First Anuccheda of Bhakti Sandarbha :: Guru Devatatma

So, I have finally been able to retrieve my mind from its incessant detours and brought it squarely back into Jiva Goswami’s mind and the Bhāgavata-purāṇa.

I am working on Bhakti-sandarbha now. And I am thinking about this verse, which Jiva Goswami is going to use as the first cornerstone of that book, in the first of nearly 400 anucchedas or sections, each centered around a single important verse from the Bhāgavata-purāṇa.

The central verse of the first anuccheda (11.2.37) is important and worthy of extended reflection, and thus somewhat difficult to translate. This is my job: to edit Satyanarayana Dasaji’s translation and process it through my understanding to most perfectly illustrate Jiva Goswami’s thought process. I don’t pretend to understand better than Satyanarayana Dasaji -- I consider him my Sandarbhas guru and that is the way I do this work. But we are both serving Jiva Goswami, and as a servant of the servant of Jiva Goswami, I try to present my understanding of his thought processes. And Babaji has a third capable member on this editorial team to again check against misdirections I may have taken. And the entire process is followed and finalized by Babaji.

But of course this is what will makes this edition of the Sandarbhas so good is that there are three persons of considerable experience bouncing the text and ideas around each other, stimulating each other. It is in fact, the Gita shloka in action:

mac-cittā mad-gata-prāṇā bodhayantaḥ parasparam
kathayantaś ca māṁ nityaṁ tuṣyanti ca ramanti ca

[What can be said of the wise who know I am the source of all things and that everything proceeds from Me, and who worship Me with great feeling? The following:] Their thoughts dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from enlightening one another and conversing about Me. [Gītā 10.9]

So, back to Bhakti-sandarbha. But believe me, the aforestated is very much related and relevant.

This is a verse begins with the Upanishads and ends in the present day, right now, to explain sādhanā bhakti.

bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād
īśād apetasya viparyayo’smṛtiḥ |
tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet tam
bhaktyaikayeśa guru-daivatātmā ||

Now the problem we face here is: Why did Jiva Goswami decide that this was the verse that explained the necessity for bhakti as well as defining what it is, concisely transitioning us from the subject matter of the first four sandarbhas into the question, “Now what do I do? If such is the status of the relations, then I ask, like Arjuna, “How does he walk? How does he sit? How does he talk? How does one who has stable knowledge of the Self, who has attained samadhi, act?”

The Bhakti-sandarbha is to be lessons in walking and talking.

For this verse I have too many translations, each of which requires evaluation. The fundamental problem seems to be the order of causality in which people understand the different words. Are things happening in a sequence, and if so, what is that sequence? How are all the parts hanging together?

It starts dramatically: FEAR!

Fear is a foundational problem and even the sound of the word can penetrate your foundation. Here the Bhagavata presents the Upanishadic conclusion:

dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syāt 
Fear arises from the absorption in the Second ["the other"].
so’bibhet | tasmād ekākī bibheti | sa hāyam īkṣāṁ cakre yan mad-anyan nāsti |
kasmān nu bibhemīti ? tata evāsya bhayaṁ vīyāya |
kasmād dhy abheṣyat ? dvitīyād vai bhayaṁ bhavati ||
“He became afraid. Therefore, being alone one fears. He studied carefully and saw that there is nothing but Me. So why should I fear, he thought. And so he gave up fear. From what will one fear? Fear comes from the Second.” (Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.4.2)
The word abhiniveśa may seem tautological here. It really means “absorption in”. It is what the yogis call abhiniveśa, the fifth and stickiest of the kleśas. It is the fear of non-being, annihilation of the self.

In Dualism there is no mercy, only the binary: you are in or you are out. So, to whatever degree you are absorbed in the “Second” and not in the One Self, you are bound to experience fear. And all fears are really born of this one major fear of non-being.

And it comes from an illusion. The “Second” here means “that which is not this One Absolute non-dual (ekam evādvitīyam) substance”, in other words, the “Other.” So from now on, let us just translate “Second” as “Other”, a reasonable immediate understanding of the word dvitīya, like dusra in Hindi.

Before mentioning Maya, the speaker Kavi makes sure that we know a personal god is involved. After giving us this concise summary of the Vedanta, he seems to abandon non-dualism for dualism anyway.

īśād apetasya
“of one who is turned away from God.”
So the accumulated thought becomes: “The fear that would arise from absorption in the ‘Second’ is [experienced by] the person who is turned away from God.”

