Bhakti In The Jīva: Inherent Or Inherited? Part 7: The Origin of the Theory of Inherence

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 Source Of Our Siddha-deha; Is There Scriptural Support in Favor of Inherence?; Nurture and Nature; The Origin of the Theory of Inherence; Teaching Strategies And Historical Presentism

In the first six parts of our series, we have tried to provide compelling scriptural evidence and reasoning as to the nature of bhakti in the jīva—that it is inherited and not inherent. We began by sharing important statements from the spotless Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the main form of revelation embraced by Mahāprabhu himself, and thus the most authoritative source of divine knowledge for members of the Gauḍīya sampradāya. At the same time, we have given śāstra-pramāṇa from other various works. And going even beyond the Bhāgavata, we have concentrated our attention on the books of our śāstra-gurus, the Six Goswāmīs. This has been so because the Goswāmī granthas are the most natural extension of both the Bhāgavata and Mahāprabhu’s own inner heart, which have been expertly disclosed by the Goswāmīs’ commentaries and original works. To this, we have added the contribution of stalwarts such as Viśvanātha Cakravartī, who has written unique commentaries to both the Bhāgavata and the Goswāmīs’ books.

At this point, the following reasonable question may come: Why has there almost been not one single quotation from more contemporary Gauḍīya ācāryas, especially beginning with Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, from whom the idea of bhakti’s inherence in the jīva seems to have originated in our sampradāya?1 There are two main reasons for this. First, if we intend to speak about the present topic to a wider Gauḍīya community than that of the Bhaktivinoda parivāra, we would do well to establish our points by quoting authorities that have been unanimously accepted by the whole Gauḍīya sampradāya (beginning with the Goswāmīs and ending with personalities such as Viśvanātha Cakravartī and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana). Second, when we quote Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and his followers along with their presentation of this particular topic, there is an unfortunate twofold tendency: (1) those who do not belong to the Bhaktivinoda parivāra may reject the Ṭhākura’s presentation by considering it a totally unacceptable heterodoxy, or (2) those who do belong to his parivāra may over-glorify and absolutize certain relative points in his presentation, without understanding the difference between principles and details. Both of these extremes are for sure unbecoming, so in order to avoid them, we will next (and almost until the end of our series) address the main controversial points that beg to be reconciled.

As we mentioned already, it is an undeniable historical fact that the origin of the inherence theory began to gain mainstream currency with Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. Although there is no doubt about this, we will share some doubts regarding whether Bhaktivinoda was actually against the idea of bhakti’s being inherited rather than inherent, an idea clearly established by the Goswāmīs, as already shown. “The Seventh Goswāmī” was one of the main epithets that the Ṭhākura received in his life, so there is no doubt that he personifies the very spirit of what the Six Goswāmīs established and presented, and that he derives his authenticity in following them with full chastity.2 So since Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura is the Seventh Goswāmī, we should learn to appreciate his contribution in light of what the first Six Goswāmīs said—his samādhi follows their samādhi. This is yet another reason for having first described their teachings in the first six parts of this series and, only after that, trying to understand the contribution of the Seventh Goswāmī in its proper context. So after this brief introduction, let us analyze some of the Ṭhākura’s statements as well as those of some who came after him in the Bhaktivinoda parivāra.

Something important to note is that most of Bhaktivinoda’s statements about inherence come from his well-known Jaiva-dharma or from other works based on its conclusions. Interestingly, this work mainly presents the Goswāmīs’ foundational works: Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu and Ujjvala-nīlamaṇi as well as the Sandarbhas of Śrī Jīva Goswāmī. And as we have already seen, when going through these masterpieces, we never find the idea that bhakti is inherent in the jīva—actually, quite the contrary. In other words, if Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura presented the essence of these granthas in his own treatise, he certainly must have first studied them in detail. So if at times there are apparent differences between his writing and theirs, it is not because Bhaktivinoda was not aware of their teachings, but because of something else—as we will see.

