09.02 – Bhakti is not just cultural or historical but also universal and eternal
The historical dating of spiritually significant events is often an exercise in irrelevance. Consider, for example, the mainstream academic opinion that characterizes bhakti as a cultural Indian movement that became widespread in medieval times.
Such a cultural and historical characterization of bhakti misses its essence. Gita wisdom indicates that bhakti correlates with the innate nature of the soul to love and serve the Supreme. It is thus present in the heart of all living beings at all places, east and west, and at all times, ancient, medieval, modern and post-modern.
Bhakti is the universal principle that underlies and unifies all the great religious traditions of the world. These traditions being centered as they are on adoring, worshiping and praising some manifestation of God like Christ, Allah or Buddha are essentially expressions of bhakti. They have some differences because the heart’s non-sectarian longing for God is often expressed according to prevailing sectarian cultural norms. Also, this inner divine longing may be expressed less or more at different times in history depending on the receptivity or hostility of the prevailing sociopolitical circumstances. Yet beyond the variations in its form and frequency of expression, bhakti remains a universal, eternal truth about the nature of the heart. The Bhagavad-gita’s declaration of bhakti as imperishable (09.02 – avyayam) points us to this trans-sectarian trans-historical essence of bhakti.
Authentic bhakti exponents who understand this universality of bhakti focus not converting people from one religion to another, but on empowering them to discover their own latent devotional nature and to develop it to its full potential. Those thus empowered become joyous examples and instruments of universal bhakti in this world, and attain the eternal life of bhakti in the next.