[The Narada-bhakti-sutra is a treatise on the fundamentals of bhakti, or devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, composed by Narada Muni, one of Lord Krishna’s greatest eternal devotees. Aeons ago, Narada received Vedic knowledge from his father and spiritual master. Lord Brahma, the first created living entity, who received the Vedic science of God from Lord Krishna Himself at the dawn of creation. Each of Narada’s sutras, or codes, therefore, is a highly concentrated expression carrying great meaning. The following is an excerpt from Srila Prabhupada’s as yet unpublished translation and commentary of this important work.]
The great devotee Narada Muni
athato bhaktim vyakhyasyamah
atha—now, atah—therefore; bhaktim—devotional service; vyakhyasyamah—we shall try to explain.
Therefore I shall now try to explain the process of devotional service.
Devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is explained in Bhagavad-gita, wherein the Lord says that a self-realized person is always in the transcendental state known as brahma-bhuta and is characterized by joyfulness. When one is self-realized, he becomes joyful; in other words, he is free from the material contamination of lamentation and hankering. As long as we are in material existence, we lament for losses in our life, and we hanker for what we do not have. A self-realized person is joyful because he is free from material lamentation and hankering. After attaining self-realization, one sees all living entities equally. He sees no distinction between the higher and lower species of life. A learned man does not distinguish between a brahmana and a dog because he sees the soul within the body. He does not consider the external bodily features. Such a perfected, self-realized person is eligible to understand bhakti, devotional service.
Devotional service to the Lord is so sublime that only through bhakti can one understand the constitutional position of the Lord. Bhagavad-gita clearly states, bhaktya mam abhijanati: one can understand the Supreme Lord through devotional service and by no other process (Bg. 18.55). There are different processes of understanding the Absolute Truth, but if one wants to understand the Supreme Lord as He is, he has to take to the process of bhakti-yoga. There are other processes-such as karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, dhyana-yoga and other mystic methods-but it is not possible to understand the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, except through His devotional service. This is confirmed in the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, wherein we learn that Krishna wanted to instruct Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna simply because Arjuna was a devotee and a friend of the Lord (Bg. 4.3). Bhagavad-gita teaches the process of bhakti-yoga, and therefore Krishna explained it to Arjuna because he was a great devotee. As far as spiritual life is concerned, devotional service is the highest perfection.
People are generally misled by the spell of material nature’s illusory energy. There are innumerable living entities within material nature, and only some of them are in human bodies. According to Vedic literature there are 8,400,000 species of life. In the Padma Purana it is said that there are 900,000 species of aquatics, 2,000,000 species of plants, 1,100,000 species of insects, 1,000,000 species of birds, 3,000,000 species of animals, and only 400,000 species of human life in the universe. The human species are the least numerous of all.
All living entities can be divided into two divisions: some of them are moving, and some of them, like trees, are unable to move. These two divisions are further divided into many subdivisions. Some species are meant for life in the air, some for life in the water, and some for life on the ground. Among the living entities that move on the ground, only 400,000 are human species. Of these 400,000 species of human beings, many are uncivilized or unclean. From the Vedic historical point of view it is understood that the “Aryans” (those who believe in advancing in spiritual life) are the most civilized of human beings. Among the Aryans, the Indians are especially cultured, and among the Indians, the brahmanas are most expert in knowledge of the Vedas.
The Vedic culture, or Vedanta (the science of God), is respected all over the world, and there are people everywhere anxious to understand its purport. The highest perfectional stage of Vedic cultural understanding is explained in Bhagavad-gita, in the Fifteenth Chapter, wherein the Lord says that the purpose of all the Vedas is to understand Him (Lord Krishna). (Bg. 15.15)
Fortunate are those attracted to Vedic cultural life. The Hindus call themselves followers of the Vedas. Some say they follow the Sama Veda, and some say they follow the Rg Veda. There are different followers of different sections of the Vedas who more or less declare that they are Vedic followers. Factually, however, they are not followers of the Vedas because they do not follow the rules and regulations of the Vedas. Therefore Lord Caitanya says that since the so-called followers of the Vedas perform all kinds of sinful activities, the number of the actual followers of the Vedas is very small; and even in this small, exclusive, number, most are addicted to the process of karma-kanda, the process by which one can elevate himself to the perfectional stage of economic development. Most strict followers of the Vedic system of life are attached to karma-kanda, or the sacrificial portion of the Vedas for worship of different demigods. They are attached to particular portions for particular material results. Out of many millions of such followers of the karma-kanda process, some actually engage in the process of understanding the Supreme, the Absolute Truth. They are called jnanis. Perfection for a jnani lies in attaining the stage of brahma-bhuta, or self-realization. Only after self-realization is attained does the stage of understanding devotional service begin. The conclusion is that one can begin the process of devotional service, or bhakti, when one is actually self-realized. One entangled in the bodily concept of existence cannot understand the process of devotional service.
