admin July 27th, 2012
Narada Bhakti Sutra
sā tv-asmin parama-prema-rūpā
The nature of bhakti is the topmost love for God.
The first verse of Narada Bhakti Sutra announced the subject of the book, implied bhakti’s superlative position, and hinted at the urgency to realize the self through the study and practice of bhakti. This second verse now defines the nature of such bhakti — it is the purest love for God.
Sri Rupa Goswami, a prominent 15th century successor of Sri Narada, thus defined bhakti as follows.
“True bhakti is activity not covered by any selfish desire and done with the exclusive intention to please God.” 1
Thus bhakti in its topmost form has two pertinent characteristics: it is free of all selfish motives, and it is focused upon God. It is easy to see that true devotion cannot be selfish, but why does it have to be for God?
God, by definition, includes everything, as he is the basis of all existence. Truly loving God thus means to love everything and everyone, just as watering the root of a tree nourishes the whole tree. Without loving God, however, one’s love for another becomes somewhat exclusive and narrow. Then one’s love is not universal. Love for one person limits affection for another, just as watering individual leaves does not service the whole tree.
But bhakti is not restricted to the Supreme. Loving exchanges with others are essential to the path of bhakti. In fact, one who claims to love God but who has enmity towards others is not actually a lover of God, regardless of his or her religious appellation. How can one truly love someone and reject that which is part of that person? At best, such devotion is of a low or mixed quality.
Whether as parent for a child, or a wife and husband for each other, in all relationships the bhakta is united with others with a vision towards the eternal. And although such relationships are also intended to satisfy one’s natural desires, such relationships are not necessarily limited to the mundane. By seeing the spark of God in everyone (the soul), relationships become spiritual partnerships in service to God. They aid personal transformation. Without such a vision, however, “love” limited to a temporal body is mundane and not within the realm of bhakti.
Let us seek the true nature of bhakti: pure devotion for God that includes appropriate service to others.