Dandavats. All glories to the Vaisnavas.
This morning I was sudying Madhurya-kadambini by my Gurudeva, Sri Ananta Das Babaji Maharaja, and found the following verse to be very poignent. I would be interested in hearing some of your thoughts on the topic.
1.9 The complete independence of bhakti
Though other spiritual practices need the help of bhakti to be perfected, bhakti has no need of help from any other discipline. In fact, bhakti infuses karma, jnana, and yoga with life.
“zreyaH-sRtiM bhaktim udasya te vibho” [bhA.pu. 10.14.4], “ko vArtha Apto’bhajatAM sva-dharmataH” [bhA.pu. 1.5.17] iti, “pureha bhUman bahavo’pi yoginaH” [bhA.pu. 10.14.5] ity Adibhyo jJAna-karma-yogAdInAM pratisva-phala-siddhyai bhaktim avazyam apekSamANAnAm iva bhakteH svIya-phala-prema-siddhyai svapne’pi na tat-tat-sApekSatvam. pratyuta—“na jJAnaM na ca vairAgyaM prAyaH zreyo bhaved iha” [bhA.pu. 11.20.31] iti, “dharmAn santyajya yaH sarvAn mAM bhajet sa ca sattamaH” [bhA.pu. 11.11.32] ity Adibhyas tasyAH sarvathAnanyApekSitvam. kiM vaktavyaM ? teSAm eva jJAna-karma-yogAdInAM prAtisvikeSu phaleSv api kadAcid AtmanA sAdhyamAneSu, na tat-tad-gandhApekSatvam api. yad uktam—“yat karmabhir yat tapasA jJAna-vairAgyataz ca yat” [bhA.pu. 11.20.32] ity Adau, “sarvaM mad-bhakti-yogena mad-bhakto labhate’JjasA” [bhA.pu. 11.20.33] iti. taM vinA tu teSAM—
“bhagavad-bhakti-hInasya jAtiH zAstraM japas tapaH |
aprANasyaiva dehasya maNDanaM loka-raJjanam ||” [hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 3.11]
ity Ader vaiphalyAyaiva syAd iti. tasyAH parama-mahatyA adhInatvaM teSAM samprANAyaivAstAm. api tu karma-yogasya kAla-deza-pAtra-dravyAnuSThAna-zuddhy-Ady-apekSA ca tat-tat-smRti-prasiddhaiva. asyAs tu na tathA—
“na deza-niyamas tatra na kAla-niyamas tathA |
nocchiSTAdau niSedho’sti harer nAmAni lubdhaka ||” ity AdeH.
kiM cAsyAH prasiddha-sApekSatvam api na.
“sakRd api parigItaM zraddhayA helayA vA
bhRgu-vara nara-mAtraM tArayet kRSNa-nAma” ity AdeH.
TRANSLATION: There are numerous texts in the Bhagavatam that tell that jnanis, karmis, and yogis each completely depend on bhakti for attaining perfection in their respective paths: “O all-pervading Lord! Giving up the all-auspicious performance of devotional service...” (10.14.4); “What is gained by one who perfectly executes his religious duties but does not worship Krishna?” (1.5.17); “In the past there were many yogis...” (10.14.5)
On the other hand, bhakti is never even minutely dependent on jnana, karma or yoga to achieve its perfection in prema. The Bhagavatam says, “Neither gnosis nor worldly detachment are ultimately beneficial” (11.20.31); “One who only worships me, giving up all kinds of other activities, is the best among sadhus” (11.11.32).
The above references clearly show that bhakti is completely independent. The Bhagavatam even states that bhakti can on occasion give the results of the jnana, karma and yoga paths without even the slightest engagement in those practices. Thus it is said, “All the fruits attained by performing sacrifices, austerities, intellectual spiritual realisation, and detachment from the world can be easily attained by my devotee through bhakti yoga alone” (11.20.32-33).
On the other hand, the scriptures say that all the benefits attained through these other disciplines are useless without devotion: “Without devotion to the Lord, birth in a high family, great learning, chanting mantras and performing austerities all become as useless as the decorations on a dead body” (Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya 3.11).
Moreover, the shastras state that karma yoga’s practice depends on correctness of time, place, candidate, materials, purity, and so on. This is not the case with bhakti: “O hunter! Time and place have no bearing on the chanting of the Holy Names. It is not even forbidden to chant the Holy Name while in an impure state!”
Bhakti even yields results if engaged in imperfectly: “O best of the Bhrigus! Even a single utterance of Krishna’s holy name, whether chanted attentively with faith or carelessly without attachment, will deliver any human being, no matter who!”
Piyusha-kana explanation : In his famous prayers to the child Krishna, Lord Brahma explained the dependence of jnana on bhakti:
zreyaH-sRtiM bhaktim udasya te vibho
klizyanti ye kevala-bodha-labdhaye
teSAm asau klezala eva ziSyate
nAnyad yathA sthUla-tuSAvaghAtinAm
O all-pervading Lord! Giving up the all-auspicious performance of devotional service to take up the difficult task of gaining a realization of their oneness with Brahman, the jnanis are ultimately left with nothing but their pains, just as a person beating empty husks of rice gets nothing for his trouble. (BhAg. 10.14.4)
In his SArArtha-varSiNI commentary to Bhagavad Gita 18.55, Vishwanath Chakravarti describes four kinds of seekers of knowledge of Brahman, or gnosis.
