sādhanā

Bhāgavata dharma is distinct from and independent of varṇāśrama dharma

A reader suggested that the dharma taught in the Bhāgavatam cannot be isolated from varṇāśrama dharma, as the word ‘dharma’, as used in the Bhāgavatam, carries the same meaning and connotation as in any other śruti [i.e. the Vedas]. But does Śrī Jīva Goswami agree with such a view? The answer is ‘no’. So strongly is Śrī Jīva Goswami opposed to conflating bhakti, the dharma of the Bhāgavatam, with varṇāśrama dharma, that he explicitly raises such conflation as a pūrva-pakṣa, and then refutes it as we shall see below.

Bhāgavata dharma – bhakti – is distinct from varṇāśrama dharma

In Anuchheda 58 of the Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Goswami cites the following verse as indicating the distinction of bhakti from varṇāśrama dharma — bhakter dharmātiriktatva —

tyaktvā sva-dharmaṁ caraṇāmbujaṁ harer bhajann apakvo ’tha patet tato yadi
yatra kva vābhadram abhūd amuṣya kiṁ ko vārtha āpto ’bhajatāṁ sva-dharmataḥ


Has inauspiciousness (abhadram) ever befallen a person, whatever his circumstances might be (yatra kva vā), who, having abandoned his prescribed duty (sva-dharma), takes to the sacred service (bhajana) of the lotus feet of Bhagavān Hari, even if he falls away from such bhajana while still in an immature condition? On the other hand, what value (artha) is gained through adherence to prescribed duty by those who fail to worship Bhagavān? (sb 1.5.17)

In this verse, the word sva-dharma refers to varṇāśrama dharma, and the word ‘bhajana’ refers to bhakti. Śrī Jīva Goswami, anticipating opposition to his thesis, raises the question of why bhakti is categorized as ‘dharma’, in the same category as varṇāśrama dharma, in verses such as this one from the seventh canto of the Bhāgavatam —

satyaṁ dayā tapaḥ śaucaṁ titikṣekṣā śamo damaḥ
ahiṁsā brahmacaryaṁ ca tyāgaḥ svādhyāya ārjavam …

śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ cāsya smaraṇaṁ mahatāṁ gateḥ ..

…nṛṇām ayaṁ paro dharmaḥ sarveṣāṁ samudāhṛtaḥ
triṁśal-lakṣaṇavān rājan sarvātmā yena tuṣyati

This supreme duty (para-dharma), which is incumbent upon all human beings, has been proclaimed as consisting of thirty principles, including [truthfulness, compassion, austerity …], as well as hearing about, chanting the glories of, and remembering Bhagavān, who is the destination and refuge of the most highly evolved beings (mahatām). (sb 7.11.8-7.11.12)

Here, we see that a number of items that form part of varṇāśrama dharma, and bhakti, have all been categorized as dharma. Śrī Jīva Goswami writes (I underline the refutation):

ity-ādinottara-granthe dharmatva-vidhānaṁ sarveṣv api prāṇiṣv āvaśyakatvāpekṣayā parama-śreyo-rūpatvāpekṣayā ca lākṣaṇikam eva

Here the categorization of bhakti as dharma [by its inclusion with the moral principles of truthfulness and so on] is merely figurative (lākṣaṇika), because its intent is to make evident bhakti’s necessity for all living beings and its being directly the ultimate good (parama-śreya).

All instances where bhakti is apparently conflated with varṇāśrama dharma must be understood as figurative. Śrī Jīva again emphasizes that bhakti is entirely distinct from ‘dharma’ as commonly understood from the Vedas:

vastutas tu pañcame … dharmātiriktatvaṁ para-vidyātvaṁ ca bodhitam

– In reality, however, in the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad Bhāgavata, bhakti has been proclaimed as distinct from dharma and as para-vidyā, or transcendental knowledge.

The passage in question in the fifth Canto shows how Jaḍa Bharata’s brothers were preoccupied with varṇāśrama dharma, while Jaḍa Bharata himself only engaged in the pure limbs of bhakti and in fact, did not even undergo upanayana. I did not include a translation of those verses here for brevity. Next, Śrī Jīva Goswami cites yet another verse which explicitly positions bhakti as distinct from varṇāśrama dharma:

sanakādyā nivṛttākhye tena dharme niyojitāḥ | pravṛttākhye marīcādyā muktvaikaṁ nāradaṁ munim ||

Sanaka and other sages were engaged by him [Brahmā] in the dharma of nivṛtti, whereas those like Marīci were engaged in the dharma of pravṛtti. But Nārada Muni alone was engaged in bhakti. (Nṛsiṁha Purāṇa 4.4)

The first two dharmas in this verse are part of varṇāśrama dharma. Clearly, bhakti is distinct from them!

