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The cause of devotion in Gaudiya Vaisnava theology: devotion (bhakti) as the result of spontaneously (yadrcchaya) meeting a devotee (sadhu-sanga).

Within the Vaisnava traditions, two central theological issues are the root cause of bhakti (devotion) and an individual's eligibility for it (adhikara). (1) Prior to the Gaudiya Vaisnavas, there was extensive investigation of questions such as: Why does one person feel bhakti for God and another not? and Are bhakti or liberation (moksa) accessible to people of any status, or are special qualifications needed? (2) Gaudiya Vaisnavas gave increasingly greater attention to these questions as the tradition spread throughout North India, and here I shall address them from the perspectives of Jiva Gosvamin (c. 1517-1608) and Visvanatha Cakravartin (fl. 1679- 1709), two prolific Sanskrit authors of the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition. In this context, theology and philosophy represent efforts to demonstrate that particular doctrines, the centerpiece of which is their theology of bhakti, are expressed in the Bhagavata Purana (BhP), even when the text seems to support opposing doctrines. In some cases the opponent is Sridhara Svamin (c. 1300), author of an authoritative commentary on the BhP called the Bhavarthadipika (BD), (3) while in others it is an unspecified objector, or one who is yet to be identified. The purpose of this article is to reconstruct the historical development of their doctrine on the cause of bhakti, by which I mean their characterization of a catalytic event out of which feelings, emotions, ambitions, aims, and conceptions about devotion for the Lord emerge in an individual.

Gaudlya Vaisnava doctrine on the cause of bhakti revolves around an interpretation of the words yadrccha ("spontaneity") and sadhu-sanga ("interpersonal connection," "fellowship," "association," "meeting," with saints, devotees, etc.), both of which appear in BhP verses. (4) Basing his view on the work of Rupa Gosvamin, Jiva Gosvamin argued that the emergence of an unadulterated form of bhakti (or suddha-bhakti) necessarily requires meeting a devotee who already has bhakti and who creates in the non-devotee the conviction (sraddha) to begin the practice of bhakti. Visvanatha amplifies and adds nuance to Jiva's argument, highlighting the role played in the process by compassion and free will.

As argued below, their concept of the root cause of pure bhakti is twofold. The first element relates to an energetic necessity whereby the cause of bhakti is necessarily concomitant with the influence of the svarupa-sakti (the Lord's most intimate power) on a particular individual. This refers to the moment when the svarupa-sakti is activated for a particular soul, bringing with it specific psychological and cognitive results. The second element relates to a practical necessity, the moment when an individual spontaneously (yadrcchaya) encounters a devotee of Krsna (sadhu-sanga). This meeting does not require any prior qualifications, and neither is it predestined or pre-ordained by the Lord, the devotee, or the inherent nature of the soul. Although the two events--the activation of the Lord's intimate power and the meeting of a devotee--are coterminous, I shall examine them separately for the sake of a clearer interpretation of the theologies of Jiva and Visvanatha.


Jiva Gosvamin (c. 1517-1608) (5) was the youngest and hence the last of the early Gaudiya Vaisnava theologians who lived in Vrndavana, India. Among the other key early thinkers in the region were Sanatana Gosvamin (c. 1465-1554), Rupa Gosvamin (c. 1470-1555), Gopalabhatta Gosvamin (c. 1500-1587), and Krsnadasa Kaviraja (sixteenth century). All of these were united in their devotion to Caitanya (1486-1533), the ecstatic saint who, as was argued by Krsnadasa Kaviraja in his Caitanyacaritamrta (CC), was an avatara (6) of Radha and Krsna descended to earth in a single, golden form. It seems likely that Jiva Gosvamin grew up in Kumarahatta (Bengal) and after marriage moved to Benares to study Nyaya and Vedanta. He later moved again, to Vrndavana, where he helped Rupa edit the Bhaktirasamrtasindhu (BhRAS), before writing many of his own learned works on the BhP and related theological topics.

By the time Visvanatha Cakravartin (fl. 1679-1709) entered the discussion, approximately seventy years after the death of Jiva, the early Gaudiya theologians were well known in Bengal, Jaipur, and Mathura. (7) As is noted by Adrian Burton (2000: 44), when the King of Jaipur, Sawai Jai Singh II (1688-1743), sought opinions on the tradition, the panditas quoted Rupa, Sanatana, and Jiva Gosvamins. Born in Devagrama (Bengal), it is probable that Visvanatha studied at a nearby school (tol) devoted to teaching the early Gaudiya theologians, showing the extent of the influence of the Gosvamins in the region. (8) As the first Gaudiya theologian to grow up within the tradition, Visvanatha went on to write books and commentaries on early Gaudiya texts, quickly becoming a central authority on the work of the Vrndavana Gosvamins (Haberman 1988: 104). (9) After his studies in Bengal, Visvanatha moved to Vrndavana, and wrote extensively while remaining in the surrounding area until his death sometime after 1709.


Gaudiya Vaisnavas invariably state that conviction (sraddha), which is often glossed as trust (visvasa), is a necessary step to begin ascending the ladder of divine love (bhakti-krama). (10) I think that they mean that sraddha is a belief that x path is worth pursuing and that sraddha provides the determination to persist on that x path, even when difficulties might arise. (11) For Jiva and Visvanatha, then, a key question centers on the cause of that sraddha.

The frame-setting passage from Rupa Gosvamin's BhRAS 1.4.15-16, which presents the steps leading to the highest forms of love espoused in the Gaudiya tradition, is a good place to start in terms of answering this question. I have inserted numbers to demarcate the steps of the ladder (12) in Rupa's verses as interpreted by Jiva and Visvanatha:

adau sraddha tatah sadhu-sango 'tha bhajana-kriya I tato 'nartha-nivrttih syat tato nistha rucis tatah II BhRAS 1.4.15 athasaktis tato bhavas tatah premabhyudancati I sadhakanam ayam premnah pradurbhave bhavet kramah II BhRAS 1.4.16 (13)

This is the ladder through which prema (divine love) arises for practitioners: [1] at the beginning [of the practitioner's progress] (adau), there is [2] conviction (sraddha), and then [3] the meeting with saintly people (sadhu-sanga), which is followed by [4] the practice of worship (bhajanakriya), and then successively [5] the cessation of useless habits (anartha-nivrtti), [6] loyalty (nistha), [7] a taste (ruci), [8] genuine attachment (asakti), [9] emotion [for the Lord] (bhava), and finally the manifestation of [10] divine love (prema). (14)

David Haberman (2003: 119) translates BhRAS 1.4.15ab literally: "The first [adau] stage of love for practitioners is faith (sraddha)." While he takes sraddha as the first stage, I have translated it as the second, thus establishing a distinction between adau and sraddha. This is because Jiva Gosvamin and Visvanatha, the foci of this article, interpret RQpa as saying that adau, or "at the beginning," is itself a meeting with saintly people, one which occurs before the "meeting with saintly people" of step [3], and one which creates the "conviction" (sraddha) of step [2]. Meeting a saint "at the beginning," or what I have numbered as step [1], is therefore a crucial and necessary meeting which creates the conviction (sraddha) of step [2]. This conviction, in turn, leads the practitioner to seek further meetings with saintly people, or step [3]. In other words, in step [1] you meet a devotee, in step [2] you develop the conviction that the path is valuable, and in step [3] you go to meet a devotee again. In fact steps [1] and [2] occur very near to each other in time, but for the purpose of this study it makes sense to distinguish them.

The interpretation of Rupa sketched above is suggested by Jiva Gosvamin in his Durgamasangamani (DS) commentary on BhRAS 1.4.15-16, and Visvanatha follows him verbatim in his Bhaktisarapradarsini (BSP), a commentary on the BhRAS and the DS:

tatra bahusv api kramesu satsu prayikam ekam kramam aha adav iti dvayena adau prathame sadhu-sanga-sastra-sravana-dvara sraddha tad-artham visvasah tatah prathamanantaram dvitiyah sadhu-sango bhajana-riti-siksa-nibandhanah ... (Damodara 1931: 117; Haridasa Dasa 1945: 160)

Although there are many ladders, one general ladder is referred to here in two verses starting with adau. "At the beginning," adau, means that in the first instance there is conviction (sraddha), which is instigated by hearing scripture in the sanga of saintly people, and that is the meaning of trust. Then there is a second meeting with saintly people (sadhu-sango), which immediately follows the first and in which one is provided with instructions on methods of worship.

