Bhakti is the foundation of all spiritual practice. It is both a means and an end in itself. What is the nature of Bhakti? The Narada Bhakti Sutras say: ‘It is of the nature of supreme love towards God’ (2nd Sutra).
Nine Ways of Devotion (Navadha Bhakti)
How does this love towards the divine manifest itself? The Srimad Bhagavatam (7.5.23), delineates the nine ways (Navadha Bhakti) in which we can lovingly connect with God:
1). Hearing about God (Shravana)
2). Chanting His Name and Glory (Kirtana)
3). Remembering Him (Smarana)
4). Serving His Lotus Feet (Pada Sevana)
5). Worshipping Him as per the Scriptures (Archana)
6). Prostrating before Him (Vandana)
7). Being His Servant (Dasya)
8). Befriending Him (Sakhya)
9). Offering Oneself to Him (Atma Nivedana)
Mahamuni Shukadeva Narrating Bhagavata Purana to Raja Parikshata
Therefore, the first step in Shravana is to take recourse at the feet of a Guru. The Shravana aspect of Bhakti is exemplified most completely in King Parikshit, who listened to the Srimad Bhagavatam from the great sage Shukadeva. What effect did this listening have on Parikshit? At the end he said: "Respected Shukadeva Ji, you have made me experience the highest, fearless state. As a consequence I am now totally at peace. I am not afraid of death; let it come to me in any form now. I am totally fearless (Abhaya)" (12.6.7).
Reconstructing Devotion Through Narada Bhakti Sutra
The very embodiment of Kirtana is the revered sage Narada. In fact, so engrossed is Narada in the act of Kirtana that he was actually happy when a curse was placed on him that he would not be able to stay in one place and would have to roam around the three worlds. Instead of lamenting this curse, he welcomed it saying that it would enable him to spread the Lord’s name and glory all over the three worlds.
"The one who sees Me in everything and everything in Me, I am always present for him and he is always present for Me" (6.30).
"Therefore, always keep Me in mind and then enter the battle of life. Undoubtedly you will attain unto me" (8.7-8).
"The one who does not ruminate on anything else but constantly remembers me only, he finds it easy to reach Me" (8.14).
As per the Srimad Bhagavatam:
"The mind which thinks of material objects becomes attached to those very objects. However, the mind which constantly remembers me, merges into Me" (11.14.27).
Narasimha Drags Down The King Hiranyakashipu
The Srimad Bhagavatam says: ‘Only till we have not taken recourse to the lotus feet of the Lord is there any cause of concern from money, family etc, which otherwise are a cause of fear and Dukha (3.9.6).
Shesha Shayi Vishnu in Yoga Nidra
The obvious example of this kind of Bhakti is our mother goddess Lakshmi, who is seen in constant service of Lord Vishnu’s lotus feet.
Srimad Bhagavata: The Holy Book of God (Set of 4 Volumes)
Vandana means prostrating oneself before the Lord. An illuminating example of this Bhakti is Akrura, another great personality in the Srimad Bhagavatam. The great Bhakta Akrura could not contain himself when he entered Vrindavana. He was overcome with emotion and the consequent surge of affection for Krishna made his hair stand on its end and the overflowing eyes began to shed tears. Akrura jumped onto the land of Vrindavana and rolled around on the earth saying: “Oh! This is the dust touched by the feet of my beloved Lord” (10.38.26).
Being in selfless service of God, fulfilling His intentions and unquestioningly obeying all His orders is known as Dasya. The most powerful embodiment of this kind of Bhakti is undoubtedly Shri Hanuman, who as soon as he caught a glimpse of Shri Rama, declared himself to be the latter’s servant.
Shri Rama Bhakta Hanuman Ji
Being a servant of God means leaving aside one’s most important work to respectfully do the Lord’s bidding; leaving all of one’s own desires to fulfil His desire; considering even the greatest effort done for Him to be miniscule; thinking His ownership over our body to be greater than even our own; understanding that our wealth, life, body etc is useful only as long as it is in the use of God and so on. Hanuman had all these qualities, and no wonder that Shri Rama embraced him saying: “You are more dear to me than even Lakshmana” (Ramayana of Tulsidas).
Sakhya means personal friendship with God, a friendship in which there is a constant desire to stay in His company, and one enjoys conversations only with Him, and becomes extremely pleased on the mere mention of one’s friend from a third person. Krishna Himself tells us who His friend is: “O Arjuna, you are both my friend and Bhakta” (Gita 4.3).
Stories about the friendship of Krishna and Arjuna abound in the Mahabharata and Bhagavatam. Narratives show how they indulged in light banter, sports etc, which provide us with ample glimpses into the nature of their mutual friendship.
Offering oneself wholly, including all of one’s material possessions, with
firm conviction, is known as Atmanivedana. The example of such surrender is
king Bali, who was asked by an adolescent Brahmin for a piece of land equivalent
to the distance measured by the latter’s three footsteps. The Brahmin, who was
none other than the Vamana Avatara of Lord Vishnu, measured out all the worlds
with only two of His steps and finally there remained nowhere to place the promised third.
Vamana Purana with Hindi Translation
Jharokha (Window) Painted with King Bali Pledging Himself to Vamana Avatar of Vishnu
These are the nine ways in which we can relate to God. We are free to select
the particular connection with God which suits our personal temperament. However
remember that all these nine qualities existed together in the Bhaktas mentioned
above. Did Arjuna not have Pada Sevana, Smarana etc? Of course he did. For us
this means that once we have imbibed even one of these virtues properly, all
others will follow suit, and the person becomes a Shuddha Bhakta, one whose
each and every action can be deemed as Bhakti.
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