Symptoms of Śraddhā

The following article is based upon Bhakti Sandarbha (Anuccheda 172–173). In these two anucchedas, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī describes śraddhā as the basic qualification of a devotee.

According to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, there are only three paths for the ultimate good of human beings, as stated, “These three yogasjñāna, karma, and bhakti—have been taught by Me with the intention of granting the highest good to humanity. No other means besides these can be found anywhere” (SB 11.20.6). 

In the next two verses, He gives the eligibility for the three paths: “Out of these three methods, jñāna-yoga grants success to those who are disinterested in fruitive actions and who have thus abandoned them, whereas karma-yoga grants success to those who are not disinterested in fruitive actions and who still desire the fruits of such actions. However, for a person who, by great fortune, has acquired faith in hearing My narrations and other similar devotional acts, and who is neither completely indifferent to sense objects nor overly attached to them, bhakti-yoga grants success” (SB 11.20.7–8).

Bhakti is prescribed for everyone—no one is barred from it—yet it requires specific qualifications. What this means is that a person is not disqualified from bhakti on the basis of birth, gender, age, nationality, social status, or physical or mental ability.

For example, everyone is allowed to study engineering or medical science. There is no discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnic background, skin color, and so on. But still, not everyone is admitted for a course of study. A particular college may hold an entrance exam to gauge the caliber of the would-be student. Similarly, although bhakti is open to all, some specific qualification is required to take it up. Just as renunciation or dispassion is the required eligibility for jṅāna-yoga, and non-dispassion for karma-yoga, śraddhā is the eligibility for bhakti-yoga. 

Śraddhā is undoubtedly required on the paths of jñāna and karma, for without śraddhā one will not fully apply oneself to the process internally or externally. In bhakti, however, śraddhā is the sole cause of taking to the path and therefore has been specifically designated as the criterion of eligibility. Without it, ananyā-bhakti cannot commence, and even if undertaken for some time, it will be lost.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī says that śraddhā is not part of bhakti but a qualification of bhakti. Thus, sometimes even ignorant people who are devoid of śraddhā can execute acts of devotion incidentally. Otherwise, people would not be able to execute bhakti prior to the appearance of śraddhā, but such is not the case. Moreover, if śraddhā were a limb of bhakti, then śraddhā alone would yield perfection, without the necessity to engage in any other act of devotion. However, this is not supported by any scriptural statement or by anyone’s experience. Therefore, śraddhā is understood to be only an attribute (viśeṣaṇa) of the eligible practitioner, and it is śraddhā that impels one to take to bhakti in an exclusive manner.

Therefore, it is important to understand what is śraddhā, how can one get it, and what are its symptoms. Śraddhā is a firm belief in the import of scripture. It comes by the association of devotees. The dawning of faith in hearing the narrations of Bhagavān and other practices of devotion means that one has developed a firm conviction that this alone is the supreme good. Without faith, one cannot be exclusively devoted to the path of bhakti. Bhakti is potent in and of itself and does not depend on anything else to deliver its result. Additionally, it does not depend on the Vedic injunctions, as is the case for acts of karma-yoga. It is analogous to fire, which burns anyone who touches it regardless of whether the person is acquainted or not with its burning potency. Just as the power of fire to burn is inherent in its constitution and not dependent on anything external, such as a Vedic injunction, bhakti is similarly independent and potent.

Since bhakti is independently powerful, why is śraddhā necessary at all? Śrī Jīva answers this question in two ways. First, although bhakti’s power is inherent, it will not manifest in a person who is crooked at heart and thus offensive in nature. In this respect, bhakti’s power is comparable to fire’s inherent burning capacity, which is obstructed in the case of wet wood. If the fuel is wet, or in other words, unsuitable for use, only smoke will be produced but no fire or light. Consequently, the devotee who is obstructed by an offense needs to practice bhakti regularly to purify his heart, just as one has to dry wet wood before being able to set it aflame. But if one is faithless, he will not have the impetus to practice bhakti to become free of offensiveness and crookedness of heart. Secondly, even if such a person does practice, he will not be exclusive to the path of bhakti. For these reasons, śraddhā is the necessary criterion of eligibility for ananyā-bhakti.

