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The Intimate Dealings of Vaiṣṇavas

By Satyanarayana Dasa

In the Sixth Canto, 17th Chapter, there is a description of King Citraketu who was travelling in space in his airship, surrounded by hundreds of beautiful celestial women, called Vidyādharīs, who are famous for their melodious singing. Citraketu engaged in the kīrtana of Bhagavān, accompanied by these beautiful lady singers. One day, from his airship, he looked down and saw Lord Śiva surrounded by various sages, Siddhas and Cāraṇas. The thing that amused him was that, even while sittingin the midst of this august assembly, Śiva was embracing his wife Pārvatī. King Citraketu could not stop himself from commenting, and ridiculed Śiva in front of everyone. “Just see,” he exclaimed, “He is the teacher of the world and speaks on the principles of dharma. He wears the matted hair of a renunciate, and yet he sits in the assembly like a shameless lusty person, with his wife on his lap. Indeed, even a common materialistic person does not behave like this openly.”

Pārvatī’s Curse

Shiva and Parvati
Lord Śiva and Pārvatī

Lord Śiva laughed in a grave voice, and then remained silent. Everyone in the assembly was also silent, but goddess Pārvatī could not tolerate an insult to her husband. She spoke up, praising the greatness of Lord Śiva, questioned the impudence of Citraketu, and angrily cursed him to become an asura.

Citraketu got down from his airship to pay humble respects to Mother Pārvatī, touching his head to her feet. “Please do not be upset with me,” he said. “Forgive me for my sharp words. I do not ask you to free me from your curse, but I just want you to give up your anger at me.”

Having pleased Śiva and Pārvatī with his humility and prayers, Citraketu left in his airship. Then Lord Śiva explained the greatness of Vaiṣṇavas who are not afraid of anything and consider happiness and distress, birth and death, curse and blessings as same.

This incident is very puzzling. Citraketu knew that Śiva was Kandarpa, the “Killer of Cupid,” and beyond any taint of lust, so why did he criticize or taunt him so impudently?

Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī answers by explaining that there are several reasons. Citraketu and Lord Śiva both are devotees of Bhagavān Saṅkarṣaṇa and thus they are like godbrothers. Citraketu did not want his senior godbrother to be criticized by ignorant people, so he tried to curb Śiva’s behavior that foolish people would misunderstand.

Hidden Glorification

This is why he addressed Śiva as “loka-guru” (teacher of the world). He knows that Śiva is beyond lust, and therefore it does not make any difference where or when he embraces his wife, but he did not want people who are not free from sexual desire to cite his behavior as justification for their own licentiousness. Citraketu’s comment was not made as a mundane critic. It was spoken out of love with the intention to safeguard Lord Śiva’s reputation and also to restrain the general populace from justifying their improper behavior. Because Citraketu and Śiva were intimate friends and because Citraketu had spoken out of love, his harsh words only brought pleasure to Śiva and therefore Śiva’s reaction was that he laughed and kept silence.

Later on, when Citraketu was cursed by Pārvatī, Lord Śiva spoke about the glories of Vaiṣṇavas. The hidden meaning of Lord Śiva’s instruction was, “O my dear Pārvatī, why are you losing your temper unnecessarily?”

He told her, “Look, I laughed and kept silent. By this I conveyed the following reply to Citraketu: O friend, I agree. I am exactly as you have portrayed me. But at least I am not a hypocrite like you, who portray yourself as a devout follower of Saṅkarṣaṇa, but secretly you enjoy with hundreds of Vidyādharīs. I am just the opposite. I portray myself as a lusty being, sitting with my wife in my arms, but in truth I am a renounced person. We are opposites: You advertise yourself as a bhakta and hide your sense enjoyment; I display myself as an enjoyer and hide my bhakti. This is the difference between you and me.”

This was the internal rasa that Lord Śiva relished with Citraketu, but Pārvatī could not understand it and therefore lost her temper, creating a disturbance. Lord Śiva was actually disturbed by Pārvatī’s interruption and not by the harsh words of Citraketu. The 36th text of this chapter implies that Pārvatī was extremely surprised when she understood this internal dealing of rasa between Śiva and Citraketu. “Citraketu is just a kṣatriya and became a devotee only recently,” she thought. “How strange that he could have such an intimate, sweet exchange with my husband, who is an eternal and unparalleled devotee of Śrī Bhagavān!”

The Glory of Bhakti

Another meaning behind this episode is that Śrī Kṛṣṇa wanted Citraketu to return to Him, but Citraketu was preoccupied in singing and wandering with the Vidyādharīs. Therefore, he got Citraketu cursed so he would more quickly reach his abode and be his associate.

As a result of Pārvatī’s curse, Citraketu became Vṛtrasura. While living as Vṛtrasura, Citraketu’s eagerness to be with Kṛṣṇa increased dramatically. Indeed, when he finally gained the audience of Śrī Bhagavān, Vṛtrasura spoke some of the most beautiful prayers of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

This story of Vṛtrasura brings out the glory of bhakti, which is not dependent on anything material, such as birth, character, or even the acquired material body. It is to establish this fact that goddess Pārvatī cursed Citraketu.

The prayers of Vṛtrasura will be the subject of the next article.

The Importance of Nāma Kīrtana – 2

The Importance of Kirtan

Babaji in France, May 2015Śravaṇam precedes kīrtanam and smaranam because it is impossible to remember or glorify something one has not yet heard about. Despite this practical primacy of śravaṇam, kīrtanam is actually of primary significance and importance, and, therefore special attention should be given to its practice.

