On Knowledge and Pure Devotion

Nov 14 2009 - Krishna Talk 97

Jnana Sunya Bhakti

jnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva
jivanti san-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam
sthane sthitah sruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhir
ye prayaso ‘jita jito ‘py asi tais tri-lokyam

Those who, even while remaining situated in their established social positions, throw away the process of speculative knowledge and with their body, words and mind offer all respects to descriptions of Your personality and activities, dedicating their lives to these narrations, which are vibrated by You personally and by Your pure devotees, certainly conquer Your Lordship, although You are otherwise unconquerable by anyone within the three worlds. (Bhag. 10.14.3)

The above stated verse has much significance in the study of Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy. Historically this verse was quoted in the famous talk between Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Ramananda Raya (Ramananda Samvada) that has been documented in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta wherein, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu extracts gradations of spiritual truths from Sri Ramananda Raya that finally reveal the summum-bonum of spiritual attainment.

In this conversation, Ramananda Raya gives Mahaprabhu several propositions on what actually is the ultimate goal of life beginning from varnasrama-dharma, wherein he quotes a verse from Visnu Purana (3.8.9) that stresses the proper execution of prescribed duties, according to ones social position, to worship Lord Visnu. Then he proposes karma-misra-bhakti and quotes a verse from Bhagavad-gita (9.27) that advises offering all the results of ones activities to Lord Krsna. Then he proposes svadharma tyaga and quotes two verses, one from Srimad Bhagavatam (11.11.32) and one from Bhagavad-gita (18.66) that suggests giving up all occupational religious duties and hence transcending all the material activities. Ramananda Raya then subsequently proposes jnana-misra-bhakti as the ultimate goal of life by quoting a verse from Bhagavad-gita (18.54) that explains realization of the self and being self-satisfied in the knowledge of the impersonal feature of the Lord.

But, all of the above propositions are rejected by the Lord as being only external (eho bahya) and not actually representing the real substance. This is when Sri Ramananda Raya quotes the above stated verse from Srimad Bhagavatam that proposes jnana-sunya-bhakti, that the Lord immediately acknowledges by saying, eho haya (this is alright) and asks him to go deeper. This means that unless one arrives at this conclusion, hatefully discarding all speculative knowledge (jnane prayasam udapasya) that is tinged with ones limited intellect and faithfully surrenders (namanta eva) for the mercy of the Supreme Lord, no actual progress is made in suddha-bhakti.

Jnana Prayasa

Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, in his essay on the six faults that destroy bhakti (in reference to the second verse of Sri Upadesamrta by Srila Rupa Gosvami), has explained the term prayasa as follows:

If prayasa (over-endeavor) is not given up, devotion will never arise. The word prayasa means endeavor, useless labor. Spiritual life is nothing other than pure devotion unto the Supreme Lord. Devotion cannot be defined by any symptoms other than full surrender and subordination unto the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. Full surrender and subordination are the natural, eternal constitutional duties of the living entities.

In the same essay he further explains jnana-prayasa as follows:

In jnana-prayasa the feeling of oneness, or kevaladvaita, arises. This is also known as sayujya, merging, or brahma-nirvana, absorption in the Supreme. Jnana-prayasa is hostile to spiritual life; this is explained in the Vedika literature, Mundaka Upanisad (3.2.3), in the following words:

nayam atma pravacanena labhyo
na medhasa na bahuna srutena
yam evaisa vrnute tena labhyas
tasyaisa atma vivrnute tanum svam

The Supreme Lord is not obtained by expert explanations, by vast intelligence, or even by much hearing. He is obtained only by one whom He Himself chooses. To such a person, He manifests His own form.

The philosophy of monism does not originate in the Absolute Truth; it is only a demoniac provision. Glorification of the knowledge of one’s relationship with the Lord is often heard. That knowledge is pure and spontaneous—there is no need of prayasa. The knowledge given in the Catuh-sloki (the four main Bhagavatam verses) is acintya-bhedabheda, inconceivably, simultaneously one and different. This knowledge is naturally dormant in the heart of the living entity.

The Lord is like a spiritual sun, and the living entities are like molecular particles of the sun’s rays. The living entity cannot remain in his constitutional form without being subordinate to the Lord, therefore servitorship of the Lord is his constitutional duty. Cultivation of this constitutional duty is the nature of the living entity. This is the spontaneous—devoid of prayasadharma, or duty, of the living entity. Although in the conditioned state this dharma is almost dormant and is awakened by sadhana, or spiritual practice, still the prayasa found in devotional practices is not like that found in the paths of karma and jnana. If one takes shelter of the holy name with some respect, then within a short time the obstacles due to ignorance are removed and one’s constitutional happiness is reawakened. But if one gives a place to jnana-prayasa, then he has to suffer more. And if jnana-prayasa is renounced in the association of devotees, then that is a devotional endeavor.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja has given a much broader meaning to the term ‘jnana prayasa’ by connecting it to the conditioned soul’s defect of analyzing spiritual matters through the material intellect and the greed to know all. He says:

Jnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva – to hatefully give up all proposals that the intellect will offer to you. To hatefully throw out what your intellect will come to propose to you. What the intellect will be able to judge and accept or not accept, that must be of a lower type. Summarily you are to reject that and understand you must bow down your head, namanta eva. We are to approach the higher substance in this way.

