Tag Archives: faith

Relation Between Shraddha and Bhakti

Question: Is it possible that one develops śraddhā in bhakti without hearing any śāstra at all? For instance, someone simply hears that there is a Supreme Person and by worshiping that person we can gain the ultimate goal of life. Just from hearing this statement, the person begins to have śraddhā in bhakti. In this case, the statement is not coming from śāstra.

Answer: It is coming from a devotee. The devotee may not be quoting śāstra but he is speaking the siddhānta. It is not necessary to quote śāstra, but the conclusion is coming from śāstra. The second thing is that this faith, viśvāsa, will come from the association of the devotee. It is not going to happen even if you read śāstra. Viśvāsa will come from mahat saṅga, it is not going to jump out from the book.

Question: Is it also possible that someone reads a book and gets śraddhā that way?

Answer: This means he already had that śraddhā from some prior association.  Otherwise, it is not possible. Śāstra is kindling that fire of śraddhā.

Question: So, the important thing is that they have faith in something that is siddhānta?

Answer: Yes, that is right. It begins with hearing kathā.  It doesn’t happen by just telling someone, “The Holy Name is transcendental and by chanting it, you will get love of God.”  It is very rare that you say only this much, and somebody will take it seriously and follow it. You have to explain many things with logic, stories, and examples. This is called kathā. Then that person may become interested and take to the process. One has to hear and if that hearing is done with respect, then by the mercy of the devotees śraddhā will manifest.

Question: When you say “śraddhā resides in the person,” does that mean śraddhā resides in the soul or is it in the mind or subtle body?

Answer: The śraddhā first manifests in the mind, which is part of the subtle body.´

Question: Is it part of Kṛṣṇa’s internal potency?

Answer: Yes, if it is based on śāstra, then it is guṇātīta.

Question: So, if śraddhā is the internal potency, how can we say that it is not part of the execution of bhakti? If the internal potency is bhakti, then śraddhā must also be part of bhakti.

AnswerBhakti is one of the internal potencies, just like śraddhāBhakti is when you perform an activity for the pleasure of Bhagavān.  So śraddhā is not doing service or anything, it is just the mentality you have by which you engage in bhakti.  It is not considered to be part of bhakti. If you have śraddhā and you don’t do anything, then that is not good enough to be called bhakti. Once you have śraddhā then you act on it. Your mind, body, and senses are engaged in service.  Śraddhā is the impelling force. So it becomes a qualification for engaging in bhakti. It’s like you are hungry, and then you eat food. The hunger is not part of eating food, but it is needed for you to eat food.  You can eat food even when you are not hungry, but that is not one-pointed, ananya, because you will not be as absorbed as when you were hungry.  So that hunger is the qualification you have, and that will impel you to engage in the eating process.  Śraddhā is like hunger, and eating is like the execution of bhakti.

Question: In one translation of Mādhurya-kādambinī, I read that in the progression from śraddhā to prema,śraddhā grows and grows, and that prema means maximum śraddhā and śraddhā means minimum prema. It was described as if it was the same substance at different levels of intensity. Was this description wrong, or was it a mistranslation?

Answer: You can take it like that. But it’s not exactly like that, because prema is not śraddhā

Question: Can we not say that one who has maximum bhakti also has maximum śraddhā?

Answer: Yes, he has śraddhā but śraddhā and prema are two separate things. It is not that śraddhā itself is prema in its maximum state, although sometimes it is described like that. Truly speaking, they are separate. They have different characteristics. It is like saying that the best form of sugarcane juice or the most concentrated form of sugarcane juice is sugar candy, and the most diluted form of sugar candy is sugarcane juice. But truly speaking they are two separate objects having different characteristics.

Question: Can someone practice bhakti without possessing śraddhā?

Answer: Why would one do so? What would be the motivation? There has to be some motivation to do an act. There has to be some śraddhā behind an action. An action is that which we perform to achieve something. Unless the agent believes that this particular action would bring the desired result, the agent would not be inspired to act. There is a saying, prayojanam vinā mando’pi na pravartate, “Even a fool does not act without any purpose.”

Question:  Are there certain pastimes or līlās that we should not hear until we are beyond the stage of anartha nivṛitti?

