Chapter 4: Pure and Mixed Devotion

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 51

anirvacanīyaḿ prema-svarūpam


anirvacanīyam — beyond description; prema — of mature love of God; svarūpam — the essential identity.


The true nature of pure love of God is beyond description.


Although Nārada has been expertly analyzing bhakti from the beginning stages up to parā bhakti, he now says that it is inexpressible. Bhakti is particularly inexplicable to unqualified persons. Until a person practices devotion with faith, how can he know of it just by inquiring from a sage? Sometimes when devotees would ask Śrīla Prabhupāda questions on subjects that were beyond their ability to understand, he would give the analogy of a small boy trying to understand sexual pleasure. Because the child is physically immature, he cannot know what sex is, but once he reaches puberty, he automatically understands. When I first began typing Prabhupāda's manuscript of Teachings of Lord Caitanya, I was curious about some esoteric aspects of parā bhakti. Lord Caitanya described that when a devotee reaches perfection, he chooses to follow a particular eternal resident of Vṛndāvana and learn of his own rasa from that resident. In March of 1967 I wrote to Prabhupāda asking more about this subject. He replied as follows:

When we are in the perfect stage of devotional service, we can know our eternal relation with Krishna, and as such one of the associates of Lord Krishna becomes our ideal leader. This acceptance of leadership by one of the eternal associates of the Lord is not artificial. Do not therefore try it at present; it will be automatically revealed to you at the proper time.

It is not only immature young bhaktas who are barred from understanding parā bhakti. This advanced stage of devotion is even beyond the ability of erudite scholars to fathom. Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja writes, "The pastimes of Lord Kṛṣṇa are uncommonly full of transcendental potency. It is characteristic of such pastimes that they do not fall within the jurisdiction of experimental logic and arguments" (Cc. Antya 19.103). Rūpa Gosvāmī echoes this statement: "The activities and symptoms of that exalted personality in whose heart love of Godhead has awakened cannot be understood even by the most learned scholar" (Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.4.17).

To say that bhakti is inexpressible is not merely an evasive reply given to an outsider. In the higher stages especially, bhakti is inconceivable. The most intense expression of love of Godhead was displayed by Lord Caitanya. As described in Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Śrī Kṛṣṇa wanted to know the love that Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī felt for Him, and so He appeared as Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya's ecstatic feelings and expressions were recorded in notes kept by Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī, memorized by Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī, and related by Raghunātha dāsa to Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī. But in telling these pastimes in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja confessed his limitations:

Even Anantadeva, who possesses thousands of mouths, cannot fully describe the ecstatic transformations that Lord Caitanya experienced in a single day. What can a poor creature like me describe of those transformations? I can give only a hint of them, as if showing the moon through branches of a tree. This description, however, will satisfy the mind and ears of anyone who hears it, and he will be able to understand these uncommon activities of deep ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa. Ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa is wonderfully deep. By personally tasting the glorious sweetness of that love, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu showed us its extreme limits. [Cc. Antya 17.64-67]

Although prema-bhakti is beyond words, whatever can be conveyed by authorized devotees is appreciated by those who are sincere and faithful. Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja says,

Just try to hear these topics with faith, for there is great pleasure even in hearing them. That hearing will destroy all miseries pertaining to the body, mind, and other living entities, and the unhappiness of false arguments as well. [Cc. Antya 19.110]

A Vaiṣṇava compares the pastimes of Lord Kṛṣṇa or Lord Caitanya to the unlimited sky. Many birds fly in the sky, but some fly higher according to their abilities. In the society of devotees, realized souls share their realizations, but no one presumes to describe all the qualities or pastimes of Kṛṣṇa. Bhakti can therefore be partially expressed, but its totality is inconceivable and inexpressible. When Lord Caitanya was about to teach Rūpa Gosvāmī, He said,

My dear Rūpa, please listen to Me. It is not possible to describe devotional service completely; therefore I am just trying to give you a synopsis of the symptoms of devotional service. The ocean of the transcendental mellow of devotional service is so big that no one can estimate its length and breadth. However, just to help you taste it, I am describing but one drop. [Cc. Madhya 19.136-37]

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