Rūpa-Gosvāmī (1489–1564) was an devotional teacher (guru), poet, and philosopher of the Gaudīya Vaishnava tradition. With his brother Sanātana Gosvāmī, he is considered the very first of the six Gosvāmīs of Vrindāvan who later became the closest disciples of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, what they considered an Avatār (incarnation) of Krishna in Kāli Yuga.
Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī as a long-time confidential associate and devotee of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya Mahāprabhu, was able to understand His deepest intentions and also explain them in logical and highly poetic ślokas.
This is the work we know as Śrī Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu, a fundamental work on Devotional service, Bhakti, it’s inner meanings, psychology, degrees of transformed Consciousness and things favourable to this perfection of consciousness from average karmic – influenced consciousness driven by natural tendencies towards absolutely purified Divine Consciousness, or what the author calls Krishna- Consciousness, according to his tradition of Gaudīya Vaishnavism, the Consciousness perfected in a pure and humble devotional service to supreme Personality of Godhead.
When Caitanya Mahāprabhu came to the village of Rāmakelī-grāma, He met with Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī and Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī and told them, "You should leave your homes and be with Me."
After a short time they left their homes, and Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu came from Vṛndāvana and met with Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī at Prāyag, the confluence of the rivers Yamunā and Gaṅgā. The Lord told him:
pārāpāra-śūnya gabhīra bhakti-rasa-sindhu
tomāya cākhāite tāra kahi eka ‘bindu’
Lord Caitanya gave one drop of the ocean of rāsa to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī, and that one drop was sufficient to inundate millions upon millions of universes. Later, He instructed Śrīla Sanātana Gosvāmī in Varāṇasī.
Index of the 4 Oceans
Śrī Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu is the ontological analysis of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī shows how all the categories of ecstatic spiritual consciousness are described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and backs up all of his points by extracting authoritative quotations from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and other Vedic literatures. His style of presentation, which he himself called "quiet conviction" is very powerful.
Śrī Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu details all the steps from ordinary material consciousness through the highest perfection of prema-bhakti. Therefore every devotee who sincerely wants to attain the highest perfectional stage of Kṛṣṇa consciousness must study this great transcendental literature.
Pure Devotional Service
The most important śloka in Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu, which Śrīla Prabhupāda summarized in the Nectar of Devotion, gives the definition of uttama-bhakti: pure devotional service, which is the subject of the work.
śīlanaṃ bhaktir uttamā
Each word in this definition is significant in describing the characteristic of pure devotional service. The characteristics given in this śloka are divided into svarūpa-lakṣana, essential or primary characteristics, and tatastha-lakṣana, secondary characteristics.
There are three primary characteristics of pure devotional service:
- Pure devotional service is for Kṛṣṇa.
- Pure devotional service is an active engagement.
- Pure devotional service is executed with positive intent.
There are two secondary characteristics of pure devotional service:
- Pure devotional service is free from ulterior motive.
- Pure devotional service is not covered by jñāna or yoga.
Kṛṣṇa—Pure devotional service is for Kṛṣṇa
The most essential of the attributes of pure devotional service is that it is performed only for the benefit of Kṛṣṇa, and no one else. In other words, only Kṛṣṇa and His direct expansions (viṣṇu-tattva) are appropriate objects of our devotional service.
Other living entities may also be Kṛṣṇa’s expansions, but those expansions are indirect. His differentiated parts and parcels (jīva-tattvas) and various energies (śakti-tattva) are also servants of Kṛṣṇa and as such, not eligible to receive our devotional service.
Pure devotional service can be offered only to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, because He is constitutionally the beneficiary of all kinds of sacrifices.
jñātvā māṃ śāntim ṛcchati
Anuśīlanaṃ—Pure devotional service is an active engagement
Anuśīlanaṃ means ‘cultivation by following the previous teachers.’
There are two aspects to this following: pravṛtti, or activities favorable to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and nivṛtti, avoidance of activities unfavorable to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Pure devotional service is possible only by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa and His pure devotees; thus in the śloka under discussion, the prefix anu (by following) links śīlanaṃ (activities) to Kṛṣṇa. Thus initiation by a bona fide spiritual master is an indispensable feature of the spiritual path.
All the activities in Kṛṣṇa’s service are directly under the control of His internal pleasure potency. Therefore the spiritual masters of the lineage descending from Kṛṣṇa are all servants of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī.
To reach success in attaining pure devotional service, we must connect ourselves with Her by accepting initiation into the guru-paramparā. In this way all our life energy can become spiritualized by connection with the original source.
Ānukūlyena—pure devotional service is executed with positive intent
Sometimes Kṛṣṇa derives pleasure from fighting with demons, but the activities of the demons is not considered devotional service because of their inimical intent.
