The four types of devotees of the Gītā are not uttama bhaktas

Kṛṣṇa lists four types of devotees in the Bhagavad Gītā 7.16. Rupa Goswami examines Kṛṣṇa’s list in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, and explains that these devotees are not uttama bhaktas. Rupa Goswami writes:

तत्र गीतादिषूक्तानां चतुर्णाम् अधिकारिणां मध्ये|

Among the four adhikārīs in the Gītā verses,

यस्मिन् भगवतः कृपा स्यात् तत्-प्रियस्य वा ||

upon whom the mercy of Bhagavān or his devotee is bestowed,

स क्षीण-तत्-तद्-भावः स्यात् शुद्ध-भक्त्यधिकारवान् |

his specific attachment becomes weak and he becomes qualified for pure devotion,

यथेभः शौनाकादिश्च ध्रुवः स च चतुःसनः ||

Śaunaka, Dhruva and the four Kumaras are examples of such devotees.

The famous Gītā verse lists the four types of devotees as: आर्तो जिज्ञासुर् अर्थार्थी ज्ञानी च: those who are suffering, inquisitive, interested in pleasure and the jñānī. These four type of devotees worship Kṛṣṇa.

As always, Jiva Goswami gives a brilliant and original commentary that expands upon Rupa Goswami. He writes

अथ चतुर्विधा इति पद्यानां चायम् एवार्थः – आर्तो दुःख-हानेच्छुः| अर्थार्थी सुख-प्राप्तीच्छुः| स च स च द्विविधः परिच्छिन्नापरिच्छिन्नत्व-दृष्टिः-भेदेन|अपरिच्छिन्न-दृष्टिश्चेत् तत्-तदर्थम् कश्चित् तत्त्व-जिज्ञासुर् अपि भवति| व्यतिक्रमेणोक्तिर् आर्ति-हानेच्छानंतरम् एव च जिज्ञासा ज्ञायत इति|

Jiva Goswami defines the four types of devotees as follows:

आर्तो = one who desires an end to his or her suffering.

अर्थार्थी = one who is desirous of acquiring happiness.

These are of further two types depending on their vision – limited and broad. Those with limited vision do not think about Kṛṣṇa much at all, but rather worship him purely for their material purposes. Those with broader vision worship Kṛṣṇa for material purposes but are also aware of Kṛṣṇa himself. After getting their material purpose fulfilled, of these, some may become तत्त्व-जिज्ञासु (inquisitive about Kṛṣṇa). Generally one may expect the following type of sequence: आर्त –> अर्थार्थी –> जिज्ञासु . That means when suffering ends, one starts looking for pleasure and when that is fulfilled, one may become inquisitive about Kṛṣṇa. According to Jiva Goswami, the reason this sequence was not presented in the Gita verse, but rather as आर्त –>जिज्ञासु–>अर्थार्थी is that curiosity only starts after the end of suffering.

The fourth devotee is the jñānī. Jiva Goswami explains – ज्ञानी पूर्वोक्त-प्रकारक-शब्द-ज्ञानवान्| स च त्रिविधः|  The word jnani refers to a śabda-jñānī, that means, he has knowledge of the scripture but he does not have realized knowledge. Further, the word jñānī is one who has the knowledge spoken by Kṛṣṇa about Himself in chapter 7 of the Gītā. Jiva Goswami does a thorough analysis of the verses in Chapter 7.

According to Jiva Goswami, Kṛṣṇa explains in Gītā 7.3 that this knowledge is rare even for one who has realized the self as ātmā (मनुष्याणाम् सहस्रेषु इति आदिना आत्म ज्ञान सिद्धेर् अपि दुर्लभत्वम्). In 7.4 and the following verses, Kṛṣṇa points out how He is the supreme cause of the two śaktis called pradhāna and jīva, His superiority over all there is, and His existence as the supreme shelter of all. With कैमु्त्य न्याय, He shows how His qualities are superior to all material things – although he is non-different from the essential qualities of matter (7.9), he is still different and untouched by material qualities (7.12). According to Jiva Goswami, it is this type of knowledge that the jñānī in verses 7.16-20 possesses. There are three sub-types of the jñānī: तादृशैश्वर्य-माधुर्य-तत्-तन्-मिश्र-ज्ञान-भेदेन – one who possesses knowledge of Kṛṣṇa’s greatness, of His sweetness, or mixed knowledge of these two.

The verse describing the four types of devotees mentions the word ‘sukṛtinaḥ’ to qualify them. Jiva Goswami explains the word (sukṛtam) as: भक्ति-वासना-हेतु-महत्-संगादि-मयम् विद्यते येषाम् ते – Those are sukṛtinas, in whom there is the desire to perform uttama bhakti because of having come in contact with great devotees. Therefore the four types of devotees will only perform bhakti if they come in contact with great devotees, which imparts to them the knowledge mentioned above.

Jiva Goswami writes that the बहुनाम् जन्मनामन्ते ज्ञानवान् माम प्रपधते verse applies only to the three types of people who are not jñānīs – i.e. it takes many births to go through the sequence of आर्त –> अर्थार्थी –> जिज्ञासु -> ज्ञानी. In the fourth stage (ज्ञानी), they finally get the association of great devotees and get the knowledge mentioned above.  Among these jñānīs, those who give up their desire for mukti (liberation) and karma (वर्णाश्रम) and only take to pure devotion, are extremely dear to Kṛṣṇa, and He is extremely dear to them. So there are two types of jñānīs – one who has knowledge of Kṛṣṇa but is interested in attaining Brahman, and the other who understands Kṛṣṇa as the goal of life and therefore performs uttama bhakti. It is this later type of jñānī who is mentioned to be very dear to Kṛṣṇa, while the former type of jñānī is referred to in the caturvidhā verse.

As examples of the three types of devotees who got uttamā bhakti by association, Jiva Goswami mentions Gajendra who upon seeing Bhagavān gave up the desire for freedom from suffering, Śaunaka and other ṛṣis who gave up the desire for svarga upon hearing from Sūta Goswāmi (the goal of their sacrifice is mentioned in the Bhāgavatam to be svarga), Dhruva who wanted a kingdom but gave up the desire upon seeing Bhagavān, and the four Kumaras who gave up the desire for liberation upon getting Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.

Those who do not have sukṛti – the association of great uttama bhaktas- are described in the verses that follow (such as कामैस् तैर् etc.). They continue in the material world.

So to summarize, there are the following types of people:

  1. People who dont take to bhakti and dont worship anyone,
  2. People who worship other devas,
  3. People who worship Kṛṣṇa of which there are of two sub-types: those who worship him for a material purpose and those who worship Him for pure devotion.

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

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