DEVOTION AND SUPREME DEVOTION
BHAKTI AND PARĀBHAKTI IN ADVAITA VEDĀNTA
Once an ardent devotee of the Lord Rama was offering his puja to an idol (murti) of Sri Rama with great devotion.
A Seer was watching him perform the pūja.
The Seer asked him, “So, to which Sri Rama are you offering your obeisances?”
Confused, the devotee, asked, “Holy Sire, I do not understand your question. There is only one Rama. Are there more than one Rama-s?”
The Seer explained, “There is one Rama who is the son of king Dashratha. There is another Rama who is the husband of mā Sita. And there is Rama who went on exile and helped the saints and sadhus in the forest. And, the Rama who became the righteous king of Ayōdhyā. Still there in another Rama who pervades in the whole universe (ghat ghat mein Rām bassey). Finally, there is the Rama that resides as the inmost Self of all and everything.”
The Sage continued, “When a person chants the Holy name of Rama, s/he invokes a particular image of Sri Rama according to her/his ruling mental impressions, samsakāra-s. All forms of chanting and Bhakti are beneficial of course. However, when you take a stand in the Self of All and do the chanting, it is called Parābhakti.”
Ādi Śankara in his philosophical sub-text, prakaraṇa grantha, Vivekacūdamaṇi, the Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, states that among the means of spiritual liberation, mokṣa, devotion, bhakti, takes the foremost place. He defines Bhakti as the contemplation of one’s own true nature:
मोक्षकारणसामग्र्यां भक्तिरेव गरीयसी ।
स्वस्वरूपानुसन्धानं भक्तिरित्यभिधीयते ॥ ३१॥
mokṣakāraṇasāmagryāṁ bhaktireva garīyasī |
svasvarūpānusandhānaṁ bhaktirityabhidhīyate || 31||
Among the means and conditions necessary for liberation, devotion (bhakti) alone is supreme. A constant contemplation of one’s own Real Nature (svarupa) is called devotion.
 Pranipata Chaitanya, trans., and Satinder Dhiman, revised and edited with notes and an Introduction (2012). Śri Śaṅkara’s Vivekachudāmani: Devanāgari Text, Transliteration Word-for-Word Meaning, and a Lucid English Translation. Burbank, CA: House of Metta. Available for a free download at: http://www.realization.org/down/sankara.vivekachudamani.chaitanya.pdf
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