A reader recently suggested that the definition of uttamā bhakti I have written about is incorrect, and that Śrī Jīva is actually teaching something different. I will examine the argument below.
Claim: The svarūpa-lakṣaṇa and taṭastha-lakṣaṇa (that I discussed here as the lakṣaṇas of uttamā bhakti) are actually both in the svarūpa of uttamā bhakti, because both are always present in uttamā bhakti. The taṭastha lakṣaṇa is actually of bhakti, and not of uttamā bhakti, because the taṭastha lakṣaṇa indicates that which is not always present. Śrī Jīva clearly writes, “uttamātva-siddhy-arthaṁ” – meaning that the taṭastha lakṣaṇa makes this bhakti uttamā, and not that the taṭastha lakṣaṇa is of uttamā bhakti.
Reply: I will show that this claim is false by quoting Śrī Jīva’s writings. But before that, I want to point out that the question probably originates from a lack of understanding of the definition and purpose of a taṭastha lakṣaṇa. The reader seems to confuse taṭastha lakṣaṇa with an upalakṣaṇa, when in fact, taṭastha lakṣaṇa in the definition of uttamā bhakti is a viśeṣaṇa. So I will examine these terms first.
Definitions of taṭastha-lakṣaṇa, svarūpa lakṣaṇa, upalakṣaṇa and viśeṣaṇa
A viśeṣaṇa is defined as follows:
kāryānvayitve sati kāryakāle vartamānatve sati vyāvartakatvam – That which is a part of the object, is always present when the object is present, and distinguishes the object from others.
An upalakṣaṇa is defined as –
kādaciktve sati vyāvartakatvam – That which is only present sometimes, and distinguishes the object from others.
A taṭastha-lakṣaṇa is defined as
tad-bhinnatve sati tad-bodhakatvam , Siddhānta-ratnam 8.2
a characteristic that is distinct from the essential nature of an object, yet which serves to identify the object
A svarūpa-lakṣaṇa is defined as
tad-abhinnatve sati tad-bodhakam
a characteristic that belongs to the essential nature of an object, and that serves to distinguish the object
Commentary on 1.1.10 which precedes the definition of uttamā bhakti
I will now examine the Sanskrit and present my translation of two commentaries. We start with Bhakti rasāmṛta sindhu 1.1.10. Śrī Rūpa Goswami writes:
tatrādau suṣṭhu vaiśiṣṭyam asyāḥ kathayituṁ sphuṭam |
lakṣaṇaṁ kriyate bhakter uttamāyāḥ satāṁ matam ||
Here are two commentaries:
śrī-jīvaḥ: tatrādāv iti | tatra pūrva-vibhāga-gata-prathama-laharyām | ādau prathamata eva uttamāyā bhakter lakṣaṇaṁ kriyate | pratipādyatvena vidhīyate | na tu sarvātmikāyāḥ | tatra hetuḥ—suṣṭhu vaiśiṣṭyaṁ kathayitum iti | anyatrānyābhilāṣa-jñāna-karmādy-āvṛtatvenāpūrṇa-balatvāt | etad-aṁśata evāsyās tādṛśatva-vyakteḥ | yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiṁcana [bhā.pu. 5.18.12] ity ādeś ca ||10||
viśvanāthaḥ: tatrādāv iti | tatra pūrva-vibhāga-gata-prathama-laharyām | ādau prathamata eva uttamāyā bhakter lakṣaṇaṁ kriyate | pratipādyatayābhidhīyate | na tu sarvātmikāyāḥ | lakṣaṇa-karaṇe hetum āha—suṣṭhu vaiśiṣṭyaṁ vailakṣaṇyaṁ kathayitum iti | anyatrānyābhilāṣa-jñāna-karmādy-āvṛtatvenāpūrṇa-balavattvād etad-aṁśata evāsyāḥ śuddha-bhakter vailakṣaṇya-vyakteḥ | yathoktaṁ śrī-bhāgavate—yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiṁcana [bhā.pu. 5.18.12] ity ādeś ca ||10||
I will now translate them line by line. I will use Śrī Jīva’s commentary as the main template, and additional explanations by Śrī Viśvanātha are put in brackets.
Śrī Jīva’s commentary writes the following:
tatra = pūrva-vibhāga-gata-prathama-laharyām = in the first lahari of the eastern part
ādau = prathamata eva = in the beginning itself
tatra hetuḥ [lakṣaṇa-karaṇe hetum āha] = the reason [for providing lakṣaṇa is stated:]
uttamāyā bhakter = of uttamā bhakti, lakṣaṇaṁ kriyate = lakṣaṇa is provided = pratipādyatvena vidhīyate na tu sarvātmikāyāḥ [pratipādyatayābhidhīyate na tu sarvātmikāyāḥ]= that is, it is defined for explaining it; but bhakti that is common to all types is not explained here.
suṣṭhu = properly, vaiśiṣṭyaṁ = vailakṣaṇyaṁ = its difference from others, kathayitum = to speak
anyatrānyābhilāṣa-jñāna-karmādy-āvṛtatvenāpūrṇa-balavattvād = Because other [types of bhakti which are not uttamā are] incomplete in strength, owing to the covering of anyābhilāṣa-jñāna-karmādi,
etad-aṁśata evāsyās [śuddha-bhakter] tādṛśatva-vyakteḥ [vailakṣaṇya-vyakteḥ] | yasyāsti bhaktir bhagavaty akiṁcana [bhā.pu. 5.18.12] ity ādeś ca ||10||
by this part alone [by the absence of covering of ānyābhilāṣa-jñāna-karmādi], śuddha-bhakti is stated to be like that [it is said to be different]. And because this is stated in verses like bhā.pu. 5.18.12.
