Bhakti in the Jīva: Inherent or Inherited? Part 11: Conclusion

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; How To Reach Siddhānta (Even Through Apasiddhānta); The Role of Adhikāra and Pramāṇa In Both Outreach and Inreach; Conclusion. This series of articles has led to the publication of a book entitled Inherent or Inherited? Bhakti in the Jiva According to Gaudiya Vedanta.

Note: Over the last year, Swāmī Padmanābha’s point of view has changed considerably regarding the reasons behind Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda’s comments about bhakti in the jīva. Some of Swāmī Padmanābha’s statements in this article may not fully represent his present opinion. For more details, see

In our previous ten articles, we have tried to provide abundant and positive evidence from revelation regarding the noninherence of bhakti, and we have contemplated the main arguments against this truth. We have also analyzed in detail those circumstances where some contemporary Gauḍīya luminaries have apparently presented a different version from that of the founding ācāryas of the sampradāya, the Six Goswāmīs. In doing so, we have stressed the importance of not only resorting to śāstra-pramāṇa but assisting it as well with scriptural logic and common sense, at the same time considering the possibility of temporary adjustments made in the context of dissemination as well as discerning between relative details and absolute principles, the latter connected to the main source of Gauḍīya revelation—the Bhāgavata and the works written as extensions of it, the Goswāmī grantha.

In this connection, Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī Prabhupāda deserves a special mention as the tattva-ācārya of the Gauḍīya sampradāya.1 Being instructed by Rūpa and Sanātana Goswāmīs, he theologized and systematized the totality of Gauḍīya siddhānta in his exhaustive and monumental sixfold treatise, the Ṣaṭsandarbha, a book that brilliantly elaborates on the content of the Bhāgavata as Mahāprabhu saw it through his own eyes.2 So beyond all the considerable evidence we have already shared, it is fair to say that any discussion on bhakti’s inherence should give careful consideration to what Jīva presented in his Sandarbhas, most specifically Paramātma-sandarbha 19-37. There Śrī Jīva comprehensively presents the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa of the jīva in the form of twenty-one intrinsic qualities. But in that list, we do not find a single mention of inherent bhakti whatsoever.3 Also, in his whole discussion in this section, he never admits any type of svarūpa-bheda (differences in the constitutional nature of the jīvas).

The Sandarbhas also present an exemplary way of dealing with almost any of its presented topics: Śrī Jīva Goswāmī not only presents his main contentions there in a brilliant way but also provides unthinkably complex counterarguments to his own points, embracing and resolving them with full clarity and śāstra-pramāṇa. Interestingly, he never quotes the works of his own guru and seniors (such as Śrī Rūpa and Sanātana Goswāmīs’ books). Not wanting to be seen as biased toward his immediate contemporaries, he proves his points by referring only to texts such as the Bhāgavata, Vedānta-sūtra, and Gītā as well as to ancient ācāryas and commentators such as Śrīdhara Swāmī, Vyāsa, Madhva, and Rāmānuja, among others. This is nonetheless exemplary for present-day sādhakas regarding where to turn when a contemporary sādhu seems to contradict the founding ācāryas of the sampradāya—the last word concerning tattva is found in the Six Goswāmīs and, as we are showing here, most especially in Śrī Jīva’s Sandarbhas.

Another important section of Śrī Jīva’s Sandarbhas in relation to our main topic is Bhakti-sandarbha 179–185, where he establishes how bhakti descends into the heart of a jīva only by the association of a devotee. While in anuccheda 179 Śrī Jīva explains that a conditioned being becomes devotionally inclined only by sādhu-saṅga, in anuccheda 180 he gives the reasoning for this, saying that the grace of a bhakta is the prime cause of acquiring bhakti. In the latter, Śrī Jīva states:

It has thus been established that sat-saṅga alone is the determinant cause in the matter of inducing bhakti, and this is certainly proper, because for those whose regard is diverted away from Bhagavān, rooted in the beginningless absence of awareness of him, this bhakti is otherwise impossible. . . . Bhakti is a special potency of Bhagavān, which upon entering the hearts of his devotees acquires the condition of being able to melt Bhagavān’s heart. This has been explained earlier and will be explained in detail later on (in Prīti-sandarbha). By coming in contact with the (supplicant’s) attitude of humility, this special potency of bhakti surges all the more and becomes greatly enhanced in the devotee. Thus, it is established that Bhagavān’s mercy, which is present in his devotees, is transmitted to another living being either through the medium of sādhu-saṅga or by the blessings of an authentic devotee, but not independently.4

Anuccheda 202.2 further says:

