁ sukham ātmotthaṁ
viṣayotthaṁ tu rājasam
tāmasaṁ moha-dainyotthaṁ
nirguṇaṁ mad-apāśrayam

“Happiness derived from the [pure] self is sāttvika; that which arises from sense objects is rājasika; that which results from delusion and wretchedness is tāmasika; whereas the happiness that ensues by taking refuge in Me is nirguṇa.” (SB 11.25.29)

Thus, the happiness coming from bhakti, or from knowing Bhagavān is also nirguṇa. Happiness derived from the pure self is sāttvika; happiness that arises from sense objects is rājasika; happiness that results from delusion and wretchedness is tāmasika; happiness that ensues from taking refuge in Bhagavān is nirguṇa.

The happiness arising from the realization of Bhagavān, or bhakti, is affirmed to be nirguṇa, since the exalted devotees, who are themselves nirguṇa, are its one and only cause (tad-eka-nidāna), as expressed in the First Canto:

śuśrūṣoḥ śraddadhānasya
syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ

“O learned brāhmaṇas, by visiting or dwelling in a holy place and by service to highly realized devotees, attraction for the narrations of Bhagavān Vāsudeva comes about for a person endowed with firm faith, who is eager to hear.” (SB 1.2.16)

By hearing highly realized devotees speaking, one gets śraddhā, and ṣraddhā in bhakti is also nirguṇa (as explained in SB 11.25.27). This means their statements are also nirguṇa because something which is in the guṇas cannot lead to nirguṇa.



Jīva Gosvāmī raises another objection – according to the following statement of Bhagavān Matsyadeva, even knowledge of Brahman is manifest by Bhagavān’s mercy.:

madīyaṁ mahimānaṁ ca
paraṁ brahmeti śabditam
vetsyasy anugṛhītaṁ me
sampraśnair vivṛtaṁ hṛdi

“You will also know My glory, which is celebrated as Parabrahman, for it will be thoroughly revealed to you within your heart, both as a result of your own profound inquiry and through My favor.” (SB 8.24.38)

Such being the case, how can it be said that brahma-jñāna is saguṇa, or related to the material quality of sattva? In other words, if it comes by the grace of Bhagavān (and, of course, this grace is Bhagavān’s real grace, coming to his devotee King Satyavrata; not like the semblance of mercy shown to the devas, as described previously), and by this grace Satyavrata is going to have knowledge of Brahman, then how can this knowledge be considered sāttvika? Earlier it was said: kaivalyaṁ sāttvikaṁ jñānam—the knowledge of Brahman is sāttvika. How can it be sāttvika when it comes by the grace of Bhagavān?

Jīva Gosvāmī replies by explaining that brahma-jñāna is self-disclosed in two types of practitioners. Brahmavādis, followers of Brahman, can have brahman-realization, and devotees can also have experience of Brahman, but their realizations are not the same. The knowledge of devotees is nirguṇa, whereas the knowledge of those who are following Brahman as the ultimate goal is saguṇathat is, in sattva.

For devotees, brahma-jñāna is not like the brahma-jñāna experienced by brahmavādis, where there is a complete loss of knower, knowledge and knowable. Because they are devotees, they already have the conception that “I am the eternal servant of Bhagavān,” so even if they have brahman-realization, they do not become absolutely one with it, because that is not their conception. Devotees don’t think that they are one with Brahman. They know that they are distinct from Brahman and that Brahman is also Bhagavān, but without manifest qualities.  Therefore their experience is nirguṇa and their knowledge is nirguṇa. Advaitavādis however, have a different conception. When they have brahma-sakṣat-kāra, they will experience complete oneness, and that is sattva.

This important point is evidenced in the Gītā:

brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām

“Having realized one’s conscious identity with Brahman and being fully purified at heart, one neither grieves nor hankers for anything. Being equally disposed toward all beings, one attains supreme (parā) devotion to Me.” (Gītā 18.54)

The fact that one has bhakti means that there is a distinction between the devotee and Bhagavān. Although devotees have a little experience of Brahman, they don’t get completely sucked into it. They remain distinct.