Śrī Jīva makes the point that taking refuge in Bhagavān (śaraṇāpatti) is the practical and unmistakable symptom that śraddhā truly exists within an individual. Later [in Anuccheda 236] it will be explained that such taking refuge involves six characteristics: the resolve to accept that which is favorable to devotion, to reject whatever is unfavorable, to have faith that Bhagavān will provide protection, to accept Bhagavān as one’s maintainer, to offer oneself completely to Bhagavān, and to develop humility. 

If one studies śāstras, such as Bhagavad Gītā and Śrīmad Bhāgavata, from a qualified devotee, then one naturally develops śraddhā characterized by these six attributes. This is because one will find statements throughout the scripture wherein Bhagavān promises to protect His devotee, or one will read stories depicting such things. Therefore, hearing śāstra is essential to the development of firm faith.

Apart from śaraṇāpatti, Śrī Jīva discusses several other symptoms of śraddhā in this anuccheda. The second symptom of śraddhā is the absence of the feeling of being destitute (kārpaṇya-abhāva) in the matter of worldly or conventional dealings (vyavahāra). This means that a devotee does not act in a way to incite feelings of pity in others in order to procure some material help from them. Such behavior is contrary to śraddhā. Anyone who acts in this way has no faith that Bhagavān is the Supreme Master of the cosmos and is compassionate on His devotees.

A devotee does not go to rich people and beg from them. This is an insult to Bhagavān. It is comparable to a son of a very wealthy person who goes to some small businessman and asks him for a few dollars. If the boy’s father comes to know of it, he will feel insulted. A devotee should not feel indigent in front of materialistic people. This is not humility but weakness of heart and the sign of a lack of śraddhā. One should remember Śuka’s rhetorical question, “Why should the wise flatter those who are blinded by their wealth?” (kasmād bhajanti kavayo dhana-durmadāndhān, SB 2.2.5).

The third symptom of śraddhā is that one fully accepts the statements of śāstra that describe the articles, categorical existents, qualities, and actions related to Bhagavān as nonmaterial, even though they may not appear to be so to one with mundane vision. For example, Vṛndāvana is described as a spiritual place, the abode of Śrī Kṛṣṇa. But when one sees it, it does not seem different from any other place. A devotee, however, believes it to be transcendental; he or she has no doubt in this regard. The same is true about the form of Bhagavān in the temple, the objects offered to Him, and so on.

Although a devotee may not have personally experienced the power of these objects as described in the śāstra, he or she has faith that they do indeed possess such power. The reason for this is śraddhā, which is to believe in the meaning of the words of śāstra. The power of these objects may not always be manifest, because Bhagavān or bhakti may choose not to reveal their power. Alternatively, their power may remain concealed from a particular person, because the latter’s offenses obstruct their manifestation.

In this context, a doubt may be raised. The Garuḍa Purāṇa (Preta-khaṇḍa 47.52) states that one who remembers the lotus-eyed Kṛṣṇa becomes purified within and without. From this one may conclude that if people have faith in this statement, there is no need for them to bathe, or that if they do bathe, they must not have faith in this statement. How to resolve this? Śrī Jīva replies that in such instances the example of great sages, such as Śrī Nārada and Vyāsa, should be considered as decisive. Thus, one should continue to bathe in spite of having faith in the verse. To do otherwise would be a sign of disrespect to such sages. Moreover, it would set the wrong example for people in general, who may consider the devotee in question as an authority. This also implies that it is not only important to study śāstra, but to study from a qualified teacher. Otherwise, one may misapply the śastric statements and become implicated in an offense.

