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Ninth Stage of Bhakti | Prem Bhakti (Part 1) | Sri Vinod Babaji Maharaj


We have discussed the stages of Bhakti until Bhav dasha. Bhav Bhakti matures into the stage of Prem Bhakti which is the ninth and final stage of Bhakti that is achievable in this human body. The jivatma, who has been wandering in the darkness of illusory Maya through innumerable births, finally finds the light of Prem Bhakti and delves into the exalted bliss of serving Radha Krishna for eternity. The sadhak becomes completely free from ignorance and fully realizes his Manjari Swarup (or the respective Swarupas of sadhaks of different moods of Vraj Bhav). This is Siddhi (perfection) for the sadhaks of Bhakti. This has been described as:

“Krishna priti param atyantiki, sharir priti shunya”

Meaning: The attachment with Krishna reaches an extreme height, while the attachment to the body gets completely destroyed.

Prem Bhakti is the stage where the sadhak becomes “Nirapad”, meaning the sadhak cannot fall from this stage of Bhakti. The stages before Prem Bhakti are not Nirapad. The sadhak can fall from even high stages of Bhakti like Asakti and Bhav, where his mind is naturally inclined towards the contemplation of Radha Krishna. This might happen due to prolonged association with:

  • worldly pleasures,
  • people attached to worldly pleasures, or
  • Vaishnav Aparadhas.

For example, Maharaj Bharat had reached a very high stage of Bhakti. It is mentioned in Srimad Bhagvatam that on continuous worship of Sri Narayan, Bharat Maharaj had become so engrossed in His contemplation that he forgot to perform devotional services physically. But one day, he saw a pregnant deer jump across the river in fear of a tiger and die. While jumping, she had delivered the baby deer, who fell into the river. Maharaj Bharat saved the baby deer and took sympathy on him. Henceforth, he never abandoned the baby deer and the constant contemplation of the baby deer resulted in his fall from his high stage of Bhakti. He even died thinking about the baby deer and had to be reborn as a deer in his next life.

Jad-Chetan Granthi is the root of the material bondage of the jivatma. Jad = lifeless matter made of five elements i.e., air, water, fire, earth and space; Chetan = Atma, which is part and parcel of Sri Bhagwan (Supreme Personality); Granthi = knot (literal meaning).

When the Atma accepts a body made of air, water, fire, earth and space, they diffuse into each other in such a way that if someone hits the body, its pain is experienced by the conscious Atma. This diffused state of Atma and Prakriti (matter made of air, water, fire, earth and space) gives rise to a materially inclined ego (the Granthi) and together they are called a Jivatma. Atma cannot do anything alone since it has only consciousness. Prakriti is lifeless. But Jivatma performs actions with the help of Prakriti. Hence, the Granthi or the material ego is the cause for forgetting one's eternal relationship with Krishna.

In Prem dasha, the Jad-Chetan Granthi of the sadhak dissolves and the faults that arise due to association with Maya can no longer emerge in him. The Atma becomes completely separated from the body, although it is still residing in the body. Just like in a dried coconut, the inner part becomes separated from the outer shell. When someone shakes the dried coconut, he can hear the inner part rattling inside the shell. Now no kind of process can join the inner part back with the shell. Similarly, when Jad-Chetan Granthi dissolves, the devotee of Prem dasha will not get attracted to Maya again irrespective of the amount of association with worldly pleasures as well as with people who are attached with worldly pleasures. Also, since all auspicious qualities given by Bhakti Devi adorn the devotee, he never commits any Vaishnav Aparadh on reaching Prem dasha.

There are two characteristics of Prem Bhakti: Sandraanand Visheshatma and Krishna Akarshini.

  • Sandraanand Visheshatma: Sandra = concentrated; Anand = bliss; Visheshatma = a special case. 

In the stage of Prem Bhakti, the devotee experiences the concentrated form of divine bliss in his heart. The word ‘Visheshatma’ means here that the bliss experienced by the devotee is a special case of concentrated bliss which can’t be compared even with infinite folds of formless and blissful Brahṁ, what to say about absurd worldly pleasures. In truth, there are no words in human language to illustrate what is Prem dasha. The divine love of a devotee of Prem dasha for Radha Krishna cannot be compared with any worldly love. 

