Thursday, September 21, 2006

Story 36 – Story of Prahlada – 5

One day Prahlaada was brought to his father Hiranyakashipu again. Prahlaada prostrated at the feet of his father & Hiranyakashipu held him near asking him as to what he had learnt.

Prahlaada replied thus:

Sravanam keerthanam vishnoh smaranam paadasevanam
Archanam vandanam daasyam sakhyam aatmanivedanam

Ithi pumsaarpithavishnau bhakthischet nava lakshana
Kriyathe bhagavathyadhyaatmanye adheethamuttamam

A person should have sravanam, keerthanam, smaranam, paada sevanam, archanam, vandanam, daasyam, sakhyam, atma nivedanam thus nine forms of devotion towards Vishnu with total surrender of the mind. This is the supreme knowledge that I have learnt.


Srimad Bhagavatham is here explaining the famous nava vidhi bhakthi. It is this same that Narada explains as ekaadasha bhakthi in the Narada Bhakthi Sutras.

We should remember again and again that all these activities are meant to gain pure and unconditional love towards the ultimate reality of Lord knowing that the Lord alone is present in this illusory world. The nava forms or types of devotion are mentioned to so that a seeker as per his inner tendency and vasanas can take up that particular type & contemplate on the Lord with the help of that. Arjuna for example had sakhya bhakthi towards the Lord and it was tough for Arjuna to offer himself at the feet of the Lord.

Since each and every person in the world is of a different nature, therefore the way which each one will see the Lord will always differ. It is indeed tough to contemplate on the ultimate reality of Lord in his pure form of formless Nirguna Brahman. As the Lord himself mentions in Bhakthi Yoga that to contemplate on the formless is tough for people who have still not overcome body-consciousness (or the thought that I am the body – identification with the body which Vedanta calls as Ego or ahamkaara), therefore it is through the various types of contemplation of form Lord that we gain concentration thereby progressing in the spiritual path.

We have always remember that what is to be achieved through any activity in the world even if it is worship of the Lord is constant contemplation of the ultimate reality of Lord who is the only real entity present. If we forget this reality, then the activities became mechanical and will lead us to punya-paapa. These punya-paapas lead a person to take birth again and again. Birth-Death is the main reason for all the sufferings in the world. If a person is able to get rid of the notion that “I am the body”, then he will easily overcome sufferings and will be in turn led to the ultimate reality of Lord. Thus actions lead to the cycle of birth-death whereas actions performed remembering the ultimate reality of Lord will lead to liberation. Thus actions don’t matter but what matters is the attitude behind the action.

Remembering this, let us try to analyze the nine forms of bhakthi that Prahlaada is speaking about here.

SRAVANA – this is listening to the stories of the Lord, hearing to the glories of the Lord. The stories of the Lord openly propound the supremacy of the Lord, his control over the world & his all-pervasive nature. The stories as well point out to a seeker that the Lord is ever ready to help his devotees & that the Lord is the slave of his devotees. Thus through listening these stories, we tend to be move devoted to the Lord – our love for the Lord increases knowing that he alone can save us from the bondages of the world, he alone will give us eternal bliss which we are constantly seeking.

KEERTHANAM – this is a form of reflection of whatever we have learnt about the Lord. Once a person has heard the glories of the Lord, he becomes so attached to those glories of the all-pervasive Lord that he goes on singing the glories of the Lord. We can see this form of devotion well formed in Chaitanya Mahaprabhu who couldn’t stand/sit idle without singing the names of the Lord.

SMARANAM – remembering the Lord is a type of contemplation. The previous two forms of devotion are external and require physical involvement whereas this form of devotion is pure internal or mental. The devotee who has heard the glories of the Lord and has sung the glories of the Lord always remembers the glories of the Lord. Even if he is doing a worldly activity, still he cannot but remember the Lord – his mind is so fixed unto the Lord that unknowingly it clings to the Lord like iron filings getting attracted to a magnet. It is this form that we find in Prahlaada. Yoga Vasistha speaks about how Prahlaada wanted to take revenge of Vishnu who had killed his father & thereby found out that contemplation alone can make a person conquer Vishnu by putting him in the jail of one’s heart. Thus Prahlaada was totally following the smaranam form of devotion.

