A key qualification on the path of bhakti is śraddhā, which is generally understood as faith. However, the word śraddhā indicates something very specific in the context of uttamā bhakti. Śrī Jīva Goswami takes this topic up in some detail in the Bhakti Sandarbha. Here we examine his treatment of this subject.
śraddhā in bhakti comes of its own accord and disregards the qualification of the recipient
Śrī Jīva Goswami’s treatment of the topic of śraddhā is founded mostly in the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam’s eleventh canto, wherein Śrī Kṛṣṇa expounds on the difference between the nirguna or transcendental process of bhakti, and other paths such as karma and jñāna. In the Bhakti Sandarbha anuchheda 171, Śrī Jīva examines the following verse:
nirviṇṇānāṃ jñāna-yogo nyāsinām iha karmasu |
teṣv anirviṇṇa-cittānāṃ karma-yogas tu kāminām ||
yadṛcchayā mat-kathādau jāta-śraddhas tu yaḥ pumān |
na nirviṇṇo nāti-sakto bhakti-yogo’sya siddhi-daḥ ||
Out of these three methods, jñāna-yoga grants success to those who are disinterested in fruitive actions and who have thus abandoned them, whereas karma-yoga grants success to those who are not disinterested in fruitive actions and who still desire the fruits of such actions. However, for a person who, by great fortune, has acquired śraddhā in hearing My narrations and other similar devotional acts, and who is neither completely indifferent to sense objects nor overly attached to them, bhakti-yoga grants success. (SB 11.20.7-8)
Here, Śrī Jīva Goswami notes that the sole cause for eligibility in bhakti is śraddhā (śraddhā-mātraṃ hetu), and this is indicated in the verse by the word yadṛchhayā (by great fortune). Śrī Jīva glosses yadṛchhayā as
kenāpi parama-svatantra-bhagavad-bhakta-saṅga-tat-kṛpā-jāta-maṅgalodayena – by the auspicious fortune born of the grace issuing from the association of a devotee of Bhagavān, who is supremely independent (parama-svatantra) [in the matter of bestowing such grace]
The main point is that the śraddhā in bhakti does not arise because of one’s past activities, such as karma yoga which increases one’s level of sattva. In fact, people who have spent a long time performing such activities resist the greatness of bhakti which seems very simple to them. Likewise, there are those who have a fixed notion of what bhakti is, and find it difficult to change their ideas about it. In contrast, those who have not taken up another spiritual discipline in the Vedas, or have not been exposed to aśāstric concepts, find it easier to accept bhakti’s greatness and uniqueness. The word yadṛchhayā indicates that the śraddhā in bhakti is not dependent upon any qualification of the recipient, but arises only through the completely independent mercy of Bhagavān, who makes available the association of His devotee to the recipient.
To prove the point that the arising of bhakti does not depend on one’s background, Śrī Jīva reminds the reader of the fact that Vṛtrāsura, who was tamasic, was a great devotee, while bhakti does not manifest in the devas, despite their having a high level of sattva (Anuccheda 134).
The definition of śraddhā
A discussion of the topic of śraddhā can get quickly confusing because the word ‘faith’ seems a good translation. But this word carries at least two different meanings, according to Śrī Jīva, which are listed below,
- loka-paramparā-prāptā śraddhā- śraddhā that has arisen merely from social convention. This can happen for example because one is present in a society where external practices of bhakti may be practiced.
- śāstrīya-śraddhā. Śrī Jīva’s definition of this term is important to understand and is given below:
śāstrīya-śraddhā = śāstrārthe viśvāsaḥ, that is, śraddhā is faith or trust in the meaning of scripture.
According to Śrī Jīva, conventional śraddhā is the subject of Arjuna’s question in Bhagavad Gītā 17.1, when Arjuna asks:
ye śāstra-vidhim utsṛjya yajante śraddhayānvitāḥ teṣāṁ niṣṭhā tu kā kṛṣṇa sattvam āho rajas tamaḥ
O Kṛṣṇa, what is the conviction (niṣṭhā) of those who, although endowed with faith, nonetheless worship with disregard for the scriptural injunctions? Is it of the nature of sattva, rajas, or tamas? (Gītā 17.1)
Kṛṣṇa’s answer from 17.2 to 17.4 shows that conventional śraddhā is indeed of three types because it is material, and therefore necessarily of the nature of sattva, rajas, or tamas. Further, it also fluctuates between these three, and is therefore not stable.
