Friday, September 26, 2008

The Science of Bhakti


            Nowadays, the word ‘science’ is used in such a way that it seems to mean something modern, a fruit of fertile brains, cultivated over the centuries by innumerable speculative processes and able to produce computers, spacecrafts, etc. Factually, science is as old as the universe, or even older than it. From the analytical point of view, there are different sciences for each branch of knowledge, and therefore if we speak about God and religion, we must assume that there must be a particular science that deals with these matters. This is called bhakti, and it is not just a branch, but the real science, and we may understand it by hearing from a book of science: Srimad-Bhagavatam, as it was spoken by the greatest scientist, Lord Kapiladeva.


            The word ‘science’ has its origin in the Greek language, and it means ‘awakeness’ or ‘knowledge’. The Sanskrit word for science is ‘vijnana,’ or ‘visesa-jnana,’ special knowledge, and because bhakti is the most special kind of knowledge, it is the supreme science per excellence and is thus defined:


sri-bhagavan uvaca

yoga adhyatmikah pumsam

mato nihsreyasaya me

atyantoparatir yatra

duhkhasya ca sukhasya ca


“The Personality of Godhead answered: The yoga system which relates to the Lord and the individual soul, which is meant for the ultimate benefit of the living entity, and which causes detachment from all happiness and distress in the material world, is the highest yoga system.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.13



In the Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu (1.1.12), it is also stated:



tat-paratvena nirmalam

hrsikena hrsikesa-

sevanam bhaktir ucyate


            "Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. One is freed from all material designations, and, simply by being employed in the service of the Lord, one's senses are purified."

                From the word ‘science’ comes the word ‘conscience,’ ‘with science,’ implying that for science to exist, there must be one who understands or experiences science, in other words, a conscious being. For each scientific area there is a prominent expounder, so if we say that bhakti is the supreme science, its propounder must be the supreme conscious being by definition, as enunciated in the Katha Upanisad (2.2.13):


nityo'nityanam cetanas cetananam

eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman

tam atmastham ye'nupasyanti dhiras

tesam santih sasvatam netaresam


“There is one eternal being among many eternal beings, one sentient being among many sentient beings, Who fulfils their desires. The wise who meditate on Him situated within the heart attain everlasting cessation of material existence, and not others.”


And this is the position of Lord Kapiladeva: He is ‘ajah,’ ‘bhagavan’ (SB 3.25.1), the greatest of all yogis and the supreme knower of the Vedas (SB 3.25.2), ‘adyah,’ ‘isvarah,’ the original Lord Who comes here to dissipate the darkness of the universe SB 3.25.9), and because He is paramatma, He knows everything that happens in all spheres of existence.


            In the materialistic scientific circles, nobody gets distinction and renown unless he is recognized as a great genius, a giver of valuable contributions to humanity. To corroborate the authority of the Supreme Lord, Srimad-Bhagavatam presents an elaborate description of the creation and the material nature as a wonderful device made by Krishna to fulfil the desires of all living entities. Thus Krishna is actually not only the biggest scientist and genius but also the greatest contributor to humanity and all species of life, for He is the one who is providing everything, even the brains of the so-called scientists. He is not just a creator and supplier, but being our ever-well-wisher, He Himself comes to teach us this supreme science for our benefit. Even if we don’t care for Him, He does care for us. This yoga system taught by the Lord is the most ancient (SB 3.25.14), and due to a long lapse of time, it became lost in human society (SB 3.25.37).


            When we analyse one drop of sea water we understand the quality of the whole ocean. Similarly, by understanding the spiritual nature of the individual soul, we understand the nature or quality of God. By analysing His creation with all its elements through the process of sankhya-yoga, one may ultimately understand that he is something distinct from these material ingredients. But still after understanding the spiritual existence of the soul and God, one has to understand how God is quantitatively different:


mad-bhayad vati vato 'yam

suryas tapati mad-bhayat

varsatindro dahaty agnir

mrtyus carati mad-bhayat


“It is because of My supremacy that the wind blows, out of fear of Me; the sun shines out of fear of Me, and the lord of the clouds, Indra, sends forth showers out of fear of Me. Fire burns out of fear of Me, and death goes about taking its toll out of fear of Me.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.42


Only after understanding both the quality and the quantity of the Lord, one may appreciate a particular relation with Him as a friend, relative, son, preceptor, benefactor and Supreme Deity (SB 3.25.38). This stage, however, is not easily attainable to the conditioned souls due to their being absorbed in the material nature since time immemorial. Therefore, one has to submit himself to a scientific process to be reinstated in one’s original, spiritual position, and for this purpose, the process must be necessarily spiritual. An example of improper means is how in the sixties, the idea of getting transcendental experiences through drugs was almost a fashion. Srila Prabhupada, however, strongly refuted all this nonsense as being illogical, for by no material means can one have access to bonafide spiritual feelings.