One can perform kīrtanam by oneself, but doing it in the company of a great personality is a greater boon. If one performs kīrtanam by oneself, one should be in the internal presence of great personalities like Śrī Caitanya, His associates, and Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī. One should then perform kīrtanam in the mood of being their follower. It is still better if great personalities are actually present. If one has the rare fortune of hearing the kīrtana of a great devotee, one can certainly do kīrtanam in a proper mood even if alone. [In our experience, the personal presence of a great devotee performing kirtan has a far greater effect than simply listening to a recording.]

A similar statement has been made by Śrīdhara Svāmī while commenting on verse 1.5.11: “If there is a speaker, one should hear the Names from him. If there is only an audience, one should recite the Names for them. If there is neither, one can sing the Names for oneself.”

As with hearing, the proper sequence for kīrtanam is: (1) nāma, (2) rūpa, (3) guṇa, (4) parikara and (5) līlā.

Kīrtana is best performed loudly. “Loudly” here means audible, so that others in one’s vicinity can hear it, but the idea should be applied contentiously. These days in Vrindavan, for example, it has become a custom to install loud speakers on top of temples or āśrama buildings to amplify kīrtan. Such kīrtan often creates the disturbance to others who may also be engaged in their own kīrtanam, smaranam, or other acts of devotional service. We should not be “loud” as an excuse to force others to listen to our kīrtan. Kīrtanam should be done as a service to Bhagavān, not to show off to the neighbors. After all, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who appeared to purify the people of Kaliyuga, gave the following principle for performing kīrtan.

         tṛṇād api sunīcena
         taror api titikṣuna
         amāninā mānadena
         kīrtanīyaḥ sadā hariḥ

“One should regularly do kīrtan of the Holy Name of the Lord in a humble mood, considering oneself lower than a blade of grass, being more tolerant than the tree, while giving respects to others and not expecting to be honored by them.” (Śikṣāṣṭaka 3, CC. Ādi 17.31)

It is well known from the Vedas and Purāṇas that kīrtanam is Bhagavan’s supreme grace on those who are low-born, misbehaved, or very poor and, therefore, cannot engage in religious activities like yajña, etc. (Poverty is an issue because religious activities sometimes require significant wealth).

The Brahmā Vaivartha Purāṇa says:

“In Kaliyuga, religious activities such as penance, yoga, the study of the Vedas, and execution of yajña, do not bring proper results, even if done by experts.“

As is further stated in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam,

         etan nirvidyamānānām
         icchatām akuto-bhayam
         yogināṁ nṛpa nirṇītaṁ
         harer nāmānukīrtanam

O King, learned scholars conclude that the kīrtan of Hari’s Names should be performed by people who are  dejected because of being unsuccessful in their material pursuits, and by all sort of yogis who desire freedom
from fear.” (SB 2.1.11)

The implied meaning of the verse is that nāma kīrtanam should be performed by everyone, whether they are engaged in pure devotion, mixed devotion, yoga, jñāna or karma. In Kaliyuga, kīrtanam is particularly important. It is a blessing on fallen people, because it easily grants the results of all other religious activities. In Kaliyuga, Bhagavān is specifically pleased by kīrtanam. Although the greatness of kīrtanam is described in relation to Kaliyuga, it is not limited to Kaliyuga, just as other types of bhakti are also not limited by time or place. The power of kīrtanam remains the same in each yuga, but in Kaliyuga, out of compassion, the Lord has specifically glorified it, so that people who are not qualified for other religious practices may become inspired to practice kīrtanam and attain the highest possible goal in human life.

All other practices of bhakti should be accompanied by kīrtanam, but kīrtanam doesn’t need to be accompanied by any other practice. The following verses elucidate this principle.

         kṛṣṇa-varṇaṁ tviṣākṛṣṇaṁ
         yajñaiḥ saṅkīrtana-prāyair
         yajanti hi su-medhasaḥ

“[In the Age of Kali, Bhagavān appears within this world] with a non-blackish complexion and constantly sings or describes the names of Kṛṣṇa, accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions. Those endowed with discriminating wisdom worship the Absolute in this form primarily through the sacrifice of complete kīrtanam, involving the totality of one’s being.” (SB 11.5.32)

Similarly, Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī glorifies chanting of the Name of Lord Hari:

         kaler doṣa-nidhe rājann
         asti hy eko mahān guṇaḥ
         kīrtanād eva kṛṣṇasya
         mukta-saṅgaḥ paraṁ vrajet

“O king, although Kaliyuga is an ocean of defects, it has still one great quality: Just by performing kīrtana one can become free from material bondage and attain the supreme abode.” (SB 12.3.51)

Such prescriptions are also found in many other scriptures:

         harer nāma harer nāma
         harer nāmaiva kevalam
         kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
         nāsty eva gatir anyathā

        [cited in CC. Ādi 17.21]

“In Kaliyuga only the chanting of the Name of Lord Hari brings perfection. No other means is efficacious.”

What and How to Chant in Kirtan

The Lord’s names are mentioned in various scriptures, and in nāma kīrtanam one can use any of these. However, the most efficacious nāma kīrtanam glorifies the names of Bhagavān found in Śrīmad Bhagavatam. It should be understood that kīrtanam also includes expressions of humility, expressions of one’s spiritual goal, and recitation of prayers to Bhagavān.

Kīrtanam is the recommended process for everyone in the age of Kali and does not require any specific qualification, such as birth, gender, age, etc.. However, it must be done with the proper mood, carefully avoiding offenses against the Name.

