Bhakti Sandarbha 238 : Sat-saṅga Captivates Bhagavān
|Vaishnava sanga: Devakinandan Thakur and his disciples doing their bit for "clean Vrindavan."|
This important anuccheda discusses the question of renouncing the guru in more detail than heretofore. There are actually several subjects within the anuccheda, all of them connected to association and service to the devotees.
The subject of the guru comes in connection with his allowing or not to render service or have association with other devotees. Since devotional association is so important for spiritual progress, if one's guru prohibits it or show negativity towards genuine devotees from a competing sect, etc., then the disciple should distance himself from that guru, and even reject him outright. This is because his attitude towards other Vaishnavas is symptomatic of a non-Vaishnava.
The other parts of the anuccheda talk about different kinds of service to the Vaishnavas as well as vratas, etc. These are brought up to ward off the suspicion that since service to the devotees is so highly regarded by Bhagavan Himself, one can dispense with other devotional activities.
Sat-saṅga Captivates Bhagavān
श्रीगुर्वाज्ञया तत्सेवनाविरोधेन चान्येषामपि वैष्णवानां सेवनं श्रेयः। अन्यथा दोषः स्यात्। यथा श्रीनारदोक्तौ—
With the permission of one’s guru, one can render service to other Vaiṣṇavas, provided it doesn’t conflict with the service of one’s own guru. This is auspicious. Otherwise [if done without the consent of one’s guru], such service will be flawed, as Śrī Nārada said:
गुरौ सन्निहिते यस्तु पूजयेदन्यमग्रतः।
स दुर्गतिमवाप्नोति पूजनं तस्य निष्फलम्॥ इति।
One who worships someone else first in the presence of one’s guru attains an unfavorable result and his worship of God is rendered futile.
यः प्रथमं "शाब्दे परे च निष्णातं" (भा. ११.३.२१) इत्याद्युक्तलक्षणं गुरुं नाश्रितवान्, तादृशगुरोश्च मत्सरादितो महाभागवतसत्कारादावनुमतिं न लभते, स प्रथमत एव त्यक्तशास्त्रो न विचार्यते। उभयसङ्कटपातो हि तस्मिन् भवत्येव। एवमादिकाभिप्रायेणैव—
The characteristics of an authentic guru have already been discussed in verses such as this:
Therefore, one desirous of knowing the ultimate welfare should approach a preceptor who is well versed in the Vedas, who has realized the Absolute Reality and who has thus become the abode of peace. (SB 11.3.21)(Anu. 202)
If, however, one has failed in the beginning to accept a guru of this caliber and his guru out of envy does not permit him to honor the great devotees of Bhagavān, there is nothing to be said about such a person [from the point of view of scripture], because he has rejected scripture from the very outset [by accepting a guru who doesn’t meet the criteria outlined therein]. Calamity certainly befalls such a person from both sides [because if he follows the order of his guru, he fails to honor the great devotees, and if he honors the devotees, he disobeys his guru]. With this in mind, the Nārada-Pāñcarātra states:
यो वक्ति न्यायरहितमन्यायेन शृणोति यः।
तावुभौ नरकं घोरं व्रजतः कालमक्षयम्॥ इति नारदपञ्चरात्रे।
Both the person whose instructions are not in resonance with scripture and the one who hears such illegitimate teaching proceed to a dreadful hell for an unlimited period of time.
अत एव दूरत एवाराध्यस्तादृशो गुरुः। वैष्णवविद्वेषी चेत् परित्याज्य एव। (म.भा. ५.१७८.२४)
उत्पथप्रतिपन्नस्य परित्यागो विधीयते॥
इति स्मरणात्, तस्य वैष्णवभावराहित्येणावैष्णवतया "अवैष्णवोपदिष्टेन" इत्यादिवचनविषयत्वाच्च।
Therefore such a guru should be respected only from a distance. And if he has become a despiser of Vaiṣṇavas, he should certainly be repudiated, as stated:
guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryam ajānataḥ |
utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate ||
One is ordained to give up a guru who is self-conceited, who does not know what is to be done and what is to be avoided, and who has stumbled down the wrong path.
