ഭക്തിപ്രിയ – The greatness of Bhakti

Narada in his Bhakti Sutra says Bhakti is absolute Love.

Devi is described as abhyāsātiśaya jñātā (who is known only through the strenuous practice of spiritual discipline).

Once a devotee asked Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, “If the self is there in everybody and if there is nothing other than the Self, then where is the need for Sadhana? Just by sitting idle, we could realize isn’t it?”.

Maharshi replied “It is not so. Only with severe penance of day and night (tapas), will you be able to achieve self-realization.”

Hence Devi can be known only through abhyāsa – atiśaya, the strenuous practice of spiritual discipline. Sitting idle, doing nothing will not benefit. Only ideal sadhaks will be able to receive Devi’s complete Grace. They are the ones who constantly adore Her. This is what the above mantra denotes.

One side Devi is mentioned as sulabhā gati, (who is attained through a bright and easy path) Lalita Sahasranama also describes Devi as durgamā (who is approachable only with extreme effort.) Only with pure practices, devotion, the strength of imagination, and through constant reflection Devi can be attained.

The next subject of Lalita Sahasranama gives utmost importance to Bhakti. This section starts with
bhavāni – bhāvanāgamyā ( the wife of Shiva who is attainable through imagination or thought).

Lalita Sahasranama praises Devi as bhakti priyā (who is fond of (and pleased by) devotion.),
bhakti gamyā (who is attained only through devotion.), bhakti vaśyā (who is to be won over by devotion.), etc.

कलौ पापौग भगुले धर्मानुष्ठान वर्जिथे
This is how Dharma of kaliyuga is explained. The majority of the people are not interested in living in accordance with the rules of Dharma.

A hundred years ago, Bharata did not have so many and such good roads, electricity was sparse and infrequent, there were no computers, emails, or phones, and there were not so many high rise apartments or houses either. There were no such comforts and convenience that we enjoy today. But our forefathers had a glow of inner peace on their countenance.

Though they lacked our conveniences, they had dharma that we lack now. They had something that is missing from our lives. It was the awareness of Dharma and the practice of Dharma in their everyday lives. This is the difference between us and our forefathers. Only Dharma can bring eternal contentment.

All of us, each living being is on a quest for joy and comfort. But the joy gained through money or by drinking alcohol or through any such worldly objects is short-lived. For eternal peace, we need to practice Dharma in our lives.

The pleasure gained through money and material possessions are artificial. It comes from the possession of something that is external and temporary. But for an. unchanging happiness, a life lived in accordance with Dharma is essential.

सुखं च न विना धर्मात्तस्माद्धर्मपरो भवेत् । Ashtānga Hridayam 2.20
Pleasure is not obtained without Dharma. So everyone must be Dharmic says scriptures. Hence, we are going to discuss Bhakti, a major component of Dharma.

Let me narrate an incident from the life of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Once a man asked him, “ why is it that the common man cannot attain God?” He smilingly replied, “Who cries for the Lord? They cry to gain comfort, for the sake of their kith and kin, for the sake of money, for many other things. If they had cried even for a minute to gain God, they would have definitely attained God. But nobody is doing it, so what can I do?”

Here in the mantras bhakti priyā, bhakti gamyā, bhakti vaśyā, the greatness of Bhakti is extolled. The word Bhakti is derived from Sanskrit root “Bhaj”. The common meaning is to praise God, to serve God, and to become absorbed in His thoughts. Sankaracharya also advises everyone,

भज गोविन्दं भज गोविन्दं गोविन्दं भज मूढमते । Bhaja Govindam 1

Instead of embracing worldly objects, our intelligence should embrace the Lord, reminds Sri Sankara. The love that we have for impermanent worldly objects, if transformed into eternal and indivisible God, that is known as Bhakti.

सा त्वस्मिन् परप्रेमरूपा । Narada Bhakti Sutra 2
The awareness of the true self is Bhakti

स्व स्वरूपानुसन्धानं भक्तिरित्यभिधीयथे । Ramana Maharshi
Reflection on one’s own Self is called Bhakti. People might think that performing pujas and other rituals can be called Bhakti. But, Narada in his Bhakti Sutra says Bhakti is absolute Love.