PAADASEVANAM – offering prostrations to the feet of the Lord. Offering prostrations to the Lord means following the teachings of the Lord in the scriptures. The feet symbolizes the substratum or base of the Lord which is knowledge through the scriptures. Thus offering prostration to the feet is following the sadhana mentioned in the scriptures which is constant contemplation of the ultimate reality of Lord.

ARCHANAM – taking the names of the Lord. This is done to focus the mind from external distractions. When a person is taking the name of the Lord, he is trying to focus the mind unto that which is implied through the names (which is the Lord alone). Thus taking the names of the Lord leads to concentration and focus of the mind which is getting distracted from the spiritual path. As Kanchi Acharyal mentions, naamas of the Lord are filled with so much power that it has effects which cannot be really observed. Thus we cannot find a person drinking liquor when the names of the lord is being taken.

VANDANAM – offering prostrations or pranaams to the Lord and his devotees. Here instead of implementing the teachings of the Lord, the devotee constantly offers his pranaams to the Lord in each and everything in the world. Thus he is prostrating the substratum or essence of all things in the world. When a devotee prostrates to each and everything in the world, he gets conquer over the Ego. The Ego is controlled and vanquished slowly through such prostrations.

DAASYAM – being like a servant to the Lord and his devotees. We find many of the saiva and vaishnava saints (Naayanmaars and Alwars resp) offering their service to the devotees of the Lord. The Lord becomes happy when his devotees are served. It is like a mother becoming happy when somebody does service to her child. It is also like a servant of a master becoming happy when another person serves the master – the Lord is the servant of all devotees as he himself has shown and expressed it in the scriptures.

SAKHYAM – being like a friend to the Lord. Sundarar, one of the saivite saint, was like a friend to the Lord. Arjuna has this devotion to the Lord – when a devotee sees the Lord as his friend, he totally surrenders to the friend. As we are well aware of, there are no secrets between friends. What a person might not tell to his parents or siblings, he will tell to his friend. Thus this type of devotion helps to gain trust in the Lord. Without trust, the spiritual progress cannot happen.

ATMA NIVEDANAM – whatever be the type of devotion, it has to culminate in offering oneself totally to the Lord. This is where the devotee totally offers his Ego to the Lord. Thus the ego of the devotee is vanquished & there remains nothing but the Lord alone, one without a second. Thus through dual perception or difference between the Lord and the devotee, this final state of merging unto the Lord happens & there is none other than the non-dual Lord alone.

Thus all forms of devotion ends in ATMA NIVEDANAM. As Prahlaada mentions, a devotee has to choose that form of devotion which is appealing to his nature & continue it for a longer period until it ends in ATMA NIVEDANAM.

This nine forms of bhakthi that prahlaada mentions is very important and if remembered-implemented in life, will lead a seeker to realize the ultimate reality of Lord in this very birth itself.

We will continue with what happened to Prahlaada in the next day.

Seeing that there was no change in Prahlaada, Hiranyakashipu pushed his son from his lap & ordered the soldiers to kill him. The soldiers tried to kill him with weapons, by giving poison, putting him into fire etc. But Prahlaada was totally merged in the ultimate reality of Lord and hence for such a realized saint, there can be no birth or death. Since they couldn’t kill the child, the child Prahlaada was again sent to the Gurus for learning.

Once while the Gurus were away, Prahlaada advised his co-students to contemplate on the ultimate reality of Lord thus:

“Dear friends!!! I learnt the Brahma Vidya from Narada when I was in the womb of my father. It is very good if a person is contemplate on the ultimate reality of Lord through knowledge at a very young age. As aging happens a person cannot use his intellect much & the mind will be wavering. Know that the Lord exists in the entire world. Whatever is seen as the illusory world is only an illusion in the reality of Lord. Knowing that the Lord alone is present everywhere, see the Lord as everything. Do not distinguish between good or bad, dharma or adharma, sukha or dukha – always contemplate on the Lord as the substratum of everything.

