In his letters Svami Sadananda Dasa has often emphazised that a systematic study of the bhakti-Shastram-s is necessary: “Now, it is like this that every beginner has to think himself into the exact terminology and has to make a fresh start. […] One has to do step after step. […]”. His experiences in India and Europe had taught him to be very cautious when talking to people about things or letting them read texts when they were in fact not qualified to do so: “Otherwise it will all end in split-personality, mysticism and edificatory vagueness.” Only he who thought and behaved himself in a clear and matter-of-fact way could proceed on the bhakti path. Bhakti didn’t start with being guided, but with one's own initiative, one's own desire to serve, but not in a way oneself would like to, but in the way bhakti prescribed it:
“To subordinate oneself to the authority of the revelation means to erase what oneself believes and replace it with what the revelation declares.” “Clear and sharp is the light of the revelation. The man who really listens to it, is not left with any uncertainties or mystical hints, one could interpret according to ones maya-intuitions.” “Bhakti does not simply mean to ‘love’ God, but to serve Him, i.e., till the stage of rati to think, do and realise exactly that which one dislikes, which is 100% against ones self-conceit and complacent self-centeredness.”
This quite rough study guide cannot replace the personal instructions of a guru who alone can assess at what time which kind of text for which disciple is truly appropriate. It is a mere substitute within the context of a website that offers texts for spiritual nourishment to the public. It shall provide an opportunity to the mature reader to chose, self-responsibly, a text for reading that he considers fitting to his stage of development. We have stuck to the traditional division of the instructions into sambandha (clarifying of concepts and interrelations), abhideya/sadhana (instructions about the method) and prayojana/sadhya (instructions about the goal).
In the same manner Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed Sanatana Gosvami (CC II.20.124-126):
“The Vedas and the Shastram-s speak of the object (sambandha), the method (abhideya) and the goal (prayojana). Krishna is the object for which one has to search.”
[Sambandha: The principle through which something is kept together in the proper way. Krishna is the sambandha between Bhagavan and world, atma and world, Bhagavan and atma. The performance of the duties enjoined by bhaktiyoga presupposes clear and distinct knowledge of these relations (sambandha-jnanam).]
“Bhakti is the method for attaining Him. Prema is the goal. For prema is the highest good and (the highest) goal; it is the greatest wealth. Through prema one attains the good fortune to be allowed to serve Krishna directly in the rasa of His divine charming beauty.”
[It is prema, Krishna’s Own potency, which accomplishes this direct service and it is also prema, Krishna’s Own potency of joy, that makes known Krishna’s innermost nature.]
This quotation doesn’t imply that bhakti were a means to an end, i.e., to finally experience the joy of prema or love. Path and goal are identitical in Bhaktiyoga. This distinguishes it from all other paths. In a letter Svami explains as follows:
“If you thought that as a result of or a reward for service the experience of bliss would follow, you forget that the BHAKTA, and even more the GOPI, are fully identical with their service, and as you know, the GOPI fully consists of service. PREMA or the Love of God is nothing but service – and it is not anything in addition to it. It is service that is based on the servant’s specific personal relation to God, a relation that corresponds with the respective shape, form, dress, behaviour and character.”
2. SAMBANDHA JNANAM
Sambandha jnanam is the clear insight into the interrelation between a) God and world, b) God and atma, c) atma and atma, d) world and world and e) atma and world. The texts we have sorted into this section therefore mainly deal with definitions of the nature of the atma, maya, Bhagavan and their interrelations. In addition we will give a glossary of the most important Sanskrit terms, collected from Svami’s texts, which is continually expanded but only exists in German so far.
A common misunderstanding concerning bhaktiyoga lies in considering it an anti-intellectualist path, a “path of the heart” or of “love and devotion”, understood as a sort of feeling that renders all thinking unnecessary. In his explanations to Bhaktirasamrita Sindhu 1.1.1 Svami explains why this understanding is deficient:
“Sambandha jnanam is not a systematic interpretation of the content of the revelation and of one's faith, but it is revelation in itself, i.e. an expression of samvit-shakti (sam-vit = to understand/know clearly and correctly) within svarupa-shakti [God’s Own Power]. It is samvit-shakti in its first form, as shraddha [faith in the serving of God], that enables the listener to acquire sambandha jnanam and it is samvit-shakti that speaks to him through Shastram and guru in the from of sambandha jnanam. Anushilanam [serving] is a svarupa-shakti-vritti [a function of svarupa-shakti] and necessarily includes a clear and distinct understanding of the nature of Bhagavan, of bhakti and of the bhakta. For this reason all the acarya-s, starting with Mahaprabhu to the present day, have warned against putting aside sambandha jnanam as something intellectual and considering bhakti as an expression of the intuitive-emotional faculty. Bhakti, from the very start to the highest stage (in the form of prema, etc.) is neither intellectual nor intuitive-emotional, but the working of Bhagavan’s svarupa-shakti that ‘for His sake’ includes aprakrita-[supermundane-]knowledge and aprakrita-seva and, as part of seva, experiences.”