Bhāgavata dharma – bhakti – is independent of varṇāśrama dharma

In Anuchheda 75, Śrī Jīva Goswami dismantles the idea that bhakti is dependent on the varṇāśrama system. He first notes that bhakti precedes all other dharmas, and that all other dharmas have been conceived by sages according to their mental make-ups, while bhakti alone is free from the defects present in other dharmas, because bhakti is by its very nature, transcendental. He writes:

agre ca bhakti-yogasyaiva prāk-siddhatā, sākṣāt śrī-bhagavat-pravartitatā, svayam eva mukhyatā | pareṣām arvācīnatā, yathā-ruci-nānā-jana-pravartitatā, tucchatā ceti |

Later on, the fact that bhakti existed prior to any other process (prāk-siddhatā), that it was set forth directly by Śrī Bhagavān Himself, that its preeminence is by virtue of its own constitutional nature, and that all other processes, by contrast, are recent and insignificant (tuccha), having been introduced by various sages each according to their own predilection (ruci), are all made evident by Śrī Kṛṣṇa, as will be illustrated [in His response] to the following question of Śrī Uddhava:

śrī-uddhava uvāca
vadanti kṛṣṇa śreyāṁsi bahūni brahma-vādinaḥ
teṣāṁ vikalpa-prādhānyam utāho eka-mukhyatā

O Kṛṣṇa, exponents of the Vedas promote many different methods as the means to the ultimate good. Are these all optionally primary or is one of them preeminent among them?

In fact, the second part of Uddhava’s question contains the answer to his own question:

bhavatodāhṛtaḥ svāmin bhakti-yogo ’napekṣitaḥ
nirasya sarvataḥ saṅgaṁ yena tvayy āviśen manaḥ

O Master, bhakti-yoga has been determined by You as independent of all other paths. By following the path of bhakti, the mind becomes immersed in You, casting off all other attachments. (sb 11.14.1–2)

Note the word used for bhakti – anapekṣitaḥ or independent. Instead, it is the other dharmas that are dependent on bhakti. Bhakti is the only independent dharma, and it alone bestows the supreme goal. Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s answer to the question above confirms this, but I will skip that here.

varṇāśrama dharma by itself is powerless to bestow the parama-puruṣārtha

Success that may accrue in any other dharma, including varṇāśrama dharma, critically depends on whether bhakti is present in some form in the practice of these dharmas. One reader suggested that only those in the varṇāśrama system have the right to brahma-vidyā. Śrī Jīva explains that even the study of the Vedas themselves, brahma-vidyā, is utterly useless in the absence of bhakti. In contrast, Hari-kathā, which is a primary limb of the Bhāgavata dharma of bhakti, bestows the parama-puruṣārtha of prema for Bhagavān. In Anuccheda 88 of the Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva quotes the following verse:

yaśaḥ-śriyām eva pariśramaḥ paro varṇāśramācāra-tapaḥ-śrutādiṣu
avismṛtiḥ śrīdhara-pāda-padmayor guṇānuvāda-śravaṇādarādibhiḥ

The immense labor expended in discharging prescribed duties pertaining to one’s varṇa and āśrama, and in undergoing penance, study of the Vedas, and other similar practices, culminates only in wealth accompanied by fame. But by hearing and repeating the glories of Śrī Hari, one attains unbroken remembrance of the lotus feet of Bhagavān, who is the support of the Goddess of Fortune. (sb 12.12.53)

He quotes Śrīdhar swami’s commentary as support —

kiṁ ca,varṇāśramācārādiṣu yaḥ paro mahān pariśramaḥ, sa yaśo-yuktāyāṁ śriyām eva kīrtau sampadi vā kevalaṁ, na parama-puruṣārtha ity arthaḥ | guṇānuvādādibhis tu śrīdhara-pāda-padmayor avismṛtir bhavati

Moreover, the immense labor expended in executing one’s prescribed duties in varṇāśrama and in other practices culminates only in wealth accompanied by fame, or in one of these two alone, but not in the supreme object of attainment (parama-puruṣārtha). This is the intended sense. But by devotional acts, such as repeating the glories of Śrī Hari, one attains continuous remembrance of the lotus feet of Bhagavān Śrīdhara, the husband of the Goddess of Fortune.

