by Sri Srimad Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Goswami Maharaja

The original form of Bhagavan descended during this age of quarrel and hypocrisy as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to deliver all of the living entities. Srila Rupa Gosvami, who is priyasvarupa, the very embodiment of everything Translated into English for the first time dear to Him, and who is foremost among those who established the deepest wishes of His heart, has revealed the symptoms of uttamabhakti, the utmost culmination of devotional service to Krishna:

anyabhilashita-sunyam jnana-karmadyanavritam
anukulyena krishnanusilanam bhaktir-uttama

Sri Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.1.11)  

     anya-abhilashita – prone to selfish, ulterior desires; sunyam –devoid; jnana – knowledge; karma – fruitive work; adi – and so on; anavritam – not eclipsed; anukulyena – through genuine kindness to Him; krishna – Krishna; anu – perpetual; silanam – ardent endeavour; bhaktir-uttama – the utmost culmination of bhakti (devotional service to Krishna).

Perpetual, ardent endeavour meant exclusively for Sri Krishna and performed out of genuine kindness(1) to Him, when neither prone to any selfish, ulterior desires nor eclipsed by impersonal knowledge, fruitive work, or any other occupation, is known as uttama-bhakti. The sadhaka who carefully reflects upon and studies this verse under the guidance and care of the followers of Srila Rupa Gosvami will know the meaning of bhakti with lucid clarity and indeed, he will attain realization of bhakti.

The Perfect Definition

The statement of Srimad-Bhagavatam, "krishnas tu bhagavan svayam – while all other forms of Godhead are expansions, Krishna is personally the original form of Godhead" is accepted as the defining statement in any deliberation on sambandha-tattva, or existential relationships. Similarly, the verse at hand, the definition of uttama-bhakti that we are now considering, must be accepted as the defining statement in relation to abhidheya-tattva, the means to the ultimate end, namely krishna-prema. It is said, "sa caniyame-niyama-karini – the factual definition of something is the one that exceeds all others in authority and is thus regarded as the most prominent."

Fruitive workers, speculative philosophers, mystics,those who offer the results of their work to God, sense enjoyers, whimsical religionists, and the members of  various cults, all propagate their own conceptions of bhakti. This verse, from which the symptoms of bhakti to Krishna can be derived, has utterly subverted their opinions, understandings and inferences by proving these to be inconsistent, flawed and greatly misled.

Intrinsic Symptoms and Boundary Symptoms

Perpetual, ardent endeavour meant exclusively for Sri Krishna and performed out of genuine kindness to Him, when neither prone to any selfish, ulterior desires nor eclipsed by impersonal knowledge, fruitive work, or any other occupation, is known as uttama-bhakti. The symptoms described in the second half of this verse, anukulyena krishna-anu-silanam, directly comprise bhakti’s own form. Hence, these symptoms are called the svarupa-lakshana of bhakti. The symptoms described in the first half of this verse, anya-abhilashitasunyam jnana-karma-adi-anavritam, demarcate the boundary of bhakti. Hence, these symptoms are called the tatastha-lakshana of bhakti. (2)

A Technical Analysis of Interpreting the Verb-root sil

There is no verb in this verse, but the verb-root sil within the noun anusilanam is perfectly obvious. The word anusilanam is formed by qualifying the verb-root sil with the prefix anu. In Sanskrit grammar there are ten ways to interpret a verb, technically called ganas (3).Within some of these ganas – headed by the gana called cura-gana – the verb-root sil is interpreted as "repeated or permanent exercise or discipline" (abhyasa). By this interpretation, sil is conceived of as having progress or engagement (pravritti) as its essential characteristics. In contrast, within the other ganas – headed by the gana called bhva-gana – the same verb-root, sil, is interpreted as "profound stillness or concentration of thought, or intent contemplation of a particular object" (samadhi). By this interpretation, sil is conceived of as having withdrawal or disengagement (nivritti) as its essential characteristics.

Active Efforts and Emotional States of Being

The expression of bhakti is accomplished both through active efforts (ceshta) and emotional states of being (bhava). The verb root sil accounts for both of these features of bhakti.(4)

Active Engagements and Active Disengagements

Continuing on, the active feature itself of anusilanam for the sake of Sri Krishna, is expressed through one’s body, one’s mind and one’s words. Each of these methods of expression is always seen in the two forms of engagements (pravritti-rupa) and disengagements (nivritti-rupa).

