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Re: Bhakti-Yoga vs. Bhakti

From: Mohan Sagar (
Date: Sat Dec 13 1997 - 19:31:24 PST

Sri Krishna and Sri Vijayaraghavan have clearly elucidated bhakti yoga in
the vEdAntic sense, and Sri Mani has added to this by contrasting this yoga
with the less formal and more natural bhakti.  Sri Susarla suggested that
we move towards a discussion of prapatti.  I would like to begin this by
presenting some thoughts on prapatti from a vEdAntic view as it is
presented in Sri Ramanuja's Githa Bhashyam.

It is clear from the previous postings just how difficult and ardous the
path of bhakti yoga can be.  Indeed, it can only belong to those rare souls
as Sri Vyasa, Narada Muni, and others.  The justifiable questions of what
the rest of us are to do naturally follows from this.  This very same set
of questions probably plagued the mind of Arjuna on the battlefield as he
realized his own unworthiness in pursuing the path that had just been
prescribed to him by the Lord.  It is in answer to this feeling of lack of
worth that the Lord propogates what we now know as the charama slokam, the
third mantram in our rahasyatrAyam.  Three different interpretations are
offered in analyzing EmperumAnAr's explanation of the charama slokam. 
These three are discussed in Sri S. S. Raghavachar's scholarly analysis,
Sri Ramanuja on the Gita.  The first two are very much a part of Ramanuja's
brilliant commentary, and connect prapatti as an ancillary to bhakti yoga.
The third is a radical divergence from bhakti yoga, not directly found in
his BhAshyam, which clearly shows that prapatti is an independent and
efficacious "means" for realizing the divine.

The first interpretation suggests that what is surrendered to the Lord in
prapatti be solely the fruit of our actions,  i.e., a devotee is to follow
the prescribed rules of bhakti yoga in the mood of service, leaving the
fruit of his acts to the Lord.  This approach removes any karmic burden
associated with self-effort, as the devotee engages in bhakti yoga as a
means of worshipful service, with full faith that the Lord, as the real
agent of the action, will guide him in the correct course.

The second interpretation is in more direct response to Arjuna (and our)
feeling of unworthiness and inability to pursue bhakti yoga.  Here
saranAgathi becomes the initiating agent towards bhakti, in which our
surrender to the Lord serves to remove the eons of karma due to our past
actions, allows us to develop faith in the Lord, and in turn motivates us
to steadfastly pursue the path of bhakti yoga.  Once again, though, this
interpretation stresses that bhakti yoga is the path to the Lord, with
prapatti only serving as an ancillary.

It is interesting to note at this point, though, that while Sri Ramanuja
was clearly recommending Bhakti Yoga in Sri Gita Bhasyam and other texts,
there is very little to indicate that he, his predecessors, or his students
ever actually pursued this path.  It seems that these scholarly
presentations were intended for people outside the SriVaishnava community
to validate the tradition among rival schools of thought. For Ramanuja was
as much an ardent devotee as he was the philosopher, rapt in the emotions
of bhakti as elucidated by the AzhwArs, and deeply connected to the
SriVaishnava Community which he led - and continues to lead.

And it is among and for this community that EmperumAnAr composed his famous
gadyatrAyam, elaborating on his own helplessness and failings in trying to
pursue the path of bhakti yoga, and submitting himself wholeheartedly to
the Lord as being his sole means to salvation.  This emotional experience
of prapatti stems out of the vEdantic interpretations as presented above,
in which these thoughts are only indirectly suggested, and transforms
itself into an independent realization, in which the Lord and His
Compassionate Grace, not bhakti yoga, are seen as the means to one's
salvation.  It is this wondrous and profound interpretation of prapatti
which has the become the be all and end all of SriVaishnava tradition.

adiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,