Dr Varanasi Ramabrahmam
Bhakti (devotion) is one of the most profound human emotions which merges the individual’s identity with the Divinity. Bhakti has many definitions, two of which are discussed here:
“Sa (bhakti) tu asmin paramaprema roopa” –is the most famous and popular definition of bhakti from the Narada Bhakti Sutras. This means that bhakti is the unalloyed love for God. This love is paramam (ultimate). Paramam also means that this love happens and exists without expecting anything in return. It is loving for the sake of loving. In this process we employ our sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin) to learn about God and Divinity. Our eyes see his Divine Form. Our ears listen to his Divine Name and deeds and so on. We also employ our action organs (movements of hands, movements of legs, movement of vocal chords, etc) to reach God through daily worship and by chanting His Name and other prayers. In Mukunda Mala, Kulasekhara Alwar puts this very beautifully.
Jihve keertaya Kesavam – My tongue! Sing the praise of Kesava!
Muraripum cheto bhaja – My mind! Always think of the Enemy of the demon Mura!
Sridharam panidwandva samarcha – My hands! Worship Sridhara!
Achyuta kathaha srotra dwayam tvam srunu – My pair of ears! Listen to the stories of Achyuta!
Krishanm lokaya lochana dwaye – My eyes! Behold Krishna!
Harergachanghriyugmaalayam – My feet! Go to Hari’s abode!
Jighra ghraana Mukunda paada tulaseem – My nose! Smell the fragrance of tulasi at Mukunda’s feet!
Moordha nama Adhokshajam – My head! Bow to Adhokshaja!
We perceive through our sense organs and all this information is stored as our inner mental world. We form our thoughts and feelings based on this accumulated information. If we accumulate mundane information our thoughts focus on mundane matters. If we accumulate sensual information our thoughts will be on sensual matters. If we accumulate information about God and Divinity our thoughts turn to God and Divinity. We also act and react through action organs (hands, legs, speech etc) depending on the information gathered through sense organs and accumulated within us. This inner mental world with information about the outside world grows with us from birth. We can consciously change this inner mental world by overwriting our current information with details and knowledge about God and Divinity. This we can do by employing our sense organs as described and accumulating Divine Information. We then automatically get pleasant and blissful thoughts and feelings. That is how our predecessors started the tradition of bhakti in which all our faculties and organs are involved with Divinity.
A simple sloka from Mukunda Mala such as:
Namaami naaraayana paada pankajam – I salute the lotus feet of Narayana
Karomi naraayana poojanam sada – I always worship of Narayana
Vadaami narayaana nama nirmalam – I always utter the crystal pure name of Narayana
Smaraami narayana tatvam avyayam – I always contemplate the unchanging nature of Narayana
brings about communion with the Lord.
In Sivananda Lahari, Sri Sankraacharya says:
Amkolam nijabija santati ayaskantopalam suchika
Saadhvi naija vibhum lata kshitiruham sindhussaritvallabham
Praapnoteeha yatha tatha pasupatehe padaaravinda dwayam
Cheto vrittihi upetya tisthati sada sa bhaktirituchyate
“Just as the seeds of the Amkola tree stick to it again, just as the iron needle is attracted to a magnet, a youthful woman comes to her husband, a creeper entwines a tree and the river flows into the sea, so an individual is attracted to and reaches Pasupati’s (Siva’s)feet . Bhakti is the state of the cessation of antahkarnas (inner mental tools- manas, buddhi, chittam and ahamkaram) and remaining thus always.”
Many more beautiful expressions about bhakti are available in our literature. The most famous bhaktas (devotees) are spread throughout our country. The alwars and nayanamars of Tamil country; Chaitanya Maha Prabhu, Jayadeva, Tukaram, Sakkubai, Purandaradasa, Annamayya, Ramadasu, Kabir, Suradas, Haridas, Meerabai, Narayanateertha, Sadasivebrahmendra, Tyagaraja and many such eminent personalities.
This is all saguna bhakti. Saguna bhakti involves using manas and other antahkaranas to pray, chant, sing and use poetic and intellectual abilities to express the devotion. Here the auspicious qualities of the favourite deity are meditated upon, chanted and sung during the spiritual journey.
In nirguna bakti the antahkarnas are trained to be tuned to their source, the state of Atman/Brahman, and no personal God or Goddess is worshipped. It is complete concentration on tatvam – tat tvam –and involves only Jnaana marga (the path to God through knowledge).
Swaswaroopa anusandhanaam bhakti iti abhidheeyate (“Tuning the mind to its source, its original state is bhakti“) is a famous nirguna definition of bhakti. This has interesting implications. Bhakti is tuning ourselves into our original state and thus experiencing shaanta rasa (the emotion of peace). This original state (rasa sthiti) is the state of bliss, peace and silence. In these experience states, our identity as an individual is merged in the real identity that is ego, time and thought transcending state of mind. This happens when we contemplate spiritual expressions and arrive at our intended destination, rasa sthiti. This approach is the path of artha bhaavanam (contemplation on the meaning). When we understand we experience. When we experience we understand. Experience and understanding are simultaneous. By experiencing the meaning of uttered (heard) sounds and sentences or by comprehending divine utterances and their implications we are able to reach the tatpara (absorbed and being one with Tat) or taatparya (purport or import or rasa) state of language. We must be aware that we use the same mind to learn and master languages and other disciplines as we use for doing routine tasks. The state of thoughts or feelings is known as the vibhakti state of mind. Of course in grammatical terminology, vibhakti refers to nominal case terminations. Patanjali and Bhartruhari have initiated, nurtured and developed a theory of language acquisition and communication making use of the same Advaita concept of Vedantins. This will be dealt with in another article.
Bhakti thus is a description of devotion to a personal Deity and also the path of Jnaana as contemplation by mind and absorption of mind in its source. The Jnaana aspect is also an essential part and essence of the theory of language in terms of bhakti and vibhakti.