Śrī Sanat Kumāra says, “By taking shelter of Lord Hari, one becomes free from various types of offenses. If a wicked person commits offenses toward Lord Hari, he can become free from them if somehow he takes shelter of the Name of Lord Hari. However, if someone commits offense to the Name of the Lord, who is everyone’s well-wisher, he is doomed.”

Padma Purāṇa lists ten offenses against the Name.

1.    To criticize the Vaiṣṇavas.
2.    To consider the name of Lord Śiva and others as independent of Śrī Viṣṇu.
3.    To insult one’s guru.
4.    To criticize the Vedas and other scriptures which follow the Vedas.
5.    To consider the glories of the name of Lord Hari as exaggerated praise.
6.    To misinterpret the glories of the Name.
7.    To commit forbidden acts on the strength of the Name.
8.    To equate the Name with other pious activities.
9.    To give instructions about the Name to someone who has no faith, is not devoted to the Lord or is disinterested in hearing about it.
10.   To not have attraction to the Name even after hearing its glories.

Out of these, the most commonly committed offenses are 1, 3, 4 and 9.

The only atonement for offenses against the Name, as stated in Padma Purāṇa itself:

“Only continuous chanting of the Names of the Lord can repair the effects of offenses against the Name.”

Therefore, it one has committed offense against the Name, one should engage all the more continuously in nāma kīrtana, to please to Name. The Name is also a person and thus can be offended and be placated like a person. An offense to the Name is cleared only when the Name is placated by the sincerity of the chanter.

If one has offended a Vaiṣṇava, the easiest way to become free from that offense and please the Name is to ask for forgiveness from that Vaiṣṇava. It is a general principle that the offense will be cleared if the offended person forgives. This is understood from the story of Durvāsā Muni who offended King Ambarīṣa great Vaiṣṇava, described in the 9th Canto, Chapters 4 and 5 of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Although Durvāsā went to Lord Viṣṇu to become free from the reaction of offense, Lord Viṣṇu directed him to return back to Ambarīṣa and ask for forgiveness.

It is also stated in Nāma Kaumodi, “One becomes free from the offense against a Vaiṣṇava either by facing its outcome or by the grace of that Vaiṣṇava.” This principle is also illustrated in the story of Dakṣa’s sacrifice. After offending Lord Śiva, Dakṣa realized his gross mistake. Trying to spare himself from the reaction of his offense he spoke to Lord Śiva as follows:

        yo ‘sau mayāvidita-tattva-dṛśā sabhāyāṁ
        kṣipto durukti-viśikhair vigaṇayya tan mām
        arvāk patantam arhattama-nindayāpād
        dṛṣṭyārdrayā sa bhagavān sva-kṛtena tuṣyet

“Not knowing your greatness, I insulted you with the arrows of my abusive words in the assembly of great sages. Because of this heinous criticism I am gliding down to hell. You are supremely gentle and thus you have saved me by your compassionate glance. May you be pleased by your own good deeds.“ (SB 4.7.15)

Thus, the conclusion is that one should engage in nāma kīrtana while carefully avoiding the above stated offenses, and thus attain perfection in bhakti. This is the essence of Prahlāda’s reply to his father.

As an afterthought, one may wonder if Prahlāda committed the ninth offense by giving this instruction to his father, who was opposed to Viṣṇu and thus had obviously had no inclination to hear about the subject? No, Prahlāda did not give his father an unsolicited instruction, he simply replied to his father’s question about the progress of his education.

Babaji Awarded the Position of Mahanta in Vrindavan

On January 25th 2015, thousands of renounced Vaishnavas and other guests gathered at Jiva Institute to commence the official installment of Babaji Sri Satyanarayana Dasa as a Mahanta. This position is awarded by an organization called Catuh Sampradaya Virakta Vaishnava Parisad (“Association of the Renounced Vaishnavas of the Four Sampradayas,” CSVVP) presided over by Prahlad Das of Gore Dauji temple in Vrindavan. The CSVVP has a voice to convey certain issues to the government or to people in general. It also has the authority to rebuke someone for not following the principles of dharma.

Welcome festoon for Babaji
Welcome festoon for Babaji

The grand function was attended by the prominent Vaishnavas and dignitaries of Vrindavan. Hridyananda Dasa Baba, the oldest Gaudiya Vaishnava, came to bless Babaji, as well as Sri Vasudeva and Sri Caitanya Gosvamis of Radha-raman Temple. Sri Ananata Dasa Babaji Maharaja, Mahanta of Radha Kunda, was unable to come but send his prime disciple Sri Keshava Dasa Babaji with a garland and a shawl from the Samadhi Mandir of Sri Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami.

The purohit peforms puja to begin the ceremony

Mahantas are only appointed on the request of the CSVVP, either because they are the head of a particular place or ashram (i.e., the Jiva Institute) or to choose their successor. A prerequisite for the appointment is good conduct. This tradition is more than one hundred years old. There are several hurdles to cross before a person is officially installed as Mahanta. Prior to it, Babaji was invited to a meeting of all the members of the executive committee of approximately 300 Mahantas to present his acceptance of this position. After being approved, he attended several functions, the last of which was completed at the old Kathia Baba Ashram on Mahatma Gandhi Road last week. Babaji has been requested for many years to accept this position and he finally agreed. All the Mahantas are greatly pleased to have him as part of their group.

