Mar 20, 2013

Bruce Lee and Bhakti - 1

Modern Indian religion, philosophy and politics is overwhelmingly influenced by the concept and practice of Bhakti - devotion to God and service to the Earth. This includes all schools of Hinduism (even agnostic schools admit that Bhakti is a catalyst), Sikhism, many major Buddhist schools, etc. Historically it has been a controversial concept, with different schools taking guarded positions. That's understandable, because ignorant 'religious' devotions can be toxic to spiritual and civilizational life. This is candidly admitted by the core texts of Bhakti themselves - like a statutory warning on the bottle's label. Non-Indian religions (Christianity, Islam and other religious cultures from the Middle East) are also mainly devotional cults around an idolized personality, real or imagined. Their history makes a compelling case for some of the above concerns, sometimes for the better but usually for the worse.

Politically and socially, a lot of problems arise due to ignorant devotion - whether it is to some theistic ideal or non-theistic ideology (such as Communism). In India, we have the benefit of a vast literature that has analyzed and described the process. Today we fail to benefit from this treasure because it is locked up in the Sanskrit language, which has been deliberately crushed by ruling powers for the past few centuries, and continues to be neglected. Here's a small sample of how Bhakti is discussed, and how misleading its stereotypes can be.

From the Narada Bhakti-sutras (2.25-27):
स तु कर्म-ज्ञान-योगेभ्योSप्यधिकतर । 
"Bhakti (laws of devotional exchange), on the other hand, is far superior to Karma (laws of action and Reaction), Jnaana (laws of philosophical speculation and Knowledge), and Yoga (laws of applied techniques for connecting and transacting with the unknown aspect of Knowledge of the Self)." 
फल-रूपत्वात् । 
"After all, Bhakti is the fruit of all endeavor (including the others mentioned above)." 
ईश्वरस्यापि अभिमानि-द्वेषित्वात् दैन्य-प्रियत्वाच्च । 
"Furthermore, the Lord dislikes the Self-directed ('proud') but is pleased with the humble." 
The relationship between Bhakti and Knowledge in Veda and Vedanta is very interesting. Without being facetious, here's a Bruce Lee interview that says it in a nutshell. Bruce Lee said he was influenced by Vedanta, particularly by Jiddu Krishnamurti. Taoism also shares a lot in common with this view:

When I first heard this 3-minute clip, I was surprised how part of it was almost verbatim with a gloss by Vadiraja Tirtha on a commentary by Jayatirtha (both savants of the Dvaita a school of Vedanta). Shri Vadiraja was defining "Devotion replete with Knowledge" (ज्ञानपूर्ण-भक्ति) in his gloss to Sri Jayatirtha's annotations to Madhva's commentary to Vedanta Sutra 3.2.19 (अम्बुवद् अग्रहणात् तु न तथात्वम्).

Madhvacarya is one Teacher who found a definition of Bhakti directly in the Vedanta-sutras. This is significant, if one were to admit that Bhakti (Love) is an intrinsic function of consciousness. Madhva's commentaries compare Bhakti to water, and Jnaana to the way water is consumed (or "used", "channeled"). Perhaps that's why this Jnaana is said to be eternally in the form of जिज्ञासा ("seeking", "thirst"). First watch the video, then read the following rough translation of a passage from that commentary to that Brahma-sutra:

Bhakti is defined as the innate quality of intense love and attachment to Vishnu (the All-Pervading Personality of Godhead), in full knowledge of His Greatness (माहात्म्य-ज्ञानपूर्वक-स्नेहो हि भक्तिः ।). Sentimental affection without a sound understanding is not real Bhakti (स्नेहेनाज्ञानाद् इति कुतो नोक्तम् ।). Ref. also Bhagavad Gita 10.7.

Bhakti expresses itself in different ways according to whatever circumstances the Jeeva (living entity) is placed in, just like water (अम्बुवत्)), which flows into different vessels or canals, or has different velocities under different pressures. The devotionally pure human being's Nature is supple and dynamic, without rigid, static moods or styles ... or rigid, egotistical opinions or reactions to mundane matters (such as making an absolute virtue out of physical "non-violence", or flinching from "money and women", etc.).

Instead, the Pure human being's Knowingness (ज्ञान) is emptied of conventional roles and mental identities, solely seeking to be a medium for the Pleasure of Godhead. Water can flow serenely and patiently, or it can rush fearlessly with surprising force. As a flexible instrument, he is easily moulded according to the wishes of the Beloved (which is not obedience to an extraneous 'Authority' but is based on nearness and knowingness).

Jnaana is like the strong and pure channel, vessel, or environment that firmly directs the velocity and direction of the flow of the water (ज्ञानेSपि दार्ढ्य-सूचनाय ग्रहणं इत्युक्तम् ।). Without the water, a channel or vessel has unfulfilled purpose. On the other hand, without a vessel, hose, canal or gradients in the environment, or if the vessel has cracks, then water remains stagnant or dissipates without being harnessed.

Jnaana represents control and restraint, and gives shape and form (स्वरूप-निरूपणार्थम् ।) to the expression of Bhakti.

Pure Bhakti flows spontaneously, just like water flows spontaneously whenever there is some gradient or impulse, as long as it is clear and in liquid state. Sometimes our conditioned state is compared to water being frozen. To flow again, it should thaw. Also, pure Bhakti brings complete self-discipline in the jeeva w.r.t. spiritual instruction, because there is no more self-resistance to directed flow (within the jeeva's own nature).

Vishnu (the Supreme Personality) is the impetus and reservoir of all rasa (aesthetic mind). But the quality of the Jnaana of the jeeva (धर्म-भूत-ज्ञान) determines how we wish to accept and express that fundamental current that flows through us, either directly connecting back to Him in communion, or indirectly through the sink of Maya (Illusion). In fully blossomed self-realization (विकास), we realize our true relationship (स्वरूप) with God.

Ultimately, Intelligent Devotion is about honestly and fully expressing one's Affection (स्नेह) for the Supreme Personality of Godhead in great freedom and without reservations - "अहैतुकी अप्रतिहता" (Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.2.6)

In order to reach such a state, we need to train every part of our being by a complete process involving all faculties, and by knowing the proper function and importance of all faculties and Tattvas. I like how Lee says, "...well then baby you better train every part of your body."

Bhakti is intrinsic to consciousness, and is spontaneous (instinctive). All states of consciousness, ranging from श्रद्धा ('Faith') to सङ्कल्प (Conviction) are only different grades of development of that fundamental characteristic of consciousness - as intention. In this era, Ramanuja reinstated this definition of consciousness as part of the rennaissance - replacing meaningless talk of "pure consciousness" that was in vogue at that time. All schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and other Indic religions are now in agreement on this.

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