Answer: There is nowhere in śāstra that it says we as devotees should not hear certain pastimes. The restriction is for non-devotees. They are forbidden because they will misunderstand and find fault. But even a non-devotee who has an interest to hear and understand can hear. The important thing is that it has to be heard properly. This means that it must be heard from a qualified speaker, must be heard with respect, and not in a fault-finding or challenging mood. However, depending on the caliber and mood of a devotee, certain pastimes may not be conducive to their devotion. For example, for a dāsya bhakta, it is not conducive to hearing mādhurya līlā.

Question: Is śraddhā an aspect by which avadhāraṇa (ascertainment) takes place?

Answer:  It is an aspect, because you hear śāstra, and you may have doubts. Even if you understand bhakti logically and accept that it is right, śraddhā is that by which you hold this conclusion.  Since the topics explained in śāstra are not directly experienced by you at this stage, why will you trust them? Even if you explain them with some logic, it is not sufficient. Generally logic works with direct experience but here it is all only śabda pramāṇa. So, the only way you can have trust and hold the conclusions is by śraddhā, which comes from mahat saṅga, the mercy of devotees.

Question: Bhakti is independent, so it doesn’t need śraddhā to give its result, but to practice ananya (exclusive) bhakti one needs śraddhā. Does that mean that ananya bhakti is not independent?

Answer: You are mixing things here. Bhakti is separate, and śraddhā is separate. Śraddhā is in the practitioner and is needed by him to execute bhakti. I do not understand how this could be understood as bhakti not being independent. Bhakti and ananya bhakti are not two separate things. Bhakti is only one. The various divisions of bhakti, such as pure bhakti, mixed bhakti, etc., are determined by the basis of the purity or mixed motive of the practitioner. If one does not have śāstrīya śraddhā, one would not engage in ananyā bhakti. That does not make ananya bhakti less independent.


Symptoms of Śraddhā

The following article is based upon Bhakti Sandarbha (Anuccheda 172–173). In these two anucchedas, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī describes śraddhā as the basic qualification of a devotee.

According to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, there are only three paths for the ultimate good of human beings, as stated, “These three yogasjñāna, karma, and bhakti—have been taught by Me with the intention of granting the highest good to humanity. No other means besides these can be found anywhere” (SB 11.20.6). 

In the next two verses, He gives the eligibility for the three paths: “Out of these three methods, jñāna-yoga grants success to those who are disinterested in fruitive actions and who have thus abandoned them, whereas karma-yoga grants success to those who are not disinterested in fruitive actions and who still desire the fruits of such actions. However, for a person who, by great fortune, has acquired faith in hearing My narrations and other similar devotional acts, and who is neither completely indifferent to sense objects nor overly attached to them, bhakti-yoga grants success” (SB 11.20.7–8).

Bhakti is prescribed for everyone—no one is barred from it—yet it requires specific qualifications. What this means is that a person is not disqualified from bhakti on the basis of birth, gender, age, nationality, social status, or physical or mental ability.

For example, everyone is allowed to study engineering or medical science. There is no discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnic background, skin color, and so on. But still, not everyone is admitted for a course of study. A particular college may hold an entrance exam to gauge the caliber of the would-be student. Similarly, although bhakti is open to all, some specific qualification is required to take it up. Just as renunciation or dispassion is the required eligibility for jṅāna-yoga, and non-dispassion for karma-yoga, śraddhā is the eligibility for bhakti-yoga. 

Śraddhā is undoubtedly required on the paths of jñāna and karma, for without śraddhā one will not fully apply oneself to the process internally or externally. In bhakti, however, śraddhā is the sole cause of taking to the path and therefore has been specifically designated as the criterion of eligibility. Without it, ananyā-bhakti cannot commence, and even if undertaken for some time, it will be lost.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī says that śraddhā is not part of bhakti but a qualification of bhakti. Thus, sometimes even ignorant people who are devoid of śraddhā can execute acts of devotion incidentally. Otherwise, people would not be able to execute bhakti prior to the appearance of śraddhā, but such is not the case. Moreover, if śraddhā were a limb of bhakti, then śraddhā alone would yield perfection, without the necessity to engage in any other act of devotion. However, this is not supported by any scriptural statement or by anyone’s experience. Therefore, śraddhā is understood to be only an attribute (viśeṣaṇa) of the eligible practitioner, and it is śraddhā that impels one to take to bhakti in an exclusive manner.