Thus, by the association of authentic devotees amongst the numerous gradations of saints that have been described, one may be endowed with bhakti, which will manifest either quickly or gradually and be imbued with a particular essential nature (svarūpa) according to the degree of the devotees’ spiritual power, the degree of their compassion, and the gradation of their different internalized devotional predilections (bhakti-vāsanās). . . . In this matter, unconditional devotion (akiñcanā-bhakti) has been established as the abhidheya, or the means of attaining the Absolute. Yet because the association of Bhagavān’s devotees is the cause of the appearance of bhakti, this association is itself the abhidheya. . . . By association with devotees of a given disposition, one develops a corresponding type of faith in Bhagavān (śraddhā) and a relish (ruci) for hearing about him as he is disclosed in the corresponding tradition. From this, the turning of one’s intentful regard toward Bhagavān (bhagavat-sāmmukhya) is effected. Then by further association with those particular devotees, one develops an attraction for the specific manifestation of Bhagavān, who is the supreme object of their worship as well as for the specific path of worship that they follow.5

For the following reason, the grace of a Vaiṣṇava could be such that we may think for some time that bhakti is inherent: due to his or her extreme compassion, an advanced sādhu may mercifully glance at a jīva who has no bhakti yet, immediately bestowing upon that jīva its first bhakti-saṁskāra. Regarding how a sādhu can bestow perfection through his or her powerful devotional glance, Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa paraphrases Śrī Kṛṣṇa in his purport to Bhagavad-gītā 7.28: “Those who have attained destruction of their sins through the fortunate, merciful glance of the great souls, those who have performed pleasing actions that gained the mercy of the great souls, worship me. With steadiness, attained by association with great souls, they, being freed from the illusion of dualities, having attained true knowledge of me, worship me.” Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.10.41 further confirms this point by saying, “When one is face to face with the sun, there is no longer darkness for one’s eyes. Similarly, when one is face to face with a sādhu, a devotee, who is fully determined and surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one will no longer be subject to material bondage.” Whatever may be the case, the conclusion is that perfection in bhakti comes through the grace of the sādhu. And not only does the tattva-ācārya of the Gauḍīya sampradāya never mention the possibility of inherence, but this idea is never suggested even once within the entire corpus of revealed Vedic literature.

Having shared considerable scriptural evidence and logic as to the inherited nature of bhakti in connection to the jīvātma, next we will summarize the main points that have been presented with abundant śāstra-pramāṇa throughout this series, and thus reach a final and comprehensive conclusion to this important topic:

