Does the ātmā search for prīti, or love, for Bhagavān?

Proponents of inherent bhakti-vāda (bhakti is inherent in the ātmā) claim that without inherent bhakti, the ātmā would not have prīti or love for Bhagavān as its purpose. The opponents of inherent bhakti-vāda, that is us, take the position that the absence of suffering is the ātmā’s inherent nature. This position, they claim, contradicts Śrī Jīva Goswami who teaches that the ātmā searches for prīti or love for Bhagavān, and not for an absence of suffering. In arguing their point, they turn to the Prīti Sandarbha. I will examine the cited passages from the Prīti Sandarbha in this article.

What is the purpose of human life according to Śrī Jīva Goswami ?

I start in Anuchheda 1, where Śrī Jīva Goswami writes:

puruṣa-prayojanaṁ tāvat sukha-prāptir duḥkha-nivṛttiś ca |

The purpose of human life is the attainment of happiness (sukha) and the elimination of pain (duḥkha).

What is the purpose of human life (puruṣa-prayojanaṁ)? It is two-fold:

  1. attainment of happiness (sukha-prāpti)
  2. elimination of pain (duḥkha-nivṛtti)

First, unfortunately for the inherent bhakti-vādis’ claim, there is no mention of prīti anywhere above. Second, one of the sub-purposes is elimination of pain. This sub-purpose is consistent with the position of the opponents of inherent bhakti-vāda, us, that the essential nature of the ātmā is absence of suffering.

Now I will explain why sukha-prāpti is included as a puruṣa-prayojana or purpose of human life. First, let us define sukha and duḥkha:

anukula-vedaniyam sukham

That which is experienced as favorable is sukha or happiness


pratikula-vedaniyam duḥkham

That which is experienced as unfavorable is suffering

Śrī Jīva Goswami is simply stating what everyone will agree upon: that getting happiness and eliminating suffering are two main purposes of human life, where happiness and suffering are defined above. This is trivially true.

What everyone agrees upon as happiness in the material world, is actually a reduction of suffering. When we eat a chocolate bar, we feel that we are deriving happiness from it, when in actuality, we experience a cessation of the troublesome desire for the chocolate, which was causing us suffering. When we say that we are looking for love, we are probably looking for escape from the misery of loneliness.

The fact is that nobody in the world has experienced real happiness. In other words, sukha, as defined above is actually experienced as favorable because it involves a cessation of suffering. The distinction between sukha and duḥkha that are known to us is purely artificial. Yet, two categories are made because this is common knowledge.

It follows, then, that the reason everyone agrees that the purpose of life is getting happiness and eliminating suffering, as defined above, is because absence of suffering is in our inherent nature. Of course the desire for happiness and escape from suffering originates in māyā, and not in the ātmā. Being mano vṛttis or states of the mind, sukha, duḥkha, icchā (desire) are all called part of the body (kṣetra) in the Bhagavad Gītā. The ātmā is inherently devoid of misery, true. But it cannot create the specific content-filled knowledge, “I do not want to be unhappy”. Because thought is a vṛtti of the mind which is a product of māyā. The mind’s natural state is to be devoid of disturbance (devoid of thought) which is its nature – and this nature is consistent with the inherent state of the ātmā as duḥkha pratiyogi (that is the ātmā and misery do not co-exist). So a mind free of disturbance of desires and thoughts is a state that is consistent with the nature of the jīva that identifies with it. This concept is beautifully explained by Śrī Babaji here.

In contrast, and fatally for the inherent- bhakti-vādis who claim that we look for prīti or love because we have prīti for Bhagavān inside of us, few will agree that prīti, or love, for Bhagavān is the purpose of human life. Many don’t want it – just ask the Buddhists who are 1/10th of the human population, or the millions upon millions of Advaitins, or the millions upon millions (in the past) who wanted svarga by Vedic rituals, or the Jains: the list goes on.

There is a hierarchy of sukhas

This then brings us to the next sentence in the passage. Here, Śrī Jīva Goswami is teaching us something new, which we do not know anything about. Teaching it is the purpose of the Prīti Sandarbha. He has already defined the prayojana or purpose of human life. Now he seeks to teach what our prayojana ought to be – that is, the prayojana of that person who has śraddhā in the Sandarbhas. The sukha he wants us to aspire for, is distinct from everyone’s usual idea of sukha. He writes:

śrī-bhagavat-prītau tu sukhatvaṁ duḥkha-nivartakatvaṁ cātyantikam iti |

It is, however, only in the state of divine love (prīti) for Bhagavān that happiness and freedom from suffering reach their absolute zenith of development (ātyantika).

Importantly, the sukha in prīti is not an absence of suffering. It is something much more. It is actually positive bliss, and this bliss is never-ending. As we can see, this prīti also fits the definition of prayojana above. It is stated to be the zenith or highest here, which means there are obviously other possible prayojanas. Why is it the highest? Because:

in prīti, the happiness experienced is the highest, and freedom from suffering is the highest.

