Śrī Jīva Goswami defines bhakti

In the Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Goswami describes a large number of different types of bhakti. He begins by first defining bhakti. Definitions are all-important, as stated in the principle:

lakṣaṇa-pramāṇābhyāṁ vastu-siddhiḥ , na tu kevala-pratijñā-mātreṇa

– An object is determined by its defining characteristics ( lakṣaṇa ) and by the appropriate means of its valid cognition ( pramāṇa ) and not merely by making an unsubstantiated assertion about it.

If our understanding is fuzzy about bhakti, we cannot possibly hope to practice it effectively. It will then be forever beyond our reach.

In this article, I examine Śrī Jīva’s definition which happens to be very different from the better-known definition by Śrī Rūpa Goswami.. From the context, it is clear that he is providing the definition of uttamā bhakti and not bhakti in general. As we will see, he provides the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa and the taṭastha-lakṣaṇa of bhakti, and tests the definition for the three defects of avyāpti (being too narrow), ativyāpti (being too broad) and asambhava (invalidity).

taṭastha-lakṣaṇa of bhakti

Śrī Jīva cites a verse from the Garuḍa Purāṇa to indicate bhakti’s taṭastha-lakṣaṇa:

viṣṇu-bhaktiṁ pravakṣyāmi yayā sarvam avāpyate

yathā bhaktyā haris tuṣyet tathā nānyena kenacit

I shall now describe bhakti to Bhagavān Viṣṇu, by which all things are attained. Bhagavān Hari is not as pleased by anything else as He is by bhakti. (Garuḍa Purāṇa, Pūrva-khaṇḍa 227.1)

He explains that the first line of the verse constitutes the taṭastha-lakṣaṇa:

yayā sarvam avāpyate iti taṭastha-lakṣaṇam

In the first of these two verses, the statement that all things are attained by bhakti (yayā sarvam avāpyate) is an extrinsic characteristic of devotion (taṭastha-lakṣaṇa).

This makes sense if we consider the following definition of the taṭastha-lakṣaṇa presented in the Caitanya Caritāmṛta (2.20.296):

kārya-dvārā jñānam

– knowledge of an object that is obtained by observing its effects.

The qualities of bhakti mentioned in the verse do not tell us what bhakti is. Rather, they tell us what can be achieved with bhakti as a sādhana or means. This, by the definition above, is a taṭastha-lakṣaṇa. Note also that it satisfies the definition of taṭastha-lakṣaṇa I had presented in an earlier article also.

Now it is known that bhakti has the power to bring about any desired effect including the fulfillment of material desires or liberation. Śrī Jīva cites the following verse to support this:

akāmaḥ sarva-kāmo vā mokṣa-kāma udāra-dhīḥ

tīvreṇa bhakti-yogena yajeta puruṣaṁ param

A person of evolved discernment, whether desireless, full of desire, or seeking liberation, should worship the Supreme Puruṣa with resolute bhakti-yoga. (SB 2.3.10)

As such, the definition of bhakti must state that all types of desired results can accrue from its practice. If not, the definition would be too narrow, because it would not encompass all possible effects of bhakti. He writes:

ity-ādi-siddhatvād avyāpty-abhāvaḥ

Based on this statement, the extrinsic definition of bhakti is shown to be free from the defect of being too narrow (avyāpti) [because there is no attainment — meaning no effect — that is excluded from bhakti’s scope].

Śrī Jīva Goswami astutely notes that the second line of the verse cited above eliminates the defect of ativyāpti:

yathā bhaktyā ity-ādy-uktatvād ativyāpty-abhāvaḥ

The second line of the first verse from Garuḍa Purāṇa (227.1) states that Bhagavān is pleased only by bhakti and not by anything else. By this, the extrinsic definition of bhakti is shown to be free from the defect of being too broad (ativyāpti) [since it thereby excludes all other practices as incapable of yielding the same result].

The definition is not too broad, because it specifies that bhakti alone has the effect of pleasing Bhagavān. If, for example, karma yoga also had the independent power to please Bhagavān, then the definition would not distinguish bhakti from karma yoga, as it would also apply to karma yoga as well. The purpose of specifying a lakṣaṇa is to specify the attributes that are unique to the object in question (asādhāraṇa), meaning that they are not found in any other object. For example, a cow and a dog both have four legs, two ears, and a tail. Other characteristics are needed to distinguish the cow, and these characteristics constitute its definition (lakṣaṇa). In this case, the effect of pleasing Bhagavān, which is still a taṭastha-lakṣaṇa, does differentiate bhakti from others.

Overall, the second line in the verse excludes other paths because these other paths do not please Bhagavān. The first line excludes other paths, because other paths cannot bring all types of results.

Finally, the definition is also free from the defect of asambhava. Śrī Jīva writes:

budhaiḥ proktatvād asambhavābhāvaś ca

Furthermore, by saying in the second verse that this conclusion is corroborated by the wise [i.e., by the direct experience of realized souls (vidvad-anubhava-pramāṇa)], the definition is established as free from the defect of infeasibility (asambhava) [since their direct experience stands as proof that bhakti does indeed yield such results].

