Bhakti Sutras of Narada and Shandilya

Devotee and The Sutras

Kathopanishad quotes on Bhakti

The Upanishads mainly devote themselves to the doctrine of Jnana.

Jnana in lay terms means “Knowledge”. 

Grace becomes utterly important when one talks about Bhakti or Devotion.

The Kathopanishad proclaims, “The Atman chooses the person, to whom the Atman wants to reveal itself. Such a soul verily attains Atman”

At other places, the same Upanishad says, “A person devoid of “motivated desires and actions”, receives the Grace of the supporter, God.”

“Such a person sees Paramatma and becomes free of sorrow.”


Shvetashvataropanishad quotes on Bhakti

 This Upanishad directly uses the word “Bhakti” (भक्ति supreme devotion).

It clearly and confirmedly stresses “Prapatti”  (प्रपत्ती self-surrender).

The Upanishad says “One having Bhakti towards God, towards his teacher, is a great soul.”

“These things shall reveal themselves to this soul, in their pristine glory.”

Bhagavata Dharma (भागवत-धर्म) mentioned in the Shastras?

In due course, Bhakti developed into systematized philosophy.

Bhakti then became an integral component of organized religion.

As a result, Bhakti philosophy then became established as Bhagavata-Dharma. 

There are other names for Bhagavata-Dharma such as Narayaniya (नारायणिया), Satvata (सात्वता), Ekantika (एकांतिका), and Pancharatra (पांचरात्र).


Bhagavata Dharma in Agamas

The philosophy finds its main sources in the Narayaniya section of the Mahabharata and The Vishnu Purana.

A detailed description of the devotees and the Personality of Godhead, one finds in the Bhagavata Purana.

The Pancharatra Agamas and the Bhakti Sutras of Shandilya and Narada glorify the Bhagavata Dharma sumptuously.

How can one capture the Supreme Absolute?

The Upanishads lacked sufficiency at the emotional level.

The Upanishad could not infuse the tremendous vitality of emotion present within man.

The main teachings of the Upanishads focused upon clearing the mind and getting it focused on something abstract as the Brahman.

As a living force, individuals had the great power of emotions at their disposal.

As a consequence, Upanishads could not vibe at the emotional level.

Usually people direct their emotions towards matter and all illusory notions.


This stirs turmoil, causing havoc in their mental states and in their lives, in general.

On the contrary, if people deflect the same emotions towards the Absolute, a massive transformation could be effected.

The mind or the senses are incapable of comprehending the Absolute or Supreme Personality.

One cannot understand Him through logic or even arguments.

His Grace remains the only factor, the only conduit through which one can realize Him and bring Him into action.

Bringing the Lord into action

Single-minded devotion or Bhakti, powered by the fuel of loving emotions can deliver an individual.

This shall invoke Grace if one is sincere enough.

A person sold out to the Lord, possesses the potential to capture Him.

The Lord does not remain independent as many scriptures quote Him to be.


His ardent devotees have arrested Him by the strength of their loving emotions, through genuine servitorship.

Thus the Lord, the Supreme Absolute is Bhaktaparadhina (भक्त-पराधीन).

Bhaktaparadhina means one who is completely dependent on the will of His dear devotees.

He is fond of those completely devoted to Him and reveals Himself to them.

Complete resignation (प्रपत्ती, शरणागती) is another way of attaining Him.

What are Sutras (सूत्र) or Aphorisms?

In Sanskrit Literature, the deep philosophies relating to any branch of knowledge exist in the form of Sutras or aphorisms.

These immensely pregnant Sutras convey deep meaning and life values.

The creator of these Aphorisms possesses a high state of consciousness.

As a result, the Aphorisms transmit an ocean of wisdom through a few lines or verses.


When one views these Sutras in isolation, without context, they appear incomplete and broken.

Only when one deeply meditates sufficiently on these aphorisms can they reveal a minefield of knowledge jewels.

Thoroughly dedicated practitioners may find some success in decoding the aphorisms.

These practitioners spend years serving their teachers and performing intense sadhana.

They create detailed explanations and commentaries on the aphorisms.

Transmission of Bhashya teachings

The explanations carry the name Bhashya Vritti (भाष्यवृत्ती), vaartika (वार्तिका), or Tika (टीका) depending on their structure, form or format. 

Enlightened people or dedicated disciples of enlightened ones carry out the Bhashya Work through disciplic succession.  

