Bhaktimarga - its contemporary relevance - Govindh K. Bharathan

Govindh K. Bharathan


Sada Sat Swaroopam Chit Ananda Kandam

Jagath Sambhavasthana Samhara Hetum

Siva –Bhakathechaya Manusham Dharshayantham

Namameeshwaram Sat Guru Sai Natham


          The absolute which cloths itself in the attributes of Sat-Chit Ananda and which is the cause of all creation the dissolution manifests itself in human form to satisfy the desire of the devotee.  This concept forms the core of the Bhakti Marga. In whatever form the Supreme manifests itself, through such form He satisfied all that the devotee craves for. 


          It is not easy to define Bhakthi.  Perhaps among the various paths, the most difficult to define or to understand through the instruments of knowledge is Bhakthi.  In the Narada Bhkti Sutra, Bhakti is defined as the nature of supreme love of God and in its own intrinsic nature such divine love is nothing less than the immortal bliss of freedom (Mukthi) itself which comes unsolicited by the grace of God.  (Narada Bhakthi Sutra 2,3.)


          The word Bhakthi is derived from the root “Bhaj’ competed with the suffix of ‘kti’ expressing action.  In the words of Vallabhacharya, Bhakthi with this word composition implies service with love. The Sandilya Bhakthi Sutra defines Bhakti as “infinite attachment to God”.  To Ramanuja meditation Dhyana) and devotion (Bhakthi) were interchangeable.  In his commentary on The Brahma Sutra, Ramanuja states that meditation which is steady remembrance “as if like a flow of Oil” is designated y the word devotion (Bhakthi) thus equating single minded continuous uninterrupted and steady remembrance of the Divine as Bhakthi.  Ramanuja attributes to Bhakthi a special kind of knowledge which excludes everything not done for the sake of the Divine.  This view however was subtly altered by Vedanta Desika the later day exponent of Ramanuja’s teaching according to whom Bhakthi was pure joy in the experience of the adorable and not merely knowledge. 


          Madhava conceived of Bhakthi as practically synonymous with Jnana.  To Madhava, Bhakthi was a particular form of Jnana and through Bhakthi one attained Jnana which again would pave the way for Bhakthi from which ultimately emerges Mukti (Anuvykhjana – Madhava’s Teachings In His Own Words; by B.N.K.Sharma).  Madhva however made it clear that Bhakthi was the ultimate element which perfected the soul. 


          It is possible that in the Narada Bhakthi Sutra which is now universally accepted as the most comprehensive and all embracing definition of Bhakthi was written to harmonise the several definitions of Bhakthi which though in essence indicated the same element of Divine love varied subtly but clearly and perceptibly from each other. 


          Some commentators trace the roots of Bhakthi back to the Rig Veda.  In the hymna of the Rig-Veda, Indra is praised as the divine bestower of gifts, whom the love of the seeker in the form of his inner most thoughts, embraces like “wives embrace their husbands” (Rg.D.43.1).  Some scholars argue that Bhakthi in its present form was alien to the tenor of the Rig Veda.  But in any view of the matter, the germ of Bhakthi was borne in the Rig Veda which later flourished into its later form.  In the Upanishads, the concepts of Bhakthi, later developed to perfection by the Vaishnavas appears to have beenrevealed in brilliant but veiled glimpses.  The theme that the Atman cannot be obtained either by the intellect or by learning, but only by whole hearted and single minded devotion to the Supreme, constantly echoes throughout, the Upanishads, The swetasvetara Upanishad concludes on the note of total devotion to the Guru and for God.  What was thus hinted at but never directly expoused as a concrete path to self realisaiton however was fully expounded in the Bhagawad Geetha for the first time as a path.  The term ‘Yoga’ which indicated a well defined system attended with its own discipline, was perhaps attached for the first time to the concept of Bhakthi in the Bhagawad Gita, the crystallized essence of the Upanishads. 

In the Geetha, the Lord says:


          Even if the vilest sinner worships me with exclusive devotion, he should be considered a saint; for he was rightly resolved. 


