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Srimad Bhagavatam

SB 1.5 - The cause of bhakti

Nārada next gives his own example as to how he attained perfection by serving the devotees. In the previous millennium (in another kalpa of Brahmā), he was born as the son of a maidservant engaged in the service of brāhmaṇas. (Previous to this birth he was a Gandharva named Upabarhaṇa, and was cursed to take birth in an impoverished family and receive no education.) Nārada engaged in the service of the brāhmaṇas during the four months of the rainy season. The living entities are the marginal energy of the Lord, and thus are meant for being properly utilized in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. One can be free from illusion only by being engaged in the Lord’s service. From the example of Nārada, it is clear that the service of the Lord begins with the service of the Lord’s devotees. There is no cause for pure bhakti other than the mercy of the devotees. Austerity and other processes are not the cause. Service of the devotees is more valuable than the service of the Lord. One should therefore choose a bona fide servant of the Lord who is constantly engaged in His service, accept such a servant as the spiritual master and engage in his service. Such a guru is the transparent medium by which to visualize the Lord, who is beyond the conception of the material senses. The Lord then reveals Himself in proportion to the service rendered. The expert guru knows the art of using everything to glorify the Lord, and thus under his guidance the whole world can be turned into the spiritual abode.

SB 1.5 - Causeless mercy of the devotees

The sages, whom Nārada served, were impartial by nature, but still they blessed Nārada with their mercy. Though great devotees like Bharata and Prahlāda see equally, they also show some partiality concerning giving mercy. The sages’ giving mercy to Nārada for the first time did not depend on Nārada’s good qualities, and show of respect. He developed the good qualities by their mercy. Then those qualities became the cause of further mercy. There are two types of mercy: one, which is affected by seeing material qualities and another, which is not affected by seeing material qualities. All persons in the material world have mercy caused by qualities. They show mercy or withdraw mercy based on seeing good qualities or not. In the second type of mercy, those who are beyond the influence of material world show mercy without any cause, since they see everything in the world as same. In this manner, sometimes these sages show mercy to some person.

Nārada was self controlled and had no attachment for sports, and did not speak more than required. The sages are referred as veda-vādīs – or followers of Vedānta. In the Vedas the subject matters are only three, namely to establish the relation of the living beings with the Lord, perform duties in devotional service, and achieve love of God. Thus the veda-vādīs indicate the pure devotees of the Lord. Such devotees are impartial in distributing the transcendental knowledge of devotional service, by which one can reestablish one’s relationship with the Lord. And Nārada was self controlled even before being initiated by the devotees. Without being self controlled and without being obedient, no one can become successful in following the instructions of the guru, and without doing so, no one can go back to Godhead. The first four stages of bhakti are understood here: mercy of the devotees, service to devotees, faith and taking shelter of guru.

SB 1.5 - Pure devotion is infectious

The Lord is the purest entity, and unless one is equally pure from the infection of material qualities, one cannot become a pure devotee of the Lord. The bhakti-vedāntas were pure devotees, and by their association and by eating once the remnants of their foodstuff, Nārada became purified in heart. At that time the very nature of the transcendentalist became attractive to him. Having developed an inclination for bhakti, being pure in mind, taste for devotional processes developed in Nārada’s mind. The neophyte devotee becomes enriched with the transcendental qualities of the pure devotee, which means attraction to the name, fame, quality, pastimes etc of the Supreme Lord. Here the next five stage of bhakti are mentioned: desire to worship, bhakti, anartha-nivṛtti, niṣṭhā and ruci. After the elimination of all sins, one becomes attracted, one can have steadiness, one can have perfect taste, one can have transcendental emotions, and at last one can be situated in the plane of loving service of the Lord. All these stages develop by the association of pure devotees.

SB 1.5 - Developing āsakti and rati for the Lord

Nārada heard the devotees describe the attractive activities of Lord Kṛṣṇa with great attraction (āsakti). Listening attentively, his taste for hearing about the Lord increased at every step and he developed rati for Kṛṣṇa. Thus two more stages in bhakti are explained here. By hearing the pastimes of the Lord, one contacts directly the Personality of Godhead, and all accumulated sins are cleared. The hearer then gradually becomes liberated from mundane association and becomes attracted to the Lord. Thus by hearing about the Lord’s pastimes, one can become an associate of the Lord. Nārada, by doing this, became liberated and he could now travel all over the material and spiritual worlds without restriction. The process of hearing in the association of devotees is especially recommended in this age of Kali.

As soon as Nārada got a taste for the Lord, his attention to hear of the Lord was unflinching. He experienced the strength of firm and fixed intelligence (askhalitā matir) as soon as he gained taste and attraction for the Lord. And as his taste developed, he realized that it was due to ignorance he had accepted gross and subtle coverings, for both the Lord and he are transcendental. By his intelligence, he directly experienced that his gross and subtle bodies were fixed only in the Supreme Lord. To become associated with the supreme light is to dissipate all ignorance. By ignorance only, one thinks that both he and the Lord are both products of material nature. When ignorance is removed and one realized that there is nothing existing without the Lord, then one’s nescience is destroyed. One can engage one’s gross body in worshiping the Deity in the temple, and the mind in thinking about the Lord. One can develop such attraction for the Lord simply by hearing about Him, as was done by Nārada. Nārada’s gross body became fixed in offering respects, carrying the Lord’s water pot and other actions. With the development of rati, the subtle body became fixed in tasting the sweetness of the Lord’s qualities and form.