Furthermore, such a guru cannot be considered a Vaiṣṇava because he lacks the character of a Vaiṣṇava, and thus the following admonition is given with such a guru in mind:
avaiṣṇavopadiṣṭena mantreṇa nirayaṁ vrajet |
punaś ca vidhinā samyag grāhayed vaiṣṇavād guroḥ ||
One goes to hell by receiving a mantra from a guru who is not a Vaiṣṇava. Such a person should again accept a mantra from a Vaiṣṇava guru, in conformity with the prescribed principles. (See Anu. 207)
यथोक्तलक्षणस्य गुरोरविद्यमानायां तु, तथैव महाभागवतस्यैकस्य नित्यसेवनं परमं श्रेयः। स च श्रीगुरुवत् समवासनः स्वस्मिन् कृपालुचित्तश्च ग्राह्यः।
If, however, an authentic guru endowed with the characteristics described earlier is no longer present, then regular service to a great devotee is most auspicious. Furthermore, one should accept a great devotee whose devotional mood is complementary to that of his guru and who is compassionate toward oneself. This principle is enunciated in the Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya:
यस्य यत्सङ्गतिः पुंसो मणिवत् स्यात् स तद्गुणः।
स्वकुलर्द्ध्यै ततो धीमान् स्वयूथान्येव संश्रयेत्॥ (ह.भ.सु. ८.५१)
As a crystal reflects the color of an object placed before it, a person mirrors the qualities of a person with whom he or she associates. Therefore, a thoughtful person should associate with those belonging to one’s own community, for the progress of his or her lineage. (HBS 8.52)
It is essential to accept a great devotee who is compassionate towards oneself, because if he is not compassionate, the heart will not develop affection for him.
Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji Maharaj
In the previous anuccheda Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explained the importance of service to one’s guru to attain success on the path of bhakti. Now he stresses the importance of service to the devotees of Bhagavān, especially service to great devotees, the mahā-bhāgavatas. However, he advises that service to a devotee should be done with the permission of one’s guru. Moreover, service to another devotee should not be a hindrance to one's service to the guru. If one neglects his guru and serves another great devotee, then it will not be beneficial to his spiritual progress. Rather, it will become an obstacle. The essential message is that one should never disregard or neglect one’s guru, even to serve another great devotee. Serving a great devotee without the permission of one’s guru is tantamount to disregard for the guru. If some other devotees are present along with one’s guru, then one must first give respect to one’s guru and to other devotees afterwards.
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī raises an important point about the qualification of a guru. He says that guru must be as approved by the śāstra. If one has an unqualified guru, then there is good possibility that one will end up committing offense to other devotees. He gives an example of an unqualified guru. Such a guru may be envious of other great devotees and would restrict his disciples from giving respect to them. What should be done in a such a quandary? If one respects other devotees one displeases one’s own guru; if one does not give respect to other devotees then one incurs offense against these devotees. It is like making a decision about jumping into either a well or a ditch .
Śrī Jīva says that he does not want to give any thought to such a situation. The reason is that the disciple has transgressed the śāstra to begin with by accepting a guru who is not approved by śāstra. It is like two thieves who steal from a house and then have a disagreement over the division of the stolen goods. They approach a judge to help them, but what help can the judge give such people who have broken the law in the first place?
However, being compassionate, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī gives a solution to such a disciple. He advises that he should not associate with such a guru. He can give respect to the guru from afar and may continue to accept him as guru. However, if he is envious of other devotees, then he must be rejected and disciple must accept another qualified guru. Śrī Jīva cites a verse from Mahābhārata to support his advice.
Usually we read verses in praise of guru and verses instructing to honor the guru like Bhagavān Himself. Those verse are aimed at a genuine, qualified guru. But if the guru is not qualified then he will not serve the purpose of uplifting the disciple. Therefore, he must be rejected in favor of a qualified, genuine guru. Śrī Jīva is also very clear in stating that only a Vaiṣṇava can be guru, not a Śaivite or Śākta.
