It is truly surprising that many people in the world reserve bhakti (devotion) for old age. As if bhakti marga (path of divine love) is a retirement plan!
Think about it. No one postpones the act of eating to old age. Fair enough, because health deteriorates and the body becomes weak if one does not consume food. Likewise, the soul weakens if one does not do bhakti. Moreover, without bhakti, our karma vasanas (accumulated latent tendencies) increase multifold pushing us into millions of deaths and births. Therefore, it is clearly evident that bhakti should also be done right from childhood!
There is yet another misconception about bhakti—that it is done only for attaining comforts in life, like wealth, position, a good spouse, children, health, etc. This is a typical case of mixing up the means and the end. Like putting the cart before the horse!
‘Comforts’ in life, in fact, should be all utilized and channelized to the path of divine love. He who enjoys all comforts in life but has no bhakti is akin to a dead body that is anointed with sandal paste, fragrant oil and adorned with jewels! A mind filled with desires would completely miss this simple fact due to infatuation.
It is human nature to exhibit his love to some person. Why does a childless couple adopt a child? Is it done with the selfish motive of having someone to look after them in their old age? Do they expect him/her to take care of them physically and financially later in their lives? Would people deceive themselves with such false notions when they find even one’s own biological children being indifferent to their parents? Why then do they adopt a child? Seeing a mother pour love on her child, they also adopt a child so that they can pour all their love on him/her. It is only for this reason and such an act has no other expectations!
If one knows to place this love, that gushes naturally within him, on God, it is called bhakti. Bhakti is a blissful feeling (rasa). This deep sentiment of divine love for God is bhakti.
Why is the retirement age from employment fixed at 58 or 60 years? It is because when one reaches that age the ears do not function as well as they had earlier, the vision is not as sharp as it used to be, the body gets tired quickly and one is not as active as before. Is that not so? It is also a fact that only because mental work is tougher than physical labor, that High Court judges, ministers and top government officials are given higher status and salary.
Bhakti can be done only by a firm mind. When a man is retired from service because he is found to be unfit even for discharging physical duties how can one expect him to be fit to perform mental sadhana? It is just not possible!
Some may say, “I am very happy in this world. Why should I do bhakti? I don’t care for heaven (swarga) or Liberation (moksha) or the Abode of Lord Vishnu (Sri Vaikunta).”
This is sheer arrogance. If our lives truly end with death we can lead our lives as we please. But the truth is, it is not so!
We have to face a ‘life’ after the death of this physical body! None can escape this! One should do bhakti for this very reason. Due to merits (punya) earned through good deeds done in the past one may lead a happy life now. But can one be assured of everlasting happiness? Sorrow can befall anyone at any time. One should do bhakti at least for this reason.
Man takes pride in his intelligence, enterprise and long-term plans.
“Oh intelligent ones! The state that you now experience is not your real state. There is great Bliss (Ananda) within you. Intelligent that you are should you not try to ‘know’ that?
Oh enterprising men! Let all your endeavors be directed towards the Atman!
Oh long-term planners! Let your plans cover even the births that have to be faced after your death.”
One may say, “Well, all these apply to me only if I believe in such things.”
But the stark fact is that universe does not work on the sanction of anyone’s belief. Disbelief does not alter Truth! One is not spared from hell just because he or she does not believe in sins.
Still, to satisfy such questioners, let us hypothetically consider the counterpoint of disbelief in life after death. A man carries an umbrella on seeing that the sky is overcast. The umbrella comes of use if it rains. If it does not rain, it does not matter. However, if you do not carry the umbrella you will get drenched if it happens to rain. Thus, if there is hell just as the scriptures say, one will suffer there if one does not exercise caution. Even there I would sympathize with you!
Bhakti is deeply enjoyable; it is full of rasa. When it is so, some people perform puja without a deity. Will such people attain the desired phala (result)? Certainly, the expected phala will be attained. But bhakti is filled with anubhava (spiritual experience). Therefore, there is great joy (ananda) in performing puja to archavataras (deities), taking them in procession, performing Thirukalyanam (marriage) for them. This can be explained through the following example.
Man requires a certain amount of calories of food every day. We can also tell the exact quantity of different vitamins required by the body on a daily basis. But a person cannot consume just the requisite amount of vitamins everyday instead of the food. If a person does that, he may remain healthy but he will be hungry. Moreover, the vitamins do not please the palate. But food makes one healthy as well as appeases one’s hunger. It is also tasty. Similarly, one cannot worship some yantra or stone. There has to be a beautiful Form for worship. Then not only does bhakti serve its purpose, but only then can it be enjoyed!
Moksha is the endpoint of bhakti. But bhakti is so beautiful and joyful that it attracts even a jnãni who has attained Liberation!
This can be illustrated through an example. When a child suffers from diarrhea the mother gives sugar mixed with ghee. Even after the child returns to normal health, it bluffs that it is still suffering from diarrhea simply to eat the tasty concoction of sugar mixed with ghee. Likewise, even if the goal of bhakti is moksha (Liberation) the joy of performing bhakti attracts one even after the attainment of the goal.
Bhakti is so deeply enjoyable! Uttering HARI NAMA even once earns moksha. Surrender leads one to Vaikunta. One who questions, "Why should I do bhakti?” even after this, is simply not a rasika (enjoyer)!
A man first aspires for a small employment. Once this is achieved he aspires for a higher position. When the daily needs of his family are met with, he desires to save some money for his children's education and marriage. He then earns to provide for his children's future. He then earns for the sake of his grandchildren. Thus he continues to earn for future generations. Why? This is because the very earning of wealth itself is enjoyable to him. Even after his needs have been met with, he goes around day and night earning money through various means till his old age. Why does he not stop when his needs have been met? He possesses a deep desire and greed, and wealth tastes so good to him!
Similarly, there is no doubt that uttering HARI NAMA even once earns moksha. Just as the greed and taste for wealth does not subside, the taste for bhakti and Nama does not subside. Any amount does not suffice. Just as wealth accrued by a man is useful to the world and for future generations, a man's bhakti and the power of Nama gives strength to innumerable people.