Bhakti and Jnana – Their relationship according to Rupa and Jiva Gosvamis by Jaya Bhadra dasi (Joan Murphy)
Bengal’s Caitanya Mahaprabhu (1486-1534 CE) is recognized as one of the main players in the dramatic wave of emotional bhakti (devotion) for Krsna (accepted as God by his devotees) that swept the Indian subcontinent in the fifteenth century. Mahaprabhu’s melodic repetition of Krsna’s names and ecstatic dancing (kirtana) were not entirely novel, but his intensity of expression and irresistible influence were unprecedented. Although exceedingly popular with the masses wherever he wandered (he toured India on foot twice during his relatively short lifetime), among the ecclesiastical echelons he was at times condescendingly referred to as a bhavuka, or sentimentalist. (Prabhupada, 1973, 32).
Mahaprabhu eventually engaged in dialogue with several such savants, and many became his followers, but it was the famed "Six Gosvamis of Vrndavana" (six of his immediate disciples) whom Mahaprabhu deputed to systematize his teachings for posterity. (‘Gosvami’ is an honorary title meaning "one who is the master of the senses"). Even an outline of their prolific literary contributions is beyond the scope of this essay; therefore, I will simply discuss two related books, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, written by the most senior Gosvami, Rupa (1489-1564), and Bhakti-sandarbha by the most junior, Jiva (1513-1598). I will explore some of the earlier chapters of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu and Bhakti-sandarbha which delineate the relationship between bhakti and jnana (knowledge). By this study I wish to draw attention to the significance of jnana in the development of bhakti and compare it to the jnana derived from independent philosophical speculation, indicating the superiority of the former. My main literary resources are: The Nectar of Devotion, a summary study of Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (the founder of the International Society of Krsna Consciousness, a modern branch of Gaudiya-Vaisnavism), a disciplic descendant of the Six Gosvamis (1896-1977), Waves of Devotion, A Comprehensive Study Of The Nectar Of Devotion by Dhanudhara Swami, a disciple of Prabhupada, and Jiva Gosvami’s Bhakti-Sandarbha (the fifth volume of a six-part treatise titled Sat-sandarbha) translated by Kusakratha dasa, also Prabhupada’s disciple. I occasionally access David Haberman’s translation of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu.
In The Nectar of Devotion Prabhupada wove his translations of the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu verses into the text; since he included full translations of some of Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu’s key verses elsewhere in his books, those translations will be used in this essay.