Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bhakti Ratnakara: Chapter III: The Greatness of the Company of the Pure Devotees of Hari

Sankaradeva and others of his school interpreted the Bhagavata in the local language and gave it out as the supreme message of Vedanta (vedantaro parama tattva).[1] In the Bhakti Ratnakara he relies upon the authority of this purana. The sloka citations are systematically arranged in order of subject-matter and also commented upon. Later on, this book was rendered into Assamese verse by Ramacarana Thakura. The following is a translation[2] of the third chapter of that text- sadhu-sanga mahatmya.

Pada (Quatrains)

The chapter on greatness of human body I have finished;
now let me tell the significance of the company (sanga) of the Pure Devotees of Hari[3] (sadhu).
The company of Sadhus is the primary cause of devotion;
listen to it, Good People, with great elation. [57]
In the First Book’s eighteenth adhyaya,
Saunaka and other rsis say to Suta,
“Listen, O Suta, to these words of ours,
an extremely small amount of time spent in the company of Mahantas[4]- [58]
heaven, salvation do not measure up to it[5] [what to speak of all earth’s enjoyments];
we tell this certainly to you.”
In the words of Saunaka and others, I have told you the power of the Sadhus.
Listen again to what is said by Vidura. [59]
He utters these words praising Maitreya:
“The Mahantas are, in truth, the path to obtaining Krishna.
‘God of gods, O Janarddana[6] Hari’,
they who make great effort to sing ceaselessly- [60]
a little of their seva, of these most excellent ascetics (tapasvis), is rare and supremely difficult to obtain, know, O Best Among Sages!
Therefore [meeting you] surely I have obtained that privilege, rarest of the rare.”
I keep the words of Vidura here. [61]
It is in the Third Skandha, seventh adhyaya.
I have told it to you; please look it up and verify it afterwards, O saintly people.
The sanga of Bhaktas is the very limb (anga) of Bhakti,
Kapila says this before mother Devahuti. [62]
It is given in the twenty-fifth adhyaya of the Third Skandha;
listen to it, holy men, attentively.
He says, “Listen, O mother, carefully.
In the association (prasanga) of My single-minded (ekanta) devotees, [63]
all facts (katha) pertaining to Me are brought up
which reveal all My glories and
hearing which the mind and ears are greatly elated.
Whoever listens in their company in rapt attention, [64]
at first, respect (sraddha[7]) for Me, Hari, the path to release from maya,
is very quickly generated.
Immediately after this, one develops fond attachment (rati), then devotion (bhakti) in Me.
These three come in a chain, I have told thee.” [65]
Here I keep the quote of Kapila.
Listen to Dhruva’s words in the Fourth Skandha.
It is in the ninth adhyaya, know certainly;
before Bhagavanta, he supplicates respectfully, [66]
“O Lord Ananta! Acyuta! Bhagavanta!
Extremely pure all the single-minded Mahantas
who do always Thy Bhakti singularly-
let me have their prasanga regularly. [67]
If you say, ‘Why would you not ask for the boon of mukti?’
listen, O Lord, that is not necessary[8].
Staying always in the company of Thy Bhaktas,
all moments I will drink the nectar of Thy tale (katha). [68]
Drinking nectarine katha, I will become greatly intoxicated and
happily attain to the other shore, crossing world-ocean.”
I have told the power (mahima) of the holy in the words of Dhruva;
now listen to this power in the words of Rudra. [69]
To Krishna, he says, “O Lord! In Thy Feet
whosoever takes Sarana in body, mind and speech[9]-
that one parts with fear of samsara;
that one obtains exceeding profit. [70]
When the company of Bhaktas is regularly obtained,
only that is termed as maha-labha, the supreme and best profit
[because] all ends of human life (purusarthas) that there are including moksa;
satsanga, the Bhaktas’ company, exults, dancing on the heads of them all. [71]
The company of the Mahantas even for half a second (ardha-ksana);
that is not equaled by heaven’s seat and salvation
and the enjoyments of humans- king-rank etc.-
what to speak of them, they do not stand any comparison. [72]
Therefore supreme gain is the company of Bhaktas.”
At this much only, I keep Mahesa’s words.
Now listen to the words of King Rahugana.
It is the matter of the Fifth Skandha, extremely beautiful. [73]
