The Two Divisions of Pure Bhakti – 1

This article describes the two divisions of pure devotion, known as vaidhī and rāgānugā, based on Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura’s explanation of Śrī Kapila’s statements in the 25th chapter of the Third Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam.

devahūtir uvāca

kācit tvayy ucitā bhaktiḥ   kīdṛśī mama gocarā
yayā padaṁ te nirvāṇam   aṣjasānvāśnavā aham (SB 3.25.28)

“Devahūti asks her son, Kapila:  ‘What do you consider the best type of bhakti that I can execute to attain Your blissful feet?'”

Lord Kapila begins his reply by defining bhakti:

devānāṁ guṇa-liṅgānām ānuśravika-karmaṇām
sattva evaika-manaso vṛttiḥ svābhāvikī tu yā
animittā bhāgavatī bhaktiḥ siddher garīyasī (SB 3.25.32)

jarayaty āśu yā kośaṁ nigīrṇam analo yathā (SB 3.25.33)

Bhakti is the natural function of the mind and senses (cognitive and working) in relation to Kṛṣṇa, and no other Lord, with single-pointed motivation free from material desires. It is greater than any other perfection and is superior even to liberation.  It immediately destroys the subtle body just like the fire of digestion in the stomach consumes foodstuff.”

Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura writes an elaborate explanation on these verses as follows:

Śrī Kapila defines the best type of pure devotion as the mind and senses functioning without the lower gunas, exclusively for the sake of “Sattva.” Usually, sattva refers to one of the three gunas, but here it refers to Kṛṣṇa, whose body is śuddha-sattva. Bhakti, therefore, is not for any other deva.

The term eka-manasa in SB 3.25.32 means a person whose mind is only of one type. He has the desire to comprehend the name, form, etc. of the Lord with the intention of rendering service to Him, and without any motive to give Him up after achieving perfection as a result. Thus the bhakti Kapila recommends to his mother is distinct from the selfishly motivated bhakti performed by yogīs and jñānīs.

Another meaning of “eka-manasa” is a person whose mind is fixed only on service and not on jñāna and karma. The word guṇa-liṅgānām means the senses which perceive the sense objects, such as sound, etc. The word devānām denotes the presiding deity of the senses or the senses which are engaged with the devotional sense objects. Vṛtti means the activity of these senses. Animittā means without any material motive.

Thus, by the natural arrangement of the words in the first verse (32),  bhakti is defined as sensory activities exclusively in relation to śuddha-sattva (Śrī Hari) without any material motive.

The term sattva eva (only in Bhagavān) is to be applied both to the mind (eka manasa) as well as the function (vṛtti) of the senses by the logic of “The Crow’s Eyeball” (kākākśi golaka nyāya). As it is believed that the crow has only one eyeball which looks through one eye socket or the other as required, so a word can possess two functions in one sentence simultaneously. Here the word sattva is stated only once, but it is applied both to the mind and the senses.

In this verse, the word sattva does not mean devotion to deities in sattva guṇa, such as Brahma or Rudra. To make this clear, the adjective bhāgavatī has been used with bhakti, making it explicit that this superior bhakti is focused on Bhagavān, not other deities. The word sattva also means the essential nature (-tva) of a devotee (sat). In this sense it means to have one-pointed determination, e.g. to become like the devotees. Thus bhakti is defined as using the senses with the exclusive mentality of becoming a Vaiṣṇava.

No Bhakti without Surrender

According to Śrī Kapila, activities of the senses independent of a relation with God are not bhakti. This also implies that attempting devotional activities without surrendering to a qualified spiritual teacher is not bhakti. Rather, bhakti is the behavior of a devotee who adheres to the activity and mantra prescribed to him or her by a qualified spiritual teacher. To make this clear, Śrī Kapila used the phrase ānuśravika-karmaṇām (“activities resulting from following instruction”). The primary meaning of ānuśravika is to hear (śrava) from the mouth (anu) of the teacher. Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī extrapolates the etymology with further precision, saying that since ānuśrava means hearing from the guru, it therefore means hearing the mantra prescribed by the guru.  Activities (karmanām) the guru prescribes in relationship to the mantra are called ānuśravika-karmaṇām.

Therefore, the word ānuśravika karma includes the regular duties (nitya karma) of a person who has accepted a mantra from a spiritual teacher. Regular duties include daily activities to maintain bodily health, even including activities like evacuation and urination.

One may doubt that such base activities can be a part of bhakti, so Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura cites the following verse from Viṣṇu Rahasya Tantra:

utsargan malamutradeś citta svastyam yato bhavet
ataḥ payu rupastam ca tadā rādhā sādhanam

“The anus and genitals are also utilized in devotional practice, because one’s health remains strong by proper evacuation and urination.”

Since the body is instrumental to the practice of bhakti, mundane functions such as urination and evacuation are included within the activities of bhakti because they maintain the fitness of that body.

In this way, vaidhī sādhana bhakti, which is prompted by scriptural injunctions, has been defined. Then, by the use of the word tu, Śrī Kapila signifies a shift in topic to a special subject: bhāva bhakti — the perfection of sādhana bhakti, identified by Śrī Kapila with the phrase bhaktih siddheh (SB 3.256.32). Another meaning comes out when the word siddhi is taken with the next word, garīyasī. This means that bhakti is superior (garīyasī) to any other perfection (siddhi), including liberation (mukti). The word garīyasī is in the comparative form which indicates that even bhakti in the practice stage is superior to mukti or impersonal liberation.

(to be continued)