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22.15: The eight Bhakti Schools


All the three major philosophical schools of Hinduism, namely, advaita, ViSishTAdvaita and Dvaita, as well as the various later schools such as Nimbarkar’s dvaitAdvaita, Vallabhacharya’s ShuddhAdvaita, Chaitanya’s acintya-bhedAbheda, Shaiva siddhAnta, ShAkta siddhAnta and the Maharashtrian schools of Vedanta -- all of these are one in their emphasis on bhakti as the means to obtain God’s Grace. Where they differ from one another is only in their descriptions of His true nature. To whatever school of thought a Hindu belongs, He will invoke God’s Grace through bhakti, leaving it to Him to reveal the truth of His nature. Bhakti alone can keep our minds from sin. The heart has to be kept lean through bhakti so that the full effect of God’s presence there may be realized.  It will be illuminating at this point to elaborate on the different ways in which Bhakti is delineated by the Acharyas of the eight bhakti schools mentioned above. The emphasis on bhakti that the advaita school gives is taken up in the next Section.


The Lord possesses infinite divine qualities and forms. He is the One and only One who has all the acit (inert) as well as all the souls as His body. He has great compassion on every soul and so is intent on raising them to their salvation. When the individual soul realises its true nature as an amSa of the Lord and is relieved from the three-fold miseries of life then it lives in the enjoyment of Divine Bliss in the company of liberated souls in Lord’s own VaikunTha, that is moksha. To reach this he will do his duties as the Lord’s own commandments and for His satisfaction. This purifies his mind, trains him in dhyana yoga and leads him to be one with his Self. And then it is that he recognises the ParamAtmA of all Atmans and now pours all his love on that paramAtman. This is bhakti. The Lord is recognised either as Master, or as friend, or as one’s own child, or as the beloved. By means of all this the Bhakti grows more and more intense. When this ripens into an intense longing to have direct experience of the Lord, it becomes parA-bhakti.That is when the Lord takes him on into His fold. The sole cause of this happening is God’s Grace. That is why the great devotees consider the Lord Himself as both the means and the goal either by their jnAna or by their Love.  This is called Surrender to the Lord. This is the ViSishTAdvaita theory of Bhakti.


Accoding to Nimbarkacharya’s dvaitAdvaita siddhAnta, the souls and the universe are different from Brahman who permeates in them and controls them as a niyantA (controller-director). But like the spider’s web, it is the Lord who transforms as the souls  (the experiencer) and the universe (the object that is experienced). But He transcends them all. It is like the Ocean transcending the waves and also like the Sun and the Sunlight. Thus there is difference as well as non-difference. Those who yearn for moksha should pray to Brahman and repose oneself at the mercy of that Infinite. JnAna is nothing but the realisation of this relationship of difference and non-difference. To surrender to God is Bhakti. Unless one has both, JnAna as well as Bhakti, there is no moksha.  Such a prapanna (one who has surrendered) goes to Brahma-loka by the path called archirAdi-mArga and obtains the bliss of brahman. The leading deities for this path are Radha and Krishna of  Shrimad Bhagavatam.


In Madhvacharya’s dvaita, the ultimate God is Lord Vishnu with attributes of form and divine qualities. He has great Love for all the individual Jivas and so protects them by distributing to them what they deserve by their karma as well as their guNas.  The three principles of Cit (Conscious), acit (Inert) and ISvara (the Lord) are different from each other and this difference continues even after liberation of the Cit. Lord Vishnu is the Almighty, independent of anything else, with no parallel. The souls as well as the universe are all outside of Him, but dependent on Him. He creates the universe by His will. Among the Jivas, the sAtvik ones live in VaikunTha, the tAmasik ones live in Naraka. Only the rAjasik ones aspire for moksha. These aspirants first have to recognise the difference between their Master, namely God, and themselves (as servants) and should engage themselves in listening to and thinking about the immeasurable greatness of the Lord.  This is called Bhakti. This bhakti grows by fulfilling the commandments of the Lord and performing the services concordant with His wishes. At the end they get moksha by His Grace and obtain the bliss of brahman proportionate to what they deserve. The ultimate goal of Man is to serve the Lord here and herafter. The role model for this supreme bhakti is Hanuman.


