Pushtimarg or the Path of Pushti Bhakti

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by Jayaram V

Summary: This essay is about Pushtimarg or nourishing the Self with divine love and happiness through selfless devotion to Lord Krishna, as propounded by Vallabhacharya, the founder of Shuddha Advaita

Pushtimarg is a form of Krishna worship or adoration as founded by Shri Vallabhacharya (1479–1531 AD), a Telugu Vaidiki Brahmana, who was also the propounder of Shuddha-Advaita or pure nondualism. Vallabhacharya was a contemporary of Sri Krishnadeva Raya of the Vijayanagara empire, and attended his court to participate in a prolonged debate on the merits and demerits of Dvaita and Advaita philosophies. According to the legends he was victorious in the end and was honored by the King.

Pushtimarg is a variant of the Bhaktimarg or the path of devotion, which is mentioned in the Bhagavadgita as the direct and the simplest approach to achieve liberation. It centers around pushti bhakti. Pushti means nourishing and bhakti means devotion. Pushti bhakti means nourishing the soul with divine love and happiness through devotion and selfless service to Lord Krishna, the supreme deity. Vallabhacharya said to have proposed it during his pilgrimage to Brindavan. When he was stationed there, he had a vision of Krishna as Shrinathji who transmitted to him a sacred mantra about the way to build a divine relationship with Brahman, the supreme godhead, which became the basis for Pushtimarg.

The path recognizes Brahman as the one, ultimate and absolute reality, without a second (ekmevadwitiyam brahma). All that exists here is Brahman only (sarvam khalu idam brahma). He is the same as the supreme lord of the Bhagavadgita and Bhagavatam. The path that leads to him is through intense devotion to Lord Krishna, who is Sachchidanand Purushottam Parambrahm (ever blissful, the best person and supreme Brahman). Devotion to Lord Krishna, especially to his child forms, should be practiced with intense love through service (seva). The primary purpose of Pushtimarg is not liberation, but to experience the love and bliss of Lord Krishna and realize Krishna nature within oneself, without any duality.

According to the sect, everyone is entitled to the love of Lord Krishna, irrespective of caste and creed, gender or age. Anyone can approach Krishna with love and earn his love and grace in return. Liberation is not attained by human effort. One may experience bliss and happiness through devotion by the path of Pushtimarg, but liberation happens by the grace of Krishna only. It is not necessary to renounce worldly life to experience the loving and blissful nature of Krishna. One can practice it even as a householder and earn his grace. One can also avoid the consequences of desire-ridden actions by diverting all desires to Krishna and offering their fruit to him.

Unlike the nondualism (Advaita) of Shankaracharya, Vallabhacharya’s pure nondualism (Shuddha Advaita) regards the world as the creation of Krishna and real, not an illusion. It is the physical or material aspect of Krishna himself. All the deities who are part of God’s creation arise in him and exist in him. Therefore, as suggested in the Bhagavadgita, one should worship Krishna only to attain him rather than worshipping the lower gods, demi-gods, etc.

Thus, brahmasambandha or direct and personal relationship with Brahman or Lord Krishna is central to the philosophy and practice of Pushtimarg. Beings in the age of Kali (kaliyuga) are tainted by the dark effects of the epoch. They cannot be free from the impurities of egoism, ignorance, delusion, desires and attachments. Pushtimarg assures that those impurities do not disqualify people from practicing it. They cease to be obstructive or problematic when a person enters the path and practices loving devotion to Krishna.

This assurance was given by Krishna himself to Vallabhacharya in a vision when he appeared before him as Shrinathji and imparted to him the sacred mantra. The mantra and the path are the means by which the deluded souls who are lost in the cycle of births and deaths should be brought back to experience the blissful love of God, and feel oneness with him deep within their hearts, which will cleanse them of all impurities. By that, an embodied soul (jiva) becomes a happy, healthy and perfect soul (Pushti jiva).

The one important limitation with regard to Pushtimarg is that the right to initiate disciples on the path to establish connection with the chief deity (Brahmasambhanda) solely rests with the descendants of Vallabhacharya, who are known as the children of Goswami (goswami-balaks). They alone can nourish the souls due to their direct connection to the founder of the sect. This is a limitation, which in some ways makes the sect leadership dynastic, hereditary and exclusive.

Initiation into Pushtimarg is the first stage. It has to be invariably given by a descendent of Vallabhacharya. Only then, one enters a direct relationship with God (brahmasambandha) and earns the right (adhikar) to engage in daily devotional service to him and nourish his own soul through that love and relationship. To strengthen that relationship, one has to worship the images or the idols of the main forms of Lord Krishna namely Shrinath, Navnit Priya, Mathura Dheesh, Gokulnath, Madan Mohan, Balkrihna, Dwaraka Dheesh, Gokul Chandrama, Natavaria, etc. The following ones are the important practices of the sect.

  1. Eight daily, devotional visits: Traditionally, the initiates on the path have to pay eight devotional visits to the chief deity, who is usually housed in a special dwelling place called haveli, and recite the eight prayers that were composed by eight famous devotional composers namely Surdas, Krishnadas, etc.
  2. Service with four offerings: Devotees have worship the Lord as their personal God with the offerings of music (raag), pure, sattvic food (bhog), clothes (vastra) and ornamentation (shringar). These offerings, which may vary according to the season, impart color and festivity to the occasion and creates a positive and joyful atmosphere.
  3. Recitation of Shodasa Grantha: This is a sixteen-part special prayer in verse form consisting of the essence of the teachings of Pushtimarg, which provide answers about the path and its practice to the devotees. It includes prayers, knowledge, instructions, guidance and clarifications.
  4. Making pilgrimages: Followers of the path are encouraged to make pilgrimages to the places (baitakhs), numbering 142, which are associated with the founder, Vallabhacharya and his descendants.
  5. Celebration of festivals: The sect celebrates several important festivals to mark special occasions, which are associated with Lord Krishna or his manifestations and with the founder and his descendants. They are celebrated with a lot of devotion and enthusiasm to reflect Krishna nature, which is pure joy and bliss.

The essence of Pushtimarg is Atmanivedana, which is giving up oneself to God, the lord of all, the personification of bliss and enjoyment, and lose oneself in him. It is the highest form of devotion (pushti bhakti) which nourishes the souls and purifies it. Selfless service and devotion, without desires and expectations are the means to practice it, which will ultimately lead the soul to the highest realm of Goloka, where Lord Krishna resides in his resplendent glory. Those who reach it, remain there forever, absorbed in eternal bliss, witnessing the great cosmic play (lila) of Krishna

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