Srila Prabhupada explains yoga in simple words “The process of linking oneself with the Supreme is called yoga” (BG 6.3 purport). This process can be done through different methods and thereby gets a different name: Karma yoga – method of fruitive activities; Jnana yoga – method of empirical knowledge; Astanga yoga – method of meditating on the Supersoul by different physical process; Bhakti yoga – method of devotional service to the Supreme (BG 6.46, 6.47 purports). These processes can be analysed based on what the practitioner has to do, what he experiences, how quickly he links himself with the Supreme and finally if the practitioner continues with process even after attaining the goal. By the end of the analysis we can clearly see how Bhakti yoga is superior to all other paths based on sastric statements.
Setting the yardstick
janma-labhah parah pumsam
The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life (SB 2.1.6). This verse clearly sets the yardstick for all yoga systems to aim at. No matter what you do during your life, the ultimate test is, are you able to remember Lord Narayana at the time of death. In his purport to this verse Srila Prabhupada mentions how the practitioners of other yoga systems namely jnanis, karmis and yogis need the help of a pure devotee who gives the “finishing touch” and helps them achieve perfection.
Bhakti yoga versus Astanga Yoga
The process of Astanga Yoga involves the following – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. In the stage of Pranayama one has to vibrate “om” and regulate his breathing. This is stated in SB 2.1.17
abhyasen manasa suddham
mano yacchej jita-svaso
After sitting in the above manner, make the mind remember the three transcendental letters [a-u-m], and by regulating the breathing process, control the mind so as not to forget the transcendental seed.
In his purport to this verse Srila Prabhupada mentions that this process of controlling the mind by chanting “om” and controlling breath is mechanical and is recommended for those who cannot chant the names of the Lord directly. Later in the Samadhi stage the astanga yogi has to meditate on the limbs of Lord Vishnu starting from His feet. The Samadhi stage is described in the 2.1.19
mano nirvisayam yuktva
tatah kincana na smaret
padam tat paramam visnor
mano yatra prasidati
Thereafter, you should meditate upon the limbs of Visnu, one after another, without being deviated from the conception of the complete body. Thus the mind becomes free from all sense objects. There should be no other thing to be thought upon. Because the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Visnu, is the Ultimate Truth, the mind becomes completely reconciled in Him only.
That which the astangi yogi does in the end, the Bhakti yogi starts from the initial stages of his process of chanting and hearing. Further if the astanga yogi’s heart is still impure he has to meditate on the Virat rupa form; if his heart is pure he can meditate on the supersoul and continue his process of satchakra yoga and attains liberation. Even this liberation is still at Brahman level. This is still inferior when compared to the destination which the Bhakti yogi reaches.
Bhakti Yogi verses Karma yogi
Before a person becomes a Karma yogi, he would be interested in enjoying this material world and would be performing various worships recommended in the Vedas called as Karma kanda. Such persons are karma kandis. They want to enjoy in this world and after leaving this world they want to enjoy in the heaven. This is condemned by Srila Sukadev Goswami in the following verse
sabdasya hi brahmana esa pantha
yan namabhir dhyayati dhir aparthaih
paribhramams tatra na vindate ‘rthan
mayamaye vasanaya sayanah
The way of presentation of the Vedic sounds is so bewildering that it directs the intelligence of the people to meaningless things like the heavenly kingdoms. The conditioned souls hover in dreams of such heavenly illusory pleasures, but actually they do not relish any tangible happiness in such places (SB 2.2.2).
When doing different types of worship, as mentioned earlier, the karma kandi also gets the guidance of a devotee who encourages him to worship Vishnu. The devotee encourages him by saying this verse
akamah sarva-kamo va
yajeta purusam param
A person who has broader intelligence, whether he be full of all material desire, without any material desire, or desiring liberation, must by all means worship the supreme whole, the Personality of Godhead (2.3.10).
From a karma kandi he transforms first to karma yogi. “A karma-yogi is someone who has accepted transcendence as his objective”. He is not interested in getting more material happiness but wants to leave the material world (SUM 3.16 p.67). He controls the active senses through mind and acts without attachment
yas tv indriyani manasa
asaktah sa visisyate
On the other hand, if a sincere person tries to control the active senses by the mind and begins karma-yoga [in Krsna consciousness] without attachment, he is by far superior (BG 3.7). Karma yogi goes on doing his occupational duties without attachment and later gains knowledge. Then he can progress to become Jnana yogi or directly take up Bhakti Yoga. In contrast a Bhakti Yogi becomes free from the effect of material modes; his mind is fully fixed in Krsna as he knows his relationship with Krsna; in that consciousness “whatever he does, he does for Krsna”. In this way he carries out his prescribed duty of doing sacrifice and satisfying Krsna. The results from “such work certainly merge into transcendence” and does not produce material effects (BG 4.23 purport). Thus Bhakti Yoga is superior to Karma Yoga.
