It is taken from one of the most important works on the development of bhakti, from "Madhurya Kadambini". The author is Srila Vishvanatha Cakravartipada Thakur and the explanation is from Radhakunda Mahanta Srila Ananta das Babaji Maharaja.
I found it very very important for my spiritual life and extremely conclusive.
2.5 The first step into the temple of devotion
Having concluded his description of the immediate benefits of devotional practice, Vishwanath now resumes his account of the progressive development on the devotional path. This begins with a discussion of shraddha, faith.
tatra bhakty-adhikarinah prathamam sraddha. sa ca tat-tac-chastrarthe dridha-pratyaya-mayi,
prakramyamana-yatnaika-nidana-rupa-tad-vishayakatvaika-nirvaha-rupa-sadara-spriha ca. sa ca sa ca svabhaviki kenapi balad utpadita ca.
TRANSLATION: Shraddha (sraddha), or faith, is the first step the candidate for devotion must
reach. Shraddha means to have firm belief in the purport of the scriptures related to bhakti. It also
means the solemn aspiration to attentively follow the process of devotion as described in those
scriptures. Both these kinds of shraddha can be either natural (svabhaviki) or forced (balad
Piyusha Kanika Explanation:
Shraddha is the first step into the temple of bhakti. The devotional path is universal and open to everyone .
sri-krishna-bhajane hoy sabe adhikari
kiba vipra kiba sudra ki purusha nari
Everyone has the right to practice devotion to Krishna, whether they are brahmin,
shudra, man or woman.
Since bhakti does not depend on a particular time, place, caste or gender, it is entirely dependent on shraddha or faith. Sraddhavan jana hoy bhakti-adhikari—“Only the faithful person is eligible to take up the process of bhakti” (CC 2.22.64). In fact, no one can attain perfection in any endeavor, whether karma, jnana, or yoga, without faith. In the Gita, Krishna says
asraddhaya hutam dattam tapas taptam kritam ca yat
asad ity ucyate partha no ca tat pretya no iha
O Arjuna! Sacrifice, charity, austerities, and other religious activities done without
faith are said to be impermanent, because they are fruitless in both this world and the
next. (Gita 17.28)
Maharshi Patanjali says, “Shraddha means complete clarity of the heart. Like a loving mother, it protects the yogi” (sraddha cetasah samprasadah. sa hi jananiva kalyani yoginam pati).
Here the words cetasah samprasadah refer to a primary state of mind in which the contamination of doubt has been removed and the first seeds of a favorable attitude toward the object of spiritual practice has been panted. In other words, faith means the removal of the impediment of doubt combined with a favorable attitude towards the practice of devotion. Shraddha acts like the yogi's benefactor, or like an attentive mother lovingly protecting her child. A faithful person can bring his activities to perfection. The deeper a devotee’s shraddha gets, the more his heart becomes favorably inclined and leads him towards success in his endeavor.
Karma, yoga and jnana also rely on faith, but the faith that is required in bhakti is unique, for it is nirguna, beyond the three modes of nature. Krishna says,
sattviky adhyatmiki sraddha karma-sraddha tu rajasi
tamasy adharme ya sraddha mat-sevayam tu nirguna
Faith in spiritual matters is said to be in the mode of goodness; faith in works is in the mode of passion, and faith in sinful acts is in the mode of ignorance. Faith in my
service, however, is beyond the modes of nature. (Bhag. 11.25.27)
Shraddha is thus the first step in devotional practice, while prema is its final step.
According to the text under discussion, shraddha has two aspects. The first of these is firm faith in the purport of the scriptures. This is the way Mahaprabhu defines faith to Sanatan Goswami:
sraddha sabde visvasa kohe sudridha niscay
krishne bhakti kaile sarva karma krita hoy
This is actually taken from Vyasa's commentary on Yoga-sutra 1.20.
The word shraddha means a firm belief in the revealed word. One with such faith
believes that by engaging in devotion to Krishna, all his other obligations will
automatically be fulfilled. (CC 2.22.62)
This means that one endeavors to gain realizations about the statements in the scriptures and to understand them logically. When there is firm faith in these teachings, one understands that without worshipping God, life is wasted. Along with this, when such a faithful person hears about Sri Hari’s attributes such as his compassion and his pastimes of uplifting the fallen, his heart blossoms with hope. It then also becomes natural to lose one’s taste for sense objects, as their temporary nature becomes clear. A life without bhajan becomes intolerable and surrender to Sri Hari natural. Jiva Goswami thus says that faith is synonymous with taking shelter of the Lord, or sharanagati: sraddha-saranapattyor aikarthyam labhyate, tac ca yuktam. sraddha hi sastrarthavisvasah.sastram ca tad-asaranasya bhayam, tac-charanasyabhayam vadati. tato jatayah sraddhayah saranapattir eva lingam. Shraddha and sharanagati, or taking shelter of Krishna, are considered to be synonymous. This makes sense, as shraddha means firm faith in the purport of the scriptures. The shastras tell us that fearlessness comes to those surrendered to the
Lord, while fear is the lot of those not surrendered to him. Therefore, taking shelter of the Lord is the sign that someone’s faith has awakened. (Bhakti-sandarbha, 173)
The fact is that unless sharanagati is firmly fixed in the sadhaka’s heart, he cannot engage in bhajan of the Lord’s lotus feet. The more one surrenders, the more one advances in bhajan. Sharanagati is the very life of devotional practice. Only completely surrendered persons can attain supreme peace, divine bliss, and the the Lord’s eternal abode.