Before sharing any actual quote, it is also important to note that when finding two apparently opposite statements in śāstra in the context of scriptural exegesis, our duty is not to pick our favorite one. Rather, we should try to engage in what is called saṅgati, or reconciliation of facts, where we are open to hear all the different perspectives in detail and only then duly accommodate them accordingly. If instead we stress only the postulates of our own choice and preference out of context, that is known as ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya, or “half-hen logic.”3 Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmī confirms this important point in his Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta:

When two scriptural statements contradict each other, one is not taken as inauthentic. One should give the meaning in such a way that the contradiction is removed.

Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta 1.232

So not only do we have to harmonize apparent contradictions present in scripture, we need to reconcile the presentations given by contemporary ācāryas that seem to differ from the conclusive statements of our original founding ācāryas, the Six Goswāmīs. And last but not least, not only do we need to harmonize contradictory statements in scripture, between an ācārya and scripture, or among ācāryas, we also need to harmonize when one ācārya says two completely different things! Needless to say, the way to reconcile such statements is to go to the words of our founding ācāryas, understanding apparent discrepancies as a relative adjustment made according to some very specific circumstance. Next we will share some of these examples coming from Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and his followers connected to both this particular topic and a related and similarly controversial issue: the origin of the jīva.

In chapter 16 of his Jaiva-dharma, Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda seems to support the theory that the jīva falls from some apparent taṭastha region, saying, “The atomic conscious jīvas sometimes glance marginally toward the spiritual creation and sometimes toward the material creation. Out of these unlimited jīvas, the ones who desire to enjoy māyā remain eternally bound by māyā, because of being attached to sense enjoyment. Those who engage in devotional service to the Lord go to the spiritual world getting the strength of the cit-śakti by the mercy of the Lord.” On the other side, in the very same book (chapter 15), he gives the straightforward siddhānta on jīva-tattva by saying, “All the jīvas have appeared from the jīva-śakti of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Just as cit-śakti (svarūpa-śakti) is Kṛṣṇa’s complete potency, similarly the jīva-śakti is his incomplete potency. All these jīvas are disposed to māyā. Until they attain the shelter of the hlādinī-śakti of the cit world by the mercy of the Lord, they are prone to be defeated by māyā.” Here, the Ṭhākura also stresses the importance of taking shelter of the cit-śakti/bhakti-śakti in order to transcend māyā, thereby stating that bhakti is not inherent in the jīva.

In his Jaiva-dharma (chapter 14), Śrī Bhaktivinoda also says, “Jīva-śakti is the atomic potency of svarūpa-śakti, and all three aspects of svarūpa-śakti are present in it to a minute degree. Thus, the hlādinī-vṛtti is always present in the jīva in the form of brahmānanda (spiritual bliss); saṁvit-vṛtti is present in the form of brahma-jñāna (transcendental knowledge); and sandhinī-vṛtti is present in the jīva’s minute form. I will explain this subject matter more clearly when we discuss jīva-tattva. In māyā-śakti, the hlādinī-vṛtti is manifest in the form of mundane pleasure (jaḍānanda); saṁvit-vṛtti is manifest in the form of material knowledge (bhautika-jñāna); and the sandhinī-śakti is manifest in the form of the entire material universe, which consists of the fourteen planetary systems and the material bodies of the jīvas.”

In direct opposition to this, he says in his commentary to Manaḥ-śikṣā 11 that “without the mercy of the hlādinī-śakti, the living entities cannot obtain love of God.” In the same vein, he comments in his Bhakti-tattva-viveka, “The most compassionate Śrī Kṛṣṇa then mercifully implants the seed of the creeper of devotion (bhakti-latā-bīja) within his (the living entity’s) heart. This seed is known as śraddhā, faith, and it contains within it the undeveloped manifestation of bhāva, the first sprout of divine love for Bhagavān. . . . It is to be understood clearly that as soon as the seed of faith is sown in the heart, immediately Bhakti-devī appears there.”4 Apart from the obvious contradiction and in consideration of the original Gauḍīya siddhānta, we should conclude that the Ṭhākura wanted to give us the following idea: the sat, cit, and ānanda of the jīva are derived from the sandhinī, samvit, and hlādinī of the svarūpa-śakti in the same way that the asat, acit, and nirānanda of the māyā-śakti are also derived from it, the former being a partial derivation, and the latter being a perversion. In relation to the jīva’s being a tiny manifestation of the svarūpa-śakti, the Ṭhākura mentions in the fourteenth chapter of his Jaiva-dharma that without the entry of the svarūpa-śakti, the experience of the jīva can go only as far as brahmānanda and brahma-jñāna—unless bhakti is bestowed and cultivated, the jīva cannot attain the bliss of prema.