Therefore Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī qualifies his definition of pure devotional service with ānukūlyena, positive intent. It indicates that a favorable attitude toward Kṛṣṇa is an essential attribute of pure devotional service.
Whereas the demons’ activities sometimes please Kṛṣṇa, they are not accepted as devotional service because of lack of positive intent;
yet sometimes Kṛṣṇa’s devotees perform activities that apparently displease Him, yet are accepted as devotional service because they are performed with love.
For example, Mother Yaśodā sometimes chastises her son, but this is accepted as pure devotional service because it is done out of love for Him.
Anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṃ—pure devotional service is free from ulterior motive
Anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṃ means ‘devoid of any other desire.’
Any desire except for the devotional service of the Lord is material desire, even if it is apparently spiritual, such as the desire for liberation, because the motive of such desire is selfish benefit and not devotional love.
Ordinary desires such as the instinct for self-preservation, to eat or take reasonable care of the body are not out of the range of devotional service, as long as they do not become the main motivational focus of our life.
The body must be kept fit to engage in meaningful service to Kṛṣṇa. The point here is that the objective even of ordinary desires must ultimately be the pleasure of the Lord.
Jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam—pure devotional service is not covered by jñāna or yoga
It is not that we must completely abstain from all philosophical speculation or rational thought, as long as the aim of such reasoning is to confirm the conclusions of the śāstra and the instructions of the spiritual master and other great souls.
Philosophical defeat of opposing systems of thought is also valuable in preaching, although not necessary for pleasing Kṛṣṇa Himself.
Similarly we can engage in ordinary social and religious activities (karma), as long as these engagements do not become more prominent than our direct engagements in bhakti.
One should not be a full-time fruitive worker, philosopher or speculator and a part-time devotee, but a devotee who occasionally engages in karmic activity to maintain himself and his family responsibilities.
In conclusion, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī’s definition of uttama-bhakti is perfect. Each word is so precise and exact that once we understand it, we cannot mistake anything else for pure devotional service.
His definition is neither overly exclusive nor overly inclusive, and it applies perfectly to all stages of devotion, from the neophyte stage of practice to the exalted stage of prema-bhakti.
The entire content of Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu is based upon this scientific definition of pure devotional service. Every bona fide student of the Esoteric Teaching must be completely familiar with it and also be able to apply it in practice.
Qualities of Pure Devotional Service
In Chapter 1 of Śrī Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī explains that there are three categories of pure devotional service:
- Sādhana-bhakti: devotional service in practice
- Bhāva-bhakti: devotional service in ecstasy
- Prema-bhakti: devotional service in pure love of Godhead
It is also described that pure devotional service displays six transcendental qualities:
- Kleśaghnī: pure devotional service brings immediate relief from all kinds of material distress.
- Śubhadā: pure devotional service is the beginning of all auspiciousness.
- Sudurlabhā: pure devotional service is rarely achieved.
- Mokṣa-laghutākṛta: Those in pure devotional service deride even the conception of liberation.
- Śāndrānanda-viśeṣātmā: pure devotional service automatically puts one in transcendental pleasure.
- Śrī kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī: pure devotional service is the only means to attract Kṛṣṇa.
Each category of devotional service displays two of these transcendental qualities. Sādhana-bhakti displays the qualities of kleśaghnī and śubhadā. Bhāva-bhakti displays the same qualities as sādhana-bhakti, plus sudurlabhā and mokṣa-laghutākṛta. Prema-bhakti displays all the previous qualities, with the addition of śāndrānanda-viśeṣātmā and śrī kṛṣṇākarṣiṇī. This explains the statement of Śrīla Prabhupādain Nectar of Devotion, "Generally it is understood that in the category of devotional service in practice there are two different qualities, devotional service in ecstasy has four qualities, and devotional service in pure love of Godhead has six qualities."
Earlier we introduced the definition of pure devotional service. Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu 1.1.11 defines pure devotion, uttama-bhakti, thus:
śīlanaṃ bhaktir uttamā
The Lord fulfills the desires of everyone. Pure devotees are interested in achieving the transcendental service of the Lord, which is nondifferent in quality from Him. Therefore, the Lord is the only desire of the pure devotees, and devotional service is the only perfect spiritual process for achieving His favor. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says in Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu 1.1.11 (quoted above) that pure devotional service is jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam: pure devotional service is without any tinge of speculative knowledge and fruitive activity. Such devotional service is able to award the pure devotee the highest result, namely direct association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Kṛṣṇa.