In their interpretation of Rupa, conviction (sraddha) is only developed in and through a meeting with saintly people (sadhu-sanga) and in particular by hearing scripture from them. They take great exegetical license in their interpretation of the word adau, which simply means "at the beginning" or "at first," reading in it an interpersonal exchange, something not mentioned in the BhRAS itself, but this is something they must do because, as I show, their theology is that sraddha for bhakti can only come from outside the self, from sanga. (15)

This enriched interpretation is further expanded by Visvanatha as fourteen steps. On BhP 1.2.21, a verse that states that upon seeing the Lord all doubts are removed, Visvanatha writes:

satam krpa mahat-seva sraddha guru-padasrayah I bhajanesu sprha bhaktir anarthapagamas tatah II nistha rucir athasakti ratih prematha darsanam I harer madhuryanubhava ity arthah syus caturdasa II (KS 1965: 156)

The aims of the fourteen-fold path are [1] compassion of the saints; [2] service to the great [devotees]; [3] conviction; [4] refuge at the feet of a teacher; [5] desire to perform worship; [6] bhakti; [7] cessation of useless habits; [8] loyalty; [9] taste; [10] genuine attachment; [11] love; [12] prema; [13] a vision [of the Lord]; and [14] an experience of the sweetness of Hari.

In these verses, which appear to be of his own making, Visvanatha has, while keeping to the general order of Rupa's ladder, added four steps and reworked some of his terminology. The important point for our purposes, though, is that the first two steps, "the compassion of the saints" (satam krpa) and "service to the great [devotees]" (mahat-seva), both of which can be considered as subsumed under Rupa's "at the beginning" (adau), are prior to "conviction," or sraddha. This reinforces Visvanatha's expatiated interpretation of BhRAS 1.4.15-16 and indeed makes for an interesting gloss on the term sadhu-sahga.

What, however, causes that very first meeting, the one upon which conviction and all of the other steps depend? Many of the usual suspects (e.g., divine compassion, divine providence, and predestination of the soul) are rejected, and so are qualifications such as piety, high birth, merit, etc. In contradistinction to these explanations, the term yadrcchaya ("randomly" or "spontaneously") is used to capture how this phenomenon arises, and the word comes from the BhP:

yadrcchaya mat-kathadau jata-sraddhas tu yah. puman I na nirvinno natisakto bhakti-yogo 'sya siddhidah II BhP 11.20.8 II

But one who has awakened conviction spontaneously (yadrcchaya) in the stories, etc., about me, who is not overly detached and not excessively attached, receives perfection in bhakti-yoga.


asmiml loke vartamanah svadharmastho 'naghah sucih I jnanam visuddham apnoti mad-bhaktim va yadrcchaya II BhP 11.20.11 II

He attains pure jnana while living in this world established in his dharma, pure [and] without defilement. Or, he attains devotion for me spontaneously (yadrcchaya).

These seem to be the seed verses from which the doctrine is then developed. Before showing how these verses are interpreted, it might be helpful to analyze the term yadrccha, the feminine noun to which the adverbial instrumental yadrcchaya belongs.

The underlying feminine noun yadrccha- "spontaneity" is most likely based on a univerbation of the phrase yad rcchati "what(ever) happens ...," containing the present stem to the root [square root of r] "occur, befall, etc." (see Wackemagel 1905: 324). (16) Although the term yadrccha is used in Upanisadic, epic, and poetic literature, (17) the usages most relevant for the Gaudiyas are to be found in the BhG, the BhP, and traditional Sanskrit dictionaries. Regarding the latter, Visvanatha quotes a definition of yadrccha from an unspecified dictionary, most likely the Amarakosa (3.2.232), ns yadrccha svairita "spontaneity, independence of will" (SD 1977: 14); he does not, however, quote the rest of the definition in the Amarakosa, which includes hetusunya "devoid of a cause." I shall explore the reasons for this below. In BhG 2.32, when exhorting Arjuna to fight, Krsna says that a dharmic battle "happened upon spontaneously opens the doorway to heaven" (yadrcchaya copapannam svarga-dvaram apavrtam). The implication seems to be that because the battle was unsought, (18) unplanned, and accidental, it may be considered dharmic in character. The instrumental form of yadrccha is used forty-eight times in the BhP, while the stem form is compounded on another two occasions, and an adjectival form, yadrcchika ("spontaneous," "accidental"), is used once. It is beyond the scope of this article to look at all uses, but we might take as an illustrative example BhP 11.18.35, which acts as a complement to the BhG: it is said that a sage should "eat food happened upon spontaneously" (yadrcchayopapannannam adyat). Both directives, one for a warrior and one for a renunciant, describe an event as random or unplanned on account of which those involved could follow dharma. Issues of divine providence, divine grace, predestination, and karmic desserts are passed over.

With this analysis in mind, I hope to show below that Jiva Gosvamin and Visvanatha use the word yadrcchaya or its derivative forms in similar ways, and this tells us about how and why they think sanga occurs. In BhS ([section] 11), Jiva Gosvamin writes:

"bhuvi puru-punya-tirtha-sadanany rsayo vimadah" [BhP 10.87.35] ity-ady-anusarena prayas tatraiva sango bhavatiti tadiya-tikanumatya ca punya-tirtha-nisevanat hetor labdha yadrcchaya ya mahat-seva taya vasudeva-katha-rucih syat I (HS 1985: 26-27)

"When on this earth, the humble sages live in very pure holy sites" [10.87.35]. Accordingly, [Sridhara Svamin] comments that "generally there is only the company [of humble sages] there." In agreement with these comments, visiting holy sites is the method through which one may spontaneously (yadrcchaya) attain the service of a great [devotee], and through that there will develop a taste for hearing stories about Vasudeva [Krsna]. (19)

Sridhara states that holy sites are places where you can achieve sanga (cf. BhP 5.18.11), and Jiva notes that service (seva) to devotees may be spontaneously attained there too, and this in turn creates a taste for hearing about the Lord, a fundamental practice in the Gaudiya conception of bhakti. In general, sanga means the opportunity for seva and sravana, that is, service and hearing the scriptures.

Visvanatha uses the word yadrcchaya to characterize an event that is prompted by desire in SV 6.20-25, when telling a story explaining a verse from Gaudapada (c. 500 AD). The story is likely received from Madhusudhana Sarasvatl's BhG commentary called the Gudharthadipika, and it is meant to demonstrate the mental fortitude required for yoga practice, as well as to show the Lord's compassion. The ocean waves had removed a bird's eggs from the shore, and the determined bird vowed to drain the ocean to retrieve the eggs, one beakful of water at a time. As the bird was declaring his intention to drain the ocean, "Narada arrived there spontaneously to prevent [the bird]" (yadrcchaya ca tatragatena naradena nivaritah [KD 1966: 175-76]). The bird is eventually rewarded by the Lord and given the help of Garuda, Visnu's carrier. We again see the fortuitous sense of yadrcchaya, for in the Puranic narratives Narada is often characterized as making random and unpredictable appearances that push a narrative forward. There is no discussion here of qualification, divine plan, or karmic results: Narada appears simply because he wants to help.

Another use of yadrcchika, a vrddhi derivative of yadrccha, in the BhS suggests an action that is auxiliary or ornamental to a more important event. In BhS ([section] 1) Jiva comments on BhP 11.22.33, a verse that states that the self is composed of pure awareness, yet there is controversy as to the exact nature of this. Such controversies are pointless (vyartha), yet for people whose intellects are turned from God (mattah paravrtta-dhiyam) they do not end (naivoparameta). How are such controversies to be resolved? In Jiva Gosvamin's view, it is "for this reason, then, that he teaches the sastra, which is supremely compassionate" (tatas tad-artham parama-karunikam sastram upadisati [HS 1985: 5]). (20) The question he wants to deal with is why hearing sastra facilitates an experience of the Lord for one person but not for another, and he argues that there are two types of people who experience the Lord upon hearing sastra. The first have latent in their mind an impression of an experience of the Lord obtained in a previous lifetime, and the second are "introduced to a vision of [the Lord] that is obtained by the exceedingly great compassion of a devotee" (labdha-mahat-krpatisaya-drsti-prabhrtayah). Jiva argues, though, that even the first type obtained their initial vision of the Lord through the compassion of a devotee. Both types, however, become devoted to the Lord and experience him when they hear the sastra. Such people do not require further instruction (tesam nopadesantarapeksa [ibid.]). He mentions this after quoting BhP 1.1.2, which states that no scripture other than the BhP is needed, and so we may conjecture that he might mean that they do not require further instruction aside from the BhP. He does then write:

yadrcchikam upadesantara-sravanam tu tal-lila-sravanavat tadiya-rasasyaivoddipakam ... I (ibid.)

