The Narada-bhakti-sutra


Narada Muni
Patna, 19th c.
British Museum Collection

Aug 30, 2013 — CANADA (SUN) — On the circumstances of publication of Srila Prabhupada's Narada-bhakti-sutra.

In 1967, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translated and wrote purports for thirteen of the eighty-four aphorisms (or "codes", as he called them) of the Narada-bhakti-sutra. The glories of Sri Narada Muni and his Narada-bhakti-sutra are stated by Srila Prabhupada in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 1.6.31:

    "In the material world the living beings are influenced by the three material modes of nature, namely goodness, passion and ignorance. But Sri Narada Muni is transcendental to all these material modes, and thus he can travel everywhere unrestricted. He is a liberated spaceman. The causeless mercy of Lord Visnu is unparalleled, and such mercy is perceived by the devotees only by the grace of the Lord. Therefore, the devotees never fall down, but the materialists, i.e., the fruitive workers and the speculative philosophers, do fall down, being forced by their respective modes of nature. The rsis, as above mentioned, cannot enter into the transcendental world like Narada. This fact is disclosed in the Narasimha Purana. Rsis like Marici are authorities in fruitive work, and rsis like Sanaka and Sanatana are authorities in philosophical speculations. But Sri Narada Muni is the prime authority for transcendental devotional service of the Lord. All the great authorities in the devotional service of the Lord follow in the footsteps of Narada Muni in the order of the Narada-bhakti-sutra, and therefore all the devotees of the Lord are unhesitatingly qualified to enter into the kingdom of God, Vaikuntha."

In his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 7.11.4, Srila Prabhupada further describes the importance of these instructions coming down from Srila Narada Muna, who is the 3rd of our 32 topmost Sampradaya Acaryas (1. Krsna, 2. Brahma, 3. Narada, 4. Vyasa, 5. Madhva , etc.).

    "Yudhisthira Maharaja knew that Narada Muni is the supreme spiritual master of human society who can teach the path of spiritual liberation leading to the understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Actually, it is for this purpose that Narada Muni compiled his Bhakti-sutra and gave directions in the Narada-pancaratra. To learn about religious principles and the perfection of life, one must take instruction from the disciplic succession of Narada Muni. Our Krsna consciousness movement is directly in the line of the Brahma-sampradaya. Narada Muni received instructions from Lord Brahma and in turn transmitted the instructions to Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva instructed his son Sukadeva Gosvami, who spoke Srimad-Bhagavatam. The Krsna consciousness movement is based on Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Because Srimad-Bhagavatam was spoken by Sukadeva Gosvami and Bhagavad-gita was spoken by Krsna, there is no difference between them. If we strictly follow the principle of disciplic succession, we are certainly on the right path of spiritual liberation, or eternal engagement in devotional service."

When considering the circumstances of Srila Prabhupada's work on the Narada-bhakti-sutra and the eventual publication of the text, we find that an interesting question arises. In the Introduction to Narada-bhakti-sutra written by Satsvarupa, he explains that in 1989, the GBC asked him to complete publication of the book, which he was happy to do, having been involved with Srila Prabhupada's initial writing of it.

According to Satsvarupa, Srila Prabhupada began translating and purporting Narada-bhakti-sutra in 1967, but he stopped that work in favor of first completing the Teachings of Lord Caitanya. Satsvarupa states that for more than 22 years -- until 1989, when the GBC asked him to complete the work -- Srila Prabhupada's work on Narada-bhakti-sutra was stopped, and was never resumed. But strangely enough, that is not what's indicated by Srila Prabhupada's correspondence to Satsvarup some year later.

In the Introduction to Narada-bhakti-sutra, Satsvarupa writes:

    "I was part of the small group of seekers who joined Srila Prabhupada in the latter part of 1966 at his storefront temple at 26 Second Avenue, in New York City. At one point we began passing around a Gita Press edition of Narada's Philosophy of Love-Narada-bhakti-sutra. Some of us were attracted to the nectar and simplicity of the aphorisms. In those days it wasn't unusual for us naive followers to pick up all sorts of translations of Sanskrit Indian books. We tended to think that anything Hindu was salutary and within Krsna consciousness. It wasn't long before Srila Prabhupada made it clear to us that we had to discriminate. Many books, we learned, were the works of Mayavadis, a brand of atheists in the guise of svamis, gurus, and scholars. It was hard to break our attachments to some of these books, but we always did so once Srila Prabhupada explained that a particular book or guru was not bona fide.

    But when I showed Srila Prabhupada the Narada-bhakti-sutra and told him I liked it, he encouraged me and said he might translate it.

    In our edition of the Narada-bhakti-sutra was a beautiful color illustration of Sri Sri Radha and Krsna. They looked young, about eight years old, and stood gracefully by the edge of the Yamuna River with a cow behind Them. I took the illustration to a photography shop and had a dozen color copies made. With Srila Prabhupada's approval, I gave a photo to each of his initiated disciples. It became like an ISKCON membership photo and was used by devotees on their personal altars.

