Bhakti In The Jīva: Inherent Or Inherited? Part 1: Bhakti Comes from Bhakti

By Swāmī Bhakti Praṇaya Padmanābha

Additional articles in this series: Bhakti Comes from Bhakti; Bhakti, the Essence of the Svarūpa-Śakti; Is Rasa Totally Predetermined?

The inquisitive nature that accompanies the human species is particularly inclined toward the quest for origins. There is a remarkable tendency in all of us toward this direction, which differentiates us humans from other beings in different bodies and their respective series of questions and answers. Eventually, to the extent that our consciousness becomes covered by successive layers of illusion within the worldly sojourn, this nature then impels us to become more and more interested (to the point of absorption) in the mere external facts and consequences of existence, without delving deeper into the causal reality of things, the active principle that sets in motion the “dynamic machinery” of our own lives. So with even more reason, it should not be an exception to this rule that those who undertake the path of bhakti come to this very important question: What is the very genesis of devotion?

In this regard, we find valuable information revealed by our ācāryas that, being known and properly assimilated, will allow us to further establish the independent and absolute position of bhakti within our own selves. Unlike in other processes (in which, as practitioners approach the goal, their practice is increasingly reduced and they ultimately abandon all practice to absorb themselves in their attained goal), the sādhana and sādhya of bhakti are actually the same. So as a bhakta gets closer to his or her goal, the practice intensifies more and more, which shows the supremacy of bhakti as an ongoing post-liberated situation. Also, hypothetically, if we were to analyze the origins of bhakti and find some specific factor that is independent of devotion (which would be thus considered its starting point), this component would naturally lead us to reconsider the supreme nature of bhakti, conferring on it an origin different than itself. In order to avoid such a contradiction, the Bhāgavata thus declares that bhakti emerges from bhakti, with the sole purpose of further expressing an ongoing greater and better type of devotion ad infinitum:

Remembering and inspiring other devotees to remember the Lord, who destroys all sins, they will develop hairs standing on end in ecstasy by prema-bhakti produced from sādhana-bhakti.

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.3.31

It is precisely in this important śloka that we find the famous statement bhaktyā sañjātayā bhaktyābhakti comes from bhakti.1 In other words, the fact that bhakti has its origins in bhakti implies that the beginning of devotion is generated by sādhu-saṅga, one of the central aṅgas of devotional practice. This same idea is clearly established in a famous quote from the Bṛhad-nāradīya Purāṇa:2

bhaktis tu bhagavad-bhakta-saṅgena parijāyate
sat-saṅgaḥ prāpyate puṁbhiḥ sukṛtaiḥ pūrva-sañcitaiḥ

The inclination toward bhakti is awakened by association with the bhaktas of Bhagavān. The jīva obtains such sat-saṅga through the accumulated effect of its bhakti-sukṛti, generated over a long time.

Bṛhad-nāradīya Purāṇa 4.33

The meaning of this verse must be properly understood. It is generally established that the very beginning of devotional life is śraddhā (faith), and only then one continues with sādhu-saṅga. But in analyzing this process in greater detail, we find that prior to this initial faith, the concept of sukṛti (pious merit) is mentioned, which is generated initially without proper awareness (ajñāta) and then eventually consciously (jñātā). For example, in the former case, a jīva may show a favorable predisposition toward a Vaiṣṇava and thus accumulate its first impression of sukṛti still without being officially inclined toward (or even aware of) bhakti; the latter case applies to those practitioners who have accepted and understood the need to continue nurturing their own devotional credit in order to remain within the progressive parameters of bhakti. The idea of sukṛti that we find in either of these two cases refers specifically to bhakti-sukṛti (or the type of merit that brings us closer to devotion), while in other cases we may speak about various kinds of pious credit that incline us toward other directions, such as bhukti or mukti.

So if we establish the concept of ajñāta-sukṛti as the ultimate origin of bhakti, our search again culminates inevitably at the feet of the sādhu, by whose merciful association a soul receives its first connection with the world of devotion.3 It is in the context of presenting the adhikāra to participate in bhakti that Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmīpāda declares this same point in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu:

When, by a stroke of inconceivable luck, a person develops faith and liking for serving Kṛṣṇa by special impressions (arising from previous association with devotees) and is not too attached to or detached from material objects—such a person is eligible for sādhana-bhakti.

Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.14

In this way, this first type of sādhu-saṅga that the jīva receives (without even being aware of it) constitutes the very beginning of bhakti in its life. And this association is one of the central expressions of devotion itself, which will continue generating new stages of upgraded bhakti in the form of sādhana, bhāva, and eventually prema, as Bhagavān himself declares in the following verse of the Bhāgavata:

In the association of the most exalted devotees, the topics of my glorious pastimes are directly and internally realized, bringing the devotee to the platform of niṣṭha. Then those same themes become an elixir for the heart and the ears at the stage of ruci. As these topics are savored, the stages of āsakti, bhāva, and finally prema quickly unfold sequentially.

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.25.25

Although the aforementioned sukṛti can at times be described as “merit,” it should be understood that what moves a genuine sādhu in his or her interaction with the jīvas in this world is not the principle of justice but that of causeless grace. Therefore, we are taught to always receive bhakti as a grace that descends from above our heads, without our truly deserving such a gift but needing it profusely. The entirety of this topic is expertly presented and analyzed by Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura at the beginning of his Mādhurya-kādambinī, in connection with which we will offer a brief explanation next.4

Initially, Śrīla Cakravartīpāda declares that Bhakti-devī has the same attributes as Bhagavān himself, total freedom being one of them, which leads to her manifesting out of her own desire, regardless of any cause that we may try to establish (this being one of the meanings of “bhakti comes from bhakti”). We find statements that support this idea in the Bhāgavata (1.2.6), where we are informed that devotion is causeless (ahaitukī) and irrepressible (apratihatā).5 Similarly, we find in the Bhāgavata the cryptic term yadṛcchayā, which appears more than twenty times throughout the text and which refers to how devotion can be accomplished. In most of these cases, yadṛcchayā is translated as “by his own volition.” The dictionary defines the word yadṛcchā as “independence” or “freedom from desire and action,” thus indicating the principle of divine intervention, by which someone may be moving in this world but not under the influence of its karmic waves, being actually carried by a very different wave—bhakti.

In his commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.15, Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī quotes Bhāgavata 1.19.25, where yadṛcchayā is also used to indicate how Śukadeva Goswāmī appeared “out of his own volition” in the assembly of the wise. In this commentary, Śrī Jīva also mentions that yadṛcchayā indicates “the association with a great devotee, which arises by the mercy of that same devotee.” In other words, the idea that bhakti comes from bhakti implies that bhakti comes from the bhaktas or, in other words, from one of the main limbs of bhakti itself—sādhu-saṅga. This is even further confirmed by the Bhāgavata once again when Prahlāda indirectly hints that sādhu-saṅga is the only way through which devotional regard can be awakened:

For those who are intent solely upon householder life, who, due to their unrestrained senses, are immersed in the hell [of saṁsāra], and who repeatedly chew that which has already been chewed, a devotional regard is never aroused toward Śrī Kṛṣṇa, either by the instructions of others [who are similarly attached], by their own efforts, or by a combination of both.

Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 7.5.30

This point is also established by Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s purport two verses later: “Prahlāda understands that bhakti does not arise in his father, because his father does not have the dust from the feet of the devotees.” In Mādhurya-kādambinī’s introduction, Viśvanātha then beautifully describes the causeless nature of the devotee’s mercy, which is just like Kṛṣṇa’s, since all of Kṛṣṇa’s qualities are transferred to his devotee. In this regard, someone might say that such grace may not be equally distributed by the devotee. While in the case of God this would be considered a fault (since his quality of impartiality would be affected), in the case of the devotee this perfectly fits in with the śāstric description of a madhyama-bhakta, who acts with discernment and consequently benefits everyone. Thus, despite showing an apparent bias, he or she does not cease to be impartial (because even when neglecting certain people, he or she does so based on the criterion of whatever is best for each person), and therefore his or her bhakti is not affected. In fact, it is by the grace of such madhyama-bhaktas that ordinary souls can obtain bhakti. And the cause of such mercy is the bhakti that resides within the heart of that great soul. And since such mercy cannot appear without the existence of bhakti, again the conclusion is that bhakti is the cause of bhakti.

