Bhakti in the Jiva

Inherent or Inherited?

Bhakti in the Jīva According to Gauḍīya Vedānta

Inherent or Inherited? Bhakti in the Jiva According to Gaudiya Vedanta
  • Introduction

    Perhaps some readers may wonder about the necessity of a book like Inherent or Inherited: Bhakti in the Jiva According to Gauḍīya Vedanta. Does it really matter if bhakti is innate in the jīva or conferred upon it? More than one person asked me this very question, and I have always replied that without a proper conceptual orientation—sambandha— concerning fundamental aspects of our sampradāya, such as the nature of the self and bhakti, our practice will not be properly informed and nourished. Indeed, this practice—abhidheya—is nothing more than the result of a particular type of sambandha, which in turn fosters a distinct goal—prayojana. In other words, since our ultimate devotional aim depends on how we conduct ourselves in practice, and this in turn depends on the knowledge guiding our actions, such knowledge is pivotal to our final attainment. As such, this is the main reason I have written this book: to reach a proper Gauḍīya conception as to the nature of the self and bhakti such that one’s devotional enterprise is best informed and unobstructed by misconception in pursuit of the goal.

    Swāmī Bhakti Praṇaya Padmanābha
    Swāmī's Bio

At an early age, Swāmī B. P. Padmanābha delved deep into the theology of diverse mystical traditions. After taking up Kṛṣṇa bhakti, he has dedicated himself to an extensive study of the Gauḍīya Vedānta texts under the guidance of his devotional mentors. Fluent in English and Spanish, Swāmī has written hundreds of articles in both languages. For the past twenty years, he has traveled around the world and lectured in universities, āśramas, and yoga studios. Most of his numerous talks and seminars are available online. As a leader of spiritual retreats and communities, he inspires both practitioners and visitors with his penetrating teachings and personal example.

Below are the opening paragraphs of each chapter in the upcoming book.

Click on the Chapter Title to read more.


  • Chapter 1: The Need For an Epistemic Hierarchy

    An understanding of the epistemic hierarchy that the sampradāya’s founding ācāryas have established and how it applies to the international community today is essential to any discussion concerning the siddhānta of Gauḍīya Vedānta. In other words, discussion of Gauḍīya Vedānta is most productive when it is not merely a whimsical exercise of releasing whatever śāstric quotation one deems most convenient for one’s personal purposes. It is a sacred exercise that invokes conclusive truths by employing śāstra-yukti, or logic that is supported by scriptural revelation. That said, revelation itself is a thorny arena that requires an understanding of its structure and gradations. And while Gauḍīya Vedānta is one of many Vedāntic schools with its own epistemic hierarchy, I will first briefly describe the main method through which most Vedāntins arrive at their particular conclusions, and then I will establish why and how Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas embrace a slightly different but no less remarkable system.

  • Chapter 2: In the Beginning Was Bhakti

    Humans are inherently inquisitive, their inquiries extending beyond those of the animal kingdom to include exploration into the nature of their origin. Among those who ardently pursue this question some become transcendentalists, and among them some pursue bhakti. But what is the very genesis of bhakti? Where does it come from? For the inquisitive devotee, this important etiological question naturally arises.

  • Chapter 3: Some Words on Sukṛti

    In chapter 2, we learned that bhakti begets bhakti and thus bhakti serves as both the way and the goal, a dynamic goal that is ever-increasing. Furthermore, the bearers of bhakti are the sādhus, in whose saṅga bhakti flows unimpeded from their hearts into the hearts of others. However, in a famous śloka from the Bṛhad-nāradīya Purāṇa (4.33) it appears that the association of sadhus itself is a result of sukṛti:

    bhaktis tu bhagavad-bhakta-saṅgena parijāyate sat-saṅgaḥ prāpyate puṁbhiḥ sukṛtaiḥ pūrva-sañcitaiḥ

    Bhakti manifests by way of association with bhaktas of Bhagavān. [Such] sat-saṅga is attained by living beings’ previously accumulated sukṛtis.

    Among a few other ancient Vedic records, it is here that the term sukṛti appears in relation to how bhakti reaches the jīvātmā, apparently contradicting my original postulate by positing that a jīva obtains sādhu-saṅga/bhakti “through the accumulated effect of its sukṛti.” Thus it seems there is some further cause for bhakti other than bhakti itself. In order to solve this conundrum, the meaning of sukṛti needs to be explained.

