When we carry out our prescribed nitya (such as sandhyavandana) and naimittika (such as pitru tarpana) activities and also optional kamya activities (homas, vratas, etc.) with or without benefit intended for ourselves and definitely without any harm intended for anyone else, then we can be considered as practising Karma yoga. When this is done sincerely, with the intention of pleasing Emperuman and Thaayar, and knowing that it is Bhagavan who is acting through us, the Karma becomes spiritually effective and takes us to the Jnana path.
When we have learned enough from our elders and Acharyas to know that our Atma is different from what we wrongly identify as ourselves, namely our bodies, and also that Jivatma and Prakruti are both parts of the body of Brahman, we can then meditate on our Atma as the body of Brahman. The resulting acquisition of Jnana constitutes Jnana yoga.
An aspirant to mukti through Bhagavan’s Grace can move either directly from exemplary practice of Karma yoga or from Karma yoga through Jnana yoga to Bhakti yoga, which unlike the other two yogas leading to it, is capable of leading the Jiva directly to mukti.
It is also possible to graduate to Bhakti yoga directly from proper practice of Jnana yoga alone. Bhakti yoga consists of constant meditation on Brahman and His qualities, as prescribed by the 32 vidyas, which occur in the Upanishads. Needless to say, performance of bhakti does not permit a person to shed any of his nitya and naimittika duties.
Bhakti yoga, as already defined, amounts to constant meditation on Bhagavan. This must be out of single-minded, ardent love for Bhagavan, knowing to the extent of one’s ability, some of the ananta kalyana gunas of Bhagavan and meditating on them, and being fully aware that he is the inner Atma of all chetana and achetana creations. A bhakta is required to follow the seven conditions of
1) Body purity by avoiding impure and unclean food,
2) Mental purity by avoiding desires of all kinds,
3) Adequate frequency in meditating upon Bhagavan in a form that one cherishes and is able to visualize,
4) Performance of one’s duties as enjoined by shastras,
5) Being kind through thought, word and deed towards all people and all living creatures,
6) Being cheerful and calm always and
7) Being free from pride or egoism (ahankara).
Through unwavering Bhakti, an aspirant can definitely attain mukti, either at the end of his janma or after the next few janmas, depending on the intensity of his bhakti.
But the process is definitely far longer than the path known as prapatti.
1. What is prapatti and how is it easier than Bhakti for a mukti-aspirant?
Prapatti, known otherwise as nyaasa, bharanyaasa, bharasamarpana and sharanaagati amounts to seeking out Bhagavan as the sole refuge for our mukti or salvation, surrendering ourselves totally to him, with the help of and in the presence of our Acharya and praying for mukti. Because of Emperuman’s promise made with great saulabhya and audarya in the Treta yuga, an aspirant has to do prapatti just once in his lifetime. Bhakti yoga, on the other hand has to be continued throughout a devotee’s lifetime and subsequent lives if any, for leading to mukti.
2. What must the prapatti aspirant do to make himself eligible?
He (or she, though for the sake of convenience we will use only the masculine gender further in this link) must preferably have gone through the mudra-samskara known as samaashrayana. He must commit himself to the five angas of prapatti , namely
Thereafter to do only what will be pleasing to Perumal (and Thaayar,) for which guidance is available from shastras,
Thereafter to avoid doing whatever will be displeasing to Perumal, namely whatever is prohibited by the shastras,
To have absolute faith that Emperuman will save him and grant him Moksha after his current life,
To be aware that he has no other means for salvation, because of his inability to practise Bhakti yoga properly
Thereafter to keep praying to Perumal to save him and liberate him.
3. Does prapatti remove the fruits of sins/karma of the prapanna?
Yes, it does. There are two kinds of karma,
The ones that have already started yielding fruits, namely praarabdha karmas. These will stay with the prapanna during his lifetime. Whatever parts of these are not spent during the lifetime, will not follow him. They will be distributed to other souls bound by karma to the prapanna, suitably.
The ones that Bhagavan has kept aside so far, known as sanchita karmas. These will be totally destroyed at the time of prapatti. There is thus no karma balance and he will attain moksha immediately following the end of his current life.
In spite of good resolutions at the time of prapatti, prapannas may do things prohibited by the shastras, unknowingly or under unavoidable circumstances.
Bhagavan makes them experience the consequences in their current life and definitely gives them salvation at its end.
4. Are there different types of prapatti?
Dripta prapatti is the normal mode; it is meant for aspirants who expect to live on for their scheduled lifespan, after doing prapatti.
Arta prapatti is resorted to as an emergent measure for persons expecting to die any moment.
The normal mode can be carried out in three ways:
Doing prapatti oneself, if one is qualified (svanishta)
Repeating the prapatti mantras after the Acharya says them and following his instructions (ukti nishta)
Where the Acharya performs it entirely for the disciple and the latter is not required to say the mantras himself (acharya nishta)
Where a learned and qualified Srivaishnava does prapatti on behalf of the person (bhagavata nishta). The Acharya/ Bhagavata can be a respected senior member of the family of the aspirant in some special cases (svayam acharya purusha families)
5. How must a prapanna conduct himself after the prapatti prayoga?
Please read the answer to question 2 above. The five angas of prapatti should continue to be the prapanna’s guidelines throughout his life. The seven conditions that guide a Bhakta’s life are also his to follow. Simplifying his lifestyle, thoughts, words and deeds, he lives the life of a Srivaishnava as completely as his circumstances allow him, changing the circumstances if they become an obstacle to his simple life. He is aware of there being only one supreme divinity, Srimannarayana, capable of giving him salvation, and keeps worshipping him for the rest of his life. He serves Srivaishnavas, stays in the company of Perumal’s good devotees, eats simple food prescribed by sastras, avoids pomp and self-glorification and meditates on Perumal and Thaayar with fervour and deep devotion. He continues to do his nitya and naimittika karmas without fail up to the end of his life.
Bhakti-yoga can be continued by a prapanna, though mukti has been promised for him even otherwise. This is because the Bhakti yoga activities take him to Bhagavan’s temples and Tirthas, place him in the neighbourhood of true Bhagavatas whom he can serve, and make him listen to and sing Bhagavan’s gunaviseshas