Armies of the Past

Babaji with the president of CSVVP (left) and the president of Balabhadri Akhada (in saffron)
Babaji with the president of CSVVP (left) and the president of Balabhadri Akhada (in saffron)

The CSVVP was originally founded to combat Advaitavada sannyasis and Shaiva sadhus, who used to threaten and harass Vaishnavas, especially at Kumbha Mela, which is the biggest religious gathering.  Kumbha Mela is celebrated four times every twelve years at places of pilgrimage on four sacred Indian rivers. Previousy, these sannyasis, who were very prominent at Kumbha Mela, would bar Vaishnavas from taking a dip in the holy water at the auspicious time. They would even fight and beat them. To counteract these threats, a great Vaishnava by the name Balmukanda gathered Vaishnavas to form an army around the 16th or 17th century. Over time, several more of such armies came into existence. They are called Akhadas (lit., wrestling organizations) and still exist today. Vaishnavas have three of them—the Sri Panch Balabhadri Nirvani Ani Akhada, the Nirmohi Ani Akhada, and the Sri Panca Digambara Ani Akhada. Shaivites have eleven Akhadas.

The Akhadas, lead by Mahantas in smaller formations, used to act like armies and their soldiers are stilled called Nagas. Unlike the followers of Lord Shiva, Vaisnava Nagas do not go naked. The Nagas were trained in sword fighting, stick wielding, and other such martial arts. One can still witness this during the Shai Snaan festival (“Royal Dip”) with its royal procession of Akhada chiefs and their Nagas, who demonstrate their fighting skills. They resemble the army of a king on the move to attack. However, the old animosity between the Vaishnava and Shaiva Akhadas does not exist anymore.

In the past, Vaishnavas from all over India used to convene at Vrindavan before Kumbha Mela. From there, they would move to the Kumbha Mela location like a big army. This custom is still followed when there is Kumbha at Haridwara. At that time, one can observe a small Kumbha of Vaishnavas in Vrindavan.

We Gaudiyas belong to the first Akhada, in short called Balabhadri Akhada (Akhada of Balarama, Krishna’s brother). The head of this Akhada is Sri Dharma Dasa Maharaja from Ayodhya. Maharaja came all the way from Ayodhya to Vrindavan, travelling for 12 hours, just to bless Babaji on this occasion. This was a very special visit, because usually he does not attend such functions.

Babaji’s New Responsibilities

Sumptous feast for the sadhus

As Mahanta of Jiva Institute, Babaji is expected to not only look after the ashrama, but also to maintain good character and spread dharma. As the tradition prescribes it, he is expected to participate in Kumbha Mela. He will also have to attend regular meetings on current issues and problems of Vrindavan, e.g. the current UP government’s intention to abolish Vrindavan’s Municipality and merge it with Mathura. The Mahantas are opposing this move, since as a consequence wine and meat could be sold in Vrindavan, as is the case now in Mathura. This would destroy Vrindavan’s identity.

As a Mahanta, Babaji would like to focus on issues related to Vrindavan, such as maintaining its sanctity. He is especially concerned to maintain the character and structure of the old town. He is also pleading for better arrangements as regards cleanliness, better roads, no loud loudspeakers and a solution to the monkey problem. With all these new duties, Babaji’s main focus is still the activities of Jiva Institute, especially teaching, translating, commenting on, and publishing the works of Jiva Gosvami and other acharyas of the Gaudiya school.

Bhagavān, Grace and Material Suffering – Part 1

By Satyanarayana Dasa

At present I am working on Paramātmā  Sandarbha, the third book of Jīva Gosvāmī’s Ṣaṭ Sandarbhas. I thought of sharing the 93rd Anuccheda of the book, which is an elaborate analysis of the nature of Bhagavān and His relation with the world and His devotees. It also deals with the question why there is so much suffering in the world if there is a God who is merciful. I think it will be interesting for our readers and give a peek into Paramātmā Sandarbha. It is a long anuccheda. So for easy understanding, I have divided it in six parts, as I did with the lengthy anucchedas in Bhagavat Sandarbha.What follows is the translation of the original text and my commentary on it.


Objections to the Agency of Bhagavān


Sri Varadaraja in Kanchipuram

Although the conclusion regarding the Lord’s threefold cosmic play (līlā) of creation and so on has been undertaken in a general way, it is now elaborated again in a specific manner, by addressing various objections, according to the principle of “driving in the post” (sthūṇa-nikhanana-nyāya).

A question is raised: Does the Supreme Lord Himself personally appear or not as the avatāras who descend in the course of His cosmic play of sustaining the universe, and does He or does He not perform the various līlās of these avatāras about which we hear, such as siding with the gods (suras) by exhibiting a smile expressive of His pleasure or by granting them fearlessness, or by killing the asuras by doing battle with them?

If He does, then not only would the objection raised earlier [in Anuccheda 85] become verified [that He is influenced by the guṇas], but He would also be subject to [the flaw of] favoritism [towards the devas]. If He does not, then all these avatāras and their līlāsare shown to not be part of the Lord’s essential nature and thus the previously accepted conclusion falls to pieces.


While fixing a pole in the ground or a peg in a wall, the more the pole or peg is hit by a hammer, the more firm it becomes, and then it will not shake. This is called sthūṇa-nikhanana-nyāya, or the principle of driving in a post. The more objections one can raise against a theory and then answer, the more firmly that theory is established and indeed becomes unshakable.

Śrī Jīva has already substantiated that Bhagavān is the agent behind the creation, sustenance and destruction of the universe, and yet is neither influenced by the guṇas nor undergoes any modification. He now raises further doubts to this position to make it absolutely clear. One of the reasons he does so is to uproot any traces of non-theistic leanings from our minds. The non-theists (i.e., the radical nondualists) admit the existence of a conditioned God, but in their view this God is also a product of māyā and not a transcendental person. Therefore, He cannot be the ultimate object of devotion. The author wants to completely rid us of this misconception.

