In Anucchedas 179 to 185 of Bhakti Sandarbha, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī establishes that bhakti descends into the heart of a jīva only by the association of a devotee, sadhu-saṅga or satsaṅga. Then, from Anucchedas 186 to 202.1, he describes various types of sādhus on the path of karma, jñāna and bhakti while emphasizing bhakta-sādhus. He defines the various grades of bhakta-sādhus. Then, in the beginning of Anuccheda 202.2, he explains how bhakti comes by sadhu-saṅga, the first step being śraddhā. We present the relevant part here for our readers.
Translation of the Text
Thus, by the association of authentic devotees (sat-saṅga) amongst the numerous gradations of saints (sat) that have been described, one may be endowed with bhakti, which will manifest either quickly or gradually and be imbued with a particular essential nature (svarūpa) according to the degree of the devotees’ spiritual power (prabhāva), the degree of their compassion (kṛpā), and the gradation of their different internalized devotional predilections (bhakti-vāsanās). In corresponding fashion, jñāna, or “the immediate realization of unqualified Brahman,” is understood to manifest through the association of a jñānī, in accordance with his power, mercy, and level of realization.
In this matter, unconditional devotion (akiñcanā-bhakti) has been established as the abhidheya, or the means of attaining the Absolute. Yet because the association of Bhagavān’s devotees is the cause of the appearance of bhakti, this association is itself the abhidheya. For this reason, the characteristics of the devotee [the akiñcana-bhakta] are certainly also to be elaborated. Still, just to ascertain these two [akiñcanā-bhakti and the akiñcana-bhakta], the subtle nuances of various types of devotion and devotees are being repeated.
First of all, by association with devotees of a given disposition, one develops a corresponding type of faith in Bhagavān (śraddhā) and a relish (ruci) for hearing about Him as He is disclosed in the corresponding tradition. From this, the turning of one’s intentful regard toward Bhagavān (bhagavat-sāmmukhya) is effected. Then by further association with those particular devotees, one develops an attraction (ruci) for the specific manifestion of Bhagavān (āvirbhāva-viśeṣa), who is the supreme object of their worship (tad-bhajanīya) as well as for the specific path of worship that they follow (tad-bhajana-mārga).
Śrī Jīva Prabhu now begins a new discussion: How is bhakti obtained and how does one progress on this path? The most important thing for a beginner is sādhu-saṅga. It is for this reason that the entire analysis of the various types of sādhus was undertaken. If one can obtain the association of an appropriate sādhu, then one’s life is successful. Although it was said earlier that sādhus are independent in bestowing their grace, yet if the dynamics involved are understood, we can situate ourselves in an optimal position to receive such grace.
Genuine sādhus are extremely rare and not at all easy to recognize, especially for a neophyte practitioner. But if one is fortunate enough to meet and recognize such a sādhu, then one should drop everything else to take advantage of his or her association. There is nothing more precious in this whole universe than the association of a genuine sādhu. Nothing else can compare with it. A moment’s association with a sādhu cannot be compared to any material boon, including heaven and even mukti (SB 1.18.13, and SB 4.30.34).
In our long sojourn in the material world, we have experienced every conceivable possibility other than association with a real sādhu. Consequently, there is no need to strive to experience anything other than sādhu-saṅga and bhakti. People are fond of new experiences. Sādhu-saṅga and bhakti are the only things we have not experienced. If we had wholeheartedly partaken of sādhu-saṅga in a past life, we would no longer be loitering here in this material world. The fact that sādhu-saṅga brings an end to material existence was stated by King Mucukunda (SB 10.51.53, cf. Anuccheda 179).
Although it was shown earlier that bhakti alone is the abhidheya, or the means prescribed throughout śāstra, because sādhu-saṅga is the cause of the appearance of bhakti, such association is effectively the real abhidheya for a beginner.
People enjoy various types of adventures. So one should take up the adventure of bhakti. Even if one’s faith is not firmly rooted in the bhakti adventure, one will at least explore something different instead of just chewing the already chewed. There is no need to follow the rat race. Be different. There is certainly nothing to lose, but there may be much to gain. If nothing else, bhakti will prove to be an entirely unique experience, different from that of all one’s peers.
Śrī Jīva makes the point that the essential nature of the bhakti that one receives it according to the type of sādhu one associates with. If the sādhu is established in the mood of servitorship toward Bhagavān (dāsya-bhāva), then the bhakti that is self-disclosed through his association will be of this nature. The aspirant cannot obtain bhakti predominated by any other relation from him.
Some people believe that a sādhu can bestow any type of bhakti. Bhakti is a general term, but it encompasses a broad spectrum of experiential states, just as when speaking of the color red, an entire range of shades is implied, such as crimson, scarlet, burgundy, and so on. A realized sādhu is thus endowed with a very specific śakti of bhakti, and he or she can bestow bhakti only of that specific constitution. The intensity of the bhakti received also depends upon the measure of grace and the prowess of the sādhu in question. Depending upon the potency of the grace received, bhakti can manifest immediately or gradually. There is no fixed procedure in this regard. Yet, although every case is different, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī provides a general guideline as to the manner of bhakti’s unfolding.
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