(1) The first are the jnanis refered to in the above verse. They cultivate knowledge exclusively, with the idea that it can give them the liberation they seek without any help from bhakti. These jnanis undergo great troubles with nothing but their pains as a reward. Vishwanath calls them the “highly condemned” (atinindita) jnanis.
(2) Jnanis of the second category cultivate knowledge with some admixture of devotion. They believe the shastras that say: sarvAsAm eva siddhinAM mUlaM tac-caraNArcanaM—“The root cause of all kinds of perfection is the worship of the lotus feet of the Lord.” Even so, they consider the form of the Lord to be material in nature. Though they may rise to the higher stages of yoga by their efforts, they are still deprived of liberation because of their offenses at the lotus feet of the Lord. As a result, they ultimately fall from their path. These philosophers are also condemned (nindita-jJAnIs). These are the persons the demigods led by Brahma spoke of while glorifying Krishna within Devaki’s womb:
tvayy asta-bhAvAd avizuddha-buddhayaH
Aruhya kRcchreNa paraM padaM tataH
O Lotus-eyed One! Those who consider themselves to be liberated, but have no feeling for you, do not possess a pure intelligence. As a result, though they may attain the highest realms of liberation in this very lifetime through their penances, they very soon fall down again from this state on account of their disregard for the service of your lotus feet. (BhAg. 10.2.32)
(3) Philosophers of the third category cultivate knowledge along with devotion and realize the form of the Lord as sac-cid-Ananda. They are praiseworthy since they attain perfect knowledge of the Absolute Truth, becoming completely free from the effect of material knowledge. They ultimately attain their goal of brahma-sAyujya, merging within the non-personal Brahman.
(4) Philosophers of the fourth category are most fortunate because, while cultivating knowledge, they get the association of a great devotee, by whose freely-distributed causeless mercy they give up their desire for liberation and relish sweet bhakti rasa. Shukadeva is the best example of a person in this category.
It can thus be understood that to attain perfection in jnana, dependence on bhakti is essential. But those following the path of works also depend on bhakti, as Narada said to Vyasa,
tyaktvA sva-dharmaM caraNAmbujaM harer
bhajann apakvo’tha patet tato yadi
tatra kva vAbhadram abhUd amuSya kiM
ko vArtha Apto’bhajatAM sva-dharmataH
O Narada! What ill befalls the person who has given up his varnashram dharma duties to engage in devotion to the Lord’s lotus feet, should he fall down before reaching maturity in his practice? On the other hand, what is gained by one who perfectly executes his religious duties but does not worship Krishna? (BhAg. 1.5.17)
This text describes the uselessness of practicing karma without devotion. Karmis are thus also dependent on bhakti. Mahaprabhu says to Sanatan Prabhu:
cAri varNAzramI yadi kRSNa nAhi bhaje
sva-dharma karite raurave paDi maje
If persons following varnashram dharma do not worship the Lord, they fall into hellish conditions, in spite of following their own prescribed duties. (CC 2.22.26)
Similarly, in his prayers glorifying Krishna, Brahma describes how those who practice yoga without bhakti fail to attain perfection, unlike the devotees:
pureha bhUman bahavo’pi yoginas
vibudhya bhaktyaiva kathopanItayA
prapedire’Jjo’cyuta te gatiM parAm
O almighty Lord! In the past there were many yogis who, upon finding themselves unable to attain knowledge of you by simply practicing yoga. ultimately offered up all their activities to you. As a result of this, they took to the bhakti path, hearing your glories with pleasure. Finally, by the effect of such devotion, they understood the truth of the soul and your personality and easily attained your lotus feet, the supreme goal of all living entities. (BhAg. 10.14.5)
Vishwanath states that karmis, jnanis, and yogis cannot avoid seeking the help of bhakti if they wish to attain perfection in their respective paths. On the other hand, bhakti does not depend even in the slightest way on anything else to bestow its fruit of prema. Such bhakti is not only completely independent, but is unadulterated by any admixture of jnana or karma. Sri Krishna tells Uddhava:
tasmAn mad-bhakti-yuktasya yogino vai mad-AtmanaH
na jJAnaM na ca vairAgyaM prAyaH zreyo bhaved iha
For the bhakti yogi who wholeheartedly engages in my devotion, neither gnosis nor worldly detachment are ultimately beneficial. (BhAg. 11.20.31)
Bhakti is beyond the three modes of Maya and is completely independent, whereas knowledge and renunciation are fully dependent on bhakti. Though a devotee does not seek out jnana or vairagya, they automatically follow him:
jJAna-vairAgyAdi bhaktira kabhu nahe aGga
ahiMsA-yama-niyamAdi bule kRSNa-bhakta-saGga