If Bhagavān is the agent of such activities as protecting the devas and killing the asuras, then He must be influenced by the material guṇas,otherwise how could He behave in this manner? Moreover, if such were the case, He would not be equal to all, but biased against the wicked and favoring the saintly. Surely such behavior is not possible for one who is beyond the jurisdiction of material nature.

On the other hand, if it is said that these activities are not performed by Him directly, then it would contradict the principle that His actions and attributes are part of His inherent nature . This is the doubt that is being raised.


Bhagavān Acts Only for the Delight of his Devotees


The answer is as follows: It is true, Parameśvara does nothing at all to sustain the universe. But He manifests various avatāras and līlās exclusively through the display of His intrinsic potency to give pleasure to the Vaikuṇṭha associates who descend with Him, as well as to the devotees among the devas engaged in universal administration, and to other devotees not directly involved [in these pastimes]. This is stated in Padma-purāṇa:

Although I am able to annihilate the asuras in a mere moment (muhūrta), I still perform various activities for the pleasure of My devotees. A fish, a tortoise and a bird nourish their offspring by seeing, reflection, and touching respectively. So also do I [nourish My devotees], O Brahmā.

In the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya, Śrī Nṛsiṁha says:

I am fully satisfied always, and I take various births to fulfill all the desires of My devotees. So please tell Me, what can I do to please you? (HBS 14.31)

And there is also Kuntī Devī’s statement:

You have appeared to grant bhakti-yoga to the pure-hearted paramahaṁsa sages. So how can we women see you? (SB 1.8.20)

In this verse, the phrase “to grant bhakti-yoga” (bhakti-yoga-vidhānārtham) means that the dissemination of bhakti is the purpose of His appearance. This is also the opinion of Śrīdhara Svāmī in his commentary on this verse. There is also the following statement of Śrī Brahmā:

In order to expand the totality of bliss of those who are surrendered to You, O Lord, You imitate the ways of the world on earth, though You are beyond all connection with the world. (SB 10.14.37)

[That the manifestation of līlā and avatāra is] a display of the intrinsic potency is shown by Śrī Brahmā himself:

So that I may remain untainted by my work, even as I create this universe, which is a display of His creative power, may the Lord, who fulfills the wishes of those who take refuge in Him, engage my mind in the divine play He performs, manifesting many transcendental virtues when He descends (gṛhīta-guṇāvatāra) along with His intrinsic potency, Ramā. (SB 3.9.23)

In this verse, the compound gṛhīta-guṇāvatāra means, the avatāra of the Lord in which He takes on qualities such as mercy. In this way, while manifesting these avatāras exclusively for the pleasure of His devotees, the work of His extrinsic potency māyā in the form of protecting the universe by such things as siding with the suras occurs of its own accord, even without His conscious inspection.

Just as in the world, when devotees assemble together to heighten their exultation of love for the Lord, they may gather some drum players who are unacquainted with the ecstasy of such divine love, and while dancing, being intoxicated by singing the glories of the Lord, they destroy the inauspiciousness of the world and at the same time increase its auspiciousness. This is expressed in the Eleventh Canto, “A person endowed with devotion to Me purifies the entire world” (SB 11.14.24). It is similarly said in the following verse:

Lord Hari’s creation of the world is verily without anticipation of any particular result. He does so out of His bliss alone, just like the dancing of an intoxicated person.


Śrī Jīva accepts the second of the two options raised in the previous section, that although Bhagavān personally appears as the avatāras who descend in the course of His cosmic play, He does not act for the sake of maintaining the universe. This He could do even without descending upon the earth. Merely by His will He could destroy the miscreants by sending them some natural calamities, and in that way accomplish this purpose. But Bhagavān acts for the delight of His devotees. It is for this reason that He creates the universe, accepts avatāras, and performs pastimes. This is why His activities are called līlā or divine play.

Sri Rangam Temple
Sri Rangam Temple

The maintenance of the universe is a concomitant effect of His dalliance with His devotees, just as when one cooks food on a wood fire for one’s pleasure, one may also alleviate the distress caused by the cold. In the course of His līlā, Bhagavān may kill the wicked when they cause a disturbance to His devotees. As a side effect, people in general are benefited, even though Bhagavān acted only for the devotees’ welfare.

Śrī Jīva gives a contemporary example of devotees who gather and perform saṅkīrtana for the pleasure of the Lord. Although they do so for His delight, it brings auspiciousness to the whole world because of the power of devotion (SB 11.14.24). They may also engage some non-devotees to accompany them in playing musical instruments. These musicians also receive divine blessings, even though that was not their primary intention. A person can perform an action to achieve something he lacks, or just out of inner delight. We belong to the first category and have no experience of the second state. Bhagavān acts out of bliss like an intoxicated person who dances out of sheer joy, and not to get joy.

(to be continued)

New Book Release: Śrī Bhagavat Sandarbha

Śrī Bhagavat Sandarbha:  God — His Qualities, Abode and Associates

Sanskrit Text by Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī with English Translation and Jīva-toṣaṇī Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa

After studying the entire gamut of Vedic literature, including the Vedas, Purāṇas, Āgamas, six Darśanas and their various branches, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī, a sixteenth century saint and follower of Śrī Caitanya, wrote as his philosophical masterpiece the Ṣaṭ Sandarbhas, six treatises on the Bhāgavata Purana. This work, the most systematic and complete synthesis of Vedānta, contains the essential message of Vedic literature, and, most importantly, is a thorough and systematic presentation of the theology of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. Jīva Gosvāmī had concluded that, in the present age, the easiest and best way to understand the message of the Vedas was through the Śrīmad Bhāgavata and its revelation of divine love, prema.

new book just delivered

With this new English edition of the six Sandarbhas, beginning with the publication of the Bhāgavat Sandarbha that has just been published, Satyanarayana Dasa and the Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies will have produced an outstanding scholarly work that can take a distinguished place alongside other treatises of philosophy and theology, not just for practitioners of bhakti, but for academics as well.