Engaging in the nine prominent limbs of bhakti, which constitute its very form, through one’s body, mind and words is krishna-anusilanam in the form of an active engagement (pravritti-atmaka-ceshta). On the other hand, resolutely abstaining from offending Krishna’s holy name or the process of serving Krishna is krishnaanusilanam in the form of an active disengagement nivritti-atmaka-ceshta).

Perpetual and Without Obstruction

The prefix anu can be used to mean "following", "accompanying", "repeatedly" or "perpetually". In Sri Harinamamrita-vyakarana Srila Jiva Gosvami comments on the use of the prefix anu in the context of krishna-pravacaniya (cf. Panini’s karmapravacaniya (5).


lakshana-vipse-ittham-bhuteshvabhir-bhage pariprati
‘anu’ reshu saharthe ca hine tupas-ca kathyat

Sri Harinamamrita-vyakarana (4.107)

The characteristics that are repeated in each of the prefixes pari, prati and parts of abhi [especially "toward" and "severally", or "one after another"] are also included in anu. But it is to be mentioned that anu also exclaims "accompaniment" and "inferiority" like the prefix upa.

The prefix anu is used in this verse with the verb-root sil to convey "perpetually and ardently endeavouring". In other words, the ardent endeavours (silanam) discussed in this definition of uttama-bhakti must be perpetual and without obstruction. Furthermore, such perpetual, ardent endeavours must be exclusively for Sri Krishna. When anu-silanam in both its features, namely active efforts and emotional states of being, is meant exclusively for Sri Krishna, then it is part of bhakti. Hence krishna-anusilanam.

Flawed Definitions

Pleasing, active engagements exclusively meant for Sri Krishna is indeed bhakti. It stands to reason that perpetual,ardent endeavour (anusilanam) must be immediately pleasing to the person it is meant for. Thus, it would seem we have discovered the definition of bhakti in the term krishnanusilanam itself. (6)

  However, this symptom of bhakti is tainted by two flaws (dosha). In some respects it extends to include too much (ativyapti-dosha) and in other respects, it does not extend far enough (avyapti-dosha). Those symptoms that are not tainted by the faults of under-extension (avyapti), over-extension (ativyapti) or inconsistency are the correctly derived symptoms of bhakti.


If bhakti were defined solely as krishnanusilanam (perpetual, ardent endeavour meant exclusively for Sri Krishna), or to please Sri Krishna, then, as we will see, it would serve to establish even spiteful demons like Kamsa’s most fearsome wrestlers, Canura and Mushtika, as devotees. Herein, the symptoms of bhakti have extended to include too much. In other words, ativyaptidosha has arisen.

When Sri Krishna heard the challenging words of Canura and Mushtika upon entering Kamsa’s royal wrestling arena, the joy of heroism (vira-rasa) surged within Him. Whenever a warrior receives blows from his opponent, he is thrilled. Thus, when Krishna received repeated blows from Canura and Mushtika, who perpetually endeavoured to attack Him, He naturally experienced the happiness that arises from heroism. Should one then deem Canura and Mushtika to be bhaktas? Since their endeavours were meant for Sri Krishna’s undoing, and not at all for His enjoyment, no one will ever conclude that they are bhaktas.


Conversely, defining bhakti simply as pleasing Sri Krishna, would imply that someone who causes Krishna any displeasure at all is not a bhakta and that his actions are not expressions of bhakti. For example, once when Mother Yasoda was breastfeeding baby Krishna, the milk she had been heating began to boil over. At once, she removed Sri Krishna from her lap, much to His displeasure, and ran to save the milk. Krishna was so enraged that, biting His lips, He smashed a nearby clay pot that was full of yoghurt. He was so intensely unhappy at being denied His mother’s breast milk to His full satisfaction that He burst into tears.

