Bhakti Sandarbha, which is the fifth volume in the anthology, deals with abhidheya, the prescribed method to actualize our relation with Bhagavān. After in Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has established Śrī Kṛṣṇa as the original complete form of Bhagavān and the source of all other avatāras based on the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, he now discusses the practical aspect of bhakti, and thus specifying its nature and practice. He demonstrates that although there are descriptions of karma, yoga, and jñāna in Bhāgavata Purāṇa, it is ultimately bhakti alone that is identified as the true and complete method.
Bhakti has never been established as the abhidheya so systematically and emphatically as in this book. Previously, bhaktiwas generally considered as one of the spiritual processes along with karma-yoga, jñāna-yoga, and aṣṭāṅga-yoga. Moreover, it was usually taken as a precursor to jñāna, which ultimately leads to liberation. Rarely was it recognized as an independent process by itself. In contrast to this, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī asserts that bhakti is the only abhidheya worth following and that all other processes are futile without it, like the thrashing of empty husks to obtain rice. Other practices have a lasting significance only if they are graced by bhakti.
Since the root cause of suffering is ignorance of Bhagavān, naturally the solution is awareness of Him. This awareness ensues from bhakti, which begins by turning one’s regard toward Bhagavān (bhagavad-sāmmukhya). In this manner, bhakti eradicates the root cause of all suffering. Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī shows that the import of all scriptures is in bhakti. This is certainly true for Bhāgavata Purāṇa, which was composed specifically for this purpose. He undertakes a lengthy analysis to show that the topic of discussion between all the primary teachers and students in Bhāgavata Purāṇais bhakti.
After establishing bhakti as the complete method, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī discusses the nature of bhakti. Bhakti, being the intrinsic potency of Bhagavān, has the power to purify even by slight contact. It removes all inauspiciousness, obstacles, and fear and destroys reactions to all past and present karma. It bestows fearlessness and uproots ignorance, which is the cause of suffering and bondage. Bhakti entails both knowledge as well as action. Since bhakti is beyond the guṇas of nature, the knowledge and actions that ensue from bhakti are also nonmaterial. Bhakti is self-manifest, conscious, and blissful in nature, and awards love for Bhagavān. It is not dormant within a jīva but descends by the grace of a pure devotee. Even a semblance of bhakti can award mukti. The only thing that can thwart bhakti are offenses. For this reason, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī elaborates upon them and their effects on a practitioner.
Śrī Jīva further explains that the love of a devotee can take the mood of a servant, a friend, a parent, or an amorous lover, the latter ones being superior to the former ones. Association with a specific devotee nurtures a corresponding devotional faith, mood, and attraction for a particular form of Bhagavān. This defies the misconception that bhakti is inherent in the jīva. Śrī Jīva also describes how the association with a devotee takes effect in progressive stages along the path of bhakti.
To engage in bhakti, one has to have the proper understanding of one’s relation with Bhagavān. One has to know that one is an integrated part of Bhagavān and not absolutely identical with Brahman, as is understood by the radical nondualists (the Advaita Vedāntīs). Although the living beings and Bhagavān are one in terms of consciousness, a distinction exists between them not only in the phenomenal state but even in the liberated state. The relation between them is thus one of transrational oneness and distinction (acintya-bheda-abheda), which is the inherent nature of the relation between potency (śakti) and potent source (śaktimān). This in brief is the “integral nonduality” propounded inŚrīmad Bhāgavata. Pure bhakti is not possible without this understanding.
With this view in mind, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī composed the earlier Sandarbhas to elaborately explain the relation between the jīva and Bhagavān. These Sandarbhas are meant to be studied in the order given by the author, otherwise the complete understanding of Reality will remain beyond the practitioner’s grasp, which will in turn obscure the practice of śuddhā-bhakti. And if bhakti is thus obstructed or adulterated, it will not directly disclose Bhagavān and prema to the practitioner, which is the whole purpose of undertaking the investigation into Reality in the first place.
In Śrī Jīva’s ordered exposition, Bhakti Sandarbha stands out as the pivot or the center of all the Sandarbhas. The first four provide the theoretical underpinnings that lead to it, and the last one elucidates its outcome in the form of divine love (prīti). Bhakti Sandarbha is also the most practically oriented out of the complete set, because it provides the method to be followed in one’s life. As far as a sādhaka is concerned, the other five offer only a theoretical understanding, which is however essential for authentic practice. Thus, although each of the other Sandarbhas have their own specific role and importance, ultimately it is only Bhakti Sandarbha that is the beacon light in one’s day-to-day life. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance for a sincere sādhaka.
For the reasons just stated, anyone who is serious about becoming a pure devotee of Bhagavān, especially of Śrī Kṛṣṇa, must study Bhakti Sandarbha thoroughly. Along with Bhakti Sandarbha, it will also be beneficial to study the Eastern division of Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu.
Our new edition in two volumes with commentaries by Babaji Satyanarayana Dasa has been printed in Germany