For a common man, it becomes impossible to understand the Sutras directly without a detailed commentary.

The Sutra literature forms part of the compulsory learning for all those acquiring knowledge in a particular branch of knowledge.

The Two Important Bhakti Sutra Works

For serious students of the doctrine of devotion, study the Narada Bhakti Sutras and Shandilya Bhakti Sutras.


This study is indispensable.

These two works need to be looked deeper if Bhakti needs to become an important path of our seeking.

The two works get their name after the two sages, the seers of the Sutras namely sage Narada and sage Shandilya, respectively. 

In terms of doctrine, not an atom of difference exists between the two works.

The Treatment of the Bhakti Subject in the Two Sutras

However, the treatment of the subject of Bhakti gets different treatments in both these works.

Hence, one may believe that both these works complement each other.

Sage Shandilya’s work deals more with the intellectual platform, on the conceptual platform.

Alternately, Sage Narada’s work vibes at the emotional level and qualifies as a practical handbook of Bhakti.

Shandilya Bhakti Sutra Highlights

Sage Shandilya mentions the pramanas (प्रमाण), and the prameya (प्रमेय).

These words represent the means of knowledge and focus on the subject body of knowledge.

It stands for Means and Goal respectively.

He evolves his arguments by discussing the reality of creation.

He exhorts that only knowledge can grant liberation and establishes that this knowledge is attained through devotion.

His work conveys the idea that devotion alone can grant liberation.

The work also delineates the various forms of devotion.

Narada Bhakti Sutra Highlights

Narada does not give much importance to the intellectual aspect of devotion.

Instead, he delves deep into the practical aspects of Bhakti.

He defines Bhakti for the common man.

He supports the definition with practical hints towards Bhakti application.

The work hints at the various pitfalls during the course of Bhakti adoption. 

It also discusses the various characteristics of Bhakti enabling easy adaptability and adoption.

There are several examples of Bhaktas or ideal devotees in the Scripture.

The Narada Bhakti Sutra will serve as inspiration to people who are serious about taking to the path of Bhakti.

Foolishness of Western historians

Occidental minds fixate themselves on dates and historic chronology.

 They are enthusiastic to cast all events of historic and pre-historic events on a time scale.

Western minds are interested to know about Adi Shankara’s birth date, place, and his contemporaries.

On the other hand, their oriental counterparts of the East go the other way.

They strive to know more about how the Supreme Personality incarnated as Adi Shankara.

People of the east like to capture the mysticism hidden in the works of Adi Shankara.


One should realize the eternity of the Vedas.

Trying to argue with dates of Itihasah (इतिहासा) is like trying to eat the peel instead of the fruit.

Character transcends Age and Time

More so, people recognize and revere the timeless characters of the Vedas only for the value systems that they represented.

Is it not foolish to try to understand chronology associated with Vedic characters?

These ageless and timeless Characters represent a value system.

They have graduated from being an individual to an entire philosophy.

How can they have dates attached to them?

Will it not be work of great foolishness and idiocy to look for dates instead of looking at character (values)?

Shandilya and commentaries available on Bhakti Sutras

The character of Shandilya is no exception to the timeline predicament.

We find the mention of sage Shandilya in every Vedic age.

The Treta Yuga saw Shandilya as the preceptor of King Dilipa of the Solar Dynasty.

In Dvapara Yuga he is the priest to King Nanda of the cowherds.

At the beginning of this Kaliyuga, he is very busy performing the Putreshti Yagya (पुत्रेष्टि यज्ञ) of Shatanika.

Shatanika is the son of Janamejaya, the great-grandson of the Pandava prince Arjuna.

At another time somewhere during Treta Yuga, he is the priest of King Trishanku, father of King Harishchandra of the Solar Dynasty.


 Sage Shandilya is also seen to be chatting with Pitamaha (पितामह) Bheeshma who was lying down on the bed of arrows. 

He is also father to Shankha and Likhita, the two well-known authors of the Vedic Ritualistic practices.

Some works of Shandilya

Shandilya is the author of the Pancharatra literature.

The Shandilya Bhakti Sutras belong to the Pancharatra school of Bhakti.

The sage also draws upon the Bhagavad Gita freely and even directly mentions it once in his Bhakti work.

One can find the earliest detailed commentary on the sutras of Shandilya by Svapaneshvara.

There are two other well-renowned commentaries on the Bhakti Sutras of Shandilya by Narayana Tirtha and Bhavadeva.