  When Mother Yasoda denied Sri Krishna full satisfaction, He was not even slightly pleased with her. Hence, in this case, defining bhakti as krishnanusilanam alone prevents the definition from extending to include these actions. In other words, avyapti-dosha has arisen. Mother Yasoda is the presiding goddess of immaculate prema-bhakti in vatsalya-rasa (parental love of God). Her every endeavour is for the sake of serving Sri Krishna. In this pastime, she had thought to herself, "My breast milk alone will not fully nurture Sri Krishna, but the milk on the stove, which is now boiling over, will protect His life!" Although Mother Yasoda was the queen of Vraja and was always surrounded by unlimited servants and maids, she would personally milk the best cows and heat their excellent milk. Then, with her own hands she would prepare the finest butter for Krishna.

"Even if I displease Krishna for the time being," she had thought, "I must save this milk for Him." Thoughts like this would cause her prema-bhakti to swell to exceptional heights and thereafter permeate all of Her actions. Her actions can never be anything but bhakti.

Genuine Kindness to Him

The word anukulyena prevents the faults of underextension (avyapti-dosha) and over-extension (ativyaptidosha) from tainting the definition of bhakti. In the instrumental case,(7) the adjective anukula (kind) becomes anukulyena (by means of kindness). If someone aspires to perform krishnanusilanam – perpetual, ardent endeavours meant exclusively for Sri Krishna –then he must first become anukula – genuinely kind to Him. It must be his sole ambition to please and satisfy Sri Krishna and he must completely expel even the slightest trace of hostility (pratikulata) from his heart.Even if someone’s krishnanusilanam temporarily seems to be entirely favourable for Sri Krishna, if it is not utterly devoid of any underlying adversity and any craving for personal gratification, then it is not bhakti. Although his endeavours may momentarily please his worshipful Lord, if they harbour any personal, selfish, ulterior motives or any motivation besides pleasing the Lord, he will fail to procure the actual fruit of bhakti, namely superlative love of Godhead (prema). Instead, the result he obtains will simply correspond to his underlying motivations.

"Pleasing Srila Gurudeva Gives Me Life"

Many of the disciples of our Srila Gurudeva, jagad-guru paramaradhyatama Sri Srila Prabhupada, gave their bodies, minds, words and wealth to assist in fulfilling his heart’s deepest ambitions. Although he was immensely pleased by their service, or anusilana, it is seen that some of them, even after serving him in this way for so many years, were willing to abandon him, their own guru (guru-tyaga), and that others have developed gurubhoga, the propensity to exploit him. That is, instead of striving to imbibe the ideal and character of our Sri Gurupada-padma, who was perpetually rapt in bhajana, they have simply imitated his external activities and audaciously costumed themselves as gurus. Not even the first stage of bhakti has manifested in their hearts. If we contemplate the cause for this, we find that as they served him, they failed to maintain the attitude, "Srila Gurudeva will be pleased by accepting my service and pleasing him gives me life." Since they served him with many other motives and not exclusively with the hope of pleasing him, they were cheated out of obtaining the principal fruit of serving a sadhu and have instead attained whatever they secretly desired. If someone’s purpose is genuine then as bhakti appears in his heart all its symptoms, which are mentioned in the scriptures, will manifest in him and all hankerings and aspirations opposed to bhakti will gradually diminish.

Symptoms Identical with Bhakti

In our investigation thus far, we have seen that the use  of the noun anusilanam (perpetual, ardent endeavours) is far from meaningless. Surely therefore, we cannot assume that the adjective anukulya can sufficiently define bhakti on its own. As we have seen, on the one hand, perpetual, ardent endeavour meant exclusively for Sri Krishna (krishnanusilanam) does not qualify as bhakti if it is not free from hostility; and, on the other hand, even if one’s krishnanusilanam displeases Sri Krishna, if it is devoid of hostility, it may rightfully be called bhakti. Hence while simply pleasing Sri Krishna may not always be bhakti, krishnanusilanam that is devoid of hostility certainly is bhakti.

Furthermore, without a consideration of the active efforts and emotional states of being involved in anusilanam, the mere absence of hostility will not be bhakti. For example, pots and other inert objects harbour no hostility toward Sri Krishna, but due to their insentience, they cannot make any active effort for Sri Krishna’s sake nor express any emotion for Him. Therefore, the two terms anukulyena and krishnanusilanam together verily express the intrinsic symptoms of bhakti.

It has been stated in the scriptures:

tad-abhinnatve sati tad-bhodakatvam svarupa-lakshanam
That which remains identical with an object while causing comprehension of it to arise is called the object’s svarupa-lakshana (intrinsic symptom).