It requires someone of Śrī Jīva Goswami’s caliber to glean so much insight from these two otherwise simple looking lines!

svarūpa-lakṣaṇa of bhakti

Śrī Jīva Goswami next identifies the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa of bhakti by citing the following verse:

bhaja ity eṣa vai dhātuḥ sevāyāṁ parikīrtitaḥ

tasmāt sevā budhaiḥ proktā bhaktiḥ sādhana-bhūyasī

[ Bhakti’s svarūpa-lakṣaṇa is next defined with reference to its etymological root, √ bhaj :]

The verbal root √ bhaj is widely acknowledged to mean “the offering of service” (sevā). Therefore, bhakti, which is the preeminent means to attain the Absolute ( sādhana ), is proclaimed by the wise as “sacred service” (sevā). (Garuḍa Purāṇa, Pūrva-khaṇḍa 227.3)

The svarūpa-lakṣaṇa of bhakti is sevā or service. It is the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa because sevā is the very meaning of the root bhaj, from which the word ‘bhakti’ is derived.

Śrī Jīva next explains that the definition does not have the defect of ativyāpti:

sevā-śabdena svarūpa-lakṣaṇam | sā ca sevā kāyika-vācika-mānasātmikā trividhaivānugatir ucyate | ata eva bhaya-dveṣādīnām ahaṅgrahopāsanāyāś ca vyāvṛttiḥ |

The intrinsic characteristic of bhakti (svarūpa-lakṣaṇa) is referred to by the word sevā , or “sacred service,” and this service involves threefold loving attendance upon ( anugati ), or responsiveness to, Bhagavān, being enacted through the faculties of body, speech, and mind. Therefore, this definition excludes all service performed out of fear and enmity as well as the worship of oneself as Supreme (ahaṅgrahopāsanā).

The definition does not apply to other types of worship such as ahaṅgrahopāsanā. Further, the defect of ativyāpti is not present because of the presence of the qualifier: sādhana-bhūyasī. He writes:

sādhana-bhūyasī sādhaneṣu śreṣṭhety arthaḥ

The adjectival compound sādhana-bhūyasī , lit., “the outstanding practice,” qualifying the word bhakti , means that bhakti is preeminent ( śreṣṭha ) among all the various means to attain the Absolute (sādhana).

Next, he offers another verse SB 11.2.34 which presents a similar definition of bhakti

ye vai bhagavatā proktā upāyā hy ātma-labdhaye
añjaḥ puṁsām aviduṣāṁ viddhi bhāgavatān hi tān

All those methods indeed that were spoken of by Bhagavān as the means by which unenlightened humanity can easily attain immediate realization of the Self, you should know to be bhāgavata-dharma . ( SB 11.2.34 )

The reader should now try to identify the parts of this verse which correspond to the svarūpa-lakṣaṇa and taṭastha-lakṣaṇa on their own! As another exercise, try to identify these lakṣaṇas in verses SB 1.2.6 and 1.2.7.

The purpose of Śrī Jīva Goswami in the Sandarbhas is to provide a theology based on the Bhāgavata. As such, his definition of bhakti is also based directly on verses from the Bhāgavata. This is one reason why, in the pages of Bhakti Sandarbha, he does not just repeat the more famous definition of bhakti given by Śrī Rūpa Goswami.


The svarūpa-lakṣaṇa of bhakti is sevā or service.

The effect of bhakti, such as pleasing Bhagavān, is the taṭastha-lakṣaṇa.

These lakṣaṇas are free from the defects of avyāpti, ativyāpti and asambhava.

Categories: bhāva, Definitions, sādhanā

Tagged as:

6 replies »

  1. Dandavats pranam. In the SB 1.2.6 ahaituhy apratihatii is the Swarupa Laksana and yayatma suprasidhyati is the tatashtha laksana, is that correct. In 1.2.7 vairagya and jnanam are the tathastha laksana. Is it correct to say that the swarup lakshana of dharma is yato bhaktir adhok􀀻aje?


  2. Dandavats pranam prabhu. Please I have a question. The verse from the Garuda purana-second line: “Bhagavān Hari is not as pleased by anything else as He is by bhakti”. Is it not Swarup laksana? Because pleasing the Lord is part of the meaning of Bhij or seva. Service plaeses the Lord- We can say that pleasing the Lord is the swarup laksana of seva.
    Kindly clarify this for me. thank you


    • Pleasing Bhagavan is an effect of bhakti, so it fits the definition of “karya dvara jnanam” which is tatastha laksanam.

      Seva does not necessarily please Bhagavan. Krsna cries when Yasoda tries to run after Him to tie Him up. Is he pleased? No. Otherwise he would not be crying. Is Yasoda doing seva? Yes.


Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s