        Speedily he becomes virtuous and secures lasting peace.  Know it for certain, Arjuna, that My devotee never falls. 

Bhagavad Gita Chapter IX St. 30, 31. 



Perhaps the entire concept of Bhakthi as it is understood today can be gleaned from the Bhagawad Gita and the Bhagavata. 


          Bhakthi has several perceivable stages.  The lowest stage of Bhakti is called ‘ Sadharana Bhakti’ and this means mere conformity with what is commonly accepted by the community as religious.  This may include elaborate ritualism celebration of religious festivals and observing other such trappings of formalized and conventional religion oriented behaviour.  In this type of Bhakti, which regrettably is accepted by the majority as synonymous with being religious, there is very little of the inner spiritual urge or deep stirring feeling and invariably this type of Bhakthi easily backslides into intolerance superstition and fanaticism. 


          The next stage of Bhakti is ‘Sraddha’ (faith) At this stage concepts like God, the Eternal Soul etc are taken very seriously and the 9 classic disciplines are scrupulously followed.  These disciplines are :


1.       Sravanam   :         Hearing about the glory of God.

2.       Keerthanam:         Chanting of the name.


3.       Smaranam  :         Continuous remembrance of the Lord.


4.       Padasevanam:       Service of the Divine Feet.


5.       Archanam   :         Worshipping the Lord in the form of Symbols.


6.       Vandanam  :         Paying obeisance to the Lord.


7.       Dasyam       :         Being the servant of the Lord.

8.       Sakhyam    :         Treating the Lord as an intimate friend.

9.       Atmamvedanam:   Total surrender to the Lord.


          The pitfalls at this stage are also many.  These disciplines stimulate the love of God.  But in their absence very often the mind relapses into worldness.  But at the later stages the practice of these disciplines may be become unnecessary and the mind slowly develops a natural inclination towards the Divine in any of its aspects.  When this constant dwelling on the Divine takes an impersonal intellectual tone, characterized by a desire to merge into the Absolute, this stage is referred to as Rati or Jnanabhakti.  But when due to either the type of Sadhana performed or the highly emotional nature of the sadhak, the mind develops a personal intense love of the all perfect Divine person, this type Bhakti is called Preeethibhakti.  It is the divine ambrosia of this Prethibhakti that is immortalized in our tradition by Chaitanya, Meera, Tulsidas, Surdas and Meppathur Narayana Bhattathiri.  It is only to one who is established in this personal relationship that the Lord reveals his nature of Bliss. 


          Bhakti according to the Acharyas of the Bengal School is a manifestation of Bliss which is Gods’ own inherent nature and His energy (Shakti).  It is the power through which God who is the embodiment of Bliss, experience His own Bliss and at the same time makes such Bliss experiencable by other Jivas.  It is impossible to taste this Divine Bliss except through the medium of the Jiva.  The Divine seeks the experience of His Own attribute of Bliss through his devotees with whom he sports in eternal and unending leela.  This perennial play between the divine and the devoted is not in any mythical Brindavan or Vaikunda, but in the inner most recesses of a pure heart. 


          The Bengal School conceives of Radha as the purest image of Divine Love.  Since it is not possible for the object (The Lord – Divine and all perfect) to fully experience the image, (the devotee chaste and pure and God intoxicated) the object itself became the image.  Thus according to the Masters of the Bengal School, the Lord, who while he remained the Lord, could not totally take up the role of the devotee, re-incarnated and took up the supremely divine image of Sree Chaitanya Maha Prabhu.  Thus what could not be tasted, by him when he was Krishna sporting with Radha was enjoyed by him when he manifested himself as Chatanya Mahaprabhu who defined Bhakti in a manner never attempted prior to, or thereafter.  In Chaitanya’s glorious ecstasy lies the key to an understanding of the Bhakti Path.  Chaitanya was thus considered to be a manifestation of God himself.  His weapon was his impassioned out pouring of love in the form of ecstatic singing and dancing to the name of the Lord. 


