Chapter 2: Defining Bhakti

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 25

tu karma-jñāna-yogebhyo 'py adhikatarā


it; tu — but; karmato fruitive work; jñāna — speculative knowledge; yogebhyaḥ — and mystic meditation; api — indeed; adhikatarā — superior.


Pure devotional service, on the other hand, is far superior to fruitive work, philosophical speculation, and mystic meditation.


Having described the gopīs of Vraja as the topmost example of parā bhakti, Nārada now turns his attention to bhakti-yoga in general. Here Nārada asserts that all bhaktas are categorically superior to other Vedic practitioners. The classification of human beings into karmīs, jñānīs, yogīs, and bhaktas is itself a brilliant gift of Vedic knowledge. Let us see why, out of the full range of possible activities, bhakti is the highest.

Karma refers in the broadest sense to any activity, but it often means activities performed within the bounds of Vedic injunctions with the intention of enjoying the results. (Another term, vikarma, is used for activity forbidden by the Vedas.) So karma, although having religious stature, is still material. The karmī is interested in rewards like money, sense pleasure, and fame in this life, and he also seeks promotion to higher planets in the next life. The great defect of karma is that it always results in reactions, which force the karmī to take another material birth by the process of transmigration of the soul. Therefore, whether "good" or "bad," pious or impious, all karma keeps one bound within the cycle of birth and death.

Jñāna refers to the cultivation of knowledge. The jñānī sees the shortcomings of karma and begins to inquire into higher truth. Jñānīs are generally philosophers and meditators. They are not interested merely in material results, but in knowledge for its own sake. By cultivating jñāna through the study of Vedic śāstras or through meditation, the jñānī can come to the brink of spiritual knowledge, awareness of eternal Brahman. But unless he goes further and understands his relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he will suffer the same defeat as the karmī — confinement within the cycle of birth and death. A prayer to Kṛṣṇa by the demigods points up the jñānīs' shortcoming:

O lotus-eyed Lord, although nondevotees who accept severe austerities and penances to achieve the highest position may think themselves liberated, their intelligence is impure. They fall down from their position of imagined superiority because they have no regard for Your lotus feet. [Bhāg. 10.2.32]

The third category of human endeavor is yoga. Lord Kṛṣṇa describes the yogī as follows: "A yogī is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist, and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances be a yogī" (Bg. 6.46). There are many types of yoga, such as haṭha-yoga, aṣṭāńga-yoga, rāja-yoga, dhyāna-yoga, and bhakti-yoga. Rudimentary haṭha-yoga has become very popular as a form of exercise and relaxation, but real yoga — as taught by Patañjali in his Yoga-sūtra or by Kṛṣṇa in the Sixth Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā — is an eightfold system of meditation for attaining samādhi, or complete absorption of the mind in the Supreme. The eightfold yoga process is very difficult to perform, and even Arjuna decided it was too difficult for him. And those few who can practice it often become captivated by the siddhis, or perfections, that one can gain through this yoga, such as the ability to walk on water, become extremely small, and control other people's minds. So the mystic yoga process, being very difficult and full of many possible distractions, is not recommended in this age.

Activities of karma, jñāna, and yoga are not condemned as such by those practicing bhakti, devotional service. Rather, when these lesser activities are dovetailed in the service of the Supreme Lord, they are favorable methods of devotional service. For example, when karma, or activity, is joined with devotional service, it becomes karma-yoga, action in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Lord Kṛṣṇa recommends this in the Bhagavad-gītā (9.27):

yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat

yat tapasyasi kaunteya tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam

"Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform — do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me" (Bg. 9.27).

Those who cultivate knowledge (jñāna) are often very proud and consider themselves superior to devotees. But the perfection of knowledge is to surrender to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and realize that He is everything. Then jñāna becomes jñāna-yoga and is purified of mental speculation. As Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.19),

bahūnāḿ janmanām ante jñānavān māḿ prapadyate

vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ

"After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare" (Bg. 7.19).

Similarly, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna at the end of the Sixth Chapter of the Gītā that absorption in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the ultimate yoga:

yoginām api sarveṣāḿ mad-gatenāntar ātmanā

śraddhāvān bhajate yo māḿ sa me yuktatamo mataḥ

"And of all yogīs, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me — he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion" (Bg. 6.47).

So karma, jñāna, and yoga can become favorable for Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But direct parā bhakti is the conclusion of Lord Kṛṣṇa's teachings in the Bhagavad-gītā:

man-manā bhava mad-bhakto mad-yājī māḿ namas-kuru

mām evaiṣyasi satyaḿ te pratijāne priyo 'si me

sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaḿ śaraṇaḿ vraja

ahaḿ tvāḿ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi śucaḥ

[Bg. 18.66]

"Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me, and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend. Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear" (Bg. 18.65-66).

Thus in the Bhagavad-gītā Lord Kṛṣṇa confirms Nārada's assertion here that bhakti is supreme.

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