Therefore, it is important to understand what is śraddhā, how can one get it, and what are its symptoms. Śraddhā is a firm belief in the import of scripture. It comes by the association of devotees. The dawning of faith in hearing the narrations of Bhagavān and other practices of devotion means that one has developed a firm conviction that this alone is the supreme good. Without faith, one cannot be exclusively devoted to the path of bhakti. Bhakti is potent in and of itself and does not depend on anything else to deliver its result. Additionally, it does not depend on the Vedic injunctions, as is the case for acts of karma-yoga. It is analogous to fire, which burns anyone who touches it regardless of whether the person is acquainted or not with its burning potency. Just as the power of fire to burn is inherent in its constitution and not dependent on anything external, such as a Vedic injunction, bhakti is similarly independent and potent.

Since bhakti is independently powerful, why is śraddhā necessary at all? Śrī Jīva answers this question in two ways. First, although bhakti’s power is inherent, it will not manifest in a person who is crooked at heart and thus offensive in nature. In this respect, bhakti’s power is comparable to fire’s inherent burning capacity, which is obstructed in the case of wet wood. If the fuel is wet, or in other words, unsuitable for use, only smoke will be produced but no fire or light. Consequently, the devotee who is obstructed by an offense needs to practice bhakti regularly to purify his heart, just as one has to dry wet wood before being able to set it aflame. But if one is faithless, he will not have the impetus to practice bhakti to become free of offensiveness and crookedness of heart. Secondly, even if such a person does practice, he will not be exclusive to the path of bhakti. For these reasons, śraddhā is the necessary criterion of eligibility for ananyā-bhakti.

Śrī Jīva makes the point that taking refuge in Bhagavān (śaraṇāpatti) is the practical and unmistakable symptom that śraddhā truly exists within an individual. Later [in Anuccheda 236] it will be explained that such taking refuge involves six characteristics: the resolve to accept that which is favorable to devotion, to reject whatever is unfavorable, to have faith that Bhagavān will provide protection, to accept Bhagavān as one’s maintainer, to offer oneself completely to Bhagavān, and to develop humility. 

If one studies śāstras, such as Bhagavad Gītā and Śrīmad Bhāgavata, from a qualified devotee, then one naturally develops śraddhā characterized by these six attributes. This is because one will find statements throughout the scripture wherein Bhagavān promises to protect His devotee, or one will read stories depicting such things. Therefore, hearing śāstra is essential to the development of firm faith.

Apart from śaraṇāpatti, Śrī Jīva discusses several other symptoms of śraddhā in this anuccheda. The second symptom of śraddhā is the absence of the feeling of being destitute (kārpaṇya-abhāva) in the matter of worldly or conventional dealings (vyavahāra). This means that a devotee does not act in a way to incite feelings of pity in others in order to procure some material help from them. Such behavior is contrary to śraddhā. Anyone who acts in this way has no faith that Bhagavān is the Supreme Master of the cosmos and is compassionate on His devotees.

A devotee does not go to rich people and beg from them. This is an insult to Bhagavān. It is comparable to a son of a very wealthy person who goes to some small businessman and asks him for a few dollars. If the boy’s father comes to know of it, he will feel insulted. A devotee should not feel indigent in front of materialistic people. This is not humility but weakness of heart and the sign of a lack of śraddhā. One should remember Śuka’s rhetorical question, “Why should the wise flatter those who are blinded by their wealth?” (kasmād bhajanti kavayo dhana-durmadāndhān, SB 2.2.5).

The third symptom of śraddhā is that one fully accepts the statements of śāstra that describe the articles, categorical existents, qualities, and actions related to Bhagavān as nonmaterial, even though they may not appear to be so to one with mundane vision. For example, Vṛndāvana is described as a spiritual place, the abode of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. But when one sees it, it does not seem different from any other place. A devotee, however, believes it to be transcendental; he or she has no doubt in this regard. The same is true about the form of Bhagavān in the temple, the objects offered to Him, and so on.

Although a devotee may not have personally experienced the power of these objects as described in the śāstra, he or she has faith that they do indeed possess such power. The reason for this is śraddhā, which is to believe in the meaning of the words of śāstra. The power of these objects may not always be manifest, because Bhagavān or bhakti may choose not to reveal their power. Alternatively, their power may remain concealed from a particular person, because the latter’s offenses obstruct their manifestation.

