The Story of Bhakti, Jnana and Vairagya

The superiority of bhakti over jnana and vairagya is beautifully brought out in the following story.
Before I narrate the story,let me translate the 3 important Sanskrit words appearing in the title. Bhakti,Jnana and Vairagya may be translated as Devotion,Knowledge and Dispassion respectively. Dispassion is that quality in a human being by which he would view all things(other than the vital) without passion.
This story appears at the very beginning of Bhagavata and is an apt introduction to the theme of the epic,which is bhakti or devotion. I will narrate the story below and attempt to capture the underlying significance of the same even to the present day.
In the story bhakti,jnana and vairagya are shown in the human form for the purpose of an intelligent dialogue with the sage Narada.
‘Bhakti’ starts her journey (along with her sons ‘Jnana’ and ‘Vairagya’) down south from the Dravidian land as a young lady,passes through Karnataka and Maharashtra and by the time they reach Gujarat,they become too weak and feeble even to walk. However,the moment ‘Bhakti’ sets her foot on the soil of Brindavan(which is the abode of bhakti),she regains her youth and energy. ‘Jnana’ and ‘Vairagya’,though, remain in the same state of unconsciousness. They continue to remain very old totally sapped of all energy. ‘Bhakti’ starts crying inconsolably at the plight of her children who are looking older than herself.
Sage Narada happens to pass by, sees the wailing young lady and wants to know the cause of her misery. ‘Bhakti’ tells that she is grieving for her two sons who are virtually unable to even move because of very ripe old age, even as she(‘Bhakti’)is enjoying youth. She asks Narada as to what needs to be done to revive her two sons who seem to be in a coma.
Narada,then,explains to ‘Bhakti’ the cause of the malady as follows:
‘O,young lady,listen attentively and understand the cause behind your plight. In the present age of ‘Kali'(kaliyuga)the qualities – jnana,bhakti and vairagya – all have vanished. This is because the Lord Krishna has departed to ‘Vaikunta’ at the end of his ‘avatar’ in the previous yuga(Dwaparayuga). He has,however,sent you(‘Bhakti’) to come down to earth and enter the minds of all true devotees or seekers of Krishna. He has sent you with ‘Moksha'(or Total Liberation) as the maid-servant and ‘Jnana’ and ‘Vairagya’ as sons’.
Having thus elaborated the circumstances in which the three(Jnana,Bhakti and Vairagya)are caught,Narada,then, waxes eloquent on the causes for the downfall of the qualities jnana, bhakti and vairagya during Kaliyuga.
He says as Brahmanas chant stories of the Lord indiscriminately to everyone just for the sake of gaining wealth,the story loses its spiritual worth(‘Katha saarasthato gatah’). Likewise when non-believers also go to holy places, the value of the sacred place is gone(‘Tirtha saarasthato gatah’). ‘Tapas’ and meditation lose their significance too when austerities are undertaken by wicked men with agitated minds pursuing unlimited desires,(‘Tapah saarathato gatah; Dhyanayoga phalam gatam’).
To the humanity with such tendencies,only bhakti can be cultivated and this alone can be the saviour.
Narada,then, offers to help revive the sons of Bhakti – ‘Jnana’ and ‘Vairagya’. He chants vedas,upanishads and bhagavadgita into the ears of Jnana and Vairagya in order to revive their youth. However,it has only a marginal effect on them(They get up just once and then get back to the same state of unconsciousness). Now Narada is quite confused. How else is he going to manage to revive the two sons of Bhakti?
He dashes off to Badrikasram on the Himalayas and seeks counsel of great sages Sanaka and his 3 brothers. What,then,follows is a lengthy discourse on the glories of Bhagavata purana by the Rishi, which I will summarize below:
The sages Sanaka and his 3 brothers explain as to why vedas and upanishads alone have not given the desired result to revive ‘Jnana’ and ‘Vairagya'(the sons of Bhakti). Vedas and upanishads teach jnana(knowledge)alone to the complete exclusion of bhakti(devotion). That was acceptable and excellently suited the temperament of humanity who lived during the previous three ‘yugas’ namely ‘Krita’,’Treta’ and ‘Dwapara’ yugas. The present ‘Kali yuga dharma’ demands more of bhakti and much less of jnana and vairagya.
At this stage,Narada raises an important question: If vedas and upanishads are the source of Bhagavata epic,how come the latter is considered superior?
The sage Sanaka gives a beautiful explanation to the above query.
He says: Bhagavata conveys the essence of jnana contained in vedas and upanishads ,while at the same time chanting the sweet names of the lord through devotion filled stories. Bhagavata is the purana which blends all 3 – bhakti,jnana and vairagya(dispassion) – in the right proportions ideal for the kali yuga. It is superior to upanishads and vedas because it is the essence of the latter. Just as a juice in a fruit separated from a tree tastes much sweeter than the same juice in the root of the tree(‘Samprithakbhutah phale vishva manoharah phalakritih’),and butter extracted out of milk is more delicious than milk itself and extracted sugar cane juice is sweeter than the sugar cane itself – Bhagavata extracted out of vedas and upanishads and presented as the story of Lord Hari is much more potent and delicious than its very source.The sources(vedas and upanishads) have only jnana and vairagya component whereas Bhagavata is a rich blend of all three(in the right proportion needed for the kaliyuga) and therefore superior to Vedas and upanishads.

Having got enlightened thus by the sages Sanaka and his 3 brothers,Narada advises Bhakti to listen to the story of Bhagavata along with ‘Jnana’ and ‘Vairagya’. Bhakti follows the advice,listens to Bhagavata with great attention and amazingly ‘Jnana’ and ‘Vairagya’ are revived to youthfulness. Thus the misery of ‘Bhakti’ ends.

The story clearly establishes the superiority of Bhakti(devotion)over Jnana(knowledge) and vairagya(dispassion) for the ‘kaliyuga’.

Reflecting over the story,isn’ this conclusion equally true of material pursuits as well? Let us ,for instance,consider that a person wants to pursue a certain profession or career. Ideally,one would be required to develop some devotion to the subject . He should read stories of great names in that field and get inspired. Devotion is an emotional feeling and words like inspiration,motivation,commitment,sincerity etc come to our mind at the mention of the word. Once one is devoted to a field thus,one will be in a suitable frame of mind to go in pursuit of knowledge (or jnana) with a sense of dispassion (or ‘vairagya’). Dispassion,in this context,denotes our disinterestedness in all subjects other than the chosen one and, of course, undivided attention and passion for the field of choice. In other words jnana and vairagya (knowledge and dispassion) can not be pursued without cultivating bhakti or devotion in the first place.

Published in: on April 11, 2009 at 12:25 pm  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Which Sarga and which Adhyaya pf bhagavata this episode is taken from. It is an interesting and logical exposition. Thanks for broadcasting.

    • This story appears in the very first ‘Adhyaya’ to highlight the glory of Bhagavata purana.
      I believe this story is extracted from PADMAPURANA.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful narration. It was very interesting. I don’t think, however, that bhakti is necessarily superior to jnana and vairagya. Perhaps jnana and vairagya are prerequisites for bhakti.

    You might find it interesting to read something I wrote on bhakti recently:

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