ātmārāmāś ca munayo
nirgranthā apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukīṁ bhaktim
ittham-bhūta-guṇo hariḥ

“The sages, though liberated from the knot of egoic identity, and though delighting in the Self alone, engage in causeless devotion to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the majestic player (Urukrama), for Śrī Hari is intrinsically endowed with such captivating qualities.” (SB 1.7.10)

The devotees have one type of Brahman realization, and Kevala-advaitavādis have another i.e., in the same manner that they meditated upon Brahman during the stage of practice. The Kevala-advaitavādi’s śraddhā is in the conception that they are one with Brahman and that Bhagavān is a manifestation of Brahman.



nātyantikaṁ vigaṇayanty api te prasādaṁ
kimv anyad arpita-bhayaṁ bhruva unnayais te
ye ’ṅga tvad-aṅghri-śaraṇā bhavataḥ kathāyāḥ
kīrtanya-tīrtha-yaśasaḥ kuśalā rasa-jñāḥ

“O Dear One, Your glories are themselves a sacred place of pilgrimage (tīrtha) and hence worthy of recitation. Those who have taken shelter of Your lotus feet, who are skillful in narrating Your stories, and who are conversant with the aesthetic rapture (rasa) implicit in such topics, do not regard even ultimate liberation as Your mercy, to say nothing of other boons, which are susceptible to fear at the merest knitting of Your eyebrows.” (SB 3.15.48)

Liberation is considered to be a semblance of Bhagavān’s mercy because devotees have no regard for it and know it is antagonistic to bhakti. The manifestation of true mercy is only when one becomes a devotee. All else is simply a semblance of mercy.

If one imagines liberation to be a form of mercy then one’s vision is in the material guṇas, because if it was nirguṇa, one would consider Bhagavān’s mercy to be the bestowal of nirguṇa bhakti.



Jīva Gosvāmī raises one more objection to the nirguṇa quality of bhakti, through which he wants to establish that in addition to knowledge about bhakti being nirguṇa, actions related to bhakti are also nirguṇa. This claim seems strange, because we execute bhakti with a material body, so the activities of sādhana-bhakti appear to be like any other actions we perform. Thus, the objection is that the internal and external senses of a person are products of the guṇas, so how can bhakti-centered knowledge and action, generated from the senses, be nirguṇa?

It is common knowledge that our external senses and internal senses (i.e., the mind) are material. Both Sāṅkhya and Nyāya agree that they are material elements. Our knowledge comes through the jñānendriyas, the cognitive senses, and our actions are carried out through the karmendriyas. As Kṛṣṇa explains in Gītā (3.27): prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ—all kriyamān karma (i.e., actions which are being done now) are done with the guṇas. Guṇa here can refer to the senses. Because they are prakṛti-guṇa, i.e., they are made from prakṛti, they are all material, so how can their actions be nirguṇa?

For example, if you take three material objects, say three types of fruits, apples, bananas, and grapes, and mix them, then whatever will be produced will only be a mixture of fruits. It will not suddenly become a vegetable. It will only be a mixture of fruits. Whatever taste is in those three fruits will also be the taste in the mixture. It may not be recognizable, but it is a mixture of the original three. Similarly, there are three guṇas, sattva,  rajas, and tamas, and everything is a mixture of these three. There is nothing which is free from these guṇas, on this earth, the heavenly planets, or anywhere else, as stated in Gītā (18.40). So, can a product of these three be nirguṇa? This is the question being raised.

Jīva Gosvāmī replies “jñāna-śakti kriyā-śakti na tā vat jaḍasya.” Can an inert object have knowledge? Can anyone with even a little sense say that inert objects can have knowledge? Can inert objects have action in them by themselves? No. Therefore, he says “The cognitive potency (jñāna-śakti) and the potency to act (kriyā-śakti) are not attributes of inert objects, like clay pots, which are made of the three guṇas.” Inert objects are lying there and cannot move by themselves, and they obviously have no knowledge. That is why they are called inert.

Then Jīva Gosvāmī goes one step further, explaining that neither do jñāna-śakti  and kriyā-śakti belong even to the conscious living beings, the jīvas, because the latter have no primary existential standing of their own, being but potencies (śaktis) belonging to and under the control of Īśvara, like a person possessed by a devatā. People continue to argue whether ātma has got prema, or ātma has got siddha-deha, but he says that the jīva doesn’t even have kriyā-śakti or jñāna-śakti, independent of Paramātmā.