Intellectual spiritual realisation and renunciation are not integral elements of devotional practice. Even so, virtues like non-violence and control over the mind and senses accompany Krishna’s devotees. (CC 2.22.145)
This is also stated at the beginning of the Bhagavatam:
vAsudeve bhagavati bhakti-yogaH prayojitaH
janayaty Azu vairAgyaM jJAnaM ca yad ahaitukam
When one is engaged in the discipline of devotional service to the Supreme Lord Vasudeva, he advances in renunciation and understanding without making any specific effort to acquire them. (BhAg. 1.2.7)
In his commentary to this sloka, Vishwanath explains: “Devotees need make no separate effort to gain knowledge or renunciation” (jJAna-vairagyArthaM pRthag-yatno bhaktair na kartavya iti bhAvaH). Rather, the instruction to everyone is to practice bhakti exclusively, completely giving up varnashram dharma. Elsewhere Krishna says:
AjJAyaivaM guNAn doSAn mayAdiSTAn api svakAn
dharmAn santajya yaH sarvAn mAM bhajeta sa sattamaH
O Uddhava! One who only worships me, giving up all kinds of other activities, is the best among sadhus. Though he understands the benefits of following the dharmas taught in the Veda, as well as the negative consequences of not doing so, he gives up all such prescribed duties because he considers them to be hindrances to meditating on me. (BhAg. 11.11.32)
The Lord similarly concludes the Gita by telling Arjuna:
sarva-dharmAn parityajya mAm ekaM zaraNam vraja
ahaM tvA sarva-pApebhyo mokSayiSyAmi mA zucaH
O Arjuna! Give up all kinds of dharma and take absolute shelter of me. I will completely absolve you from all kinds of sins. Do not worry. (18.65)
Jiva Goswami declares in PrIti-sandarbha (78) that bhakti cannot tolerate any purpose not directed toward the service of the Lord—tAtparyAntaram asahamAnA. Bhakti does not need any help from karma and jnana, but by its slightest touch gives success to those struggling on those paths. Krishna confirms this to Uddhava:
yat karmabhir yat tapasA jJAna-vairAgyataz ca yat
yogena dAna-dharmeNa zreyobhir itarair api
sarvaM mad-bhakti-yogena mad-bhakto labhate’JjasA
svargApavargam mad-dhAma kathaJcid yadi vAJchati
All the fruits attained by performing sacrifices, austerities, intellectual spiritual realisation, and detachment from the world can be easily attained by my devotee through bhakti yoga alone. He will even get liberation or attain the heavenly planets, should he ever desire such things. (BhAg. 11.20.32-33)
Without the addition of devotion to the Lord, however, works, austerities, and wisdom all become totally useless. A famous verse from the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya clearly states this,
bhagavad-bhakti-hInasya jAtiH zAstraM japas tapaH
aprANasyeva dehasya maNDanaM loka-raJjanam
Without devotion to the Lord, birth in a high family, great learning, chanting mantras and performing austerities all become as useless as the decorations on a dead body. (3.11)
Decorating a lifeless body is of no use whatsoever to the soul that has abandoned it. Similarly the high caste, japa, austerities and scriptural knowledge of a nondevotee are all wasted—they simply serve as a show for the benefit of onlookers. This statement serves to show the uselessness of any sadhana that is bereft of devotion. Just as the body is dependent on the presence of the soul, similarly other practices like japa and penances are dependent on the presence of the glorious goddess of devotion.
Another advantage bhakti has over karma and jnana is that it is not dependent on place, time, individual, substance, ritual, purity and the like. Anyone can practice Hari bhajan anywhere, at any time, in any condition. A well known verse from the VaiSNava-smRti states:
na deza-niyamas tasmin na kAla-niyamas tathA
nocchiSTAdau niSedho’sti zrI-harer nAmni lubdhaka
O hunter! In chanting the names of Lord Hari, there are no rules governing either time or place, nor is there any prohibition on chanting if one is in an impure state.
Bhakti does not depend on anything for its own perfection, hence it is said:
sakRd api parigItaM zraddhayA helayA vA
bhRgu-vara nara-mAtraM tArayet kRSNa nAma
O best of the Bhrigus! Even a single utterance of Krishna’s holy name, whether chanted attentively with faith or carelessly without attachment, will deliver any human being, no matter who! (PrabhAsa khaNDa)
This verse has been quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilAsa (11.451), where Sanatan Goswami comments:
yathA-kathaJcit sakRt tat-kIrtanAd apy AnuSaGgikatvena sarvasyApi mokSo bhaved evety Aha sakRd apIti. parIty ardhe avyaktam asampUrNam uccAritam apIty arthaH.
The main fruit of chanting Harinam is divine prema. Chanting Krishna’s name even once in any manner whatsoever can give liberation, which is nothing more than one of its secondary effect. In the word parigItAm the word pari means that even indistinct or incomplete uttering of the Holy Name can give such a result.