The worthlessness of Vedic dharma is made even more explicit and pointed in Anuccheda 101 of the Bhakti Sandarbha with the following verses

kiṁ janmabhis tribhir veha śaukra-sāvitra-yājñikaiḥ karmabhir vā trayī-proktaiḥ puṁso ’pi vibudhāyuṣā

śrutena tapasā vā kiṁ vacobhiś citta-vṛttibhiḥ buddhyā vā kiṁ nipuṇayā balenendriya-rādhasā

kiṁ vā yogena sāṅkhyena nyāsa-svādhyāyayor api kiṁ vā śreyobhir anyaiś ca na yatrātma-prado hariḥ

What is the value of a human being’s three births in this world —śaukra (seminal), sāvitra (initiation into the chanting of the sāvitrī-mantra and being invested with the sacred thread), and yājñika (initiation into the performance of Vedic sacrifice)? What is the use of the ritual acts prescribed by the three Vedas? Of what value even is a lifespan as long as that of the gods? What is the point of hearing the Vedas, of asceticism, eloquence of speech, focused mental attention, acute intelligence, power, sensual dexterity, yoga, sāṅkhya, mendicancy, study of the Vedas, and other auspicious practices, if by these Bhagavān Hari is not self-disclosed as the revealer of the Self (ātma-pradaḥ)? (sb 4.31.10–12)²

Indeed, even study of the Upaniṣads, or the path of jñāna, is of no interest to Caitanya bhaktas. Consider the following verse that Śrī Jīva cites from Śrī Kṛṣṇa-Caitanya Mahāprabhu in Anuccheda 69 (one of only two verses he cites from him in the entire Sandarbhas) –

ata eva gītaṁ kali-yuga-pāvanāvatāreṇa śrī-bhagavatā —

śrutam apy aupaniṣadaṁ dūre hari-kathāmṛtam | yan na santi dravac-citta-kampāśru-pulakādayaḥ

Accordingly, Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa-Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who advented to purify the populace in the age of Kali, made the following statement —

Attentive hearing even of the truth disclosed in the Upaniṣads [i.e., Brahman], is a far cry from the nectar of the stories of Bhagavān Hari, because hearing of Brahman does not induce symptoms such as melting of the heart, trembling of the body, tears, and horripilation. (Padyāvalī 39)

Readers who feel that Caitanya bhaktas should not study the Upaniṣads unless they are born in the three upper classes of the varṇāśrama system need not worry! Caitanya bhaktas are only interested in hearing the Bhāgavata, which is replete with Hari-kathā!

Summary

I could have gone on and on citing Śrī Jīva’s writings, but I did not want to make this article too long. The following points must be clearly understood as being foundational in the Caitanya tradition —

  1. Bhakti is totally different from varṇāśrama dharma in its very svarūpa.
  2. Bhakti is totally independent of all other paths, including varṇāśrama dharma.
  3. All other dharmas, including varṇāśrama dharma, study of the Vedas, upanayana, rituals etc. are utterly worthless without bhakti to Bhagavān Hari.
  4. When any other dharma bears any fruit, it is only because some bhakti was present in the practice of that dharma.
  5. Birth and social status play absolutely no role in bhakti. [I will write a separate article on this]

Categories: sādhanā

Tagged as:

14 replies »

    • For me, the follow following steps work 1) know the meaning of the Sanskrit words very clearly 2) know roughly where the verse is on the page 3)memorize it in meter, 4) memorize it in the morning, recall in the afternoon and again in the evening.
      With this method I was able to memorize the Gita. (I have a terrible memory). I also found that shlokas that I like are more easily memorized than others. Also revisiting shlokas is important to keep them permanently in memory

      Liked by 1 person

      • //1) know the meaning of the Sanskrit words very clearly//

        By this YOU mean that understand the ESSENCE of Slokas & RELATE it with Sanskrit Words!

        //3)memorize it in meter//

        What do you mean by this?

        BUT, hamare Acharya [jaise Babaji & Jiva Goswami] DIRECTLY yaad rehta hai unhe, Scriptures ke REFERENCES! Woh kaise??

        Like

  1. Krsna Dasji! Bhagavad Gita 13.13:

    jñeyaṁ yat tat pravakṣyāmi
    yaj jñātvāmṛtam aśnute
    anādi mat-paraṁ brahma
    na sat tan nāsad ucyate

    What is the CORRECT translation of this Sloka?

    Because some translate anādimatparaṁ as:

    anādimat (Beginning Less Brahman)

    Or, anādi mat-paraṁ (Beginningless and Subordinate to Me, Krsna)

    Like

    • It is not a question of correct translation, as the sandhi can be broken in both ways.
      For the Gita, I recommend (always) consulting Sri Visvanatha Chakravarti’s commentary. If you post the Sanskrit here, I will translate it for you.

      Like

  2. MUJHE EK ARGUMENT MILA HAI. AAP PLEASE CHECK KARKE BATAO. THODHA ADVANCED SANSKRIT HAI.

    In Bhagavad-gītā, Śrī Kṛṣṇa is said to have spoken thus:

    jñeyaṁ yat tat pravakṣyāmi yaj
    jñātvāmṛtam aśnute |
    anādi mat-paraṁ brahma
    na sat tan nāsad ucyate || (13.13).