Basically, what he is saying is as follows. The jñāna-śakti and kriyā-śakti, the cognitive potency and the potency to act, are present in the body due to the presence of the jīva, not independently. When the soul leaves, it is all finished. Then the eyes cannot see, and the ears don’t hear. When somebody dies, his loved one’s cry and call him, but he doesn’t hear. The senses have power only because of the ātma’s presence. And the ātma similarly has power only because of Paramātma. If Paramātma takes it away then ātma cannot act.

This is one of the fundamental principles of the Bhāgavata, which must be kept in mind, and then everything else will fall into place. In the very beginning of the Bhāgavata, it is stated: “vadanti tat tattva vidas tattvaṁ yaj jṇānam advayam”. There is one advaya-jñāna, and that is Kṛṣṇa. “kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam.

There is only one tattva, and therefore: “ekale īśvara kṛṣṇa, āra saba bhṛtya yāre yaiche nācāya, se taiche kare nṛtya” (Cc Adi 5.142). He is the supreme controller, “ vara parama kṛṣṇ a sat cit ā nanda vigraha.” No matter who you are, Kṛṣṇa gives you the freedom to act how you like, but actually He is in full control.

Just like in your body, if your senses were living beings, they would think “I am independent”, “I can see,” or “I can smell”. They know nothing about the ātma because he is adhokṣaja, beyond sense perception. Ātma is guṇātīta and indriyātīta, beyond the guṇas and senses, so the senses cannot know him. They may think that there is no ātma and that they are independently powerful, but when ātma leaves, they are finished.

In the same way, ātma is also not independent. It functions by the śakti of Paramātmā who is beyond ātma, just like ātmā is beyond the senses. This is the beauty of Kṛṣṇa, how He is keeping everything under control. He is to be understood in this way, as the supreme controller. Whether we like it or not, the truth must be known: etāvad eva jijñāsyaṁ tattva-jijñāsunātmanaḥ (SB 2.9.36).

Therefore, Jīva Gosvāmī says that this is like a person possessed by a devatā, meaning it is Paramātma who is infusing this potency into ātma. Of course, in the case of jīva it is done permanently, whereas in the case of the body, it is temporary because they belong to two separate categories. One is inert, and the other is conscious. In the case of jīva, he is also conscious, but the consciousness is coming from Paramātma.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has first established that the jñāna-śakti and kriyā-śakti in every living being are nirguṇa because their source is Paramātma. Next, he will show that depending on how they are utilized, they may become saguṇa. If one has bhinna-bhāva, or pṛthak-bhāva, the separatist mentality, then they are material. However, if one has oneness of heart with Bhagavān then they are nirguṇa. Moreover, if the nirguṇa thing is used for some reason other than its source, then this is material.



First, it is important to establish why bhakti is nirguṇa. Bhakti means that which is for Kṛṣṇa. “anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā”. That is what bhakti is. When bhakti descends into the senses of a devotee then it is naturally performed, and when one obtains a spiritual body, then his bhāva is itself natural. That’s why it is called bhāva-bhakti. It is not that you have to think about how to do it—that is only at the sādhana stage. But even at the sādhana stage, it is nirguṇa for the following reason:

dehendriya-prāṇa-mano-dhiyo ’mī
yad-aṁśa-viddhāḥ pracaranti karmasu
naivānyadā lauham ivāprataptaṁ
sthāneṣu tad draṣṭrapadeśam eti

“The body, senses, life-force, mind, and intellect can function in their respective fields only when infused with a portion of His [Paramātmā’s] potency, and certainly not otherwise, any more than an iron rod can burn without having been heated by fire. Therefore, in all conditions, it is Paramātmā who is identified as the witness.” (SB 6.16.24)

Iron is not hot by nature, but if you connect it with fire, it becomes hot. And if it remains permanently connected, it will remain hot all the time. Similarly, ātma is always with Paramātma, so it is ever conscious, but the body can be separated from ātma. When the body is connected to ātma it is conscious, and when ātma is removed it is not conscious. When that energy, which actually comes from Paramātma to ātma and into the senses, is utilized for the source, then it is nirguṇa. If it is utilized independently, then it is saguṇa.