Hearing alternative instruction spontaneously, such as hearing about the activities of the Lord, excites a particular rasa.

It seems that Jiva is saying here that hearing scriptures other than the BhP is not essential to the practice of bhakti for one who has already experienced the Lord and for one who is already studying the BhP, although it can inspire the particular type of rasa he or she wishes to cultivate (this appears to be the force of tadiya). The suggestion is that one hears or studies other instructions spontaneously (yadrcchika), meaning that it is not essential, dependent only on a particular individual's inclinations; it is a supplementary requirement, rather than a necessity. The nature of those instructions (upadesa) is not specified, but in my view they refer to books like Jiva's own Gopalacampu, a highly poeticized rendition of Krsna's activities (lila).

BhS ([section] 171) is the first place where we see yadrcchaya describing an event prompted by the compassion (krpa) of a devotee, who nevertheless acts with complete freedom. Commenting on BhP 11.20.8 (quoted above), Jiva Gosvamin writes:

atha "te vai vidanty atitaranti ca deva-mayam" ity adau "tiryag-jana api" [BhP 2.7.46] ity anena bhakty-adhikare karmadivaj-jatyadi-krta-niyamatikramat sraddha-matram hetur ity aha yadrcchayeti [BhP 11.20.81, yadrcchaya kenapi parama-svatantra-bhagavad-bhakta-sanga-tat-krpa-jata-mangalodayena I (HS 1985: 333)

"They indeed know and cross over the maya of the Lord" and "even non-humans" [BhP 2.7.46], This discusses the qualification for bhakti. Since it overshadows the mies created by caste, etc. (as in karma, etc.), the cause [of bhakti] is conviction (sraddha) alone, as expressed by the word "spontaneously" (yadrcchaya) [BhP 11.20.8]. Yadrcchaya means that by some sort of arising, the auspicious appearance [of sraddha] is born out of the compassion of a meeting with a devotee of the Lord who is entirely free.

Unlike karma (and jnana), the qualification for bhakti does not include any restrictions related to birth, which is why even animals can cross over maya through bhakti, although it is nearly impossible to imagine what that means. Women, sudras, and forest dwellers are also included in the list in the unquoted portion of BhP 2.7.46, a testament to the text's progressiveness for its time. Jiva's point is that, unlike karma, the only requirement for bhakti is conviction, or the intention to perform the act because you trust that it is important and valuable. The force of kenapi ("by some sort") seems to be that the spontaneous appearance of conviction cannot be reduced to a rule or pattern, for even the giver of it, the devotee, is free or unbounded (Vis'vanatha seems unsatisfied with that, and will attempt to tell us precisely how it happens). Most importantly, however, yadrcchaya is connected to the compassion of a devotee, a connection that Vis'vanatha further clarifies.

Jiva Gosvamin considers bhagavata-, bhakta-, sadhu-, or sat-sanga, the fellowship of saints or devotees, to be the most important initiatory event on the spiritual path. In BhS ([section]179-80) he comments on BhP 10.51.54ab, showing us one of his bolder exegetical maneuvers:

bhavapavargo bhramato yada bhavej janasya tarhy acyuta sat-samagamah I

Where there is the cessation of worldly life for a soul undergoing transmigration, then there is sat-sanga, O Lord.

This verse states the opposite of what the Gaudlyas desire, stating as it does that first there is the cessation of worldly life, and only then does one meet a devotee. Realizing this difficulty, Jiva comments:

atra ca yada sat-sangamo bhavet tada bhavapavargo bhaved iti vaktavye vaiparityena nirdesas tatra sat-sangamasya srighratayavasyakataya ca hetutva-vivaksaya I (HS 1985: 370)

"When there is sat-sanga," then there is the "cessation of worldly life": this is what should have been stated. By teaching in a contradictory manner, the intention [of the verse] is to establish the causality of sat-sanga as quick and as necessary.

Jiva Gosvamin's argument is that, although BhP 10.51.54ab states "if there is cessation of worldly life, then there is sat-sanga," this is only to show that sanga acts very quickly and that it is necessary for the cessation of worldly life: it is really saying, therefore, that "if there is sat-sanga, then there is quickly and necessarily the cessation of worldly life." To justify this interpretation, he invokes the figure of speech known as atisayokti, or hyperbole. There are many places (21) where one could look for a characterization of atisayokti, but the most immediate influences on Jiva Gosvamin and the later Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition are Mammata Bhatta's Kavyaprakasa and Visvanatha Kaviraja's Sahityadarpana. There are many forms of hyperbole, but the one used here is karya-karana-paurvaparya-viparyayah, "inversion of the sequential relationship of cause and effect" (Gerow 1971: 100), discussed in Kavyaprakasa (10.100; Jha 1967: 390). This figure of speech is meant to show that in bringing about an effect, a cause is both swift and essential. Jiva Gosvamin even argues that if it appears that someone has become a devotee without sadhu-sanga, one should infer its existence in a previous life lest a principle be violated. This demonstrates the extent to which sanga plays a central role in his theology.

Having established that sadhu-sahga occurs spontaneously (yadrcchaya) and that this sadhu-sanga is the cause of the conviction (sraddha) to engage in bhakti practices, one might ask why the Lord himself might not bring about conviction himself. Why is there a need for mediators, the sadhus? As we see, the notions of a devotee's compassion (bhakta-krpa), his or her self-determination (sveccha, svatantra, etc.), the independence of bhakti from any external causation (hetutvanapeksata), and its self-manifesting nature (svaprakasa) are contained within the concept of yadrcchaya, but to make that case Jiva begins by denying certain explanations.

Jiva's argument in BhS [section]180 is that the cause of bhakti, or "turning to the Lord," is not the compassion (krpa) of the Lord--Visvanatha will agree but for other reasons--because God is unable to feel compassion:

krpa-rupas ceto-vikaro hi para-duhkhasya svacetasi sparse saty eva jayate I tasya tu sada paramanandaika-rasatvenapahata-kalmasatvena ca srutau jiva-vilaksanatva-sadhanat tejomalinas timirayogavat tac-cetasyapi tamo-maya-duhkha-sparsanasambhavena tatra tasya janmasambhavah I ata eva sarvada virajamane 'pi kartum akartum anyatha kartum samarthe tasmims tad-vimukhanam na samsara-santapa-santih I atah sat-krpaivavasisyate I (HS 1985: 379-80)

The nature of compassion (krpa) is a thought produced when there is contact between one's own mind and the suffering of another person. At all times, though, the Lord tastes only supreme bliss and he destroys impurities, and furthermore the sruti shows his difference from the jiva, the embodied soul. Just like the impossibility of darkness near the sun, there can be no cause for [compassion] in his mind, because it is impossible for him to touch the suffering that is born of ignorance. Therefore, although the Lord is always in control and is able to act, not act, or act contradictorily, in this regard there would be no peace from the affliction of birth and rebirth for those who have turned away from God, thus only the compassion of the saints remains. (22)

The question addressed here is how souls might "turn to God," an effort that is called the abhidheya, the means of attaining the Lord and liberation. Jiva Gosvamin's argument is that since the Lord has never suffered and is different from the jiva, he cannot feel compassion for those who do suffer: he lacks empathy and cannot feel pain because his very being dispels the conditions by which it arises, as light dispels darkness. Since God lacks empathy, he cannot act to liberate the jivas from samsara, a source of pain. Jivas do become liberated, however, and thus the agents must be the empathetic saints, though clearly there could be other options, ones that are explored by Visvanatha. This basic eliminative argument, namely that certain causes for conviction and bhakti are disposed of, leaving only one viable explanation, is developed by Visvanatha.