As a side note, Śrī Jīva provides an identical definition of śāstrīya-śraddhā in his commentary on 1.2.16 in the Bhakti-rasāmṛta Sindhu. He is very consistent in his explanations of this topic!
In Anuchheda 173, he goes on to explain that śāstrīya-śraddhā alone brings the fruit of bhakti by citing a verse from the Brahma-vaivarta Purāṇa,
kiṃ satyam anṛtaṃ ceti vicāraḥ sampravartate | vicāre’pi kṛte rājann asatya-parivarjanam | siddhaṃ bhavati pūrṇā syāt tadā śraddhā mahā-phalā ||
O King, at first one investigates whether scriptural statements [regarding the power of bhakti] are true or false. At the completion stage of this investigation, one thoroughly abandons the idea of their being untrue. At this point one’s śraddhā becomes perfect, and being then complete, it yields the supreme fruit.
Śrī Jīva concludes that this śāstrīya-śraddhā is being referred to in SB 11.20.8, which was quoted at the beginning of this article.
śāstrīya-śraddhā is nirguṇā
We have seen that in Śrī Jīva’s view, the śraddhā in bhakti, which 1) comes of its own accord, 2) is independent of any material qualification, and 3) arises due to Bhagavān’s mercy, is the same as śāstrīya-śraddhā. We now examine Anuchheda 137, in which Śrī Jīva explains that śraddhā in bhakti is nirguṇā. He cites the following verse spoken by Śrī Kṛṣṇa:
tad evaṃ kriyā-mātrasya tādṛśatvam uktvā tat-pravṛtti-hetu-bhūtāyāḥ śraddhāyā apy āha—
sāttviky ādhyātmikī śraddhā karma-śraddhā tu rājasī |
tāmasy adharme yā śraddhā mat-sevāyāṃ tu nirguṇā ||
In this manner, after stating that all action related to Him is nirguṇa, Bhagavān declares that even the faith that impels one to such action is nirguṇa:
Faith directed to the Self is sāttvika, faith in worldly action is rājasika, faith in irreligious deeds is tāmasika, whereas faith in My service is nirguṇa. (SB 11.25.27)
śāstrīya-śraddhā is nirguṇā, and is the only type of śraddhā which is nirguṇā. One may wonder what type of śraddhā is possessed by the jñāna yogīs, karma yogīs or aṣṭāṅga yogīs. After all, they also have śraddhā in śāstra.
śāstrīya-śraddhā is nirguṇā, and is always nirguṇā, but according to the practitioner who has it, this same śraddhā can be called as sāttviki, rājasi or tāmasi. These designations apply not to śāstrīya-śraddhā but to the practitioner. This is analogous to bhakti, which is always nirguṇā, but if a person is under the guṇas, he or she may perform it for some material motive, which brings the designation of sāttvik, rājasik or tāmasik to bhakti. This is explained by Śrī Kapila deva in the Bhāgavatam (SB 3.29.8-12).
A nirguṇa object is Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti
What does it mean to say that śāstrīya-śraddhā is nirguṇā? The word nirguṇā means that this śraddhā is not a product of the guṇas but independent of them. As there are broadly three types of śaktis in existence-māyā, the jīvas, and svarūpa śakti of Bhagavān Himself, it follows that śāstrīya-śraddhā is a transformation of Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti. This is only appropriate, given that bhakti itself is Bhagavān’s svarūpa śakti, as explained in Anuchheda 139 of the Bhakti Sandarbha. As such, śāstrīya-śraddhā can only come from a genuine guru who has it. It is this śraddhā which is called the bhakti-latā bīja or seed of the devotional creeper in the scriptures.
śāstrīya-śraddhā is the personal potency of Bhagavān, and cannot be subject to any material influence. Once one has śāstrīya-śraddhā, one cannot deviate from the path of bhakti, nor indulge in any act contrary to it. Success in bhakti is guaranteed if one gets this śraddhā. Sadly, it is also extremely difficult to get, because one is prone to resist śāstric concepts which challenge one’s notions.
- śraddhā in bhakti is the same as śraddhā in śāstra
- śāstrīya-śraddhā is nirguṇā
- śāstrīya-śraddhā is Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa śakti
- śāstrīya-śraddhā is the bhakti-latā bīja.
- This śāstrīya-śraddhā can be called sāttviki, rājasi or tāmasi, depending on the guṇika nature of the practitioner.
- śraddhā of other types- such as worship of the devas, etc. is not śāstrīya, but rather conventional śraddhā.