Does the dāsa bhūto harer eva verse imply inherent bhakti in the ātmā?

I continue examining the arguments of the inherent bhakti-vādis.

Claim: An intrinsic characteristic of the jīva is that it is a dāsa, i.e. a devotee of Bhagavān. This is stated in the Padma Purāṇa 6.226.37: dāsabhūto harereva nānyasya tu kadācana. This is also stated by Śrī Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja: jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya — kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’, and repeated by Śrī Baladeva. Śrī Jīva Goswami himself includes dāsa-bhuto harer eva in the Sandarbhas as an intrinsic characteristic of the jīva. The word dāsa does not have a generic meaning that indicates dependence on Bhagavān as the opponents of inherent bhakti-vāda claim, but it specifically means that the jīva is a bhakta in its svarūpa. Thus, bhakti is proven to be inherent in the jīvas.

Response: The word ‘dāsa’ does not imply inherent bhakti. Instead, it implies a lack of independence from Bhagavān. The inherent bhakti-vādis dismiss this meaning as ‘untenable’, but I will show that this is precisely the intended meaning of the dāsabhūto harer eva verse. I note that the only time the word ‘bhakti’ shows up in the entire Padma Purāṇa chapter6.226 is at the end, where it is stated, “aviditvā tu mantrārthaṃ siddhiṃ naivādhigacchati |
na tu bh uktiṃ ca bhaktiṃ ca na ca muktiṃ varānane “. From this verse, we see that the purpose of this section is to actually teach that bhakti has to be attained, and that the attainment is not possible without understanding the meaning of the mantra taught in the chapter. This itself refutes the notion that bhakti is already inside the jīva!

The word ‘dāsa’ does not imply inherent bhakti

Let us examine the chapter and context in which the dāsabhūto harer eva verse appears. I invite the reader to read the entire chapter online here:

The corresponding Sanskrit is here:

The inherent bhakti-vādis reject the meaning of dāsa as indicating general dependence on Bhagavān, and insist that the word ‘dāsa’ implies inherent bhakti. Yet, as I will show now, the Padma Purāṇa verses explicitly state this precise meaning not once but several times in the words that precede and follow the term dāsabhūto harereva nānyasya tu kadācana.

The verse is as follows:

makāreṇocyate jīvaḥ kṣetrajñaḥ paravān sadā |
dāsabhūto harereva nānyasya tu kadācana ||

I will present the translation from the website above (as it is neutral in this debate):

The letter ma expresses the individual soul, always dependent. He is the servant of Viṣṇu only and of none else.

The inherent bhakti-vadis dismiss the meaning of ‘dependence’ as ‘untenable’. They argue that the word ‘dāsabhūta’ cannot mean dependence, because the word ‘paravān’ already means ‘dependent’, and this creates the fault of redundancy. This is untrue. The words paravān sadā indicate dependence on someone. Upon hearing this term, there is the ākāṅkshā or expectancy: dependence on whom? Śiva? Indra? The next line replies – the dependence is on Hari alone, and no one else. This type of construction is a standard feature of a Sanskrit vākya or sentence.

As an aside, I can fault the verse for the redundancy of ‘eva’ and ‘nānyasya tu kadacana’, as they essentially convey the same thing. So what? Even if redundancy is present, that is not a valid ground for rejecting the meaning which is made explicit in the verse. What is untenable, in reality, is imagining the meaning of the word dāsa in this context to mean ‘bhakta’ or to imply ‘inherent bhakti’, when these meanings are not explicitly present in the verse at all! All bhaktas are dāsas, but not all dāsas are bhaktas. Meanings of words have to be given according to the context, and not according to one’s own whims.

Consider the next line:

evaṃ dāsatvamevāsya madhyam evāvadhāryate | || 38 |

Thus is determined his servitude to be mediocre. 

Why is the servitude mediocre? Because it is purely of the nature of dependence, and nothing more in its essential nature. Unless of course the jīva were to be awarded bhakti by Bhagavān. Again, the word ‘dāsa’ here implies dependence and not ‘inherent bhakti’.

In fact, we see this theme of dependency repeating over and over throughout the chapter. Consider the immediately following verse, where even the fault of redundancy cannot be used as an excuse to reject the explicit intended meaning :

vivṛtiḥ praṇavasyārtha mantraśeṣeṇa vai śubhe |
parasya dāsabhūtasya svātantryaṃ neha vidyate||

O sinless one, the meaning of Om should be known like this. I have explained it (to you). O auspicious one, the exposition of Om (is done) by means of the remnant of the meaning, the formula(?). In this world, he who is the servant of another, does not get freedom. 

