Everything Related to Bhagavan is Nirguna

( – Everything Related to Bhagavan is Nirguna

[The following is a continuation of a class given on Anuccheda 134 of Bhakti Sandarbha]


Someone may object that knowledge about Bhagavān is not nirguṇa, but is only called nirguṇa figuratively (lakṣaṇika-artha) because it leads to the nirguṇa position. In other words, because it leads to the nirguṇa position it is called nirguṇa, but in itself it is not actually nirguṇa.

For example, when hailing a taxi or rickshaw, the driver of a taxi can be called “taxi”, or a rickshaw driver can be called “rickshaw”. This is a secondary meaning – the person is neither a taxi nor a rickshaw.

Jīva Gosvāmī explains that this argument is an instance of forced interpretation (kaṣṭa-kalpanā). This interpretation is unwanted, unnecessary and has no basis, because it militates against the statements we have heard earlier (e.g. SB 11.25.33) which indicate that worship of Bhagavān is beyond the guṇas – so how then would those statements be explained? Therefore, it is wrong to give such an interpretation.

Another reason this figurative meaning of nirguṇa has no basis is that since kaivalya-jñāna also leads to the nirguṇa state, there would be no difference between bhakti and kaivalya-jñāna, since they would both be means which lead to the nirguṇa state. If this were the case, why has a difference been made between these two categories?

It is therefore concluded that a lakṣaṇika, or figurative secondary, meaning need not be applied, but that knowledge of Bhagavān is indeed nirguṇa. That is the nature of knowledge of Bhagavān.


Even the happiness arising from the realization of Bhagavān is to be affirmed as nirguṇa. Jīva Gosvāmī first discusses knowledge, then subsequently he discusses different categories of happiness.

sāttvikaṁ sukham ātmotthaṁ
viṣayotthaṁ tu rājasam
tāmasaṁ moha-dainyotthaṁ
nirguṇaṁ mad-apāśrayam

“Happiness derived from the [pure] self is sāttvika; that which arises from sense objects is rājasika; that which results from delusion and wretchedness is tāmasika; whereas the happiness that ensues by taking refuge in Me is nirguṇa.” (SB 11.25.29)

Thus, the happiness coming from bhakti, or from knowing Bhagavān is also nirguṇa. Happiness derived from the pure self is sāttvika; happiness that arises from sense objects is rājasika; happiness that results from delusion and wretchedness is tāmasika; happiness that ensues from taking refuge in Bhagavān is nirguṇa.

The happiness arising from the realization of Bhagavān, or bhakti, is affirmed to be nirguṇa, since the exalted devotees, who are themselves nirguṇa, are its one and only cause (tad-eka-nidāna), as expressed in the First Canto:

śuśrūṣoḥ śraddadhānasya
syān mahat-sevayā viprāḥ

“O learned brāhmaṇas, by visiting or dwelling in a holy place and by service to highly realized devotees, attraction for the narrations of Bhagavān Vāsudeva comes about for a person endowed with firm faith, who is eager to hear.” (SB 1.2.16)

By hearing highly realized devotees speaking, one gets śraddhā, and ṣraddhā in bhakti is also nirguṇa (as explained in SB 11.25.27). This means their statements are also nirguṇa because something which is in the guṇas cannot lead to nirguṇa.


Jīva Gosvāmī raises another objection – according to the following statement of Bhagavān Matsyadeva, even knowledge of Brahman is manifest by Bhagavān’s mercy.:

madīyaṁ mahimānaṁ ca
paraṁ brahmeti śabditam
vetsyasy anugṛhītaṁ me
sampraśnair vivṛtaṁ hṛdi

“You will also know My glory, which is celebrated as Parabrahman, for it will be thoroughly revealed to you within your heart, both as a result of your own profound inquiry and through My favor.” (SB 8.24.38)

Such being the case, how can it be said that brahma-jñāna is saguṇa, or related to the material quality of sattva? In other words, if it comes by the grace of Bhagavān (and, of course, this grace is Bhagavān’s real grace, coming to his devotee King Satyavrata; not like the semblance of mercy shown to the devas, as described previously), and by this grace Satyavrata is going to have knowledge of Brahman, then how can this knowledge be considered sāttvika? Earlier it was said: kaivalyaṁ sāttvikaṁ jñānam—the knowledge of Brahman is sāttvika. How can it be sāttvika when it comes by the grace of Bhagavān?

Jīva Gosvāmī replies by explaining that brahma-jñāna is self-disclosed in two types of practitioners. Brahmavādis, followers of Brahman, can have brahman-realization, and devotees can also have experience of Brahman, but their realizations are not the same. The knowledge of devotees is nirguṇa, whereas the knowledge of those who are following Brahman as the ultimate goal is saguṇathat is, in sattva.

