sādhanā

Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī explains the difference between bhakti and varṇāśrama-dharma

The Caitanya tradition, being based squarely on the Bhāgavata purāṇa, has a different understanding of bhakti as compared to other Vaisnava traditions such as the Madhva tradition or the Śrī Vaisnava tradition. Unlike these other traditions, in the Caitanya tradition, bhakti and varṇāśrama are two different or distinct paths with different outcomes/destinations. Here I explore Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary on Bhagavad Gītā 18.66 that makes this point clear.

Śrī Babaji’s translation of the verse is below.

sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja

ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ

parityajya — abandoning completely; sarva-dharmān — all [attachment to] conventional duties; vraja — seek; śaraṇam — refuge; mām — [in] Me; ekam — alone; aham — I; mokṣayiṣyāmi — will free; tvām — you; sarva-pāpebhyaḥ — from all sins; mā — do not; śucaḥ — grieve.

Abandoning completely all [attachment to] conventional duties, seek refuge in Me alone. I will free you from all sins; do not grieve.

Consistent with Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary, Śrī Babaji has translated the word sarva-dharmān as “all conventional duties”. I present Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī’s commentary and my translation of it below. He begins by imagining a question on Arjuna’s part –

nanu tad-dhyānādikaṁ yat karomi tat kiṁ svāśrama-dharmānuṣṭhāna-pūrvakaṁ vā, kevalaṁ vā ?

Should I perform meditation and other items [which Śrī Kṛṣṇa recommended in the previous verse] accompanied by performance of the dharmas appropriate for my āśrama, or should I perform them exclusively?

[In response to Arjuna’s question, Śrī Kṛṣṇa replies]

tatrāha sarva-dharmān varṇāśrama-dharmān sarvān eva parityajya ekaṁ mām eva śaraṇaṁ vraja |

Completely giving up all varṇāśrama-dharmas [sarva-dharmān], take shelter of me alone.

He then explains how to interpret the word parityajya. I will not provide a full translation, as this part is somewhat peripheral to the matter at hand. According to Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī, it does not mean sannyāsa, which is how Śrī Śaṅkarācārya has translated it. This is because Arjuna is not qualified for sannyāsa; Śrī Kṛṣṇa wants him to fight the war. Instead, this instruction is specifically meant for Arjuna, and it is precisely because he is representative of a common person in varṇāśrama society, it can be extended to others. Second, he explains that parityajya does not indicate the giving up of fruits of action (as in karma yoga) but rather not performing the actions themselves. This is because this final instruction of the Gita must be in harmony with the Bhāgavata purāṇa, and also because of the use of the prefix ‘pari’ in parityajya, which indicates complete giving up of other dharmas. In the Bhāgavata purāṇa, there are several verses which explain that the adhikāra for karma ceases for a person who has developed faith in bhakti. He cites SB 11.5.41, 11.29.32, 11.20.9, 11.11.37, with which there must be harmony of meaning (sahaikārthasyāvaśya-vyākhyeyatvāt) of 18.66.

Based on all this, he interprets the instruction in verse 18.66 as follows:

ekaṁ māṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja = seek refuge in Me alone, + na tu dharma-jñāna-yoga-devatāntarādikam = and not varṇāśrama dharma, jñāna, yoga, and other devatās.

Now, many traditions find the interpretation of giving up varṇāśrama-dharma to be an outrageous stretch. After all, Śrī Bhagavān Himself has enjoined varṇāśrama-dharma both in the Bhagavad Gītā and other scriptures like the Vedas. Isn’t it an offense to give it up? Giving up nitya or naimittika karma can cause the accrual of sin as they are enjoined by the Vedas themselves for every person who is within the varṇāśrama fold.

Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī answers this doubt as follows:

na ca mad-ājñayā nitya-naimittika-karma-tyāge tava pratyavāya-śaṅkā sambhavet |

One should not doubt that following my order to give up nitya-naimittika-karma will cause one to accrue sin.

He gives the reasoning:

veda-rūpeṇa mayaiva nitya-karmānuṣṭhānam ādiṣṭam adhunā tu svarūpeṇaiva tat-tyāga ādiśyate ity ataḥ kathaṁ te nitya-karmākaraṇe pāpāni sambhavanti ?

The nitya karmas [part of varṇāśrama-dharma] are enjoined by me only in the form of the Vedas. Now, I myself am recommending that they be given up completely (svarūpeṇaiva). So how can there be sin due to not performing these dharmas?

He finally adds a rather startling piece of insight:

pratyuta ataḥ paraṁ nitya-karmāṇi kṛta eva pāpāni bhaviṣyanti sākṣān mad-ājñā-laṅghanād ity avadheyam |

In fact, after this instruction of mine, sins will accrue if nitya-karmas are performed, because of transgressing my [final] order.

