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Bhakti Sūtra

One of several quasi-philosophical works extolling the path of devotion. Its author is named NĀRADA, a sannyasi name probably chosen because of its mythological association with Śri Krishna in the Mahābhārata and its legendary association with the teacher of Vālmikī, reputed author of the Rāmāyaṇa. These works, among others, have been the inspiration for a devotional approach to self-realization. The author, who probably lived during the latter part of the 14th or beginning of the 15th century, was the teacher of Nimbārka, after whom a school of devotional philosophy is named. Nārada was himself a pupil of Kumāra, who was in turn the pupil of the 14th cent. philosopher Hasa, generally regarded as the actual founder of the Nimbārka school. Little is known about the lives of any of these men. The work itself was recommended in the 1970s for study by I. K. TAIMNI who did a rather loose translation of and commentary on it (except for the last three sūtras) under the title Self-Realization through Love (Adyar: TPH, 1975).

The work is comprised of 84 terse aphorisms describing bhakti and extolling it as the only proper path of Self-realization (sūtra 33). At one point (25), it implicitly rejects Patañjali’s or Śankara’s approach through knowledge (jñāna) as well as that of action (karma) because they enhance one’s ego and pride (27). It further rejects the idea that the paths of knowledge and devotion might be complementary (29-30). Obviously, theosophists like Taimni seek to downplay this aspect of the text somewhat (see p. 25 of his translation). Nevertheless, as Taimni puts, “It is love which gradually raises our consciousness into the realm of the eternal, makes us aware of our own Divinity and is called bhakti in Sanskrit” (p. 8).

Nārada does not assume that one can attain such a state quickly or easily. This path is one of gradually developing such devotion until it becomes our permanent state “always, in all circumstances, without hesitation” as sūtra 79 states it. And he offers a number of suggestions as to how this development can be accomplished. First is renunciation of attachment to objects and the fruits of one’s actions (35, 48) while still going about one’s worldly duties (62). Second is keeping God ever in one’s mind (36, 42) by hearing about His attributes and singing his praise (37). Third is keeping company with the “Great Ones” (mahat) and avoiding those who are bad (38-40, 43-46). Fourth is not listening to talk about women, wealth, or heterodox points of view (63). Nārada also lists several prerequisites to his path: “harmlessness, truthfulness, purity, kindness, orthodoxy [probably socially acceptable behavior is meant], etc” (78). These are moral attributes enjoined in most of the world’s religions and some of them are the same as those listed by Patañjali in his Yoga Sūtras. At an advanced stage, one lives alone (47) and frees oneself from the influence of the three guṇas or attributes of matter by dedicating all one’s actions to God (48), including those enjoined by scripture (49). One gives up such things as pride, deception (or hypocrisy), anger, and desire (64), but if one ever feels such things, one should offer them to God (65).

Taimni points out that this bhakti is not an ordinary, but rather a transcendental, state of devotion quite different in quality from devotion to a cause or to an individual (p. vi), which are often sentimental. Those can lead ultimately to real bhakti, but, as with the French Revolution, they can also lead to quite barbaric results (p. 69). Nārada describes the attainment of devotion to God as “deathless” (3) and peaceful (6). And he states that those who attain it become immortal (5), content, and so drunk with joy (6) that “babbling together with choking voice, hairs standing on end, and [streaming] tears, they inspire both their families and the earth” (68). Such a devotee “wants nothing whatever, doesn’t strive, doesn’t grieve, doesn’t hate, doesn’t delight [in desires of the flesh], doesn’t crave power” (5). Because of their expanded consciousness, “they rejoice while on this earth, dancing with their departed ancestors, divinities, and their Lord” (71). In other words, they undergo an expansion of consciousness that enables them to experience non-physical reality.

Furthermore, “there exists among them no distinction of caste, learning, appearance, family, wealth, activity, etc.” (72). The wording of this is reminiscent of the admonition found in the First Object of The Theosophical Society to “form a nucleus of the universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste, or color.” As Taimni points out, “Only those who are aware of this Divine Life in man can practice brotherhood in the real sense. . . . There is a world of difference between ideological brotherhood and real brotherhood. The former is based upon a theory that human beings ought to be knit together into one community . . . [whereas] real brotherhood . . . is not a theory but a fact of direct experience for those who have unfolded their spiritual consciousness sufficiently to become aware of the unity of all life” (pp. 68-69).

In other words, when one looks, as Taimni has done, deeply into this little book, one finds much to commend it to theosophists — indeed to anyone who aspires to a deeper understanding of religion. One might profitably study it along with other works extolling bhakti, such as the Bible, Qur’ān, and Bhagavad-Gītā.




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