The Bhakti Sutras of Narad and the Bhakti Mimansa of Shandilya are the most authoritative treatises among the ancient Sanskrit texts on Bhakti literature. These texts outlive the philosophy and the classical authority of the concept of Bhakti. The ancient form of Sutra literature in Sanskrit is often very terse and its meaning is obscure and is liable to various interpretations. There is always room for different and often clarity is lacking. Fortunately, the Bhakti Sutras of Narad stand out their clarity, simplicity and internal coherence. Among ancient texts such clarity and simplicity is very rare. The Narad Bhakti Sutra is a very ancient and authoritative scripture. Seers and Scholars of ancient as well as modern times have written their commentaries on it. Adi Shankaracharya (A.D. 788-820) has written a commentary on Narad’s Bhakti Sutra.
Narad is credited with the compilation of four treatises. These are Bhakti Sutras of Narad. Narad Smiriti Nardiyashiksha and Sangeetmakarand. Besides Naradparabrajakopnishad, Nardiyapurana and Naradpancharatna are said to be inspired by him. Whether these works are by the same person of there were different persons named Nard’s, we cannot ascertain. A careful study of the Sutras makes it clear that these are the conclusions reached by some one who is a realised soul like the divine sage Narad.
Narad is a divine sage. He is mentioned in ancient scripture and Puranas quite frequently. The personality of Narad, as depicted in these Puranas, is such that we can accept that these Sutras are based on his experiences. Narad finds mention in Rigveda as a seer of Mantra. Two more mantras of Rigveda are said to be composed by Narad, jointly with sage Parnata. Samaveda also makes a mention of Narad. In the Puranas Narad is shown as the divine minstrel and he is also given credit as the inventor of Veena. Narad is mention as the son of Brahma and also an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He is the third incarnation of Lord Vishnu. But Narad has his share of detractors too.
Narad is shown a divine messenger. He is constantly wandering around in all three worlds and he gives information to all, the Devas, the Rakshas and the men. He is a friend, Philosopher and guide to all. He is mentioned in Shabdakalpadruma as one who gives knowledge of God. “Naram paramatma vishyakam gyanam dadati iti nardah.” But one not so exalted description is the Vishnupurana says, “Naram nar samuham Kalahena dhyati Khandayatiti.” The one who is a fomenter of disputes among people is Narad. But he is never malicious or vengeful and never has any vested interest. He works for the ultimate good. Destruction of demon Bhasmasura, insult of Ravan by Bali, killing of all the sons of Devaki by Kamsa, etc. are deeds done for the public good by Narad. During the period when Hiranyakashyapa went for penance, Narad protected women of Rakshas from the vindictive devas, he gave shelter to the wife of Hiranyakashyapa and through his grace, Prahlada, who was in the womb of his mother, became a devotee of God. He also guided Dhruva to reach his goal. Thus, we see that the status of Narada is very exalted one.
Narad is a yogi’s yogi, a Gyani’s gyani and the foremost among the devotees, (Bhaktas). He has a unique combination of Yoga, Gyana and Bhakti. But he finds the path of Bhakti as the easiest and open to all. Ultimately all the path of Yoga, Gyana and Bhakti merge into one, as they lead to the same goal. But the path of Bhakti is easiest in the beginning. The path of Narad is that of devotion.
1. Athato Bhaktim Vyakhyasyamah.
Now, we describe the divine love. Our ancient Sanskrit scriptures begin with ‘atha’ (Now). In any other language scriptures do not begin in this manner. When the western scholar tried to translate BRAHMA-SUTRA into European languages, they thought that it was an incomplete work.
Brahma-Sutra also begins with ‘athato brahmajigyasa’ (Now the desire to know about Brahman). They surmised that some other discussion was going on and “Now” is the beginning of a new chapter. But our ancient sages have hinted that the knowledge contained in these works are meant for those who have reached the very peak of spiritual or devotional life. These are meant for those who have transformed their lives. Only they are qualified to study it whose thirst for knowledge in really deep. Only such students can benefit by studying these works. Only those who have conquered their weaknesses and who have very deep interest in these works, only they can put the knowledge contained in these works to practice.