I did not translate the word “lakṣaṇa” above, because the opposing view is that the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa and taṭastha-lakṣaṇa are of ‘bhakti’ and not of ‘uttamā bhakti’. This is proven to be wrong simply by the four words here:
lakṣaṇaṁ kriyate bhakter uttamāyāḥ: the lakṣaṇa is provided of uttamā bhakti
here is the definition of the word:
lakṣaṇa = asādhāraṇo dharmaḥ = unique characteristic.
Thus, the whole purpose of Śrī Rūpa Goswami is to teach the unique characteristics of uttamā bhakti. This is indeed proper, because (as Śrī Mukunda Goswami notes in his commentary), it is impossible to show how uttamā bhakti is different from other types of bhakti without discussing its unique characteristic (lakṣaṇa).
The translation of 1.1.10 then is:
In the beginning itself, in the first lahari of the eastern part, the unique characteristics of uttamā bhakti are provided, for properly differentiating it from others, according to the opinion of the devotees.
In this way, the first part of the opposing argument that taṭastha lakṣaṇa is of bhakti and not uttamā bhakti is refuted.
Commentary on 1.1.11, the definition of uttamā bhakti
Śrī Rūpa Goswami defines uttamā bhakti as follows:
anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam |
ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānuśīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā ||
I will not go into the details of the commentaries as this will make the article too long. I will note two things. Śrī Jīva begins:
atha tasyā lakṣaṇaṁ vadann eva grantham ārabhate: now, he starts the work by stating the characteristics of that (tasyā, that is of uttamā bhakti).
Obviously, here the pronoun tasyāh refers to the uttamā bhakti in 1.1.10- there is a continuity of thought. After a detailed analysis, we find this:
tad etat svarūpa-lakṣaṇam – this is the svarūpa-lakṣaṇam
All that lies between the two sentences above is a discussion of the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa of uttamā bhakti. Next, he writes:
uttamātva-siddhy-arthaṁ tu taṭastha-lakṣaṇena viśeṣaṇa-dvayam – but to establish the uttamā-ness, two viśeṣaṇas are provided by means of taṭastha-lakṣaṇa.
Śrī Viśvanātha explains further that these two viśeṣaṇas are of the word ‘anuśīlanam’ which is the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa of uttamā bhakti (katham-bhūtam anuśīlanam ? anyasmin bhakty-atiriktatve phalatvenābhilāṣa-śūnyam).
taṭastha lakṣaṇa and viśeṣaṇa
The taṭastha lakṣaṇa of uttamā bhakti is a viśeṣaṇa, and not an upalakṣaṇa. As such, it always qualifies uttamā bhakti. A crow sitting on a building can help us point that building out to someone else. But the crow can fly away, in which case we cannot point out the building. Here, the crow is an upalakṣaṇa of the building.
Even though the taṭastha lakṣaṇa is always present, it is not part of the svarūpa of uttamā bhakti. If we examine the taṭastha lakṣaṇas, we will find that they are abhāva-padārthas. The taṭastha lakṣaṇas are:
anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ = absence of anyābhilāṣitā, i.e. abhāva of anyābhilāṣitā
jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam = absence of covering of jñāna, karma etc. i.e. abhāva of the āvaraṇa of jñāna, karma, ādi
Abhāva is accepted as a separate padārtha in nyāya, and also by us. So abhāva can be a viśeṣaṇa. But abhāva is not part of the svarūpa. Saying that something is absent in uttamā bhakti does not tell us what that uttamā bhakti is. Trying to point out an object to someone by saying it does not have black color, is not sufficient. We have to tell the person what it is. It could be a red car or a white cow. To know an object, we need a svarūpa-lakṣaṇa – which is sevā or service in the case of uttamā bhakti.
Both taṭastha lakṣaṇa and svarūpa-lakṣaṇa always qualify uttamā bhakti. The taṭastha lakṣaṇa is not always visible to an observer. If someone does sevā to Bhagavān, it is clear that he or she is doing bhakti. But whether it is uttamā or not, can only be judged only by observing whether the sevā has the qualifiers of anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam and jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam. These qualities are actually not easy to detect; sometimes they can be visible clearly, and at other times, they may not be.
Śrī Rūpa Goswami defines uttamā bhakti by providing the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa and taṭastha lakṣaṇa of uttamā bhakti.
Taṭastha lakṣaṇa here is a viśeṣaṇa and not an upalakṣaṇa.
Taṭastha lakṣaṇa always qualifies uttamā bhakti but it may not always be visible to us.