          Chaitanya Mahaprabhu did not explain his concept of Bhakti nor did he writs anything.  He appeared like a star during the dark night of Hinduism in the 15th century when Bharath was in the throes of Muslim persecution. Using the invincible weapon of Namasankeerthan Chaitanya gave a new orientation to the Hindu creed and restored the Bhakti movement, freeing Hinduism from the shackles of ingrown and insular intellectualism.  He also eradicated the last traces of debased Buddhism which grew like a fungus on the decaying body of Hinduism at that age.  Mahaprabhu Chaitanya caused a vast tidal wave of renaissance which swept away out mooded creeds and out landish symbols which were choking the life breath of the Hindu faith.  To this day the ecstasy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu manifests itself in the heart throb of the Hare Krishna movement which is creating a revolution of sorts throughout the world. 


          To Surdas, the immortal poet Saint the Lord was a friend.  Surdas is said to be the incarnation of Uddhava.  Surdas lost his sight and as the story goes once fell into a well and remained therefore 6 days and nights. On the  7th day Bhagawan Krishna appeared before Surdas revealing to him his transcendentform, restoring his sight.  But Surdas pleaded with the Lord for blindness so that he would not have to see any earthly object with the eyes with which he had seen Him.  It is said that Lord Krishna himself used to write down songs of Surdas following his around like a scribe.  Once, Surdas saw through this leela of Krishna and grabbed his scribe by his arm only to find that the Lord wrenched free and escaped from him.  From Surdas’s heart a couplet burst-forth


“Finding me weak you leave me wresting your arm,

But a hero I shall call you only when you can leave

my heart”             


                                                (The Kalyanakalpatharu-

                                                Bhakta Number January

                                                1941 Vol. 8 Page 196)


          To Tulsidas God was his master.  Sree Ramachandra whose Divine life he immortalized in chaste and simple Hindi, in at least twelve immortal compositions, was to him the only power to whom he would bow his head.  Tulasidas was revered as the incarnation of Valmiki, re-incarnated to living to the common man the nectar of the Ramayana in his own language. 


          Tulasidas emerged on the Indian scene when the culture of Arsha Bharath was being threatened from all sides by powerful proselytizing religions which threatened our faith, our traditions and our very day of life.    He blended Bhakti with action, and with this amalgam, his invocation of the name of Rama became a rallying point for a dispirited and demoralized people of this country.  Tulasidas made Bhakti relevant to society , by the idealization of fundamental human values, far removed from the madhura-rasa of the other Vaishnavite creeds. 


          The Ramayana and the Ramacharithamanasa are the crystalisation of his love for the Divine prince of Ayodhya.  Tulsidas was so immersed in the Rama form that once while at Brindavan on visiting a temple where Krishna was installed he wrote. 


          How shall I describe the beauty

          You have assumed today, Oh Lord,”

          It is simply incomparable

          But Tulsi will bow his had only when you

          have taken the bow and arrow in hand. (ibid-page 198)


It is said that thereupon Lord Krishna revealed himself

before Tulsidas in the form of the master of his

heart Sree Ramachandra.


          The Bhakti of Meera, the lovely Princes of Rajputana is beguilingly part of our history, as or the saga of Indian spirituality.  Meera’s love for Krishna was that of a devoted wife.  In her passionate poetic outpourings she treated Krishna as her lover and pined for Him unable to bear even a moment of separation from his form.  The agony of the gopis of Brindavan yearning for Krishna in his absence is exquisitely woven into the Meera experience.  To her love was the only Sadhana.  The poetry of Meera is perhaps the most exquisite expression of human love for an almost intensely Human divinity.  To Meera her beloved Giridhari was not the creator or sustainer of the universe but her own personal lover and eternal companion with whom she sported here in this earth.  For him she braved all the tortures that were inflicted on her.  In Meera the concept of the Divine is not one of power and grandeur, but of beauty, very much of this world. Ultimately Meera realizes that her beloved can never leave her as He is part of herself, duality attaining monoism in this mystic union.  Miras devotion was expressed in the idiom of an intensely personal love, and in words which related to every day life.  Little wonder then that her poems were set to music and sung as if set to the percussion of the heartbeat. 


