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From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_be.com)
Date: Fri Dec 12 1997 - 15:53:20 PST
Krishna Susarla asks: > I was wondering if anyone could provide examples from the > itihaasa-s or puraaNa-s of individuals who practiced the > bhakti-yoga as described above. Before I address what the term "bhakti-yoga" means to Ramanuja, I think it is important to understand his interpretational approach. For Ramanuja, the crown-jewel of all religious source literature is the Upanishads. The Upanishads are the concluding portion of the Veda that deals only with Absolute Divinity and how to attain It. The Gita is the essence of Upanishads, restated by God himself for the benefit of humanity. AtmA are draStavyaH srotavyaH mantavyaH nididhyAsitavyaH | The Self, my dear, should be seen -- should be heard about, thought about, and lovingly meditated upon. -- Yajnavalkya to his beloved wife Maitreyi, Brhad Aranyaka Upanishad To Ramanuja or any primary philosopher of Vedanta, the Gita and Upanishads represent the same philosophy stated in different words. The bhakti-yoga Sri Krishna outlines in the Gita is none other than the "nididhyAsana", "upAsana", and "vedana" repeatedly enjoined in the Upanishads and formalized in the Brahma-sutras. Each of the latter three terms means deep, undivided, loving contemplation on the Supreme Self. The Gita may emphasize the "love" aspect more, and the Upanishads the "meditative", but it is evident from even a brief glance that the two must go hand in hand. What one loves, one seeks to know more and delve into deeper; when one delves deeper into as wonderful and satisfying a thing as the Supreme Self, one cannot but love it more and more. So what exactly is "bhakti-yoga", one may ask; as with any discipline, there are many stages to it, and to begin with, bhakti-yoga is simply "sneha-pUrva anudhyAnam", meditation filled with love, practiced along with its auxiliaries as suggested by the Veda. But Ramanuja, thorough as always, also clearly defines a very advanced stage of bhakti in a wonderful phrase in the "vedArtha sangraha" (summary of the meaning of the Vedas): ananya prayojana anavarata niratiSayapriya viSadatama pratyakshatApanna anudhyAna rUpa bhakti bhakti is valued for its own sake, which is uninterrupted, which is an absolute delight in itself and which is meditation that has taken on the character of the most vivid and immediate vision. This advanced state of loving meditation is compared to sight because it is the most direct of senses. It is immediate and automatic in the way it conveys knowledge to us. The advanced bhakti-yogi perceives in his or her mind's eye the essence and form of God so well that it is like seeing God directly. This "paramAtma anubhavam" is what is vividly described repeatedly in the Upanishads and the Gita, and is the precursor to the bliss of liberation. Ramanuja establishes this spiritual method as *the* main means taught in all of Vedanta. It requires discipline to sit down and practice meditation, the ability to understand the Veda and Gita to further ones understanding of reality, and the ability to perform Vedic worship which helps purify the mind. None of these are absolute prerequisites to being an exalted soul, mind you -- the Lord works in mysterious ways and anyone or anything can elevate itself by taking advantage of His grace and loving Him -- but the specific discipline of bhakti-yoga is a Vedic one and has certain corequisites. Sri Vijayaraghavan has already described the sAdhana saptaka or seven qualities of mind and body we should practice to further us in our path of yoga. [These are not limited to the bhakti-yogi -- even those of us who find ourselves incapable of this deep form of bhakti can practice these and better ourself.] By regularly practicing these, along with our duties to humanity, animal life, our ancestors, our gods, etc., we purify our mind so our perception of the Self can be easier and more vivid. In the Upanishads, this phase is described as tapas, dAna, etc. In the Gita, Krishna asks us to perform our duties selflessly [karma-yoga]. Daily, the bhakta should set aside time to sit down and meditation on the wonder of the Self, Its all-pervasive presence and gracious power, and Its unique and auspicious qualities. This loving meditation will itself be transformed into an altogether enjoyable experience, and the bhakta will remain rooted firmly in the Beloved Self, seeing His presence everywhere and deriving pleasure only from Him. "vAsudeva sarvam iti sa mahAtmA sudurlabhaH" So hard is it to find that great person who says "Vasudeva is my all." -- Gita 7.19 Often people wonder why Visishtadvaitins regard bhakti-yoga as a difficult path, when the popular belief is that bhakti is the easy means to liberation. It is all a matter of perspective. How many people do we know who declare without reservation that God is all they care about or think about, and act in accordance with that behavior? How many people who are like this have the ability to sit in meditation and vividly perceive the Self? It is no stretch to say that the number is miniscule, precisely because such an attitude requires a tremendous amount of emotional and mental strength. Bhakti-yoga, therefore, is difficult. "bhakti", or "love of God", by itself, however, is the natural state of a living being. It is easy; but it should not be confused with the spiritual discipline of bhakti-yoga, which involves meditation and cardinal behavior as explained previously. Bhakti can be as little as mere emotionalism; or it can be as wise and advanced as in bhakti-yoga. It is simply a gradation of effort and ability. I hope I have explained this clearly enough. adiyEn Mani P.S.: As far as who in the itihAsas and purANas practiced bhakti-yoga, so many examples abound. Immediately, vyAsa and Suka come to mind. Most of the rishis who lived in the Dandaka forest [Ramayana] practicing penances also were upAsakas of this sort. Remember Visvamitra's statement to Dasaratha: "aham vedmi mahAtmAnam rAmam satyaparAkramam" -- The deeper meaning of this sloka is understood by Visishtadvaitins to mean that Visvamitra regularly meditated on Rama, understanding him to be Absolute Divinity Itself. While there is no restriction as form of Vishnu one should meditate upon, the Upanishads speak of many different modes of meditation on the Absolute, i.e., Vishnu. These can be classified as 32 different "vidyAs" or ways of meditation. Any one of them is as good as another; it is up to the liking of the bhakta. These are more abstract and philosophical than picking a "form" -- one vidyA may involve meditating on the paramAtmA as the Self of all; another may involve meditation on It as the source of the universe. But in the end, all of them are interlinked and lead to the same goal.