Bhakti Yoga Philosophy | Summary of Narada Bhakti Sutra and Shandilya Bhakti Sutra | Shandilya Bhakti Sutra-01

Summary of Narada Bhakti Sutra and Shandilya Bhakti Sutra

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What do the Upanishads say about Bhakti?

The Upanishads were mainly devoted to the doctrine of Jnana loosely meaning “Knowledge”.  In the doctrine of devotion although, Grace is of utmost relevance. In relation to the phenomenon of Grace the Kathopanishad says “Whom the Atman chooses, by him, He is obtained; to him He reveals Himself.” At another place the same Upanishad says “When he, who is devoid of desire-motivated actions, through the grace of God, the supporter, he sees the Paramatman’s glory, then does he become freed of sorrow.  The Shvetashvataropanishad directly uses the word “Bhakti” (भक्ति supreme devotion) and clearly and inordinately stresses on “Prapatti” (प्रपत्ती self-surrender). It says “He who has Bhakti towards God, and as towards God, towards his teacher, to him verily, the great soul, all these things declared thus far, will reveal themselves.”

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

Gradually the system of bhakti was systematized into philosophy and included as an integral component of organized religion. It then came to be known as Bhagavata-Dharma.  There are other names for Bhagavata-Dharma such as Narayaniya (नारायणिया), Satvata (सात्वता), Ekantika (एकांतिका), and Pancharatra (पांचरात्र). The philosophy finds its main sources in the Narayaniya section of the Mahabharata, The Vishnu Purana, the Bhagavata Purana, The Pancharatra Agamas and the Bhakti Sutras of Shandilya and Narada.

How can the Supreme Absolute be captured?

The Upanishads had some insufficiency especially at the emotional level. The tremendous vitality of emotion could not be put to use, since the main teachings of the Upanishads focused upon clearing the mind and getting it focused on something as abstract as the Brahman. As a living force, individuals had the great power of emotions at their disposal. Normally these emotions were being directed towards matter and all illusory notions thereby causing havoc in their mental states and in their lives, in general. If the same emotions were somehow directed towards the Absolute conceived as the Supreme Personality, the results of such direction would serve to be phenomenally beneficial. This Supreme Personality cannot be comprehended by the mind or senses, nor can be understood by logic or through arguments. His grace was the only factor, the only conduit through which he could be realized. Single-minded devotion or Bhakti, powered by the fuel of loving emotions, is the only thing by which His grace can be obtained and He can be captured. He is not independent as many scriptures quote Him to be. This was the observation of His ardent devotees who had arrested Him by the strength of their loving emotions and through servitorship. Thus the Lord, the Supreme Absolute is Bhaktaparadhina (भक्त-पराधीन), one who is completely dependent on the will of His dear devotees. He is fond of those who are 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, many of the deep philosophies relating to any branch of knowledge are penned down in the form of Sutras or aphorisms which are immensely pregnant with deep meaning and life-values. The teacher who composes these Aphorisms is in a high state of consciousness due to which he transmits an ocean of wisdom through a few lines or verses which appear incomplete and broken when someone first reads those lines. Only upon deep meditation on those aphorisms can the minefield of knowledge jewels become evident. This work of decoding the aphorisms is left to the dedicated disciples who have spent years serving their teachers and performing intense sadhana. They create detailed explanations and commentaries on the aphorisms. This is called Bhashya Vritti (भाष्यवृत्ती), vaartika (वार्तिका), or Tika (टीका) depending on their structure, form or format.  These works are always carried out either by the direct disciples of the teacher or by anybody who is enlightened and fall under the disciplic succession of that teacher.  For a common man, it is 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.

What is the main purport of Shandilya Bhakti Sutras?

For serious students of the doctrine of devotion, a study of the Narada Bhakti Sutras and Shandilya Bhakti Sutras is indispensable. These two works need to be looked deeper if bhakti is to become our path of seeking. The two works are named after the two sages who were seers of the Sutras namely sage Narada and sage Shandilya, respectively.  In terms of doctrine, there is not an atom of difference among the two works. However the treatment of the subject of Bhakti is so different in both these works that one will be compelled to believe that both these works complement each other. The work of sage Shandilya is more on the intellectual platform, on the conceptual platform while the work of sage Narada is more on the emotional level and is a practical handbook of Bhakti. Sage Shandilya has mentioned the pramanas (प्रमाण), prameya (प्रमेय) which stand for the means of knowledge and what is to be known. It stands for Means and Goal respectively. He evolves his arguments by discussing the reality of creation, by establishing that only knowledge can grant liberation and establishes that this knowledge is attained through devotion, that devotion alone can grant liberation and also delineates the various forms of devotion through his work.

What are the highlights of Narada Bhakti Sutras?

Narada however does not give much importance to the intellectual aspect of devotion but 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 and hints at the various pitfalls during the course of Bhakti adoption.  He lists the various characteristics of Bhakti that will enable aspirants to adapt to Bhakti and gives several examples of Bhaktas or ideal devotees which will serve as an inspiration to people who are serious about taking to the path of Bhakti.

What is the foolishness of Western historians?

Occidental minds are more interested in dates, historic chronology and is enthusiastic to cast all events of historic and pre-historic events on a time-scale. Western mind is interested to know about Adi Shankara’s birth date, place and his contemporaries. On the other hand his oriental counterpart on the east is interested to know more the details of how the Supreme Personality incarnated as Adi Shankara. He is interested in capturing the mysticism hidden in the works of Adi Shankara. It is impossible to put dates on the Itihasah (इतिहासा) associated with the Vedic pantheon because the characters of the Vedas are timeless and are recognized and revered only for the value systems that they represented. It is foolish to understand chronology associated with Vedic characters because these Characters directly represent an entire value system. Is it not the work of great foolishness and idiocy to look for dates at a place where character is to be looked at?

Who is Shandilya and what commentaries are 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. In the Treta Yuga we find Shandilya as the preceptor of King Dilipa of the Solar Dynasty. In Dvapara Yuga he is the priest to King Nanda of the cowherds. In the beginning of this Kaliyuga he is very busy performing the Putreshti Yagya (पुत्रेष्टि यज्ञ) of Shatanika, 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. Shandilya is also quoted as 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. The earliest detailed commentary on the sutras of Shandilya is the one by Svapaneshvara. There are two other well-renowned commentaries on the Bhakti Sutras of Shandilya by Narayana Tirtha and Bhavadeva.