Śrī Jīva Goswami next explicitly states the idea that there is a hierarchy of sukhas, which obviously corresponds to a hierarchy of prayojanas, and that there is a zenith of bliss in the parama-tattva:

etad uktaṁ bhavati—yat khalu parama-tattvaṁ śāstra-pratipādyatvena pūrvaṁ nirṇītaṁ, tad eva sad-ananta-paramānandatvena siddham | śrutāv api saiṣānandasya mīmāṁsā bhavati [tai.u. 2.8.1] ity ārabhya, mānuṣānandataḥ prājāpatyānanda-paryantaṁ daśa-kṛtvaḥ śata-guṇitatayā krameṇa teṣām ānandotkarṣa-parimāṇaṁ pradarśya, punaś ca tato’pi śata-guṇatvena para-brahmānandaṁ pradarśyāpy aparitoṣāt, yato vāco nivartante [tai.u. 2.4.1] ity-ādi-ślokena tad-ānandasyānantyatvam eva sthāpitam | vilakṣaṇatvaṁ ca, ko hy evānyāt kaḥ prāṇyāt yad eṣa ākāśa ānando na syāt [tai. 2.7.1] ity anena nānā-svarūpa-dharmato’pi tasya kevalānanda-svarūpatvam eva ca darśitam | tathā-bhūta-mārtaṇḍādi-maṇḍalasya kevala-jyotiṣṭvavat |

In this regard, the following is to be discussed. The Absolute Reality (parama-tattva), which was earlier ascertained as the subject matter to be set forth by the scriptures, was verily concluded to be eternal, unlimited, and of the nature of supreme bliss (paramānanda). In the Śruti as well, beginning with the statement: “This, then, is an evaluation of that bliss” (TU 2.8.1), ten different amplitudes of bliss have been progressively shown, from that of human beings up to that of Prajāpati [i.e., Brahmā], each one a hundred times greater in excellence than the previous one.

Thereafter, the bliss of Parabrahman is stated to be a hundred times greater even than that of Prajāpati. Not content even with this comparison, the Śruti next establishes the limitlessness of Parabrahman’s bliss as well as its categorical distinction [from material happiness] in the following statement:“[The bliss of Brahman (brahmaṇaḥ ānandam) is that] from which words recoil along with the mind, without ever having reached it [i.e., being powerless to describe or conceive of it].” (TU 2.9.1)

Does the ātmā search for prīti for Bhagavān ?

Now, I turn to a passage which is misinterpreted to mean that the ātmā searches for prīti for Bhagavān. The passage is as follows, and I will examine it line-by-line.

evaṁ tat tvam asi [chā.u. 6.8.7] ity-ādi-śāstram api tat-prema-param eva jñeyam |tvam evāmuka itivat |

Accordingly, even śāstrika statements such as “You are That” (tat tvam asi, CHU 6.8.7) should be understood as exclusively indicative of prema for Bhagavān, just as it is said [about someone who holds another as exceedingly dear], “You are that very person.”

Śrī Jīva Goswami is explaining how prema is the highest prayojana or purpose of human life. Accordingly, he is explaining how scriptural statements of oneness between the ātmā and Bhagavān are to be interpreted in terms of prema alone. Now comes the part which has been misinterpreted as the ātmā’s inherent longing for prīti.

kiṁ ca, loka-vyavahāro’pi tat-para eva dṛśyate|

Moreover, worldly dealings are also seen to be focused exclusively on love.

Śrī Jīva Goswami is talking about worldly love, although he uses the same word prīti to denote it because prīti is also the common word for worldly love. He assumes that we have the common sense to understand the simple fact that he is no longer talking about prīti for Bhagavān. He is using the word prīti in this sentence in the same sense he used the word sukha above – in its generic meaning. He is doing so for exactly the same purpose as above- to establish that there is a highest prīti, which happens to have nothing to do with the prīti of the material world.

sarve hi prāṇinaḥ prīti-tātparyakā eva, tad-artham ātma-vyayāder api darśanāt | kintu yogya-viṣayam alabdhvā, tais tatra tatra sā parivarjyate | ataḥ sarvair eva yogya-tad-viṣaye’nveṣṭum iṣṭe sati, śrī-bhagavaty eva tasyāḥ paryavasānaṁ syād iti |

All living beings have love alone as their ultimate aim (tātparya), because it is evidenced that for the sake of love, one may even sacrifice one’s own life. But being unable to find a suitable object of love, people [continuously] withdraw their love from the objects and people [in which or in whom it was formerly invested].

People search for worldly love. This is well known. Inherent bhakti-vādis misinterpret this statement to mean that people search for love because prīti for Bhagavān is inside the ātmā. But Śrī Jīva Goswami does not state why they look for worldly love, just that they do. In fact, his purpose and logic here is very different from that of the inherent bhakti-vādis. He writes:

tad evaṁ bhagavat-prīter eva parama-puruṣārthatve samarthite sādhūktaṁ “atha prīti-sandarbho lekhya” ity-ādi |

Consequently, since everyone yearns to find a suitable object of love, it is in Śrī Bhagavān alone that love finds its ultimate completion.