Through the Ṣaṭ Sandarbhas, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has provided the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava School with a clear identity on a par with those of Śrī Rāmānujācārya, Śrī Madhvācārya, and others. He drew freely from the entire heritage of Vaiṣṇava philosophical thought available to him. Śrī Jīva wrote no important conclusion without supporting scriptural references, and yet his conclusions are not mere repetitions, but bear the mark of originality and deserve independent consideration. They are widely acknowledged within the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition as Jīva Gosvāmī’s philosophical magnum opus.

Jiva Gosvami with his students

Bhagavat Sandarbha, the second book of Jīva Gosvāmī’s Ṣaṭ Sandarbhas, is quite simply a book about Bhagavān, or God, the Supreme Being. To avoid narrow and misleading notions, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī first establishes an objective and far-reaching context in which Bhagavān can be self-evidently understood, free from constrictive or reductionist interpretations. In striking opposition to popular spiritual ideas, such as “All is One,” he supplies the reader with knowledge of Ultimate Reality with unparalleled precision and exacting detail. This Reality, which is described as Nondual Consciousness (advaya-jñāna), is realized in three aspects: as Brahman (God without any qualities, the Unqualified Absolute), as Paramātmā (the Immanent Self residing in each of us), and as Bhagavān (the all-powerfull, all-blissful, infinitely charming playful Person). Jīva Gosvāmī analyzes each of these aspects and demonstrates with conclusive evidence that Bhagavān is the complete and indivisible Absolute Reality and that all other manifestations are dependent on, and thus subordinate to, Him.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī labored hard to present this wonderful analysis of the “spotless Purāṇa” for those serious students who truly aspire to attain pure devotion for Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Without seriously studying the Sandarbhas, one would find it difficult to ascertain the essential theological principles found in Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa
Babaji teaching

The author of this edition, Dr. Satyanarayana Dasa, is the director of the Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies in Vrindavan, India, and a visiting professor at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He studied the complete Sandarbhas in the traditional manner, sitting by the side of his spiritual teacher, Śrī Haridāsa Śāstrī Mahārāja (1918-2013), day after day for several years. Thus, the commentary included here is rooted in knowledge handed down in parampara, just as the Ṣaṭ Sandarbha, a traditional and highly sophisticated teaching in devotional Vedānta, was meant to be. Satyanarayana Dasa remembers:

“The Ṣaṭ Sandarbhas were the first works I studied under my Guru Maharaja. The memories of that amazing experience are locked in my heart. Guru Maharaja always lamented about the neglect of the Sandarbhas by the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. He stressed that without studying them, one would not know the philosophy of Mahāprabhu. Just by studying these works, one is transported to another world. I received the inspiration from Guru Maharaja to present the Sandarbhas to the English speaking world and also to found Jiva Institute, a place where students can come and study Śrī Jīva’s and other Gauḍīya’s works.”

Reviewing the first sample print in Germany

In Bhagavat Sandarbha, Satyanarayana Dasa has translated the entire Sanskrit text, which is rendered in the original Devanagari script, and has given commentary on each section. Special attention has been given to the topic of epistemology, which is the beginning point and foundation of Śrī Jīva’s exposition.

Dr. Jan Brezezinski (Jagadananda Das) did the preliminary editing while Bruce Martin (Navadvipa Das) did the final editing and coined new terminology to precisely represent the subtlety, depth and complexity of Jīva Gosvāmī’s thought.

The other five Sandarbhas will be published within the next few years, with Tattva Sandarbha scheduled for release in early 2015. The remaining four, Paramātma, Kṛṣṇa, Bhakti, and Prīti Sandarbha, will follow.

For more information, please visit:    www.jiva.org/sandarbha


Bhagavat Sandarbha ready for shipping

You can purchase the book through our shop here. Please note: Worldwide shipping charges are included in the price.


Endorsements by Scholars

“Gaudiya Vaishnavism is one of the most important traditions to emerge in devotional Hinduism, and is primarily responsible for the eruption of Krishna devotion that spread across especially the North of India in the 16th century.  Despite being a grass roots movement, the school has deep scholastic roots in the Vedanta tradition and larger philosophical landscape of its time.  This philosophical basis is encapsulated in the six-volume Sandarbha treatise written by Jiva Gosvamin, the primary theologian of the tradition.  Satyanarayana Dasa’s rendition of the Bhagavat Sandarbha, to be followed by the remaining volumes, combines superb Sanskrit and hermeneutical skills with academic standards of scholarship. This volume will be well received by all scholars and students of Vedanta and devotional Hinduism.”

Edwin F. Bryant
Professor of Hindu Religion and Philosophy at Rutgers University


“The Sandarbhas of Śrī Jīva Gosvāmin represent the highest exegetical and philosophical theology of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava school. Satyanārāyaṇa Dāsa Bābā is uniquely positioned to translate them since he was trained by the 20th century’s most prolific and knowledgeable Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava scholar, Śrī Haridāsa Śāstrī, whose published editions and Hindī translations and commentaries of Gauḍīya works are well known to all scholars of the tradition. Satyanārāyaṇa brings a sensitivity to academic discourse, having taught at a number of American and European universities, as well as a seasoned understanding of Indian logic, grammar, hermeneutics, and poetics, all of which Jīva draws upon in his Sandarbhas. This first installment, the Bhagavat Sandarbha, will surely be a welcomed and widely used text by Krishna devotees, Indologists, and scholars of Indian religion in general.”

