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Friday, February 20, 2009

Detachment, life without Guru and the Lord's role in karma

Bhakta: "Does detachment play any role in rāgānugā bhakti?"

Advaitadas: "Detachment is neither the means nor the goal, not in rāgānugā or in vaidhi bhakti, period. It is a concomitant result of bhakti only. janayātyāśu vairāgyaṁ (SB 1.2.7). Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī teaches in Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu (1.2.248-251):

jñāna-vairāgyayor bhakti-praveśāyopayogitā
īṣat prathamam eveti nāngatvam ucitaṁ tayoḥ
yad ubhe citta-kāṭhinya-hetū prāyaḥ satāṁ mate
sukumāra-svabhāveyaṁ bhaktis tad-dhetur īritā

"Knowledge and detachment are not limbs of devotion but at best suitable at the very first entry on the path. They both harden the heart and are therefore incompatible with the tender nature of bhakti."

Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī then quotes the Bhāgavata (11.20.31)—

tasmān mad-bhakti-yuktasya yogino vai mad-ātmanaḥ
na jnānaṁ na ca vairāgyaṁ prāyaḥ śreyo bhaved iha

Kṛṣṇa tells Uddhava: "Therefore for bhakti yogis neither knowledge nor detachment is very beneficial."

Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī concludes:

kintu jñāna-virakty-ādi-sādhyaṁ bhaktyaiva sidhyati

"But knowledge and detachment find their own fulfillment only on the strength of devotion itself."

Bhakti itself generates a higher taste which will automatically cause detachment. Kṛṣṇa tells Uddhava in the Bhāgavata: na nirviṇṇo nātisaktis bhakti-yogo'sya siddhi-da "Neither renunciation nor over-attachment will grant the perfection of bhakti." You should simply want to serve Kṛṣṇa, and if you do that you will have neither time nor taste for sensual matters. If you deliberately endeavour for detachment it is jñāna mārga - you want to stop suffering, wanting liberation. That is not devotional. Devotion just aims at pleasing Kṛṣṇa  - anukūlyena kṛṣṇānuśīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā  (Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu). In the Bhāgavata Māhātmya it is described that mother Bhakti has two sons - Jñāna and Vairāgya (grammatically, Bhakti is female gender and  Jñāna and Vairāgya are male). They are produced by bhakti alone, they are not independent."

Bhakta: "Is it necessary to know all the details about all the gopīs?"

Advaitadas: "You should definitely know the details of the main players in Kṛṣṇa's pastimes, but otherwise, the spiritual sky is not a National Park or a zoo where we go for site-seeing - there is a lot of service to do, rather than just socializing with everyone. One needs to be particularly acquainted with the members of the group in which we are initiated. When Sādhu Bābā gave me siddha praṇālī I asked him whether I had to memorize the svarūpas of the whole 13-generation paramparā. He said: "No, just yourself, myself, param Guru and Sītānāth."

Bhakta: "I have been offering food to Rādhārāṇī first and then to Kṛṣṇa, because bhāvollasa or rādhā snehādhikā means we love Rādhārāṇī more than Kṛṣṇa."

Advaitadas: "That is not correct. You can not mix the world of feelings with the world of rules like that. On the same grounds you would start dressing your male body in female garments like the Sakhībhekhīs do in India - it is the mixing of two dimensions of worship. Gopī bhāva is a feeling, not a (part of) ritual. The rules say that Kṛṣṇa eats first and then His devotees, including Rādhārāṇī. This is how Sādhu Bābā taught me and it is proven in Govinda Līlāmṛta (15.138-139): "(After Kṛṣṇa took His lunch at Rādhākuṇḍa) Śrī Rādhikā and Her girlfriends happily sat down to enjoy the nectarean remnants of Kṛṣṇa's food, served by Śrī Rūpa Mañjarī and Vṛndā. Nāndīmukhī, Kundalatā and others were joking to increase the joy of their meal."

It is clear from Vilāpa Kusumāñjali (46-49) and Govinda Līlāmṛta (20.67-71) that Kṛṣṇa also eats first in the evening and then Śrī Rādhikā.

The idea that one offers first to the Guru or hands the food to the Guru, because 'only a pure devotee can offer food' is not in śāstra. There are certainly parameters of qualification for offering food, as Kṛṣṇa has said in Bhagavad Gītā (9.26), prayatātmanaḥ, one must be pure in heart and body (see my blog of June 6, 2006), but no śāstra says one should hand food to the Guru or an image of the Guru so that he can offer it, because only a pure devotee can offer. In all Vaiṣṇava traditions the prasād comes down from the top (Kṛṣṇa) to the bottom (Guru and sādhaka), not vice versa. Same for the idea that we offer to Śrī Rādhikā and She will offer to Kṛṣṇa. The above Govinda Līlāmṛta verses show the opposite sequence. The wife takes the remnants of the husband, not vice versa. Though the gopīs are not formally married to Kṛṣṇa they do act as His wives. There is no difference in this regard between rāgānugā- and vaidhi-practises."