In this context, a doubt may be raised. The Garuḍa Purāṇa (Preta-khaṇḍa 47.52) states that one who remembers the lotus-eyed Kṛṣṇa becomes purified within and without. From this one may conclude that if people have faith in this statement, there is no need for them to bathe, or that if they do bathe, they must not have faith in this statement. How to resolve this? Śrī Jīva replies that in such instances the example of great sages, such as Śrī Nārada and Vyāsa, should be considered as decisive. Thus, one should continue to bathe in spite of having faith in the verse. To do otherwise would be a sign of disrespect to such sages. Moreover, it would set the wrong example for people in general, who may consider the devotee in question as an authority. This also implies that it is not only important to study śāstra, but to study from a qualified teacher. Otherwise, one may misapply the śastric statements and become implicated in an offense.

The fourth symptom of śraddhā is that the devotee assiduously engages in bhakti. He or she has no interest in anything else. There is nothing that can deviate the mind of a devotee who is firmly established in śraddhā. This is true both for the practicing and the perfected devotee. The practicing devotee is eager to attain the perfectional stage involving the immediate self-disclosure of Bhagavān, and the perfected devotee relishes bhakti at every step and thus cannot imagine doing anything else.

The fifth symptom of śraddhā is that a devotee is very sincere and straightforward. Earlier (in Anu. 153), crookedness or hypocrisy (kauṭilya) was described as one of the five primary effects of offenses. In contrast, śraddhā results in simplicity. A devotee has no desire for name and fame. A true devotee, therefore, makes no effort to achieve these. As the saying goes, “personal honor is nothing but a sow’s feces,” pratiṣṭhā śūkarī-viṣṭhā.

The sixth symptom of śraddhā is that a devotee carefully avoids offenses, especially criticism of or disrespect to great devotees of Bhagavān. The seventh symptom is that a devotee makes no effort for sense pleasure. If, however, a devotee is presented with the opportunity for material enjoyment by virtue of past meritorious karma and is unable to discard it due to the force of past saṁskāras, he or she will feel humbled and will pray for the grace of Bhagavān. Even while partaking in such experiences, a devotee will not become absorbed in sense pleasure, because his mind is fixed in service, which is a source of superior satisfaction.

After elaborating these symptoms of śraddhā, Śrī Jīva makes a clarification regarding Gītā 9.30. This verse should not be misinterpreted as a license to engage in immoral behavior. Rather, it emphasizes the greatness of exclusive devotion to Bhagavān by describing its power to exalt even the lowest of individuals. It thus implies that this ill-behavior is to be rejected. It is also understood from the subsequent verse that once a devotee becomes established in virtue, such behavior will be given up. Moreover, such ill-behavior is an offense to the holy name, as stated in this verse: “For one who intentionally commits sins on the strength of the holy name, the means of his purification through rules simply does not exist.”

In this context, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī makes a keen observation regarding Kṛṣṇa’s statement in Gītā (9.30) which says, “If even a person who is exceedingly ill-behaved worships Me with exclusive devotion, he should be regarded as indeed virtuous, because he is rightly resolved.” He writes that the devotee spoken of in this verse, behaving in an abominable manner, is not a devotee having śraddhā based on śāstra. Rather, his śraddhā is acquired from social convention (loka-paramparā). This is the type of śraddhā described in Gītā 17.1–4. A devotee with faith that is rooted in scripture (śāstrīya-śraddhā) will not engage in any act forbidden in śāstra. This is the very meaning of śāstrīya-śraddhā. Thus, there are two types of śraddhā—one that is based upon śāstra and the other, on social convention. Most devotees at present have some combination of the two.

It is for people endowed with śāstrīya-śraddhā that Kṛṣṇa ordains the abandonment of karma and exclusive engagement in bhakti. Therefore, the statements of śāstra advising one not to disturb the minds of people engaged in karma, such as in Gītā (3.26), and those that recommend the abandonment of karma, such as in Bhāgavata Purāṇa (11.20.9), are intended for two different classes of people. The first type of instruction is for those who do not have śāstrīya-śraddhā in bhakti, and the second is for those who have acquired śraddhā.

From this analysis, it is clear that śāstrīya-śraddhā cannot manifest in a person who is ignorant of śāstra. Only those who have heard the śāstra from a qualified teacher can have śāstrīya-śraddhā, not others. It is for those who are unaware of śāstra that Kṛṣṇa gives the instruction not to provoke them to give up karma (Gītā 3.26). They should first be inspired to listen to śāstra. If they become inquisitive about śāstra, they should be given śāstrīya knowledge and then advised to take to bhakti. If, however, they are unwilling to hear śāstra, they should not be given śāstric knowledge. Otherwise, it would be an offense on the part of the instructor.