The bhava marg in Hari-nāma-cintāmaṇi

I did the translation of Hari-nāma-cintāmaṇi some fifteen years ago on behalf of the Gopinath Gaudiya Math, i.e., the disciples and followers of Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj. I nevertheless dared to write my own introduction, but I did so speaking to a Gaudiya Math audience and with respect for Puri Maharaj. I think that it is still a fair summary of the situation. I haven't bothered with the footnotes. My apologies.

Going through the document again, I think I would perhaps rework the section on ruci and nishtha near the end. But otherwise I think the article makes a good and workable synthesis.

The subject matter of the Hari-nāma-cintāmaṇi is Nāma-bhajana, worshiping the Holy Name. The book contains fifteen chapters: the first gives a brief summary of Vaishnava theology, the second introduces the subject of the Holy Name, distinguishing the pure Name from its facsimile (Nāmābhāsa) and offensive chanting (Nāmāparādha). The next ten chapters discuss each of the ten offenses to the Holy Name, in the course of which description many details of Vaishnava philosophy and behavior are explained. The fourteenth chapter contains a brief overview of offenses incurred in worshiping the Deity and the fifteenth and final chapter contains a summary of the bhāva-mārga, the “end game,” as it were, of the practice of chanting the Holy Names.

Of the Hari-nāma-cintāmaṇi’s fifteen chapters, the last is certainly the one that has caused the most trouble to previous translators and the one that raises the most questions about devotional practice: the bhāva-mārga is not widely practiced and is considered somewhat esoteric by many devotees. It is furthermore controversial, as it concerns an aspect of devotional life in which the siddhānta of Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s lineage coming through Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati seems to differ in important ways from that found in the rest of the Gaudiya Vaishnava world, as indeed His Divine Grace Bhakti Promode Puri Maharaj intimates in his Preface. As such, it is necessary for devotees who follow in the footsteps of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati to understand properly how he envisioned the practice of bhāva-mārga and what is the eligibility of a devotee for it.

The Holy Name is the religious process for the age of Kali, but in this special Age of Kali, in which the Divine Couple of Vrindavan incarnate in a single body as Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Holy Name contains special powers to bestow the highest and most effulgent experience of the personal Godhead. Chanting it gives a taste of the immortal nectar for which we are always anxious, pūrṇāmṛtāsvādanam. The first taste of the Holy Name instills us with greed for the eternal association of the Supreme Lord. As such, it may be said that the rāgānugā spirit, devotion motivated by spontaneous desire rather than scriptural injunctions or rational analysis, is inherent in the Holy Name Itself. Anyone who accepts the leadership of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Rupa Goswami is thus naturally destined for the rāgānugā bhakti path.

Thus, as Bhaktivinoda Thakur states in the Hari-nāma-cintāmaṇi (15.21), the Holy Name is the bud of the flower of transcendental rasa. As this flower blossoms in the heart of the devotee, he or she progressively realizes the Supreme Lord, His form, qualities and pastimes, along with her own personal spiritual form and characteristics.

īṣat vikaśi punaḥ dekhāya nija-rūpa-guṇa
citta hari laya kṛṣṇa pāśa
pūrṇa vikaśita hañā vraje more jāya lañā
dekhāya nija svarūpa vilāsa
When the Name is even slightly revealed, it shows me its own spiritual form and characteristics. It steals my mind and takes it to Krishna’s side. When the Name is fully revealed, it takes me directly to Vraja, where it shows me my personal role in the eternal pastimes. (Kṛṣṇa-nāma dhare kata bala?)

Bhakti Rakshak Sridhar Maharaj says something similar, though he speaks about the dīkṣā mantra:

To get the mantra from a sat guru, a genuine guru, means to get the internal good will or real conception about the Lord. The seed of a banyan tree may be a small seed, but the great big banyan tree will come out of that seed. The will with which the particular sound is given by the guru to the disciple is all-important. We may not trace that at present, but in time, if a favorable environment is there, it will express itself and develop into something great.