That is, anyone who dabbles in varṇāśrama-dharma, even after taking up bhakti, is disobeying Śrī Kṛṣṇa ‘s order. One cannot hope to please Him this way.

It is equally crucial to understand verse SB 11.20.9, in which the call is to continue in varṇāśrama-dharma so long as one does not develop faith in bhakti. After one develops faith in bhakti, one loses the right to varṇāśrama-dharma. The commentary to SB 11.20.9 by both Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī and Śrī Jīva Goswami make this amply clear. I might take that commentary up in a future post if there is interest expressed by readers.

Given all this, the current claims prevalent in some sects of the Caitanya tradition, that bhakti cannot be performed without varṇāśrama-dharma, are incorrect. Further, the confusion caused by mixing of varṇāśrama-dharma with bhakti contradicts the crystal clear and unique explanations of the Goswamis and Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī, and befuddles sādhakas. Separation of bhakti and varṇāśrama is in fact part of the very definition of bhakti given by Sri Rūpa Goswami. This definition of bhakti is one of the defining features of the Caitanya tradition.

Summary

In the understanding of the Caitanya tradition, varṇāśrama and bhakti are two separate paths with separate results. A person who is on the bhakti path, does not have the adhikāra for varṇāśrama, and vice versa. When a bhakta continues to maintain faith in varṇāśrama, he gets the fault of disobeying Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s instruction to give them up.

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28 replies »

  1. But if anybody will leave varnashram dharma how the society will run. Varnashram is created to manage the society properly. It will be a chaos if people start leaving their varnashram duties.

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      • However there is no varnasrama system to speak of left in India except in small pockets where it is still properly practiced. So for practical purposes there is not much option anyway. So it’s a good thing that Bhakti is not dependent on that social structure.

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    • This is the dumbest argument possible especially in our modern age. As someone who has the label of “Brahmin” myself, I can attest that the Varnavyavastha that you’re talking about is practically nonexistent in 99% of society and those who are actually still practicing it as their ancestor’s did 2 or 3 centuries ago are the ones who are considered these days as the “disturbances to society”! It’s also counterproductive to Hindu unity and the imperative to form a Hindu Rashtra so please update your thinking to fit the facts on the ground instead of merely regurgitating phrases that you’ve read mindlessly.

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      • Understood. I’ll be more temperate in my replies in future. I just get so angry when I see people trying to divide Hindus on the basis of caste but hey, your site, your rules.

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  2. Vishwanath Chakravartipada’s commentary to the Bhagavad Gita is the most beautifully Soul stirring one ever composed in the history of Sanatana Dharma. Thanks TK Das ji for highlighting this important point which is timely for Hinduism today.

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  3. वर्णाश्रमाचारवता पुरुषेण परः पुमान्
    विष्णुर् आरार्ध्यते पन्था नान्यत् तत्तोषकारणम् ॥ इति विष्णु पुराणे ३.८.९ ॥ How to reconcile the statements like this “…………… Factually, other than the execution of varṇāśrama, there is no way to please Śrī Viṣṇu”.

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    • The Bhagavata purana is the supreme pramana, and it over-rides other pramanas. This is explained in the Tattva Sandarbha. I already mentioned in the article that Krsna’s own order to follow karma yoga is nullified by his final instruction.

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  4. मत्कर्म कुर्वतां पुंसां क्रियालोपो भवेद् यदि
    तेषां कर्माणि कुर्वन्ति तिस्रं कोट्यो महर्षयः ॥ इति पद्म पुराणे ॥

    If one who is acting on My behalf or who is performing My devotional service is unable to execute any prescribed duty, three hundred million great sages who are expert in the Vedas are appointed to complete that karma.

    यस्मिन् ज्ञाते न कुर्वन्ति कर्म चैव श्रुतीरितम्
    निरेषणा जगन्मित्राः शुद्धं ब्रह्म नमामि तम् ॥ इति पद्म पुराणे ॥ (prayers by Devadyuti)

    Those who realize that Parabrahman do not need to perform material duties. Giving up all desires and maintaining a mood of friendship towards all the living beings of this world, they worship the Lord. I offer obeisances to that Supreme Brahman.

    — Quoted by Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmīpāda (Dig-darśinī-ṭīkā)

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  5. After reading modern Gaudiya tikas to the srimad bhagavtam I was surprised how little the six goswamis mention Varnashrama dharma in their writings. At one point I was told spreading Varnashrama dharma was Mahaprabhus mission.

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    • Although six goswamis didn’t mention about varnashrama dharma but those who live in society should follow its rule and varnashrama is a system established by scriptures to manage the society. No authentic Gaudiya acharya transgressed varnashrama dharma ever. Gadadhar Pandit is famous for following varnashrama dharma as mentioned in Caitanya Caritamrta.