The joint term anukulyena krishnanusilanam – the extraordinary nature of perpetual, ardent endeavour meant exclusively for Sri Krishna and endowed with the characteristic of kindness to Him (anukulya) – allows one to comprehend the meaning of krishna-bhakti. At the same time, anukulyena krishnanusilanam is truly identical with krishna-bhakti itself. Hence anukulyena krishnanusilanam is the svarupa-lakshana (intrinsic symptom) of krishna-bhakti.

Symptoms Distinct from Bhakti

Now we will consider the two boundary symptoms. "tad-bhinnatve sati tad-bhodakatvam tatastha-lakshanam" That which remains distinct from an object while causing comprehension of it to arise is called the object’s tatastha-lakshana (boundary symptom). In the first half of the verse – anyabhilashita-sunyam jnana-karmadyanavritam – the terms anya-abhilashita, and jnana-karma-adi describe uttama-bhakti through their distinction from it. Hence they are the tatasthalakshana  (boundary symptoms) of uttama-bhakti.

Not Prone to Any Selfish, Ulterior Motives

The purpose of the phrase anya-abhilashita-sunyam is to reveal that, while constantly engaged in the search for Sri Krishna’s happiness, one must exclusively wish to obtain bhakti without harbouring any selfish, ulterior motives, like the aspiration to attain celestial or bodily pleasures.It is very significant that the term anyabhilashita has been used instead of anyabhilasha. While the prayers of some devotees may at times appear to be in the form of  anyabhilasha, in other words motivated by some desire other than Sri Krishna’s happiness, they are still not prone to foster these other desires (anyabhilashita).

To illustrate this point, consider one example:

Sri Yudhishthira Maharaja yearned to become the emperor of the world in order to serve Sri Krishna. For this end, he supplicated Sri Krishna with his request to perform the Rajasuya-yajna.(8) Actually, his apparent desire to be emperor was only anyabhilasha, but in fact, it was devoid of anyabhilashita. His actual motivation was simply to have the necessary opulence to serve Sri Krishna in a way befitting the Lord’s position. In other words, his aspiration to have sovereignty over the whole world was not motivated by a desire to achieve personal greatness.

The word anyabhilashita is comprised of the noun anyabhilasha (selfish, ulterior motive) and the suffix nin, which means "to foster". Thus, the nature of fostering selfish, ulterior motives is called anyabhilashita. Moreover, if a suddha-bhakta is faced with some imminent disaster, he may pray to Sri Bhagavan to save him. Although his prayer may appear to be anyabhilasha, it will not hinder his bhakti.

Not Eclipsed

Perpetual endeavour in the form of active efforts and emotional states of being, meant exclusively for Sri Krishna, performed out of genuine kindness to Him, and uneclipsed by knowledge (jnana) or fruitive work (karma) is, in fact, uttama-bhakti. In this context, jnana refers to the search for the impersonal brahma; karma refers to daily rituals (nitya-karma), and rituals meant for specific occasions (naimittika-karma), as outlined in the smriti-sastras; and adi (literally "and so on") refers to futile forms of renunciation (phalgu-vairagya), mystic yoga (ashtangayoga), abhyasa-yoga as delineated in sankhya-sastra (the scriptures dealing with empiric enumeration of universal elements); and so forth. All of the above disciplines are to be rejected by the sadhaka because they eclipse his devotion and because their purpose is not even remotely meant to make the Lord happy. Through these disciplines, the sadhaka can attain some supernatural powers, all of which are diametrically opposed to the longing search for Sri Krishna’s happiness. Since these forms of jnana and karma thoroughly eclipse devotion, they have been forsaken.

The word anavritam, which means "not eclipsed", has been used in connection with jnana and karma instead of sunya, which means "devoid of". The significance of this is that certain forms of both jnana and karma are integral parts of bhakti. Supremely pure jnana is present within bhakti as the search for one’s worshipful deity and as knowledge of the reality of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, bhagavat-tattva-jnana. And what appears to be karma (literally action), is present within bhakti as serving the Supreme Lord by cleaning His temple, cooking for Him and so on. Factually these activities are included among the nine limbs of bhakti; they are not mundane karma. Had the phrase jnana-karma-adi-sunya been used, which means devoid of jnana, karma and so on, the aforementioned visuddha-bhaktitattva-jnana (knowledge of the reality of supremely pure bhakti ), as well as service to Bhagavan, would have also been forsaken even though these forms of jnana and karma do not eclipse bhakti. In fact, they solely and indispensably nurture it.