What should a student do if the guru leaves his body and the student is not advanced enough to continue on his own? Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī answers that such a student should seek a qualified Vaiṣṇava for guidance. There is no need to take mantra-dikṣā again. He can learn philosophy and the practical details of practice from such a Vaiṣṇava. He recommends that the Vaiṣṇava have the same understanding of philosophy and mood as one’s guru. Otherwise there will be confusion in the mind of the student and the possibility of his committing offense to the guru by going against his teachings and mode of practice. In this context Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī also recommends:
center>sajātīyāśaye snigdhe sādhau saṅgaḥ svato vare |
Moreover, the Vaiṣṇava must be compassionate on the student. If he is not compassionate he would not teach, nor would the student develop affection for the Vaiṣṇava.
अथ सर्वस्यैव भागवतचिह्नधारिमात्रस्य तु यथायोग्यं सेवाविधानम्। तत्र महाभागवतसेवा द्विविधा—प्रसङ्गरूपा, परिचर्यारूपा च।
Therefore, one should render suitable service to all those endowed with the insignia of devotees. Service to great devotees is of two types—in the form of association and in the form of rendering service.
तत्र प्रसङ्गरूपा, यथा (भा. ११.१२.१-२)—
नो रोधयति मां योगो न साङ्ख्यं धर्म एव च।
न स्वाध्यायस्तपस्त्यागो नेष्टापूर्तं न दक्षिणा॥
व्रतानि यज्ञश्छन्दांसि तीर्थानि नियमा यमाः।
यथावरुन्धे सत्सङ्गः सर्वसङ्गापहो हि माम्॥
An example of service by association is spoken of by Kṛṣṇa:
Neither yoga, nor the analytical study of conceptual truths, nor carrying out one’s prescribed duties, nor study of the Vedas, nor austerity and renunciation, nor distribution of food and works of public welfare, nor charity, fasts, worship of deities in sacrifice, reciting mantras, visiting holy places, nor observing rules and regulations can captivate Me as does the association of devotees, which removes all other attachments. (SB 11.12.1-2)
Commentary by Satyanarayana Dasa Babaji Maharaj
As far as service is considered it should be done to any Vaiṣṇava. A student should have the mood of service. Serivce should be done according to the status of the Vaiṣṇava. Service does not always mean to engage in activities of personal benefit to the Vaiṣṇavas. Even to greet one properly is service. After all a student should have his own regular duties and spiritual practice. He is not free to do personal service to every Vaiṣṇava he encounters. But the idea is to keep everyone satisfied by one’s good behavior. As far as possible, great devotees should be served either by being with them physically and listening to them and talking advice from them (prasaṅga), or by rendering some personal service to them.
Service to Vaiṣṇavas is very pleasing to Kṛṣṇa. This is the essence of this anuccheda. Therefore Śrī Jīva cites Kṛṣṇa's statement to Uddhava (11.11.49) at its conclusion. The 12th chapter of the Eleventh Canto he gives a long list of devotees who attained perfection merely through the association of a Vaiṣṇava.
पूर्वाध्याये (भा. ११.११.४७)—
इष्टापूर्तेन मामेवं यो यजेत समाहितः।
लभते मयि सद्भक्तिं मत्स्मृतिः साधुसेवया॥इत्यनेन साधुसेवया भक्तिनिष्ठाजनने साधनानन्तरसव्यपेक्षत्वमिवोक्तम् ।
In the chapter previous to that, Kṛṣṇa said:
One who worships Me as described above, with fixity of mind through Vedic sacrifices and acts of social welfare attains true devotion to Me, and through service to saintly devotees, constant remembrance of Me is born. (SB 11.11.47)
The generating of firmness in bhakti, which takes place by service to saintly devotees, is sometimes spoken of as if reliant on other means, as it seems to be in the above verse.
[Such is not the case, however, as will be made clear by contrasting the meaning of the words iṣṭa and pūrta in SB 11.12.1 with the meaning of the same words as used in SB 11.11.47.]