          But what is relevant in these aspects of Bhakti is the fact that to Chaitanya Surdas Tulasidas and Meera, Bhakti was a powerful instrument of renaissance.  It was during the long dark night of intellectual stagnation, intercene strife and threat of annihilation from the ruthless assaults of conquering faiths that the power of Bhakti burst forth through these unique souls to regenerate rehabilitate and restore the glory of Hinduism in this ancient land. 


          To the rationalist or the intellectual, the Bhakti Marga may seem embarrassingly emotional, and unnecessarily demonstrative.  But the objective historian will immediately recognize the vitality and the creativity of the Bhakti creed which has seen the Hindus through centuries of ruthless and inhuman oppression.  It can be said without hesitation that this unique blend of faith and mystique has saved the culture of India from being utterly wiped out, as it has happened in China, where westernisation resulted in the total destruction of the existing ancient culture, which was subsequently replaced by Communism, which is basically a western concept. 


          And in Sree Ramakrishna Paramahamsa when the culture of Bharat faced what was perhaps its most serious threat from a combined assault on the religion, values, language and way of life, there emerged once again the glory of Bhakthi charging the youth of India through Naren who became Vivekananda. 


          Ramakrishna reconciled Bhakthi with Jnana and in his life demonstrated this perfect Fusion.  Vivekananda drew from his Master this unique amalgam and manifested it in his own vibrant interpretation of Karma Yoga to galvanize the youth of this ancient land which was reeling under the onslaught of a ruthless and systematically mounted offensive to obliterate the religion, culture and language of Arsha Bharath. 


          It was Aurobindo who visualized the mysticism of Bhakthi disassociated from rationalism into active politics.  Aurobindo’s trajectory through political India was brief but brilliant.  During the span of less than half a decade he unalterably changed the tone, temper and texture of politics in India. 

Aurobindo wrote:-

          “Those who have freed nations have

          first passed through the agony of utter

          renunciation before their efforts were

          crowned with success, and those who

          aspire to free India will first have to

          pay the price which the Mother demands.

          Regeneration is literally rebirth, and

          rebirth comes not by the intellect, not

          by the fullness of the purse, not by policy.

          not by change of machinery, but by getting

          a new heart, by throwing away all into the

          fire of sacrifice and being reborn in

          the Mother.

                                                          Bande Mataram, Weekly

                                                          Edition, April 12,1908


          The subterranean flow of Bhakthi was thus tapped by Aurobindo, and in its outpouring the Divine Mother came to represent Mother India.  The political Bhakthi of Aurobindo express itself in an almost physical delight in the feel of the soil of Bharat, her flowing rivers her ocean washed feet and snowcapped brow.  He infused into politics passionate emotional love for the past, and intense pain at the degradation of the present and the glory and promise of the future.  In emphasizing the Motherhood of God and raising the country to this high pedestral, he made political strife for independence the greatest and the most glorious, sadhana. 


          Aurobindo also forestold the advent of Gandhi.  In “An Open Letter To My Countryman” published in “Karma Yogam” of 31st July 1909 Aurobindo wrote:


                   “All great movements wait for their

                   God-sent leader, the willing channel

                   of His force, and only when he comes

move forward triumphantly to their

fulfillment.  The men who have led

hitherto have been strong men of high

 gifts and commanding genius, great

enough to be the protagonists of any

other movement, but even they were not

sufficient to fulfil one which is the

chief current of a world-wide revolu-

tion.  Therefore the Nationalist

Party, the custodians of the future,

must wait for the man who is to come. 


          And indeed Gandhiji’s relationship with his followers was almost that of a Guru and a Shishya.  With the mantra of Rama Naam the Mahatma led the nation through this unique path laid by Aurobindo and cleared by Tilak to the promised land of freedom from what at one time seemed to be and almost invincible colonial bon

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