SB 1.5 - Flow of bhakti

Thus during the two seasons – rainy season and autumn, Nārada had the opportunity to hear the great sages chant the glories of Lord Hari. As the flow of devotional service began (bhaktiḥ pravṛttā), which developed due to his fixed intelligence, that devotion destroyed any remaining passion and ignorance. This is the appearance of prema, the 12th stage of bhakti. The natural inclination of loving service to Kṛṣṇa is covered by these lower modes due to one’s association with matter from time immemorial. But if one associates with the pure devotees of the Lord and hears His glories, the flow of bhakti takes place like the flow of a river, and continues till it reaches the ultimate goal of love of God. This flow of devotional service is so potent that any onlooker becomes liberated from the modes of passion and ignorance. The stages of direct vision and experience of sweetness of the Lord are explained in the next chapter.

Nārada next explains the qualifications required to become a pure devotee. He was very much attached to the sages, and thus one must seek the association of pure devotees. Nārada was gentle, and had strong faith in the sages. He had controlled his senses, and was strictly following the sages with body and mind. Only by the association of pure devotees, can one get rid of all sins. A neophyte devotee must faithfully serve the pure devotee, and should be obedient and strictly follow the instructions, as done by Nārada.

SB 1.5 - Most confidential knowledge

As they were leaving those bhakti-vedāntas instructed Nārada in that most confidential subject which is instructed by the Lord Himself. A pure Vedāntist, or a bhakti-vedānta, instructs according to the instructions of the Lord Himself. The Lord is transcendental to the material creation. Before creation, He exists in His eternal abode, and by His will, this manifested creation exists. And after annihilation, the Lord continues to remain in His abode. This teaching refers to the catuḥ-ślokī, which is far above impersonal knowledge. This transcendental nature of the Lord can be understood only by His pure devotees as evidenced in His teachings to Arjuna.

The jñāna guhyatamaṁ indicates knowledge of devotional service. Jñānam means ordinary knowledge and this develops up to the knowledge of impersonal Brahman. Above this is knowledge of Paramātmā, which is more confidential. But when such knowledge is turned to pure devotional service, it becomes the most confidential knowledge. Jñāna-śāstra has a prevalence of monistic jñāna. Confidential scripture consists of a predominance of jñāna mixed with some bhakti. More confidential scripture is that which has predominantly bhakti with some jñāna. Most confidential scripture is pure bhakti which was imparted by the Lord to Brahmā (at the beginning of creation – second canto), Arjuna (in Bhagavad gītā), Uddhava (eleventh canto) etc.

By such knowledge, one can understand how the different energies of the Lord are working, and return to His abode. By the knowledge of Bhāgavatam, Nārada understood the influence of the Lord’s cit-śakti, the kṛpā-śakti, the acit-śakti of the three guṇas, and the influence of the knowledge of the Lord’s powers and sweetness. One part of the Lord’s energy is manifesting the material world; the other part manifests the spiritual world. And the via medium energy is manifesting the living entities who are serving either the material or spiritual energies. The Lord explains in Bhagavad gītā that the suffering souls return to Him by giving up all engagements in the material world. This is the most confidential part of knowledge, and can be understood only by pure devotees. Only such devotees enter the kingdom of God to see and serve Him personally.

SB 1.5 - Dedicating one's activities to the Lord

It is decided by the learned that the best remedial measure for removing all troubles and miseries is to dedicate one’s activities to the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Foolish people have manufactured many remedial measures for removing the miseries of the world. But without the sanction of the Lord no plan can bring peace to the world. One must dedicate everything in the service of the Lord. The best thing is to engage oneself completely in hearing the transcendental pastimes of the Lord. In the absence of such an opportunity, one should try to engage in the service of the Lord for which one has specific attraction. One should not renounce work simply because it causes suffering and bondage, but rather renounce the spirit of self centered enjoyment.

After having Nārada practice bhakti and experience prema, and teaching the Bhāgavatam which was spoken by the Lord, the sages then taught him the process of jñāna which gives rise to knowledge and the goal of liberation, event though he did not request it. Considering that the question of jñāna may arise when he grew older, the sages taught Nārada jñāna indirectly for the purpose of developing indifference to the world. They explained the destruction of the three miseries in which actions are offered to the Paramātmā, to Bhagavān and the impersonal Brahman.