As Krishna says to Arjuna:
tam eva saranam gaccha sarva-bhavena bharata
tat-prasadat param santim sthanam prapsyasi sasvatam
O scion of Bharata! Take shelter of him alone, with all your being. By his grace, you
will attain the greatest peace and his eternal abode. (Gita 18.62)
The other aspect of shraddha named by Vishwanath is the desire to attentively follow the process of devotion prescribed in the scriptures, combined with a hope for achieving the goal they describe. In other words, when firm faith in the scriptures is born, this second aspect of faith will inevitably follow. The sadhaka then carefully takes up the practices pr escribed in the scriptures while nourishing
the hope to achieve their ultimate objective. Sri Jiva Goswami confirms this in his Bhakti-sandarbha (173):
kim ca, jatayam sraddhayam siddhav asiddhau ca svarna-siddhi-lipsor iva sada tadanuvritti-
ceshtaiva syat. siddhis catrantahkarana-kamadi-dosha-kshaya-kari-paramanandaparamakashtha-
gami-sri-hari-sphurana-rupaiva jneya. tasyam svartha-sadhananupravrittau
ca dambha-pratishthadi-lipsadi-maya-ceshta-leso’pi na bhavati. na tesham sutaram
jnana-purvakam mahad-avajnadayo’paradhas capatanti, virodhad eva… yadi va
sraddhavato’pi prarabdhadi-vasena vishaya-sambandhabhyaso bhavati, tathapi tadbadhaya
vishaya-sambandha-samaye’pi dainyatmika bhaktir evocchalita syat… sastriyasraddhayam
tu jatayam suduracaratvayogah syat, “para-patni-para-dravya” ity-adivishnu-
As one anxious to find gold continues in his attempts whether he finds any or not,
similarly a devotee continuously attempts to achieve perfection, whether he is
successful or not. Perfection here means the direct perception of Sri Hari, which drives out all faults like lust from the heart and gives supreme bliss. Yet even after attaining such perfection, devotees continue their endeavors to get even deeper realizations, while those who have not yet attained perfection endeavor faithfully to do so.
Devotees constantly making such attempts are without even the slightest bit of false
ego, desire for fame, and so on. Thus they never intentionally commit offenses like
insulting great devotees, as this is a grave obstacle for attaining perfection in devotion.
Sometimes a faithful person sees that he still has material attachments due to his
previous conditioning or samskara. Knowing them to be an obstacle to the attainment
of perfection, he feels himself very fallen and that humility causes his bhakti to
increase. On the other hand, those who have developed scriptural faith never commit
greatly sinful acts, for the scriptures devoted to teaching how to please the Lord say:
para-patni-para-dravya-para-himsasu ye matim
na karoti puman bhupa tushyate tena kesavah
O King! Lord Vishnu is satisfied by those who do not covet other men’s wives or
belongings, or engage in violent acts. (Vishnu-purana 3.8.14)
From all this evidence it is clear that when true scriptur al faith arises, the practising devotee can avoid major obstacles such as offending superior devotees, or endeavoring for profit, adoration and distinction. He can thus easily climb the steps that lead up toward the kingdom of prema. Hence aspiring devotees must understand this initial step of faith very well. One who wishes to build a skyscraper must first prepare a strong foundation. If this is not done, the whole building will soon crash to the ground. Similarly, to make a beautiful bhakti palace for Krishna’s pleasure, one’s shraddha foundation must be very firm. This is because one’s qualification for bhakti is determined by the kind of shraddha he has. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu explains to Sanatan Goswami—
sraddhavan jana hoy bhakti-adhikari uttama, madhyama, kanishtha sraddha anusari
sastra yuktye sunipuna dridha sraddha jara
uttama adhikari sei taraya samsara
sastra-yukti nahi jane dridha-sraddhavan
madhyama adhikari sei maha-bhagyavan
jahara komala sraddha se kanishtha jana
krame krame tenho bhakta hoibe uttama
The faithful person is eligible for the practice of devotion. According to their faith,
such candidates for bhakti are classified as uttama (superior), madhyama
(intermediate), and kanishtha (inferior). One who is expert in the scriptures and the
rationale of devotion, and has strong faith is called uttama adhikari, or superior
candidate. He easily crosses over the material ocean. One who does not have clear
knowledge of the scriptures, but has strong faith is the madhyama adhikari, or
intermediate candidate, who is nevertheless very fortunate. One whose faith is weak is called the kanishtha adhikari, or inferior candidate; in time he also gradually becomes superior. (CC 2.22.64-65, 67, 69)
Srila Vishwanath Chakravartipada again divides the two kinds of shraddha (faith in scripture and hope for perfection combined with a commensurate effort): one is spontaneous or natural
(svabhaviki), the other forced (balad utpadita). This division corresponds to the two categories of shraddha described by Jiva Goswami in his Bhakti-sandarbha: sastriya-sraddha (scriptural faith) and laukiki sraddha (popular faith).