In the case of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī, he has at times also presented ambiguous statements that beg to be reconciled even more. For example, in his book Shri Chaitanya’s Teachings, he seems to advocate the idea of falling from Vaikuṇṭha by saying, “Because we have shown indifference, we have proved our indolence to associate with God; so, like shooting stars, we have been simply thrown off from him. We have rebelled against that Entity. Now to go back to him, it is essential that all our associations and movements should tend to his service.”5 On the other hand, in his commentary to Brahma-saṁhitā 5.21, he states that “the world afflictions, births, and rebirths are the concomitants of the fettered condition of souls fallen into the clutches of the deluding potency from a time that has no beginning.” So while in the first quote Bhaktisiddhānta Saraswatī seems to agree with an initial falldown, in the latter he clearly accepts the siddhānta of the jīva’s bondage as anādi, or beginningless.

Regarding Śrīla B. R. Śrīdhara Deva Goswāmī, it is said that he once said, “The vibhinnāṁśa jīvas are eternal. It is certain that their methods of bhagavat-sevā, and their names, forms, and so on are inherent. By the grace of Bhagavān, one’s inherent svarūpa becomes manifest as one performs bhajana in the company of saintly persons (sādhus) and becomes freed from māyā.”6 But on the other hand, he also said, “Someone may say that, svarūpe sabāra haya golokete sthiti—in the innermost existence we all have connection with Kṛṣṇa. But that is not true about the section that comes from the taṭastha-śakti. The internal potency is already going on smoothly, eternally, in svarūpa-śakti—Vaikuṇṭha and Goloka.”7 Again, we need to not pick our favorite statement but find the proper siddhānta and properly understand the background of any statement that may not conform with it.8

Finally, we will quote Śrīla Prabhupada, who also seems to contradict himself while speaking about bhakti in the jīva. In his purport to Bhagavad-gītā 15.7, he says, “When the conditioned soul is liberated, his material covering perishes, but his spiritual body manifests in his individual capacity. . . . He revives his spiritual body. . . . That fragmental portion, when liberated from the bodily entanglement, revives its original spiritual body in the spiritual sky.”9 However, in his purport to Caitanya-caritāmṛta 1.4.168, he says, “Only when the hlādinī-śakti emanates from Śrī Kṛṣṇa and is bestowed upon the living being to attract him does the living being become a pure lover of God.”10

So were all these great mahājanas perhaps contradicting themselves? Although seemingly referring here to irreconcilable conclusions, they actually speak to us about something that is beyond what it may appear to be. The mere fact that many of these ācāryas gave at times contradictory statements on this and other issues is not a clear indication of their ignorance of the siddhānta. Instead, it indicates that they had a specific purpose in mind, since they showed that they knew the siddhānta perfectly but also said otherwise, and both cannot stand—one type of statement has to be primary and the other secondary. Being their followers and students, we must determine which is which. But why did our ācāryas not plainly present the exclusive Gauḍīya siddhānta at all times? What was the necessity to conceive of a strategy? This we will try to solve in the next part of our series.