According to the Gopāla-tāpanī Upaniṣad, after Brahmā's extensive tapasya, the Lord showed him one of the many thousands of petals of His lotus feet. It says:
brāhmaṇo'sāv anavarataṃ me
dhyātaḥ stutaḥ parārdhānte
so 'budhyata gopa-veśo me
Devotees whose objective is to associate personally with the Lord have no desire to accept the activities of karma-kāṇḍa or jñāna-kāṇḍa, for pure devotional service is above both. Anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṃ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam [Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu 1.1.11]. In pure devotional service there is not even a pinch of jñāna or karma. The devotees accept only the upasana-kāṇḍa process of pure devotional service.
iti bhāgavatān dharmān
śikṣan bhaktyā tad-utthayā
añjas tarati dustarām
Simply executing the duties of the regulative principles of the scriptures, all the varṇas and āśramas of external religious duty, is not as good as offering all the results of one’s activities to the Lord. When one gives up all fruitive activity and fully surrenders to the Lord, he attains sva-dharma-tyāga, wherein he abandons the social order and takes to the renounced order. That is certainly better. However, better than the renounced order is cultivation of knowledge mixed with devotional service. Yet all these activities are external to the activities of the spiritual world. There is no touch of pure devotional service in them.
Pure devotional service is the highest transcendental platform. It cannot be attained by empiric philosophy, nor can perfection be attained simply by good association. Devotional service by self-realization is a different subject matter. It is untouched by fruitive activity, for one surrenders the results of activities to the Lord, abandons prescribed duties and accepts the renounced order of life. Such devotional service is situated on a higher platform than that of empiric philosophical speculation with a mixture of bhakti.
Without coming to the stage of prema-bhakti, pure love of Godhead, the whole process is a failure. Therefore the path of devotional service must not be reduced to an external religious process based on the rules and regulations of the scriptures; although it may begin from regulated vaidhī-bhakti, it must help the aspiring devotee advance to rāgānugā-bhakti, spontaneous loving service, and ultimately reach the perfectional stages of bhāva and prema. Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu gives this progressive path, beginning from the regulative principles of scriptural injunction up to the highest platform of pure devotional service. Therefore it is unique, even among the Vedic literature, for it educates the devotee in the highest and most esoteric science of rāsa-tattva, or how to satisfy Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
The importance of Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu
In Jaiva-Dharma by Śrīla Bhaktivinod Ṭhākur, Chapter 31, it is stated:
Now I can truly realize the importance of these wonderful words composed by Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī in the Southern Division, Fifth Wave, Verses 78-79, of the Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu:
sarva thaiva durūho ‘yam abhaktair-bhagavad-rasaḥ
tat pādāmbuja-sarvasvair bhaktair evānurasyate
vyatītya bhāvanā-vartma yaś camatkāra-bhāra-bhuḥ
hṛdi sattvojjvale bāḍhaṃ svadate sa raso mataḥ
True rasa is not available upon the material plane; it is of the spiritual world. As the jīva is cit-kaṇa, a spark of spiritual energy, rasa manifests within his consciousness. Rasa appears only in deep bhakti-samādhi, devotional meditation. Those who have received the grace of Śrī Gurudeva and have realized the distinction between śuddha-sattva, pure goodness, and miśra-sattva, mixed goodness, are free from all doubts.
There is a profound difference between the ordinary goodness in the material world and the pure goodness of the transcendental plane of consciousness. The root of this difference has to do with our intentions. When the root of our intention is to benefit ourselves, we are capable of action in the mode of goodness, but such action is still contaminated with the conception of selfishness. Pure goodness, on the other hand, is bereft of all sense of self-benefit, and seeks only to benefit the beloved or object of service, namely Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself.
We cannot understand this subtle distinction, nor purify ourselves from the desire for self-benefit, by any other process than pure bhakti. Karma, jñāna and yoga are all predicated on the assumption of activity for the purpose of benefiting oneself. Only pure bhakti is the platform of actions performed in pure loving service without any desire for oneself. One only desires more and more service for the beloved, and Śrī Kṛṣṇa reciprocates this service by arranging more and more facility for the devotee to engage in His transcendental loving service.
This process of pure devotional service is the subject of Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu. Although it is mentioned in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, it is not explained in detail there. But Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu discusses uttma-bhakti, pure devotional service, more elaborately than any other Vedic literature.
Vaidhi-bhakti is devotion inspired by following scriptural rules, whereas rāgānugā-bhakti is devotion inspired by lobha, or greed. While there is ample explanation of vaidhī-bhakti (regulated devotional service) in other works, spontaneous devotion (rāgānugā-bhakti) and the higher stages of devotional service such as bhāva-bhakti and prema-bhakti are discussed in detail only in Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu.