Elsewhere he says:

This is the instruction of Bhagavatamjnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva. Throw it outside, your ego, of attempting to finish Him. Submit there. Recognize that you are smallest of the small. And with that real truth of your position, try to advance with faith, with sraddha, with regard. And then He will be pitiful to you and He will come and say, “Oh you want to know Me, you know, I am such and such, I am such a friend to you, and this is all.” And this is the best benefit for you.

Bhagavatam not for Scholastic Analysis

This verse represents the transcendental nature of Srimad Bhagavatam and gives out the only formula through which one can actually win the favor of the Supreme Lord – the asraya, who otherwise is unconquerable in the three worlds. It disqualifies the empiric scholars who try to analyze the Bhagavatam as just a literary compilation. On the other hand it upholds the conclusion that the Bhagavatam can only be understood if one submissively hears and studies it under the shelter and guidance of a pure devotee of the Lord.

When one begins trying to understand Srimad Bhagavatam there is an explanation right at the beginning about the position of the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna who is the basis of the treatise, the nature of His abode, and what has to be discarded at the outset. It says: Sri Krsna is the source of all creation, sustenance, and destruction of the manifested universes. He is the direct or indirect cause of all causes, fully cognizant and yet independent. He is the source of all Vedika knowledge, and He even bewilders great sages and demigods what to speak of conditioned jivas. His abode is forever free and transcendental from the modes of material nature. Hence, thoroughly discard all calculations of religiosity and irreligiosity (dharmah projjhita kaitavo) that is materially motivated or any impurity that is a product of a limited imperfect intellect (matsara) and submissively and joyfully enter into an understanding of the ultimate goal of life as beautifully expounded in the first two verses of Srimad Bhagavatam.

Raga Bhakti and Jnana Prayasa

The slokas after this verse quoted by Ramananda Raya to Mahaprabhu are concerned purely with raga-bhakti and establish the different gradations therein, namely santa, dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and madhurya. To set the qualification for entering the raga-marga, Ramananda Raya quotes a sloka that says, tatra laulyam api mulyam ekalam (it can be attained only by paying one price – that is, intense greed). Srila Sridhara Maharaja explains laulyam in simple terms as a sincere want from the core of the heart, without any mundane adulteration, for the spontaneous loving service of the Lord. But, the ill-motivated people ‘gate crash’ into the confidential pastimes of Krsna with mundane greed to know more, that only breeds their carnal appetite. This can be understood as being jnana-prayasa that destroys ones devotion.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja stresses the verse pujala raga-patha gaurava-bhange very much. This verse says that one should show highest respects to the path of spontaneous devotion. Namanta eva – bow down. He also says, “The beginning of your interest is to bow down your head, and your heart will be captured automatically.” Adau sraddha – The progress begins from pure faith only that creates the need for sadhu-sanga – association of the true saints who have laulyam. The verse also says that this laulyam is very rare and if it is available somewhere one should purchase it by paying any price. The following verse establishes that it can be had only by the mercy of a great devotee:

rahuganaitat tapasa na yati
na cejyaya nirvapanad grhad va
na cchandasa naiva jalagni-suryair
vina mahat-pada-rajo-’bhisekam

My dear King Rahugana, unless one has the opportunity to smear his entire body with the dust of the lotus feet of great devotees, one cannot realize the Absolute Truth. One cannot realize the Absolute Truth simply by observing celibacy (brahmacarya), strictly following the rules and regulations of householder life, leaving home as vanaprastha, accepting sannyasa, or undergoing severe penances in winter by keeping oneself submerged in water or surrounding oneself in summer by fire and the scorching heat of the sun. There are many other processes to understand the Absolute Truth, but the Absolute Truth is only revealed to one who has attained the mercy of a great devotee. (Bhag. 5.12.12)

By taking shelter at the lotus feet of a pure devotee, we receive the Holy Name that bestows upon us all the spiritual progress that we intrinsically inherit (iha haite sarva siddhi haibe ‘sabara’).

Jnana Prayasa And Pariprasna

Although the quest to know everything has been condemned, one should not stop sincere questioning. In the Bhagavad-gita we find the verse – tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya. There is a gulf of difference between jnana prayasa and pariprasna. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura writes in his essay:

In one’s inherent occupation there is no need of prayasa; still, in the living entity’s conditioned state there is need for a small amount of prayasa in order to cultivate devotional service. Except this little prayasa, all other kinds of prayasa are unfavorable for devotional service.