    Śaṅkara, however, twists the rules of Sanskrit phonetics and makes the wording “anādimat paraṁ brahma” (Brahman is beginningless and supreme) instead of “anādi mat-paraṁ brahma” (Brahman is
    beginningless and is inferior to Me).

    Although it is true that in Sanskrit, the spoken form is given superiority over the written form, so that in this instance the wording “anādimat” may seem to be a valid grammatical form although all the texts of Bhagavad-gītā read “anādi mat-paraṁ”, the wording “anādimat” cannot, in fact, be made, because nowhere in the canon of Sanskrit literature and nowhere in the rules of grammar has the suffix mat[up], which is expressive of possession, ever been used in a bahuvrīhi compound. Rather, the key word here is mat-param (inferior to Me), a bahuvrīhi compound in which mat is not mat[up] but a replacement of asmad (I); the literal meaning of mat-param is “Brahman is one whose superior is I.

    Like

      • Ek FOREIGN AUTHOR haiṇ Unka Naam CHARLES FILLON hai. Unhone likha hai yeh ARTICLE. Woh apne baare main yeh likhte hain:—

        Charles A. Filion is Canadian and lived in India for twelve years. In Canada, he spent six months
        in a meditation retreat of the TM movement of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In India, he studied
        Sanskrit grammar, poetics, and philosophy in a bhakti school. He spent a ten-day silent retreat
        in a Vipassana Buddhist center in Jaipur. In 2018, he obtained a master’s degree in Sanskrit
        poetics from the University of Tirupati, India. He has fourteen books published.

        I have a master’s degree in Sanskrit literature (Tirupati, India). I also have an associate degree in science (Quebec) and am a certified chef (BC, Canada). I am Canadian and lived in India for twelve years. I have written fourteen books on Vedanta and on Sahitya, all of which have been published, including “Versified History of Sanskrit Poetics: The Soul is Rasa” (2017) (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass) (790 pages, including 360 verses translated). Moreover, I have tackled the big problems of Vedanta, such as “Does Brahman or Parameshvara have Shakti?”, “Is the soul real or unreal?”, “Is Brahman nirvisesa or savisesa?”, “Is seeing the world really like seeing a snake in the place of a rope?” and “Who wrote Vedic sastra?”.

        Like

  3. Sripad Baladeva commentary to sa vai pumsaam..
    puṁsāmaikāntikaṁ śreyo brūhīti prathama-praśnasyottaram āha—sa iti | puṁsāṁ svasva-vihito’gnihotrādi-lakṣaṇo dharmaḥ paraḥ śreṣṭhaḥ, yato’dhokṣaje harau bhaktistatkathāsu rucirbhavet | svargādi-phalakastvapara ity arthaḥ | kīdṛśī bhaktiḥ? ahaitukī phalecchāśūnyā yasyā bhakterbhajanīyādanyat phalaṁ na syāt sā’haitukī | apratihatā prābalyād vighnairanabhibhūtā

    From one’s own prescribed agnihotra activities , the topmost dharma -ruci form bhakti to adhoshaja arises.

    In Govinda bhasya / sukshma tika to 3.4.26
    Purvapaksha – Both varnashrama duties and characters like control of senses are not needed but exclusive surrender to Guru is enough. Bhakti is also svaroopa shakti vritthi
    tad ubhayam avashyakam na veti samsaye äcäryavän purusho vedety ädishu gurupasattyaiva tad-utpatti-pratyayät neti präpte..
    svaphalaprakāśane karmāṇi vidyā nāpekṣate ityuktaṁ prāk | svotpattāvapi tāni sā nāpekṣatāṁ svarūpaśaktivṛttestasyāḥ svaprakāśatvāditi dṛṣṭānto’tra saṅgatiḥ

    Siddhanta:
    vidyārthaṁ yajñādi nānuṣṭheyamiti pūrvapakṣe phalaṁ siddhānte tvavaśyaṁ tadanuṣṭheyamiti bodhyam .A sannistha and parinishtita needs the helps of ashrama rules .
    For nirapeksha , who is totally dependent on bhakti, there is no dependence on agnihotra .
    nirapekṣāṇāṁ tu bhaktyekaniratānāṁ nairāśramyādagnihotrādīni notpadyante

    A nirapkesha is one who has been “purified by dharma in previous life “but death came to him/her prematurely. In the next birth by mere association of sadhus(prapta-bhagavat-parsada-dehä nirdhüta-kasäyä mürcchita-kasäya), they attain bhakti.
    ye tu satyādibhiḥ prāganuṣṭhitaiḥ paratra tanmātreṇa vidyābhājaste tu mukhyanirapekṣā bodhyāḥ
    atha dharmān vinaiva mahattamasaṅgena nirdhūtankalmaṣāḥ śīghrameva vidyāṁ labhanta iti mukhyanirapekṣān darśayituṁ pravartate balavateti

    Like

Leave a Reply to M Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s