At the conclusion of the description of the world-forest,
Rahugana makes this remark before Jada Bharata.
He says, “The particles of dust of the Lotus Feet of Thee
the one who worships always with reverence- [74]
all sins of that person are killed entirely
and discriminating (unadulterated) devotion (avyabhicarini bhakti) he develops in Krishna.
To me, this effect is nothing strange
since the overwhelming proof of this I myself have obtained. [75]
I, a man extremely wicked and greatly undiscriminating,
whose mind remained ensnared in many bad deeds.
But, conversing with Thee for merely two dandas,
all my ignorance is removed. [76]
By Thy grace, understanding (bodha) has dawned in me.
Oh! What will I say! The unbounded power of the Mahanta!”
Here we keep this utterance of Rahugana.
Now, O holy people! Listen to the word of Bhagavanta.
Before Akrura He says, in the Dasama Skandha, [77]
“All tirthas and devas that there be- wrought of water, stone, clay, etc.
Know that, although they are considered to be tirthas and devas,
yet it is only the Sadhus who are exceedingly superior[10]. [78]
[Because] The tirtha and deva take a long time to purify a person
but the Sadhus- they purify merely through sight (darsana)[11].”
I have quoted the word of Krishna from the Dasama.
Listen again, in the Eleventh, the word of Madhava. [79]
To Uddhava, Madhava utters the following:
“The one for whom the sun-like saint (santa-surya) has risen;
several ‘eyes’ like that of knowledge open up in him.
He then knows Bhakti differenced by saguna and nirguna. [80]
It is as if the sun itself has risen in such a person[‘s mind].
The single pair of eyes - wrought of flesh - out of that a person only sees [but does not perceive].
Only knowledge of name and form is born.
They cannot purify the mind of the person. [81]
Therefore, it is only the Saint who is god, it is the Saint who is friend[12]
the Saint only, the Self (atma) and Saint only, Me, Isvara Madhava[13] [the dispeller of maya].
Listen Uddhava, what more will I say.
As food which is life for all creatures; [82]
as Me, the only shelter (sarana) for the distressed;
as dharma which is the only wealth for the other world;
so is, for the one who has become fearful of samsara,
sole-refuge (sarana) in the pure devotees (santas)[14].” [83]
Again, in that Ekadasa, the twelfth adhyaya,
listen to what is being said by the King of Yadus.
Before Uddhava, Bhagavanta, Lord Hari
reveals the most secret doctrine (rahasya katha) [the real way to God] most carefully, [84]
“Listen Uddhava, I tell you asserting fiercely-
there is no dharma other than sat-sanga.
The paths of yoga, samkhya, dharma, renunciation (tyaga), austerities (tapa), bathing in tirthas,
rules and restrictions and control of the senses (niyama samyama), holding fasts (vrata), muttering esoteric mantras (japa), yajna and charity (dana), [85]
performing agnihotra and all other dharmas [apart from these] that may exist,
do not, in reality, make Me subservient (vasya) [to the aspirant] in the manner that
the company of Sadhus makes Me vasya [15].
Lo! I have told you the supreme mystery (rahasya). [86]
By listening to and even seeing the Vaisnavas,
great sinners become pure.
If one respectfully enters into conversation with the Mahanta,
then what can one say about the luck of such a person! [87]
The Sadhus, giving sage advice (upadesa) [relating to supreme truth (paramartha)]
cut asunder all doubts and hesitancies (samsaya) of the mind, completely.
Therefore, casting aside evil company, the intelligent men
will always take solely the company of the Sadhus.” [88]
[O people!] You all have heard these words of Krishna.
Knowing this, always make effort to obtain the company of Sadhus.
The topic of sat-sanga here I conclude.
Afraid of making the verses excessively lengthy, I (Ramacarana) will not say further. [89]
Omitting some verses here and there, I have composed these padas.
O Sadhus! Please do not find fault with me for this.
I salute, I salute Thee Krishna! Purifier of the Fallen (patita pavana)!
In Thy Feet I have taken Sarana. [90]
O Favorable One! Do this favor unto this orphaned one-
let Thy Devotees’ company always be mine;
I pray this much at Thy Feet only.
Utter ‘Rama! Rama!’ O men in the assembly! [91]

[1] Early History of the Vaisnava Faith and Movement in Assam: Sankaradeva and His Times, Maheswar Neog, Motilal Banarsidass, 1980, pp. 208.

