by Srikanth

Narada Bhakti Sutras retreat at Rochester was an enriching experience of devotion attended by about 25 devotees. Swami Yogatmanandaji followed the commentary written by Swami Bhuteshanandaji (“Narada Bhakti Sutras,” published in 1998), who delivered lectures on this subject in Japan.

The Sutras do not conform to the literature rules seen in aphorisms that are characterized by their pithiness. The scripture itself begins with the necessary qualities of the student to read the Sutras and then deals with the description of the goal called supreme devotion, which is of a blissful, ever-satisfying and immortal nature; why devotion is superior to other yogas; Gopis of Vrindavan as the ideal devotees who on the face of it seem to be scandalous but their love is divine only because of their awareness of Sri Krishna being God incarnate; and how to practice devotion: both the do’s and don’ts.

Narada asserts that the devotion does not require any other accessory like knowledge or other yogas for its inception. Even the definition of God, to whom the devotion is directed, is not necessary, as love is present in every person. The Sutras present the processes to cultivate devotion as applications of other yogas. However, Narada doesn’t acknowledge his methods as the mainstays of other yogas, thereby maintaining the tenor of his Sutras where devotion was glorified up to the hilt, sometimes making you feel as though it’s a bit of an oversell. He arbitrarily claims the path of devotion to be superior to other yogic paths, only because the goal and the means are the same (love) in the path of devotion unlike in other paths. Also the insinuation that other yogic paths involve pride, and God, therefore, prefers devotion is somewhat preposterous.

If one glosses over such an excessive marketing pitch of devotion, the Sutras themselves are presented as a very beautiful harmonious blend of all the yogas in the ambit of a non-dualistic goal, which is perhaps unique amongst the devotional scriptures. It is somewhat a pity that a great sage like Narada had missed to highlight its strength that way. Narada’s definition of devotion as surrendering the fruits of action to God and extreme anguish if He is forgotten blends the idea of karma and meditation techniques into devotion. Practices like maintaining holy company and avoiding secular company (even if good) to cross over the ocean of delusion etc. makes use of discernment for cultivating devotion. His arguments along with Bhuteshanandaji’s commentary on why every mentioned practice in the Sutras for cultivating devotion is helpful are cogent.

Swami Kripamayanandaji, head of Vedanta Center in Toronto, graced the occasion by conducting two inspirational story-telling sessions along with answering the retreatants’ questions. On 08 August, he presented a photo-tour of his visit to Japan. The coincidence of a photo presentation of Japan, where the commentary of Bhuteshanadaji had its roots, besides the date of 08 August, which was the eve of the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki (or the actual day of 09 August in Japan by then), couldn’t be missed. The completion of only about 65 verses in the retreat, which was what Swami Bhuteshanandaji had seen as part of the book before his passing away, was another coincidence.