Wise-Love (Book Review)

Wise-Love: Bhakti and the Search for the Soul of Consciousness by Pranada Comtois

Review by Jessica Jagtiani

Wise-Love: Bhakti and the Search for the Soul of Consciousness is a recent winner of the 2019 Montaigne Medal Award, Eric Hoffer Book Award, a 2018 National Indie Excellence Award in the Spirituality category, a finalist for the 2018 Body/Mind/Spirit Book of the Year by Foreword Indies, and the 2018 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

In her book, Pranada Comtois, devoted practitioner and teacher of the bhakti yoga tradition, takes her reader on an educational and self-reflective journey through the subtleties of bhakti yoga philosophy and practice. Her intention in writing the book is to demystify bhakti and to engage the reader in self-exploration, in order to awaken a deeper awareness of bhakti that can be applied to the contemporary world. Pranada defines bhakti as a state of being that she calls Wise-Love, or the yoga of heartfulness: “it is a movement from head to heart, with a harmonizing and integration of both, based on well-reasoned love.”

This integration of head and heart is presented in Pranada’s eloquent description of bhakti yoga. While her account of bhakti is based on ancient scripture, she relates it to current research and anecdotes about her own spiritual journey, which makes her reflections on bhakti accessible to everyone, while providing an opportunity to change one’s own perception of “reality.”

Pranada’s book begins with an introduction to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the essential text for practitioners of Kṛṣṇa bhakti, which is followed by an exploration of the basic nature of consciousness, the self, and identity. Drawing on the concept of sat-chit-ānanda (being, knowing, loving), Pranada emphasizes that experiencing all three qualities is essential to recognizing reality as supreme consciousness. As she explains bhakti’s philosophical basis, Pranada outlines bhakti and Bhakti Vedānta by contrasting it with Advaita Vedānta. Next, she familiarizes the reader with essential practices of bhakti, such as kirtan, and the qualities of humility and compassion. Concluding, Pranada offers a peek into the nature of divine love including the realm in which it flourishes.

As a progressive Western female scholar, Prananda provides an afterword that highlights aspects of the feminine divine that do not fit within the traditional scope of bhakti. She ultimately suggests that the integration of the feminine divine provides an opportunity to shift patriarchal social paradigms, linear thinking, and material knowledge leading to a more inclusive model that aims to transcend wise-love.

Readers may reflect and realize that, despite our best intentions, our societal programming conditions us not to be very wise in the realm of love. Pranada’s heartful approach awakens a longing for the spiritual path, while reminding us that any spiritual path requires determination, faith, and consistent practice for sustainable results. Wise-Love is not solely designed for those who want to exclusively devote their lives to spiritual practice and enlightenment, however; it also speaks to those with an interest in understanding themselves better and improving their state of being.