catur-vidha bhajante mam
janah sukritino ’rjuna
arto jijnasur artharthi
jnani ca bharatarsabha
O best among the Bharatas, four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.
Commentary by Srila Prabhupada
Unlike the miscreants, these are adherents of the regulative principles of the scriptures, and they are called sukritinah, or those who obey the rules and regulations of scriptures, the moral and social laws, and are, more or less, devoted to the Supreme Lord. Out of these there are four classes of men—those who are sometimes distressed, those who are in need of money, those who are sometimes inquisitive, and those who are sometimes searching after knowledge of the Absolute Truth. These persons come to the Supreme Lord for devotional service under different conditions. These are not pure devotees, because they have some aspiration to fulfill in exchange for devotional service. Pure devotional service is without aspiration and without desire for material profit. The Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.1.11) defines pure devotion thus:
silanam bhaktir uttama
“One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Krishna favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service.”
When these four kinds of persons come to the Supreme Lord for devotional service and are completely purified by the association of a pure devotee, they also become pure devotees. As far as the miscreants are concerned, for them devotional service is very difficult because their lives are selfish, irregular and without spiritual goals. But even some of them, by chance, when they come in contact with a pure devotee, also become pure devotees.
Those who are always busy with fruitive activities come to the Lord in material distress and at that time associate with pure devotees and become, in their distress, devotees of the Lord. Those who are simply frustrated also come sometimes to associate with the pure devotees and become inquisitive to know about God. Similarly, when the dry philosophers are frustrated in every field of knowledge, they sometimes want to learn of God, and they come to the Supreme Lord to render devotional service and thus transcend knowledge of the impersonal Brahman and the localized Paramatma and come to the personal conception of Godhead by the grace of the Supreme Lord or His pure devotee. On the whole, when the distressed, the inquisitive, the seekers of knowledge, and those who are in need of money are free from all material desires, and when they fully understand that material remuneration has nothing to do with spiritual improvement, they become pure devotees. As long as such a purified stage is not attained, devotees in transcendental service to the Lord are tainted with fruitive activities, the search for mundane knowledge, etc. So one has to transcend all this before one can come to the stage of pure devotional service.
Commentary by Sri Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur
“Then, who worships you?”
Four types worship me. Those who follow the rules of varnasrama (sukrtinah), worship me. Among them some desire relief from affliction, from calamities like sickness; some desire knowledge of atma or desire knowledge of scriptures with grammar; and some desire enjoyment in this life and the next with land, elephants, horses, women, gold and other such things. These worship me. These three are sakama grhasthas. The fourth type, the jnani, a sannyasi with pure heart, is niskama.
These four types, qualified for pradhani bhuta bhakti (in which bhakti is the principle component), have been enumerated. The first three have karma misra bhakti. The fourth has jnana misra bhakti. Later in the book, yoga misra bhakti will also be described in verse like sarva dvarani samyamya (BG 8.12). But kevala bhakti, unmixed with karma, was also described in the beginning of this chapter with the words mayyasakta manah partha (BG 7.1). Kevala bhakti will also be described in the eighth chapter with ananya cetah satatam (BG 8.14), in the ninth with mahatmanas tu mam partha (BG 9.13) and with ananyas cintayanto mam (BG 9.22). The Lord describes these two types of bhakti, pradhani bhuta and kevala bhakti, in the middle six chapters of the Gita.
A third type of bhakti, guru bhuta bhakti (processes in which bhakti is subsidiary) is seen in the karmis, jnanis and yogis, who predominantly desire results for their actions (bhukti and mukti). Because of the lack of predominance of bhakti, and instead with a predominance of karma, jnana or yoga, it is not classed as bhakti. As things should be classed by predominance of quality, these are classed as karma, jnana and yoga, and the practitioners are not classed as bhaktas, but as karmis, jnanis or yogis.
And the result of sakama karma is svarga, the result of niskama karma is jnana yoga, and the result of jnana and astanga yoga is nirvana moksa, impersonal liberation. The results of the two types of bhakti should also be stated. Among the types of pradhani bhuta bhakti, the first three are karma misra bhakti. They are sakama bhakti. The result of this bhakti is attainment of the respective desires (deliverance from suffering, attainment of scriptural knowledge, gain of material benefits). And after that, because the superior nature of their object of worship (the Lord), those devotees attain liberation in the form of salokya (attaining the same planet) with predominance of happiness and powers. And there is no fall down as in the case of exhausting enjoyment in svarga as a result of karma. It will be said, “Those who worship me come to me.” BG 9.25
The result of jnana misra bhakti, which is superior to the others, is santa rati (bhava), as in the case of Sanaka and others. Sometimes, because of exceptional mercy of the Lord and his devotee, the result of jnana misra bhakti is the supreme position of prema, as in the case of Sukadeva.
If sakama bhakti (the first three types) becomes niskama, without desires, the result is jnana misra bhakti, and the result of that jnana misra bhakti is as stated above (santa rati). Sometimes, those who have jnana or karma misra bhakti attain prema in dasya and higher rasas on their own, because of influence of association with devotees in previous lives. However, that prema is predominated by a mood of reverence (aisvarya).
The result of pure bhakti unmixed with jnana, karma or yoga, called ananya bhakti akincana bhakti or uttama bhakti, which has many types, is that one becomes an associate of the Lord with dasya, sakhya, vatsalya or madhurya prema. This is explained elaborately in the commentaries on the Bhagavatam. As it is a matter related to the topic at hand, the distinctions in Perfected bhakti have been briefly discussed.