Further evidence in this regard from Śruti is as follows: “He is the life of the vital air, the sight of the eye, the auditory capacity of the ear, and the mental discernment of the mind” (BAU 4.4.18); “Without Him, nothing at all can be done” (Ṛg Veda 10.112.9).

Such being the case, when knowledge and action are directed primarily toward results that are within the three guṇas, they are known as guṇamaya, or “constituted of the guṇas.” When, however, knowledge and action are directed primarily in relation to Parameśvara [as in the case of bhakti], they are beyond the guṇas by their very nature.


The Real Mercy of Bhagavan

[The following is a continuation of a class given on Anuccheda 134 of Bhakti Sandarbha]


If sattva was the cause of the realization of Bhagavān then it would not be possible for Vṛtra to have had such A realization. Actually, Vṛtra’s devotion was due to having obtained the association of Śrī Nārada in his previous birth. The misunderstanding of this very important point is the cause of a big controversy going on at present, namely whether bhakti is inherent or is attained.

Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī explains that the association of a highly realized devotee is the only cause for the appearance of bhakti, bhagavat-kṛpā-parimala-pātra-bhūtasya śrīmato mahata saṅga eva kāraṇam. He makes a very clear statement, eva kā raṇam – the only cause. Yet people still argue against it and twist its meaning to suit their understanding.

It is also stated clearly by Prahlāda that it is not possible to get bhakti unless one gets the grace (i.e., the dust from the feet) of a devotee:

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)


In the case of Vṛtrāsura, we see someone who has bhagavadbhāva, even though he is situated in rajas and tamas, which means he may have had a non-veg diet, etc. This is a difficult point to grasp because generally it is thought that one needs to be sāttvika to become a devotee. Although this is generally the case, it doesn’t mean that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between sattva and bhakti.

For example, there may be a cook who rings a bell each day when lunch is ready. It is possible that someone may think that when the bell rings, it means the lunch gets cooked. However, there is no cause-and-effect relationship between the cooking of lunch and the ringing of the bell. When lunch is cooked, someone comes to ring the bell, but lunch is cooked without having to ring the bell. Although these are two independent events, if they happen together consistently, we can make a relationship between them in our minds. However, it is possible to ring the bell without lunch being cooked, and we can also cook lunch without ringing the bell. 

In a similar way, we see that devotees are mostly sāttvika. After all, Viṣṇu is the devata of sattva, and therefore his devotees are sāttvika, meaning they don’t eat non-sāttvika food, etc. Therefore, we naturally relate sattva and bhakti, but there is no cause-and-effect relationship between them. Of course, sattva helps one to understand bhakti, but still bhakti is independent of sattva. In the example of the bell, there is no relationship at all with the cooking of lunch, but at least in the example of sattva, one who is sāttvika will be able to grasp the meaning of śāstra, whereas one who is in rajas and tamas will have less ability to grasp it. But if bhakti wants to bless a person who is rājasika or tāmasika there is nothing that can stop it, and bhakti can manifest itself there because bhakti is self-illuminating. It is svayam-siddha and svayam-prakāśa.

However, devotees are prescribed a process to followlead a sāttvika lifestyle, eat sāttvika food, and wear sāttvika dress. Everything should be sāttvika, which aids their development, but bhakti is not dependent on that sattva. Therefore, Prahlāda prescribed that one must bathe in the dust of the feet of Vaiṣṇavas because bhakti comes even in the families of daityas (such as Prahlāda and Bali) due to sat-saṅga, even though they are tamasic. The Bhāgavatam is unique because of this perspective. The story of Vṛtrāsura’s killing also shows this defining characteristic of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, that bhakti is param-dharma. 