For devotees, brahma-jñāna is not like the brahma-jñāna experienced by brahmavādis, where there is a complete loss of knower, knowledge and knowable. Because they are devotees, they already have the conception that “I am the eternal servant of Bhagavān,” so even if they have brahman-realization, they do not become absolutely one with it, because that is not their conception. Devotees don’t think that they are one with Brahman. They know that they are distinct from Brahman and that Brahman is also Bhagavān, but without manifest qualities.  Therefore their experience is nirguṇa and their knowledge is nirguṇa. Advaitavādis however, have a different conception. When they have brahma-sakṣat-kāra, they will experience complete oneness, and that is sattva.

This important point is evidenced in the Gītā:

brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām

“Having realized one’s conscious identity with Brahman and being fully purified at heart, one neither grieves nor hankers for anything. Being equally disposed toward all beings, one attains supreme (parā) devotion to Me.” (Gītā 18.54)

The fact that one has bhakti means that there is a distinction between the devotee and Bhagavān. Although devotees have a little experience of Brahman, they don’t get completely sucked into it. They remain distinct.


ātmārāmāś ca munayo
nirgranthā apy urukrame
kurvanty ahaitukīṁ bhaktim
ittham-bhūta-guṇo hariḥ

“The sages, though liberated from the knot of egoic identity, and though delighting in the Self alone, engage in causeless devotion to Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the majestic player (Urukrama), for Śrī Hari is intrinsically endowed with such captivating qualities.” (SB 1.7.10)

The devotees have one type of Brahman realization, and Kevala-advaitavādis have another i.e., in the same manner that they meditated upon Brahman during the stage of practice. The Kevala-advaitavādi’s śraddhā is in the conception that they are one with Brahman and that Bhagavān is a manifestation of Brahman.


nātyantikaṁ vigaṇayanty api te prasādaṁ
kimv anyad arpita-bhayaṁ bhruva unnayais te
ye ’ṅga tvad-aṅghri-śaraṇā bhavataḥ kathāyāḥ
kīrtanya-tīrtha-yaśasaḥ kuśalā rasa-jñāḥ

“O Dear One, Your glories are themselves a sacred place of pilgrimage (tīrtha) and hence worthy of recitation. Those who have taken shelter of Your lotus feet, who are skillful in narrating Your stories, and who are conversant with the aesthetic rapture (rasa) implicit in such topics, do not regard even ultimate liberation as Your mercy, to say nothing of other boons, which are susceptible to fear at the merest knitting of Your eyebrows.” (SB 3.15.48)

Liberation is considered to be a semblance of Bhagavān’s mercy because devotees have no regard for it and know it is antagonistic to bhakti. The manifestation of true mercy is only when one becomes a devotee. All else is simply a semblance of mercy.

If one imagines liberation to be a form of mercy then one’s vision is in the material guṇas, because if it was nirguṇa, one would consider Bhagavān’s mercy to be the bestowal of nirguṇa bhakti.


Jīva Gosvāmī raises one more objection to the nirguṇa quality of bhakti, through which he wants to establish that in addition to knowledge about bhakti being nirguṇa, actions related to bhakti are also nirguṇa. This claim seems strange, because we execute bhakti with a material body, so the activities of sādhana-bhakti appear to be like any other actions we perform. Thus, the objection is that the internal and external senses of a person are products of the guṇas, so how can bhakti-centered knowledge and action, generated from the senses, be nirguṇa?

It is common knowledge that our external senses and internal senses (i.e., the mind) are material. Both Sāṅkhya and Nyāya agree that they are material elements. Our knowledge comes through the jñānendriyas, the cognitive senses, and our actions are carried out through the karmendriyas. As Kṛṣṇa explains in Gītā (3.27): prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ—all kriyamān karma (i.e., actions which are being done now) are done with the guṇas. Guṇa here can refer to the senses. Because they are prakṛti-guṇa, i.e., they are made from prakṛti, they are all material, so how can their actions be nirguṇa?

For example, if you take three material objects, say three types of fruits, apples, bananas, and grapes, and mix them, then whatever will be produced will only be a mixture of fruits. It will not suddenly become a vegetable. It will only be a mixture of fruits. Whatever taste is in those three fruits will also be the taste in the mixture. It may not be recognizable, but it is a mixture of the original three. Similarly, there are three guṇas, sattva,  rajas, and tamas, and everything is a mixture of these three. There is nothing which is free from these guṇas, on this earth, the heavenly planets, or anywhere else, as stated in Gītā (18.40). So, can a product of these three be nirguṇa? This is the question being raised.

Jīva Gosvāmī replies “jñāna-śakti kriyā-śakti na tā vat jaḍasya.” Can an inert object have knowledge? Can anyone with even a little sense say that inert objects can have knowledge? Can inert objects have action in them by themselves? No. Therefore, he says “The cognitive potency (jñāna-śakti) and the potency to act (kriyā-śakti) are not attributes of inert objects, like clay pots, which are made of the three guṇas.” Inert objects are lying there and cannot move by themselves, and they obviously have no knowledge. That is why they are called inert.