Śrī Viśvanātha then establishes the fact that when Kṛṣṇa finds himself under the affectionate control of his devotee, his mercy follows theirs, or he chooses to manifest himself through such devotees. Thus, the bhakti that resides in the heart of a devotee leads Śrī Kṛṣṇa to bestow his mercy on others, and thus again it is established how only bhakti can be the cause of bhakti. Regarding the possible argument that a devotee is under Kṛṣṇa’s control and therefore his or her mercy is not independent of Bhagavān (which would contradict the independent nature of bhakti), it is explained that Śrī Kṛṣṇa has voluntarily subordinated himself to his devotees by fully granting them his kṛpā-śakti.6 Thus, they do not depend on Kṛṣṇa to deliver mercy but can do it in complete freedom. If this were not the case, it would be impossible for jīvas to obtain Kṛṣṇa’s grace, since he is absorbed in his own divine joy. And although he understands the painful condition of the baddha-jīvas, he does not have personal experience of the suffering that a soul undergoes when under the influence of the māyā-śakti (and full compassion can arise only when one is aware of the pain of the other). Because Kṛṣṇa is the ultimate embodiment of visceral bliss, it is impossible for him, despite his omnipotence, to experience full empathic pain for the conditioned souls.7 Thus, the only chance a jīva has to obtain liberation is through the sādhu, who is also beyond the guṇas. But just as someone who wakes up from a nightmare still remembers that feeling, a sādhu still remembers the miseries he or she had to suffer in previous lives in this world, and it is this feeling that allows the sādhu to be compassionate and thus pour out his or her mercy on the jīvas. Accordingly, the emphatic final conclusion delivered by Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartīpāda is that souls can receive God’s grace only through the channel of his devotee, and in no other way. Again, bhakti comes from bhakti in the context of sādhu-saṅga.8

This particular and unique concept (bhakti as the cause of bhakti itself) then teaches us that the fruit of bhakti in practice (sādhana-bhakti) is eventually bhakti in pure love for Kṛṣṇa (prema-bhakti), which shows us how bhakti is in itself puruṣārtha-śiromaṇi, the crest-jewel of all goals of life and the greatest manifestation of Śrī Hari’s svarūpa-śakti, which is all-pervasive, all-charming, all-vitalizing, superexcellent, completely independent, and self-manifest, just like Hari himself. As stated earlier, unlike in other processes, where as much as practitioners get closer to the goal, the practice becomes more and more reduced and they ultimately abandon it in order to absorb themselves in their achieved goal, both the sādhana and sādhya of bhakti are the same (both are bhakti). So as a bhakta approaches his or her respective goal, the practice intensifies further, from sādhana, the immature stage of bhakti, to bhāva and prema, its advanced stages. And regardless of which stage one may be in at the present moment, one will find that what acted as the root cause for the birth of bhakti (sādhu-saṅga) still retains its primary influence all along the path, even within the highest ultimate arena of divine love:

kṛṣṇa-bhakti-janma-mūla haya ‘sādhu-saṅga’
kṛṣṇa-prema janme, teṅho punaḥ mukhya aṅga

The root cause that gives birth to Kṛṣṇa bhakti is sādhu-saṅga. Even when Kṛṣṇa prema is born, sādhu-saṅga remains as most essential.

Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.22.83

Therefore, if bhakti comes from bhakti and this, in turn, involves sādhu-saṅga and obtaining from such saṅga a unique kind of undeserved grace (which will be always beyond our grasp), our following natural conclusion is that devotion is but a gift that comes from outside of us, and not an element that is inherently present within the very constitution of the jīva-śakti.

Additional articles in this series: Bhakti Comes from Bhakti; Bhakti, the Essence of the Svarūpa-Śakti; Is Rasa Totally Predetermined?