The fourth symptom of śraddhā is that the devotee assiduously engages in bhakti. He or she has no interest in anything else. There is nothing that can deviate the mind of a devotee who is firmly established in śraddhā. This is true both for the practicing and the perfected devotee. The practicing devotee is eager to attain the perfectional stage involving the immediate self-disclosure of Bhagavān, and the perfected devotee relishes bhakti at every step and thus cannot imagine doing anything else.

The fifth symptom of śraddhā is that a devotee is very sincere and straightforward. Earlier (in Anu. 153), crookedness or hypocrisy (kauṭilya) was described as one of the five primary effects of offenses. In contrast, śraddhā results in simplicity. A devotee has no desire for name and fame. A true devotee, therefore, makes no effort to achieve these. As the saying goes, “personal honor is nothing but a sow’s feces,” pratiṣṭhā śūkarī-viṣṭhā.

The sixth symptom of śraddhā is that a devotee carefully avoids offenses, especially criticism of or disrespect to great devotees of Bhagavān. The seventh symptom is that a devotee makes no effort for sense pleasure. If, however, a devotee is presented with the opportunity for material enjoyment by virtue of past meritorious karma and is unable to discard it due to the force of past saṁskāras, he or she will feel humbled and will pray for the grace of Bhagavān. Even while partaking in such experiences, a devotee will not become absorbed in sense pleasure, because his mind is fixed in service, which is a source of superior satisfaction.

After elaborating these symptoms of śraddhā, Śrī Jīva makes a clarification regarding Gītā 9.30. This verse should not be misinterpreted as a license to engage in immoral behavior. Rather, it emphasizes the greatness of exclusive devotion to Bhagavān by describing its power to exalt even the lowest of individuals. It thus implies that this ill-behavior is to be rejected. It is also understood from the subsequent verse that once a devotee becomes established in virtue, such behavior will be given up. Moreover, such ill-behavior is an offense to the holy name, as stated in this verse: “For one who intentionally commits sins on the strength of the holy name, the means of his purification through rules simply does not exist.”

In this context, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī makes a keen observation regarding Kṛṣṇa’s statement in Gītā (9.30) which says, “If even a person who is exceedingly ill-behaved worships Me with exclusive devotion, he should be regarded as indeed virtuous, because he is rightly resolved.” He writes that the devotee spoken of in this verse, behaving in an abominable manner, is not a devotee having śraddhā based on śāstra. Rather, his śraddhā is acquired from social convention (loka-paramparā). This is the type of śraddhā described in Gītā 17.1–4. A devotee with faith that is rooted in scripture (śāstrīya-śraddhā) will not engage in any act forbidden in śāstra. This is the very meaning of śāstrīya-śraddhā. Thus, there are two types of śraddhā—one that is based upon śāstra and the other, on social convention. Most devotees at present have some combination of the two.

It is for people endowed with śāstrīya-śraddhā that Kṛṣṇa ordains the abandonment of karma and exclusive engagement in bhakti. Therefore, the statements of śāstra advising one not to disturb the minds of people engaged in karma, such as in Gītā (3.26), and those that recommend the abandonment of karma, such as in Bhāgavata Purāṇa (11.20.9), are intended for two different classes of people. The first type of instruction is for those who do not have śāstrīya-śraddhā in bhakti, and the second is for those who have acquired śraddhā.

From this analysis, it is clear that śāstrīya-śraddhā cannot manifest in a person who is ignorant of śāstra. Only those who have heard the śāstra from a qualified teacher can have śāstrīya-śraddhā, not others. It is for those who are unaware of śāstra that Kṛṣṇa gives the instruction not to provoke them to give up karma (Gītā 3.26). They should first be inspired to listen to śāstra. If they become inquisitive about śāstra, they should be given śāstrīya knowledge and then advised to take to bhakti. If, however, they are unwilling to hear śāstra, they should not be given śāstric knowledge. Otherwise, it would be an offense on the part of the instructor. 

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Comments ( 1 )
  1. Parikshit

    Very helpful article.

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