Hence, having surrendered at the lotus feet of Sri Gurudeva, one should make a sincere effort to know and follow the process of bhakti, classified into sambandha (relation with the supreme lord), abhidheya (the means to achieve the prayojana) and prayojana (the supreme goal) that has been described in detail in the prescribed books of our acaryas. As much as one should not fall prey to jnana prayasa, one should similarly avoid imitation and blind following. There is anusarana – sincere following, as opposed to anukarana – imitation. Anusarana presupposes pariprasna, i.e. sincere questioning, that helps the seeker to understand the subject in a wholesome manner. Our Guru Maharaja says, “We should have an immovable connection with reality, an absolute conception of reality. Such a stable position is necessary. Invulnerable! A sure position, what is what—sambandha-jnana. Then we shall be able to understand and harmonize the differences that we find in the writings of the acaryas; what applies where–under what circumstances a particular line has been advised to be taken up, and under what circumstances another has been advised. Practical knowledge”

As and when any controversy arises or there is any necessary requirement, our acaryas have thoroughly established the truth and upheld the right conclusions backed by scriptural evidence and revealed truth. In doing so obviously much time and effort is invested only for our own benefit. The acarya is the representative of Sri Krsna who has appeared just to establish the truth and to lead by example. Being followers, it is our responsibility to take all pains to understand the conclusions and thereby also know the internal workings of the acarya that will help us in our spiritual journey.

siddhanta baliya citte na kara alasa
iha ha-ite krsne lage sudrdha manasa

A sincere student should not neglect the discussion of such conclusions, considering them controversial, for such discussions strengthen the mind. Thus one’s mind becomes attached to Krsna. (Cc. Adi-lila 2.117)

Mahaprabhu’s Harmonizing Principle

During Mahaprabhu’s advent and early life as a student and a teacher, the area of Navadvipa was filled with scholars of modern logic (navya-nyaya) and had great recognition as a seat of learning throughout India. Students from far off would come to enhance their knowledge and great pundits used to visit the town to establish their superiority in logic and grammar. Due to their vast learning the pundits of Navadvipa were very puffed up and used to quarrel amongst themselves to show their own supremacy.

Mahaprabhu in his student life became an expert in logic and showed his prowess by defeating the Kashmiri pandita. Just to show that logic cannot lead us to understand the absolute truth (tarko pratisthah) Mahaprabhu used to play with the wits of His contenders just as a child plays with the clay, by establishing one theory, then showing its fault and establishing something else, and again reestablishing the old theory and showing the faults of the other. Knowledge in itself is innocent (jnanam alam niranjanam) and can be molded according to ones ability to do so, but it does not find its real place unless it is used as a stepping-stone to cultivate devotional service to the Supreme Lord. This was shown in the behavior and teachings of Mahaprabhu after he came back from Gaya, after meeting Sri Isvara Puri, when he started the sankirtana movement and concerned Himself only with Krsna, remaining aloof from all mundane debates not relating to Krsna.

What Mahaprabhu came to distribute was never offered before to the masses by any other direct or indirect incarnations of the Lord (anarpita). Mahaprabhu showed the actual position of karma and jnana as being subordinate to bhakti and by introducing and establishing prema, or the divine love of Godhead as the highest attainment that can fully satisfy the inner hankering of the jiva, Mahaprabhu harmonized all the different views of the scriptures.

heloddhunita-khedaya visadaya pronmilad-amodaya
samyac-chastra-vivadaya rasa-daya cittarpitonmadaya
sasvad-bhakti-vinodaya sa-madaya madhurya-maryadaya
sri-caitanya daya-nidhe tava daya bhuyad amandodaya

O Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu! O ocean of mercy! Let there be an awakening of Your auspicious mercy, which gives rise to all good fortune: It easily destroys all lamentation; it is pure and awakens transcendental bliss; it quiets all disagreements in the different scriptures; it intoxicates the soul with a taste of the transcendental mellows; it stimulates the joys of eternal devotional service, causing the recipient to lose external consciousness; it brings peace from all sensual desires, and demonstrates both the paths of spontaneous devotion and that of respect for the rules and regulations. (Cc.Madhya.10.119)

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati comments on this verse as follows:

“When one reads the various different scriptures, one often becomes confused by the conflicting arguments presented therein. As soon as one receives the mercy of the Lord, however, the heart becomes intoxicated with the wine of Krsna and this intoxication arising out of the Lord’s mercy puts to rest all the confusion arising out of the dissenting views of various sectarian scriptures. An appreciation of the sweetness of devotion engages the conditioned soul in constant service to the Lord’s lotus feet. At that point, the fortunate living entity takes pleasure in nothing but the divine love of Krsna. Krsna’s mercy is thus spotless (nirmala); it carries the taste of spiritual life (rasada) and is filled with intoxicating jubilation (sa-mada).”


Jnana is a vast ocean and without proper direction the end is misconception, but just as the pole star gives an idea about the correct direction, the Supreme Lord manifests Himself as Sri Guru to guide us in our spiritual journey. Thus, the acceptance of and adherence towards Sri Guru is indispensable if we wish to succeed – without him all our endeavors are futile.

Just as the road is a means to the destination and not an end in itself, jnana is also just the means to the end and not an end in itself and is properly applied only when the end is loving devotion towards the Supreme Lord without a tinge of jnana and karma (jnana karmadi anavrtam). Hence one should pursue jnana only to increase one’s attachment towards the Supreme Lord who, being the master of all knowledge, will certainly bless him with the fruit of jnana-sunya-bhakti.