अत्र इष्टशब्देन सप्तमस्कन्धोक्त-रीत्याग्निहोत्रदर्शपौर्णमासचातुर्मास्ययाग-पशुयागवैश्वदेवबलिहरणान्युच्यन्ते (भा. ७.१५.४८-४९), पूर्तशब्देन सुरालयारामकूपवापीतडागप्रपान्नसत्राण्युच्यन्ते (भा. ७.१५.४९)।
In the previous verse (SB 11.12.1), the word iṣṭa refers to sacrifices, such as the fire sacrifice (agnihotra), the ceremonies performed on the days of the new and full moon (darśa-paurṇamāsa), the sacrifices observed during the four month period (cāturmāsya-yāga), animal sacrifices (paśu-yāga), and making offerings to the gods known as the Vaiśva-devas, as described in the seventh canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The word pūrta in the same verse refers to building temples for the gods, creating gardens, digging wells, tanks or ponds, and establishing places for the distribution of grains or drinking water.
[In other words, in SB 11.12.1 the words iṣṭa and pūrta refer to sacrifices and social welfare activities that are not performed specifically for the pleasure of Bhagavān, and hence they do not captivate Him.]
अत्र तु इष्टं, "हविषाग्नौ यजेत माम्" (भा. ११.११.४७) इत्यादौ अग्निहोत्राद्युपलक्षितं, पूर्तम् "उद्यानोपवनाक्रीड" (भा. ११.११.३८) इत्याद्युपलक्षितं ज्ञेयम्।
In SB 11.11.47, however, the word iṣṭa refers to sacrifices, such as agnihotra, performed specifically for the worship of Bhagavān, as indicated in this verse: “One should worship Me by pouring ghee in the sacrificial fire” (SB 11.11.47).
Similarly, the word pūrta in the same verse refers to social welfare activities performed for the service of Bhagavān, as indicated in this verse: “Create a flower garden, a fruit orchard, a pleasure grove, a town or a temple for Me.” (SB 11.11.38)
एवं पूर्वोक्तप्रकारेणेष्टापूर्तेन यो मां यजेत, स मत्स्मृतिः, तत्र साधुसेवया सतां प्रसङ्गेन सद्भक्तिमन्तरङ्गभक्तिनिष्ठां प्राप्नोतीत्यर्थः। तत्राग्निहोत्रादीनां भक्तौ प्रवेशोऽग्न्यन्तर्यामिरूप-भगवदधिष्ठानत्वेनाग्न्यादिसन्तर्पणात्। कूपारामादीनां च तत्परिचर्यार्थं क्रियमाणत्वात् तत्र प्रवेशः।
One who worships Me in this way, through the sacrifices and welfare activities already described, attains remembrance of Me, and by service to the sādhus through association, one attains firmness in internal devotion. This is the import of SB 11.11.47, quoted above.
In this instance, because one offers oblations in the fire, which is understood to be the seat of Bhagavān in His feature as the Supreme indwelling Self, sacrifices such as agnihotra can be included within bhakti. Similarly, welfare activities, such as digging wells and making gardens, can also be included in bhakti when undertaken for the service of Bhagavān.
