Kapila’s Definition of Pure Devotional Service
Devahūti requested her son, “Please say more about the type of bhakti that pleases you the most, is within my reach, and will swiftly make my obstacles obsolete and eternally situate me with you in your abode.” [ŚB 3.25.28]
Her son, Kapila replied, “The most perfect form of bhakti is greater than any other perfection. It absorbs your consciousness in the All-Attractive by directing your activities and perceptions towards his spiritual reality, without interruption or ulterior motive. This can be done by following the instructions and mantras given by your guru from the śāstra, and is particularly excellent when it arises naturally from your own desire.” [ŚB 3.25.32]
First, Kapila makes it clear that there is no attainment to be achieved that is greater than this topmost bhakti. Not even mokṣa (liberation) can compare to this, because this automatically includes mokṣa right from the start (viz. Gītā 18.54).
Next, he explains the basic principle of how bhakti-yoga works: ”It absorbs your consciousness in the All-Attractive by directing your activities and perceptions towards his spiritual reality.
Kapila describes consciousness as “sentience” (sattva), and as, “the divine faculty which grants perception of sense objects” (davānāṁ guṇa-liṅgānām).
The essence of bhakti-yoga is to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive (bhāgavatī) — and the simple, practical way to do that is to focus our perceptions and activities (karmaṇām) on the All-Attractive. For example, if we look at a painting or mūrti of Krishna we absorb our visual perception in the All-Attractive. Another example is that we can absorbs our aural perception in the All-Attractive by hearing kīrtan of his name, or describing his beauty, attractive qualities, and loving pastimes.
Bhakti-yoga also entails direction our actions towards the All-Attractive. One example of such action is to host a party where people come together to perform kīrtan. Other examples: to dress Krishna’s mūrti, cook and offer food to him, clean his temple, offer ārati, visit his temple and sacred places, tend to the care of his devotees, and so on.
By directing our activities and perceptions towards the All-Attractive, our consciousness becomes absorbed in him, and this is the essence of what bhakti-yoga is all about.
Next, Kapila explains purity in bhakti-yoga. He says that our endeavor to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive should be, ”without interruption or ulterior motive.
Bhakti-yoga is “mixed” with “impurity” when it is used as a vehicle to some other goal. For example, if we visit a temple and donate money in the hopes that we will become rich as a result of that righteous sacrifice, our activities could in some ways be considered bhakti-yoga but it is impure (miśra-)bhakti-yoga. Ulterior motives are very subtle and difficult to completely root out. We can practice bhakti-yoga for decades only to find that in truth we were motivated to get three steady meals a day and a place to sleep, or to find some sense of community, or to convince at least a few people to respect us and listen to our opinions.
Kapila says that pure bhakti-yoga has no ulterior motive, using the words evaika-manaso which literally means “certainly with nothing else in mind.” To practice pure bhakti-yoga we should strive to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive simply because we wish to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive, not for any ulterior goal. Unfortunately it usually takes many years or lifetimes to root out ulterior motives by truly realizing that the All-Attractive is in fact “ALL-Attractive” and no other motive is attractive in comparison.
Kapila also indicates that pure bhakti-yoga as “no interruption” (animittā). The two principles (“no interruption” and “no ulterior motive”) go hand-in-hand, for if we have ulterior motive we will be distracted into other pursuits, or distracted by other concerns and tribulations. If we simply and purely desire to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive we will not be distracted from our pursuit of bhakti-yoga.
So, Kapila says that our endeavor to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive by direction our actions and perceptions towards him should be concentrated and attentive, which becomes possible only as we give up on hoping for other achievements and pursuing other motivations.
Finally, Kapila says that there are two ways to do bhakti-yoga: “This can be done by following the instructions and mantras given by your guru from the śāstra, and is particularly excellent when it arises naturally from your own desire.”
The two ways are not at all mutually exclusive!
First Kapila indicates that our endeavor to practice bhakti-yoga should be “anuśravika” — following the instructions and mantras given by guru, from śāstra. Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī classifies this approach as “vaidhi — the endeavor that is directed by the instructions (vidhi) given by guru, from śāstra.
