Some scattered thoughts about Prema

Love is the sthāyi-bhāva. Prema is its rasāvasthā.

According to Madhusudana Saraswati, God himself is the sthāyi-bhāva of love. When certain emotional upsurges heat the heart and allow him to be imprinted there. He is both the vibhāva and the sthāyi-bhāva. The first of these being the bimba, the latter the pratibimba, or reflection, related in exactly the same way as īśvara to the jīva. The same idea expressed in Vaishnava terms would be that it is the reflection of the svarūpa-śakti.

Only God is capable of melting the heart fully. Since He is all things, even the mundane nāyaka and nāyikā are nothing but He, but incapable of fully melting the heart, since they are He covered by Maya. Maya is God's own potency for self-covering.


Here is Rupa Goswami's definition of prema:

samyaṅ-masṛṇita-svānto mamatvātiśayāṅkitaḥ |
bhāvaḥ sa eva sāndrātmā budhaiḥ premā nigadyate ||
When that very same bhāva described in BRS 1.3.1 completely melts the heart altogether, is marked by a sense of unseparatedness from the object of love, and is very dense, the wise call it prema. (BRS 1.4.1)
Here are two more translations:
When bhāva becomes very intense and completely softens the heart, through being endowed with a great sense of intimacy with Krishna, the learned call it prema. (BRS 1.4.1)

When bhäva attains to the very essence of intensity, completely melting the devotee’s heart and marked by a profusion of the trans-egoic sense of “myness” [in relation to one’s beloved Lord], it is called prema by the wise. (TS)
Bhāva here means the sthāyi-bhāva, which is the same as a samskāra or vāsanā, i.e., subconscious conditioning and the shape it gives to the psyche. These are the latent desires and tendencies in the subconscious that are awakened by external stimuli into a manifest state. When that assimilated nature or character (bhāva) becomes manifest, it is rasa or prema.

The primary inspirator for rasa is the reciprocation of the object of love. In that sense, bhāva or love as it resides in the subject, is never full on its own even though it is, on its own, śuddha-sattva-viśeṣātmā, etc. 

Although Madhusudana Saraswati is later than Rupa, the two seem to be sharing a fundamental similarity of understanding about the psychological mechanics of rasa. Remember that Rupa Goswami is in the process of marrying the concept of bhakti/prema to that of rati/rasa. Madhusudana is doing the same, but approaches from the Advaita standpoint. But his defense of bhakti from that stance is extremely insightful

He says that when strong emotions are produced, e.g., lust, anger, affection, fear, etc., the mind melts and it is possible for an imprint to be made on the unconscious mind. These imprints then affect the character. The composite of these samskāras is our personality.

The process of bhakti is one in which one deliberately acts on the mind in such a way that the emotional experiences we go through, i.e, the "mind-melting-moments" should be connected to God directly.

The goal of the bhakti-yogi is to make his mind "God-shaped."

Madhusudana Saraswati says that the mind is generally hard, ossified, intractable, not subject to emotional interference. So we tend to continue along familiar paths of thought, habitual actions, etc., until there is a "mind-melting-moment". But most of those are incomplete melting of the mind.

So only when the mind is completely melted, then if God's face is impressed on it, then when the mind returns to its natural state of hardness (sāndrātmā), it will continue to retain that shape. The the sthāyi-bhāva is truly permanent.

Then when God's face has been fully imprinted on the mind, one sees God everywhere.

However, most emotional experiences are inadequate to fully melt the mind, and those result in bhāvābhāsa, which means something that can come or go. This is in relation to the sthāyi-bhāva, because bhāvābhāsa means at the same time a vyabhicāri, or temporary emotional state, not the fundamental or permanent one.

So what makes the mind melt? On the path of Love, It is reciprocation in love. This is where mamatvātiśayāṅkitaḥ comes in. Of the above translations, I would prefer "a great sense of intimacy."