            As science comprehends both thesis and experiment, in the spiritual field we do not have only philosophy, but also a whole process of practice that may involve one’s life in all its aspects. This process does not depend only on one’s ability, but it is essentially dependent on the help of those who are advanced in this path:


satam prasangan mama virya-samvido

bhavanti hrt-karna-rasayanah kathah

taj-josanad asv apavarga-vartmani

sraddha ratir bhaktir anukramisyati


“In the association of pure devotees, discussion of the pastimes and activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is very pleasing and satisfying to the ear and the heart. By cultivating such knowledge one gradually becomes advanced on the path of liberation, and thereafter he is freed, and his attraction becomes fixed. Then real devotion and devotional service begin.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.25


And the way this process works on the polluted consciousness is also described:


arayaty asu ya kosam

nigirnam analo yatha


“Bhakti, devotional service, dissolves the subtle body of the living entity without separate effort, just as fire in the stomach digests all that we eat.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.33


Another example may be given: just as the pulp within a coconut may detach itself even while remaining inside it, similarly by the process of devotional service, one’s subtle body is dissolved and thus one becomes jivan-mukta, liberated even while living in the material body, and finally one attains the real goal of bhakti:


asevayayam prakrter gunanam

jnanena vairagya-vijrmbhitena

yogena mayy arpitaya ca bhaktya

mam pratyag-atmanam ihavarundhe


“Thus by not engaging in the service of the modes of material nature but by developing Krsna consciousness, knowledge in renunciation, and by practicing yoga, in which the mind is always fixed in devotional service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one achieves My association in this very life, for I am the Supreme Personality, the Absolute Truth.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.27


One who has gotten such a position must be recognized not by mundane votes, nor by show-bottle, but by evident symptoms:


titiksavah karunikah

suhrdah sarva-dehinam

ajata-satravah santah

sadhavah sadhu-bhusanah


“The symptoms of a sadhu are that he is tolerant, merciful and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.21


            Now, one may argue that since most people are full of material desires and since one of the important elements in bhakti is detachment, it is not feasible for everyone. But this is not true:


atho vibhutim mama mayavinas tam

aisvaryam astangam anupravrttam

sriyam bhagavatim vasprhayanti bhadram

parasya me te 'snuvate tu loke

“Thus because he is completely absorbed in thought of Me, the devotee does not desire even the highest benediction obtainable in the upper planetary systems, including Satyaloka. He does not desire the eight material perfections obtained from mystic yoga, nor does he desire to be elevated to the kingdom of God. Yet even without desiring them, the devotee enjoys, even in this life, all the offered benedictions.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.37


Whether one is full of desires or has no desires, it does not matter, for nobody ever loses anything by dedicating himself to the Lord, but gains much more than he would obtain otherwise, as confirmed by the Lord :


vedesu yajnesu tapahsu caiva

danesu yat punya-phalam pradistam

atyeti tat sarvam idam viditva

yogi param sthanam upaiti cadyam


“A person who accepts the path of devotional service is not bereft of the results derived from studying the Vedas, performing sacrifices, undergoing austerities, giving charity or pursuing philosophical and fruitive activities. Simply by performing devotional service, he attains all these, and at the end he reaches the supreme eternal abode.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => Bg 8.28


While practicing this process, I myself could experience that two things happened: first, those desires I had, which were not conducive to spiritual life, were to some extent eradicated, without any separate endeavour to reject them; second, other desires were adjusted in Krishna consciousness in such a way as not to hamper either my spiritual or my material life. Other processes, however, have doubtful results, even after long practice. For example, I know people who practiced Hatha-yoga the whole life without any tangible result, except perhaps some health improvement…


            In the last five hundred years, Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement has been spoiled by fanatics, sentimentalists and even debauches who claim to be bhaktas. But being a scientific process, real bhakti will not appear unless one follows it strictly, just as a diseased man will not be cured unless he abides by a physician’s prescriptions. Srila Prabhupada points out the cause of such failures:


“Without knowledge, one cannot have realization.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.18, purport


But knowledge alone will also not do:


“Simply by theoretical knowledge or study one cannot make any appreciable advancement.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.25, purport


We have to practice sravana, kirtana, smarana, vandana, pada-sevana, arcana, dasya, sakhya and atma-nivedana with the direction and association of a sadhu. To learn science one needs the help of a great scientist, and Srila Prabhupada proved to be so by exhibiting all the symptoms of a sadhu, by presenting the most scientific books on bhakti and by thus giving everyone the chance to take part in this process anywhere and under any condition by experiencing his association through his books:


“Hearing or associating with devotees is the most important function for self-realization.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.27, purport


And he remarked that no one needs a degree stating one’s advancement, but that one may know it oneself by perceiving two things: how detached one is from material influence, and how attached one is to Krishna.


            Bhakti is not something theoretical, described in books of literature, nor a system of rituals to be performed mechanically. Bhakti is the very science of God and the self, and is the natural function of the soul. Bhakti is the real meaning of dharma. It is meant for all living entities and it is not limited by any material condition. By following the path of the acaryas, one engages in one’s eternal activity, in this world and the next:



bhakti-yogena yoginah

ksemaya pada-mulam me

pravisanty akuto-bhayam


“The yogis, equipped with transcendental knowledge and renunciation and engaged in devotional service for their eternal benefit, take shelter of My lotus feet, and since I am the Lord, they are thus eligible to enter into the kingdom of Godhead without fear.”


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.25.43




This essay was originally submitted for assessment in the second year of the Bhakti-vaibhava course at VIHE, third canto of Bhagavatam, on 23/09/03

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