238.4 The association of devotees and other devotional activities like observing Ekadasi
तदेवं सत्सङ्गस्य सव्यपेक्षत्वमुक्तम्। पुनश्च तत्रैव तस्य स्वातन्त्र्येण यथेष्टफलदातृत्वं, सर्वापेक्षया परमसामर्थ्यं च वक्तुं परमगुह्यमुपदिष्टम्।
Thus, the association of devotees, which generates firmness in devotion, is said to be assisted by other means. Yet in the same chapter of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, it is said that in comparison to all other methods, association of devotees is capable of awarding the desired result independently. To emphasize the supreme power of associating with devotees, Kṛṣṇa refers to such association as supremely confidential:
अथैतत् परमं गुह्यं शृण्वतो यदुनन्दन।
सुगोप्यमपि वक्ष्यामि त्वं मे भृत्यः सुहृत् सखा॥ इति।
Therefore, O descendant of Yadu [Uddhava], just hear this topmost secret. Although it is supremely confidential, I will disclose it to you, because you are My servant, well-wisher and friend. (SB 11.11.49)
एतादृशमहिमत्वेनानूक्तत्वात् तदेतत् परमगुह्यत्वमाह—न रोधयति इति। त्यागः सन्न्यासः। दक्षिणा दानमात्रम्। यज्ञो देवपूजा। छन्दांसि सरहस्यमन्त्राः। यथा सत्सङ्गो मामवरुन्धे वशीकरोतीति, तथा योगो न वशीकरोति, न च साङ्ख्यमित्यादिकोऽन्वयः। ततस्तेऽपि किञ्चिद्वशीकुर्वन्तीत्यर्थलब्धेर्भगवत्परा एव ज्ञेयाः, न च साधारणाः। अत एव च व्रतान्येकादश्यादीनि इति टीकाकाराः।
Because no other process was said to have such power, the association of devotees is described as supremely confidential. In the beginning of the next chapter, Kṛṣṇa speaks the two verses quoted earlier in this Anuccheda (SB 11.12.1-2). In these two verses, the word tyāga means sannyāsa, or acceptance of the renounced order. Dakṣiṇā refers to charity in general, yajña to the worship of gods, and chandāṁsi to the recitation of secret mantras. According to sentence syntax, the verse states that yoga, the analytical study of conceptual truths, and so on, cannot captivate Bhagavān in the same way as the association of devotees. This statement implies that these other activities also captivate Bhagavān to some extent. In this respect, they are to be understood as being directed toward Bhagavān, and not in their usual sense. Just to emphasize this point, Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “The word vratāni, or vows, refers to observing fasts connected with Bhagavān, such as Ekādaśī.”
न चैतावता तेषां नित्यानां वैष्णवव्रतादीनामकर्तव्यत्वं प्राप्तम्, एकस्य फलातिशयसामर्थ्यप्रशंसया इतरस्य नित्यत्वनिराकरणायोगात्।
From this, one should not conclude that regular devotional duties, such as the observance of Vaiṣṇava fasting days, need not be followed, because if one activity is singled out for its unique capacity to yield the desired fruit, it does not negate the regular observance of other duties.
यथा कर्माधिकारिणः (भा. ७.१४.१७)—
न ह्यग्निमुखतोऽयं वै भगवान् सर्वयज्ञभुक्।
इज्येत हविषा राजन् यथा विप्रमुखे हुतैः॥
For example, in the case of those who pursue the path of karma, it is said:
O King, Bhagavān, who is the enjoyer of all sacrifices, is not as pleased by oblations poured into the fire as by food offered into the mouth of brāhmaṇas. (SB 7.14.17)
On the strength of this statement, one cannot forsake the injunction given in the previous verse: “One should worship Bhagavān by the performance of sacrifices, such as agnihotra.” (SB 7.14.16) Similarly, one cannot give up other duties because of the singular glorification of sat-saṅga.
By the same token, we find statements such as this, addressed to those on the path of devotion: “The worship of My devotee exceeds worship of Me” (SB 11.19.21). Yet even on hearing such statements, one is not advised to give up the worship of Bhagavān, which is meant to be done regularly after taking initiation. The same logic applies here in regard to regular devotional duties [which are not preempted by the superiority of sat-saṅga].
षड्भिर्मासोपवासैस्तु यत् फलं परिकीर्तितम्।
विष्णोर्नैवेद्यसिक्थेन तत् फलं भुञ्जतां कलौ॥ इत्यपि न बाधकम्।
In kali-yuga one attains the same result simply by eating food offered to Śrī Viṣṇu, as one would by fasting for six months.
