Bhakti Yoga #4

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.

Bhakti and other paths of enlightenment

Bhakti (path of devotion) is superior to Karma (path of fruitive work), Jnana (path of philosophical speculation) and Yoga (path of meditation).

Karma refers in the broadest sense to any activity, but it often means activities performed within the bounds of scriptural injunctions with the intention of enjoying the results. So karma, although having religious stature, is still material in nature. The karma yogi is interested in rewards like wealth, pleasure, and fame in this life, and he also seeks promotion to higher planets in the next life. The great defect of karma is that it always results in reactions, which forces us to take another material birth by the process of transmigration of the soul. Therefore, whether “good” or “bad,” pious or impious, all karma keeps one bound within the cycle of birth and death.

Jnana refers to the cultivation of knowledge. The jnana yogi sees the shortcomings of karma and begins to inquire into higher truth. Jnana yogis are generally philosophers and meditators. They are not interested merely in material results, but in knowledge for its own sake. By cultivating Jnana through the study of scriptures or through meditation, the jnana yogi can come to the brink of spiritual knowledge, awareness of eternal Brahman. But unless he goes further and understands his relationship with God, he will suffer the same defeat as the karma yogi-confinement within the cycle of birth and death.

The third category of human endeavor is yoga. Yoga as taught by Patanjali in Yoga Sutra is an eightfold system of meditation for attaining samadhi, or complete absorption of the mind in the Supreme. The eightfold yoga process is very effective but difficult to perform. And those few who practice it often become captivated by the siddhis, or powers, that one gains through yoga, such as the ability to become extremely small, and control other people’s minds etc., and remain trapped in the cycle of birth and death. Sage Patanjali himself warns about this many times in his book.

Compared to the above three paths, Bhakti is not merely a path, but goal also, i.e., both the means and the end. Paths of Karma, Jnana and Yoga produce a certain effect. Bhakti is by itself of the nature of effect (goal). Bhakti is more than a process leading to a result: it is the constitutional nature of the living being. Just as God is eternal, love of God is eternal too, only we are not aware of it, as other things are keeping us preoccupied. We have no realization of this, so it is said to be of the nature of an effect, but not an effect.

Further, Bhakti is superior to other paths because even God dislikes pride and loves humility. Other paths are seen to generate in people a sort of ego or false pride. Whereas, in the case of devotion, an aspirant is always humble and free from pride and it is taken for granted that God loves him more.

However, some sages are of the opinion that knowledge is the means for developing devotion and that Bhakti and knowledge are mutually dependent. One must have knowledge of the means as well as the end. Bhakti is an emotional attitude, but in order for this attitude to be correctly directed towards God, discrimination and knowledge are needed. Without knowing the goal one cannot make progress towards it. So knowledge is a precondition for following the path of Bhakti. Also, Bhakti and Jnana are interdependent–for the attainment of Bhakti, knowledge is necessary, and for knowledge to be properly cultivated, devotion is necessary.

But Narada does not agree with such views. Narada is of the opinion that bhakti by itself is the result. In other words, bhakti is not the result of something else such as Knowledge. It is independent of everything. It does not depend upon knowledge or action or anything else. It is self-sufficient. Bhakti is the nature of a devotee, and the attainment of the ultimate result is only the culmination of the process of devotion. One reaches bhakti through bhakti itself–devotion reaches what is called mature devotion. So, it is through devotion itself, or through the grace of God, that bhakti is attained.

To drive his point further that bhakti is its own effect, Narada poses few questions; if one has knowledge of kings palace, does the king get any satisfaction because of that? or if one has knowledge of various delicacies, will it satisfy one’s hunger? The king is not pleased when one merely knows who he is, so knowledge does not come to be of any advantage. In the same way, one’s knowing of God does not mean he is devoted. Similarly, if one is hungry, no amount of knowledge of food will help appease that hunger. One has to eat food. To be devoted one must cultivate that attitude within him.

In this manner, bhakti is not augmented by one’s knowledge of God, just as one’s hunger is not satisfied by the knowledge of food. Above all, bhakti alone is to be accepted by those who are desirous of liberation.

Why Bhakti is easier path than others, such as Jnana and Karma?

Success is easier to attain by devotional service than by any other process. Narada assures us that everyone can speedily advance by practicing bhakti-yoga— because it is the easiest way. This is an extremely important qualification, especially for us in the present age, the Age of Kali.

The reason devotional service is the easiest of all spiritual processes is that it does not depend on any other authority for its validity, being itself the standard of authority.

Furthermore, bhakti is the embodiment of peace and supreme ecstasy. Bhakti is the best process for spiritual advancement. God’s personal form, name, and varied activities attract devotees, who experience a love filled with peace and supreme ecstasy. Thus, the very nature of bhakti is peace and happiness.

This concludes #4 of Bhakti Yoga. A summary of the Sutras 24 to 33 of Narada Bhakti Sutras that compares Bhakti with other paths of liberation and Sutras 58 to 60 on Why bhakti is easier path than others.

Coming up Next: #5 – Different ways of attaining Bhakti (NBS 34 to 38) and Importance of right company (NBS 39 to 45).

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