Sage Narada’s ‘Bhakti Sutras’ is a comprehensive guidebook for all the seekers on the path of Bhakti Yoga. Narada’s wisdom takes an aspirant from the first steps of his spiritual ascent, till he reaches the summit. Sri Ramakrishna has said that the best and easiest path to attain Self Realization in this age is the path of Bhakti as taught by Narada. I’m humbly making an attempt to write down my understanding of the Sutras from the discourses and commentaries of great masters and swamis.
The Characteristics of Devotion – Renunciation
Bhakti is not the means for the attainment of any desired object, because its very nature is of the elimination of such desires. When real bhakti dawns in one’s mind, all the desires are completely eliminated. The very meaning of devotion is the negation of all desires and therefore devotion and desire cannot exist together. Devotion is attained through complete control of the senses.
Control or cessation means discarding public opinion, injunctions of the scriptures and all activities. The scriptures set various goals for us, such as salvation, liberation, or the attainment of various objects–all these should be abandoned. The physical activities that we do for the attainment of things, to please people, or to be in conformity with people’s judgments will have to be eschewed. Some of us blindly follow the dictates of the Vedas and obey public opinion with an ulterior motive to obtain the fruits of actions and gain popularity or approval of people. We should eliminate all such activities from our life to be on the path of Bhakti.
In Bhakti, there is cessation of everything other than devotion, i.e., one pointedness, and indifference to things opposed to it. Discarding the reliance on everything else other than Bhakti or God is one pointedness. Our mind has a tendency to flow towards the objects of enjoyment. This kind of attachment to objects of enjoyment is antagonistic to the mind’s focus towards God. Therefore there should be indifference towards anything which is an obstacle to the flow of mind towards God. Devotion is one-pointedness towards God; total absorption, having nothing in mind except God; total absence of everything else other than God. Therefore, one pointedness means living in God and God alone.
However, Narada cautions that those scriptural injunctions which are conducive to the growth of devotion should not to be discarded. There should be conformity with the scriptures until one’s faith is firmly established. Until then, the seeker’s conduct should be in conformity with public views and scriptural injunctions and indifferent towards views that are against it. Otherwise there is fear of falling from the ideal. . Whether they are dictated by the scriptures or known through public opinion–if such things are for the growth of devotion, they are NOT to be discarded. But if they are a hindrance to the growth of devotion, they should be discarded. The seeker should remain indifferent and unattached towards them.
Furthermore, as long as the body lasts, the public opinion should be followed and activities like eating, sleeping, exercise etc., should be continued. We should not neglect the rules for preservation of the body. One must observe all the hygienic rules and all the conditions that keep the body and the environment in good shape. This will enable him to devote his time without any interruption to practice of devotion. If the body is diseased or weak due to negligence, he will have to suffer. His spiritual life will also suffer to that extent. So the body is not to be neglected for progress on the path of Bhakti.
Thus, to be in Bhakti, a seeker should renounce all desires and control the senses. He should discard those injunctions of the scriptures, public opinion and all activities that are not conducive for enhancing devotion. He should pursue devotion with one-pointed focus, discarding everything else other than God. However, he should follow those injunctions, public opinion and activities that aide the growth of devotion and avoid falling from the ideal. He should take good care of his body, as a weak body will be a hindrance for progress in Bhakti Yoga.
Nature of Devotion
The true nature of devotion is beyond description. Trying to describe the experience of pure love of God is like a mute person’s effort to describe what he tastes. Nonetheless, from time to time pure love of God is revealed to those who are qualified, it manifests itself in the heart of worthy seeker. Pure love of God manifests as the most subtle consciousness, devoid of material qualities and material desires, increasing at every moment, and never interrupted. It is an unbroken inner experience, subtler that the subtlest. Having obtained pure love of God, one looks only at the Lord, hears only about Him, speaks only of Him, and thinks only of Him. The beginners devotion falls into three stages; because of the prevalence of the three gunas, or of the nature of aspirant seeking freedom from distress. Each earlier stage should be considered better than the one following it. Worship of the Lord in the mode of goodness (sattva) is better than worship in passion (rajas), and worship in the mode of passion is better than worship in ignorance (tamas).
How to Nurture Devotion
A devotee must not enter into an argument or debate with anyone. Narada discourages the egotistic wrangling spirit. One who is proud of his debating skills and eager to defeat others will lose his humility, which is essential for pleasing God. The existence of God is not something to be proven or disproven merely by a battle of logical wits. The spiritual reality cannot be understood by material logic or the speculations of the material mind.
Such argumentation or debate leads to excessive entanglements and is never decisive. A devotee should not take part in the tedious, inconclusive contests of logicians. The Vedic truths have been thoroughly researched since time beyond memory and are established conclusively. These scriptures which teach bhakti should be studied and reflected upon, and those activities which arouse devotion must be performed.
Much of our short lifetime is consumed in the struggle for existence. But a devotee, having been freed from the dualities of happiness and misery, gain and loss, desire, profit etc., gains more time. He must not waste even half a moment.
Virtues like non-violence, truthfulness, cleanliness, compassion, faith in spirituality and so on should be cultivated by the devotee for attainment of the love of God. The devotee, once freed from all grief and worries, should always worship the lord alone.
This concludes #2 of Bhakti Yoga. A summary of the Sutras 7 to 14 of Narada Bhakti Sutras describing the characteristics of Devotion, Sutras 51 to 57, Nature of Devotion, Sutras 74 to 79 on How how to Nurture Devotion
Coming up Next: #3 – Examples of Supreme Devotion (NBS 15-24)