In the section above I demonstrated that Jiva Gosvamin argued that conviction (sraddha), the second step on the path of bhakti, is developed by contact with a devotee (sadhu-sanga), an event that occurs spontaneously (yadrcchaya) and is motivated by the devotee's compassion or empathy (krpa).

Visvanatha develops Jiva Gosvamin's argument by applying the early Gaudiya's sakti theology, arguing that certain energies (saktis) must be activated for one to attain pure bhakti, energies that can only be activated during sanga with devotees. The initial step in this argument is that the attainment of bhakti is beyond personal effort; thus one needs something outside the energies that typically govern the embodied self. Those energies are the three qualities of nature (gunas), which are within the maya-sakti (discussed below). Paraphrasing and elaborating on Krsna's words to Arjuna in BhG 3.2, Vis'vanhtha writes:

bho vayasya arjuna I satyam gunatita bhaktih sarvotkrstaiva kintu sa yadrcchika-madaikantaika-maha-bhakta-krpaika- labhyatvat purusodyama-sadhya na bhavati I (SV 3.2; KD 1966: 85-86; Burton 2000: 320)

Oh my friend Arjuna, bhakti in fact transcends the qualities of material nature. Indeed, it surpasses everything, but that [bhakti] is not achievable by a person's effort, for it is to be obtained with spontaneity only through the compassion of a great devotee, one who is singularly focused on me.

I have translated yadrcchika, "with spontaneity," as qualifying labhya(tva), "to be obtained"; it tells us the manner in which bhakti is received. Adrian Burton, however, translates yadrcchika, as "causeless" qualifying krpa "mercy": "That bhakti, however, can only be obtained through the causeless [yadrcchika] mercy [krpa] of my exalted pure devotees; it cannot be obtained through human efforts" (Burton 2000: 321, brackets added by me). Both seem possible readings, and both support the arguments I am making here. Bhaktivedanta Swami (1896-1977) also used "causeless mercy" for the terms yadrcchika or yadrccha in his BhP, CC, and BhG translations, but I shall discuss why "causeless" is not a good translation; in fact, it is the opposite of what Jiva and Visvanatha wish to convey by the terms.

The quote from SV 3.2 succinctly expresses the Gaudlya's theology that bhakti is beyond the qualities of material nature (sattva, rajas, and tamas), unlike the other forms of yoga such as karma and jhana, which are constrained respectively by and under the influence of rajas and sattva (see BhP 11.25.23-24, BhS [section]133-34, SV 2.40). The presupposition is that the devotee and the devotee alone is outside the qualities of material nature, that there is no way out of them without the help of someone who is already out of them, and thus the devotee alone can help since the Lord lacks empathy. What precisely this transcendence means is not spelled out here, but I understand it as the author saying that bhakti is a practice, an idea, and a form of motivation untouched by the three gunas. To understand what the Gaudiyas mean by pure bhakti, again a locus classicus is Rupa's BhRAS (1.1.11):

anyabhilasita-sunyam jnana-karmady-anavrtam I anukulyena krsnanusilanam bhaktir uttama II (Haberman 2003: 5)

Pure (or the highest) bhakti is devotional emotion and action (23) toward Krsna that is undertaken pleasingly, uncovered by jnana, karma, etc., and devoid of any other desire.

The theologically idiosyncratic manner in which the Gaudiya use the terms jnana and karma, both of which cover bhakti, goes beyond the scope of this article, but in short jnana refers to the desire for a non-dual state (nirbheda) and is influenced by sattva, while karma refers to a dependence on ritual action enjoined in scripture and is covered by rajas (De 1961: 171). Pure bhakti is free from these material practices, ideas, and motivations.

To further understand how bhakti is beyond personal effort, it is helpful to briefly discuss the saktis. They are considered to be powers of the Lord, real and eternal, the same as and different from the Lord at the same time, and knowable only through sastra, a doctrine called acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva. These powers are also necessary for the self to apprehend the ultimate reality. They are threefold:

(1) the Lord's most internal, intimate, and essential nature (svarupa-sakti, also called citsakti, antaranga-sakti, suddha-sattva, hladini-sakti, and yoga-maya),

(2) the creative power of becoming (maya-sakti, also called bahiranga-sakti),

(3) the individuated beings (jiva-sakti, also called tatastha-sakti). (24)

God's nature is also threefold. Jiva Gosvamin argued in his Bhagavatsandarbha, based on BhP 1.2.11, that the Lord is a triune conscious reality, yet is at the same time non-dual consciousness (advaya-jnana), consisting of

(A) a transpersonal consciousness or undifferentiated reality (brahman),

(B) an indwelling Lord (paramatman),

(C) the personal divinity of Krsna (bhagavat). (25)

As shown below, Visvanatha argues that pure bhakti is under the influence of (1), that (C) is only known through (1), and that (1) is only activated by spontaneously meeting a devotee. I use the term "energetic necessity" because (1) is a necessary catalyst for pure bhakti, as well as the conviction that establishes one on the path to knowing (C). (26)

The need for sakti to transform a soul's cognition and psychology is best illustrated in SV 2.9.33, where Visvanatha comments on a verse wherein the personal Lord, bhagavat, speaks directly to the creator god, Brahma, about the nature of maya. (27) Visvanatha interprets the verse as discussing, among other topics, the maya-sakti, which he says is composed of the power of illumination (vidya) and the power of obscuration (avidya): "one should know or understand that the sakti called maya has two functions, vidya and avidya." (28) Vidya is partially helpful, whereas avidya is partially detrimental. Elaborating on BhP 2.9.33, Visvanatha writes in Sararthadarsini (SD (29)) 2.9.33:

kinca jivasya paramatma-jnana-vijnane prati maya khalv amsenanukula pratikula (30) ca bhavati I vijnate caparamatmani mayi yoga-mayaivadhikaroti sa khalv anukulaiveti ... (KS 1965: 422; BT 1995: 244)

Maya is indeed partly detrimental and partly helpful with regard to the embodied self's scriptural understanding and direct experience (31) of the indwelling Lord. Moreover, the power of divine illusion (yoga-maya) (32) only operates when one directly experiences me [bhagavat] as the indwelling Lord, at which time [yoga-maya] alone is helpful [without any detriment].

Whereas maya can help or hinder a soul's understanding of scripture and facilitate its experience of the indwelling Lord (paramatman), only yoga-maya or svarupa-sakti can reveal the indwelling Lord (paramatman) as the personal divinity of Krsna (bhagavat). This passage establishes that (1) is necessary to know that (B) is the same as (C). Visvanatha uses the word adhikaroti, translated by Jan Gonda as "to put over something" (1966: [section]107), to describe the influence of the svarupa-sakti on the soul, thus indicating that this power is an agent in revealing truth as an energetic force.

Not only is the svarupa-sakti necessary for knowing the personal divinity of Krsna (C), but pure bhakti too is under its jurisdiction. The question on the cause of bhakti might, therefore, be reframed as: how is svarupa-sakti brought into operation on a particular soul? On this, Visvanatha writes in SV 2.9.33:

ya tu cic-chakti-vrttinam sara-bhuta krpa-vilasa-rupa paramottama suddha-bhaktir jati-pramanabhyam atyadhika sa prabala parama-svatantra guna-dosadikam apy aganayanti baddhe 'pi jive raksasa-pulinda-pulkasadau duracare 'pi yadrcchayaivodayate viper sannyasini mukte 'pi nodayate I tayaivavidya-paryanta-samasta-klesa-dhvamsah yad uktam "jarayaty asu ya kosam nigirnam analo yatha" [BhP 3.25.33] iti I tayaivananta-cid-visesasya bhagavato 'py aparoksanubhavo bhavet I (KS 1965: 423; BT 1995: 245)

Pure bhakti, which is the essence of the functions of the cit-sakti, (33) which is the full blossoming of the Lord's compassion, (34) is superior (35) in terms of both character and intensity. That powerful [pure bhakti], completely independent, takes no account of virtue, vice, etc., even as regards a soul bound [in the cycle of birth and death] like a Raksasa, Pulinda, Pulkasa, etc., [and] even for a person of wicked behavior. (36) It arises spontaneously (yadrcchaya), and may not arise even in a Brahmin, a renouncer, or a liberated soul. It alone destroys the entire set of afflictions (37) all the way up to avidya, as it said that "It [pure bhakti] quickly consumes the covering [around the self], as the digestive fire consumes food" [BhP 3.25.33]. It is only through [pure bhakti] that there is an immediate experience of the personal Lord, bhagavat, who is qualified by unlimited consciousness.

