admin August 16th, 2012
Narada Bhakti Sutra
This pure love for God is eternal.
All spiritual paths, or yogas, are simply a means or practice (sadhana) to achieve a transcendent objective (sadhya). Bhakti, unlike other yogas, is not just a steppingstone to a goal but also the goal itself, the sadhya. By the practice of selfless devotion we attain the fruit of pure devotion, the only difference being their respective maturity. In contrast, the practice and goal of all other paths are quite at variance. For example, the jnani strives for moksa (liberation), a state of untroubled awareness, but his practice is vairagya, arduous renunciation. And like every other path, except bhakti, its mode of practice is relinquished upon accomplishment. To highlight that bhakti unlike other paths is not just an intermediary step to achieve something else but also what the practitioner is seeking to attain in perfection, Sri Narada asserts that bhakti is eternal. In implying that bhakti is the goal or ultimate attainment, Narada is following the authority of standard texts like the Taittiriya Upanishad, where the ultimate reality is described as rasa vai saha, a flow of pure and intense devotion.
By stating that bhakti is eternal, Narada is also refuting a common and popular view of perfection held by the followers of Advaita Vedanta. Proponents of this school argue that all distinction is illusion and that upon enlightenment individuality is dissipated into one amorphous reality. That is not the opinion of Narada in his sutras. He has already defined bhakti as amutual loving exchange between the individual soul and God. By stating that bhakti is a relationship between individuals, and by now affirming that such an exchange is eternal, Narada is affirming the eternal individuality of the soul.
Narada’s view here, that individuality is not just manifest in bondage, but a component of ultimate enlightenment, is not a minority view as commonly misunderstood, especially in the west. 1 Classical Hindu philosophy is commonly divided into six schools (sad darsanas): Nyaya (logic), Vaisheshika (atomism), Sankhya (philosophical analysis), Yoga (meditation and renunciation), Mimasa (hermeneutics), and Vedanta (scriptural analysis). Aside from Advaita Vedanta, a division of the school of Vedanta, all of them affirm the individuality of the liberated self. The school of Yoga, for example, speaks of the liberated self as an eternally self-aware individual (purusa) distinct from Isvara, a distinct or special soul (visesa purusa). It then proceeds to describe Isvara with the qualities of omnipotence/omniscience classically ascribed exclusively to a Supreme Being. The Bhagavad-gita, which professes both Sankhya and Vedanta, clearly holds the same view. Sri Krishna, the Gita’s speaker, enlightens Arjuna, the texts main protagonist:
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these Kings, nor in the future shall any of us cease to be” 2
The word used for eternal in this third verse of Narada Bhakti Sutra is amrta. The word amrta means eternal, but it also means nectar, an elixir of bliss. There is a natural connection between the two definitions. We have already discussed that for any path to be eternal, the goal of the path cannot be different from the prescribed means to achieve it. If they are, it means that the path ceases upon reaching its goal and is obviously not eternal. It also means the pathcannot be even relatively blissful, otherwise why would it be renounced? Incontrast, the means and objective of selfless devotion (bhakti) are and must be the same – the pleasure of one’s beloved. It is thus never renounced for something else being the greatest happiness, true devotion. Bhakti is thus amrta, everlastingly and joyfully performed. 3
Let us now therefore forever perform bhakti, the sublime and never-ending path of devotion.
1. The conception, especially in the west, that abject undifferentiated oneness is the only view accepted in Hindu philosophy is mostly an accident of history. The proponents of this view, followers of Ramakrishna, an Advaita Vedantist, were the first Hindu sect that the Christian missionaries confronted in India and the first representatives of Hinduism (through Vivekananda) to present Hinduism in the west. They are not, as explained above, by any means a majority view.