Rupa and Jiva Goswami take great pains to clearly distinguish between karma, jñāna and the bhakti mārga. Not understanding these distinctions can cause problems in the practice of uttama bhakti. Here we examine Jiva Goswami’s commentary on this point. We begin with Rupa Goswami’s writing in the Bhakti rasāmṛta sindhu 1.2.65,
yathā ekādaśe (11.21.2)—
sve sve’dhikāre yā niṣṭhā sa guṇaḥ parikīrtitaḥ |
viparyayas tu doṣaḥ syād ubhayor eṣa niścayaḥ ||
Jiva Goswai writes that here sve sve’dhikāra = separate qualifications for karma, jñāna and bhakti. And he explains that viparyayaḥ is lack of fixity in one’s own adhikāra, and fixity in something other than one’s adhikāra.
Then the meaning of the verse is: “Fixity in one’s own adhikāra [whether karma, jñāna or bhakti] is considered proper, while fixity in that which is not one’s adhikāra is a fault. This is to be understood. “
Kṛṣṇa teaches a similar concept in the Bhagavad-Gita- sva-dharme nidhanaṁ śreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ!
Jiva Goswami makes things more specific:
tatra śuddha bhakti adhikāriṇaḥ itara-dvaya-karaṇe doṣa eva
For one who is qualified for śuddha bhakti, taking up karma yoga or jñāna yoga is a fault.
He adds that those who are qualified for karma and jñāna lack faith in bhakti, and therefore even if they engage in actions of pure bhakti due to association of devotees, owing to dis-respect for bhakti (because of lack of faith), they do not get perfection quickly. This is also akin to a doṣa (fault).
One will not get the result of performing a process if one is not qualified for that process.
Upon taking to bhakti, one becomes disqualified from karma and jñāna.
Many devotees read the Bhāgavatam like a self-study book, instead of learning it systematically from a teacher, and this creates a lot of confusion. Even though the Bhāgavatam is a book written to teach śuddha-bhakti, it is not a book that can be understood just by reading it from start to finish. Chaitanya Vaiṣṇavas are supposed to learn it from Jiva Goswami’s Sandarbhas which were written to systematically explain the Bhāgavatam, and one has to learn them from a qualified teacher in a genuine paramparā.
The Bhāgavatam has many chapters which teach the karma and jñāna mārga also. This is done to educate the reader about these paths, so that they can distinguish bhakti from them. For example, the Kumāras are shown to be jñānis, and then they are depicted as becoming bhaktas. If we do not know what a jñāni is, then we cannot understand how great bhakti is, and the amazing nature of the change in the Kumāras.
Before rushing to apply some injunction or recommendation from the Bhāgavatam or the Bhagavad Gitā into one’s life, one should understand the concept of adhikāra, and know what one’s adhikāra is. Not understanding that uttama bhaktas are not qualified for varṇāśrama duties (karma), and renunciation (jñāna) can cause one to lose one’s adhikāra for pure bhakti.
Along these lines, many devotees hold the mistaken notion that there is a progression from karma yoga to jñāna yoga and then to bhakti. Karma, jñāna and bhakti are distinct paths with distinct results. Karma leads to jñāna and finally to mukti. It cannot lead to bhakti. Holding this notion is actually pratikula to bhakti, because karma yoga is sāttvik (under the guṇas), while bhakti is transcendental (nirguṇa). Carrying pratikula concepts about bhakti impedes effective practice and slows advancement as Jiva Goswami points out above.