Why Bhakti Yoga Is Superior

[Rama's bow]“Whether I am ordinary or not, I am only yours, O protector of Koshala. If this is true then Tulsi’s welfare is assured in all three worlds and three time periods.” (Dohavali, 84)

jaiseā mero rāvaro kevala kosalapāla |
tau tulasī ko hai bhalo tihūm̐ loka tihum̐ kāla ||84||

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Perhaps you’ve picked up a book or two on Hinduism and read some of the chapters. In so doing, you’ll likely come across the different types of yoga. The practice that we typically assign to the word relates to exercise only. It has its roots in meditational yoga, also known as ashtanga. Then there is jnana-yoga, where you link up to the Divine through deep study. There is hatha-yoga, which is like the meditational variety but focusing more on the breathing exercises and sitting postures, asanas. There is karma-yoga, where you work for a living but remain detached from the results.

Then there is bhakti-yoga, which is love and devotion to the Supreme Lord. The authors of these books like to tell you that all yogas are the same. “Just choose one that you like and stick to it. All paths lead to one destination.” But upon careful analysis, we come to learn just why the Vaishnava not only believes but confidently knows that bhakti is actually the culmination of all other yogas.

What draws the distinction? Why is bhakti different from meditation? Why is devotion superior to the study of important things like the difference between matter and spirit? The assessment is made through one factor alone: desire. In every other yoga there is some motive. In karma-yoga you must keep an eye on your attachments. If you’re working hard and earning a salary, what are you using the earnings for? Are you buying a new car for your personal enjoyment? Then your yoga is spoiled. Do you get distressed if there isn’t enough money in a given month? Again, you’re attached to the result.

In jnana-yoga you must have knowledge. Do you know what Brahman is? Can you explain how reincarnation works, quoting the specific verses from Vedic literature? Are you Brahman realized, where you no longer hanker or lament? If these criteria don’t fit your present consciousness, you have not succeeded in your yoga practice.

In bhakti-yoga there is only one desire: the Supreme Lord’s pleasure. Whether you do well for yourself is not so important. It should be noted that in the beginning the practice may not be pure. In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna, who is the Supreme Lord, says that four kinds of people initially approach Him to practice devotion.

catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ

janāḥ sukṛtino ‘rjuna

ārto jijñāsur arthārthī

jñānī ca bharatarṣabha

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me – the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

Since they are all looking for something, their devotion is not pure. But when they stick with it, their impurities eventually go away. Indeed, the other yogas automatically turn into bhakti when the motive shifts in the proper direction. This means that bhakti-yoga is the only one that is all-inclusive. It can involve meditation, worship, breathing exercises, reading, writing, working at the office, or practically anything the person outside of yoga does. Consciousness is the difference maker. It is for this reason that His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates bhakti-yoga as “Krishna consciousness” in English.

[Ramacharitamanasa]The above referenced verse from the Dohavali is further proof of the superiority of bhakti-yoga. As a fully surrendered soul experiencing the bliss of sharanagati, Goswami Tulsidas is not so much concerned with how he is viewed. Some take him to be ordinary, like a person disgusted with the world who turned to God as a last resort. Others view him as an exalted personality, the author of the famed Ramacharitamanasa. This book beautifully describes the life and pastimes of Shri Rama, an incarnation of God. Rama is the same Krishna, and thus the act of writing the book is itself love and devotion.

Whether he is ordinary or not, Tulsidas is fully surrendered to Rama. If this is true, then the poet’s welfare is assured. This is the philosophical point, not something of only personal relevance. It is up to Rama to decide if a person is fully surrendered, and the Vaishnava is always humble in their attitude. But the point is made to show that if one actually gives everything to Rama, they don’t have to worry.

What are the typical items of concern? Tulsidas mentions the three worlds. At present we reside in the middle planetary systems. The upper sphere is the heavenly realm and the lower the hellish one. In heaven you get more material delights and in hell you get punishments. On earth you get a little of both. We can take birth anywhere. It all depends on the results of actions, the fruits of karma.

The fact that Tulsidas knows he will be fine in heaven or hell shows a lack of motive. He does not want ascension to the heavenly realm, where he could live for a long time travelling from one desire tree to another. He is not afraid of going to hell, either. This is because if there is devotion to Rama, nothing else is needed.

Another thing to worry about is time. The three aspects of time are past, present and future. If you’re in pure bhakti-yoga, the present is the same as the future. This means that the afterlife loses its mystical nature. There is nothing to worry about since the future will be in devotion just like the present. Since the present represents the height of an existence, the past doesn’t matter anymore, either. Who cares how much I suffered in the past when now I am finally under the shelter of the worshiped arm of Shri Rama?

“After having rested on the worshiped arm of the Lord of the world, how can I now take rest on the arm of any other?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 21.16-17)

[Rama's arm]That arm defended against thousands of deadly night-rangers. That arm is the resting place for the goddess of fortune, Sita Devi. That arm protects the devotees and their devotion. That arm lifts the deluded consciousness out of darkness and into the light. That arm controls time and place, making the situation for the devotee always auspicious.

In Closing:

Shri Rama, of smile with charm,

Protecting devotees is His arm.

Against night-rangers defended,

Relief to King Sugriva extended.

Worlds and periods of time three,

In them devotee over anxiety is free.

This Tulsidas confidently knows,

Since with surrendered devotion he goes.

Categories: dohavali 81-120

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