Bhakti yoga versus Jnana Yoga
A Jnana yogi is sense controlled, checks the force of desire and anger, well situated and happy in this world, his happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within and whose aim is inward(BG 5.22-24).
yo ‘ntah-sukho ‘ntar-aramas
tathantar-jyotir eva yah
sa yogi brahma-nirvanam
One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within, and whose aim is inward is actually the perfect mystic. He is liberated in the Supreme, and ultimately he attains the Supreme (BG 5.24).
A bhakti yogi is helped by the Lord who sends him a Guru. He gets initiated by the guru and gets the seed of bhakti from Guru (SB 2.2.30 purport). He must render service to Guru, enquire from Guru submissively and receives transcendental knowledge (BG 4.34, 4.35).
tad viddhi pranipatena
upadeksyanti te jnanam
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth (BG 4.34).
This knowledge is pure and sublime and a person who successfully practises devotional service “enjoys this knowledge within himself” (BG 4.38).
na hi jnanena sadrsam
pavitram iha vidyate
tat svayam yoga-samsiddhah
In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has become accomplished in the practice of devotional service enjoys this knowledge within himself in due course of time (BG 4.38).He need not search for peace outside because he is peaceful within himself (BG 4.38 purport). Bhakti helps one in sense control and overcome the influence of sex desire and desire for profit, adoration and distinction (2.2.12 purport). The below verse shows how Bhakti yogi gets devotion, direct experience of Lord and detachment by bhakti process.
bhaktih paresanubhavo viraktir
anyatra caisa trika eka-kalah
prapadyamanasya yathasnatah syus
tustih pustih ksud-apayo ‘nu-ghasam
Devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from other things—these three occur simultaneously for one who has taken shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the same way that pleasure, nourishment and relief from hunger come simultaneously and increasingly, with each bite, for a person engaged in eating (SB 11.2.42).
In this way it is clear that Bhakti yoga is superior to Jnana yoga as well.
Special features of Bhakti yoga
In addition to being superior to other yoga types, Bhakti has certain unique features which make it stand alone. They are as follows
- While other processes go up to the point of giving liberation, Bhakti is the only process which gives Prema or love of God. This is confirmed by Lord Brahma after thoroughly reading the entire Vedas for three times.
bhagavan brahma kartsnyena
trir anviksya manisaya
tad adhyavasyat kuta-stho
ratir atman yato bhavet
The great personality Brahma, with great attention and concentration of the mind, studied the Vedas three times, and after scrutinizingly examining them, he ascertained that attraction for the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna is the highest perfection of religion.
- It is confirmed by great acharyas that Bhakti yoga is the auspicious way of deliverance, it is “easy, simple, natural, and free from trouble, but is the only source of happiness for the human being” (SB 2.2.33)
na hy ato ‘nyah sivah pantha
visatah samsrtav iha
bhakti-yogo yato bhavet
For those who are wandering in the material universe, there is no more auspicious means of deliverance than what is aimed at in the direct devotional service of Lord Krsna.
- While other yoga practitioners have to give up their process and take up bhakti to attain perfection, a bhakti yogi continues to practise bhakti even after attaining perfection.
- Bhakti yoga gives satisfaction to soul and not merely relief from the disturbances of desire and lust. Srila Narada Muni explains this to Srila Vyasadev in SB 1.6.35
tathatmaddha na samyati
It is true that by practicing restraint of the senses by the yoga system one can get relief from the disturbances of desire and lust, but this is not sufficient to give satisfaction to the soul, for this [satisfaction] is derived from devotional service to the Personality of Godhead.
Even though other processes may seem to give relief from the disturbances of desire and lust, still the impurities reside in the heart. In his purport to SB 2.8.5 Srila Prabhupada gives an excellent example to illustrate this. He says that a small quantity of water with impurities can be purified by chemical process but even by slight agitation the impurities come up again. Practitioners of other yoga systems face this problem and the example of Visvamirta Muni is given for illustration. On the contrary, the Lord personally enters the heart of the Bhakti yogi and cleanses it so that it becomes clean like pools of water in autumn season.
dhunoti samalam krsnah
salilasya yatha carat
The sound incarnation of Lord Krsna, the Supreme Soul [i.e. Srimad-Bhagavatam], enters into the heart of a self-realized devotee, sits on the lotus flower of his loving relationship, and thus cleanses the dust of material association, such as lust, anger and hankering. Thus it acts like autumnal rains upon pools of muddy water (SB 2.8.5).
In this way by analysing and comparing Bhakti yoga other yoga processes we can understand that it is not only superior to other processes but it has very unique features which makes it unmatchable and unreachable by other processes. No wonder Srila Sukadev Goswami concludes that every human being should take up this process.
tasmat sarvatmana rajan
harih sarvatra sarvada
srotavyah kirtitavyas ca
smartavyo bhagavan nrnam
O King, it is therefore essential that every human being hear about, glorify and remember the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, always and everywhere (SB 2.2.36).
The article is an answer to the Open Book Exam (Canto 2), by Adi Purusa Dasa, to the question: “Discuss the superiority of Bhakti yoga compared to all other paths based on sastric statements.”