The Cause of Devotion in Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava Theology Devotion (bhakti) as the Result of Spontaneously (yadṛcchayā) Meeting a Devotee (sādhu-saṅga)

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Jonathan Edelmann



Devotion (bhakti) is the defining religious practice and central theological concept of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition, and this article is about the catalytic event that is said to instigate bhakti in the non-devoted. I examine how Jīva Gosvāmin (c. 1517–1608) and Viśvanātha Cakravartin (fl. 1679–1709), two important theologians in this tradition, argue that the cause of bhakti in the non-devoted is a meeting with a devotee. In this meeting, the non-devoted may develop conviction (śraddhā), which in turn gives him or her the motivation to continue along the path of bhakti, the steps of which were charted in the Bhaktirasāmṛtasindhu of Rūpa Gosvāmin (c. 1470–1555). Based on a few key passages from the Gauḍīya’s primary scriptural source, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, Jīva and Viśvanātha argue that this conviction for bhakti is developed spontaneously (yadṛcchayā). Since the spontaneous conviction to practice bhakti can only occur in sādhu-saṅga, or a meeting with a devotee, what causes that meeting? The devotee always acts freely and independently (like the Lord Kṛṣṇa himself); thus his or her motivation to meet and inspire conviction in the non-devoted is not reducible to a divine plan, divine grace, the piety (or impiety) of the receiver, special features of the receiver’s soul, high birth, or any other designation. Rather, the cause of sādhu-saṅga is the bhakti “living in the heart” of a devotee. This bhakti makes the devotee feel compassion (kṛpā) toward the non-devoted, which leads him or her to provide sādhu-saṅga, which then creates conviction (śraddhā), which eventually leads to bhakti.

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