Chapter 2: Defining Bhakti

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 16

pūjādiṣv anurāga iti pārāśaryaḥ


pūjā-ādiṣu — for worship and so on; anurāgaḥ — fondness; itiso thinks; pārāśaryaḥ — Vyāsadeva, the son of Parāśara.


Śrīla Vyāsadeva, the son of Parāśara Muni, says that bhakti is fond attachment for worshiping the Lord in various ways.


In the previous sūtra, Nārada Muni promised that he would tell us some of the symptoms of devotional service according to various authoritative opinions. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (6.3.20) mentions twelve mahā-janas, or Kṛṣṇa conscious authorities, and among them, one mahā-jana may emphasize a different aspect of bhakti than another. The Supreme Lord possesses an unlimited variety of qualities and pastimes, and it is natural that devotees favor particular modes of service. All devotees, however, agree on the siddhānta, or accepted conclusion. Bhakti is not open to continual speculation, such as the kind Western philosophers indulge in.

The first opinion Nārada offers is that of Śrīla Vyāsadeva, one of Nārada's many exalted disciples. Besides being a faithful disciple of Nārada's, Vyāsadeva is the compiler of the Vedas, and so his opinions are not contrary to Nārada's.

The words Vyāsa uses to describe bhakti are pūjā and anurāga. These refer to worship of the Lord performed with sincere love and great attachment. Nondevotees may perform pūjā, but they think of it as an external ritual. The Māyāvādī, for example, has an offensive concept of worship. He sees it as "a great aid in fixing one's mind on the Supreme." But what the Māyāvādī really has in mind is that his pūjā will lead him to see God and Brahman and the Ātman, or self, as one. In other words, he thinks that by worshiping God he will become God. The Māyāvādīs plainly advocate that while a person worships the Deity his first and foremost meditation should be on his unity with Brahman. This is a faithless and duplicitous form of "worship." The Māyāvādī may even offer a fruit or flower to the Deity, but his motivation is not to develop love for God but to attain absolute oneness with the Supreme, which he thinks he can do by imitating the activities of a devotee. Kṛṣṇa declares in the Bhagavad-gītā (4.11), ye yathā māḿ prapadyante tāḿs tathaiva bhajāmy aham: "As they approach Me, I reward them." And so those who desire to merge into the effulgence of the Supreme Person are awarded that impersonal status.

Some say that mental worship of the Lord is superior to external worship. But Śrīla Prabhupāda did not make such distinctions. In The Nectar of Devotion we read of a brāhmaṇa in South India who worshiped the Deity within his mind. The brāhmaṇa was poor and could not afford paraphernalia for pūjā, but in his mental worship he imagined that he was fetching golden and silver pots, filling them with water, and performing very opulent Deity worship. An intimate devotee of Lord Caitanya's, Nṛsiḿhānanda Brahmacārī, also performed mental worship. Once he mentally decorated a road with flowers and gems in anticipation that Lord Caitanya would walk there. So mental worship of the Lord is certainly bona fide. But while devotees may perform mental worship according to time and circumstances, when the opportunity arises they do not avoid offering flaming lamps, incense, and

so on, as prescribed for temple worship. Moreover, whether mentally or externally, they always worship the spiritual for m of the Personality of Godhead.

A sincere devotee's pūjā is never merely mechanical but is offered with anurāga, strong feelings of attachment for the Lord. True worship is performed with the mind, the senses, and all the bodily limbs. Therefore the meaning of worship is not limited; it includes the engagement of all one's sensory and mental functions in service to the Supreme. As Lord Kṛṣṇa says,

ahaḿ sarvasya prabhavo mattaḥ sarvaḿ pravartate

iti matvā bhajante māḿ budhā bhāva-samanvitāḥ

"I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts" (Bg. 10.8). Lord Kṛṣṇa also describes the mahātmās as "great souls [who] perpetually worship Me with devotion" (Bg. 9.14).

Worship may include many activities, but the word pūjā particularly refers to the worship of the arcā-vigraha, the form of the Deity in the temple. Although Lord Caitanya was Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself, He worshiped Lord Jagannātha at the temple in Purī. Lord Caitanya went to see the Deity every day and experienced great transcendental bliss. When Lord Jagannātha was absent from the temple during His renovation before Ratha-yātrā, Lord Caitanya acutely felt the pain of His absence and went into solitude at Ālālanātha.

Thus Deity worship is not just for beginners, nor is it merely an aid to impersonal meditation. It is a necessary part of devotional service. Although in this age the chanting of the holy names is the foremost method of devotional service, the bhakta should also worship the arcā-vigraha to counteract his tendencies for contamination, which are so strong in the Kali-yuga. This is the opinion of Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī.

We know from reading Vyāsadeva's Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that his understanding of what constitutes worship of the Lord is not confined to temple worship of the arcā-vigraha. In the Seventh Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Prahlāda Mahārāja mentions nine processes of devotional service. Śrīla Vyāsadeva — and Śrīla Prabhupāda — often stressed the first two items, hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord, as the most important, especially in the present age. But by faithfully executing any of the nine processes of bhakti, one can achieve fond attachment to worshiping the Lord.

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