It thus seems that both Madhusudana and Rupa Goswami are describing bhāva and prema in very similar terms. But Rupa Goswami is somewhat less clear, making it seem that they are the same thing, only a difference of degree. But if this is so, then why make a distinction and call both of them sādhya bhakti?

[It may be pointed out that the relation of the sthāyi to rasa is much discussed by the poeticians. The general conclusion is that they are indeed the same thing, but that the former has been altered by the addition of the other ingredients which give it the enhanced flavor. It is like rice, raw and cooked, or like milk and dahi, etc. For a devotee, this alteration can only mean reciprocation of some kind, however slight, however imagined.]

Mamatvātiśayāṅkitaḥ means a sense of complete identification with the Object of love. One does not conceive oneself as separate from the Object. The mind is tad-ākārākāritaḥ, it has taken on the shape of the Beloved.

This is why Jiva Goswami says that the samyaṅ-masṛṇita-svānta and mamatvātiśayāṅkitaḥ are the external symptoms, and that its svarūpa-lakṣaṇa is that it is sāndrātmā. In Madhusudana's language, dhārāvāhikatā.

drutasya bhagavad-dharmād dhārāvāhikatāṁ gatā |
sarveśe manaso vṛttir bhaktir ity abhidhīyate ||
The function of the mind that has been melted by the performance of Bhagavad-dharmas, which have attained a continuity of flow towards the Supreme Lord, is called bhakti. (Bhakti-rasāyana 1.3)
mad-guṇa-śruti-mātreṇa mayi sarva-guhāśaye |
mano-gatir avicchinnā yathā gaṅgāmbhaso’mbudhau ||
lakṣaṇaṁ bhakti-yogasya nirguṇasya hy udāhṛtam |
ahaituky avyavahitā yā bhaktiḥ puruṣottame ||
The primary sign that pure union in devotion, free from any material quality, has appeared in someone’s heart comes when, upon hearing about my qualities, that person’s thoughts are drawn immediately and irresistably towards me, the indweller of all beings, in the same way that the waters of the Ganges flow toward the sea. [Like the flow of the Ganges] such devotion to the Supreme Person is unmotivated and unimpeded. (SB 3.29.10-11)


The other thing I would remark on in this definition verse is that it is entirely devoid of any moral admonition, i.e, it does not ordain specific behaviors (vidhi). Prema is a state of consciousness only. When we reach the higher stages of the sthāyi-bhāva, i.e, mahābhāva, then we see that the primary concern of the descriptions is to measure the degree of spiritual unity or identity that the lovers experience. In these different states there are corresponding natural behaviors and emotional responses, but nothing ordained. Moral admonitions are like yamas and niyamas, training behaviors, external to the culture of consciousness but assimilated to one's character. It belongs to the category of "making oneself a worthy object of love."


So my current operating definition of Prema, or “Love for God.”

Love is a profound and blissful state of consciousness characterized by continuous absorption in a positive attitude towards its object, and which reaches fullness when enriched by direct awareness of the object’s reciprocation.

That same love when harmonized with an awareness of its spiritual dimension and relation to God, becomes prema.

When one sees both God in the object of love and the object of love in God, one attains prema-rasa. When that happens, the mind takes the form of God and one sees God everywhere.


Since the element of God is the third dimension, one has to measure love in the context of its capacity to attain prema-rasa.

This means that in the sädhanä of love, the positive side of love can be overshadowed by the negative due to residual käma. That is purified by aligning it with the Divine. If it loses its alignment with the Divine it becomes dysfunctional.

Love is a positive emotion. The via negativa is only ancillary to the force of loving attraction as part of the move towards purity and worthiness.

The way to love is by loving. By doing as a lover would do. The psychic power of pure love is very great and affects the object of love.

The way to not get love is to stop loving. The absence of love in the subject also affects the object of love.


Anonymous said…

Reflected in the love of one's own self, the god-shaped-mind places the finger of it's intellect through the ring of truth.

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