In 1967, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda translated and wrote purports for thirteen of the eighty-four aphorisms (Śrīla Prabhupāda called them "codes") of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra. In 1989, at their annual meeting, the Governing Body Commission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) suggested that I complete the book. I was pleased to accept the assignment, especially because of my involvement with Śrīla Prabhupāda's initial writing of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra.
I was part of the small group of seekers who joined Śrīla Prabhupāda 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 Nārada's Philosophy of Love—Nārada-bhakti-sūtra. 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 Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It wasn't long before Śrīla Prabhupāda made it clear to us that we had to discriminate. Many books, we learned, were the works of Māyāvādīs, a brand of atheists in the guise of svāmīs, gurus, and scholars. It was hard to break our attachments to some of these books, but we always did so once Śrīla Prabhupāda explained that a particular book or guru was not bona fide.
But when I showed Śrīla Prabhupāda the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra and told him I liked it, he encouraged me and said he might translate it.
In our edition of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra was a beautiful color illustration of Śrī Śrī Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa. They looked young, about eight years old, and stood gracefully by the edge of the Yamunā River with a cow behind Them. I took the illustration to a photography shop and had a dozen color copies made. With Śrīla Prabhupāda'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 Śrīla Prabhupāda left our New York home early in 1967 and went to San Francisco, I wrote him to ask if he would translate the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra. Here is Śrīla Prabhupāda'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 Śrīla Prabhupāda's translation of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra 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 Nārada-bhakti-sūtra was a kind of "extra" for Śrīla Prabhupāda. But it had its own charm, and Prabhupāda approached it in his own inimitable way. I was surprised, on receiving the translation for the first aphorism, to see how Śrīla Prabhupāda translated the word bhakti. The edition he was using translated bhakti as "devotion" or "Divine Love." But Śrīla Prabhupāda 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 Śrīla Prabhupāda began his first purport with a reference to Bhagavad-gītā, the foremost scripture for teaching bhakti-yoga. The Nārada-bhakti-sūtra, or any other treatise on devotion to God, should be supported by Lord Kṛṣṇa's direct teachings in Bhagavad-gītā. By their nature, sūtras require explanation. As Lord Caitanya explained while discussing the Vedānta-sūtra, 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 Nārada-bhakti-sūtra, 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, Śrīla Prabhupāda's purports to the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra were completely in line with the teachings of the param-parā, or disciplic succession, and at the same time full of his own realizations.
One particular statement that attracted me was his reference to enthusiasm in bhakti. Commenting on Sūtra 5, Śrīla Prabhupāda compared enthusiasm to a powerful engine that has to be used properly. He wrote, "If one, however, becomes disappointed in his enthusiasm for serving the Supreme Lord, that disappointment must also be rejected." As a neophyte devotee, I was well aware of the danger of depression, which we sometimes refer to in ISKCON as being "fried." But just as a serious practitioner restrains his tongue and other senses, so one should not indulge in too much depression or disappointment. It was comforting to hear this from Śrīla Prabhupāda and to gain conviction that it is within our control—we are not helpless before unlimited waves of depression.
One simply has to follow the rules and regulations patiently "so that the day will come when he will achieve, all of a sudden, all the perfection of devotional service."
I have to admit that I acquired a personal attachment for Śrīla Prabhupāda's Nārada-bhakti-sūtra as I happily watched its progress. I noticed that some of the same material Śrīla Prabhupāda was putting into Teachings of Lord Caitanya also appeared in the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra, but I didn't think anything was wrong in that. Yet at some point Śrīla Prabhupāda began to think that perhaps Nārada-bhakti-sūtra 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 Sūtra 12, "There are many authoritative books of spiritual knowledge, but all of them are more or less supplements to the Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Even the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra is a summary of the Bhagavad-gītā and the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. Therefore the beginning of devotional service is to hear these two important transcendental books of knowledge."
Then, in March of 1967, while Śrīla Prabhupāda 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 Śrīla Prabhupāda's work on the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra 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 Nārada-bhakti-sūtra. Śrīla Prabhupāda 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 Śrīla Prabhupāda. Whatever we have written to complete the work we have done as Śrīla Prabhupāda's student, using his commentated translations of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the Bhagavad-gītā, and the Caitanya-caritāmṛta, and his summary studies of the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (The Nectar of Devotion) and the Bhāgavatam's Tenth Canto (Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead).
There is a particular charm to the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra in its brevity, universality, and emphasis on total surrender to Lord Kṛṣṇa. The aphorisms are strong and can be easily remembered and confidently quoted in devotional discussions and preaching. Śrīla Prabhupāda refers to the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra several times in his writings, as in this statement from Teachings of Lord Caitanya (p. 53-4): "In the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra it is said that one who is very serious about developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness has his desire to understand Kṛṣṇa fulfilled very soon by the grace of the Lord."
The major importance of the present publication is that another of Śrīla Prabhupāda's literary works is now available in book form for his growing reading audience. The GBC's request to Gopiparāṇadhana Prabhu and me to complete the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra is their mercy upon us. We pray that we have not deviated from Śrīla Prabhupāda's intentions and that this edition of the Nārada-bhakti-sūtra will bring pleasure and enlightenment to the hearts of everyone who reads it.
Satsvarūpa dāsa Goswami
Editor's note: Citations from Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and Teachings of Lord Caitanya are from "The Great Classics of India" editions (1985). Citations from The Nectar of Devotion are from the 1982 edition.