Notice the Sanskrit:

parasya dāsabhūtasya

The meaning is:

dāsabhūtasya: of the dāsa

parasya = of another,

svātantryaṃ neha vidyate

there is no independence.

Can it be made more clear? dāsabhūta in these verses conveys dependence ; the same meaning, which the inherent bhakti-vādis reject for this term. But let us continue on.

ahaṃkāreṇa yuktasya sukhaṃ kiṃcinna vidyate | ahaṃkāra vimūḍhātmā aṃdhe tamasi majjati || 43 ||

One having egotism has absolutely no happiness. He whose mind is deluded by egotism sinks in the blinding darkness.

tasmānna manasā cātra svātaṃtryaṃ pratiṣidhyate | bhagavat parataṃtro’sau tadāyattaśca jīvati || 44 ||

Therefore, his freedom through mind is not prohibited. He is dependent upon the lord and lives under his influence.

The inherent bhakti-vadis stridently argue against the interpretation that dāsabhūto harer eva conveys a general dependence on Hari. Yet, this is the meaning that is presented in the section throughout. Need it be said that there is no mention of bhakti anywhere?

tasmāt sādhanakartṛtvaṃ cetanasya na vidyate |
īśvarasyaiva saṃkalpād varttate svacarācaram || 45 ||

Therefore, the sentient is not the author of the means. The mobile and the immobile exist due to the will of the highest lord.

The English translation leaves much to be desired here. In any case, the verse emphasizes more general dependence of the jīva on Bhagavān, and there is still no mention of bhakti, or bhakta, or inherent bhakti anywhere.

tasmāt svasāmarthya vidhiṃ tyajet sarvam aśeṣataḥ | īśvarasya tu sāmarthyān nālabhyaṃ tasya vidyate || 46 ||

43-46. Therefore, he would completely give up the application of his own power. Due to the lord’s power there is nothing that is not obtained by him.

This is an explicit exhortation to give up one’s attempts at independence, and recognize one’s dependence on Bhagavān.

The same idea of dependence is in the verse that follows:

tasmin nyastabharaḥ śrīśe tatkarmaiva samācaret |
paramātmā haris svāmī svamahaṃ tasya sarvadā || 47 ||

47: Having placed the burden (i.e. the responsibility) on that lord of Lakṣmī, he should do acts of (i.e. sacred to) him only.

At the end of the chapter, we find:

aviditvā tu mantrārthaṃ siddhiṃ naivādhigacchati |
na tu bhuktiṃ ca bhaktiṃ ca na ca muktiṃ varānane || 93 ||

O you of an excellent face, without knowing the meaning of the formula, one would not get success, so also enjoyment, devotion and salvation.

Again, the meaning is that this entire world is dependent upon Hari for its existence. This is the essence of the mantra given in this chapter. The jīva is not independent of Hari in its very svarūpa. Tellingly, there is no mention of  bhakti anywhere in this entire section, except in the final verse above, where it is stated that without knowing the meaning of this mantra, one can not  get bhakti (na tu bhaktim), nor bhukti (enjoyment) nor mukti. Bhakti will be attained only by that person who accepts that he or she is dependent on Bhagavān, and who then chants with that knowledge. What can be said now of those who think bhakti is already inside the ātmā?


We have shown above why our explanation of the word ‘dāsa’ as subordinate or dependent is explicitly and robustly supported by the above Padma Purāṇa chapter which states this meaning, not once but repeatedly. We have also shown that the verses do not contain the word ‘bhakta’ or ‘inherent bhakti’ anywhere. The word bhakti does show up at the end of the chapter, but only as an attainment, i.e. something external that has to be attained by the dāsa. This shows that it is the inherent bhakti-vādis’ reading of ‘dāsa’ as ‘bhakta’ which is problematic, because it is unsupported by the Padma Purāṇa section they cite. Presumably, it is tempting to translate ‘dāsa’ as ‘bhakta’ because initiated bhaktas in the Caitanya sampradāya are given the name dāsa or dāsi. While all bhaktas of Hari are dāsas of Hari, not all dāsas are bhaktas of Hari.

In the next article, I will examine citations from Śrī Baladeva and Śrī Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja proferred by inherent bhakti-vādis, and show how they are perfectly consistent with what I have demonstrated in this article. I will follow that article with a discussion of Śrī Jīva  Goswami’s explanation of the term śeṣatva.

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