Bhakti and Morality

This post addresses some questions that arose from yesterday’s post on this topic.

I’m not sure how “morality” is precisely defined and on what basis?

Morality is a translation of the concept of dharma.

Dharma literally means the essential nature of a thing. Everything has a particular function based on its nature, and to fulfill that function is the definition of morality. The function of a student is to study, studying is a moral act for a student. The function of a teacher is to teach, teaching is a moral act for a teacher. Everyone is slightly different, so everyone’s moral definitions will be slightly different, this is why you may not find “precise definitions” in śāstra – but instead you find the essential principle, guidance on how to apply the principle, and some examples of how it should be applied to different types of people in different situations.

Also, everyone has many different natures in many different contexts and thus many different co-existing duties. For example I am a student in one context, a teacher in another, a son in one, a father in another, a husband in yet another, a neighbor in yet another, etc. etc. etc. I have duties for each role, and to attend those duties is my morality. To fail to attend those duties would be immorality.

My ultimate identity is as consciousness, emanated from the root consciousness, and therefore in an eternal mutual relationship. My ultimate duty and morality, therefore is to function in that capacity.

The more eternal the nature of a thing, the more important its function. For example, I was once a Californian, and I was once a child – but am no longer. Yet I will be a human being for my entire life. So the duties I have as a result of being human (my responsibilities to the planet, for example, and to the animals and ecosystem) are more important than my responsibilities to the Californian government or my rights and responsibilities as a child to play and have fun. This is another reason Krishna-bhakti is the supreme dharma, because it is the function of who we are on the deepest, eternal level: consciousness in mutual relationship to the supreme root of consciousness. That’s why it is nitya-sat-, or sanātana- dharma — because it never changes. In contrast all other dharmas are naimittik- (“occasional”, “conditional”)

[in] the sastras that we study– BG, SB, and allied literatures— … I can’t think of a place where one gets the strong message to “Take care of family,” for ex. or be “fixed up in your prescribed duties.”

For example, see Bhagavad Gītā, particularly the first five chapters.


The sruti-smrti-puranadi verse doesn’t exactly clarify things either b/c exclusive bhakti, even if (not saying this is required) performed abandoning “morality,” viz. the nitya/namitika-karmas of varna-asrama, is something certainly taught in the sruti-smriti, etc; (BG 18.66 for ex).

BG 18.66 states that Bhakti is self-sufficient. It does not state that you should abandon morality, but that you should abandon seeking it outside the context of bhakti. By taking shelter of Krishna in bhakti, you become moral automatically. This is why he says ahaṁ tvaṁ sarva pāpebhyo – “take shelter of me and you will never be sinful, I see to it.”

It is common sense. If you have love you care about others, and are thus moral.

Bhakti can and does superceede other moralities – because love (bhakti) is the very soul of all moral principles. Where there is love, there cannot be immorality. Where there is all-inclusive divine love, there cannot be immorality to anyone in any circumstance.


The examples given by our acharyas in [this section of BRS] are Lord Buddha, whose “devotion” appeared to be aikantiki but was w/out belief in scriptures.

This anga, #4, sādhu-vartmānuvartana, has two facets; one is related to karma/dharma and the other is related to jñāna. Our comprehension and implementation of the guru’s guidance on sādhana (1) should always be within the bounds of the moral conclusions established by śāstra, and (2) should always be in harmony with the philosophical conclusions established by śāstra.

Śrī Jīva’s comment here is that if a person’s teachings cannot be understood and followed within those two bounds established by śāstra, they cannot be accepted as a guru. He gives the example of Buddha and Dattatreya to show that even if the guru is literally an avatār of Viṣṇu, we cannot follow them if their teachings are contrary to, or oblivious to, the the moral and philosophical conclusions of the Veda.


Sri Rupa even opens up this section (called the purity of devotional service in SP’s NOD) by saying “[One] is not at fault for failing to perform the duties of varna-asrama, but is at fault for failing to perform all the important angas of bhakti.” (1.2.63-64 BRS).

The above quote is for 63 only. It does not include 64.

It concludes the section of Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu describing eligibility for sādhana-bhakti, by establishing what are the moral duties of a person who is eligible for Sādhana Bhakti.

It says such a person must never fail to observe their practice of sādhana. If they must fail in some other regard for that sake, this is acceptable. (63) If they thus unintentionally are forced by circumstance to violate some moral principle, there is no need for them to do something other than bhakti to reform. (64)

Therefore this section cannot be leveraged to support intentional abandonment of ones responsibilities and moral duties.

All the quotes from 65 to 71 (which include Gītā 18.66 and ŚB 1.5.17) powerfully show that bhakti is self-sufficient, and therefore generates morality automatically. Thus someone who has bhakti does not need to endeavor for morality by any other means, because bhakti automatically establishes morality.

 How is morality precisely defined and on what basis?

Padma Purana (Srsti-khanda 19.336) gives the absolute essence of morality:

“Listen to the essence of dharma, then put it into practice: Do not perform acts towards others that you find displeasing to yourself.”

The same concept is in Gītā (6.32), where Krishna says:

“One who sees the happiness and distress of all living beings as identical to his own, that yogi is considered the topmost.”

This is the essence of dharma. “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” “Care for others the way you care for yourself.”

Specific details of how to practice this are given to different individuals on the basis of their different natures, talents, needs, culture, background, age, location, etc. etc. etc. They are too numerous to mention, because there are infinite different natures, talents, etc. but they are discussed categorically to illustrate by example.


Can it be conclusively said that those who abandon duties  before bhakti … are actually transgressors of the scripture? There are many statement that at least appear to support this notion (11.20.9; 11.5.41)?


But a bhakta will never intentionally transgress any moral principle.

We know already from the second quality of uttamā-bhakti that it bestows auspiciousness (śubhadā), and the first and second aspects of “auspiciousness” are (1) to hold everyone dear and be endeared to everyone, and (2) to have good moral qualities, like humility, honesty, simplicity, kindness, etc.

Also, if we just think about it clearly, we will see that it makes no sense to suggest that a person with love in the heart (bhakti) would harm others (be immoral).

Where is the unambiguous moral theology in the books we are accustomed to reading?

See for example Bhagavad Gītā, especially chapters 3, 4, and 5.

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