  • Bhakti comes from bhakti in the context of sādhu-saṅga, the agency through which the kṛpā-śakti of Bhagavān is delivered to the souls in this world. This sudden stroke of inconceivable luck is sometimes also termed as yadṛcchayā, which indicates bhakti’s independence in bestowing its causeless gift. In the words of Śrīla B. R. Śrīdhara Deva Goswāmī, “Absolute Good distributing itself—that is bhakti.”
  • Bhakti-śakti is another term for the svarūpa-śakti, which is a potency that is categorically different than (and superior to) the jīva-śakti, or taṭastha-śakti. While the former is constituted of sandhinī, samvit, and hlādinī, the latter is composed of sat, cit, and ānanda, with their being no comparison between the bliss of bhakti (bhaktyānanda) and the inherent and minute bliss of the ātma devoid of bhakti (ātmānanda). Thus, practicing bhakti implies putting oneself under the shelter of the bhakti-śakti. And although bhakti is the jīva’s true purpose, highest fulfillment, and ultimate attainment, it is not actually a predetermined reality in the taṭastha-śakti, which anyhow has the potential to embrace devotion—a subtle but important distinction.
  • As bhakti is not inherent, the ultimate experience of rasa is not either. The jīva possesses only intrinsic potential to experience its eventual spiritual identity, which comes only after associating with bhakti-śakti and thus receiving the necessary bhakti-saṁskāras, which create a particular devotional affinity. This could be compared to a child’s inherence in his mother: although the child is not actually there at one point, there is something in the mother that allows this transformative process to happen. But although certain analogies may be employed in trying to illustrate how bhakti is actually either noninherent or inherent, they need to be backed by devotional conclusions since an analogy does not prove anything by itself.
  • Gauḍīya siddhānta establishes that all souls are equal. So if we accept that the jīva has an inherent inclination toward a specific loving relationship with the Godhead, then does this not subject Bhagavān to the fault of partiality in consideration of the various intensities of loving exchange expressed from śānta to mādhurya-bhāva? The fault of partiality would be especially so in connection to Mahāprabhu’s indiscriminate dispensation, which would be limited if only a few fortunate ones had the seed that he actually wanted to share everywhere.
  • The siddha-deha is not inherent. It is given at a certain developmental stage in our sādhana, descending from the hearts of the eternal associates of Bhagavān in the eternal domain. These siddha-dehas exist in potential within the svarūpa-śakti. And in the svarūpa-śakti’s eternal becoming, a new ecstatic wave manifests at the proper moment, blessing a practitioner with a spiritual identity. It is a process of becoming, not uncovering; transforming, not awakening.
  • Vedānta-sūtra confirms how a liberated soul can choose between having or not having a spiritual body. If bhakti were inherent, then it would be of a specific type—it is not an abstract energy but a concrete one, such as Viṣṇu bhakti, Kṛṣṇa bhakti, and so on. So how would we explain that certain jīvas, if all inherently have bhakti, choose to enter impersonal liberation (where bhakti is not operative at all) and remain there for eternity?
  • Pure love for God exists eternally (and inherently) in the hearts of the nitya-pāriṣadas, whose very being is composed of svarūpa-śakti. Being that it is a potency that makes the Absolute move and dance, it is impossible to suggest that prema could be there in our heart, “sleeping.”
  • The svarūpa (nature) of the jīva is that of an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa not because there is some perpetual identity already present within but because its intrinsic condition as taṭastha-śakti is to be dependent on śaktimān, our energetic source.
  • The inherence theory does not appear even once in śāstra. It was originally presented by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and somehow reproduced by some of his followers, all of this in the context of a teaching strategy. A detailed study of the times and circumstances in which the Ṭhākura lived will make this fact crystal clear. To say this is not to present Bhaktivinoda as misreading Śrī Rūpa and Jīva Goswāmīs, but he had an outreach strategy in mind. Thus, we should be careful to not absolutize whatever someone such as the Ṭhākura has said to the point of dismissing the Six Goswāmīs, but also we should not relativize Bhaktivinoda to the point of concluding that he misread the Goswāmīs.
  • If any statement from a contemporary ācārya contradicts the original conclusions of the Gauḍīya sampradāya coming from the Bhāgavata and Goswāmī grantha, then we should harmonize it by understanding it to be a relative adjustment and not an absolute principle. What to speak of if that same ācārya says two contradictory things on different occasions! But even if we would not like to think in terms of teaching strategies and thus face the possibility that one ācārya was not fully informed about every aspect of the siddhānta, for argument’s sake we could further mention that one can reach self-realization while not necessarily having yet learned all the abundant details of Gauḍīya theology.
  • In the realm of hermeneutics, merely citing references from this or that ācārya will not establish the conclusive truth. One has to analyze the scriptures thoroughly to understand the true intent behind the numerous recommendations and the various apparent contradictions. One must successfully remove all apparent contradictions by properly understanding the strength of different scriptural statements. One should reconcile them in clear, unambiguous conclusions that fulfill the ultimate spirit and intent of the scripture. To do this, one must apply scripturally based logic, and only then can the results be said to be authoritative. 
  • Outreach strategies are there all throughout Vedic history (the Gītā, Mahābhārata, Bhāgavata, and so forth) as a necessary device for delivering the truth according to the capacity of the audience, so there is some place for “provisional siddhānta” being used with the intention of bringing people toward the siddhānta—but the person doing this should know the siddhānta. And although effective, every outreach strategy has a shelf life; it is thus the duty of future generations to understand its nature and currency so as to avoid any possible misunderstanding or excessive application of an out-of-date teaching technique.
  • If we are to argue that whatever comes from any ācārya is a result of his or her samādhi, then we have to say that samādhi is also required for establishing proper outreach techniques, as the story of Vyāsa’s trance proves. In other words, outreach strategies do not constitute a device for those who are less realized and thus unable to present the full face of the siddhānta. Actually, sometimes higher insight is required to conceive of and present those strategies according to the circumstance, gradually taking the audience in the proper direction (which may take generations). Thus, adhikāra (eligibility) is a foundational element in both the speaker and the audience in the matter of reaching perfect conclusions about revealed truth.
  • Although not being in itself definitive evidence, logic can and should be employed in the context of ascertaining the real purport of revelation, reconciling whatever controversial statements may be there even in scripture, and thus acquiring greater capacity to reach conclusive truth and the soul’s ultimate potential in love. While such love is directed toward the self in the material world, that same capacity to love is redirected toward God by the association of sādhus and the knowledge gained by proper assimilation of the revealed message.

If in the face of the overwhelming evidence that proves the noninherence of bhakti (and the arguments that explain the reasons for dissemination techniques) one insists on invoking a different conclusion, then one may be subject to one of the four imperfections of the conditioned soul—vipralipsā, or misrepresentational bias. Such individuals generally cheat themselves first by believing their view to be absolute and objective, and then by misrepresenting facts by forcing them to fit their theory rather than adjusting their theory to fit the facts. As a faulty practice of āsanas or prāṇāyāma is likely to damage one’s body over the course of time, similarly a devotional perspective that is invalid and unsupported by śāstra will not yield the desired result, but it can cause mental and spiritual complications. In order to avoid this, we need to employ śāstra-saṅgati (scriptural consistency), an essential aspect of interpretation. For example, the word madyājī in Bhagavad-gītā 18.65 can be translated as “you drink liquor (madya) and eat goats (ajī),” but such an interpretation is not consistent with other parts of the Gītā, and thus its proper translation is “my worshiper.” And this is especially so regarding the acintya plane, which Śrī Jīva has defined not as ineffable but as śāstraika-gamyatvam—that which is approachable only through the revealed word of God or realized devotees.

Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism offers the individual a wide variety of ecstatic experiences, and in that sense we could say that “we are different in bhāva.” But for such diversity to be properly expressed, we must learn first to be one in tattva—without proper tattva/siddhanta, there can be no actual experience of bhāva.6 Tattva is the common ground where we will always be united despite other differences. And while there is the possibility of expanding and developing the original siddhānta given by our śāstra-gurus in unlimited ways, this is acceptable only if such revelation does not contradict what has been already given by our founding ācāryassiddhānta can evolve in the context of siddhānta. And on the basis of such previous revelation, the idea that bhakti is inherent in the jīva cannot be accommodated from any perspective, as we have tried to show in this series.

The conclusions of any bona fide sampradāya are based on the Vedānta-sūtra, Upaniṣads, and Gītā—and for Gauḍīyas, the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and books of the Six Goswāmīs—and not on any individual person. While apasampradāyas may give excessive importance to their founder while compromising the siddhānta given in the scriptures, a real sampradāya should not succumb to such a tendency—apasampradāyas generally sprout from apasiddhānta, all this leading to the dangerous possibility of aparādha. In order to be protected from such a prospect, Kṛṣṇa shares the formula in the end of his Gītā (18.70), saying that people who study his words and teaching worship him through their intelligence. In this way, we should pay very close attention to revelation, which will result in a deep form of bhajana.In conclusion, there is no svarūpa-śakti inherent in the taṭastha-śakti, and one’s svarūpa (in this case, one’s perfect form) will be a bhāva-deha (a body made of transcendental emotions). That bhāva will be a blessing that comes from outside of ourselves. Bhakti comes only from bhakti, which is the essence of the svarūpa-śakti; thus, the highest state of the jīva will occur when its capacity as an agent and experiencer functions in relation to a spiritual environment, bhakti being that environment. As the jīva is a unit susceptible to be nurtured by whichever environment it is in, it has the choice of being malnourished by the māyā-śakti or appropriately nourished by the svarūpa-śakti—and that is the whole meaning of taṭastha. The jīvātma has potential, and it can be defined only in consideration of its potential, which depends not on itself but on its association, which will determine its identity. Thus, the eternal identity of the soul will ultimately be determined by its association with Bhakti-devī—or, in other words, by the entry of the svarūpa-śakti into the life of the sādhaka in the form of samvit and hlādinī, which will come to one’s life through sādhu-saṅga. Blessed in this way with the seed of devotion, the soul will possess in due course the potential to contain within itself the qualitative totality of bhakti in the form of prema, or divine love, and thus become all that it can be.

  1. The preeminence of the Goswāmī grantha was unanimously established in the entire community at the historic Kheturi festival, a special moment in Gauḍīya history. As noted by Tony K. Stewart in The Final Word: The Caitanya Caritāmṛta and the Grammar of Religious Tradition Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), Jāhnavā-devī, the most senior leader of the community at the time, went to Vṛndāvana on different occasions to study the Goswāmī grantha with Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī (284, 297). Śrīla A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda speaks of Śrī Jīva as “the greatest scholar of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam” (purport to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 2.9.32) and of his Sandarbhas as “so philosophically discussed that throughout the whole world, there is not a single philosopher who can defy these Jīva Gosvāmī’s six sandarbhas (lecture, London, August 6, 1971). []
  2. In connection to Śrī Jīva Goswāmī’s representing Mahāprabhu’s own understanding of the Bhāgavata, Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura introduces his commentary to it by mentioning in his purport to the very first verse of the Bhāgavata (1.1.1) that he is doing so “after having understood the conclusions of Śrī Caitanya from the Sandarbhas of Jīva.” And not only does Viśvanātha quote and draw heavily on the Sandarbhas in his Bhāgavata commentary, but also the important Gauḍīya theologian Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Goswāmī bases Caitanya-caritāmṛta extensively on the Sandarbhas for his complex theological presentation. []
  3. For the complete list of qualities of the jīva and its corresponding anucchedas (as it appears in Satyanarayana Dasa´s edition of Paramātma-sandarbha), see []
  4. Adapted from translation by Satyanarayana Dasa. []
  5. Translation by Satyanarayana Dasa. []
  6. Kṛṣṇa confirms this point in Bhagavad-gītā 10.8. In the first two lines, he speaks about knowing him in tattva, and in the last two lines, he expresses how such knowledge gives rise to a particular form of bhāva. []

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