The Role of Study in Jnana-sunya Bhakti

By B. R. Sridhara deva Goswami

Sometimes we may be misguided, led to believe that we must not study the devotional books. Therefore we may think, “To analyze, to know – that is not part of devotion. That is not necessary: It is knowledge, jnana, that is anti-devotional.”

Thinking in this way, we shall go on chanting harinama, and wherever there is some explanation being given about the devotional school, we shall try to avoid it. But that is not always best, because by hearing from the proper source, we get the kind of knowledge that gives us impetus to go on in our sadhana.

In Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Srila Krsnadas Kaviraja Goswami says, “siddhanta baliya“—we should discuss the siddhanta. One may challenge, “What is the necessity of knowing siddhanta, or what is what? I shall go on chanting nama and wherever there is any class being given to explain Srimad-Bhagavatam or Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, I shall avoid it. That is knowledge. Jnane prayasam udapasya: “One should totally abandon the unnecessary endeavour of gaining knowledge by discussing empirical philosophical truths.”1

But the jnana mentioned in this verse does not describe that sort of knowledge that gives us a real conception of what is the devotee, and what is God. That knowledge appears similar to jnana externally, but if it is coming from a genuine source, it is another type, another substance.

The warning about jnana is given because anyone may give any kind of interpretation of the revealed scriptures. It is not that we should try to know anything and everything – whatever anyone will say we shall run there to learn something. But when there is any revelation coming through a real agent who is higher than us, we should be very earnest to hear. That will consolidate our position and help us to go on and progress in our sadhana.

We should not reject as useless knowledge the following inquiries: who is Krishna and how is he svayam-bhagavan; who is Narayana; where are the 24 layers of misconception; where is Vaikuntha, Goloka; who is Baladeva; what are the different rasas? If I say, “Oh, no – this is all jnana; dismiss it andchant harinama.” That is foolishness. It should be considered as indolence or idleness. We should invite that knowledge which will enhance our faith more profoundly. One should welcome such discussions. Sri Krishna himself says:

mad citta mad-gata-prana, bodhayantah parasparam
kathayantas ca mam, nityam, tusyanti ca ramanti ca

The thoughts of my pure devotees dwell in me, their lives are fully devoted to my service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss always enlightening one another and conversing about me.

In the association of sadhus, to discuss about Him from different standpoints is not knowledge to be abandoned; rather, it should spontaneously and naturally be encouraged. It is called istha-gosthi: gosthi means ‘combination’ and istha means ‘desirable company’. In that association, we must talk about him. That is a necessary part of devotion. And when bhava-bhakti awakens, automatically these things will come:

ksantir avyartha-kalatvam viraktir mana-sunyata
asa-bandhah samutkantha nama-gane sada rucih
asaktis tad-gunakhyane pritis tad vasati-sthale
ityadayo ‘nubhavah syur jata-bhavankure jane

When the need of ecstatic emotion for Krishna fructifies in the heart of a devotee, the following symptoms naturally manifest in his behaviour: he feels forbearance; he doesn’t like to waste any time; he is detached from the mundane; he is free from pride; he lives in full hope; he is always eager to serve, he always has a taste for chanting harinama; he loves to tell of the divine qualities of Sri Krishna; he loves the dhama. These nine are called anubhava, subordinate signs of ecstatic love.

If a sadhu spontaneously out of his own accord is expressing so many qualities of Krishna, and we go away, losing the benefit of that – it is suicidal. Rather, we need attachment for that, asaktih. We should think, “Oh, the good qualities of Krishna are being explained through this agent: I must try to give my ear to that.”

Otherwise, why has the ear been created? It has been created only to receive tidings of him. The ear and the brain have been created for that purpose only and both must have their fulfilment in Krishna katha. What is the purpose of Gita? The Bhagavata? What is maya? What is svarupa-sakti? What is real knowledge and what is misconceived, apparent ‘knowledge’? All these things we must know to a certain extent because to avoid what is undesirable and to accept what is desirable presupposes some sort of knowledge at every step of our progress.

Jnane prayasam udapasya, to abandon fruitless knowledge-seeking, does not mean that we must not talk about Krishna amongst ourselves or that when a sadhu is explaining about the his nama, rupa, guna, and lila then we should flee from that place. It is not like that. Jnana, in the sense used here, means the teachings of so many atheistic, nihilistic, and monistic schools. Furthermore, the advice to avoid them is meant for the beginner, but the preacher will have to come in contact with all these teachings to relegate them to their proper place.