Jonathan Edelman
Assistant Professor of Religion at Mississippi State University


The Ontology of the Jīva – Part 3

 Verse Six

evaṁ parābhidhyānena
ṛtvaṁ prakṛteḥ pumān
karmasu kriyam
ṇair ātmāni manyate

Prakṛti is the entity that carries out material activities, but the ātmā thinks that the deeds done by prakṛti’s guṇas are his own deeds, because he completely absorbs his self identification in her.

Evam (“in this way”) refers to ātmā’s condition, described in previous verses, of having forgotten his true nature due to infatuation with prakṛti. Parābhidhyānena (completely absorbing his concentration in another being) indicates that the self (pumān) completely identifies with a being other than himself, prakṛti. This is why he thinks (manyate) that the deeds carried out by her qualities (guṇas) are actually his own deeds (ātmāni).

The conclusion is that the position of being an agent of material actions is not within the inherent nature of the self, ātmā-svarūpa. Rather it is merely a conception arising from his identification with prakṛti’s guṇa (sattva, rajas and tamas). The meaning is that all actions happen in the mind-body complex made of material nature but the self identifies with them as his own.

Verse Seven

tad asya saṁsṛtir bandha
āra-tantryaṁ ca tat-kṛtam
bhavaty akartur
ākṣiṇo nirvṛtātmāna

Because of this misconception, the jīva falls into the cycle of birth and death called samsara, and becomes bound. Even though the jīva is not the doer – he is the master, the witness, and blissful by nature – he thus becomes dependent.

As described in the previous verses, ātmā attains the association of prakṛti’s guṇas and becomes bound within them due to his extreme identification with them. The current verse adds that this leads the ātmā into birth and death, which makes him dependent on prakṛti and controlled by karma. This shows that the ātmā in this world is not constitutionally or intrinsically bound to prakṛti. The ātmā’s bondage is an acquired condition, not an inherent one.

To make this very clear, Lord Kapila also describes the constitutional nature of ātmā when not bound by prakṛti: The ātmā is inherently uninvolved with selfish material deeds (akartu), is an independent master (īśasya), is clear-sighted and unbewildered (sākṣiṇa), and exists blissfully without needs (nirvṛtātmāna).

 The word akartu (lit. non-doer) does not imply that ātmā is not the shelter of will or efforts, for there can be no action by the mind-body complex without the presence of ātmā. It means that ātmā is devoid of common material deeds, such as walking, etc. This is made clear by the next word, īśasya (lit. of the controller), which stipulates that ātmā is not inherently controlled by karma. The next word, sākṣiṇah (lit. of the witness) also makes this clear by stipulating that ātmā “has eyes” (sa-akṣi) and thus clear vision, and thus knowledge (which shows that ātmā possesses knowledge as an attribute, jñāna-gunaka). Indeed, the meaning of being a witness is to experience something directly. Thus the natural state of the ātmā is to directly witness reality. Knowledge of reality is therefore his inherent attribute (thus he can be described as jñāna-guṇaka).

The final word describing the inherent nature of ātmā is nirvṛtātmāna. This word stipulates that ātmā is intrinsically conscious by nature (thus he is described as jñāna svarüpa). This word is a compound of nirvṛta and ātmā. Examining the word nirvṛta will be helpful. This word is based on the root vṛ, joined to the prefix nir- and the suffix -kta.  The root vr means to cover, but when used with prefix nir it means to be happy, unobstructed. The suffix kta (which is usually applied in the sense of past perfect) has been applied on nirvr to convey the sense of “nature.”  Thus the word means, “One whose nature is ānanda, blissful.”

There is a statement from Śruti to support that ātmā is inherently blissful and free of worries by nature: nirvana māyā eva ayam ātmā (“This self is verily blissful”). Bliss is a sense of comfortable feeling. Naturally, if ātmā is independent and uncontrolled by karma (as stipulated by the term īśaya) then it has no worries and is blissful – for it has no contact with beginningless good and bad karma and instead has the eight natural qualities such as apahata pāpma, as described in Cāndogya Upanishad: ya ātmā apahatapapma vijaro vimrtyur visoko avijighatso apipasah  satyakamah  satyasankalpah (8.7.1) which says that the pure self is free from sin, old age, death, grief, hunger, thirst; and his desire and will are fulfilled.

This is Lord Kapila’s description of the nature of the pure living being free from any contact with prakṛti, having the nature of consciousness and having consciousness as his attribute, while endowed with the above stated eight qualities as part of his svarūpa. So, it is understood that the very nature of ātmā is unlimited, uncontracted, pure consciousness. But this consciousness can be covered by ignorance and become subject to karma. Karma forces consciousness to contract into various types of bodies, from Brahma to grass. When ātmā enters these various bodies, his consciousness becomes limited accordingly. Ignorantly identifying with that particular body, the conditioned ātmā instigates activities related to it. As a result, he becomes subject to karma and must experience pleasure and suffering, and continue to be implicated in the flow of the material world.

A doubt may arise:

“Ātmā is said to be conscious by nature and self-luminous (jñāna svarūpa and svayam prakasa). But when he identifies with a particular body, he is darkened by ignorance. What happens to his quality of self-luminosity? It appears to be lost. If the self-luminosity still existed, it would seem impossible for ātmā to be in darkness regarding his true self-identity. Thus it would not be possible for him to identify with any material form. If the self-luminosity is lost, his very nature of an eternal entity is destroyed.”