एकादश्यादौ हि नित्यत्वेऽप्यानुषङ्गिकमेव महाफलकत्वं तत्र तत्र मतम्। अत एव नित्यत्वरक्षणार्थमपि तादृशं वैष्णवं व्रतमवश्यमेव कर्तव्यमित्यागतम्। नित्यवैष्णवव्रतत्वादिकं चैकादश्यादेरर्चनप्रसङ्गे किञ्चिद्दर्शयिष्यामः।
Verses like this do not negate the necessity of regular vows, such as observing the Ekādaśī fast. Although fasts such as Ekādaśī are regular duties, it is understood that they bestow tremendous results that are concomitant in nature. Consequently, it is concluded that such Vaiṣṇava fasts must be observed even to preserve the constancy of such duties. In the upcoming section on deity worship, we will demonstrate that Ekādaśī is a regular fast for Vaiṣṇavas.
अत एव पूर्वाध्याये टीकाकारैरपि "आज्ञायैव गुणान् दोषान्" (भा. ११.११.३२) इत्यत्र, "विद्धैकादशीकृष्णैकादश्युपवासानुपवासानिवेद्यश्राद्धादयो ये भक्तिविरुद्धा धर्मास्तान् सन्त्यज्य इत्यर्थः" इत्युक्तम्।
Thus Śrīdhara Svāmī, while commenting on verse 11.11.32 from the previous chapter of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, said: "When it is said that one should give up all prescribed duties, it means that one should give up duties that are opposed to devotion, such as fasting on mixed Ekādaśī, not fasting on the Ekādaśī that appears in the dark half of the lunar month, and performing the śrāddha offering to one’s ancestors with articles that have not first been offered to Bhagavān."
प्रथमे च श्रीभीष्मयुधिष्ठिरसंवादे "भगवद्धर्मान्" (भा. १.९.२४) इत्यत्र "हरितोषणाद्द्वादश्यादिनियमरूपान्" इति, "व्रतानि चेरे हरितोषणानि" (भा. ३.१.१९) इत्यत्र तृतीय च एकादश्यादीनि इति व्याख्यातम्। अत एव भगवन्महाप्रसादैकव्रतस्य श्रीमदम्बरीषस्य सच्छिरोमणेराचारदर्शनात् तदेव निश्चीयत इति॥
In a dialogue between Bhīṣma and Yudhiṣṭhira from the first canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as well, it is said: “Bhīṣma enunciated the principles of dharma related to Bhagavān.” (SB 1.9.27) In commenting on this verse, Śrīdhara Svāmī states: “The words bhagavad-dharmān refer to those duties that are pleasing to Bhagavān Hari, such as observing the dvādaśī fast.” And in the Third Canto, it is said: “He [Vidura] observed vows pleasing to Bhagavān Hari.” (SB 3.1.19) Here also Śrīdhara Svāmī comments: “The word vratāni here refers to vows, such as fasting on Ekādaśī.”
From the conduct of Ambarīṣa Mahārāja, the crest jewel of devotees, who took a vow of accepting only the remnants of food offered to Bhagavān, it is self-evident that Ekādaśī is a regular vow to be observed by all Vaiṣṇavas.
Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī says that although service to one’s guru and the Vaiṣṇavas is efficacious in bringing perfection, this does not mean that other Vaiṣṇava activities such as fasting on Ekādaśī should be neglected. One must execute the bhāgavata dharma along with such service .
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Bhakti Sandarbha 237: Guru-sevā is the Key to Success
Bhakti Sandarbha 236 : Sharanagati or Surrender
Bhakti Sandarbha 235 : Vaidhī Nirguṇā Bhakti
Bhakti Sandarbha 234 : Svarūpa-siddhā Niṣkāmā Bhakti
Bhakti Sandarbha 231-233 : Svarūpa-siddhā Bhakti and the Three Gunas
Bhakti Sandarbha 228-230: Mixed Bhakti desiring only pure bhakti
Bhakti Sandarbha 226-227 : Kaivalya-kāmā Bhakti mixed with karma and jnana
Bhakti Sandarbha 225 : Three Divisions of Saṅga-siddhā Bhakti
Bhakti Sandarbha 224 : Three Motives Behind the Offering of Karma
Bhakti Sandarbha 222-223: The Result Of Karma is Under the Control of Bhagavān