Despite this faith in the unlimited power of Krishna nāma and the Krishna mantra to bestow the highest good without the aid of any other practice, Gaudiya Vaishnava acharyas like Rupa Goswami and Krishna Das Kaviraj have described the practice of rāgānugā bhakti, a kind of sādhanā based on smaraṇa, or remembering, in which one cultivates one’s siddha form and its service to the Divine Couple in Vrindavan.

In the Hari-nāma-cintāmaṇi, Bhaktivinoda Thakur has specifically used the term bhāva-mārga to refer to this process of remembering. He does this in order to distinguish the motivations (rāgānugā) for service from the actual practice (bhāva-mārga). The Thakur calls the instructions given to an aspirant in these spiritual practices bhāva-tattva. Such instruction has two aspects, aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā, i.e., Krishna’s pastimes through the eight periods of the day, and ekādaśa-bhāva, the eleven aspects of the practitioner’s spiritual identity or siddha-deha. He does not, however, associate entry into bhāva-mārga with Pāñcarātrika dīkṣā. In Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta, he uses the term bhajana-dīkṣā to refer to the entry into bhāva-mārga, but rather than being a formal process, he sees it as an informal exchange between the aspirant and his bhajana-śikṣā guru.

According to Saraswati Thakur, the devotional path based primarily on the chanting of the Holy Name is also known as the Bhāgavata-mārga, and it is driven by taste and spiritual attraction from the very beginning. Reason and logic on the one hand and respect for the scriptures on the other have a necessary secondary role to play, when because of the presence of anarthas one’s taste for chanting and attraction to service are weakened. Thus, Jiva Goswami speaks of mixed rāgānugā and vaidhī bhakti.

On the other hand, the Pāñcarātrika path gives priority to arcana, which though mentioned in the Hari-nāma-cintāmaṇi’s fourteenth chapter and elsewhere throughout the Vaishnava scriptures, only plays a subsidiary role in the Bhāgavata-mārga practices. In view of this, anyone who thinks that a person engaged in chanting the Holy Name is on the vidhi mārga has a misunderstanding of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s intentions.

All these considerations are important for us to understand the reforms of Gaudiya Vaishnava practice instituted by Srila Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur and which are now followed by all branches of the Gaudiya Math. In his book Brāhmaṇa o Vaiṣṇava, Saraswati states that “the Pāñcarātrika Vaishnava principles of medieval South India have to some extent entered within the current practices of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Descendants of the Gaudiya Vaishnava acharyas have become more or less attached to the path of archan, like the followers of the Pañcarātras, and though they have sometimes spread subordination to Mahaprabhu in a pure form, they have more often spread a perverted form of His teachings.”

In particular, Saraswati criticized the understanding of rāgānugā bhakti that made it dependent on a series of formal practices specifically connected to Pāñcarātrika initiation. Saraswati Thakur condemns the practice of giving ekādaśa-bhāva to devotees in whom the spiritual identity had not arisen as a result of practical realization:
In the Gaudiya Vaishnava sampradaya nowadays, some immature traders in Pāñcarātrika mantras present imaginary material names and forms as the goal of life and the path of perfection (siddha-praṇālī). In this way they gratify the minds of their disciples while disclosing their own foolishness and ignorance of the Vaishnava literatures.  
In a letter to one of his disciples, Saraswati Thakur explained how he envisioned the development of the spiritual identity in the practitioner:
The aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā described by the Vaishnavas in Vrindavan should no doubt be highly regarded. However, these pastimes cannot be perceived in their true form by one who is still in a contaminated state. Some fortunate individuals become capable of knowing them after chanting for a long time, for it is part of the identity of the true self. But it can only be known after one is freed of mental contaminations. With the awakening of this spiritual identity, one automatically has constant cognition of his spiritual form.