The definitions of the concepts provide the ABC, the prerequisite for the understanding of the bhakti-texts, and prevent one from reading one's own concepts of soul, God and world into the shastram-s. Nonetheless they are just hints. They often use comparisons and speak in similes that only offer an approximation to what is denoted by them as Svami explains in regard to the concept of the individual, incorporated self, the jiva:
“In fact there is no place for similes here. No matter how one puts it – fiery spark, particle of the sunbeam, the lustre of a gem – all these comparisons don’t satisfy in EVERY respect. If, however, one lets go of all the MUNDANE coloring that sticks to these images, soon it will be revealed to the heart what is meant by ‘jiva’.”
The texts of this section deal with the method or discipline of bhakti, particularly the nature and the praise of God’s Names, as they provide the most important upaya or instrument (and objective). The focus of this section is defining of what bhakti, or serving, means. Svami often pointed to the fact that the translation of “bhakti” with “love” is insufficent:
“We have translated bhakti with love. It must be kept in mind that bhakti primarily means SERVICE. This is not any interpretation given by any particular Indian school of thought but the definition of the Kashika-vritti of Panini’s Sanskrit Grammar (Sutra 4.3.95-98). It is said there: bhajyate sevyate iti bhaktih. To love somebody one must know that person. To serve God one must know what He considers His service.”
The texts regarding the goal or prema-rasa-seva are lila-texts, prayers or songs, praising the goal. They should be read when one is firmly rooted in sambandha-jnanam and abhideya as well. The service of God on the stage of prema presupposes the following characteristics:
“1. Completeness of knowledge of God.
2. Feeling of God being the dearest object of Love.
3. Surrender of everything to God.
4. Complete renunciation of desire for personal happiness.
5. Sense of maintaining life only for God’s sake and His pleasure.
[…] One who has genuine indifference towards sense enjoyment, whose heart has completely lost the craving for lust, whose senses are anxious to flow inwards and taste the nectar of Divine rasa [prema-rasa-seva], which belongs to the spirit [cit] – he is that fortunate soul who is qualified to tread the path of the gopis and to cultivate their sentiment [bhava].”
Not every text can be clearly sorted into one of these three categories as they haven’t been written with the intention to match these. Moreover, they are – strictly speaking – not real ‘stages’, as the path and the goal are idential in bhaktiyoga. In practice, for example, the sequence appears even reversed: First one meets a bhakta who gives a hint of the goal that incites one to ask further and deeper questions and, eventually actually embarking on the journey – to finally meet the archetype of the shadow image the bhakta had pointed towards in the beginning. In order to really reach the archetype, the Highest Purusha, and not a Maya-Krishna, it is however, necessary to start with sambandha jnanam to subsequently transform it into vijnanam (realisation), in order to become ready to receive the spontaneous self-revelation of the object of service and perform the transition from indirect to direct prema-rasa-seva:
“To a person, who does not know the sweet fruit on the tree, a shadow on the slanted, rough wall can become a hint to search after the real fruit. And to the person who WANTS TO SERVE the real Word, the shadow-word can approximately point to where the true Word is to be looked for, namely where svarupa-shakti speaks through the mouth of a true bhakta, a true servant of God.”
The acts of listening, understanding and serving are all not done by man in bhaktiyoga. They are expressions of God’s Own Shakti, svarupa-shakti. Lacking the connection to this svarupa-shakti one reads, sees and hears only the shadow-word:
“It is the svarupa-shakti itself, which is the listening one in the atma of the man who is ready to hear, sitting in front of the guru, just as it is the svarupa-shakti that speaks in the guru’s atma. It is true that if anybody witnessed this conversation by accident he could hear the words coming from the mouth of the guru being perceived by the ear of the disciple, and he could also notice how the disciple repeats or even writes down these words. However, as long as the svarupa-shakti does not work in the atma of the listener and he just writes down the words he hears with his physical ear, these words will have nothing to do with the Words that are full expressions of svarupa-shakti. In relation to the Word of svarupa-shakti, which is identical with the thing itself, it is like the shadow of a sweet fruit on the living, thriving tree, a shadow which furthermore is distorted as it falls on a slanting, uneven wall.
Just as a hearty bite into the shadow-fruit on the rough wall causes the person who wants to taste the fruit nothing but trouble as he bites directly into the rock, occupation with the mere shadow of the Word of svarupa-shakti without an empowered teacher only leads astray.”
Apart from the letters, the texts and translations by Svami are characterised by his remaining close to the original text, which is supplemented with extensive clarifications of the concepts, and with the commentaries of the acarya-s and cross-references to other parts of the Shastram-s. Therefore it is impossible to read these texts quickly. However, this prevents one to “bite into the rock”. From the point of view of Bhakti, the work invested into the proper understanding of the texts is essential for SERVING these texts. Svami explains as follows:
“The often cryptic language and usage of one and the same expression for completely juxtaposed things is meant to force the listener and disciple to not only listen intently with ‘uninterrupted and unrelenting’ attention, but to FOLLOW THE TRAIN OF THOUGHT, too. By this means the shastram becomes an object of understanding, loving SERVICE instead of enjoyment by heart and mind.”
Svami regarded it as his task to “publish texts, very close to the original, that force the reader to work really hard.” To Vamandas, Svami offered a valuable critique and a blessing as well, which we also try to keep in mind when studying the Shastram-s:
“You are lacking the patience of listening, of taking things in silently, the interest in assimilating it internally, the willingness to serve through UNDERSTANDING. You don’t sense that one line, understood correctly, enlightening your mind, can be the key to eternity.”