We reply:

That is not true. Ātmā has two types of jñāna, namely svarūpa-bhūta and dharma-bhūta. The first is the intrinsic nature, i.e. the nature of being consciousness, the second is the quality of possessing awareness and knowledge. The first one has no content in it except the sense of “I”. It is subjective consciousness. The second one is related to objects outside the self. It is objective awareness. The conscious, self-illuminating nature of the ātmā (jñāna-svarūpa) is not lost. The nature of the ātmā is eternally to be full of brilliant consciousness. But the attribute of being able to use that luminous consciousness to illuminate objects (dharma-bhūta-jñāna) is covered. The attribute is covered and contracted, not the intrinsic nature which sprouts the attribute.

A further doubt arises:

“OK, so you accept the loss of the attribute of knowledge, dharma-bhūta-jñāna. The question we ask is: How does ātmā lose this attribute? There seem to be only two possible implications. Either the illuminating power is obstructed by ignorance, or it is extinguished altogether. In either case the attribute of being self-illuminating is destroyed. Since this attribute is accepted as eternal, this raises a logical fallacy because something eternal cannot be destroyed.”

We reply:

Consciousness (jñāna) as an attribute of ātmā is intrinsic and therefore eternal, but we accept that it can expand or contract in a real sense. The sentient knowledge of the self is not “destroyed,” it merely undergoes change in the form of expansion and contraction, by the influence of karma. The illusion of identifying oneself with a body needs a conscious base. Therefore, we see that self-illumination still exists in the ignorant ātmā – but to a contracted extent – as the basis for the experience of illusion. The ātmā illuminates himself, there is no need of any other consciousness to reveal him. Only inert objects need another agent to illuminate them. So, even in ignorance the ātmā retains his nature of self-illumination. But his knowledge about being eternal (etc.) is lost, and thus illusion is produced. Loss here means the illumination or light is removed. Such illumination or light is not exactly within the nature of ātmā. It is more precisely a quality of dharma-bhūta-jñāna called prasara (lit. expansion). In other words, dharma-bhūta-jñāna possesses light which naturally spreads all around. This spreading is called prasara or expansion. The prasara can become contracted (saṅkoca) by karma. That is called conditioning or limitation. Thus ātmā never loses the attribute of dharma-bhūta-jñāna.  Expansion is not the same as lack of contraction. It is a positive entity itself which removes the contracting covering on the ātmā’s light, thus destroying illusion.

In summary, the ātmā inherently and eternally possesses the attribute of sentience, jñāna, and eternally possesses the constitution of consciousness. But the ability for these to shine can be expanded or contracted by the function of dharma-bhūta-jñāna.

Advaita-vāda, however, cannot answer this question about the loss of ātmā’s illuminating power. It says that ātmā is consciousness itself, without qualities. Thus it says that the illumination of consciousness cannot be a quality of the ātmā, it must be intrinsic to the ātmā himself. Therefore the loss of illuminating power and subsequent illusion of the jīva is an unsolvable conundrum for them. In their paradigm, it amounts to the destruction of an eternal entity – a logical impossibility.


Relation between Jnana and Bhakti

Question: How is jnana dependent on bhakti? Does it mean a jnani has to practice bhakti along with his practice of jnana to be successful? Or does it mean that a jnani has to come to path of bhakti as a result of his jnana?

Answer:  The word jnana when used in relation to jnana-yoga or jnana-marga has a specific meaning. It is not to be understood in the sense of knowledge but experience of oneness with Brahman.  To have that jnana, a janan-margi has to practice bhakti to Krsna or Visnu as secondary to jnana.

Question: If he has to practice bhakti, the question comes up how can he practice bhakti if he is doing devotion with the objective of liberation? How can that be bhakti?

Answer:  It is sakama bhakti, kaivalya-kama to be exact. He performs bhakti as a means to achieve kaivalya or mukti.

Question: Can bhakti also be directed to the demigods?

Answer:  Primarily not. Bhakti in its primary sense is only to God. In secondary sense, bhakti can be for devas, for parents, for one’s country – deva-bhakti, pitr-bhakti, matr-bhakti, rastra-bhakti.

Question: Then it seems it is not bhakti, as it is kaivailya-kama and also not directed toward Krishna. Then how is jnana dependent on bhakti?

Answer:  Why is it not bhakti? It is not uttama-bhakti. Of course it has to be to Visnu-tattva. Only Visnu can give the result of jnana. Only He can give mukti, not even Shiva. Krishna says in Gita (14.25) that only by executing bhakti, one transcends the gunas of prakrti and becomes Brahman-realized.

Question: It seems the point is that somehow Krishna is reciprocating and giving them the results of their efforts, but why is Krishna reciprocating, if it is not love or devotion? In other words, what is the difference between kaivalya-kama and jnana, that Krishna is reciprocating?

Answer:  He reciprocates because jnanis are following a path prescribed by Him in shastra. They have respect for shastra. Otherwise, there was no need to propagate sayujya mukti. It is not unconditional love, but conditional.

Question: Isn’t the idea that for the jnanis to be successful, Krishna has to give them the results, but why, when they are neither worshipping Him directly nor trying to please Him? Or is it only when they worship Krishna that a jnani can become successful? But do they worship Krishna?

Answer:  Krishna says chaturvidhA bhajante mAm – four types of people worship Me. He says they are all udAra. He reciprocates so that people in general have faith in Him and worship Him. If they are not worshiping Him directly, then they can only get material results, not mukti. Jnanis can become successful only when they worship Krishna or Vishnu. If they do not worship Him, then there is no question of mukti.