On the importance of definitions in bhakti

Much of the confusion and disagreements in discussions over bhakti can be avoided if the involved parties stick to definitions of terms. Words can take on multiple meanings, and often people just talk past each other because their intended meanings are different.

Rupa Goswami took pains to define terms and he uses them in a precise way. Often, commentators like Sri Jiva Goswami establish how Sri Rupa’s definitions are free of defects of under-applicability (too narrow a definition), over-applicability (too wide a definition) and inapplicability.  For example, defining a cow as an animal with four legs has the defect of over-applicability, because the term ‘cow’ now includes all types of animals. Defining a cow as a white four-legged animal with horns that gives milk is an example of under-applicability, because there are also black cows.

Rupa Goswami’s definitions narrow the scope of what is being meant by a term, and so before a discussion on bhakti, it is best for people to first understand his definitions. For example,  the word ‘bhakti’ is used in many different ways in the Bhagavad Gītā alone, and the practice of these types of bhakti is significantly different from Rupa Goswami’s definition of uttamā bhakti. On this site, we use the word bhakti to mean uttamā bhakti. As we have seen and will see again, Rupa Goswami teaches that uttamā bhakti begins with surrender to the guru, and is singularly dependent on such surrender. This is not necessarily true of other forms of bhakti.

Similarly, Rupa Goswami has very specific meanings in mind for the words karma and jñāna in the context of the Bhakti rasāmṛta sindhu. These words mean different things to different people, and it is best to avoid confusion by understanding the sense in which Rupa Goswami means them.

The reader is encouraged to study the definitions discussed here, and better still,  understand them from books like the Bhakti rasāmṛta sindhu and the Sandarbhas. The importance of definitions cannot be overstated for understanding the edifice that is uttamā bhakti, to apply it in our lives, and also to avoid confusion when discussing it with others.

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