admin July 5th, 2012
Narada Bhakti Sutra
athāto bhaktiḿ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ
Now, therefore, I will try to explain the process of bhakti.
A sutra is a condensed phrase codifying a larger body of thinking. Most Indian schools of thought systematize their teachings into a series of sutras to help their students memorize and understand the teachings. Since volumes of meaning have been condensed into very terse aphorisms, sutras are also accompanied by suitable commentaries to unpack the sutras meaning. In this way, a student can retain and understand a concise version of an entire philosophical system.
Such sutras traditionally begin with “atha” (now) to indicate the significance of the school that will be discussed and the urgency to undertake its study. By the word “now” the Narada Bhakti Sutra points to the importance and urgency of practicing bhakti-yoga.
By endorsing the path of bhakti, the Narada Bhakti Sutra follows the same conclusion as Bhagavad-gita: After summarizing the various paths of yoga in six chapters, Sri Krishna, the Gita’s speaker, concludes, “Of all yogis, one who worships Me with devotion is the highest of all.”
Why do the Narada Bhakti Sutra and the Bhagavad-gita both promote the preeminence of bhakti? Yoga practice revolves around controlling the mind through fixing it on an intended object of meditation. The more efficiently a practice helps such focus, the more effective that practice is said to be. Emotion is by far the most powerful means to fix the mind on a subject. Bhakti-yoga is meditation powered by the emotion of one’s loving relationship with the Divine, usually centered on mantras composed of the beloved names of the Divine. As the mind focuses so naturally on what one loves, bhakti is thus the most powerful form of yoga.
This relationship between the meditator and the object of meditation is not found in other paths, where the object of meditation serves only as a means to achieve something else, and yogis are thus forced to focus the mind by willpower alone: “I must do this if I wish to achieve my goal.” But even the strongest resolve cannot compare to the spontaneous, primal pull of emotion – especially the most powerful emotion of all: consummate devotion (“bhakti”). Thus bhakti-yogis are spontaneously and relatively effortlessly drawn to the focus of their meditation, the singing of the names of their Beloved Lord.
There is another reason bhakti-yoga is considered superior to all other schools. According to yoga philosophy, concentration on any object anchors and steadies the mind. By choosing to meditate on God rather than an inert object, bhakti practitioners have chosen an object that is alive and all-powerful – a being who can reciprocate with their efforts and who has the power to grant success beyond their own capacity. Bhakti is thus often called the path of grace.
Lastly, bhakti is the highest yoga because it alone goes directly to the root cause of karmic bondage: egocentrism and selfishness. Devotion by definition is the antithesis of selfishness; we are not truly devoted if personal motives stain our affection. Bhakti is therefore the soul of selflessness, and as such, it strikes at the heart of our karmic bondage more directly and powerfully than any other path.
Yogic teachings often encourage practitioners to develop a sense of urgency in their spiritual practice because of the value and rarity of human life. The soul transmigrates through millions of species, but only when we take birth in the human species do we have the ability to inquire why we are suffering and rise above our instincts to find a spiritual solution. One who understands this becomes serious about using the gift of human life for spiritual transformation.
Therefore, let us now inquire into bhakti.