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      • Varnashrama involves complex lifestyles that are infeasible in the modern age. How many people do you know who are doing agnihotra everyday? How many people do you know who do darsa-paurnamasa yajnas? It is easy to say, follow varnashrama. First we need to understand what varnasrama is- a complex and intricate network of nitya, naimittika and kamya karmas. And who is qualified for it today? Plus anyone born outside India is not qualified for varnashrama, as you have to be born in the system.

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      • As far as I can tell there is no varnashrama dharma in my country (US). I do try to follow the rules of grhastra ashram as that is what I am in but I don’t try and teach others about Varnashrama dharma. I think I would be in the shudra class based on my occupation. It be a tough sell to convince most people to be shudras.

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      • Also I disagree that the six goswamis did not ‘mention about varnashrama dharma’. the whole article above is about giving up varnasrama dharma! Sri Jiva Goswami does a crystal clear analysis of it in the Bhakti Sandarbha. And Sri Visvanatha talks about it in various places in the Bhagavad-Gita.

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      • “ Also I disagree that the six goswamis did not ‘mention about varnashrama dharma’. ”

        I simply meant that in my initial intro to CV I was told the goal of CV is to establish Varnashrama dharma.

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  6. Namaste
    Radhe Radhe
    I think what Mr. Hrishikesh is trying to say is that the article or opinion could have the danger of discouraging a person who follows basic Varnashrama in the form of basic nityakarmas like Sandhyavandana, and naimittika karmas like Shrāddha to pitris. In practice, the Goswamis have described nitya rituals like agni-
    vaishvanara, Gayatri sandhyavandana, and naimittika shrAddha for grihastha Vaishnavas in Hari Bhakti vilasa. Since not everyone has full shraddhā(like most of us) in the beginning, such rituals are described and supposed to be performed while doing karmaarpanamto Bhagavan at the same time. Even in Bhakti sandarbha the kind of shuddha bhakti with no karmas like Sandhya etc. are prescribed for virakta bhaktas. Whereas bhakti with a mixture of karma is described for shuddha bhaktas staying in society.
    Often, as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, while conversing with Vaishnavas of other sampradayas, sometimes due to less knowledge and unable to explain the points by acharyas, we are thought of as karmanindakas and that Vedic society cannot be preserved if initiation into GV is taken.

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    • “I think what Mr. Hrishikesh is trying to say is that the article or opinion could have the danger of discouraging a person who follows basic Varnashrama in the form of basic nityakarmas like Sandhyavandana, and naimittika karmas like Shrāddha to pitris. In practice, the Goswamis have described nitya rituals like agni-vaishvanara, Gayatri sandhyavandana, and naimittika shrAddha for grihastha Vaishnavas in Hari Bhakti vilasa. ”

      My understanding is that Hari Bhakti vilasa is a general book for everyone, not only for Gaudiya Vaisnavas alone. For Gaudiya Vaisnavas, the practices and concepts are determined by Bhakti Rasamrta Sindhu and the Sandarbhas. Sri Visvanatha makes the point very clear in the article above. If you have any arguments against what he is saying, please by all means dispute it.

      “Since not everyone has full shraddhā(like most of us) in the beginning, such rituals are described and supposed to be performed while doing karmaarpanamto Bhagavan at the same time. ”

      I already said this in my response to Hrishikesh ji above, and discussed this in the linked article on uttama bhakti. This is why the word anavrta is used for jnana and karma in the definition of bhakti.

      “Even in Bhakti sandarbha the kind of shuddha bhakti with no karmas like Sandhya etc. are prescribed for virakta bhaktas. Whereas bhakti with a mixture of karma is described for shuddha bhaktas staying in society.”

      Can you point me to where in the Bhakti Sandarbha, it is prescribed that only ‘virakta’ bhaktas should perform shuddha bhakti with no karmas, while bhakti mixed with karma is for ‘shuddha’ bhaktas staying in society?

      “Often, as Gaudiya Vaishnavas, while conversing with Vaishnavas of other sampradayas, sometimes due to less knowledge and unable to explain the points by acharyas, we are thought of as karmanindakas and that Vedic society cannot be preserved if initiation into GV is taken.”

      Are you implying that I am confused and coming across as a karma-nindaka owing to less knowledge? If so, read the rules for commenting on this site. You will be blocked if you continue in this vein. The purpose of diksha into GV is not the preservation of Vedic society. It is getting prema for Bhagavan. Those who want to preserve Vedic society are free to do so. GVs dont wish to disturb Vedic society, as Sri Rupa himself has explained, and they certainly didnt do so even in the time of Sri Caitanya. This site is concerned with bhakti and prema. So spare me the sermons on preserving Vedic society.

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  7. Radhe Radhe,
    I apologise if my message came across as offensive which was not intended.