According to Vallabhacharya’s shuddhAdvaita, Brahman is nothing other than the divine Krishna with His majestic delightful auspicious form.  He is in constant revelry with other JIva-devotees in the world of Goloka which is beyond even VaikunTha. Creation is also his sport. To arrive at that stage of infinite bliss in the company of Krishna the only means is bhakti. The Shastraic bhakti is rare to be obtained in Kaliyuga. What is called PushTi-bhakti is what is possible now and what is easier to obtain. It can be obtained by the causeless Grace of Krishna. However Service to the Divine is superior even to Worship. In Worship and Prayer the most important component is the offering of the self. PushTi bhakti is the offering of the self with heart and soul because both belong to Him. This is the final stage of Love.  This is the self-effacing Love towards Krishna that the Gopis had in an irrepressible manner. This alternates between Love and pangs of Separation and does not care even for moksha. When such a devotee sheds his mortal coil his soul goes to Goloka and immerses itself in the Bliss of the company of other Gopalas. This is the ultimate goal of all life, not what is called mukti by others. This philosophy is current in Gujarat and adjoining areas.


Sri Chaitanya’s philosophy is called acintya-bhedA-bheda siddhAnta (the philosophy of inconceivable difference-cum-non–difference). The para-brahman is Krishna Himself with all His Beauty, Love and Bliss. Krishna and Radha are the ShaktimAn (the wielder of Power) and Shakti (Power). Therefore there exists an inexplicable difference-cum- non-difference between the two.  Krishna is having a daily sport with Radha. His divine beauty charms up even men to regret they are not feminine and it is that beauty of his which graces the Jivas, corrects them and takes them up spiritually.  Bhakti is the only path to obtain the nectar of His infinite bliss. When one persistently pursues the sAdhanA of bhakti and adopts the three-fold qualities of taste for the names of God, compassion for all beings, and service to Vaishnavas, the sAdhanA’s intensity will lead to a stage where non-performance of the sAdhanA would be impossible; and that is when pure satva-guNa will become dominant. This produces the capability to receive and bear the Shakti of Bliss that streams forth from Lord Krishna. This shuddha satva is the seed for prema and now Bhakti transforms into rati, that is, delight in God. In due course this transforms into prema which produces the feeling that ‘I am Krishna’s’ and ‘Krishna is mine’. The prema grows into intimate friendship. The mind becomes mellows down and is now not satisfied with just seeing Krishna and listening to His voice or music. The next stage is a filial possssive feeling like a child towards its mother. And this turns into deep affection (praNaya) whereby seeing Krishna is no more that of an obedient servant to a master who deserves reverence, but it will be like meeting an equal. And then praNaya turns into rAga, attachment. Once this rAga takes over, even unpleasant things will be welcomed if they produce an opportunity to see and hear Krishna. Finally this rAga gives place to anurAga, which produces a novelty in any experience connected with Krishna. And this ripens into what is known as mahA-bhAvanA . The dAsya-rati (delight in service) leads to rAga, the sakhya-rati (delight in friendship) leads to anurAga, while the vAtsalya-rati (delight in filial affection ) takes one to the peak of anurAga. This is the mAdhura bhakti stage of the Gopis. That is what should be able to produce the nAyakI-bhAva (the feeling of the beloved of Krishna).  This has been beautifully depicted in the Gitagovinda of Jayadeva.  


The philosophy propagated by the Maharashtrian school of bhaktas identifies the spiritual path of shravaNa-manana-nididhyAsana  (Listen-Think-Meditate) and the nine-fold path of bhakti enunciated by Prahlada in Shrimad Bhagavatam. It was Jnanesvar who initiated this identification. The paramAtman is both saguNa (with attributes) and nirguNa (without attributes). Bhakti is necessary to reach the saguNa brahman and JnAna is necessary to reach the nirguNa brahman. These two are only two sides of the same coin. The devotee considers God as his very life and loses his ego thereby. Since God anyway resides in the hearts of every one, the bhakti towards God must bloom itself as service to others.


The Shaiva-siddhAnta school considers three fundamental principles, namely, pati (the Lord), paSu (the individual soul) and pASaM (three-fold dirt, consisting of ego, karma and mAyA). The Lord on the one hand is mixed up with the souls and the universe and on the other hand is also transcendent. When the soul realises that he is in bondage because of the affliction of the three-fold dirt, he longs for the release from bondage. And he goes through successive steps known as the path of servitude (dAsya), the path of the son (kriyA), the path of friendship (yoga), the path of the pious (jnAna). These four paths were shown as models respectively, by the four Grandmasters, namely, Appar, Sambandar, Sundarar and Manickavachagar. 

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