Discovering the Self

Śrīla Bhakti Rakak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj explains the meaning of sādhana-bhakti.

Manodharma [the mental plane] is always changing. Buddhiloka, the plane of judiciousness, is more real and stable. Ātmaloka [the plane of the soul] is above that, and then Paramātmaloka [the plane of the Supersoul]. According to our progress, we reach higher planes, and it is possible for us to live in them for a long time.

Śrīla Sanātan Goswāmī has shown in a gradation how the sādhaka [practitioner] is taken to a particular place, lives there for some time, finds dissatisfaction, is again given some connection, and then taken to an upper layer. There, after some time, they again feel dissatisfaction, some arrangement is made, some higher connection reaches them, and they are taken to a higher plane. In this way, they are gradually taken up to Vndāvan, through different positions: Vaikuṇṭha, Ayodhyā, and Dvārakā, and then Vndāvan. They progress through Satyaloka, Śivaloka, and Vaikuṇṭhaloka. The life of Gopa Kumār begins in a lower plane and gradually goes up to show the importance of the different planes.

Student: I have a question about this. Gopa Kumār seems to display the same inner nature all throughout his journey. Even though he is going through different planes, he doesn’t seem to change. He searches until he finds the plane in which he actually finds full satisfaction; his identity doesn’t seem to be changing as he goes through the different planes. Gopa Kumār goes through the different places, but his inner nature is not affected. He always remains in his constitutional position as a Vraja-vāsī.

Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: Yes. Our inner self is located there. If our inner self, by construction, is meant for Vraja, then our progress will be like that. Until we reach that realisation, we cannot feel any satisfaction anywhere. Gopa Kumār cannot fully identify himself with the activities of any other plane. If one has one’s innate nature in Vaikuṇṭha, then one’s journey will terminate in Vaikuṇṭha. One will remain there satisfied.

The name Gopa Kumār hints at his innermost tendency. Sanātan Goswāmī gave him the name Gopa Kumār to indicate that his innate nature is that of a gopa [cowherd boy of Vraja]. If one’s innate nature is that of a Vaikuṇṭha-vāsī, a servant of Nārāya, then one will go to Vaikuṇṭha and remain satisfied there forever. There are things that we cannot see with our eyes, but can see with an x‑ray. With subtle vision, the soul’s inner nature can be seen. Is he a unit of Goloka? And a unit also of what group? In Goloka, but in sakhya-rasa? Madhura-rasa? Where? Seeing his innate nature with “x‑ray vision”, Sanātan Goswāmī has given him the name Gopa Kumār.

The line of sādhana for one who is in one’s self-determined stage and has the name Gopa Kumār will be like this. He won’t be satisfied anywhere in any plane. Gradually, he will go there, and there his sādhana will be finished. The means to the end. The means will be finished there, and he will be satisfied there because he has come to his own plane, his own home. Gopa Kumār means, “He whose innate home is  with the gopas.”

If one’s nature is that of a servitor in Vaikuṇṭha, then one will stop in Vaikuṇṭha. Hanumān, the monkey servitor of Rāma, will stop in Ayodhyā. His inner diagnosis is there. But one whose innate nature is that of gopa won’t be satisfied. Though he may be offered many things on the way, he won’t be satisfied as long as he cannot reach Vndāvan. It is all tasteless. Sometimes, for the time being, he tries to adjust with the environment, but he can’t. He fails and feels dissatisfied. Again, a new thing is given to him, he tries his best to accommodate it given the circumstances and paraphernalia, but he can’t. His inner tendency doesn’t allow him to settle there permanently. He feels uneasiness and dissatisfaction. Then, a higher plane, then the next higher plane, and then the next higher one. In this way, he won’t be free or feel satisfied in any environment until and unless he reaches his own plane.

Student: How is it that one develops this innate nature? Is it developed?

Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: It is not developed; it is discovered.

kti‑sdhy bhavet sdhya-bhv s sdhanbhidh
nitya-siddhasya bhvasya prkaya hdi sdhyat
(Śrī Bhakti-rasāmta-sindhu: Pūrva-vibhāga, 2.2)

Sādhana means to remove the covering, to discover, what is already within. The innate nature is already within in a very germinal form. It is covered and inactive. Remove the cover, and it will assert itself.

Student: So, that means that souls in the brahma-jyoti have an innate position?

Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: A thousand times that has been answered by me: adaptability is there for both sides. How can a soul enter this mundane world from the brahma-jyoti? We have to consider the possibility, the adaptability there: an undetectable state of soul. Only with the influence of the lower can the soul come to the lower region, and only with the help of the higher can the soul go to the higher region. There is adaptability in the seed. You are to think out what it can be.

Adaptability is there in the buffer state, an undetectable, subtle thing, and that adaptability is for both sides: the higher and the lower. If it is possible that the soul can come to the lower region, then there is possibility that the soul can go to the higher one. By very minute observation, one can detect the higher possibility within the soul. Then it is caught that the soul’s higher adaptability, prospect, is life in Vraja or Vaikuṇṭha. In Vraja also, there are different rasas, and one may be present in a very subtle form, in an undetectable way, within the soul. That is the svarūp [self].

Without the svarūp, how we can come down here from the undetectable position, that is, brahma, akara.

kara sarvāi bhūtāni kūastho ’kara uchyate
(Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā: 15.16)

Akara means kūastha, undetectable. Something like an unknowable position, so subtle, but with possibility. Taastha means the margin. There, the soul is not actively participating on any side but has the possibility for participation on both sides. Such is the wonderful position from where the soul, the taastha jīva, comes.

This question is a very impertinent one. It cannot be solved or conceived of very easily. But we are to adjust with it.

kṛṣṇera ‘taasthā-śakti’ ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmta: Madhya-līlā, 20.108)

[“The soul is the marginal energy of Kṛṣṇa, a manifestation different and nondifferent from Him.”] 

By conclusion, it comes like this. The soul is created with adaptability that is undetectable. So, it is there.


kti‑sdhy bhavet sdhya-bhv s sdhanbhidh
nitya-siddhasya bhvasya prkaya hdi sdhyat
(Śrī Bhakti-rasmta-sindhu: 1.2.2)

Devotion performed by the senses that leads to bhāva is known as sādhana-bhakti. It is known as sādhana because it uncovers the eternal, perfect nature (bhāva) of the soul within the heart (not because actions of the material senses can produce bhāva, which is spiritual and self-manifest).

The following explanation of this verse is given in Śrīla Bhakti Rakak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj’s edition of Śrī Bhakti-rasāmta-sindhu in Bengali:

Devotion that is seen to be performed by the actions of the material senses—hearing, seeing, and so on—is known as sādhana-bhakti. Through such sādhana-bhakti, bhāva-bhakti and prema-bhakti are attained. With regard to the above statement, do not think that devotion is produced as a result of any mechanical operation of the senses. The reason for this is that devotion is the eternal, perfect nature of the pure soul. Helping that eternal, perfect nature to arise in the heart is known as sādhana. Such sādhana-bhakti, when mature, manifests progressively as bhāva-bhakti and prema-bhakti.”


Spoken on 19 January 1982 in Śrī Nabadwīp Dhām.

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