  • Chapter 4: The Essence of the Svarūpa-śakti

    Although the three previous chapters make it clear that bhakti is not inherent in the jīva and that bhakti-tattva and jīva-tattva belong to two distinct categories of śakti-tattva, given that this topic is often misunderstood, it is important to examine the topic not only head on but also from different angles. Thus, in this and the following chapters I will proceed to consider the subject in light of other related topics in an effort to shed further light on the inherited nature of bhakti. In this chapter we will discuss bhakti in terms of it being the essence of Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa-śakti.

  • Chapter 5: Is Rasa Predetermined?

    As I have shown in the first four chapters of this book, there is considerable scriptural reasoning supporting the idea that bhakti is not inherent in the jīva. Although I will continue plumbing the depths of this rich topic, let us for a minute focus this discussion in a slightly different direction that is nonetheless connected to our main subject: If bhakti is not inherent but actually inherited, is that the case also with prema, rasa, and our siddha-svarūpa?

  • Chapter 6: The Source of Our Siddha-deha

    In the previous chapters, I have tried to establish how, according to Gauḍīya revelation, bhakti is not inherent in the jīva. Bhakti, the essence of the svarūpa-śakti, comes to us from bhakti itself. Also, I have shown that if bhakti is not intrinsic to the constitution of the jīva-śakti, the same holds true for prema and rasa, the soul’s ultimate experience in relation to Bhagavān in transcendence. Although one naturally implies the other—thus the non-inherence of bhakti should thereby naturally prove the non-inherence of rasa and prema as well—in this chapter I will continue to elaborate on this idea from a further soteriological perspective, analyzing the original source of our siddha-deha, or perfected spiritual body.

  • Chapter 7: Is There Scriptural Evidence against Inheritance?

    When presenting tattva, a Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava will rely primarily on śāstra to support his views. Scriptural quotation should be done sagaciously, using logic and common sense in a vital way. Otherwise, we run the risk of misrepresenting revelation, making different levels of contradictory statements that, although apparently logical from one’s personal and restricted perspective, will prove narrow and incompatible with the broader perspective of full-fledged siddhānta. Proper use of scriptural statements is a must in the realm of Gauḍīya hermeneutics. We engage in a risky exercise when we quote a particular reference out of its original context, when we do not take the time to consider what has been said before and after such reference, when we lose sight of which book and section of that book that the quote appears in, and so on.

  • Chapter 8: The Brahma-sūtra and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa

    The first six chapters of this book provided profuse scriptural reference in support of bhakti’s being inherited rather than inherent. Chapter 7 then addressed some of the major arguments presented against this idea, dealing with them in the most comprehensive way possible and showing how both śāstra and our pūrva-ācāryas have reached undivided consensus on this matter. Still, there is one final contention that begs to be attended to and duly integrated into the all-inclusive realm of siddhānta—Vyāsa’s cryptic Brahma-sūtra (also known as Vedānta-sūtra), the fourth section of its fourth chapter in particular.


  • Chapter 9: The Dawn of the Theory of Inherence

    Thus far, I have tried to explain the siddhānta of bhakti by way of describing the independent nature of devotion and how it chooses to come through the agency of the sādhu. Also, I have quoted pertinent and compelling sections from our founding ācāryas and their scriptures concerning śakti-tattva and the position of the taṭastha-jīva in relation to the svarūpa-śakti/bhakti-śakti. I have also tried to prove that just as bhakti is a reality that is not inherent for the taṭastha-śakti, similarly prema, rasa, and the siddha-deha are also not intrinsic to the jīvātmā. Moreover, in the two previous chapters, I presented some of the most quoted evidence against the possibility of non-inherence as well as its ultimate meaning when understood in the proper context. While doing so, I began my presentation by sharing important statements from the spotless Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the main form of revelation embraced by Mahāprabhu himself, and thus the most authoritative source of divine knowledge for members of the Gauḍīya sampradāya. At the same time, I have given śāstra-pramāṇa from other various works. And going even beyond the Bhāgavata, I have concentrated my attention on the books of our śāstra-gurus, the Six Goswāmīs. I have done so because the Goswāmī granthas are the most natural extension of both the Bhāgavata and Mahāprabhu’s own inner heart, which have been expertly disclosed by the Goswāmīs’ commentaries and original works. To this has been added the contribution of stalwarts such as Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, who has provided us with unique commentaries to the Bhāgavata and the Goswāmīs’ books.