The next point raised in Anuccheda 134 regards saṅga. Jīva Gosvāmī has just explained that association with exalted devotees is nirguṇa, beyond the guṇas of nature, even beyond sattva. Now he takes it another notch up by stating that association with exalted devotees is not just nirguṇa, but paramanirguṇa, because it is beyond the nirguṇa state of liberation. As it is explained in the First Canto:

tulayāma lavenāpi
na svargaṁ nāpunar-bhavam
martyānāṁ kim utāśiṣaḥ

“We cannot equate even a moment’s association of a devotee who is deeply attached to Bhagavān, with the attainment of heaven or liberation, to say nothing of the petty blessings desired by mortal beings.” (SB 1.18.13)

Other than association with devotees (bhagavat-saṅgi-saṅga), all other association is in the guṇas, and therefore subject to change.


A person may argue that Bhagavān killed the demons for Indra’s sake, as though he were biased towards him:

samaḥ priyaḥ suhṛd brahman
bhūtānāṁ bhagavān svayam
indrasyārthe kathaṁ daityān
avadhīd viṣamo yathā

“O brāhmaṇa, of His own accord, Bhagavān is equal to all living beings, dear to everyone, and the well-wisher of all. So, why did He kill the demons for Indra’s sake, as though He were biased toward him?” (SB 7.1.1)

In this way, somebody may say that He gave His mercy to the devatas because they were in sattva-guṇa. But Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains that the favor shown to Indra is not His real mercy. The real mercy of Bhagavān is to give bhakti. When Bhagavān gives anything else, people may consider that to be mercy because it fulfills their desire, but such boons are temporary. That’s why it is said that devotees don’t compare even heaven or liberation to be equal to the association of a devotee. Going to heaven, or going to any other place, or even attaining mokṣa, are not equal to becoming a devotee. Thus, it is said that His favoring the devatas was not His real grace. His real mercy is given to devotees like Prahlāda. Because Bhagavan bestows His mercy on His exalted devotees, the nirguṇa quality is manifest in them. And for that reason, their association is also nirguṇa.


Because bhaktas are nirguṇa, their association is also nirguṇa. There is evidence in scripture that bhakti continues even after the guṇas have been thrown off.

tasmād deham imaṁ labdhvā
guṇa-saṅgaṁ vinirdhūya
māṁ bhajantu vicakṣaṇāḥ

“Therefore, the wise, having obtained this human body, in which knowledge and realization of the Absolute is accessible, should completely cast off all attachment to the guṇas and worship Me.” (SB 11.25.33)

If bhakti was also within the guṇas then it would not continue when one becomes free from the guṇas. In other words, if one becomes free from the guṇas, and bhakti is within the guṇas, then bhakti would also disappear at that time. But there are many statements in śāstra explaining that bhakti continues after liberation and that bhakti is also present in the spiritual world, both states beyond the guṇas.

This is a very clear statement, that one should dispel all association with the guṇas and worship Kṛṣṇa. Bhajantu means either that one should worship, or that one worships. This shows that bhakti is not within the guṇas of material nature.



The following text is based on Anuccheda 134 of Bhakti Sandarbha


In Śrīmad Bhāgavata 11.25.24, Śri Kṛṣṇa describes four categories of knowledge, namely knowledge in each of the three guṇas of prakṛti, and nirguṇa knowledge.

kaivalyaṁ sāttvikaṁ jñānaṁ rajo vaikalpikaṁ ca yat
prākṛtaṁ tāmasaṁ jñānaṁ man-niṣṭhaṁ nirguṇaṁ smṛtam

Kaivalya-jñāna, or knowledge of the pure self, distinct from the body [dehādi-vyatiriktātma-viṣayaka-jñāna], is sāttvika. Vaikalpika-jñāna, or knowledge related to the body [dehādi-viṣayaka-jñāna], is rājasika. Prākṛta-jñāna, or the knowledge of those who are unrefined, is tāmasika. Whereas, the knowledge that pertains to Me [parameśvara-viṣayaka-jñāna] is beyond the qualities of primordial nature (nirguṇa).”