Then Jīva Gosvāmī goes one step further, explaining that neither do jñāna-śakti  and kriyā-śakti belong even to the conscious living beings, the jīvas, because the latter have no primary existential standing of their own, being but potencies (śaktis) belonging to and under the control of Īśvara, like a person possessed by a devatā. People continue to argue whether ātma has got prema, or ātma has got siddha-deha, but he says that the jīva doesn’t even have kriyā-śakti or jñāna-śakti, independent of Paramātmā.

Basically, what he is saying is as follows. The jñāna-śakti and kriyā-śakti, the cognitive potency and the potency to act, are present in the body due to the presence of the jīva, not independently. When the soul leaves, it is all finished. Then the eyes cannot see, and the ears don’t hear. When somebody dies, his loved one’s cry and call him, but he doesn’t hear. The senses have power only because of the ātma’s presence. And the ātma similarly has power only because of Paramātma. If Paramātma takes it away then ātma cannot act.

This is one of the fundamental principles of the Bhāgavata, which must be kept in mind, and then everything else will fall into place. In the very beginning of the Bhāgavata, it is stated: “vadanti tat tattva vidas tattvaṁ yaj jṇānam advayam”. There is one advaya-jñāna, and that is Kṛṣṇa. “kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam.

There is only one tattva, and therefore: “ekale īśvara kṛṣṇa, āra saba bhṛtya yāre yaiche nācāya, se taiche kare nṛtya” (Cc Adi 5.142). He is the supreme controller, “ vara parama kṛṣṇ a sat cit ā nanda vigraha.” No matter who you are, Kṛṣṇa gives you the freedom to act how you like, but actually He is in full control.

Just like in your body, if your senses were living beings, they would think “I am independent”, “I can see,” or “I can smell”. They know nothing about the ātma because he is adhokṣaja, beyond sense perception. Ātma is guṇātīta and indriyātīta, beyond the guṇas and senses, so the senses cannot know him. They may think that there is no ātma and that they are independently powerful, but when ātma leaves, they are finished.

In the same way, ātma is also not independent. It functions by the śakti of Paramātmā who is beyond ātma, just like ātmā is beyond the senses. This is the beauty of Kṛṣṇa, how He is keeping everything under control. He is to be understood in this way, as the supreme controller. Whether we like it or not, the truth must be known: etāvad eva jijñāsyaṁ tattva-jijñāsunātmanaḥ (SB 2.9.36).

Therefore, Jīva Gosvāmī says that this is like a person possessed by a devatā, meaning it is Paramātma who is infusing this potency into ātma. Of course, in the case of jīva it is done permanently, whereas in the case of the body, it is temporary because they belong to two separate categories. One is inert, and the other is conscious. In the case of jīva, he is also conscious, but the consciousness is coming from Paramātma.

Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī has first established that the jñāna-śakti and kriyā-śakti in every living being are nirguṇa because their source is Paramātma. Next, he will show that depending on how they are utilized, they may become saguṇa. If one has bhinna-bhāva, or pṛthak-bhāva, the separatist mentality, then they are material. However, if one has oneness of heart with Bhagavān then they are nirguṇa. Moreover, if the nirguṇa thing is used for some reason other than its source, then this is material.


First, it is important to establish why bhakti is nirguṇa. Bhakti means that which is for Kṛṣṇa. “anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā”. That is what bhakti is. When bhakti descends into the senses of a devotee then it is naturally performed, and when one obtains a spiritual body, then his bhāva is itself natural. That’s why it is called bhāva-bhakti. It is not that you have to think about how to do it—that is only at the sādhana stage. But even at the sādhana stage, it is nirguṇa for the following reason:

dehendriya-prāṇa-mano-dhiyo ’mī
yad-aṁśa-viddhāḥ pracaranti karmasu
naivānyadā lauham ivāprataptaṁ
sthāneṣu tad draṣṭrapadeśam eti

“The body, senses, life-force, mind, and intellect can function in their respective fields only when infused with a portion of His [Paramātmā’s] potency, and certainly not otherwise, any more than an iron rod can burn without having been heated by fire. Therefore, in all conditions, it is Paramātmā who is identified as the witness.” (SB 6.16.24)

Iron is not hot by nature, but if you connect it with fire, it becomes hot. And if it remains permanently connected, it will remain hot all the time. Similarly, ātma is always with Paramātma, so it is ever conscious, but the body can be separated from ātma. When the body is connected to ātma it is conscious, and when ātma is removed it is not conscious. When that energy, which actually comes from Paramātma to ātma and into the senses, is utilized for the source, then it is nirguṇa. If it is utilized independently, then it is saguṇa.

Further evidence in this regard from Śruti is as follows: “He is the life of the vital air, the sight of the eye, the auditory capacity of the ear, and the mental discernment of the mind” (BAU 4.4.18); “Without Him, nothing at all can be done” (Ṛg Veda 10.112.9).

Such being the case, when knowledge and action are directed primarily toward results that are within the three guṇas, they are known as guṇamaya, or “constituted of the guṇas.” When, however, knowledge and action are directed primarily in relation to Parameśvara [as in the case of bhakti], they are beyond the guṇas by their very nature.

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