In this passage, Visvanatha states that pure bhakti arises spontaneously (yadrcchaya). He does not say that it happens by spontaneously meeting a devotee, nor does he discuss the relationship between conviction and pure bhakti. Nevertheless, given the theologically laden nature of the word yadrcchaya, we may assume that he refers to the full doctrine discussed in this article, though he does point out the freedom and indifference of bhakti to material qualifications, something I discuss more below.

Although cit-sakti, which manifests pure bhakti, is not activated because of any qualification, Visvanatha nevertheless indicates that some qualities are required in order to accept it. In SV 7.28, a BhG verse that according to Visvanatha describes the eligibility for bhakti (bhaktav adhikara), he writes:

yesam punya-karmanam papatn tv antam gatam anta-kalam prantam nasyad-avastham na tu samyak nastam ity arthah I tesam sattva-gunodreke sati tamo-guna-hrasah I tasmin sad tatkaryo moho 'pi hrasati I moha-hrase sati te khalv atyasakti-rahita yadrcchika-mad-bhakta-sangena bhajante matram I (KD 1966: 217-18)

The meaning of this verse is as follows: For those who perform pious acts but have reached the end of negativity, who are on the verge of death; i.e., they have achieved a state in which negativity is wasting away but is not completely destroyed, for them there is a predominance of sattva and a reduction in tamas, which is accompanied by a reduction in delusion, which is the effect of that [tamas]. When this occurs, those who are without excessive attachment only worship after spontaneously meeting my devotee.

Despite placing no conditions on the obtaining of bhakti in SD 2.9.33, here in SV 7.28 he suggests that there are attitudes that are needed to appreciate the fellowship through which bhakti will arise. This suggests there are some qualifications (adhikara) for bhakti, but under the general category of adhikara we might distinguish "genealogical-qualifications" for bhakti (e.g., varna, asrama, jati, jatirna, punya-karma, etc.), of which there are none, and "dispositional-qualifications" for bhakti (e.g., lack of excessive attachment, lack of excessive detachment), of which there are some. BhP 11.20.8c states that an individual who attains bhakti spontaneously (yadrcchaya) is "not despondent and not excessively attached." This is likewise interpreted by Jiva in DS and Visvanatha in BSP as saying very much the same thing (cf. BhRAS 1.2.14, and BhP 7.5.30 and 5.12.12).


In [section] 3 I showed how Visvanatha used the existing sakti theology of Jiva Gosvamin to argue that pure bhakti arises through the svarupa-sakti of the personal Lord, the bhagavat, and that it reveals his being to the soul regardless of vice or virtue--what I termed "energetic necessity." By "practical necessity" I mean that another way of examining the cause of pure bhakti (and by extension the cause of conviction by the activation of the svarupa-sakti) may only be found in a particular event in history, that is, sadhu-sanga. Here I shall show how Visvanatha further refined Jiva's views, eliminating other potential causes for bhakti and clarifying the nature of spontanous sadhu-sanga.

Visvanatha argues that bhakti shares a likeness with the Lord: it only appears in a soul through its own will and is not provoked by any external force whatsoever, just as the Lord appears freely to souls in this world as an avatara:

sri-vraja-raja-nandana eva suddha-sattva-maya-nija-nama-rupa-guna-liladhyo 'nadi-vapur eva kam api hetum anapeksamana eva svecchayaiva jana-sravana-nayana-mano-buddhyadindriya-vrttisv avatarate I yathaiva yadu-raghvadi-vamsesu svecchayaiva krsna-ramadi-rupena I (SD 1977: 9)

The dear [foster] son of the King of Vraja [or Krsna] alone is lavishly [and] inherently invested with [qualities such as] divine play, virtue, form, and name, which are composed of pure [nonmaterial] substance. His form is indeed without a beginning. He is not dependent upon any cause whatsoever. He descends into the sphere of human sense, intellect, mind, vision, hearing, and so forth only because of his own desire, just as he descends [to the earth] only because of his own desire in the forms of Krsna and Rama in the dynasties of Yadu and Raghu.

Having established the nature of Krsna, the bhagavat, as a person who acts with complete freedom, even when descending into this world, he concludes:

tasya bhagavata iva tad-rupaya bhakter api sva-prakasata-siddhy-artham eva hetutvanapeksata I (SD 1977: 13)

Like the Lord, even bhakti, which shares the same nature as the Lord, does not depend upon any causation, and this serves to define bhakti's self-manifesting nature.

Visvanatha's point is that just as the Lord appears through his own completely unconstrained free will, so too does bhakti appear. He does not state that bhakti has agency (kartrtva), but depending on how literally one takes the particle "like" (iva), we may to some degree posit agency in bhakti, given that the Gaudiyas believe agency to be an inherent feature of the Lord. This would be a literal reading of Visvanatha, and one that is tempting given that the Gaudiyas tend to reify bhakti, (38) but, given what is stated below, a more reasonable interpretation may be that the agency for deploying bhakti is located in the devotee, so there is a sense in which the bhakti of the devotee is free as (iva) the Lord is free.

To emphasize the freedom of Krsna (and by implication bhakti), Visvanatha says that those who believe Krsna descends for the purpose of establishing dharma and to destroy the wicked have a "vulgar understanding" (sthula-drsti) of him, just as it is vulgar to think that dispassionate action (niskama-karma) is the gateway to bhakti (SD 1977: 20). Krsna's actions, like the requirement to save the earth, are not dependent on causation, and neither is the action of bhakti. This does not mean that the appearance of bhakti is without a causal story or without a discernable reason for its appearance, but that this story is not governed by rules outside its own internal and unconstrained dynamic. We might, then, distinguish between "cause" as a reason why one performs an action freely, and "cause" as a reason one must perform an action; the Lord and the devotee are free from the latter but not the former.

The passage below eliminates further possible causes for bhakti, in addition to the one discussed by Jiva above, and the following passage explains how bhakti works within its own self-determined dynamic:

yadrcchaya kenapi bhagyeneti vyakhyane bhagyam nama kim subha-karma-janyam tad-ajanyam va adye bhakteh karma-janya-bhagya-janyatve karma-paratantrye svaprakasatapagamah I dvitiye bhagasyanirvacyatvenajheyatvad asiddheh katham hetutvam bhagavat-krpaiva hetur ity ukte tasya api hetav anvisyamane 'navastha I tat-krpaya nirupadhikaya hetutve tasya asarvatrikatvena tasmin bhagavati vaisamyam prasajjeta I (SD 1977: 15-16)

If one says that "[bhakti is obtained] spontaneously (yadrcchaya) by some type of good fortune," then how are we to understand that good fortune? Is it produced by pious action or not? If it were the first option, then bhakti would depend on action (karma) being produced by good fortune born of action, thus diminishing the self-manifesting nature [of bhakti]. If it were the second option, then good fortune would be unknown or indefinite because it is inexplicable: how can one discuss causality in regard to something unproven? If we accept that "the cause is nothing but the Lord's compassion," then even the cause of that would require investigation, [leading to] an infinite regress. If the cause is the unstipulated compassion of the Lord, this would lead to the unwanted conclusion that the Lord is partial, since that [compassion] is not present everywhere.

The opponent, purvapaksa, mentioned in the first sentence must be Sridhara Svamin, who glosses yadrcchaya in BD 11.20.8 as kenapi bhagyodayena "by the emergence of some type of good fortune" (KS 1965: 860). As I have discussed in [section]1, Visvanatha rejects this, or at the very least wants to refine what "good fortune" means, along with what he considers to be the other possible causes of bhakti: (39)

1. Bhakti is produced by pious action: This is rejected because it would contradict the Gaudiya Vaisnava axiom that bhakti is self-manifesting and uncontrolled by any power whatsoever other than its own internal dynamic. The verse frequently used to justify this is "bhakti arises from bhakti" (bhaktya sahjataya bhaktya, BhP 11.3.31c, quoted in the conclusion of MK, Ch 1).

