Bhakti based on Knowledge
Bhakti is often frowned upon by the students of contemplation as a path for the dull-witted, but this view is only from an uninitiated student who have not yet delved deep into the imports of Upanishadic injunctions. Great Sage-bard like Sri Veda Vyasa in his immortal Bhagavad Gita have sung the glories of bhakti and even have written independent sutras dedicated to bhakti known as Narada Bhakti Sutras. Narada is a mystical symbol which represents a guide to Self-knowledge (Narada — Naram dadati iti Narada / he who expounds Naram (pointers to self-knowledge), the term Narayana literally in Sanskrit means path to Self-knowledge and simultaneously the guide or overlord of everything.
Here, a term that is often used is Naram, which is also seen in the puranas as Nara-Narayana sages in the story of King Prahalad, an epitome of bhakti towards Lord Vishnu. Consequently, this is also the theme of the Bhagavad Gita, where Bhagavan Sri Krishna guides the despondent warrior prince Arjuna, in this text also emphasis is given to a path of knowledge which does not neglect the factor of Bhakti or devotion.
Bhakti is praised as the supreme path, only since in the gradations of the very path the supreme most type of bhakti is total identification (love) of the yogi with the lord of the universe — Narayana. Unfortunately, this scientific or systematic approach to bhakti is often ignored and only the external traits are praised. This results in mere mechanical repetition of the path lead by the great Rishis of yore.
Srimadh Bhagavatham have given clear and precise guidelines about bhakti through the story of King Prahalada, where the Asura King Hiranyakasipu ask’s his son prahalada about his devotion to Lord Vishnu. Prahalada Says:
śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ
arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ
(Srimadh Bhagavatham 7.5.23)
Here when each term is scrutinized, it reveals a direct exposition of the methodology of practicing Bhakti.
Sravanam: The term sravanam is usually translated as listening to the scriptures, but here the true import is listening and a simultaneous reflection upon what is heard or studied from the scriptural literature.
Kirtanam: Kirtan is not only singing with different musical instruments, A satsang with a realized master is kirtanam for the master himself — where he is singing the glories of the Lord
Smaranam: Consistent and faithful remembrance of what is heard from the scriptures and the Guru and their affirmation.
Pada-Sevanam: Following the scriptural and injunctions put forward by great men of realization and following their path with complete faith.
Archanam/vandanam : They are the true traits of a true bhakta or devotee, Total and complete surrender of one’s action and their results along with one’s ego to the lord and remaining in a dasya bhav or a servant of the lord. This is a direct way to eliminate vanity or ego.
Sakhyam: Remaining cheerful and friendly to one’s own self and the world
Atma-nivedanam: Total surrender of one’s Self to the Altar of worship (Absolute Reality).
These injunctions if followed implicitly will liquidate one’s ego into the Vision of the Self or the Absolute reality which is the cause of the universe. Hence, Bhakti is very much a path laid down on the strong foundations of knowledge and not a blind following or imitation of rituals or worship.