Application - that is what 'Workings-days' are about!
One of the queries which arises with early student-ship of Vedanta is how, when it is so much propounding logic and analytical thinking upon the numinous Consciousness, the Formless, the Eternal, there seems to be now allowance for 'the personal God'. Something with which the student can connect. This is particularly the case with Western novices. Vedanta can, if poorly understood, look very dry and unfeeling. Nothing could be further from fact!
Certainly, there are some who would call themselves 'jnaani' (followers of the knowledge path) who revel in pure intellectualism and avoid all involvement in display of devotion. This, according to Advaita, is an error of judgement. Bhakti (devotion) is as important to the student as jnaan. Even if the goal is something without emotion, it requires a level of emotion to drive us towards it! This is the role of bhakti. Even in pursuit of the ultimate knowledge, there must be some dedication of the heart (which is mind, according to Vedic understanding). Majority of mankind, in most religious activity, know only bhakti and fall short on the jnaan side of things. To wave the lamps before the murti, to sit in pews and pray, to accept prasaad/communion, without a proper enquiry into and understanding of these rites and rituals, is to be little more than sheep.
The human being who asks the questions of 'who am "I" and why am "I" here' must find the way to answer these questions (jnaan) but not lose touch with the expression of that very existence in the form of Love.
Whilst following the path of knowledge, it is not that one must drop all emotion and devotion… but use these to express the process as one learns and develops as a jnaani. Bhakti is, when applied with jnaan, the best form of behaviour for a spiritual student, an application of Love and an outlet of the principles which are brought out in study.
For some students, whilst learning the higher things of Vedanta, the application at the intellectual level can be very challenging and this is where bhakti becomes even more important. Love and learning are not mutually exclusive. For these students, it may be found that the application of bhakti, the physical expression of the Higher, suits them even more - which is fine as long as the knowledge is not forgotten, else the actions of devotion can become rote, selfish and nothing more than show.
For the next pointer to application, then, we will focus on bhakti as the application of jnaan. This will be taken from the text नारद-भक्ति सूत्र /Narada Bhakti Sutra (NBS). More on Narada-ji himself in Story-day this week. "Sutra" means string. When used in context of words, it tells the reader that they can expect a progression of thinking which is linked such that one comes back to the beginning with a clear understanding of the whole. Each sutra element is succinct in the extreme, expecting that the student will spend time with it and study it well in order to appreciate its beauty and relevance. In a similar manner to the Bhagavad Gita, which was a part of the larger work called Mahaabharata, and got extracted as an individual work due to its carrying the full message within its 700 shlokas, the NBS actually forms the first part of the larger work called Srimad Bhagavatam; Sri Veda Vyaasa had asked of Narada a little guidance as to what he might write next. Thus far he had written so much on the Greater Knowledge but felt that there was something lacking. Narada-ji said that all that was required to water the path of knowledge so far provided by Vyaasa-ji was a sprinkling of devotion. To 'kick-start' the idea for the sage, he began;
अथातो भक्तिं व्याख्यास्यामः
athaato bhaktim vyaakyaasyaamaH
Now, therefore, the doctrine of devotion (we) shall expound.
Thus, we begin...