The knowledge of the Vedas and Shastras was restricted to the upper caste people only. But the gates of devotion are open to all. By constant faith and devotion, the devotee can attain to perfection through the grace of God. These are no qualifications needed for those treading the path of devotion. Lord Krishna declares in Gita, “…..Even the worst among the sinners have abiding love in the lord, they are called righteous and attains peace. This is my declaration, O Arjuna, my devotee shall never perish. Those who are devoted to me – they are women, Vashiyas, Shudras or even born into evil wombs, they attain to perfection. (Bhagavat gita Ch. IX versa 30,31 & 32). Bhakti Sutra is a discourse on the nature of Bhakti (devotion) based on the experiences of sage Narad. These are not based on the secondary sources or scriptures. These are conclusions derived from one’s own experiences.
2. Sa tvasmin parampremarupa.
That (Bhakti) is of the nature of the perfect love for him. Narad says that the devotion is of the nature of the perfect love. For great souls like Narada, who have attained, perfection, this is experiential. This cannot be defined or described by mere words. Words can convey some sense of shared experiences. Those who have not experienced that perfect love for him cannot be made aware of the experience by mere words. Narad gives some hints by using analogies of the daily experiences of the common people. Bhakti is like love at its lowest. People experience love, which occurs between men and women. Worldly love contains desire and lust. When it is free of desire and lust completely it becomes Bhakti (or devotion). Worldly love can happen between two people but the perfect love, where lust and desire are completely absent, does not require any object. Such perfect love is not ‘for’ anyone. That is the reason Narad does not mention Ram, Krishna, Ishwar, Brahman – he says – for him “HIM” means everything else than “I”. Perfect love for ‘Him’ is the nature of Bhakti. These Sutras are very clear and it is not possible to give different interpretation to them.
3. Amrita swarupa cha.
It is like nectar. The very nature of Bhakti is like nectar. Nectar has many shades of meanings. It is to be noted that Narad does not liken Bhakti to ‘Moksha’, ‘Realisation’, ‘Release’, ‘Kaivalya’ or ‘Samadhi’. He says it is like nectar. One who drinks nectar becomes free from death. He becomes immune to change. It is in this sense the word ‘nectar’ is used here. One gets the experience of the ultimate bliss, which is not subject to change. That is the experience of a devotee. According to the Hinduism, ‘Vaikuntha’, ‘Swarga’ “Heaven’ “Brahmaloka’ are not eternal. When the merits are used up, one comes back from these worlds. But the bliss one gets in Bhakti is eternal not subject to the Vagaries of time. This is the experience of Sat, Chit, Ananda – Upanishads call it ‘Brahman’.
4. Yallabdhava pumana sidhho bhavati Amrito bhavati tripto bhavati.
Achieving this, one has reached the state of perfection, attains god like immortality and all his desires are completely fulfilled. This aphorism also describes the internal nature of Bhakti. One attains to perfection through it. This Sutra makes it clear that it is not the goal of the devotee to achieve immortality or Moksha. This he obtains without any effort. A devotee is only concerned with the constant blissful existence. One who reaches that state does not wish to seek anything. He has become completely satiated and no other sense object is in his thoughts. The satiation of a devotee and that of an ordinary person have completely different meaning. An ordinary person is satiated when his worldly desire is fulfilled. But he does not feel complete. Now desires raise their heads as soon as the old one’s are fulfilled. The desires are insatiable. All the objects without are not of much use in satisfying one’s desires. So long one does not realizes the ultimate satisfaction, which can only come by being steady in one self that is no external object remains necessary to satisfy one’s desire. Such a state is only possible when one attains to God. A person on the path of devotion feels a deep sense of dissatisfaction so long he does not reaches the supreme. When he attains perfection in devotee he attains the ultimate satiation. Nothing else he becomes perfectly satiated.
5. Yat prapta na kinchid vanchhati, na shochati na dvesti, narmate, notsahi bhavati.
Once this is attained, no desire remains for anything else, he is freed from pleasure and pain, liking and disliking, he does not crave for anything else, he now no longer has any enthusiasm to fulfill any other purpose. One harbors desire for any pleasure till one has not experienced the ultimate pleasures that is Bhakti. Till one has experienced the absolute bliss one remains interested in small pleasures and worldly desires. Having experienced the absolute blissfulness, he no longer desires any other pleasure. This is the characteristic of a devotes. Through devotion, he transcends the worldly desires and bondages. Now, he does not retain interest in any worldly matter nor he strives to gain anything.