“Therefore,” the First Code states, “I shall now try to explain the process of devotional service.” This indicates that this process of devotional service is for the already liberated and self-realized. In the Vedanta-sutra the first aphorism is athato brahma-jijnasa. This brahma-jijnasa, or inquiry into the Supreme Absolute Truth, concerns those who have been elevated to the position of jnana-kanda (philosophical speculation) from the lower stage of karma-kanda (pious fruitive work). Only when a man is perfectly situated in the realization that he isn’t body but pure spirit soul can he begin the process of bhakti, or devotional service.
sa tv asmin parama-prema-rupa
sa—devotional service; tu—but; asmin—in this description of bhakti; parama—highest stage; prema-rupa—love of Godhead.
But in this description of devotional service, the highest stage is love of God.
As stated before, after attainment of the highest stage of self-realization, one becomes situated in the devotional service of the Lord. The perfection of devotional service is the attainment of love of God. Love of God involves the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the devotee, and the process of devotional service. Self-realization (brahma-bhuta) is the beginning of spiritual life; it is not the perfectional stage of complete spiritual realization. One may understand that he is not this body and has nothing to do with this material world. That realization is his freedom or liberation from material entanglement, but that is not the perfectional stage. The perfectional stage begins with the activities of the self-realized position. One must act in the understanding that a living entity is eternally the subordinate servitor of the Supreme Lord-otherwise there is no meaning of bhakti, or self-realization, if one is puffed up with the idea that he is the Supreme Brahman, or that he has become one with Narayana, or that he has merged into the supreme brahmajyoti effulgence, he has not grasped the perfection of life. The self-realized may be highly learned and have understanding, but that is not the perfectional stage. In Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that persons who are falsely puffed up and who think they have become liberated by understanding their constitutional position as Brahman, or spirit soul, are factually still contaminated. Their intelligence isnot purified because they have no understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
According to Srimad-Bhagavatam there are three levels of transcendentalists. There are the self-realized transcendentalists who are knowers of the impersonal Brahman feature of the Absolute Truth; there are the knowers of the localized position of the Supreme as Paramatma, as understood by the process of yogic mysticism; and there are bhaktas, persons who are already in knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and who engage in the devotional service of the Lord. Those who simply understand that man is not matter but spirit soul and who desire to merge into the Supreme Spirit Soul are in the lowest transcendental position. Above them are those mystics who, by meditation, can see within themselves the four-handed Visnu within the heart. They are on the second level. But persons who actually associate with the Supreme Lord Krishna are the highest among all transcendentalists. In the Sixth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita the Lord says:
yoginam api sarvesam
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam
sa me yuktatamo matah
“And of all yogi’s, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Bg. 6.47) That is the beginning in the attainment of the highest perfectional stage, prema, or love of God.
Rupa Gosvami, the most authorized devotee in the devotional line, said that there are different stages in coming to the point of love of Godhead. The first requirement is that one should be sufficiently faithful about attaining love of Godhead. Bhagavad-gita teaches that one should give up all other processes of self-realization and fully surrender unto the Supreme Lord, Krishna. That is faith. One who has full faith in Krishna and surrenders unto Him is eligible to be raised to the highest perfectional stage of prema. Lord Caitanya taught that prema is the highest perfectional stage of human life. Some persons are addicted to the processes of religion, and others are addicted to economic development, sense gratification or the idea of salvation from material existence. But prema, or love of Godhead, is above all these stages; this highest stage of love is above religion, above economic development, above sense gratification and above liberation or salvation. It begins with firm faith that one who engages in full devotional service has attained perfection in all of these processes. This faith is the beginning in the attainment of love of Godhead.
If one continues to be elevated more and more, he realizes his association with persons already situated in the highest perfection of love of Godhead. Simply by mental speculation or so-called meditation, one cannot rise to the perfection of love of Godhead. But if one associates with pure devotees or an elevated devotional society, the next step is bhajana-kriya, acceptance of the regulative principles for worshiping the Supreme Lord. When one associates with a pure devotee of the Lord, he naturally accepts such a person as his spiritual master, and when one accepts a pure devotee as spiritual master, the duty of the spiritual master is to train the neophyte devotee in the principles of regulative principles of devotional service, or vaidhi-bhakti. The regulative principles of devotional service are based on one’s capacity to serve the Lord. The expert spiritual master engages his followers in work that will gradually develop their consciousness of service to the Lord. Therefore the preliminary step in understanding prema, love of Godhead, is to approach a proper pure devotee and accept him as the spiritual master.
