Definitions

Śrī Rūpa Goswami defines uttamā bhakti, Part III

Continuing our discussion of the तटस्थ लक्षणम् (taṭastha lakṣaṇam) from a previous post, we now explore the words ज्ञान कर्माद्यनावृतम् (jñāna karmādy anāvṛtam) in this article.

The word anāvṛtam means ‘not covered’, that is, uttamā bhakti is uncovered by jñāna and karma. Because the words jñāna and karma are in common usage these days in Indian vernacular languages and carry a specific meaning there (for example, in Hindi, they mean knowledge and action), they are liable to be easily misunderstood. Frequently, one hears the idea that knowledge is not essential in bhakti, and anyone who studies too much is a jñāni. And jñānis do not do bhakti. But if one is not a jñāni, one is an ajñāni (an ignorant person), and ignorance and bhakti are not synonyms!

The words jñāna and karma have the technical meaning of the jñāna mārga and karma mārga in this definition, as Jiva Goswami explains in his commentary on it1.

Traditionally in India, karma mārga implied the faithful execution of वर्णाश्रम धर्म (varṇāśrama dharma). jñāna in ‘jñāna mārga’ refers to the cultivation of oneness with Brahman (निर्भेद ब्रह्म अनुसंधानम्), and this is not conducive to bhakti. For love, there should be two people, not one. Further, the goal of jñāna marga is mukti (liberation), not bhakti.

The sense of ज्ञान कर्माद्यनावृतम् is that bhakti is an independent process which is not dependent on the activities of jñāna mārga and karma mārga. A practitioner of uttamā-bhakti (an uttama bhakta) does not harbor any desire for liberation and does not depend on the duties of varṇāśrama dharma – these are also desires that are excluded from uttamā bhakti. The only desire that is admissible is the desire for bhakti. And yet, the word anāvṛtam also does not suggest that ज्ञान कर्मादि शू्न्यम् – that is, one may perform वर्णाश्रम धर्म without the desire to benefit from these actions. One mentally is not dependent on them, but may externally perform them because of social convention.

वर्णाश्रम धर्म is mandatory because of the debt incurred from the very moment of birth. There are debts like पितृ ऋण, देव ऋण, भूत ऋण, ऋषि ऋण and नृ ऋण. We are in debt to our parents and forefathers (for making our birth possible), to the devas, to other people (society for providing necessities), to rṣis (for giving us scriptures), and so on. The duties of वर्णाश्रम धर्म are designed to help repay these debts. Yet, the uttama bhaktas do not have such debts because of their surrender to Kṛṣṇa according to his instruction in the Bhagavad Gita: सर्व धर्मान् परित्यज्य माम् एकम् शरणम् व्रज! Upon their surrender, Kṛṣṇa writes off their debts as he promises: अहं त्वां सर्व पापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शु्चः!

Practically speaking however, devotees live in a society and therefore have to play their social role. The devotees can give up the duties of वर्णाश्रम धर्म mentally but physically they still perform actions to obey social conventions (like श्राद्ध for their forefathers). The gopīs are examples of uttama-bhaktas. They had various duties to perform in their family life and they performed them diligently. They took care of their husbands, relatives, children, cows and so on, but their minds were always absorbed in favorable service to Kṛṣṇa. Bhakti only becomes covered (आवृतम्) when the devotee depends on the karma mārga or jñāna mārga independently of bhakti for some benefit.

Another way to understand ज्ञान कर्माद्यनावृतम् is also that the devotee is devoid of any hidden agendas- the desire to enjoy the results of actions (karma) or the desire to avoid the trouble of acting by renouncing them (jñāna). Basically such desires indicate independence from Kṛṣṇa – freedom to do what one wants rather than what Kṛṣṇa or guru wants. Then one cannot perform uttamā bhakti.

In summary, the words ज्ञान कर्माद्यनावृतम् indicate that uttamā bhakti is complete in itself, and independent of any other process. The mentality of doing what one’s mind wants, rather than what Kṛṣṇa and guru want, is absent in uttamā bhakti.

Is our bhakti uttamā?

The mind is material and naturally provides material pushes- desires for things other than bhakti. Uttamā bhakti is not a familiar or natural thing. Therefore it is necessary to study what it is in detail. Otherwise one is liable to import one’s own ideas into bhakti. For example, one may think reciting some stotras, or performing some vrata is bhakti, and one may stick to those ideas steadfastly. But bhakti is not what is popular in society.

In his commentary on the भक्ति रसामृत सिंधु, Śrī Jīva Goswami says that scriptural study is compulsory for understanding uttamā bhakti. Similarly, Rupa Goswami explains that शिक्षा (education) is compulsory after दीक्षा (गुरू पादाश्रय तस्माद् कृष्ण दीक्षादि शिक्षणम् ). Without शिक्षा, there can be much confusion about bhakti. As Shri Maharajji used to say, “ये कृष्णाजी शास्त्र की फसल है।” – Krsna is a product of scriptures. Therefore bhakti also is a product of scriptures, and scriptural study is absolutely necessary for performing uttamā bhakti.

As discussed in another post, अनुशीलनम् includes all verbal roots. Therefore study of scripture is अनुशीलनम् if it is done with the intention of understanding and properly performing uttamā bhakti. But even scriptural study is not uttamā bhakti if one studies scripture with the subtle aspiration of become a renowned speaker with many followers, or the not-so-subtle aspiration of earning a livelihood.

Similarly, one’s profession is uttamā bhakti if one works with the singular goal of supporting uttamā bhakti. If the profession is for the independent purpose of making money, then it is not कृष्णानुशीलनम्.

In the word ज्ञानकर्मादि, the word आदि (etc.) refers to वैराग्य (renunciation), योग (meditation), सांख्य (knowledge of प्रकृति and पुरुष) and so on. Now one might practice meditation because it calms the mind, or renunciation because it helps avoid material desires. If these practices are performed independently of uttamā bhakti, then they are not uttamā bhakti. But if these practices are done for improving one’s service – doing yoga for maintaining better health and so on that can aid in stable practice of bhakti – then even these practices fall under uttamā bhakti. Contrary to what many modern teachers of bhakti claim, practices of yoga etc. are not at all माया! It will help to keep in mind that all 2000 verbal roots in Sanskrit are included in uttamā bhakti.

Ultimately it is the intention behind doing something that qualifies the act as uttamā bhakti. There is a singular desire in uttamā bhakti, and all other desires are meant to aid this desire. That’s why the word अनावृतम् is used and not शून्यम् (zero) in the definition.


  1. भक्ति रसामृत सिंधु lectures, Bhakti Tirtha II, Shri Satyanarayana dasa Babaji, Jiva Institute, Vrindavan. 2017. 

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