2. Bhakti is not produced by pious action: This is rejected because it leaves the discussion open-ended and imprecise. It is a "catch-all" option, suggesting that almost anything might be the cause, thus contradicting an unstated axiom that we must be able to discuss the cause of bhakti in a theological manner, by providing justifications based on reasoned interpretations of scripture.

3. Bhakti is produced by the stipulated or impelled compassion of the Lord: This is rejected because it would force us to question the cause of the Lord's compassion and then the possible cause of that cause, etc., leading to an infinite regress of causes. "Infinite regress" (anavastha) is a well-known fallacy in Indian debate, one that the author recognizes as grounds for rejection of the proposition in question.

4. Bhakti is produced by the unstipulated compassion of the Lord: This is rejected because it would violate the axiom that the Lord is impartial (Jiva rejected it too, saying the Lord does not have compassion on souls in samsara). The reasoning is that if the Lord's unstipulated compassion were the cause of bhakti, then everyone would have bhakti, which is clearly not the case, and so either the Lord is partial or some other cause for bhakti must be found. (40)

Visvanatha does not limit himself to eliminating causes, and his investigation aims rather at establishing the true cause. Given the problems with options 1-4, he writes:

["isvare tad-adhinesu balisesu dvisatsu ca] prema-maitri-krpopeksa yah karoti sa madhyamah" [BhP 11.2.46] iti madhyama-bhakta-vaisamyasya vidyamanatvad bhagavatas ca svabhaktavasyatvena tat-krpanugami-krpatve na kincid asamanjasyam I yato bhakta-krpaya hetur bhaktasyaiva tasya hrdaya-vartini bhaktir eva tam vina krpodaya-sambhavabhavad iti bhakteh sva-prakasatvam eva siddham I (SD 1977: 17)

"He is a middling devotee who has divine love for the Lord, friendship for one who is dependent upon the Lord, compassion on the naive, and disregard for the hateful" [BhP 11.2.46]. Because of the presence of partiality in the middling devotee, and because the Lord, bhagavat, is controlled by his devotee in the matter of compassion (which follows the compassion of the middling devotee) there is nothing incoherent here whatsoever [i.e., this option is not to be rejected]. It follows that the cause of the middling devotee's compassion is the bhakti living in his heart, as without that there would be no appearance of compassion. The self-manifesting nature of bhakti is thus established.

In this dense passage Visvanatha summarizes his view, tying together a number of views expressed by Jiva Gosvamin. Jiva Gosvamin had already stated that only the devotee can remember what it is like to suffer (and God cannot), which is itself a precondition for compassion, and Visvanatha adds that bhakti causes compassion in the middling devotee toward the naive, and that the Lord, bhagavat, is himself controlled by the devotee. The problem of partiality is overcome, and not just by denying the quality of empathy in God as Jiva had done, as partiality is a legitimate way for the middling devotee to relate to other people, as described in the scriptures. It is my assumption that this is taken as both a prescription and a description, each of which is sanctified by the scriptures.

Visvanatha has, then, solved the problem of partiality in that bhakti causes compassion in the devotee, and the devotee is partial in the way he compassionately deploys bhakti to others, which explains why some have it and some do not. Bhakti is still self-manifesting because it has no cause other than its own internal and innate dynamic, a component of which is compassion, since it flows from the devotee's own will and way of being, a will that is itself transformed by bhakti for the Lord, thus in some sense returning empathy to the Lord.

To ward off any suggestion that the flow of compassion and the deployment of bhakti are under the control of the Lord, Visvanatha says:

na ca bhaktanam krpayah prathamyasambhavas tesam apisvara-preryatvad iti vacyam I isvarenaiva svabhakta-vasyatam svikurvata svakrpa-sakti-sampradanlkrta-svabhaktena tadrsasya bhaktotkarsasya danat I (SD 1977: 18)

One should not say, "the compassion of the [middling] devotees lacks primacy [in the generation of bhakti] because they are inspired by the Lord [to give it]," since the Lord indeed gives preeminence to the devotee by willfully accepting the state of being controlled by this type of devotee through transposing to his devotee his own power of compassion.

This passage rules out any suggestion of divine guidance or control in the deployment of bhakti: it is fully in the hands of the devotee, who acts spontaneously, empathetically, and according to the dictates of the bhakti in his/her heart (cf. BhP 9.4.63-64). The power to grant compassion to the naive is given by the Lord himself as a form of compassion for the middling devotee.

Two different senses of the word compassion (Jerpa) are used by Jiva and Visvanatha: krpa as a devotee's feeling for the naive when s/he remembers what it was like to suffer (as discussed in BhS [section] 180, and [section] 2 of this article), and krpa as the "full blossoming of the Lord's compassion" toward his devotee when the svarupa-sakti is manifest but is wholly disconnected from the soul's suffering (as discussed in SV 2.9.33, [section]3 and n. 34 of this article). One wonders why krpa is used in these two different ways, and if they could have been more precise by using two different words. Furthermore, it is not clear when the Lord would have granted (sampradanikrta) his power of compassion to the devotee (as stated in the quotation above) since in their view the Lord, the souls, and the world are eternal; nor is it clear why he would have granted it, given that they both accept that the Lord is unable to feel empathy.

Those problems aside, bhakti is, in summary, svaprakasa, or self-manifesting, because the desire to grant it arises only out of a devotee's compassion, and this compassion arises because of the bhakti that is already dwelling in his or her heart, through no other reason than its own independent and self-determined dynamic. Sanga is the location where this action is expressed, and it is spontaneously (yadrcchaya) attained, given that there is no demand for it to occur on the part of any external force or plan other than the innate dynamic of bhakti.


Kiyokazu Okita notes that Baladeva Vidyabhusana (c. 1700-1793), (41) a younger contemporary of Visvanatha and also a prolific author in the Gaudiya line, has a unique interpretation of the word atha ("now"), the first word of the Brahmasatra. In his Govindabhasya commentary on the Brahmasutra, Baladeva argues that atha indicates that both the eligibility and the desire to study the Brahmasutra arise from sanga. Okita (2009: 92) writes:

   For such a student the desire to understand Brahman (brahmajijaasa)
   arises after (atha) he attains the association of the knower of the
   truth (tattvavitprasanga) since (atah) he understands that the
   results of the rituals done for one's desire are limited and
   non-eternal, whereas the nature of Brahman obtainable through
   knowledge is unlimited and imperishable.... What is decisive,
   Baladeva says, is association with those who know the truth
   (tattvavitprasanga). This element of association as a prerequisite
   seems to be a unique contribution of Baladeva to the discussion on
   the meaning of "atha."

Baladeva refers to chapter seven of the Chandogya Upanisad, stating that Narada desired to know the truth after meeting Sanatkumara; thus sruti narrative is used to demonstrate the connection between association and a desire to know the truth.

The argument for conviction (sraddha) being attained spontaneously through sadhu-sanga is also embedded in the immediate context of Gaudiya mytho-historical awareness. The Gosvamins were followers of Caitanya, whose ecstatic love for Krsna attracted brilliant young scholars such as Rupa and Sanatana, and it was not Caitanya's mastery of theology and philosophy (though Krsnadasa would say Caitanya had this) that convinced them of his divinity, but the feelings of love that Caitanya exhibited and that they themselves felt in his presence. Stewart (2010: 117) writes that the proof of Caitanya's divinity for the early followers of Caitanya

   was not in theological or philosophical argument (although that was
   eventually articulated ex post facto), but in its direct assertion
   based on the indirect proof of the eyewitness accounts of his many
   forms.... Vrndavana Dasa [an early biographer of Caitanya]
   speculated that the trigger for these manifestations lay somewhere
   in the experience of bhava, which was often generated during
   kirtana, the preferred ritual practice.

When people witnessed the self-manifestation of the Lord (atma-prakasa), as it was described by Vrndavana Dasa (c. mid-sixteenth century) in his Caitanyabhagavata (1.12.112), they became believers, as they too felt the emotions of a devotee. It is possible that the theological argumentation examined in this article was motivated by such religious experience.