Can this be real dualism? So brazenly stated in the same sentence right after the uncompromising Upanishadic truth? “One who is turned away, who has moved away, from God.”

Now we know from the Upanishads that Atman and Brahman are one and the same. So how can you turn away from God? If God is everything, internal and external, then I too become one with that reality.

On the jñāna path we have to keep on hearing that over and over again, reflecting and meditating on it until we become totally and utterly convinced it is true and actually see it.

For the Vaishnava however, absorption in the Other means exactly the same thing as turning away from God. But in a sense it is prior to absorption in the Other. One turns away from God, who is the One, and becomes absorbed in the not-God.

bahūnāṁ janmanām ante jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ
After innumerable births and deaths, when one becomes wise and knows “There is nothing but Vasudeva,” he surrenders to Me. Such a great soul is very rare, indeed. [Gītā 7.19]
So what else happens to the poor guy who is in ignorance? Parts two and three:

reversal and forgetfulness
These are expressions that remind us of all the the other tribulations of life, which you may or may not enjoy. Viparyaya means “reversal, upheaval, dismal upsets of fortune; change for the worse, reverse of fortune, calamity, misfortune,” in short, misery.

A-smṛtiḥ means non-remembrance. Non-remembrance means increased self-forgetfulness, the perpetuation of the ignorance of who one truly is, constitutionally.

Vishwanath nicely says that the fear with which we started is to be seen as having these two aspects, which are viparyaya, meaning a reversal in the sense of self by thinking “I am this body, etc.,” the non-self, and that is combined with asmṛti forgetfulness of the true self.

So which words should we choose? I will go for “calamity and forgetfulness”. I will choose the most immediate direct meaning and let the head of the reader work to parse the possibilities of interpretation.

So, is there anything else involved in this whole equation?

By His Maya.
Now we have an instrumental. What is the immediate agent of this fear, upheaval, and forgetfulness? It is His, īśa’s, Maya. All this awareness of the Other, the fear, the upheaval and the ignorance, are caused through the agency known as Maya, God’s “magic” and often, Maya is taken to mean His “love.” How this creation, this illusion can be called a manifestation of God’s love is the problem that will need to be addressed, but not here.

ato budha ābhajet tam īśam
For this reason, the awakened soul will worship that God with complete attention.
Vishwanath here says that the ā means without any ulterior desire or motive. And that is confirmed in the next line.

bhaktyā ekayā
With single-minded devotion.

Now here we run into a little trouble because this is a compound word and one has to decipher it in various ways. What are the relationships between the words of the compound? The last word is of the most importance. Indeed, this compound word is the most important thought cluster in the entire passage. In Sanskrit, if the end is not the strongest part of the sentence, it has failed the poetic test. The poetic test is the one that leaves one with a sense of wonder, adbhuta-rasa, when the whole combination of clustered ideas blossom forth into a coherent, wonderfully formed whole, and when one perceives that entity and is astonished, then that is rasa. All the rasas are based on astonishment, on newness, some wondrous and unexpected combination of tastes in a delicious new preparation.

And in poetry, that is where the genius lies. Each picture is self-contained, a picture with a point. That point is conveyed through rasa.

So here, the point of the message can be many, because compound words allow for complex and multistoried complexes of meaning. But we will take the words guru-devatātmā to mean:

“one whose very self, whose worshipable god, is his Guru.”

This word is the heretofore unmentioned subject of the verb “worship” above. So the entire idea is “The one who is to worship in the pure and single-minded way named above, must be one whose very self, whose worshipable god, is his Guru.”

Shridhara stretches it further. He breaks it down as a bahuvrīhi-samāsa: gurur eva devatā īśvara ātmā preṣṭhaś ca yasya. “One for whom the guru is God, and the dearest beloved.” I like that and I think it is perfectly acceptable as a first reading understanding of the verse for someone who is not exceedingly well-versed in these things.

So now, before I go into an analysis of the other translations, let’s see if we can piece these ideas into a single coherent whole. I am feeling at this moment a bit like someone uncovering squares in a silly television game show, to see what the final outcome will be.

Fear arises from absorption in the Other in the person who is turned away from God, [and so too come] calamity and forgetfulness, through the agency of His Maya. For this reason, one who has awakened [to the above] will worship that God with complete attention, with a single-minded devotion, [himself being] one for whom the Guru is God, the dearest beloved.

So I will leave it there for today. Come back soon for Part II.


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