This kind of divine love is not achievable by the practice of devotional services alone, but it also depends upon the causeless mercy of Radharani. When the sadhak walks on the path of Bhakti as instructed by his Guru and completely surrenders himself at the lotus feet of Radha Krishna by his mind and body, then They bestow Their mercy on the sadhak and give him this divine love in his heart. 

·        Krishna Akarshini: Krishna is not able to leave the devotee for even a blink of an eye.

“Aham bhakta paradhino hyaswatantraya dwijo”

(Srimad Bhagvatam 9.4.63)

Meaning: I am bound by my devotees. O Brahman, I am not independent.

The devotee binds Krishna with the rope of Prem Bhakti. This divine love is so powerful that even the all-powerful Bhagwan Sri Krishna is unable to break free from it even if He wants to. Attracted by this divine love, Radha Krishna soon come personally to the devotee to meet him in person. Henceforth, Krishna always stays near the devotee, who is able to see His effulgent form, hear the sounds of His anklets, etc. Just like a mother cow can not go anywhere leaving her calf.

But before realizing Krishna in person, the devotee experiences tremendous pain of separation. (Here, it is important to understand that there is a time when the sadhak’s Bhakti reaches the stage of Prem but still, he is not ready to tolerate the immense spiritual power of seeing Krishna in person. This will be further explained in future articles). At that time, there are some special qualities observed in the behaviour of the devotee of Prem dasha:

1.     Eating seems as painful as getting beaten:

The devotee is always in a transcendental mood. Sometimes he laughs and suddenly, on experiencing a loss of sight of Krishna, he starts crying. Sometimes, he rolls on the ground. Many people think he has gone mad. But, on Krishna’s will, some devotees serve him with reverence. They try to feed him some prasadam to care for his body, but the act of eating seems very painful for the devotee. 

2.    The state of consciousness seems like a regrettable experience:

(Although Krishna is always near the devotee, he experiences the bliss of meeting Him and the pain of separation in successive waves. These are pastimes of Krishna with His devotees to relish their divine love in various ways). The devotee becomes extremely anxious to see Krishna and serve Him. He laments, “I need to see Krishna just now, or else I will not be able to keep my life”. Even Sphurti (vision of divine pastimes) becomes meaningless for the sadhak of Prem dasha since he is not content in just watching Him, but wants to touch Him and serve Him with love. Unable to fulfil this desire, he becomes insane with yearning and loses consciousness. Then Krishna is not able to stay away anymore and immediately comes to the devotee. 

Devotees of different moods experience the meeting with Krishna differently. For example, Krishna embraces the devotees of Sakhya mood, wipes the tears of the devotees of Vatsalya mood, etc. When the devotee calms down a little, Krishna hides from his sight again. The devotee thinks he had seen Krishna only in Sphurti state and starts crying miserably. He yearns to see Krishna in person again. Like this, he is always burning in pain whenever he loses sight or any kind of experience of Krishna's sweetness like his intoxicating scent, sweet voice, etc. 

3.   The material world seems like a well devoid of water:

For a person who is very thirsty, a well devoid of water is the most absurd thing. Similarly, for a devotee who is yearning to relish the bliss of Krishna’s beauty, sweet voice, etc., the material world seems as absurd as a well devoid of water. The pleasures of the material world cannot give him any kind of satisfaction for even a blink of an eye. He has only one desire and yearning – to see Krishna and serve Him. 

4.   Time spent in sleeping seems like fatal torture to the devotee:

Sometimes, he falls asleep due to exhaustion. But when he wakes up, he regrets it vehemently. He feels as if he had died for the time spent in sleeping. He thinks, ‘I have not realized Krishna. I have not seen Him yet and still I am sleeping without a worry? My human birth should be damned. But I am sleeping in peace? Did I not just die while still alive? How could I be sleeping? How unfortunate!’ Sleeping is only natural for the body but still, the devotee cannot tolerate such a waste of time. 

5.   The words of consolation by friends and relatives seems like poison to devotee:

Often, he cries miserably and hits his head repeatedly against the wall due to uncontrollable pain of separation. The devotee laments like “O Krishna! O Prananath (Lord of my life)! O Pran Krishna (My life, Krishna)! Give me darshan, my Lord! I want to see you! I can’t live without you! Everything seems meaningless without you. When will you come to me?”. 

