The Bhakti Movement in North India, Part 3

BY: SUN STAFF

Pandharinatha – Lord Vithoba, worshipped at Pandharpur
Tiruchchirappalli, c. 1825


Feb 23, 2012 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Bhakti Movement's development in India.

In considering which aspects of Sant Namdev's philosophy fall within the bounds of traditional Vaisnava Bhakti and which do not, his preaching on the importance of chanting the Holy Names can generally be viewed as the central pillar of his siddhanta. In his commentary entitled Philosophy of the Divine Name, Bhagat Namdev offers this explanation of how one's true spiritual identify can be discovered:

    "The Name permeates densely the sky and the lowest regions and the entire universe… The Name itself is form. There is no distinction between Name and form. God became manifest and assumed Name and form… there is no mantra beyond the Name. The Name is Keshava [God] Himself… The all-pervading nature of the Name can only be understood when one recognises one's 'I'. When one's own name is not recognised, it is impossible to get the all-pervading Name. When one knows oneself, then one finds the Name everywhere. To see the Name as separate from the named creates illusion… Surrender yourself at the feet of the Guru and learn to know that 'I' myself is that Name. After finding the source of that 'I', merge your individuality in that oneness which is Self-existent and devoid of all duality."

We can see that Namdev's approach combines advaitan (non-dualist), mayavada ('I' am also God) elements, clearly setting it apart from our Gaudiya achintya-bhedabheda-tattva.

Namdev's version of Bhakti has been cited by a number of more modern teachers of Bhakti, such as the Tamil jnani, Sri Ramana Maharshi. Sri Ramana (1879-1950 A.D.) was primarily an Advaitan, but he recommended bhakti-yoga for those he thought were fit enough to engage in it. His instructions in this regard are rooted in much the same philosophy Namdev propounded:

    'If you find vichara marga (the path of self-inquiry) too difficult, you can go on repeating 'I', 'I', and that will lead you to same goal. There is no harm in using 'I' as a mantra. It is the first name of God.

    If you can do nothing more, at least continue saying 'I', 'I' to yourself all the time, whatever you may be doing… 'I' is the name of God. It is the first and greatest of all mantras.'


Sant Namdev


Namdev further writes in his Philosophy of the Divine Name:

    "The Name permeates the entire universe densely. Who can tell to what depths in the nether regions and to what heights in the heavens It extends? The ignorant fools undergo the eighty-four lacs of species of births, not knowing the essence of things. The Name is immortal. Forms are innumerable but Name is all that.

    "The Name itself is form and form itself is Name. There is no distinction between Name and form. God became manifest and assumed Name and form. Hence the Name the Vedas have established. Beware there is no Mantram beyond the Name. Those who say otherwise are ignorant fools. Name is Keshava Himself. This is known only to the loving devotee of the Lord.

    "The all-pervading nature of the Name can only be understood when one recognizes one's own ‘ I '. When one's own name is not recognized, it is impossible to get the all-pervading Name. When one knows himself then he finds the Name everywhere.

    "None can realize the Name by the practice of knowledge, meditation or austerity. Surrender yourself at first at the feet of the Guru and learn to know who the 'I' in you is. After finding the source of that 'I' merge your individuality in that Oneness – which is Self-existent and devoid of all duality. It is that Name that permeates the three Worlds. The Name is Para-Brahman itself where there is no action arising out of Dwaita (duality)."

In summary, Namdev aggressively pushed the Bhakti Movement throughout central and northern India, particularly in Maharashtra and the Punjab, where he emphasized kirtan and chanting of the Holy Names. His love and devotion were reserved for Sri Krsna Vithoba alone, therefore he is known as one of the most prominent Krsna-bhaktas of his time.

Considered by Maharashtrians to be a varkari Vaishnava, i.e., a member of the Vaisnava Vitthala Sampradaya, elsewhere in northern India he is known as a member of the nirguna sect. The Nirguna's believe that God is Absolute but abstract, having no manifest form or incarnations, etc. But despite the nirguna designation, history clearly shows that Namdev was indeed attracted to serving Sri Krsna in His Deity form of Lord Vithoba (Vitthal).

The nirguna designation undoubtedly came as a result of Namdev's time on pilgrimage and preaching in the Punjab. Although he successfully preached Bhakti to the Sikhs, who memorialized many of his devotional songs in their Guru Granth Sahib, they conveniently minimized Namdev's attachment for worshipping the Deity of Krsna, given the Sikhs' repudiation of idol worship. But again, in his Philosophy of the Divine Name, Namdev states, "There is no distinction between Name and form. God became manifest and assumed Name and form.

Although Namdev strongly preached the glories of naam-bhakti, his integration of advaitan/mayavada concepts clearly sets him apart from Bhakti as preached by the Gaudiya Vaishnavas. Our siddhanta, brought by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, emphasizes the inconceivable one-ness and difference between the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His energies. Namdev's philosophy goes against the tenets of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, as noted above.


Namdev's Samadhi at Vitthal Temple


Sant Namdev lived his final years in his asrama at Pandharpur, where he took shelter of Lord Vithoba and continued to propagate the Bhakti cult. He departed in July 1350 A.D., at the age of 80, wishing to remain as a stepping stone at the entrance of the Lord's abode, where he would always be blessed by the dust of the devotees feet as they come to worship the Lord.


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