proktena bhakti-yogena bhajato māsakṛn muneḥ |
kāmā hṛdayyā naśyanti sarve mayi hṛdi sthite ||
All material desires in the heart of the wise person who constantly worships me through the process of bhakti-yoga as it has been described [here] are destroyed, for I am situated there in his heart. (11.20.29)Comment by Madhusudan Saraswati in Bhakti-rasāyana, 1.1:
By following statements like this by the Lord and having firm faith in the practices by which one attains bhakti, one sends the entirety of the love one has for his objects [of love] and [thus] his mind becomes indifferent to the sense objects.
The mental modifications (mano-vṛtti) of such a greatly fortunate person, whoever he is, are imbued with the form of the Lord upon being melted by hearing works of literature that gather together the profound glories of the Lord, and this taking of the Lord’s shape is the goal of all sādhana [whether bhakti or yoga, etc.].
This taking on of the Lord’s shape is known as the sthāyi-bhāva of rati [love], and when it is combined with the other ingredients, i.e., vibhāvas, anubhāvas and vyabhicāris, it is manifest as rasa, which is the direct experience of the highest bliss. Those who are in actual knowledge of rasa call such bhakti-yoga the ultimate and supreme goal of human life.
Madhusudana Saraswati in Bhakti-rasāyana has a very interesting take on bhakti, quite original in many ways. It is rather difficult to trace any particular paramparā for bhakti within the Advaita tradition, but there clearly is one. It seems that it results from a direct engagement with the Bhāgavatam, to which Madhusudana Saraswati is said to have written a commentary.
According to what is known of his life, Madhusudan is another son of Nabadwip Dham, though perhaps unremembered there. Still, he was there in the immediate post-Chaitanya period and seems to have gone to Jagannath Puri and then to Benares after finishing studying Nyaya and the such in Nabadwip. There he wrote a famous rebuttal to Vyasa Tirtha of the Madhva line, Advaita-siddhi, which is one of his most famous books. The commentary to the Gita (Gūḍhārtha-dīpikā) is another famous work.
But for us, we are particularly interested in the great affinity he shows for bhakti, which he defends in his Gita commentary also. And in this BR he quite clearly states near the very beginning, "Jñāna-yoga’s upper limit is bhakti-yoga." (asya ca jñāna-yogasya bhakti-yogo'vadhiḥ), by which he means that when you have fulfilled the purpose of jñāna, you are ready for bhakti.
And Madhusudana quite directly states that "According to these words of the Lord, aṣṭāṅga-yoga should be see included within the jñāna path." (bhagavad-vacanenāṣṭāṅga-yogo'pi jñāna-yogāntargato draṣṭavyaḥ)
But his approach is somewhat different from the bhakti theologians, and so is of great interest.
Many years ago it came to me that all philosophies are fundamentally bhedābheda, they simply slice the cake in different ways. But rarely is there a perfect balance, or at least the mystery of the "perfect balance" is something that cannot be easily put into words. When this world and that, internal and external become one, and yet remain intact, their interplay, however interpreted, an endless source of rasa, one might be said to be truly liberated.
But "balance" is the key. The force needed to achieve it might be madness, especially for one who has been confined by dharmas and has to make a break. For another, one who is particularly tamasik, a nice little suit of dharma might be the best fit -- as it was for nearly everyone who joined Iskcon, at least in my generation. And there are as many prescriptions for how to find the balance as there are individuals seeking.
So after this insight came to me, I realized that we devotees had really put all our eggs into the bheda basket. Which is all very well and good... up to a point. What about the abheda? I asked, what is this abheda in bhakti? What does it mean experientially? And how does it compare to the abheda in Advaita?
And this of course leads to an analysis of rasa. What is this famous rasa of which everyone talks so exultantly?
And what is this prema, which in its ultimate state is abhinna-bhāvanam, a sense of complete identity with the Beloved?