Question: I understand that there are different types of bhakti. If a person practices bhakti without a guru according to the rules of vaidhi and focuses on activities which are in themselves bhakti, such as worship and chanting the Lord’s Names, then it seems that this person can make some progress. But after a certain point, doesn’t even this person need a guru to reach perfection?
Answer: Vaidhi bhakti, as the name suggests, is that which is based on vidhi – the injunctions of sastra. So if it is vaidhi bhakti then that means you are following the scriptural injunctions, and scriptural injunctions are very clear: tasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijñāsuḥ śreya uttamam (SB 11.3.21) – that you should approach a guru and surrender to him – tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā (Gita 4.34 ) and then you follow the process. Without accepting a guru, it is not vaidhi. Surrenderung to a guru is the first step in vaidhi. This is also stated by Sri Rupa Gosvami in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.2.74-75), guru-pādāśrayas tasmāt kṛṣṇa-dīkṣādi-śikṣaṇamtasmād guruṁ prapadyeta jijṣāsuḥ śreya uttama.
Even about deity worship it is stated that if you perform it according to the injunctions, but if you are not initiated, then you get only one percent of the benefit as Jiva Gosvami explains in Bhakti Sandarbha (283):
“The importance of knowing the scriptural procedures of worship is described in the Viṣṇu-rahasya:
avijñāya vidhānoktāṁ hari-pūjā-vidhi-kriyām
kurvan bhaktyā samāpnoti śata-bhāgaṁ vidhānata
“One who worships the deity of Hari with reverence, yet without knowing the prescribed procedure of worship, obtains only one percent of the benefit of doing it properly.”
If one worships the deity with great reverence, as indicated by the word bhaktyā, yet without acquaintance with prescribed procedures, one obtains only one percent of the benefit, otherwise not even that. The guiding authority in the matter of the procedures of worship is the vaiṣṇava-sampradāya, or knowledge received in the disciplic succession related to Viṣṇu.”
And that is only if you do it exactly according to the rules, but how will you know the rules if you don’t have a guru?
The idea is that this is a path of discipline, which you have to understand according to the definition of bhakti. You can get mukti even without a guru but that is a completely different thing. If you want to be a devotee then you have to do favourable service to God – that is what bhakti is: ānakūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā. Bhakti means love. By love we mean that your life is dedicated to the person whom you love. But that is not our natural inclination. Our natural inclination is to love our body, our mind and things which are related to them, such as our family and possessions. That is natural, you don’t have to acquire it. You are just born with it.
We have not seen God. So in order to start loving somebody whom you have not even seen, loving and dedicating ourselves to Him will not happen just by our own effort and our own understanding due to the fact that we don’t have any experience of it. If you don’t have any experience of bhakti, how are you going to execute it? If you don’t have knowledge of bhakti because you cannot understand it by yourself, then you cannot execute it properly. That’s why we need a teacher from whom we can learn and then practice, otherwise we will keep doing something only according to our own mind. Those activities – chanting or listening to Krsna’s stories, reading Bhagavatam and going to Vrindavana and doing parikrama – have devotional power in them because they are not material. So they will have their influence, but in order to come to bhakti you have to know how to do it. If I want to please you, then I have to know who you are and what pleases you. That’s what bhakti is and that has to be learned. But if you want to be a shanta-bhakta (no personal relationship with God, like a reclusive yogi) then you don’t need to know, because you have no interest in pleasing God. You will sit and meditate, but even that you will have to learn from somebody.
Question: Can one attain Vaikuntha if one has practiced pure bhakti and followed a teacher but has no prema? Can the result of vaidhi bhakti in its perfection be below prema?
Answer: Yes, a shanta-bhakta can go to Vaikuntha and their prema is to meditate on God without the intention to do any service for Him.
Question: It’s a different kind of prema?
Answer: They are also surrendered but without that personal connection, because their concept of God is that He is Brahman personified.
Question: So they can achieve the five types of mukti in Vaikuntha?
Answer: They don’t want the five muktis, their mukti is salokya (to be on the same planet with Bhagavan). They don’t want the others. They don’t want to be close to God, hence they are shanta or neutral. Just like some people like to be alone and sit in their rooms and have no social contacts. They are happy like that, it is their nature, they like to be aloof.
Question: And when you say it is their nature, where does that inclination come from? Does it come from the guru, who gives the seed of that or did they have that inclination before?
Answer: They get the inclination by the seed of the guru who has that inclination.