A social implication of stating that sanga is obtained yadrcchaya, spontaneously, lies in the fact that the conviction to practice bhakti is open to anyone and everyone, regardless of vice or virtue, caste, gender, status, etc. Yadrcchaya indicates a non-providential, random, and unplanned event, one that is only dependent on the autonomous and compassionate will of a devotee. This therefore opposes exclusionary concepts of Hinduism that reject those not of Indian, high-caste, or male birth, or those unpurified by rituals. The Gaudiya theology, rather, is that one needs the good fortune of receiving a devotee's compassion, to be in the right place at the right time, with the right attitude.

This view contrasts with that of Vallabha and Madhva, both of whom place constraints on some souls whereby the highest states of being are unachievable, as was noted at the beginning of this article. I have not examined the historical ramifications of the Gaudiya view, and I have also omitted to study Srivaisnava and Nimbarki theologies, as well as tantric and vernacular traditions, all of which clearly influenced the Gaudiyas. In addition, I opted not to examine in detail Baladeva Vidyabhusana, mentioned above, who might have provided a counterview, arguing as he does in his Prameyaratnavali for a jiva-taratamya, or hierarchy of souls. After positing the innate equality (samya) of all souls, but accepting their inequality as they act in this world, he says, "But the wise say there is that [inequality] in the next world too because of different types of bhakti" (prahuh paratrikam tat tu bhakti-bhedaih sukovidah, vs. 1.6.2, Delmonico 2006: 205, italics my own). In vs. 1.6.3 he attributes the hierarchy (taratamya) to various kinds of bhava, devotional feelings for the Lord. It is well known that Baladeva was a trained Madhva sannyasl who later converted to Gaudiya Vaisnavism after meeting Radhadamodara, a Gaudiya scholar, in Puri (Okita 2011: 208). To what extent Baladeva's views on the hierarchy of souls might be at odds with those of Jiva and Visvanatha is not explored here.

In the spirit of "every rule is made to be broken," I conclude with Visvanatha's paraphrasing of BhG 18.66, a verse in which Krsna tells Arjuna to give up all dharmas and go to him alone for refuge. The author reminds us that Krsna had promised not to fight with weapons in the battle of Kuruksetra, the great war that forms the subject of the Mahabharata, but when Bhisma was close to finally defeating Arjuna, Krsna took up arms to protect him, thus breaking his promise. Likewise:

purvam hi mad-ananya-bhaktau sarva-sresthayam tavadhikaro nastity atas tvam "yat karosi yad asnasi"-ity adi-bruvanena maya karma-misrayam bhaktau tavadhikara uktah I samprati tv atikrpaya tubhyam ananya-bhaktau evadhikaras tasya ananya-bhakter yadrcchika-madaikantika-bhakta-krpaika-labhyatva- laksanam niyamam sva-krtam api bhisma-yuddhe svapratijnam ivapaniya datta iti bhavah I (KD 1966: 476)

[Krsna says to Arjuna]: Since I previously said you are not qualified for the most distinguished form of pure devotion to me, it was for this reason I said your qualification is for devotion mixed with ritual obligations (karma-misra), with the words "whatever you do, whatever you eat, do that as an offering to me, etc." [BhG 9.27]. The sense of this verse [BhG 18.66] is as follows: At this time, however, by [my] exceedingly great compassion [I grant] you the qualification for pure devotion. My self-made rule is that pure bhakti is defined as being obtained solely through the spontaneous compassion of a devotee who is singularly focused on me, yet it is given [to you now], and in doing so I have lifted my own promise, as in the battle with Bhisma.


BD    Bhavarthadipika (Sridhara Svamin's commentary on BhP)
BhG   Bhagavad Gita
BhP   Bhagavata Purana
BT    Bhaktiballabha Tirtha (BhP editor)
BhRAS Bhaktirasamrtasindhu (Rupa Gosvamin)
BhS   Bhaktisandarbha (Jiva Gosvamin)
BSP   Bhaktisarapradarsini (Visvanatha's commentary on BhRAS and DS)
CC    Caitanyacaritamrta (Krsnadasa Kaviraja)
DS    Durgamasangamani (Jiva Gosvamin's commentary on BhRAS)
HS    Haridasa Sastri (editor of Gosvamin's works)
KD    Krsnadasa Baba (editor of Gosvamin's works)
KS    Krsnasankara Sastri (BhP editor)
MK    Madhuryakadambini (Visvanatha)
SD    Sararthadarsini (Visvanatha's commentary on BhP)
SV    Sararthavarsim (Visvanatha's commentary on BhG)
SD    Syamadasa (editor of Gaudiya Vaisnava works)



Ananta Dasa Baba and Jan Brzezinski, eds. and trs. n.d. (approx. 2005). Madhurya Kadambini of Visvanatha Cakravartin: English Translation and Sanskrit Text. Radhakunda, India.

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[=KS] Krsnasahkara Sastri, ed. 1965. Erimad Bhagavata Mahapuranam. Contains Eridhara Svamin's Bhavarthadipika, Erimad Jiva Gosvamin's Kramasamdarbha, Erimad Visvanatha Cakravartin's Sararthadarsini. Ahmedabad: Sribhagavata Vidyapitha.

Satya Narayana Dasa and Brace Martin, eds. and trs. 2005. Eri Bhakti Sandarbha of Jiva Gosvamin, vol. 1: English Translation and Sanskrit Text. Vrndavana: Jiva Institute.

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[=SD] Syamadasa, ed. 1977. Madhurya-kadambini of Visvanatha Cakravartin with Visvollasini-tika of Eyamadasa in Hindi. Vrndavana: Sriharinama Prakasana.


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I would like to thank Dr. Satya Narayana Dasa Baba for reading a number of important Gaudiya Vaisnava texts with me. I also benefited from reading key texts with Kiyokazu Okitz and David Buchta in a Summer Sanskrit Reading Group in Boston in 2013 and from the comments of two anonymous readers and of Stephanie Jamison.

(1.) Conventions in this article: verses cited in commentary are set off by quotation marks; bold text indicates words from the mula text that are glossed or commented upon in a commentary; and words in brackets are my additions. Unless indicated, all translations are mine.

(2.) Frederick Smith discusses the hierarchy of souls and their differential eligibilities for various forms of bhakti in Vallabha Acarya's (c. 1479-1531) Pustipravahamaryadabheda. For Vallabha certain forms of bhakti are eternally closed off to certain types of souls, while other types "are exclusively predestined to achieve the ideally situated soteriological objective of the school" (italics my own, Smith 2011: 218). B. N. K. Sharma (1986: chaps. 33-35) passionately defends Madhva 'Acarya's concept of jiva-traividhya, three types of soul, each with its own innate, predetermined eligibility for certain states or conditions (svabhava-bheda). For Madhva, too, the highest forms of bhakti and moksa are not open to all.

(3.) Most relevant here is Visvanatha's criticism of Sridhara's gloss of yadrcchaya in BD 11.20.8, as discussed in [section] 4 of this article.

(4.) For a discussion of Rupa Gosvamin's conception of bhakti as it is distinguished from Madhusudhana Sarasvati's, see Nelson 2004.

(5.) For discussion of Jiva's dates and literary output see Brzezinski (1992: 14-25); for the same on Visvanatha see Burton (2000: [section] 2) and Sherbow (2005: 209-10).

(6.) In Gaudiya Vaisnava theological context avatara should not be translated as "incarnation," the word of choice for many, given that the Gaudiyas argue that Caitanya, Krsna, Rama, etc., have bodies that are not made of matter, or flesh, as is necessarily connoted by the word "incarnation."

(7.) For a general description of Visvanatha's theological method, see Edelmann 2013.

(8.) Haridasa Dasa's Gaudiya Vaisnava Abhidhana (1957: Pt. III, 1370) provides an overview in Bengali of Visvanatha's life and his primary compositions, and this is generally followed by later scholars. There are two traditional hagiographic texts containing information on Visvanatha: the Narottamavilasa (Chap. 13) by Narahari Cakravartin (sevententh century) and the Braj-bhasa work by Gopal Kavi, the Vrndavandhamanuragavali (c. 1843).