    At this point, however, the following (and reasonable) question may arise: Where are the quotations from more contemporary Gauḍīya ācāryas belonging to the Bhaktivinoda parivāra, especially beginning with its founding father, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, from whom the idea of bhakti’s inherence in the jīva seems to have originated in our sampradāya? There are two main reasons for this. First, if we intend to speak about the present topic to a wider Gauḍīya community than that of the Bhaktivinoda parivāra, we would do well to establish our points by quoting authorities that have been unanimously accepted by the whole Gauḍīya sampradāya (beginning with the Goswāmīs and ending with personalities such as Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Goswāmī, Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, and Baladeva Vidyābhūṣana). Second, when we quote Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda and his followers along with their presentation of this particular topic, there is an unfortunate twofold tendency: (1) those who do not belong to the Bhaktivinoda parivāra may reject the Ṭhākura’s presentation by considering it a totally unacceptable heterodoxy, or (2) those who do belong to his parivāra may absolutize certain relative points in his presentation, without understanding the difference between principles and details. Both of these extremes are definitely unbecoming, so in order to avoid them, I will next address the main controversial points that beg to be reconciled in this regard.

  • Chapter 10: Problematizing the Art of Preaching

    In the previous chapter, I have shown how the theory of inherence sprouted in the Gauḍīya school with Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda. Before him, not a single ācārya in the sampradāya suggested that bhakti is intrinsic to the soul’s constitution—as we have seen, quite the contrary. But I have also shown how the Ṭhākura and many of his successors not only stated this same notion but also at times established the exact opposite idea. Because siddhānta is not a cherry-picking exercise, we are advised to harmonize any apparent contradiction and thus reach a proper conclusion. Since it has been clearly demonstrated how and why bhakti cannot be inherent in the jīva in the first nine chapters of this book, the question remains as to why some of our previous ācāryas apparently presented something different. I will try to solve this riddle in this chapter and the following two, starting with whom it all began—Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura.

  • Chapter 11: How to Reach Siddhānta (Even through Apasiddhānta)

    In spite of the fact that I have already explained why someone such as Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda would sometimes teach the idea of inherent bhakti (despite overwhelming scriptural evidence to the contrary), I have not yet plumbed the depths of the far-reaching implications of such teaching. Thus in this chapter I will try to expand on this subject, showing how these types of adjustments were in fact present even before Mahāprabhu’s times, and I will also further analyze the psychological impediments to our acceptance of the well-known phenomenon that preachers use teaching strategies.

  • Chapter 12: The Role of Samādhi in Both Outreach and Inreach

    Having gone through the many points presented in the last three chapters, some may still want to make a case for bhakti’s inherence in the jīva on the basis that whatever Ṭhākura Bhaktivinoda wrote was revealed to him in samādhi, or devotional trance. I dare not disagree with them. But whatever is revealed in samādhi is not necessarily to be accepted as absolute in every time and circumstance. Samādhi can also reveal dissemination techniques. And if we realize the subtle complexity of topics such as bhakti being not inherent (especially for Westernized minds), we can then understand how some of our pūrva-ācāryas made necessary adjustments considering not only the (generally limited) adhikāra of their audience but also their own robust adhikāra—they made necessary adjustments on the basis of their own samādhi.

  • Concluding Words: Old Is Gold

    In the twelve previous chapters, I have tried to provide abundant and positive evidence from revelation regarding the non-inherence of bhakti in the jīva and have addressed the main arguments against this truth. I have also analyzed in detail those circumstances where some contemporary Gauḍīya luminaries have apparently presented a different version from that of the founding ācāryas of the sampradāya, the Six Goswāmīs. In doing so, I have not only emphasized the importance of resorting to śāstra-pramāṇa but also demonstrated the value of assisting it with scripture-based logic and common sense while considering the possibility that temporary adjustments may have been made in the Gauḍīya teaching in the course of its dissemination. It is also of vital importance to discern between relative details and absolute principles, the latter connected to the main source of Gauḍīya revelation and its preeminent epistemological support—the Bhāgavata and the works written as extensions of it, the Goswāmī grantha.

    Although abundantly quoted throughout this book, Śrīla Jīva Goswāmī Prabhupāda once again deserves a special mention here. The tattva-ācārya of the Gauḍīya sampradāya and founding father of Bengali Vaiṣṇava theology, Śrī Jīva, among his numerous accomplishments, established through his own writings and in no uncertain terms how the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam constitutes the ultimate form of śāstra-pramāṇa for the whole Gauḍīya sampradāya, which is no small feat, as we will see.

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