Chapter 2: Defining Bhakti

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Narada Bhakti Sutra 25

sa tu karma-jnana-yogebhyo 'py adhikatara


sa -- it; tu -- but; karma -- to fruitive work; jnana -- speculative knowledge; yogebhyah -- and mystic meditation; api -- indeed; adhikatara -- superior.


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


Having described the gopis of Vraja as the topmost example of para bhakti, Narada now turns his attention to bhakti-yoga in general. Here Narada asserts that all bhaktas are categorically superior to other Vedic practitioners. The classification of human beings into karmis, jnanis, yogis, 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 karmi 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 karmi 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.

Jnana refers to the cultivation of knowledge. The jnani sees the shortcomings of karma and begins to inquire into higher truth. Jnanis are generally philosophers and meditators. They are not interested merely in material results, but in knowledge for its own sake. By cultivating jnana through the study of Vedic sastras or through meditation, the jnani 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 karmi -- confinement within the cycle of birth and death. A prayer to Krsna by the demigods points up the jnanis' 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. [Bhag. 10.2.32]

The third category of human endeavor is yoga. Lord Krsna describes the yogi as follows: "A yogi is greater than the ascetic, greater than the empiricist, and greater than the fruitive worker. Therefore, O Arjuna, in all circumstances be a yogi" (Bg. 6.46). There are many types of yoga, such as hatha-yoga, astanga-yoga, raja-yoga, dhyana-yoga, and bhakti-yoga. Rudimentary hatha-yoga has become very popular as a form of exercise and relaxation, but real yoga -- as taught by Patanjali in his Yoga-sutra or by Krsna in the Sixth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita -- is an eightfold system of meditation for attaining samadhi, 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, jnana, 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 Krsna consciousness. Lord Krsna recommends this in the Bhagavad-gita (9.27):

yat karosi yad asnasi yaj juhosi dadasi yat

yat tapasyasi kaunteya tat kurusva mad-arpanam

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

Those who cultivate knowledge (jnana) 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 jnana becomes jnana-yoga and is purified of mental speculation. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (7.19),

bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate

vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma su-durlabhah

"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, Krsna tells Arjuna at the end of the Sixth Chapter of the Gita that absorption in Krsna consciousness is the ultimate yoga:

yoginam api sarvesam mad-gatenantar atmana

sraddhavan bhajate yo mam sa me yuktatamo matah

"And of all yogis, 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, jnana, and yoga can become favorable for Krsna consciousness. But direct para bhakti is the conclusion of Lord Krsna's teachings in the Bhagavad-gita:

man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam namas-kuru

mam evaisyasi satyam te pratijane priyo 'si me

sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja

aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah

[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-gita Lord Krsna confirms Narada's assertion here that bhakti is supreme.

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His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
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