  1. Interestingly, the word sañjātayā includes the term jāta (born), which speaks of how bhakti is actually born at some point in time and thus not inherent in the jīva. []
  2. See Bhagavad-gītā 7.28 for a similar version of this Purāṇic verse. []
  3. In his commentary to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 1.2.21, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura gives an alternative list of fourteen stages in bhakti, beginning with sādhu-saṅga. (This list is similar to but also different from the well-known nine stages given by Rūpa Goswāmī in his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu.) First, he describes the mercy of devotees, then service to devotees (these two being the first type of sādhu-saṅga, which is somewhat “accidental”). Only then comes faith and the “intentional” second type of sādhu-saṅga, as a necessary response to conversion. Viśvanātha mentions these fourteen stages again when commenting on Nārada’s conversion. In the context of doing so, he says the following in his purport to verse 1.5.23: “There is no cause for pure bhakti other than the fortunate mercy of the devotees of the Lord.” []
  4. This same topic has also been nicely described by Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī in Bhakti-sandarbha 179-180. []
  5. In his commentary to this Bhāgavata verse, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura says, “How is bhakti said to be without cause in this verse? Because the Lord’s mercy is included in the mercy of the devotee, and because that mercy is included in association with devotees, and because devotee association is an aṅga of bhakti, bhakti is said to be without cause (since an aṅga of bhakti causes bhakti). Moreover, the cause of a devotee’s mercy is but the bhakti present in the heart of that devotee, because, without that bhakti in his or her heart, there is no possibility of his or her mercy arising. In all ways, therefore, bhakti is the cause of bhakti.” []
  6. In this regard we can quote Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.2.31, where the expression sad-anugrahaḥ (“he whose grace manifests through the saints”) is found in connection to Bhagavān. In his Bhakti-sandarbha (180), Śrī Jīva Goswāmī elaborates on this term, saying that sad-anugrahaḥ means that “Bhagavān is he who blesses others (anugṛhṇāti) only through the gateway of his authentic devotees (the sat).” Alternatively, it means that “Bhagavān is he whose grace is the devotees themselves.” In either case, the import is that the grace of Bhagavān that is available in the world is present only in the form of authentic devotees, not in any other form. []
  7. God is not ignorant of the suffering of conditioned beings, but such suffering does not touch his heart. Nonetheless, he refers to the jīvas’ suffering while instructing Arjuna in the Gītā and while speaking to Uddhava in the Bhāgavata. In terms of modern psychology, we could speak here about cognitive empathy and affective empathy. With cognitive empathy, one knows about the suffering of others and may act to help them (but such a person has not experienced their suffering personally). With affective empathy, one actually feels the suffering (because of having gone through it oneself). Thus, it can be said that Kṛṣṇa is cognizant of living beings’ suffering but does not feel it. Therefore, he does not grant bhakti to them, although he does instruct about bhakti. Bhagavān transmits his own svarūpa-śakti in the form of bhakti to his devotees. By his own nature, Bhagavān is directly and personally involved only with his svarūpa-śakti. Thus, he reciprocates directly only with his devotees, in whom (and as much as) the svarūpa-śakti is present. In regard to those whose awareness is diverted away from him, he remains neutral. This means that his way of dealing with them is indirect, via the impersonal laws of cosmic administration. See Bhagavad-gītā 9.29 for an example of this. []
  8. For a more detailed and comprehensive analysis of this introductory section of Mādhurya-kādambinī, see the first eleven episodes of Dulal Chandra dasa, Madhurya Kadambini, Krishna Bhajan, YouTube playlist. []

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One Response to Bhakti In The Jīva: Inherent Or Inherited? Part 1: Bhakti Comes from Bhakti

  1. “In the association of the most exalted devotees, the topics of my glorious pastimes are directly and internally realized, bringing the devotee to the platform of niṣṭha. Then those same themes become an elixir for the heart and the ears at the stage of ruci. As these topics are savored, the stages of āsakti, bhāva, and finally prema quickly unfold sequentially. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 3.25.25. Beutiful, only for the excels of Guruparaparam could be, Jaay sadhu sanga ki”. Thank your very much. =)

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