Bhakta: "There are many verses praising the efficacy of Guru's mercy, but is it really impossible to attain perfection without a Guru?"

Advaitadas: Yes. There is ample evidence for that, like:

yasyāprasādān na gati kuto'pi - 'Without the Guru's grace you are not going anywhere' (Gurvaṣṭakam 8)

gurur yena parityaktas tena tyakta purā hariḥ
'He who has abandoned the Guru already abandoned Hari in advance' (Haribhakti Vilāsa)

martya’sad dhiḥ martya iti durbuddhis tasya śrutam bhagavan mantrādikaṁ śāstrādikaṁ śravaṇa mananādikaṁ ca vyartham ityarthaḥ
«If a fool thinks the Guru is an ordinary mortal not only his learning, but also his practise of his mantra, his hearing and his meditation on the Lord are all in vain. » (Viśvanātha Cakravartī's comment on SB 7.15.26)

vijita-hṛṣīka-vāyubhir adānta-manas tura-gaḿ
ya iha yatanti yantum ati-lolam upāya-khidaḥ
vyasana-śatānvitāḥ samavahāya guroś caraṇaḿ
vaṇija ivāja santy akṛta-karṇa-dharā jaladhau

“The mind is like an reckless horse that even persons who have conquered their senses and breath cannot control. Those in this world who try to subdue the uncontrolled mind, but who abandon the feet of the Guru, encounter hundreds of obstacles in their cultivation of various adverse practices. O birthless Lord! They are like merchants on a boat in the ocean who have failed to appoint a captain.” (Śrīmad Bhāgavata 10.87.33)

That has been my experience several times. Whenever I turned away from Guru I lost control over the senses and got philosophically deluded, and as soon as I turned towards Guru again, I regained security in both these respects.

harau ruṣṭe gurus trāta gurau ruṣṭe na kaścana;
tasmāt sarva prayatnena gurum eva prasādayet.

“When Śrī Hari is angry, Śrī Guru can protect the devotee, but when the Guru is angry no one can save him; hence Śrī Guru must be pleased by all means.”

Bhakta: "Now that Vaiṣṇavism is global, many devotees from poor countries cannot go and travel to meet a Guru. That is why perhaps Guru is not necessary."

Advaitadas: My experience with such persons is that they do have money to buy cars, TVs, PCs, houses, maintain illicit sexual partners or go on mundane vacations to Thailand or Mexico. On the other hand I have seen devotees in Vraja from really poor countries from Central Asia, Eastern Europe or South America who made it there and cherished every moment of it. Where there is a will there is a way."

Bhakta: "How about just relying on the Supersoul for guidance?"

Advaitadas: "That is all right in the case of day-to-day affairs, when you may have to make snap decisions, but for timeless, general philosophical issues you need a Guru, and if your Guru has expired (like in my case) and there are difficult questions leftover, the 6 Gosvāmīs will give the final verdict in their books. All of this does not mean one should not take shelter of a Guru at all. Even if the Guru passes away in an early stage of our spiritual life, he will be there for you eternally, regardless. Surrendering to Guru is an injunction, not an option."

Bhakta: "Does the law of karma prove there is a God who controls it? You pointed out too that since karma is beginningless (Vedanta Sūtra, na karma vibhāgād iti cennānāditvāt), it was not created by God, so some say that therefore the law of karma does not prove the existence of God."

Advaitadas: "Theoretically that could be the case, but, apart from the fact, of course, that Kṛṣṇa's existence is obviously experienced by those who practise hearing-chanting-remembering, we must accept the verdict of the ācāryas on such philosophical matters. Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad Gītā (5.15) nādatte kasyacit pāpaṁ  "I do not take anyone's sins" and so He seems to be unattached, but Śrīdhar Swāmī comments on this verse prayojako’pi san prabhuḥ kasyacit pāpaṁ sukṛtaṁ ca naivādatte na bhajate. tatra hetuḥ – vibhuḥ paripūrṇaḥ. āpta-kāma ity arthaḥ "Although He is the prayojaka (employer or cause) He does not take anyone's good or bad karma. The reason is that He is self-satisfied." Note here the word prayojaka, instigator. Of course I could quote a whole catalog of verses, but perhaps this one is most apt: mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke jīva-bhūta sanātana (Bhagavad Gītā 15.7) - 'The jīva souls are eternally My particles."


  1. In the first question about detachment you translate it as meaning vairagya and you translate jnana to mean knowledge. I find both translations misleading. The goal of vairagya is jnana and the goal of jnana is liberation. In bhakti detachment (of the mundane) and knowledge (siddhanta) are certainly very useful

  2. Sri Rupa's verdict is very clear - jnana and vairagya are useful only in the very beginning of bhakti ISat prathama pravesha - see the first quotation.