Sambandha-tattva is the knowledge of the relationships between Krishna, the soul(s), and the material world. All souls (jivas) are eternally connected with Krishna, Who is the true object of all relations. The eternal relationship between Krishna and all jivas is the relationship of a loving servant. By bhakti-yoga the souls can be freed from illusion and they can awaken in their heart their loving attachment to Krishna.
In the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition Srila Sanatana Goswami is considered to be the acharya (great teacher) of sambandha-tattva.
When he met Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, he humbly asked the Lord the most important questions a human being can ask.
In the Caitanya Caritamrita of Sripad Krishna das Kaviraja Goswami we can read about this beautiful encounter:
Srila Sanatana Goswami asked this question for the benefit of all souls and afterwards, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructs him on this very important topic.
‘ke āmi’, ‘kene āmāya jāre tāpa-traya’
ihā nāhi jāni — ‘kemane hita haya’ (CC Madhya 20.102)
“Who am I? Why do the threefold miseries always give me trouble? If I do not know this, how can I be benefited?
Everybody should understand who we really are. We all have forgotten our relationship with God. That is our greatest mistake. It is our duty to realize our true selves. To do this, we need to know about our relationship which we have with Krishna. It is all about relationship. A son is related to his father, a mother is related to her daughter. Without relationship there can be no love. When we know our relationship with Krishna, we can truly start to love Him. This is “sambandha-tattva”. We are here in this world to practice this through LOVE IN ACTION. All our relationships here in this world help us to be fixed in our eternal relationship with Sri Sri Radha Krishna. We can start with loving relationships right here in this world, in our daily life, because Krishna dwells in every living entity. So Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu told Srila Sanatana Goswami who we really are:
jīvera ‘svarūpa’ haya — kṛṣṇera ‘nitya-dāsa’
kṛṣṇera ‘taṭasthā-śakti’ ‘bhedābheda-prakāśa’
sūryāḿśa-kiraṇa, yaiche agni-jvālā-caya
svābhāvika kṛṣṇera tina-prakāra ‘śakti’ haya ( CC Madhya 20.108-109)
“It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal loving servant of Krishna because he is the marginal energy of Krishna and a manifestation simultaneously one with and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire. Krishna has three varieties of energy.”
Unfortunately, the living entity has forgotten his relationship with Krishna:
kṛṣṇa bhuli’ sei jīva anādi-bahirmukha
ataeva māyā tāre deya saḿsāra-duḥkha
“Forgetting Kṛṣṇa, the living entity has been attracted by the external feature from time immemorial. Therefore the illusory energy gives him all kinds of misery in his material existence.” (CC Madhya 20.117)
The living entity, the soul, can experience five different kinds of relationships with God.
1) Neutral relationship (santa-rasa)
2) Servitude relationship (dasya-rasa)
3) Friendly relationship (sakhya-rasa)
4) Parental relationship (vatsalya-rasa)
5) Amorous relationship (madhurya-rasa)
Also, we can approach Krishna with different attitudes. We can approach Him in a very respectful mood in awe and reverence (aishvarya) or we can approach Him in a very sweet and loving way (madhurya). Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu bestowed upon us the most sweetest and loving mood, the mood of the gopis of Vrindavana.
Srila Sanatana Goswami brilliantly elaborates on this “sambandha-tattva” in his fantastic masterpiece “Sri Brihad Bhagavatamrita”. Everyone should read this book and learn about the journeys of the main characters Narada Muni and Gopa Kumara and thereby learn about the different relationshpis (sambandha-tattva).
Narada Muni was looking for the devotee who has the greatest love for Krishna and the respected reader learns about the different relationships pure devotees have with Krishna, finally coming to Uddhava who speaks about the highest love for Krishna which Uddhava found in the heart of the gopis of Vrindavana.
Gopa Kumara received mantra-initiation from an inhabitant of Vraja and starts to travel through all spheres of consciousness, through the heavenly planets, Brahma´s realm, Shiva´s planet, Vaikuntha and finally finding his beloved destination, Goloka Vrindavana. There he realizes that the inhabitants of Goloka Vrindavana have the most wonderful relationship with Krishna, a relationship full of the purest and selfless love.