(9.) Klostermaier (1974: 97) notes that some have considered Visvanatha to be a follower of Nimbarka. In my view this is untenable, and O'Connell (1980: 189) is in agreement. It is hard to see how Visvanatha could be a follower of Nimbarka, given that he did not comment on any of his writings, did not recognize him in his invocation verses, and devoted all his attention to providing explanations of key Gaudiya texts and commentaries. In Roma Bose's (1940-43) multi-volume work on Nimbarka, Viavanatha is not mentioned as a follower of Nimbarka.

(10.) In addition to the quotations below, in MK (Chap. 2) Visvanatha writes that "conviction is the first qualification for devotion," tatra bhakty-adhikarinah prathamam sraddha (SD 1977: 47), and CC 2.33.63 (in Bengali), "a person with conviction is qualified for devotion," sraddhavan jana haya bhakti-adhikari.

(11.) For a general discussion of the terms bhakti and sraddha in Kavya, Upanisads, BhG, etc., see Hara 1964, and for a discussion of the terms in the Veda Samhitas, Brahmanas, Upanisads, Mahabharata, and Puranas, see Solomon 1970.

(12.) While the term "ladder" presents an interesting parallel with Rupa's word-choice, krama "step," it should be noted that the Gaudiyas do not think that the steps starting with sraddha, sadhu-sanga, etc., are left behind upon moving to the next step, as one leaves behind the lower steps upon moving up a ladder.

(13.) Damodara 1931: 117, vss. 1.4.6-7; Haridasa Dasa 1945: 160; and Haberman 2003: 118.

(14.) In his SD 1.2.15-20, Visvanatha argues that this ladder is derived from the BhP itself, with a few minor variations.

(15.) It does not appear that Jiva's and Visvanatha's full doctrine on the cause of bhakti is present in the BhRAS. Rupa quotes BhP 11.20.8, a central verse for Jiva's and Visvanatha's views on the development of sraddha, on only one occasion (BhRAS 1.2.15, Haberman 2003: 21), and merely quotes the verse to demonstrate the qualification for bhakti. None of the other BhP verses used by Jlva and Viavanatha to justify their doctrine is quoted in the BhRAS. Rupa, however, argues that everyone is eligible for bhakti in BhRAS 1.2.60-62, and this is a theme that Visvanatha especially draws out of the yadrcchaya doctrine.

(16.) I thank Stephanie Jamison for pointing out this reference, as well as many helpful philological comments.

(17.) Jacob (1891: 767) records its use in the Upanisads and BhG, Wackemagel (1905: 324) in the Apastamba Dharma Sutra, and Tubb and Boose (2007: 124) in Mallinatha's commentary on the Kumarasambhava.

(18.) Ramanuja, for instance, says such a battle "arrives without effort" (ayatnopanatam), and Sankara as "unsolicited" (aprarthitataya).

(19.) My translations of BhS are assisted by Satya Narayana and Martin (2005, 2006a, 2006b).

(20.) While not expressly stated, Jiva probably considers Vyasa to be the one who teaches sastra. Jiva does not clarify the precise "reason" for his instruction, but presumably it is because the controversy would otherwise remain unresolved, since all are turned away from the Lord.

(21.) See Gerow 1971: 37-38 and 100 for discussion of atisayokti as defined by Rudrata, Ruyyaka, and Udbhata.

(22.) He also argues in BhS [section] 181 that the cause of sadhu-sanga is none other than the action of the free and independent will of the devotees (sat-sanga-hetus ca satam svaira-caritaiva nanyah).

(23.) My translation follows Jiva Gosvamin's DS, which glosses anusilana as "emotion" (bhava) and "action" (cesta) based on the root [square root] sil (Haberman 2003: 15).

(24.) For discussion see Radha 1953: 366-73, 1956: 192-93; Majumdar 1978: 71-86; and CC 2.20.103-30 (tr. Dimock and Stewart 1999: 639-43).

(25.) Dimock (1966: 126) notes that for Jiva Gosvamin this is a hierarchical structure, where (C) is superior to (B), and (B) to (A). For a general description of the Bhagavatsandarbha, see Dasa 2007: 377-79 and De 1961: 272-96.

(26.) I was unable to find an explicit connection between the development of conviction (sraddha) and svarupasakti in the thought of Visvanatha, but it is implied in the discussion below.

(27.) rte 'rtham yat pratiyeta na pratiyeta catmani I tad vidyad atmano mayam yathabhaso yatha tamah II BhP 2.9.33 II.

(28.) vidyavidyeti vrtti-dvayam mayakhyam saktim vidyat janiyat I (KS 1965: 422).

(29.) According to Sen (1935: 259) the SD was completed in 1704.

(30.) The word pratikula is not in KS, but it is in BT, a reading that makes more sense.

(31.) I follow Sridhara's glosses in my translation of the terms jnana ("scriptural understanding") and vijnana ("direct experience"). In Sridhara's BhG commentary called Subodhini (vs. 7.2) he glosses jnana as "related to scripture" (sastriya) and vijnana as "direct experience" (anubhava) (Vireswarananda 1972: 212). This is consistent with his glosses of the terms in his BD (Edelmann 2012: 113).

(32.) Translated as the "illusive power of yoga" (Schweig 2005: 353) and "divine illusion" (Bryant 2003: xxvi-xxix). See Schweig (2005: 130-37) for a discussion of the specific role of yoga-maya in the Rasa Lila dance of the BhP.

(33.) This is a synonym for the Lord's most intimate power, yoga-maya, svarupa-sakti, etc.

(34.) Jiva and Viavanatha are using krpa (compassion) in two different ways: the former as empathy, the type of krpa that a devotee has for other souls and that the Lord is not able to feel, and the latter as a type of loving feeling that the Lord has for souls in ways he is able to understand; cf. BhP 10.9.18.

(35.) Given the context, he is stating that pure bhakti is superior to bhakti mixed with juana, but this would apply equally to bhakti mixed with karma.

(36.) Cf. BhP 2.4.18: "The Kiratas, etc., and other sinners are purged of their sins even by taking refuge in those who depend on him" (Tagare 1976: 172-73). Edwin Bryant (2003: xli) comments on this verse: "This is not mere rhetoric: we should recall, here, that one of the earliest pieces of archaeological evidence for the worship of Krsna was the column erected by Heliodorus [in Besnagar, central India, c. 100 bc], a Greek devotee of Bhagavan." Bryant is suggesting that followers of Krsna did, at an early period, admit non-Indians into their religious tradition, and this openness is reflected in the Gaudiya's doctrine on the cause of bhakti approximately sixteen centuries later.

(37.) The five afflictions are discussed in Vyasa's Yogasutmbhasya (1.8) as ignorance (avidya), ego (asmita), desire (raga), aversion (dvesa), and clinging (abhinivesa), and also in Yogasutra (2.3-9).

(38.) More so than elsewhere, the MK discusses bhakti as if it has its own agency and ontology, and is not merely an emotional experience or a yoga practice--as in Bhakti-devi, a goddess of devotion, who reveals herself autonomously. There remains the question as to when this deity became an object of worship in Vaisnava communities in Vrndavana. Tony Stewart (2010: 171) notes that Kavikarnapura's Sanskrit drama Caitanya-candrodaya-nataka (3.8), composed in Bengal around 1550, has Premabhakti as a character, but in an allegorical context that makes it unclear whether she was believed to have her own ontology. His Gaura-ganoddesa-dipika (vss. 10-11, tr. in Stewart 2010: 130) defines Gadadhara, a close fellow of Caitanya, as the bhakti-sakti, which indicates the interest of the tradition in personifying the powers behind the deployment of bhakti.

(39.) In his Bhaktihetunirnaya, Investigation into the Cause of Bhakti, Vitthalanatha (c. 1515-1586), a second- generation scholar of Vallabha, took a similar approach, but concluded (using the same scriptural sources) that bhakti is obtained only through the grace (anugraha) of the Lord (Horstmann and Mishra 2012: 151).

(40.) In the sentences after the passage quoted above, Viavanatha states that the Lord is in one sense partial, for his greatest virtue is his affection for his devotees (see MK, Ch 8). For a discussion on the Lord's partiality in Madhva, Vallabha, and Gaudiya (especially Baladeva Vidyabhusana) theology see Buchta (2014: 272-76). The partiality of the Lord for his devotees also resembles the way he feels compassion for them.

(41.) For discussion of his dates, see Burton 2000: [section] 3.1.3.
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