Five Graded Analogies of Bhakti

Bhakti is Intense Devotion to Divinity or a noble cause. Adi Shankara, in verse no.61 of his Sivanandalahari, lists Five Graded Analogies of Bhakti. This description is quoted very often in the literature about Bhakti almost as a thesis on the subject.

First analogy: "Ankolam nija-bīja-santatiH"

The first one cites what is called an "ankola" tree, with botanical name Alangium Hexapetalum. It has the characteristic that when its seeds fall from the tree on the ground and mature, they travel to the base of the tree and join the roots by their own nature. Just as these seeds reach the tree with a one-pointed purpose, so also the devotee should be devoted to his God of devotion is the theme of this verse #61 of Sivanandalahari. The rest of the verse continues the theme with the other analogies. Bhakti, Shankara says, is that attitude of mind which draws you towards the lotus feet of the Lord and maintains it therein, in the manner in which these five analogies portray.

econd analogy: "ayaskantophalam sūchikā"

This is the case of iron filings being drawn to a magnet.

Third analogy: "sādhvī naija-vibhum"

A chaste wife shows love and devotion to her husband.

Fourth analogy: "latā kshiti-ruham"

A creeper winds itself around the parent tree which is its support.

Fifth analogy: "sindhus-sarid-vallabham"

A river that is bound towards the ocean.

Gradations into three kinds

The first two analogies are of one kind here. The duality of the components of the system involved is all but obvious. In other words the seed and the tree (the individual soul and God -- Jīvātmā and Paramātmā) keep the status of the two entities even after the so-called 'union'. The same comment applies to the iron filings which are attracted by the magnet.

The third and the fourth analogies depict a quality of relationship between the devotee and the God of devotion, that is certainly different from that of the first two analogies. It is more towards non-duality. But still some duality remains, though it is of the category of 'part and whole' -- technically termed as the 'amsha' type, that is, the individual soul is one part of the cosmic divine body.

The fifth analogy is the most ideal one, because once the river joins the ocean the union is irrevocable and the merger is complete.

Three schools of philosophy

Shankara hints in this verse, by an implied gradation of the analogies, that this fifth one is what he means by Bhakti. In fact it is said in Verse #33 of Vivekachudamani that Contemplative living in one's natural state, that is, the divine state of being in Brahman, is Bhakti. The first two analogies above portray the stand of Dvaita philosophy. The third and fourth analogies present to us the stand of the Vishishtadvaita philosophy. The last one is that of Advaita.

This is the ultimate stage of Devotion. It is the stage where the lower Self disappears, there is no more 'I'; only 'That', where the Supreme Self has taken over the place of the Self in us -- just like the river that has become non-distinct from the ocean.


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