The first three categories of knowledge (i.e., knowledge in sattva, rajas and tamas) are also described in Bhagavad Gītā 18.20-22:

sarva-bhūteṣu yenaikaṁ bhāvam avyayam īkṣate
avibhaktaṁ vibhakteṣu taj jñānaṁ viddhi sāttvikam

pṛthaktvena tu yaj jñānaṁ nānā-bhāvān pṛthag-vidhān
vetti sarveṣu bhūteṣu taj jñānaṁ viddhi rājasam

yat tu kṛtsna-vad ekasmin kārye saktam ahaitukam
atattvārtha-vad alpaṁ ca tat tāmasam udāhṛtam

“The knowledge by which one sees one imperishable and indivisible reality in all the diverse species of life — know that knowledge to be sāttvika. But the dualistic knowledge by which one recognizes a plurality of living beings of distinct variety in all living forms — know that knowledge to be rājasika. That knowledge, however, by which one clings to a single object or act, as if it were the all-in-all, which is irrational, devoid of essential truth, and trivial, is said to be tāmasika.”

A person in sattva-guṇa sees one reality in everything, pervading all the diverse species of life. With regard to seeing oneness, there are two principles to be considered—tvam-padārtha meaning the individual living being or jīva, and tat-padārtha meaning Brahman. Kaivalyam means to see the jīva and Brahman as one. With this knowledge, there is only one truth, namely the self, indistinct from Brahman. In GĪTĀ 18.20, this vision is called avyaya-bhāva, when the jīva and Brahman appear one without any distinction. This is called sāttvika knowledge. Knowledge of things as they are also coming from sattva. Without sattva, a person will have mithyā-jñāna (“false” knowledge), for example, mistaking a rope for a snake.

In rajas, a person has knowledge of duality—he is aware of all the differences within material nature. Knowledge in rajas is called vaikalpika, which means seeing everything as different, and not recognizing the one reality pervading everything. In other words, knowledge that is related to the body.

In tamas, knowledge is not very clear, and is attached to only one thing. Knowledge in tamas is called prākṛtam, which means it is not very clear. Jīva Gosvāmī compares it to the knowledge of children, or those devoid of speech, which means it cannot properly express anything.

To summarize, knowledge of the ātma’s oneness with Brahman is sāttvika. Knowledge of the variety of objects in the material world is rājasika. Knowledge about our basic instincts, how to survive like animals, is tāmasika. But separate from these three, knowledge about Bhagavān is nirguṇa.



In Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 134, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī explains that even to those in whom authentic being in the form of sattva is present, the realization of Bhagavān remains undisclosed. This is stated in SB 6.14.2:

devānāṁ śuddha-sattvānām ṛṣīṇāṁ cāmalātmanām
bhaktir mukunda-caraṇe na prāyeṇopajāyate

“Bhakti to the lotus feet of Bhagavān Mukunda generally does not manifest even in the devas, who are situated in pure sattva, nor even in the sages, whose hearts are free from contamination.”

In other words, Bhagavān cannot be realized simply by sattva-guṇa. As mentioned in this verse, even though the devas are situated in sattva, they generally don’t take to bhakti. Why? Because sattva does not give bhakti.

There is a common misunderstanding amongst devotees that if one wants to be a devotee, he must be situated in sattva-guṇa. In other words, if you are not in sattva-guṇa then you cannot be a devotee. But Śrīmad Bhāgavatam explains that bhakti does not depend on any of the qualities of material nature. Bhakti depends only on bhakti. Therefore, it can also manifest in people who are not sāttvika, as in the example of Vṛtrāsura. SB 6.14.1 states:

rajas-tamaḥ-svabhāvasya brahman vṛtrasya pāpmanaḥ
nārāyaṇe bhagavati katham āsīd dṛḍhā matiḥ

“O brāhmaṇa, how is it that the sinful Vṛtra, whose nature was predominated by rajas and tamas, had such resolute devotional regard for Bhagavān Nārāyaṇa?”

Vṛtrāsura was situated mostly in rajas and tamas, but still he had bhakti. This shows that realization of Bhagavān can happen even for those without sattva. The story of Vṛtrāsura is very important in the Bhāgavata for this reason – because it shows that bhakti is not dependent on sattva-guṇa. This is a unique characteristic of bhakti. Although Vṛtrāsura is an asura by name and by behavior, he still had bhakti. This analysis is not to belittle the importance of sattva-guṇa but to show that bhakti is not dependent on sattva-guṇa.

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