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!
We now move on to Chapter 2, Section 1, which has three sutraani giving rationale as to the greatness of Bhakti. The first two are very closely linked, so will be given together here.
sa tu kmR}anyaege_yae=Pyixktra.25.
Saa tu karmajnaanayogebhyo-pyadikataraa ||25||
That (Supreme Devotion=Bhakti) is indeed as a technique, even superior to the paths of action, knowledge and disciplined contemplation.
(Because) it is of the nature of the fruits of all yogas.
The four yogas/paths for attainment of spiritual perfection are Karma (action), Bhakti (devotion), Raaja (aka Hatha - keeping body disciplined) and Jnaana (Knowledge). It is generally accepted that each sadhaka must find the path which suits their circumstances and temperament best. Each yoga, quite naturally, will put arguments forward as to why it may be considered better than others - but this can only be true if the seeker is fitted for it. Any worthwhile and dedicated seeker will actually give all a chance in order to find the best fit for themselves - at no time is another to be considered greater or lesser, actually. The goal of all paths is exactly the same, only the means differ.
By extension the same can be said of each religion. As long as the focus is the Higher, whether we choose to worship in a church, a mosque or a temple is irrelevant. The importance is that faith, hope and charity flourish. In applying these, each individual can raise themselves spiritually. Even, it may be said, those who proclaim agnosticism or atheism, if they apply the highest human principles which can still be said to be the three (ie faith - in the basic good of human nature; hope - that all the human race can improve itself; charity - caring for other humans around one), can benefit from the teaching of Narad-ji. For you see, the one thing which underpins all of these is capital 'ell' Love. Let us think a little more…
Karma - this path is not only within Hinduism; in every community we find that those who act selflessly are revered. Awareness of one's activities and dedicating them to the betterment of one's family/community/nation is Karma. Do we not all know people like this? Do we not measure ourselves against their actions? Whether or not they proclaim a faith structure as the anchor for their actions matters not. What is important is that they had the Love inside to act selflessly.
Raja - no doubt keeping the physical being as healthy and fit as possible, treating the body as the temple, enables our actions, frees the mind from worry about health and is a very visual indication of dedication. Again, this is not just an Indian thing - all cultures value physical fitness, is it not? Not always unselfishly though and there is danger of it becoming very selfish, in fact. In and of itself, it benefits only the practitioner - however, if they are feeling well, they are more likely also to be feeling happier and that is generally better for those with whom they socialise. The greatest benefit from Raja, however, is when the love for the physical is practiced with, and transforms to, Love for the Higher.
Jnaana - where in the world is knowledge not considered worth the having? Nowhere. The term 'jnaana', however, is rather specific to Hindu tradition in that it refers to capital 'k' Knowledge of the Self. In working towards that, all other knowledges will accumulate. The Sanskrit tradition is that complete Knowledge was given in gurukula and there was no separation. Somewhere in history, the material knowledges (science, art, engineering etc) got separated out as being of more value to life. The science and art of living became something of a casualty. Jnaana-marg requires that we reconnect with the original purpose of study and to do this we require an element of Love for the Higher possibilities in life.
Bhakti - Love, however, stands alone. It is present in each of the preceding when they are working at their best - indeed it could be said that the first three are empty and pointless without the presence of Love - but Love Divine can be present without the other three. Each of the first three are saadhanas which require specific actions, tools, methods, understandings and so forth. Love only requires to 'be'. Love has to be present for selfless action, for applied dedication of the body and for the subject being studied. Love is therefore already present and waiting to be taken up; Love must remain for full benefits to be obtained; and Love continues even when the other three are done. Love is an expression of Higher Self.
This is why Narad-ji argues Bhakti is the greatest after all. Even the heartiest atheist cannot argue against pure, unselfish, no-ties, unconditional, all-encompassing Love!
Iishvarasya-apy-abhimaana-dveshitvaat dainyapriyak-tatvaat-cha ||27||
Also because of God's dislike for egoism and because of His love for meekness.
The Guru furthers the argument with the authority of the Divine itself. Iishvara is the name given to the god-principle with which the majority of the world is familiar - the God with human-like qualities and therefore having preferences for our behaviour. However, even if one does not accept a theist view, the concept of ego versus humility is not difficult to accept as a guiding principle for our own behaviours. The minute we allow ourselves to become vain about the good actions (…"after all I've done for them!"…), over-proud of our physical disciplines (…"see how many reps of gym I can do?!"…), or possessive of our knowledge (…"what does s/he know? I have so much better understanding"…) we are in trouble!
It is not that we cannot have a sense of worth and value in all these things. We must. However, the moment we start to feel the pricks of competition, jealousy, arrogance and so on enter our thinking with regard to what we are doing, we are lost to our ego. Egoism doesn't have to mean bullying and boastfulness - it can be the inverse, whereby self-esteem plummets and we are all the time thinking everyone else is better than us. It is still seeing life as a competition allowing our ego-self to dictate our nature and, from the psycho-spiritual perspective, this is very unhealthy.
Love Divine does not wish this upon us. Love Divine can bring us out of such bleak behaviours. All that is required is surrender of that part of the ego which seeks to separate us from living fully in the shining light of Love.