[2] The edition brought out by Dattabaruva and Co. has been utilized in this translation.

[3] The term sadhu may be variously translated as ‘holy man’ etc. But in the current context, this appellation is used to mean only the pure (Eka-Saranite) devotees of Hari. See Santa Bhaktara Laksana (Chapter 4) for a discussion on the characteristics (laksana) of a sadhu.

[4] Madhavadeva’s definition of ‘Mahantain the Nama-ghosa:

The one on whose lips is ever present
the supremely beneficial Name of Hari
that alone is the Mahanta and only for him
all dharmas have come to fruition [216]

He who serves only the Lotus-Feet of Krishna  forsaking all desires (kamana) and [in this way]
does not ever transgress upon the code of conduct of the Vedas
who feels in mind at all times the great joy obtaining from that service of the Feet of Krishna
know it for sure that such an individual is termed as ‘Mahanta’. [595]

[5] From the original in Sanskrit (Bhakti Ratnakara, Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha edition):
तुलयाम लवेनापि न स्वर्गं नापुनर्भवम्।
भगवत्संगिसंगस्य मर्त्यानां किमुताशिषः॥१॥
भगवत्संगिनो विष्णुभक्ताः तेषां संगस्य लवेन अल्पमात्र कालेन स्वर्गमपवर्गञ्च न तुलयामः तुल्यं न पक्ष्यामः। मर्त्यानामाशिषो भोगाद्या न तुलयाम् इति किं वक्तव्यम्॥१॥

[6] On the epithet Janarddana, Madhavadeva says in the Nama-ghosa [164] that by ‘jana’ is meant maya. As the Lord destroys (mardana) the maya of the Bhaktas, therefore He has come to be known as Janarddana.
[7] May also be translated as faith.

[8] There is no need to ask for Mukti separately. Mukti comes as a by-product of the process of devotion in the company of single-minded Bhaktas.

[9] रुद्रगीतायामेवं रुद्रेण कथितम् ॥६॥
[10] न ह्यम्मयानि तीर्थानि न देवा मृच्छिलामयाः।
ते पुनन्त्युरुकालेन दर्शनादेव तु साधवः॥९॥

[11] Moreover, the devas are स्वार्थसाधनपराः while the Sadhus are परानुग्रहकातराः
देवाः स्वार्थसाधनपराः साधवस्तु परानुग्रहकातराः। परमार्थतश्च साधव एव देवाः त एव तीर्थानि च ॥१०॥

[12] सन्तो दिशन्ति चक्षूंषि वहिरर्कंसमुत्यिथः।
देवता बान्धवाः सन्तः सन्त आत्माहमेव च॥१२॥

[13] To illustrate the point that sat-sanga is superior to deva and tirtha, it is further said:
विभावसुमग्निं सेवमानस्य यथा शीतं भयं तमश्चाप्येति तथागमिसंसारभयं कर्मजाड्यं तन्मूलमज्ञानञ्च नक्ष्यतीत्यर्थः॥११॥    

[14] Therefore, in Sankaradeva’s Eka-Sarana system, sole-refuge or Sarana in Bhakta is made an essential component of Sarana.

