Application - that is what 'Workings-days' are about!
The Narada Bhakti Sutra is our guide for a while… the nature of Love (with the capital 'ell') and a full exploration of it. As always, you are encouraged to seek out the full text from Chinmaya Publications (links in side-bar); but for those who prefer e-readers, this version is recommended. Whilst awareness and interest can be raised by these posts on AV-blog, they cannot substitute for a thorough reading and contemplation...and practice!
Last we saw that Veda Vyaasa and Garga-ji offered physical and aural/verbal aspects of Bhakti as being prime. In both these aspects, allowance is made for those who find the concept of Universal Self a tad too esoteric; by permitting the concept of a personal god through symbols and words, such folk can still raise themselves from the trials and tribulations of life. In the next sutra, we learn that the use of techniques which appear to require such 'props' are not necessarily exclusive of the Universal Self.
Aatmaratyavirodheneti shaandilyaH ||18||
"The devotion for god, which is not opposed to attachment to the inner-Self, is true Bhakti," according to sage Shaandilya.
This muni also wrote a text of suutraani on the subject of Bhakti and was an advisor to King Parikshit. Here, we find a truly Vedantic approach to Bhakti, demonstrating that they are not mutually exclusive. The type of surrender required for the purest Bhakti is not at all different from that of the Vedantin - both require release of the ego-self in pursuit of spiritual benefit. By permitting that there are people who cannot make the full Advaitic leap in their understanding, the exploration of Self through devotion is a wonderful elevator.
This is why, in the majority of homes, even those of Vedantins, a place will be reserved for worship; perhaps only a shelf, or maybe a whole room converted into mandir/temple. An anchor for focus. By declaring 'not opposed to…', Shaandilya-ji is prompting the worshiper to consider that Bhakti is but a stepping stone towards an even Higher Goal, that of union to Brahman, Universal Self - the ultimate attachment before final release.
To take this aspect on board, requires an intellectual approach to devotion and thus we have a still more subtle method, for those less inclined to the action of VV or the verbal of Garga. Contemplative, or manasa puja is the primary practice of Bhakti for those who find action or speech more distraction than attraction of the spirit.
nardStu tdipRtaiolacarta tiÖSmr[e prmVyakulteit .19.
Naaradastu tadarpitaakhilaachaarataa tadvismarane paramavyaakulateti ||19||
According to Naarada-ji, "total dedication of all actions at the altar of the Lord, and at all moments of forgetfulness of Him, excruciating pangs, is Bhakti."
Having cited three sages worthy in his own consideration, and each showing the physical, verbal and mental approaches to devotion, the author now turns the spotlight on himself. He tells us that 'all actions' must be considered as devotion - that is to say, the wholeness of our action, speech and thought. No space left for anything else. If, however, we find spaces do appear and this results in 'forgetfulness' of our devotional focus, then we must at least have the decency to regret such a lapse!
In telling us this way, Narada-ji respects the previous aspects given, does not belittle them, but also advises that they are incomplete. In actual fact, though, nothing can be complete as long as we are tied to the physical world, and this is acknowledged with the reference to forgetfulness. It is an inevitability due to our human condition. By at least prompting us to think about bringing all aspects together, by homogenising them within ourselves, we can perhaps produce the closest thing to perfect Bhakti as possible. In doing this, we can become more aware of those moments which pass without our focus and presence of mind upon the Higher, thus feel appropriate guilt and take corrective measures to reassert our focus.
For those who have experienced, even for the briefest moment, the encompassing quality of Divine Love, there can seem to be a real emptiness within when it is absent. It is up to us to keep reaching out for it, attempting to create it within so that we may express it externally.
This integrative declaration of Narada-ji is considered so important, it is further emphasised by the next sutra, considered as an 'endorsement'.
Let it be exactly as described above.
This is a Sanskrit literary 'device' to ensure a very important point is properly comprehended. "Don't muck around students, this is the word of the master!"