At that time, those people who care for him, try to console him – “Why are you so anxious, dear? Krishna will come to you very soon. He will definitely bestow His mercy upon you, don’t worry. Please calm down.” But these words seem like poison to him. He cannot calm down for even a second unless he sees Krishna in front of him. 

6.   The words of praise by saintly people seems like the bite of a poisonous snake:

Saints recognize his symptoms of Prem dasha and praise him, “Aha, this is an extremely rare stage of Bhakti! This is indicative of immense fortune! This kind of spiritual state cannot be achieved easily by the sadhaks of Bhakti. Krishna has mercifully given you His Prem Bhakti and considers you as one of His very dear people. Such devotees are extremely rare to find on this earth.” These words of praise seem like the bites of a poisonous snake to the devotee's heart.

The devotee of Prem dasha does many strange actions that are inexplicable for the laymen. He cannot remain in peace for even a blink of an eye. External factors like the heat of summer or the cold of winter do not affect him. On a hot day of summer, he becomes anxious to see Krishna. ‘Where should I go? Where will I find Him?’ he thinks. ‘Yes, I must go to Govardhan hill. Krishna must be there with His herd of cows.’ He starts running towards Govardhan. He doesn’t care that it is a hot afternoon and the path is extremely hot. He doesn’t care about stones and thorns on the path. He feels as if an invisible power is drawing him towards the Govardhan hill.

Someone in his heart says “Come, come, I am here. You will find me as soon as you reach here. Come to me, come!’ When he reaches Govardhan, he finds neither Krishna nor His cows. He becomes very sad. “Alas! I came so far for Krishna. But he is nowhere to be seen. Will I not be able to see Him? But I was sure He is here. Will I not be able to meet Him?” he laments in sorrow. He starts crying miserably and soon loses consciousness.

He gets engrossed in a dream-like state in which he sees Krishna come to him and say, “My dear devotee, don’t worry anymore. See, I have come.” The devotee experiences that Krishna has taken him in His lap and is lovingly caressing his head and back. The touch of Krishna erases all the sufferings of innumerable lives of the devotee. The immense pain of separation from Krishna subsides and the devotee becomes deeply peaceful. He experiences unhindered, endless, divine bliss in Krishna's lap. He flows in an ocean of nectarine bliss. “My Lord, you have come? I spent an eternity waiting for you. You remembered me after such a long time? Did our separation not pain you? You remained in Golok, far from me for such a long time!” The devotee becomes engrossed in a state of peace and bliss. But suddenly, he comes back to external consciousness. “No, no, where is Krishna? Did I not see Him? Was this only a dream? But I felt like He had really come to me and taken me in His lap. How did I lose Him again?” laments the devotee.

In this way, the devotee experiences successive waves of meeting and separation, bliss and pain. Krishna comes to him in person but when he regains bodily awareness, he thinks it was all a dream and experiences immense pain of separation.

During earthly pastimes of Radha Krishna, when Krishna went to Mathura in a form visible to all, Krishna used to give pleasure to Radharani in a similar way. The mellow sweet form of Krishna never goes out of Vraj Dham:

“Vrindavanam parityajya padam ekam na gachhati”

Meaning: I never go even one step away from Vrindavan.

But Krishna went to Mathura in a form visible to all, while he enjoyed pastimes with people of Vraj Dham in a form that was visible to a devotee only through his divine eyes of Prem (Prem Netra). When Radharani used to get immensely anxious to see Krishna and enjoy dalliances with Him, Krishna would come to Her in person and enjoy with Her exactly as He did before going to Mathura. But, at that time, Krishna would be visible to Radharani only in a trance-like state called “Antar dasha”.

When She gains external awareness i.e., She comes out of Antar dasha, She would be unable to see Krishna and think that it was all just Sphurti. She would think that Krishna had not come and He was in Mathura (or Dwarika). In this way, Radharani relished intense pain of separation (even during this divine separation, there is a strange bliss in one's heart. That is why, it is said that Radharani relishes the pain of separation).

The stage of Prem Bhakti is transcendental and impossible to understand through the material intellect. By the mercy of Srila Rupa Goswami Pad, Srila Jiva Goswami Pad and Srila Vishwanath Chakravarti Pad, we can illustrate slight hints of what a devotee experiences in the stage of Prem dasha, based on their works like Bhakti Rasamrit Sindhu and Madhurya Kadambini. We are blessed to be born in a time when we can relish such nectarine works written by our six Goswamis by the mercy of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.


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