Not just bhakti-yoga but any spiritual endeavor, any yoga, must be directed by śāstra because our senses and intellect cannot yet directly comprehend spiritual reality on their own. Therefore the guru teaches us the śāstra and thus guides and informs our activities and perceptions, which then gradually become capable to directly interact with and perceive spiritual realities. It is something like an expert musician pointing out the specific notes and nuances in a sophisticated melody. Guided by such an expert, even a novice musician begins to appreciate the subtleties of music, and thus gradually becomes expert herself.
But Kapila also says, ”it is particularly excellent when it arises naturally from your own desire” (svabhāvikī tu). Śrī Rūpa classifies this as rāgānugā — the endeavor that arises naturally from pursuing (anuga) your natural passion (rāga) for the All-Attractive.
The greatest misconception is that when one pursues ones natural passion one does not follow the guidance of Guru. What foolishness!
The greatest misconception is that when one pursues ones natural passion one does not follow the guidance of Guru. What foolishness! If one passionately wants to become a great violinist, does she not carefully and fastidiously consider the advice of great teachers, does she not attentively listen to the playing and technique of great violinists? To counteract this dull mistake, Śrī Rūpa explicitly states that Rāgānugā also observes the viddhi (BRS 1.2.296) and quotes an important śloka from Brahma-yamala (BRS 1.2.101) stating that so-called bhakti-yoga that ignores śāstra is nothing but a disturbance.
It is said that bhakti-yoga motivated by spontaneous passion doesn’t “depend” on the instructions of guru and śāstra — but we can’t twist this to mean that it ignores or transgresses the instructions of guru and śāstra, unless we are foolishly content to fall outside the umbrella of the bhakti-yoga established on behalf of Śrī Caitanya by Śrī Rūpa — for in so interpreting we would contradict his explicit statements in BRS 1.2.296 and 1.2.101.
That spontaneous devotion “doesn’t depend on instructions” simply means that when one has inherent desire to absorb ones consciousness in the All-Attractive, that become the prime motivating factor, one doesn’t need any convincing or argumentation or logic. As a result of spontaneous passion for bhakti-yoga, one will seek out and apply the guidance of guru and śāstra with even more ardor and intent that then person without spontaneous passion for it. Again, the example of the violinist is useful.
In short, Kapila states that the most powerful form of bhakti-yoga is svabhāvakī — it arises naturally from our own inherent desire for the All-Attractive, and avails of the guidance of guru and śāstra as a result of that inherent passion.
Does Vaidhi Evolve into Rāgānugā?
No, vaidhi does not automatically become Rāgānugā, but it does eventually become bhāva-bhakti, and the bhāva-bhakti that arises from vaidhi-sādhana is svabhāvikī, a lot like rāgānugā-sādhana in some ways.
Commenting on this verse of Bhāgavatam, Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākur explains that vaidhi-sādhana naturally becomes svabhāvikī when it achieves perfection as bhāva-bhakti, but that rāgānugā-sādhana is svabhāvikī even in the stage of practice, even before attaining perfection as bhāva-bhakti. The svabhāvakī trait is therefore qualitatively greater in the perfection attained through rāgānugā-sādhana (termed rāgānugauttara-bhāva-bhakti) compared to that which can be attained through vaidhi-sādhana (termed vaidhyottara-bhāva-bhakti).
Correlation Between the Śrī Kapila and Śri Rūpa’s Definitions of Bhakti.
Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmīpāda defined the most perfect form of bhakti (uttama-bhakti) In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.1.11:
anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ, jñāna-karmādy anāvṛttam
anukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śilanam bhaktir uttamam
This definition is exactly analog to Kapila’s definition.
Kapila says that bhakti-yoga is absorption of the consciousness in the All-Attractive by focusing ones actions and perceptions on him. Śrī Rūpa says this with the words anukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śilanam.
Kapila says that bhakti-yoga is to be done without ulterior motive or interruption. Śrī Rūpa says the same with the words, anyābhilāṣitā śūnyam, jñāna-karmādy anāvṛttam.
Kapila says that bhakti-yoga is done under guidance of guru and śāstra and is particularly effective when it arises from ones own spontaneous passion for it. Śrī Rūpa explains the same at great length in his sections on Vaidhi and Rāgānugā sādhanas.
Kapila says that bhakti-yoga makes all other perfections insignificant. Śrī Rūpa says the same, for example in BRS 1.1.17 and 1.1.33.