The Value of Devotion
athato bhaktim vyakhyasyamah
atha--now; atah--therefore; bhaktim--devotional service; vyakhyasyamah--we shall try to explain.
Now, therefore, I will try to explain the process of devotional service.
Devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is explained in the Bhagavad-gita, where the Lord says that a self-realized person is always in the transcendental state known as brahma-bhuta, which is characterized by joyfulness. When one is self-realized he becomes joyful. In other words, he is free from the material contamination of lamentation and hankering. As long as we are in material existence, we lament for the losses in our life and hanker for that which we do not have. A self-realized person is joyful because he is free from material lamentation and hankering.
A self-realized person also sees all living entities equally. For him, there is no distinction between the higher and lower species of life. It is also stated that a learned man does not distinguish between a wise brahmana and a dog because he sees the soul within the body, not the external bodily features. Such a perfected, self-realized person becomes eligible to understand bhakti, or devotional service to the Lord.
Bhakti is so sublime that only through bhakti can one understand the constitutional position of the Lord. That is clearly stated in the Bhagavad-gita (18.55): bhaktya mam abhijanati. "One can understand the Supreme Lord through devotional service, and by no other process." There are different processes of understanding the Absolute Truth, but if a person wants to understand the Supreme Lord as He is, he has to take to the process of bhakti-yoga. There are other mystic processes, such as karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, and dhyana-yoga, but it is not possible to understand the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, except through His devotional service. This is confirmed in the Fourth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (4.3), where we learn that Krsna spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna simply because he was the Lord's devotee and friend. The Bhagavad-gita teaches the process of bhakti-yoga, and therefore Lord Krsna explained it to Arjuna because he was a great devotee. As far as spiritual life is concerned, becoming a devotee of the Lord is the high-est perfection…
The strict followers of the karma-kanda portions of the Vedas perform various sacrifices for worship of different demigods in order to achieve particular material results. Out of many millions of such worshipers, some may actually engage in the process of understanding the Supreme, the Absolute Truth. They are called jnanis. Perfection for a jnani lies in attaining the stage of brahma-bhuta, or self-realization. Only after self-realization is attained does the stage of understanding devotional service begin. The conclusion is that one can begin the process of devotional service, or bhakti, when one is actually self-realized. One who is in the bodily concept of existence cannot understand the process of devotional service.
It is for this reason that the Narada-bhakti-sutra begins, "Now, therefore, I shall try to explain the process of devotional service." The word "therefore" indicates that this process of devotional service is for the self-realized soul, one who is already liberated. Similarly, the Vedanta-sutra begins athato brahma-jijnasa. The word brahma-jijnasa refers to inquiry into the Supreme Absolute Truth, and it is recommended for those who have been elevated from the lower stage of addiction to the karma-kanda portion of the Vedas to the position of interest in the jnana-kanda portion. Only when a person is perfectly situated in the realization that he is not the body but a spirit soul can he begin the process of bhakti, or devotional service.