Other equivalent definitions of uttamā bhakti

Rupa Goswami goes on to point out in his master piece भक्ति रसामृत सिंधु (Bhakti rasāmṛta sindhu) that उत्तमा भक्ति (uttamā bhakti) is also defined equivalently in other places in the scriptures. For example, there is the famous verse from नारद पंचरात्र:

सर्वोपाधि विनिर्मुक्तम् तत्परत्वेन निर्मलम् हृषीकेन हृषिकेश सेवनम् भक्तिरुच्यते|

sarvopādhi vinirmuktam tatparatvena nirmalam hṛṣīkena hṛṣīkeśa sevanam bhaktirucyate

Pure service (निर्मलम् सेवनम्, nirmalam sevanam) to the master of the senses (हृषीकेश, Hṛṣīkeśa) for his pleasure (तत्परत्वेन, tatparatvena) with the senses (हृषीक, Hṛṣīka) while being completely free from any upādhis (सर्वोपाधि विनिर्मुक्तम्, sarvopādhi vinirmuktam) is called bhakti.

Rupa Goswami and Jiva Goswami’s commentary points out the equivalence between this definition of bhakti and the previous definition of उत्तमा भक्ति. We will examine the different words in the above definition here.

The word upādhi = upa + ādhi. upa means near and ādhi is to place. upādhi = placed on or superimposed on. A title, like Doctor or Mr, is an upādhi. So is nationality, gender, profession and so on. The word vinirmuktam means completely free or devoid of. Thus, sarvopādhi vinirmuktam means completely devoid of any identity other than that of a servant of Kṛṣṇa. As the identity is the root cause of desire, Jiva Goswami explains that

sarvopādhi vinirmuktam –> anyābhilāṣitā śūnyam (devoid of desire-ness for anything else)

It is not that a bhakta cannot be a doctor or professor, but these identities are not independent of the primary identity of bhakta, that means, they are accepted as long as they support uttamā bhakti.

In the word tatparatvena, tat is Kṛṣṇa, and paratvena means for his sake or for his pleasure. nirmalam means pure, that is, unmixed with jñāna and karma. sevanam means service. Therefore,

tatparatvena sevanam = ānukulyena kṛṣṇānuśīlanam, and

nirmalam = jñāna karmādy anāvṛtam

There is another set of verses in the third canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam which also provide an equivalent definition.

मद्गुण श्रुति मात्रेण मयि सर्व गुहाशये मनो-गतिरविच्छिन्ना यथा गंगाम्भसोम्बुधौ

mad-guṇa-śruti-mātreṇa mayi sarva-guhāśaye
mano-gatir avicchinnā yathā gaṅgāmbhaso ’mbudhau

Simply by hearing the qualities of Kṛṣṇa, the mental functions of the devotee become absorbed in Him without any break or stoppage, like the water of the Ganges continuously flowing toward the ocean.

Because the first verse focuses on mental functions, Jiva Goswami concludes that the bhakti defined here is bhāva bhakti (this type of bhakti will be discussed in another article). But if the mind is absorbed in Kṛṣṇa, then the actions also will be serving him. The symptoms of such bhakti are listed in the next verse:

लक्षणम् भक्तियोगस्य निर्गुणस्य ह्युदाहृतम् अहैतुकि अव्यवहिता या भक्तिः पुरुषोत्तमे

lakṣaṇaṁ bhakti-yogasya nirguṇasya hy udāhṛtam
ahaituky avyavahitā yā bhaktiḥ puruṣottame

The characteristics of nirguṇa bhakti yoga are said to be causeless (अहैतुकि) and continuous (अव्यवहिता) service (भक्ति) to Kṛṣṇa (पुरुषोत्तम).

Here Jiva Goswami comments that ahaituki = anyābhilāṣitā śūnyam, that is, it is devoid of hetu- motive for anything else. The ahaituki nature of this supreme bhakti is captured in the next verse:

सालोक्य-सार्ष्टि-सामिप्य-सारूप्यैकत्वम् अप्युत दीयमानम् न गृह्णन्ति विना मत्-सेवनम् जनाः

sālokya-sārṣṭi-sāmīpya-sārūpyaikatvam apy uta
dīyamānaṁ na gṛhṇanti vinā mat-sevanaṁ janāḥ

Without being assured of my service, my devotee does not accept sālokya, sārṣṭi, sāmīpya, sārūpya and ekatva even though I may offer these to him.

The devotee does not ask for anything material such as wealth and position, but also not even the five types of muktis (liberations) listed in the above verse. sālokya means resident-ship in Kṛṣṇa’s abode, sārṣṭi is equality in power or influence, sāmīpya is proximity to Kṛṣṇa, sārūpya is similarity in appearance while ekatva is oneness with Him.

An apt example is Prahlāda maharāj. In response to Nṛsimha deva’s offer of a boon, Prahlāda replied that their relationship was not a business but of master and servant. If the servant asks for something from the master, then he becomes busy with that thing and forgets the master. In prema bhakti, there are no desires other than just serving. The service is its own reward.

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