Those who say that they can teach or reveal this identity are practicing a kind of deception; it cannot be done. On the other hand, if a devotee receives some inspiration after sincerely chanting for a long time, he should go to the sat guru or advanced devotees and ask for it to be confirmed and purified by them.

The spiritual identity has eleven aspects (ekādaśa bhava). There are many cases of unscrupulous gurus who artificially force-feed these designations on unqualified practitioners, but we cannot call this the mark of spiritual perfection. Those who have achieved identity perfection (svarūpa-siddhi) have attained such a realization through internal revelation. The spiritual master’s only involvement in these matters is to help the further advancement of a disciple. As a practitioner progresses toward spiritual perfection, all these things are revealed naturally within the heart that sincerely seeks service. 
Saraswati Thakur thus follows the process described in Hari-nāma-cintāmaṇi (15.69-75) where Bhaktivinoda Thakur states that the disciple and guru discuss the taste and maturity of the disciple. The svarūpa is never manufactured by the guru, but rather, as the disciple overcomes the major part of his anarthas, he actually experiences something positive like resolve (niṣṭhā) for devotion to a particular form of Krishna. This resolve is the first glimmering of his siddha deha, the form to which this taste for service in a particular mood inevitably leads. At this time, the disciple approaches the guru for personal guidance in refining his conception of the various ingredients of rasa. The guru also directs the disciple toward certain lilas and discusses the prototype of the disciple’s siddha deha with him as a vantage point from which to meditate on and ultimately enter the lila. All of the guru’s directions will, of course, be based in the scriptures of the Goswamis, including the Gaura-govindārcana-dīpikā of Dhyana Chandra, which Bhaktivinoda Thakur has quoted in detail in works like Jaiva Dharma and Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta.

In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Krishnadas translates the first verse of the Śikṣāṣṭaka as follows:

saṅkīrtana haite pāpa saṁsāra nāśana
citta śuddhi sarva-bhakti-sādhana udgama
kṛṣṇa-premodgama premāmṛta āsvādana
kṛṣṇa-prāpti sevāmṛta samudre majjana
From sankirtan comes the destruction of sin and material entanglement, the purification of the mind and heart, as well as the arising of all the other practices of devotional life. It then leads to the awakening of love for Krishna, the relishing of the flavors of that love, and then to the attainment of Krishna, where one plunges into the nectarean ocean of service to the Lord. (CC 3.20.13-14)
The expression sarva-bhakti-sādhana udgama, “the arising of all the other practices of devotional life” indicates that the Name or sankirtan does not necessarily directly give the final result of devotion, but that it does so incrementally by leading one to those practices and associations that will come naturally when one’s state of advancement make one ready to progress into the finer realms of Nāma bhajan. To attempt practices before one is ready means inevitable disappointment.

Anartha-nivṛtti is necessary for the bhāva-mārga

According to some, anartha-nivṛtti or self-purification is not a necessary precondition to engaging in bhāva-mārga sādhanā, because this path not based on prior accomplishments but on desire (lobha) alone. The fact of the matter is that unless the heart is purified, or unless one has accumulated an inordinate amount of sukṛti, or causeless blessings from highly advanced devotees of Krishna, it is impossible for genuine lobha to manifest there. Therefore the Thakur clearly states in Bhajana-rahasya