Additional articles in this series: Bhakti Comes from Bhakti; Bhakti, the Essence of the Svarūpa-Śakti; Is Rasa Totally Predetermined?; The Source Of Our Siddha-deha; Is There Scriptural Support in Favor of Inherence?; Nurture and Nature; The Origin of the Theory of Inherence; Teaching Strategies And Historical Presentism

  1. It is possible that Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda was not the very first member of the Gauḍīya sampradāya to have spoken about inherence at times, but arguably he has been the most well-known presenter of such a possibility. []
  2. Although Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda received this epithet during his lifetime from Sisir Kumar Ghosh, it is fair to also mention that in the Gauḍīya community from centuries back, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kaviraja and Lokanātha Goswāmī were considered the seventh and eighth Goswāmīs, respectively, in conjunction with the famous Six Goswāmīs of Vṛndāvana. []
  3. This maxim, invoked in Caitanya-caritāmṛta 1.5.176, has to do with the idea that by cutting off a chicken’s head, one will receive the chicken’s profit (in the form of eggs) while being freed from the chicken’s expense (in the form of feeding it). As this would result in no profit at all, similarly, by whimsically accepting one part of the scripture and rejecting the other, we would not be taking advantage of either of them. []
  4. See Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, Bhakti-tattva-viveka: Deliberation upon the True Nature of Devotion, trans. Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Gosvāmī (New Delhi: Gaudiya Vedanta Publications, 2012), 22. []
  5. (Madras: Sree Gaudiya Math, 1989), 350. Interestingly, these words come from a discussion in 1926 with Mrs. Nora Morell, a German woman who most probably had at least a Christian background. Bhaktisiddhānta makes a similar point in his commentary to Bhāgavata 11.2.48, where he speaks of the jīva’s being fallen from advaya (nondual) Vaikuṇṭha. And in chapter 2 of his famous discourse Brāhmaṇa and Vaiṣṇava, he presents the unprecedented idea that the jīva is originally situated in śānta-rasa: “Before acquiring material designations, the living entity is supremely pure. Even though he is not engaged in serving the Supreme Lord, he remains situated in the neutral position of śānta-rasa due to his marginal nature.” []
  6. Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja, “Śrī Gurudeva on the Svarūpa of the Jīva,” in Ācārya Kesari Śrī Śrīmad Bhakti Prajñāna Keśava Gosvāmī: His Life and Teachings (New Delhi: Gaudiya Vedanta Publications, 2013). []
  7. B. R. Śrīdhara Deva Goswāmī, conversation, August 8, 1983, https://scsmfiles.s3.amazonaws.com/media/ssmaudio/Trans/83.08.08.C.pdf []
  8. Interestingly, not all of Bhaktivinoda’s descendants gave different opinions themselves. Some of them, in their specific given circumstances, always preached the ultimate siddhānta in this regard, such as Bhakti Hṛdaya Bon Mahārāja. In his commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.11, he says, “Kṛṣṇa anuśīlanam can be possible only by the grace of Kṛṣṇa and his devotees. This active culture about Kṛṣṇa (anuśīlanam) is inherent in the intrinsic potency, or svarūpa-śakti, of the Supreme Lord himself. In other words, it is a function that descends from the realm of the Supreme Lord to earth, as it were, when it functions in the pure soul, or finite jīvātmā. It is infused in the limited faculty of the finite self by the Lord’s svarūpa-śakti out of her innate faculty, whereby the limited faculty of the jīvātmā functions fully and wholly in reciprocity to the Lord. Thus inflamed, as it were, by the svarūpa-śakti, the aprākṛta, or supramundane, endeavors of the soul’s faculties can become manifest in the faculties of the body and the mental quantum of the individual.” Furthermore, on Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.2, he comments, “Bhāva, which is an eternal essence of the svarūpa-śakti and not a thing that grows in the heart of an individual as an effect of sādhana-bhakti, reveals itself into the heart of the jīvātmā, or finite self, where it was absent because of its self-forgetfulness and God forgetfulness.” []
  9. Regarding the origin of the jīva, in some instances Prabhupāda seemed to speak about an apparent falldown from Vaikuṇṭha/Goloka (such as in his letter to Madhudviṣa Swāmī, May 16, 1972, among many others), while in other cases he clearly established the siddhānta about it. See his purport to Bhāgavata 3.16.26 and 7.13.6 as well as his purport to Bhagavad-gītā 13.20, among others. []
  10. We could quote many more statements from these and other ācāryas. But for the sake of brevity, we have shared just a few of their most well-known words. For those interested in other examples of apparent contradictions among Gauḍīya ācāryas on the same topic, see here. []


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