The limbs of bhakti

Why take dīkṣā from a guru?

Of the 64 limbs of bhakti ennumerated by Rupa Goswami, Jiva Goswami comments that the first twenty are doors that give entry into bhakti (अस्याः भक्तौ प्रवेशाय विंशति-अंगानाम् द्वारत्वेSपि), but of these, the first three are most important, i.e. they are the doors that open to the next (गुरु-पादाश्रयादि त्रयं प्रधानम्)| Uttama bhakti does not begin till one takes shelter of a teacher. This article examines the first three doors of bhakti.

The first door is गुरु-पादाश्रय (guru-pādāśraya tasmāt). There are three words here: guru, the word pādāśraya, and tasmāt. The word ‘tasmāt’ has the sense of a conditional1, and carries the sense of ‘if we are interested in bhakti’. The word pādāśraya means ‘shelter of the feet’, that is, one expresses to the guru their desire to serve the guru. So put together,

guru-pādāśraya tasmāt = If one is seriously interested in uttama bhakti, one must take shelter of a guru

Continuing Jiva Goswami’s analogy, passing through this door, one encounters door 2 which is kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi śikṣaṇam. The word dīkṣā here refers to the  process where the guru marks the disciple with tilak, ties tulasi-mālā around the neck, and utters secret dīkṣā mantras that can only be uttered by a guru to a disciple, that is, they are only accessible through the paramparā. The process implies surrender (which will be discussed later). Here the word ādi means ‘first’.

After taking shelter of the guru, the first act to be done is dīkṣā.

One then learns the scriptures (śikṣaṇam) from the guru. This is the main role of the guru- passing on pāramparic knowledge from guru to disciple which takes years of systematic training in the tradition.

As an example, Shri Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji’s training included systematic study from his guru of the following:

  • Sanskrit Grammar: Siddhanta Kaumudi (commentary on Panini’s Astadhyayi), Laghu Siddhanta Kaumudi, and Harinamamrta Vyakaranam.
  • Nyaya: Tarka Samgraha, Tarka Bhasa, Nyaya Siddhanta Muktavali, Tattva Cintamani, Mathuri Panca-laksani, and Vyutpattivada.
  • Purva-mimamsa: Artha Samgraha, Mimamsa Nyaya Prakasa, and Sloka Vartika.
  • Sankhya: Sankhya-Karika with Sankhya-tattva Kaumudi commentary, and Vidvat-tosini.
  • Yoga: Patanjali Yoga sutras with Tattva Vaisaradi commentary.
  • Advaita Vedanta: Tattvanusandhanama, Vedanta Parijata, Vicara Sagara, and Vrtti Prabhakara.
  • Vaisnava Vedanta (Caitanya School): Six Sandarbhas with Sarva-samvadini commentary, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Ujjvala-nilamani, Govinda-bhasya commentary on Vedanta-sutras, Gita-bhusani and Sarartha-varsini commentaries on Bhagavad-Gita, Srimad Bhagavata Purana with Bhavartha-dipika, Krama-sandarbha and Sarartha-darsini commentaries, Hari-bhakti-vilasa, Caitanya-caritamrta, Brhad-bhagavatamrta, Laghu-bhagavatamrta, and Sri Radha Rasa-sudha-nidhi.
  • Sahitya: Sahitya Darpana, Kavya Prakasa, Dhvanyaloka, Alankar Kaustubha, Dasa-rupakam, and Natyasastra.
  • Chanda: Cando Manjari.
  • Jyotisa: Muhurtta-cintamani.

This type of comprehensive training in Nyaya, Purva mimamsa, Yoga, Advaita Vedanta, Sahitya etc. is required for understanding the context that Jiva Goswami refers to in his Sandarbhas. Otherwise it is difficult to understand the Sandarbhas, and without clear understanding, one can neither apply them properly nor transmit the knowledge in the paramparā. Lack of proper śikṣā is why deviations come into a paramparā and knowledge becomes lost or distorted.

The purpose of dīkṣā is taking śikṣā from the guru. When one does not take śikṣā from the guru, one does not go through door 2, and that means one should not expect the result of bhakti. Bhakti is an exact process, much like a laboratory experiment, and will not give the outcome if not followed exactly.

Door 3 is viśrambheṇa guroḥ sevā – serving one’s guru with sincerity.

If these three doors are not passed through, one can execute the rest of the limbs of bhakti, but one will not get the result. Maharajji therefore used to point out the fruitlessness of doing Govardhana parikrama or any other limb of bhakti, if one has not first surrendered to their guru.


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

 

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