Chapter 2: Defining Bhakti

Bhaktivedanta VedaBase: Nārada Bhakti Sūtra 31-32

rāja-gṛha-bhojanādiṣu tathaiva dṛṣṭatvāt

na tena rāja-paritoṣaḥ kṣuc-chāntir


rāja — royal; gṛhain a residence; bhojanain a meal: ādiṣu — and so on; tathā eva — just like this; dṛṣṭatvāt — because of its being seen; na — not; tena — by that; rāja — of the king; paritoṣaḥ — satisfaction; kṣut — of hunger; śāntiḥ — pacification; — or.


This is illustrated by the examples of a royal palace, a meal, and so on. A king is not really satisfied just by seeing a palace, nor can someone placate his hunger just by looking at a meal.


By these worldly examples, Nārada helps us understand the actual experience of bhakti. Nārada has said that some philosophers think knowledge is the means for developing bhakti, whereas others say that knowledge and bhakti are interdependent. But Nārada's conclusion is that bhakti is its own fruit. This means that bhakti, being an intimate exchange between the Lord and His devotees, does not depend on any other process. Only the Lord's pure devotees can enter into and understand such an exchange.

The examples Nārada gives illustrate the difference between jñāna (theoretical knowledge) and vijñāna (realized knowledge). It is especially important to hear from a spiritual master who has vijñāna. We will have to experience vijñāna for ourselves, but if the spiritual master is not self-realized, how can he guide us? Only those who have confidential knowledge can convey it to others. For example, Lord Brahmā, the first enlightened living being, received Vedic knowledge directly from Lord Kṛṣṇa. If one hears Brahmā's realized knowledge from someone in disciplic succession who has also realized it, then one is in a position to receive vijñāna.

Much depends on the quality of submissive hearing. These sūtras of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra dealing with the examples of a king's palace and a feast give us a remarkable inside look at spiritual life. If we listen with sensitivity and faith, then even before the stage of full realization we can begin to get an inkling of what it is like. We hear that spiritual perfection will be like going home, and our attraction for this develops. One thinks, "Yes I too would like to go home, back to Godhead." Faithful hearing can produce realization. Śrīla Prabhupāda writes,

For topics concerning Uttama-śloka, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the spiritual master speaks, and the disciple hears with attention.... The spiritual master and disciple do not need to understand more than Kṛṣṇa because simply by understanding Kṛṣṇa and talking about Kṛṣṇa, one becomes a perfectly learned person. [Bhāg. 10.1.4, purport]

Throughout the Vedic literature we find a strong emphasis on hearing about Kṛṣṇa. Śrīla Prabhupāda states, "Whenever offenseless hearing and glorification of God are undertaken, it is to be understood that Lord Kṛṣṇa is present there in the form of transcendental sound, which is as powerful as the Lord personally" (Bhāg. 1.2.17, purport). Unless one experiences it, one cannot understand the powerful purification engendered by hearing from a bona fide spiritual master. As Śrīla Prabhupāda further writes:

Human reason fails to understand how by serving the devotee bhāgavata or the book bhāgavata one gets gradual promotion on the path of devotion. But actually these are facts explained by Śrīla Nāradadeva, who happened to be a maidservant's son in his previous life. [Bhāg. 1.2.18, purport]

Effective hearing must be accompanied by surrender to the Lord and the Lord's devotee. It is not idle armchair talk. One has to be serious about inquiring into the Absolute Truth, prepared to hear submissively, and ready to serve the learned spiritual master.

Here Nārada's analogies of a king looking at a palace and a hungry man looking at a meal point up the fact that bhakti has to be practiced wholeheartedly if one wants to fully appreciate it. The other processes — karma, jñāna, and yoga — even if practiced well, cannot bring the taste of kṛṣṇa-bhakti. They are compared to the nipples on a goat's neck, which look promising but which cannot yield milk, no matter how much you try to milk them. Nor can mere academic knowledge of bhakti produce any real understanding of it. Prabhupāda liked to compare academics who study bhakti to bees who lick the outside of a bottle of honey: a lot of energy expended, but all for naught.

The example of eating is also a metaphor to help us understand what it is like to attain Kṛṣṇa consciousness:

bhaktiḥ pareśānubhavo viraktir

anyatra caiṣa trika eka-kālaḥ

prapadyamānasya yathāśnataḥ syus

tuṣṭiḥ puṣṭiḥ kṣud-apāyo 'nu-ghāsam

"Devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from other things — these three occur simultaneously for one who has taken shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the same way that pleasure, nourishment, and relief from hunger come simultaneously and increasingly with each bite for a person engaged in eating" (Bhāg. 11.2.42).

Śrīla Prabhupāda used to say that no one has to give you a certificate to state that you are now Kṛṣṇa conscious. You will know it for yourself, and in fact, only you can know it for yourself. Similarly, if you are hungry and you begin to appease your hunger by eating, no one has to tell you, "Now you're satisfied." So, even the most vivid analogies cannot enlighten us beyond our realization. Ultimately, we have to go to the spiritual world to see it for ourselves. During the 1960's in America, at the time of the Vietnam War, a new devotee asked Śrīla Prabhupāda, "What is it like in Kṛṣṇaloka?" Śrīla Prabhupāda replied, "You won't be bothered by the draft board." That was a suitable (and humorous) reply for a person plagued with that particular fear, but there is of course much more to Kṛṣṇaloka than "no draft board." Sometimes when Prabhupāda was pressed with inquiries about the spiritual world, he would reply, "You will know when you go there."

The conclusion is that Nārada and the ācāryas are inviting us to get off the mental platform and to actually participate in bhakti-yoga — if we want to know what it really is and taste its fruit, going back to Godhead.

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