And also sometimes jnana, knowledge which is necessary, can come from within. There is a stage of devotion when the necessary knowledge comes from within automatically. There is a stage of bhakti where things occur in this way—it is revelatory. Through revelation we can understand. It comes without any study, being supplied internally by caitya-guru. Sometimes knowledge of devotion may come to help us, but generally it will be by hearing from the lips of the devotees.

So the plane, the conception of Krishna in Vrindavana, is not lacking in cit, in knowledge. Cit means cetana, that is consciousness—“to know”. It is not in want of grandeur and awe such as is found in Vaikuntha. But when ananda takes precedence over cit, then it is advised, “Don’t endeavour much through knowledge.” There is sat-cit-ananda and by cit, by the faculty of knowing and understanding, we cannot achieve everything. But everything comes automatically to us by service. In service, there is also knowledge – a department of knowledge – and that develops automatically.

  1. SB 10.14.3 []
  2. Bhagavad-gita 10.9 []
  3. Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.3.25-26 []

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8 Responses to The Role of Study in Jnana-sunya Bhakti

  1. Atma Prasad Krishna das

    Hare Krishna,

    Wonderful article! Reminds me of 2 shlokas in particular:

    prabuddhe jñāna-bhaktibhyām
    ātmany ānanda-cin-mayī
    udety anuttamā bhaktir

    TRANSLATION When the pure spiritual experience is excited by means of cognition and service [bhakti], superexcellent unalloyed devotion characterized by love for Godhead is awakened towards Krishna, the beloved of all souls. Bs 5.58

    “One who is factually convinced of this opulence and mystic power of Mine engages in unalloyed devotional service; of this there is no doubt.” Bg 10.7

  2. Atma Prasad Krishna das

    Just re-read this. What are the 24 layers of misconception?

  3. Hari OM

    Senses imperfect, yes. but so are many apparent revelations.. what is the criterion for judging a realization? I say that empirical knowledge and intuition is only useful when it backs up sastra’s conclusions seems to beg the question of how to determine for oneself Truth. accepting siddantha without critical analysis or disregarding sense perception and inductive logic on the bases that they are necessarily and inherently flawed seem to be on the same level of dishonesty. Response greatly appreciated. In service.

    • correction: second sentence should being “Saying that…”
      also, what are the criterion..plural.. thanks.

    • I think there are two sides to this issue, each with validity. On one end the tradition emphasizes the ultimate insufficiency of sense perception and logic and thus the need to acquire knowledge from beyond the realm of illusion (through sadhu and sastra). On the other end, you point out that the only thing we really *know* is our experience, thus even our submission to sadhu and sastra is undertaken by our assessment and reasoning, which is subject to illusion. I don’t think there is any escaping this conundrum.

      But from another angle, and as cliche as it sounds, both of the above views and everything in between are underpinned by their own kind of faith. So this article is obviously intended for those who have faith of the Gaudiya slant (although the principle can extend elsewhere). That faith is defined as faith in sastra’s version (of the essential components, not necessarily the details) of reality. So I think Srila Sridhara Maharajas point is that for those who profess faith, they should not nor ultimately can shy away from endeavoring to understand sastra’s stance on things. This does not remove the variable of illusion, and nothing really can in a general sense. (I do think individual experience can bring true certainty, but such experience can be imagined.) No risk, no gain as Srila Sridhara Maharaja would say.

      One of my favorite quotes from Srila Sridhara Maharaja (he spoke it in relation to finding a guru, but it applies in many cases):

      To our best knowledge and sincerity, however, we should see not to submit to a false agent. Here of course, we can’t help ourselves very much; because in our present state we are mainly guided by our previous samskara or acquired nature. “Birds of the same feather flock together.” Yet, although we are generally overpowered by habit, there is still the possibility of free choice to a certain extent, especially in the human species, otherwise correction becomes impossible, and punishment mere vengeance.

      • Agreed. Credence must be given to the basic premises of any epistemological system for one to advance to understanding its implications. Faith is not only religious after all. Thanks, Nitai.

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