adhikāra nā labhiyā siddha-deha bhāve
viparyaya buddhi janme śaktira abhāve
sāvadhāne krama dhara yadi siddhi cāo
sādhura carita dekhi śuddha-buddhi pāo
siddha-deha peye krame bhajana karile
aṣṭa-kāla sevā-sukha anāyāse mile
If anyone tries to meditate on his spiritual body without having this qualification, his understanding will be turned topsy-turvy due to a lack of spiritual strength. If you want success in bhajan, then carefully follow the step-by-step process. Purify your intelligence by observing the activities of saintly devotees. If you engage in bhajan after attaining your spiritual body, in keeping with the progressive path, you will easily enjoy serving the Divine Couple through the eight periods of the day and night.
Nevertheless, despite Saraswati Thakur’s insistence that the practitioner must purify his life and become free of anarthas, he ultimately exhorted his disciples to engage in the positive culture of the bhāva-mārga and instructed them to hear and chant about these more elevated topics. During the Braj Mandala parikrama in 1932, Saraswati lectured his disciples:
Until now, we have not arranged for the public singing of līlā-kīrtana. The reason for this is that it is a very confidential treasure. However, this is the ultimate object of our practice. However, lest anyone make the mistake of thinking that anartha-nivṛtti is our only goal and that it is not necessary to engage in a positive cultivation of our true object, I have started these ashta kaliya līlā-kīrtana performances.

I know that you are not all ready to hear such kirtan, but I want you to know that such a transcendental ideal exists within the realm of devotion, which is the reason that you must engage in anartha-nivṛtti.

After anartha-nivṛtti comes artha-pravṛtti, or the real world of service to the Divine Couple. If we do not know that this is the goal, all our efforts may become transformed into impersonalism. Anyone who has been chanting the Holy Names for fifteen or twenty years should take note of this. All those who are just beginners have no need to listen to these kirtans. They will get the wrong idea of what is being sung. These kirtans are only for those who are sevonmukha, who are eager for service, and not for everyone.

Don’t think that the aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā smaran is the exclusive property of the Sahajiyas. In fact, it belongs to us. We have to recover it from all these cheaters. My Gurudeva heard all these things from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur. That is why he most confidentially repeated them to me again and again, in so many ways.

In the same article, while discussing Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s Bhajana-rahasya with some disciples, Srila Prabhupada said,

Do not let your days pass in trying only for anartha-nivṛtti. The positive cultivation of the spiritual goal, artha-pravṛtti, is also necessary. It is necessary to make efforts to eliminate the contaminants and obstacles—the anarthas—but only until one has begun artha-pravṛtti. Once that becomes prominent, anartha-nivṛtti becomes a secondary consideration.

Continuing to exhort his disciples to enter into the deeper aspects of the bhāva-mārga, Srila Prabhupada said that simply becoming a scholar and instructing others is insufficient. It is necessary to go forward and become a practitioner of non-duplicitous bhajan oneself.

These instructions by Saraswati Thakur are very significant for devotees in his line who seem to believe that if one only chants, everything will be revealed and think that the positive cultivation of the bhāva-mārga, i.e. hearing and chanting about the Lord’s pastimes and engaging in smarana in the siddha-deha is not necessary. Thus while Saraswati Thakur holds that a premature and artificially imposed spiritual identity is counterproductive, he never thought that one should expect full revelation of one’s spiritual identity simply by chanting the Holy Name without any positive cultivation of the bhāva-mārga, or artha-pravṛtti.

Is sannyāsa a necessary precondition for the bhāva-mārga?

Another source of confusion about rāgānugā bhakti, or bhāva-mārga sādhanā, is exactly when does a practitioner become qualified to engage in such cultivation. In the line of Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati, the sannyāsa-mantra is specifically related to taking shelter of the mood of the gopis, and therefore some feel that only those in the renounced order of life are eligible to follow the bhāva-mārga. However, from Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s teachings and personal example, it does not seem that he felt one had wait to until one was a sannyāsī or had completely renounced all vestiges of sexual life before meditating on his siddha-svarūpa.

It is evident that Bhaktivinoda Thakur himself was already engaged in following the practices of the bhāva-mārga not long after his initiation in 1880, while he was still a householder at the height of his working life. He mentions his svarūpa as Kamala Manjari in 1893 in Gīti-mālā, when he was still a householder, though well past his procreating years.

