Bhakti yoga and the Sage

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Devotional scriptures should be interwoven with the fabric of daily life to experience the supreme ecstasy of bhakti, held Narada the Sage

Narada, crowned with the epithet Devarshi, is a celestial sage and a great exponent of the devotional path or Bhakti yoga. An unmatched musician and singer, Narada is traditionally believed to have been born from the forehead of Brahma, the creator. Narada Bhakti Sutra (NBS), the monumental text on Bhakti yoga, which commands high reverence among  followers of the devotional path is the unmatched contribution of this great soul. NBS, written in sutraform, has also secured a distinguished position in Sutra literature, a technique found exclusively in Sanskrit wherein the subject matter is expressed through the least possible words. This book is articulated only in 84 short but import-loaded sutras.

Other books supposed to have been authored by Narada are Naradiya ShiksaNarada SmritiNarada PancharatraNarada Upanisad and Narada Parivrajaka Upanishad. It is difficult to ascertain if there was one Narada or many persons of the same name or whether Narada was a ‘composite character’. Yet, the Narada Bhakti Sutra is undoubtedly a work par excellence. Supreme love for the Lord, according to Narada, is known as bhakti (Sa tvasmin parampremarupa) which resembles ambrosia (Amrita Swarupa cha) for the devotee. Love for the Lord bestows supreme bliss on the aspirant that liberates him/her of all distresses of life. Once the supreme ecstasy of bhakti is experienced, accumulated earthly pleasures fail to allure him/her. But words fail to communicate this grand experience which is beyond every expression and resembles an inexpressible experience. (Anirvachaniyam Prema Swarupam, Mukaswadanavat).

Devotional path is ranked above other methods like karma, jnana and yoga, since in other paths bliss, is experienced only after attaining the supreme state, whereas in Bhakti yoga, one starts enjoying bliss from the very commencement of his/her spiritual journey. But the path of devotion is filled with the perils of downfall at every step. It is, therefore, safe for an aspirant in the initial juncture to perform the worldly obligations consigned to him/her by the scriptures but to capitulate all his/her actions at the feet of the Lord and renounce the world only when he is unwaveringly established on the path. Vairagya (detachment) has a grand role to play in the devotional path. A mind has to be emptied of desires in order to fill it with love for the supreme. Vices like lust, anger, intolerance, greed et al, present in ripple-like degrees in the aspirant swell into the magnitude of oceans by wrong company, warns Narada. On the other hand, association with virtuous people nourishes his/her noble qualities and vices are starved to perish and s/he has a speedy elevation on the path of spirituality.

Narada divides bhakti into 11 types as Gunamahatmya sakti (love for God and His glories),  Rupa sakti (attraction towards Lord's charming appearance), Puja sakti (love for worshipping the Lord all the time),  Smarana sakti (love to remember the Lord all the time), Dasya sakti (serve the Lord as a servant), Sakhya sakti (love for the Lord as a friend),  Vatsalya sakti (to love the Lord as one’s child), Kantya sakti (love the Lord as His beloved),  Atmanivedana sakti(to surrender at the feet of the Lord), Tanmaya sakti (to be completely absorbed in the Lord),  Paramaviraha sakti (to feel severe pang of separation for the Lord). Narada divides devotees broadly into two categories: The lower and the highest. The lower bhaktas again are divided in two ways. The first classification is into three types according to the three gunas viz TamasikaRajasika and Sattvika.

The second division is into three categories according to the aspirants’ aptitude: Arta (distressed), Jijnasu (curious for knowledge) and Artharthi (desirous). Highest bhaktas, according to Narada, are those whose devotion is undiluted. The ground on which they tread is sanctified and holy places which purify others are, in fact, purified by the fall of their feet (Tirthi Kurvanti Tirthani). Any action in which they put their hand is transformed to a noble action (Sukarmikurvanti Karmani). Even Gods dance with joy to see such a devotee on the earth (Nrityanti Devatah) and the ancestors are highly elated (ModantePitarah) to find such a great soul in their lineage. The earth is protected by such a saviour (Sanatha cheyam bhurbhavati).

Caste, education, appearance, family lineage, wealth or actions are not distinctions among treaders of the devotional path since they have only one identity — the identity of belonging to the Lord. Inclination for Lord’s worship and listening to his lilas is a behaviourial normalcy for a devotee. All his/her actions are gifted at the feet of the Lord.

Study of devotional scriptures should be indispensably associated with the fabric of one’s daily routine. Any action detrimental to this devotional path should be discarded from one’s life. Virtues like non-violence, cleanliness (external and internal), compassion and reverential faith are to be carefully nurtured. Narada Bhakti Sutra is one of the master pieces of Bhakti literature and is a guide for the devotees who wish to tread on the path of Bhakti yoga to attain eternal peace.

(The writer is Director, Academy of Yoga and Oriental Studies, Bhubaneswar)

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