22.12: BHAKTI AT OUR LEVEL: NINE FACETS
Yes, there is. It depends on our level of spiritual evolution, the state of our mind and the stage of its development. What will suit most of us is not the shAnta (peaceful) bhakti (based on the feeling ‘I am His’) of Bhishma, not the vAtsalya (filial affection) bhakti of YaSoda, not the mAdhura (love) bhakti (based on the feeling ‘He is mine’) of Gouranga, but the dAsya (service) bhakti of which there are innumerable examples. Service to the Lord and – mark it – to His devotees, and in a larger sense, to the entire humanity who are His children – this is the bhakti to which we can rise. This bhakti comes out of an attitude of surrender (sharaNAgati or prapatti).
There are innumerable verses in the ocean of bhakti literature of Hinduism replete with the depiction of this attitude of total surrnder to God. Here is one, from the poem Stotraratna of Yamunacharya, the guru of Shri Ramanuja:
To me and to all the worlds Thou art the father, mother, beloved son, dear frien d, well-wisher, teacher and the goal. I for my part am thine – Thy servant, Thy attendant and a refugee at Thy feet. Having offered whole-hearted surrender to Thee, I remain now Thy sole responsibility.
Historical developments on the Indian subcontinent led during the first half of the second millenium C.E. to the submergence and partial disappearance of earlier bhakti traditions. But mediaeval times saw a revival of varied schools of bhakti across the land, a revival that had a very positive sign ificance in the development of modern Hinduism inasmuch that it de-emphasized the role of ritualistic paraphernalia and rightly brought into focus the fact that bhakti is the only path to salvation. The schools of Ramanuja, Chaitanya, Jnaneshvar, the Shaiva and Vaishnava saints of the South, the author of the Ramacaritamanas, Swami Bodhendra, Saint TyAgaraja, , classic bhaktas like Tukaram and Mirabhai and many others all contributed to this revival and to them is due the credit for keeping the torch alive during Hinduism’s bleak centuries. To them we owe the reminder that Hinduism then needed, that surrender to the Lord is the only means to destroy the ego; ahamkAra vanishes only through dAsyabhakti which dwells on the magnificence of the Lord and which expresses itself through humility and service of others as the children of God.
The sage Kapila Muni (in the Bhagavatam) teaching Vedanta to his mother Devahuti answers her questions regarding the path of Bhakti which will lead to the Ultimate Realisation. Bhakti, says Kapila, is known in terms of nine categories by the motivation which manifests it. The motivation could be – in the ascending order of commendability (Bhagavatam III–29– 8, 9, 10) as in the following table; the category of bhakti to which it belongs is shown in the right-hand column:
Motivation Category of Bhakti
Violent ends adhama-tAmasa
Sensual ends adhama-rAjasa
Eradication of one’s Sins adhama-sAtvika
Pleasure of the Lord madhyama-sAtvika
But all of them have the commonality of bheda-darSana (which is conscious of the multiplicity of the deities and recognises the differences) as well as of idol worship (worship of specific manifestations of the Ultimate). Over and above these, there is the nirguNa bhakti, defined as follows: Having heard about Him, one gets addicted with devotion that does not see any distinction, without any expectation of results, to the Purushhottama, who lives in the deepest hearts of all, like the waters of the Ganges that keeps on going to the ocean. That is the characteristic of nirguNa bhakti, the bhakti of the highest kind, higher than the nine categories mentioned above. And the Lord continues, as if inspired:
I am present in every living entity as the Self. Those who neglect or disregard this omnipresence and engage themselves in the worship of the Deity in the temple, they are only making a show of themselves. That is like offering oblations into ashes instead of in the Fire. He who thinks of Me, residing in the bodies of others, as different from his Self can never attain peace of mind. He never pleases Me even if he worships with proper rituals and paraphernalia. As long as one does not realise the omnipresent Me as resident in His own heart, so long has he to worship Me through images, performing all his prescribed duties. (#s III – 29: 21 to 25)
The greatest pronouncement of the Bhakti tradition comes from the divine mouth of child Prahlada in the Bhagavatam. The nine manifestations or expressions of devotion to the Lord are, according to him:
Listening to recitals of the names and glories of God (shravaNa), as did King Parikshit;
Oneself reciting the names of God (nAma-sankIrtana), as did Narada, Chitanya, Mira and Tyagaraja;
Recalling Him and His deeds (smaraNa), as did the sage Shuka;
Waiting on Him (pAda-sevana), as did Lakshmana;
Worshipping Him (archana), as did King Ambarisha;
Saluting Him (vandana), as did Akrura and Uddhava;
Serving Him (dAsya), as did Hanuman and Garuda;
Befriending Him (sakhya), as did Arjuna and Sugriva;
Dedicating one’s whole self to Him (Atma-nivedana), as did King Bali and Kannappa Nayanar
In all these forms of bhakti, prema, that is, Love, is the essential component. Potana, Nandanar, Jayadeva, Chaitanya, Tukaram, Mira, Purandaradasa, Tyagaraja, Bhattatiri, Manikkavasagar and others were thrilled at the very thought of the Lord, because they had prema in a pure and overpowering form. Prema in its purest form, as in maternal love, implies complete self-effacement. In fact, whenever we bow to God, thatis, whenever we do Namaskara to God, we say namaH. Na mama (not mine) is the attitude of namaskara. It is really na-mama-kAra, the declaration that ‘all that I am and have is due to Your Grace’. The TaittirIyopanishad extols the virtue of using ‘namah’ while worshipping the Almighty and says ‘Desires fall at the feet of such a one who worships Him by saying namah’.
Among the nine forms of bhakti described above, four have contemporary relevance: shravaNa, nAma-sankIrtana, smaraNa and arcana. All these rest on the glory of the Lord's name and the majesty of His deeds. Their rationale is that the mind is always riddled with desire and hate, lust and greed, and so is as unsteady as a sailboat in an ocean and as such, needs a symbol, an Alambanam (prop) upon which the Lord can be superimposed for the purpose of single-minded concentration. The Lord's name serves as this symbol. Reciting God's names, repeating them in a certain rhythmic pattern, recalling God's majesty and splendour, His immanence and transcendence, His omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, His perfection -- these are the ways in which one uses the Alambanam of God's names for turning the mind inward. When man is at an elementary stage of spiuritual evolution, as is the case with most of us, the recitation and repetition of God's names has been held to be the panacea for all the ills of samsAra. Repeating the name of the Lord is a potent discipline for making progress towards moksha. The prop of God's names to turn the mind inward is used in every religion.
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