    When Srila Prabhupada left our New York home early in 1967 and went to San Francisco, I wrote him to ask if he would translate the Narada-bhakti-sutra. Here is Srila Prabhupada's reply, dated February 10, 1967:

      Yes, please send me immediately one copy of Bhakti Sutra (with original Sanskrit text). I shall immediately begin the commentary.

    At first Srila Prabhupada's translation of the Narada-bhakti-sutra went quickly. He sent tapes of his dictation in the mail, and I transcribed them along with the tapes he sent for his major work, Teachings of Lord Caitanya. From the beginning it was understood that Narada-bhakti-sutra was a kind of "extra" for Srila Prabhupada. But it had its own charm, and Prabhupada approached it in his own inimitable way. I was surprised, on receiving the translation for the first aphorism, to see how Srila Prabhupada translated the word bhakti. The edition he was using translated bhakti as "devotion" or "Divine Love." But Srila Prabhupada translated bhakti as "devotional service." Even by this one phrase he indicated that bhakti was active and personal. He would not tolerate any hint that bhakti was a state of impersonal "Love."

    It was significant that Srila Prabhupada began his first purport with a reference to Bhagavad-gita, the foremost scripture for teaching bhakti-yoga. The Narada-bhakti-sutra, or any other treatise on devotion to God, should be supported by Lord Krsna's direct teachings in Bhagavad-gita. By their nature, sutras require explanation. As Lord Caitanya explained while discussing the Vedanta-sutra, the aphorisms have a direct meaning, but their brevity allows devious commentators to distort the meaning through misinterpretation. How safe we were when reading the Bhaktivedanta purports to the Narada-bhakti-sutra, and how dangerous it is to read these aphorisms when interpreted by those who lack pure devotion to the Supreme Person!

    As with his other works, Srila Prabhupada's purports to the Narada-bhakti-sutra were completely in line with the teachings of the param-para, or disciplic succession, and at the same time full of his own realizations. …

    I have to admit that I acquired a personal attachment for Srila Prabhupada's Narada-bhakti-sutra as I happily watched its progress. I noticed that some of the same material Srila Prabhupada was putting into Teachings of Lord Caitanya also appeared in the Narada-bhakti-sutra, but I didn't think anything was wrong in that. Yet at some point Srila Prabhupada began to think that perhaps Narada-bhakti-sutra was a bit redundant, at least while he was also working on Teachings of Lord Caitanya. I might have suspected this when he wrote in his purport to Sutra 12, "There are many authoritative books of spiritual knowledge, but all of them are more or less supplements to the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Even the Narada-bhakti-sutra is a summary of the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Therefore the beginning of devotional service is to hear these two important transcendental books of knowledge."

    Then, in March of 1967, while Srila Prabhupada was still residing in San Francisco, he wrote me this letter:

      Please accept my blessings. I have seen the typed copies of Narada Bhakti Sutras as well as Teachings of Lord Caitanya. Both of them are nicely made. I think let us finish first Teachings of Lord Caitanya and then we may take again Narada Bhakti Sutras. The subject matter discussed with Narada Sutras is already there in the Teachings of Lord Caitanya.

      I have sent you matter for the second part of the Teachings and please go on sending me a copy of your typewritten matter. I shall be glad to hear from you.

    And so Srila Prabhupada's work on the Narada-bhakti-sutra stopped, and it was never resumed. It was a personal choice by the author, who wanted to concentrate on Teachings of Lord Caitanya. But we should not see it as a rejection of the Narada-bhakti-sutra. Srila Prabhupada intended to "take again Narada Bhakti Sutras." And so more than twenty years later we are taking up the work again, on the authority of Srila Prabhupada."

Although Satsvarup states in the Introduction that Srila Prabhupada's work on Narada-bhakti-sutra stopped in March 1967, six years later there was another exchange of correspondence between Srila Prabhupada and Satsvarup, which indicates just the opposite:

    Srila Prabhupada's Letter to Satsvarupa - Los Angeles, April 19, 1973:

    My Dear Satsvarupa Maharaja:

    Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated April 15, 1973 with enclosure of m.s. Narada Bhakti Sutra. . I have no objection to your publishing it, however there are many, many mistakes in the Sanskrit which have to be corrected, so I am returning the m.s. to you under separate cover.

It appears that the work on Narada Bhakti Sutra did not stop in 1967, but continued on through the Spring of 1973, at which time Srila Prabhupada had apparently read the then-current manuscript, noted the Sanskrit errors, corrected them, and was about to return that manuscript back to Satsvarup for publication.

So this is a rather strange set of circumstances.

Having translated and purported only the first thirteen of Narada Bhakti Sutra's eighty-four aphorisms in 1967, it's not clear if during the subsequent six year period, from March 1967 to April 1973, Srila Prabhupada completed translation and purports on the remaining 71 purports. According to Satsvarup's statement, he did not, and it was Satsvarup himself who did this work. But that's not what the April 19, 1973 letter indicates. It appears that Srila Prabhupada was approving a completed manuscript (all 84 aphorisms), but first the Sanskrit errors had to be fixed.

Perhaps the BBT representatives would be kind enough to clear the matter up for our readers.

Tomorrow, we will begin a serial presentation of Chapter 3 of Srila Prabhupada's Narada Bhakti Sutra, on 'The Means of Achievement' (of devotional service).


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