Know that there are only two entities when we analyze the world – one is Consciousness and the other is the insentient entities of the world. The insentient entities or jada vasthus are only an illusion in the ultimate reality of Consciousness. The insentient entities seem to be sentient and as existing because of the Conscious substratum of Lord who is illumining them at all times. Even though Consciousness is the substratum of insentient entities but still it is not at all affected by the activities or changes of the insentient entities.”


Aging or growing up is but for the body alone and since “I” am the Self, I have no aging at all. This splitting of the Self from the body is very tough indeed to achieve. We may seem to have achieved this but still at times of sufferings of the body, we will succumb to the same. We have to always remember that mere listening or knowing things is not realization. Realization is implementing the knowledge that we have learnt in life. This is why the Mundaka Upanishad proclaims that “this Self is not realized through giving discourses, lot of listening, reflecting or due to the intellect – but it is realized by the strong desire of a seeker to realize it”.

Thus until a person realizes the ultimate reality of lord, he hasn’t yet overcome the feeling that I am the body. Only in this case, the saint will not at all be affected by the state of the body. Ramana Maharshi was Samadhi in one of the caves in Tiruvannamalai – there were anthills over his body – his body was kind of mutilated by insects. We find Prahlaada also in that state as Prahlaada had realized the ultimate reality of Lord as the substratum of all existences. Thus even though Prahlaada was attacked in all ways and the soldiers tried to kill him, they couldn’t kill him. We find the same in the case of Ramana Maharshi also as Sheshadri Swamigal brought Ramana out of the cave where he was totally immersed in the reality without giving any attention to the body.

The Lord promises in many places in Gita that he takes care of the good and bad of the devotee. The final word on the same is:

Kaunteya Prathijaanihi na me bhakthah pranashyathi
O Arjuna! Know for sure that my devotee never perishes.

The Lord doesn’t make false promises like we do – the word of the Lord is the final word. We can find and many of us would have experienced the promise of the Lord fructifying in our very lives. Thus for a real devotee, there can be no harm whatsoever as the Lord takes care of such a devotee. There is only one criterion for the Lord to help the devotee – the devotee should totally surrender and seek the Lord. If we see seek the Lord like Draupadi did by holding on to her saree, the Lord will not help us. When a child seeks the mother all the while doing some other activity, the mother will not like it. Similar is the case with the Lord as well – as long as we don’t totally seek the Lord, the Lord will not come to our help.

In fact it is not the lord who is sitting in heaven who comes to help us – the Lord is ever present. The ever present grace of the Lord is accepted when we surrender totally and open our hearts to the Lord. As AMMA says, the Sun’s rays are always there but if a person sits inside his house closing all doors and windows all the while claiming that the Sun doesn’t give me rays – it is wrong. Similarly the Lord is always present in out very heart – but the grace of the Lord can be apprehended only if we open up our hearts. Opening the heart is done by totally surrendering unto the lord, seeing the Lord in everything and offering all activities unto the Lord. If we do this, very soon we will see the Lord showing himself to us and then the Lord will always be there to protect the devotee.

A realized saint or jeevan muktha is a pure devotee of the Lord. He knows and lives in the reality that everything is but the Lord alone, one without a second. Thus he doesn’t have any likes and dislikes – he sees everything as the Lord. He doesn’t see any distinction in the world – he doesn’t even distinguish between his body and others bodies because he sees everything as names and forms of the ultimate reality of lord. It is thus one-pointed vision of the Lord as present everywhere which is the final sadhana to realization. When a seeker thus contemplates on the Lord at all times & as the substratum of all beings, he overcomes Maya and thereby realizes his own very nature of non-dual Lord (merging unto the Lord and thereby getting rid of all illusory differences created in the world).

We will see the analysis of Chit (consciousness) and Jada (insentient entities) as Prahlaada is explaining in the next day.

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