The way of increasing the growth of faith is the association of sadhus and their mercy—satsangaj jayate sraddha.
Kapiladeva tells his mother Devahuti:
satam prasangan mama virya-samvido
bhavanti hrit-karna-rasayanah kathah
taj-joshanad asv apavarga-vartmani
sraddha ratir bhaktir anukramishyati
My heroic pastimes are very pleasing to the ear and satisfying to the heart when heard in the association of pure devotees. As a result of joyfully relishing these pastimes in such association, one quickly advances on the path of liberation, passing through the stages of faith (shraddha), the revelation of one’s divine relationship with Krishna (rati), and true love for him (bhakti). (Bhag. 3.25.25)
This verse shows that shraddha appears in the association of sadhus. The faith that arises in the association and by the blessings of saints is natural and is called scriptural faith. Such faith inspires the purest form of worship. On the other hand, the faith that does not arise out of such association and mercy, is called “forced” or “popular.” This shraddha comes through following customs or imitating others. Such faith is not particularly useful for attaining pure bha jan. A person with such popular faith also needs to get the mercy and the association of saints before he can be blessed with natural or scriptural faith
Srila Jiva Goswamipada makes another division in shraddha, according to the category of devotees who are vicara-pradhana (inclined to logic and argument) or ruci-pradhana. This is how the intellectually-inclined devotees develop their shraddha—
tatra prathamam tavat tat-tat-sangaj jatena tat-tac-chraddha-tat-tat-parampara-katharucy-
adina jata-bhagavat-sammukhyasya tat-tad-anushangenaiva tat-tad-bhajaniye
bhagavad-avirbhava-viseshe tat-tad-bhajana-marga-viseshe ca rucir jayate. tatas ca
bubhutsayam satyam teshv ekato’nekato va sri-gurutvenasritac chravanam kriyate. tac copakramopasamharadibhir arthavadharanam, punas casambhavana-viparita-bhavanaviseshevata
svayam tad-vicara-rupam mananam api kriyate. tato bhagavatah sarvasminn
evavirbhave tatha-vidho’sau sada sarvatra virajata ity evam-rupa sraddha jayate… ity evam vicara-pradhananam margo darsitah.
Through the association of sadhus, the intellectually-inclined devotee gets a particular kind of faith in the Supreme Truth and subsequently a taste for discussions related to these subjects. Thus turned towards the Lord, they concomitantly develop a taste for a specific form of the worshipable Lord and the particular path of worshiping him.
When they desire to know more specifically about these things, they take shelter of
one or more of these sadhus as sravana-gurus in order to undertake a study of the
scriptures. A thorough study of the scriptures means to analyze them with reference to their beginning and conclusion (upakrama-upasamhara), repeated themes (abhyasa), original ideas (apurvata), promised benefits (phala), elements selected for particular praise (artha-vada), and proofs and arguments (upapatti). After such hearing, one goes on to reflecting on what one has heard (manana) in order to get rid of two kinds of doubt: thinking that what one has heard is impossible (asambhavana) and thinking that it is false (viparita-bhavana). As a result of following this process, one develops faith that the all-merciful omnipotent and omniscient Lord resides everywhere within all manifestations, and that one should serve him with devotion.… This is the path followed by the intellectual devotees. (Bhakti Sandarbha, 202).
As for the ruci-pradhana devotees, Sri Jiva describes their attainment of faith in the following way: 32 In the Krama-sandarbha to Bhag. 1.2.21 and Bhakti-sandarbha 16, Sri Jiva explains
tatra sravanena tavaj-jneyagatasambhavanas
chidyante iti. mananena tad-gata-viparita-bhavanah. sakshatkarena tv atma-yogyatagatasambhavana- viparita-bhavane iti jneyam.
“Asambhavana or doubts related to the possibility of the object of
knowledge existing can be erased by hearing. Reflection is the means of cutting through doubts about itsfalsehood. Direct experience of the object of truth will get rid of such doubts related to oneself, i.e., theimpossibility of attaining perfection and the false concept of self.
ruci-pradhananam tu na tadrig-vicarapeksha jayate. kintu sadhu-sanga-lila-kathanasravana
ruchi-sraddha-sravanady-avritti-rupa evasau margah
Those devotees who are predominantly motivated by taste do not depend on this kind of intellectual process. They simply hear the Lord’s pastimes from the sadhus and
attain a taste for them. This is followed by shraddha. Their path then consists of
continuing to hear and chant, etc., with faith. (ibid.)