Furthermore, he repeatedly states that this is not a consideration. In Caitanya-śikṣāmṛta, for instance, he states that the disciple should stay with the spiritual master for a certain period of time when first establishing his ekādaśa-bhāva, but that afterwards, he can go on doing his bhajan in his own home (sva-sthāne sthita.

Some people place inordinately high standards on the practitioner before permitting any discussion of aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā or bhāva-mārga sādhanā. There is little doubt that Saraswati Thakur felt strongly about premature entry into these topics, but as we have seen, he stated that it was possible when one has become free from the principal anarthas, specifically the offenses to the Holy Name. If one at this stage of niṣṭhā becomes attracted to the practices of the bhāva-mārga, for such a person this ruci is the equivalent of lobha. One can thus say with some safety that rāgānugā sādhanā can begin at the stage of ruci.

It is rather easy to show that those who feel one must be at a higher stage are wrong: certainly bhāva is on the stage of sādhya-bhakti, or the goal of devotional practice. The bhāva-mārga still falls within the realm of devotional service in practice. Part of this is a result of a misunderstanding of the word bhāva, which can have many meanings. These have been explained in part in the glossary at the end of this volume.

Srila Jiva Goswami clearly talks about two kinds of rāgānugā bhaktijāta-ruci and ajāta-ruci. Here ruci does not mean taste in a general sense, but to the specific stage of achievement known as ruci. Evidently, then, one can be engaged on the bhāva-mārga without having reached this elevated stage of devotional service in practice. Jiva there says that as long as one has not yet attained the ruci stage, one may engage in the bhāva-mārga practices but motivating himself with scriptural injunctions and rational arguments, as is appropriate for a vaidha bhakta. There is thus no justification for identifying rāgānugā with bhāva bhakti and vaidhi mārga with sādhanā.

This is not to minimize the importance of beginning one’s devotional life by chanting free from anarthas before jumping ahead after a false analysis of one’s own capacities. Saraswati Thakur calls it spiritual laziness to try to enjoy the fruits of spiritual practice without undergoing the requisite purification.

After deliberating over the matter nicely in your heart you will find out that precocious thinking born of laziness can bear no real fruit. We are tiny jivas, traversing the path of vidhi, yet we are not inimical to raga. Talk of raga is very elevated, so it does not look particularly nice in our tiny mouths. Devotees whose life and soul is bhajan will mockingly dismiss us if they hear lowly souls like ourselves speaking on such elevated topics.

If one has no understanding of who Krishna is, then pretending to have the elevated qualifications necessary for the path of raga simply exposes his laziness. The Mahajans proclaim this at every step.

The Lord and His name are one entity. One who has conditioned perception of difference between the Name and the Named is utterly required to serve devotees accomplished in bhajan for rectification of his anarthas. The eternal associates of Sri Gaurasundar have described the kind of bhajan such devotees engage in. If we go around merely repeating such things like parrots, people will designate us as prakrita sahajiyas and thus bear down our self-assurance. But if we want to show all these prakrita sahajiyas mired in their misconceptions the real glory of rāgānugā bhakti, we have to learn the art of bhajan ourselves and only then try for others’ eternal benefit. So try to carefully understand what is written. Bhajan is nothing external, nor is it a means for showing off. Loudly call out the Holy Name, then the spirit of enjoyment in the form of laziness won’t be able to swallow us.

We should constantly pray to the Holy Name for His mercy. One who is still in a contaminated state should not engage in smaran of the daily cycle of the Lord’s pastimes (aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā). When we engage in chanting the Holy Names, we are simultaneously engaged in hearing and the opportunity for remembering is included in that. One should not engage in aṣṭa-kālīya-līlā smaran on false premises.

Saraswati Thakur’s final word, like Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s, is “deserve, then desire.”

There is no point in making a separate effort to artificially remember the Lord’s form, qualities and pastimes. The Lord and His name are one and the same. This will be understood clearly when the coverings in our hearts are removed. By chanting without offenses you will personally realize that all perfections come from the Holy Name.


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