The Highest Perfection of Bhakti

In our evaluation of the term krishnanusilanam, we must surely include anusilanam for Sri Krishna in any of His forms, like Rama and Nrishimha. Still, in light of this understanding, it would be most excellent if Srila Rupa Gosvami, the original and most revered gurupada-padma of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, has left some intimation of the utmost culmination of uttama-bhakti within this perfectly derived definition; that culmination which is observed in the most exalted stages of the Gaudiya Vaishnavas’ bhajana. Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami was a most distinguished associate of Srila Rupa Gosvami. Due to their great intimacy, he understood what was in Srila Rupa Gosvami’s heart and has therefore written "anukulye sarvendriye krishnanusilana" within his translation of this verse. He has used the words sarva-indriya, "with all senses", in order to indicate the highest stage of bhakti. That is to say, it is impossible for anyone but the vraja-gopis who are in madhura-rasa, the mode of amorous love of Godhead, to perform krishnanusilanam with all of their senses. It is even impossible for those within vatsalya-rasa, the mode of parental love of Godhead, to perform krishnanusilanam, in its highest perfection, with all of their senses.

The Fruit of Bhakti

Hearing, chanting, remembering and so on comprise the very form of uttama-bhakti. If a sadhaka performs his sadhana-bhakti with the sole intention of making Sri Bhagavan happy, he will attain krishna-prema, the fruit of his sadhana, very quickly and with ease. Thereafter, he will gradually advance through each successive stage of prema. Therefore, in Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.3.22) it is said:
bhakti-yogo bhagavati tan-nama-grahanadibhih
Devotional service, beginning with the chanting of the holy name of the Lord, is the ultimate religious principle for the living entity in human society.(9)

Here, although it suffices to simply say bhakti-yoga, the word bhagavati is included in order to convey that the activities of bhakti, such as chanting and remembering, are only known as bhakti-yoga when they are performed exclusively for Sri Bhagavan’s pleasure. Only this bhakti-yoga can bestow prema. If the activities of bhakti such as chanting and remembering are performed with any purpose other than pleasing Sri Bhagavan, they cannot be called bhakti-yoga and they will never bear the fruit of krishna-prema.

Translated from Sri Gaudiya Patrika Year 1, Issue 3
by the Rays of The Harmonist team.
Published in English for the first time in Rays of The Harmonist No. 18 Karttika 2008

1 A gentle, sympathetic, or benevolent disposition; showing consideration for others. Synonyms include "affection, lovingness, fondness, intimacy, agreeableness, pleasantness, gratefulness, thankfulness, softness and tenderness. (Based on the definition of "kind" found in the Oxford dictionary)  

2 The literal meaning of the words svarupa, tatastha and lakshana are as follows: sva means "own" or "intrinsic"; rupa means "form"; tata means "boundary"; stha means "situated on" and lakshana means "symptom" or "symptoms".

3 "A series of roots or words following the same rule and called after the first word of the series" – Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary  

4 Note from the preceding section that abhyasa can be considered an action, and samadhi can be considered an emotional state of being.

5 "A term for certain prepositions of particles not connected with a verb but generally governing a noun (either separatedfrom it or forming a compound with it)." – Monier Williams Sanskrit Dictionary

6 The definition presently under discussion is "perpetual,ardent endeavour meant exclusively for Sri Krishna", along with the implication that "such perpetual, ardent endeavour must immediately gratify the person it is meant for".  

7 The instrumental case is expressed by the inflection ena in Sanskrit and with the prepositions "by means of" or "with" in English. For example, in "perceived directly by means of one’s own eye" or "perceived directly with one’s own eye", the noun eye is used in the instrumental case.  

8 The Rajasuya-yajna may only be performed by a king, and prospective world emperor, who has already subjugated the entire world, either by force or by consent, and has formalized his conquest by the particular means outlined in sastra.  

9 Translation by Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

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