[15] न रोधयति मां योगो न सांख्यं धर्म एव वा।
न स्वाध्यायो तपस्‌त्यागो नेष्टापूर्त्तं न दक्षिणा॥१४॥
व्रतानि यज्ञाक्ष्छ्न्दांसि तीर्थानि नियमा यमा:।
यथावरुन्धे सत्सङ्गः सर्वसङ्गापहो हि माम्‌॥१५॥

तत्त्र द्वादशाध्याये भगवानुद्धवाय परमतत्त्वं सुगोप्यं कथयति। सांख्ययोगादीनि साधनान्तरसापेक्षाणि सव्यभिचारीणि। सत्संगस्तु स्वतः समर्थफलोअव्यभिचारी च इति वर्णयितुमंगीकृत्याह द्वाभ्याम्। एतैर्द्वादशोपायैमां न वशीकरोति। योगोअष्टाङ्गः आसनादिः सांख्यं तत्त्वविवेकः धर्मोअहिंसादिः स्वाध्यायः वेदपाठः तपः कृच्छ्रादि त्यागो दानं सन्यास इत्यर्थः इष्टमग्निहोत्रादि पूर्त्तं कुपादिकर्म दक्षिण दानम्॥१४॥
व्रतान्येकादक्ष्युपवासादीनि यज्ञो देवतापूजा छ्न्दांसि रहस्यमन्त्राः तीर्थानि सतीर्थाः शौचाद्या द्वादश यमाः अहिंसाद्या द्वादश एतैः न तथा यथा सत्संगः अवरुन्धे वशीकरोति॥१५॥

Sankaradeva makes a clear summary of this along with the gist of the other slokas in the Krishna Uddhava Samvada section of his rendering of the Eleventh Book (Ekadasa) of the Bhagavata:

Madhava said, “Beloved Mate, listen to this verdict of Mine.
Let one read all the sastras and study all four Vedas
Yet, one would not have the capacity to do Bhakti to Me
As long as one does not take the Santas’ company.” [173]
Krishna then whispers this secret into the ear [of Uddhava],
O sakhi! Friend, closest and dearest! there is no other way (upaya) than good company (su-sanga)
Furthermore, I am not obtained by the ritualist (karmi) or the intellectualist (jnani);
It is only sadhu-sanga which certainly makes me subservient. [174]
I am not obtained through sacrifice, through yoga or through charity
Nor through the incanting of great mantras or bathing in a crore of tirthas
Nor can one get Me by holding fasts (upavasa) on days like Ekadasi, etc.
Nor can supreme renunciation (sannyasa) make me subservient [175]
In vain do people mortify themselves doing these various karmas
For it is only the company of Bhaktas which knows Me correctly.
O Uddhava, I have, in this manner, told you the most confidential secret of all
Since you are My [highest] devotee and supreme friend [176]
Know, O mate, that even greater than salvation is the congregation of Sadhus
Even a particle of which cannot be equaled by the pleasures of heaven
Through sadhu-sanga, many have attained to My abode
I will now go through their list, O mate, please listen to it currently [177]
The ghosts (yaksas) and monsters (raksas), the trees (vrksas), the birds (paksis) and herds and herds of beasts (pasus),
The women (stris) and the sudras, the outcastes and the untouchables (candalas)
And many other rascally individuals even worse than these!
By associating with Bhaktas obtained my state [178]
Brave Vibhisana, Vrsaparba, Bali and Bana
Jambavanta, Jatayu, Sugriva, Hanumana
The garland-maker (malakara), (hunchback) Kubji, Dharma Vyadha and the tuladhara,
the wives of the dvijas, residents of Vraja and the Gopis of devious conduct [179]
They did not do even an iota of tapas, vratas, sauca; they did not study the Vedas
They do not know what is jnana, having no knowledge at all of the sastras and also of the difference between the tattvas
Solely through the company of Sadhu they attained to Me happily
Apart from satsanga there is no other path presently [180]
Greater even than the gods (devas) and the pilgrimage-spots (tirthas) are the Bhaktas
When one does bhajana  to the Bhaktas, one’s state of work-torpidity (karma-jada) is removed and
only then one does Bhakti to Me, regarding Me as Lord
O sakhi! I tell this word of truth before thee [181]
There is no difference between My Bhakta and Me
The company of Santas is the same as My company
Therefore, do take the company of the Sadhus at all times without break
Listen, now, sakhi, to what is the distinguishing characteristic (laksana) of a Sadhu [182]
Knowing fully well that only the Bhakta is eligible for [receiving] all merits (punyas),
the one who, forsaking own-dharma [injunctions of the Vedas], does bhajana only to Me and
who has resolved unshakeably on Me solely,
that one, doubtless, is the greatest Sadhu only.” [183]

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