SB 1.5 - Spiritualizing our activities

A thing applied therapeutically cures a disease which was caused by that very same thing. For example, when milk preparations cause bowel disorders, the same milk converted into curd and mixed with other remedial ingredients cures such disorders. Similarly, the three fold miseries of material existence cannot be mitigated by material activities. Such activities have to be spiritualized, and the material conception of life is at once changed when it is put into the service of the Lord. Everything is an emanation from the Supreme Spirit, and by His inconceivable power He can convert spirit into matter and matter into spirit. Thus everything should be used in relation to the Supreme Being. That is the way to treat our material diseases and elevate ourselves to the spiritual plane where there is no misery, lamentation or fear. When everything is thus employed in the service of the Lord, we can experience that there is nothing except the Supreme Brahman.

Nārada says that when all activities are dedicated to the service of the Lord, those very activities which caused his bondage become the destroyer of the tree of work. Fruitive work which perpetually engages a living being is compared to the banyan tree, which is deep rooted. This causes bondage. The propensity to enjoy may be turned into the desire for serving the mission of the Lord. By doing so, one’s activity is changed into karma yoga. When the result of all work is dovetailed with the service of the Lord, it will cease to generate further karma and will gradually develop into devotional service, which will not only cut off completely the root of the banyan tree of work but will also carry the performer to the lotus feet of the Lord.

From Nārada’s life we can understand that one has to first seek the association of pure devotees, and render service. This service attitude will induce the great souls to bestow mercy, which injects the neophyte with all the transcendental qualities of the pure devotees. This develops gradually into a strong attachment to hearing the pastimes of the Lord. Then one develops knowledge of the self and his eternal relation with the Personality of Godhead. After that pure devotional service to the Lord begins gradually developing into perfect knowledge of the Lord beyond the purview of impersonal Brahman and localized Paramātmā. Thus one becomes perfect even during one’s present lifetime.

SB 1.5 - Activities mixed with bhakti

Whatever work is done in this life for the satisfaction of the Lord is called bhakti yoga or transcendental loving service to the Lord, and what is called knowledge becomes a concomitant factor. The general understanding is that by performing karma according to scriptures one develops knowledge for self realization. Some consider bhakti yoga to be another form of karma. Factually bhakti yoga is above both karma and jñāna. The kriyā-yoga or karma-yoga as recommended by Nārada to Vyāsa is simply to satisfy the Lord. One has to be purified before one can go back to Godhead.

That karma which is offered to the Lord causes purification to the level of sattva-guṇa. That knowledge generated from karma which is without desire and which is pleasing to the Lord because of being offered to the Lord is endowed with bhakti, since jñāna devoid of bhakti will not give liberation. This is bhakti-miśra-jñāna. When work is done to satisfy the Lord, the performer becomes purified from material affection. Then one attains spiritual knowledge. Therefore, knowledge is dependent on work done for the Lord. Other knowledge, being devoid of bhakti yoga cannot lead one back to the kingdom of God. A devotee engaged in hearing and chanting of the glories of the Lord becomes spiritually enlightened.

SB 1.5 - Bhakti mixed with karma

While performing duties according to the order of Kṛṣṇa, one constantly remembers Him, His names and His qualities. It has just been said that by karma yoga mixed with bhakti (bhakti-miśra-karma) one achieves jñāna mixed with bhakti, which aims at liberation. Now it is said that sometimes, some people who practice niṣkāma-karma mixed with bhakti can develop bhakti mixed with karma (karma-miśra-bhakti) by association with devotees having karma-miśra-bhakti. This bhakti is characterized by chanting and remembering the Lord. This is superior to bhakti-miśra-jñāna mentioned previously.

In BG 9.27 Kṛṣṇa had advised to do everything as an offering to Him. This teaching is not directed to the karma-yogī since this verse falls in the section on bhakti. Moreover, the karma-yogī offers only Vedic karmas to the Lord in order that the results will come to him. The devotees, however, take Vedic, mundane and daily duties and offer them all to the Lord. This verse from BG like the SB verse under discussion refers to karma-miśra-bhakti. While doing karmas according to the Lord’s instructions and simultaneously performing bhakti in the form of chanting and remembering, this verse indicates bhakti as the principal action mixed with karma. Then one achieves jñāna-miśra-bhakti. From that one achieves rati for the Lord along with liberation. This is called śānta-bhakti. The ātmārāma verse (SB 1.7.10) confirms this: the Lord possesses qualities that attract (rati) even the ātmārāmas.

The order of the Lord as given in Bhagavad gītā is that one should work only for Him in all spheres of life. According to the Vedic rites, even in the worship of demigods, the representation of Viṣṇu must be there as yajñeśvara, or the controller of the sacrifice. Apart from Vedic duties, even in our ordinary dealings we must give our results to the supreme enjoyer, Kṛṣṇa. A pure devotee remembers that Kṛṣṇa is the supreme enjoyer, supreme proprietor and supreme friend, and in doing so the devotee repeats the name, fame and qualities of the Lord. Thus he is in constant touch with the Lord. Kṛṣṇa says that no one is more dear to Him than one who preaches His name and fame all over the world. He wants the message of the Gītā to be taught among the devotees, but not among those who have no credit of austerities, charity etc. Therefore, the attempt must go on to convert the unwilling persons to become His devotees. Lord Caitanya’s simple method of singing, dancing and feasting is very effective in this connection, and all spiritual activities must be conducted under the guidance of a pure devotee.