    The comment regarding Bhakti sandarbha was the concluding part of Anuccheda 284 regarding ‘kevala-arcanam’ and the succeeding point about ‘karma-mishra-arcanam’
    Baladeva makes a similar point(in my opinion regarding pariniShTha(who are grihasthas or sAshramIs) and nirapekSha. The former upAsaka continues karma solely for lokasamgraha(and not have independent faith on karma) while doing bhakti in predominance and the latter gives up all karma and practices only bhakti. VCT also says something similar in BRS. This is really the point you have explained in the beginning to Hrishikesh ji.

    The last comment was not directed to you. I only made that comment regarding those who have faith in the Gaudiya mata and are not learned in the shastra as explained by our purvAcharyas. The purvAchAryas often get attacked by the likes of Advaitins, Vishishtadvaitins and Dvaitins on the internet as karmanindakas. My point was only that if we explain our concepts properly and stress on the point that a shuddha bhakta grihastha while not having faith in karma can do it for lokasamgraha or that those who are yet not paripakva bhaktas can still do karma with bhakti.

    Thank you.

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      • Yes, but for the last time, all this was valid when varnasrama was the dominant social structure in India. Society can change as it has. No matter. Bhakti was, is, and will remain.

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    • “I apologise if my message came across as offensive which was not intended.”

      Ignore what I wrote.

      “The comment regarding Bhakti sandarbha was the concluding part of Anuccheda 284 regarding ‘kevala-arcanam’ and the succeeding point about ‘karma-mishra-arcanam’”

      Thank you. I checked. In your previous message, you wrote, “In Bhakti sandarbha the kind of shuddha bhakti with no karmas like Sandhya etc. are prescribed for virakta bhaktas. Whereas bhakti with a mixture of karma is described for shuddha bhaktas staying in society.”

      I dont see where he prescribes karma misra bhakti in that Anuchheda. He is noting that such bhaktas exist. He presents three types of karma-misra bhaktas there, with the last type being uttama bhaktas. These bhaktas do not have faith in those karmas- they do karmas to not disturb society. I have already said this a few times now. And I discussed it in detail here: https://bhaktitattva.com/2018/09/03/the-journey-begins/?preview_id=3&preview_nonce=d1e21eb514&preview=true&_thumbnail_id=136

      But it is not obligatory for an uttama bhakta sadhaka, to perform karmas. Also, there is no varnasrama really left to speak of – who is one going to set an example for? And for those born out of the varnasrama system, there is no such option anyway. So the point is moot.

      “The last comment was not directed to you. I only made that comment regarding those who have faith in the Gaudiya mata and are not learned in the shastra as explained by our purvAcharyas. The purvAchAryas often get attacked by the likes of Advaitins, Vishishtadvaitins and Dvaitins on the internet as karmanindakas. My point was only that if we explain our concepts properly and stress on the point that a shuddha bhakta grihastha while not having faith in karma can do it for lokasamgraha or that those who are yet not paripakva bhaktas can still do karma with bhakti.”

      Ok, but a GV sadhaka (not siddha) loses the adhikara for karma. This is what Sri Visvanatha is saying in the article above. If one has faith in other paths as well, one is not an uttama sadhaka, and does not meet the metric set out by Sri Krsna: tavat karmani kurvita, na nirvidyeta yavata, mat katha sravanadau va, sraddha yavan na jayate

      I also note that in the following Anuchheda 285, Sri Jiva Goswami explains that the karma misra bhakta- really uttama bhakta, not karma misra but the appellation is needed to distinguish from those uttama bhaktas who do not perform any karma- should offer karma to the devatas as devotees of Bhagavan in Vaikuntha, because the devatas in this world share their names with bhaktas in Vaikuntha! So the ritualistic karma of uttama bhaktas is not the same as the other karmas – the vision of a bhakta may be totally different when he/she does those.

      At a practical level, there is no point in disturbing others – that’s not the purpose of uttama bhakti. If shrAddha needs to be done, for example, it should be done.

      About criticisms of GVs from others, our acaryas simply present the Bhagavata’s theology. These days, looking down upon so-called ‘karmis’ and thinking of oneself as a great bhakta seems to be fashionable in GV. Naturally, people are going to be upset.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Jiva Goswamis commentary to BG 18:66 is in the Krishna Sandarbha Annucheda 82.2

    “The word ‘all’ here indicates all duties up to and including daily obligatory rites (Nitya-karma).”

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  9. Karma Yoga is the first step in the spiritual discipline (Sadhana) which is to be adopted for Moksha. Karma yoga can serve as an aid to Jnana Yoga which secures the realization of the self. It can also serve as a direct means to self-realization since the practice of Karma Yoga in the prescribed manner includes in it the Jnana Yoga. The two are interrelated. But it is easier to practice karma yoga as it takes less effort and time to realize the goal because of the divine grace showered on the individual in response to the disinterested performance of karma.
    https://www.indianetzone.com/27/karma_yoga.htm

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