Two Stages Of Devotion
Bhakti or devotion is a concept which is found throughout the world in one form or the other. From Christian prayers and Islamic namaz to Hindu puja and bhajans, elements of bhakti are present in all the religions. Hindu scriptures define bhakti as “Parama Prema-rupa Amruta Svarupa cha”. “Prema” means “love”. Every person has loved someone or experienced love in one form or the other. Love between two people creates a bond, an attachment between them. It results in a person experiencing both happiness and sorrow. But, bhakti is not just normal love but it is “parama prema rupa”—“supreme form of love”. It is called “supreme” because it neither causes attachment to sensory world nor traps a person in a never-ending cycle of happiness and sorrow. Instead it fills his life with bliss (ananda). Hence bhakti is called “amruta svarupa”. A bhakta/devotee is one who completely and selflessly surrenders himself to his object of devotion.
Hindu scriptures speak about two stages of bhakti. “Apara Bhakti” is the “lower” stage of bhakti. It is also called “Bheda Bhakti”. “Para Bhakti” is the higher stage of bhakti. It is also called “Abheda Bhakti”. “Bheda” means difference. Bheda Bhakti refers to devotion wherein the bhakta—worshipper—and Ishwara—the object of worship—are distinct. A devotee considers the God to be the creator and the man and the world to be the created. He is completely rooted in Vyavaharika Jnana. Hence such a bhakti is also called Dvaita Bhakti. On the other hand, the “Abheda Bhakti” which is higher stage of bhakti is exactly opposite to the lower stage. “Abheda” means no difference. As the name states, in this stage, there is no duality of bhakta and Ishwara. A devotee has developed an understanding of Paramarthika Satya and sees no difference between his true self and the God.
Prahalada, the son of Hiranyakashipu speaks about nine types of devotional services that can be practiced as follows:
Sravanam Kirtanam Vishnohsmaranam Padasevanam|
Archanam Vandanam Dasyam Sakhyam Atmanivedanam||
“Hearing, chanting, remembering, serving the feet, offering worship, offering prayers, serving as a servant, becoming the best friend and surrendering one’s ownself to Vishnu (God).”
Sravanam, Kirtanam and Smaranam refer to hearing, chanting and remembering about the God. People in bhakti will always love to hear about God and His play—lila—and indulge in chanting mantras and singing songs praising the God and his various manifestations. They spend every moment of their life remembering the God. They try to see the God in everything they do. “Padasevanam” and “Dasyam” literally means serving at feet of God and serving the God as His servant respectively. They refer to performing all the action as a service to God by surrendering at his feet. “Archanam” and “Vandanam” refer to offering worship and prayers to the God with proper rituals and offerings. The offerings may be five (panchopachar) or sixteen (shodashopachar) in number. “Sakhyam” refers to treating the God as one’s best friend.
The devotee here shares a bond of friendship with his deity whereas the bond is as that of master and servant in Dasya Bhakti. These devotional services involve external symbols and expressions. A bhakta while practising these services sees God in everything except his own self and he desires to be near the God, at His feet. These kind of devotional services are called Bheda Bhakti.
Prahalada also speaks about another type of devotional service. He calls it “Atmanivedanam”—offering one’s own true self to the God. In this bhakti, a devotee is not satisfied by staying near the God. He wants to completely merge his identity in the God. Just as a river merges into the ocean, so also a devotee wishes to merge into the God. Such bhakti where there is no duality of a worshipper and worshipped is called Abheda Bhakti.
By Nithin Sridhar