To be inspired towards bhakti means to be single-minded in executing all the different processes of bhakti. Therefore the two ways to foster bhakti are first by strictly following scriptural rules, and second, through developing intense greed (lobha) to serve the Lord. Of these two methods, Śrīla Rūpa Goswami gives more importance to lobha, as he expresses in his Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu:
tat tat-bhava-ādi-mādhurye śrute dhīr-yad-apekṣate
nātra śāstraṃ na yuktiṃ-ca tallobhotpatti-lakṣaṇam
When a devotee becomes greedy for Kṛṣṇa while hearing about the different ecstatic emotions displayed by a parikāra (confidante) participating in Kṛṣṇa's Vraja pastimes, the devotee thinks, "Let this spiritual emotion also bloom in my heart." Such meditations are never interrupted by a need to seek consent from either the scriptures or logic. If by chance a devotee feels any uncertainty, then his desire to possess the spiritual emotions of a Parikāra cannot be called lobha. No one can ever develop lobha from following scriptural injunctions, nor can one obtain the desired spiritual object if the mind is endlessly analyzing whether or not one is eligible. Real lobha appears spontaneously when one sees or hears about Kṛṣṇa.
Lobha has two divisions according to the two sources from which it may develop: the pure devotee's mercy and the Supreme Lord's mercy. The first division of lobha, that which is owing to the devotee's mercy, is of two kinds: ancient and modern. Ancient lobha appears by the mercy of pure devotees steeped in the same sweet, eternal devotional mellows the constant associates of Lord Kṛṣṇa relish. When lobha originates from the grace of pure devotees in the present time it is known as contemporary, or modern. When lobha starts from the previous birth and begins to bloom in the present life then the devotee must take shelter of a guru who is a rāgānugā pure devotee. The second kind of lobha, or modeni-lobha, is developed only after the devotee takes shelter of his spiritual master. Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu confirms:
kṛṣṇa tat-bhakta kāruṇya-mātra lobhaika hetukā
puṣṭi-mārga-tayā kaiścid iyam rāgānugocyate
When both kinds of devotees, the one yearning for ancient lobha, the other for modern lobha, hear how to acquire the devotional mellows possessed by Kṛṣṇa's eternal associates, or nitya-parikāra, they seek guidance from the proper scriptures. This is because the authorized method for attaining bhāva is delineated in scriptural injunctions and purports; no other sources for receiving this information are indicated anywhere.
The following analogy illustrates this point: A person becomes greedy for milk and its products, but first he must want to know how to procure milk. He then has to seek advice from a trustworthy person conversant with the subject who will tell him how to purchase a cow and how to take care of her properly. In other words, knowledge on a subject cannot be simply invented—proper guidance is necessary. As Lord Brahma explains in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 8.6.12:
yathāgnim edhasy amṛtaṃ ca goṣu
bhuvy annam ambūdyamane ca vṛttim
yogair manuṣyā adhiyanti hi tvāṃ
guṇeṣu buddhyā kavayo vadanti
For a rāga-bhakta (the devotee who is following the path of rāgānugā-bhakti) this intense eagerness for hearing and chanting about the all-purifying qualities and activities of Kṛṣṇa begins with the rāga-bhakta's surrender to the lotus feet of his guru, and continues to flourish until he attains his spiritual goals. The more a devotee is purified by hearing and chanting, the more spiritual realizations he will have; just as medicine applied correctly to diseased eyes cures them, so hearing and chanting cures the devotee of material ignorance.
The formula for this concentrated medicine is found in Śrī Bhakti-Rasāmṛta-Sindhu, and nowhere else. It is described very nicely in the five Waves of the Southern Ocean as a combination of five bhāvas: vibhāva, anubhāva, sāttvika-bhāva, vyabhicārī-bhāva and sthāyi-bhāva. This transcendental prescription coming from the original physician, Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, is powerful enough to cure all our material diseases and restore us to full spiritual health.
Stages of Devotional Service in Terms of Consciousness
A person identified with the material body, life energy or mind is in material consciousness, under the three modes of nature: ignorance, passion or goodness respectively. Once one enters the path of devotional service, he is in spiritual consciousness and on the transcendental platform. Then he becomes authorized (adhikāra) to cultivate progressively higher stages of devotional service as described in the "ādau śraddha" śloka:
ādau śraddhā tataḥ sādhu-
saṅgo 'tha bhajana-kriyā
tato 'nartha-nivṛttiḥ syāt
tato niṣṭhā rucis tataḥ
athāsaktis tato bhāvas
sādhakānām ayaṃ premṇaḥ
prādurbhāve bhavet kramaḥ
We hope you find this edition of Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Śrī Bhakti-rasāmṛta- sindhu useful and enlightening.