Knowledge gives depth to devotion. Devotion gives beauty and fragrance to knowledge. Knowledge without devotion is intellectual gymnastics and purposeless verbal warfare, while devotion without knowledge is mere superstition and a fairy tale.
The eminent scholar statesman Rajaji said “The way of devotion is not different from the way of knowledge or Jnana. When intelligence matures and lodges securely in the mind, it becomes wisdom. When wisdom is integrated with life and issues out in action, it becomes Bhakti. Knowledge, when it becomes fully mature, is Bhakti. If it does not get transformed into Bhakti, such knowledge is useless tinsel. To believe that Jnana and Bhakti - knowledge and devotion - are different from each other is ignorance.”
Narada Bhaktisutras is a popular and simple text containing 84 Sutras on Bhakti or devotion. The date and authorship of this work are not quite clear though it is generally ascribed to Devarshi Narada. He is typical in his Three-in-One approach integrating Jnana, Karma and Bhakti into a single unified spiritual experience. Although in their full maturity Jnana, Karma and Bhakti merge into one another; in the early stages they do appear to be different methods to reach the Absolute. He deals with Bhakti as the easiest and most efficient of all the paths or Yogas available to everybody irrespective of caste, creed, color or sex.
All the three spiritual paths lay down the one condition of purity of mind, with its functions of intellect, emotion and will having been cleansed of the muck of Ego for knowing the Godhead. Jnana Yoga purifies the intellect, Karma Yoga the will and Bhakti Yoga the emotions. The seeker is free to adopt any one of these according to his interest and temperament. But he would do well to attempt a synthesis of all these three paths for achieving the end more effectively. We find in the Narada Bhakti Sutras which primarily deal with Divine Love that the author achieved a happy synthesis of all the three Yogas treating them all as aides to achieve the final goal, as was done by the Yogeswara, Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.
Sutra or aphorism means a cryptic statement containing vast ideas within the compass of a very few words. A sutra also means a thread or a string - a support
- in which great ideas are strung together like flowers in a garland or pearls in a necklace.
Although the original text does not contain any divisions it is grouped here under different sections for a smooth thought-flow.
Nature of Divine Love (Sutra 1)
Any study of spiritual practices can appeal only to those who have an intense desire for knowing the subject coupled with deep faith in the teacher and the scripture whose help he seeks. While each scripture prescribes certain specific qualifications for attaining the goal, the scriptures of Bhakti declare that the path of Divine Love is open for all. A belief in the grace of God and faith in the possibility of escape from the cycles of birth and death with the help of God is the only qualification required for the study of Bhakti Sutras and the practice of Divine Love.
Bhakti can lead to God-Realization and escape from Samsara as an independent means all by itself. It is the easiest of all paths available to any one. It is of help even to those who aspire for Jnana for the sake of maintaining their loving relationship with God.
This may probably be the reason that prompted Narada to write on Bhakti in preference to Jnana or Karma. These Sutras or aphorisms should be construed not as a commentary on Bhakti as a speculative philosophy based on reason but as an exposition on the author’s actual personal experiences, supported by scriptures.
Definition of Bhakti (Sutra 2 & 3)
The term Bhakti comes from the root ‘Bhaj’, which means ‘to be attached to God’. Bhakti is divided into two types viz. Apara Bhakti or Gauna Bhakti and Para Bhakti. Apara Bhakti is the initial stage of devotion of an aspirant in the path of Bhakti while Para Bhakti is the highest stage in that path.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of loving devotion to God. It is expressed by means of ritual worship, prayer and japam. It is the cultivation of a direct, intense personal relationship between the worshipper and the worshipped. In the practice of Bhakti Yoga some special aspect of God or some Divine incarnation is chosen so that the devotee’s love may become more easily concentrated. For those who are naturally drawn to this approach, it is the simplest of all. There is no doubt that the great majority of believers, in all the world’s major religions, are fundamentally Bhakti Yogis.
Bhakti can be defined as an exclusive love for God, love for love’s sake. The devotee, with indifference to the pleasures and affairs of the world and no selfish expectation, reward or fear, wants God and God alone. Faith in God, attraction, adoration, suppression of mundane desires, single-mindedness and attachment are the stages through which the devotee develops the supreme love towards God. At the last stage of Bhakti (supreme love - Para Bhakti) all sensory attractions towards objects of enjoyment are transferred to the only one dearest object viz. God. It is an eternal union of the devotee with his beloved culminating in oneness between the two. The devotee drinks the real nectar of supreme devotion securing freedom from the wheel of births and deaths.
We can appreciate the experience of this love by looking at the following statement of Hanuman to Sri Ram. “When I think of myself as an embodied being, I am your servant; when I think of myself as an individual soul, I am part of you; but when I realize ‘I am Atman’ I am one with you. This is my firm conviction.”