The purpose of this passage is to establish that there is a highest type of love or prīti. It is established by showing that people are not satisfied with the love of the material world. This parallels his discussion of the different types of sukhas above, and the existence of the zenith of sukha that nobody has ever experienced in the material world.

The idea that our external search for prīti is a sign of our inherent prīti for Bhagavān is precisely what has given rise to execrable concepts like: lust is a perversion of prīti for Bhagavān. This is manifestly false. Lust is a product of māyā born out of rajas, as explained in the Gītā. It has nothing whatsoever to do with prīti for Bhagavān. To see lust and prīti for Bhagavān being used in the same sentence is a terrible thing to endure for bhaktas of Bhagavān.

Why should prīti be considered a ‘purpose’ of human life?

I now come to the criticism leveled at us, the opponents of inherent bhakti-vāda, that we cannot explain why prīti for Bhagavān should be considered a ‘purpose’ of human life. The claim is that our views are not teleological in scope, that is, we cannot ascribe a reason for why prīti is a suitable prayojana for the ātmā.

This claim is false. I have previously discussed the reasons why prīti as a prayojana is completely consistent with the essential nature of the ātmā in this article. I list the reasons from the article summary here:

  • We love the body the most.
  • We love the body meaning we mistake it for the real self, which is the ātmā. We should therefore aspire to realize the ātmā.
  • But Kṛṣṇa is the self of the self (ātmā of the ātmā). Therefore we should aspire to love Kṛṣṇa, who is the reason we love our self (the ātmā). In fact, we should aspire to love Him more than our own selves, and this is the symptom of uttamā-bhakti.

In other words, prīti for Bhagavān is the best purpose for us, because Bhagavān is our very self.


  1. Prīti is not a proper noun. When one uses the word prīti, one has to specify whether it is for Bhagavān or whether it refers to worldly or material prīti.

2. The attainment for happiness and cessation of suffering is an acceptable purpose for everyone because it is consistent with the ātmā’s inherent nature of freedom from suffering. Material happiness is simply the reduction of suffering, but it is still considered a separate purpose by most people in the world because few understand this principle.

3. Prīti for Bhagavān is not acceptable to everyone as the purpose of life.

4. Prīti for Bhagavān fits the definition of ‘prayojana’ or ‘purpose’ as the attainment of the highest happiness and complete cessation of suffering.

5. The search for love in the material world is not because the ātmā has prīti for Bhagavān, but because the body is mistaken to be the real self.

6. Lust is not a perversion of prīti for Bhagavān.

7. The highest purpose of the ātmā is prīti for Bhagavān, because Bhagavān is the ātmā’s very self.

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13 replies »

  1. Radhe Radhe
    “Accordingly, even śāstrika statements such as “You are That” (tat tvam asi, CHU 6.8.7) should be understood as exclusively indicative of prema for Bhagavān, just as it is said [about someone who holds another as exceedingly dear], “You are that very person.””

    Could you explain this statement? Especially the expression: “tvam evāmuka iti”(You are that very person)

    • Is it expressed as an expression of affection for Shvetaketu, indicating that he is an object of affection for his father because he is perceived as non different from Brahman who is the actual object of affection/love/ prīti?

      • I have one doubt however. Shvetaketu had still not been instructed about Brahman till then, why is Uddalaka pronouncing ‘tat tvam asi’ to him when statements like ‘tvamevāmuka’ is said to a person(tvam) who holds another(amuka) as dear?

      • So instructions like ‘tat tvam asi’ or ‘tat tvameva, tvameva tat'(Kaivalya Upanishad) should be understood as instructions of a future state/purushartha (viz., Prema) and not a descriptor of the present situation(where there is no prīti)?

    • No I meant that the statement “स य एषोऽणिमैतदात्म्यमिदं सर्वं तत्सत्यं स आत्मा तत्त्वमसि श्वेतकेतो” was addressed to Shvetaketu by his father Uddalaka. I had thought that Uddalaka sees Shvetavaku as non different from Brahman like an Uttama Bhaagavata and hence he is an object of affection from him. But I guess त्वमेवामुक doesnot have that context. त्वम् means a person and अमुक is the object of Prema for that person.

      • Here the term एव and the oneness/identity that it implies indicates the deepness and highest intensity of love between the two persons

      • In the statement, tat refers to paramatma. Tvam refers to Shvetaketu. This is what Uddalaka means. According to Sri Jiva, the intended meaning is that the atma is one with paramatma in love.

      • The advaitins take the same statement as follows- clearly shvetaketu is not paramatma. But shastra cannot be wrong. So the equation is valid after removing upadhis from Shvetaketu, and from Paramatma, leaving the equality as Brahman=Brahman.

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