The next stage is reached whenone regularly performs the primary principles of devotional service under the guidance of the spiritual master. Then, gradually, all the misgivings of material life are vanquished. There are many habits we acquire in the association of material contamination, chief of which are illicit sex relations, meat eating, intoxication and gambling. One who engages in the regulative principles of devotional service is first of all restricted by the expert spiritual master to abstain from these four principles of sinful life. One cannot rise to the highest perfectional stage of love of Godhead unless he is purified, for God is pure. In Bhagavad-gita, when Arjuna accepted Krishna as the Supreme Lord, he said, “pavitram paramam bhavan.” Pavitram paramam means the purest. The Lord is the purest, and if one wants to serve the Supreme Lord, he must also be pure. Unless one is pure, he cannot understand what the Personality of Godhead is, nor can he engage in His service in love, for devotional service, as stated before, begins from the point of self-realization, when all misgivings of materialistic life are vanquished.
After following the regulative principles and purifying the material senses, one next attains nistha, which is firm faith in the Lord. When one attains this stage, he has firm faith in the personal conception of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. No one can persuade him to deviate to the understanding that God is impersonal and has no form, or that any form created by imagination can be accepted as God. These more or less nonsensical conceptions of the Supreme Lord cannot dissuade him from firm faith in the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. In Bhagavad-gita the Lord has stressed in practically all the verses that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but there are many scholars and many commentators who, despite Lord Krishna’s stressing this point, deny the personal conception of the Lord. Even some great scholars who have written commentaries on Bhagavad-gita say that one does not have to surrender unto the Personality of Godhead, Krishna, and that one should not even accept Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead but should accept instead that which is within Krishna as Supreme. Such fools do not know what is within and what is without. They comment according to their own whims. Such persons cannot be elevated to the highest stage of love of Godhead. They may be scholarly, and they may be elevated in other departments of knowledge, but they are not even neophytes in the process of attaining the highest perfection, love of Godhead. Nistha indicates acceptance of the words of Bhagavad-gita, the words of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as they are, without deviation and without commentary.
(I)f one is fortunately able to rise to the stage of nistha, after vanquishing all misgivings wrought by material existence, he can then rise to the stage of attachment, which is the beginning of love of Godhead. By progressing, one attains a more advanced stage of relishing a reciprocal exchange between the Lord and himself. Every living entity is eternally related to the Supreme Lord, and this relationship is in one of many different transcendental relationships. At the stage called asakti, or attachment, one can understand his relationship with the Supreme Lord. Understanding one’s position in relationship with the Lord is the beginning of reciprocation. By constant reciprocation between the Lord and the devotee, one is elevated to the highest stage of love of Godhead.
amrta—eternal; svarupa—character; ca—also.
This stage of devotional life is eternal.
When one attains the perfectional stage of love of Godhead, he becomes immortal even in his present body. In Bhagavad-gita the Lord says that any person who simply understands His transcendental activities and His appearance and disappearance in this material world becomes liberated, and after quitting his present body, he at once reaches His abode. Therefore it is to be understood that one who has attained this love of God has perfect knowledge, and even if he falls short of perfect knowledge, he has the preliminary perfection of life that a living entity can attain. The greatest misconception of self-realization is to think of oneself as being one with the Supreme. Persons under this misconception cannot be raised to the highest stage of love. Therefore one who has attained the highest stage of loving service to the Lord has understood his subordinate position.
Although the Lord and the living entities are qualitatively one, the living entities are limited, and the Lord is unlimited. This understanding is called amrta-svarupa, and it makes one eligible to be eternally situated. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam there is a prayer: “O Supreme Eternal, if the living entities were equal with You and were all-pervading and all-powerful like You, there would be no possibility of their being controlled by the external energy, maya.” Therefore, the living entities should be accepted as fragmental portions of the Supreme. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gita, wherein the Lord says, “The living entities are My fragmental portions.” As fragmental portions, they are qualitatively one with the Supreme, but they are not unlimited.
One who is convinced that he is eternally a servitor of the Supreme Lord is called immortal. Unless one can understand that as a living entity he is eternally a servitor of the Supreme, there is no question of immortality. One who accepts this position, however, becomes immortal. In other words, those under the misconception that the living entity and the Supreme Lord are equal in all respects, both qualitatively and quantitatively, are mistaken, and they are still bound to remain in the material world. They are not elevated to the position of immortality.
Upon attaining love of God, one immediately becomes immortal and no longer has to change his material body. Even if he is not perfected in love of Godhead, his devotional service in this line is considered immortal. Any action in karma-kanda or jnana-kanda will be finished with the change of body, but devotional service, even if not rendered perfectly, will continue into the next life, and the living entity will be allowed to make further progress. The constitutional position of the living entity as a fragment of the Supreme Lord is confirmed in Srimad-Bhagavatam as well as in the Upanisads. The Svetasvatara Upanisad states that if the tip of a hair were divided into one hundred parts and then again one part were divided into another one hundred divisions, that one ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair would be the size of the living entity. This fragmental position of the portions of the Supreme Lord is confirmed in Bhagavad-gita to be eternal; it cannot be changed. One who understands his constitutional position as a fragmental part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and engages himself in devotional service with all seriousness at once becomes immortal.