Bhakti Yoga – the Path of Devotion
“The mouth in which the name of God has not entered is fit to be filled with mud.” –Kabir
Bhakti means intense love for God. Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion. It reflects the attraction of the soul towards God, just as a magnet attracts an iron needle. Bhakti Yoga uses the heart and the natural feeling of love to reach the highest state of evolution. He who loves God has neither wants nor sorrows. In the highest stages of Bhakti Yoga the devotee does not hate any being or object. Everyone and everything is included in his warm love.
God is Immanent and Transcendent
The seer in the Isha Upanishad declares; “In dark night live those for whom God is immanent only, and darker still for whom he is transcendent only. But those who know Him as immanent and transcendent cross the sea of death with the immanent and enter into immortality with the transcendent.” One can only reach the transcendent through the immanent. Even though God is pure Consciousness, One without a second, the all-pervading Reality, these are only abstract concepts and ideas for the mind. Until the transcendent experience of God is reached, the mind needs something more concrete to which it can relate. That is the reason why in all religions, there are representations of God with specific qualities and attributes. Each representation becomes a channel through which the all-pervading consciousness touches and nourishes the thirsty soul of the aspirant. It becomes a constant reference, an ideal like the perfect father or mother, the perfect child, the perfect beloved. It becomes the supreme refuge to which the aspirant will turn in difficult times as well as times of joy – just like a child seeks refuge with a loving mother or father. It also becomes a perfect and reliable recipient for the unbounded, pure love that lies dormant deep within our hearts.
The Bhaktas, devotees of God, relate to God in different ways, depending on their temperament and state of consciousness. Some relate to God as a child relates to his parents. Some behave like a devoted servant, as exemplified in the story of Hanuman with Rama discussed hereafter. Some Bhaktas have a sense of friendship, like Arjuna with Krishna. Some look upon God as their own child, like Mother Yasoda with Krishna and Mother Kausalya with Rama. In this case God comes to these devotees as their child. For Sita, God was the beloved, the husband. Here the culmination of God Realization occurs when the lover and the beloved become one through the intensity of their love. This was the case for Radha and Princess Mira with Krishna.
We are emotional, sentient beings. Throughout life, most people experience ups and downs, jumping from unbounded enthusiasm to deep depression because they live in a world of duality (“I love this, I hate that.”) They become the puppets of negative emotions like anger, envy, hatred, jealousy, fear, desires, and attachments, which constantly disturb the mind and bring pain and suffering. These lower emotions are transmuted into higher feelings like compassion, tolerance, love, and inner peace through Bhakti Yoga, the path of Love and constant remembrance of God. There are nine steps on the ladder of Bhakti Yoga. The highest one is absolute, unconditional self-surrender to God.
Devotion is pure love, not emotional excitement or fanaticism. For a Bhakta, one who follows the path of Bhakti Yoga, everything that happens is the manifestation of God’s will. He is totally surrendered, humble and egoless, and considers himself to be just an instrument in the hands of God; “Oh Lord, if I am a sitar in your hands, how could I play my own music?”
He sees God everywhere. Even those who ill-treat him are God to him. Thus, he never feels enmity towards anybody and cannot be touched by it. His purified heart allows him to tap into the cosmic source and become one with it. Then he becomes omnipotent: that is when he can perform what we call “miracles”.
Practical Hints on Sampoorna Bhakti Yoga Sadhana
1. Select an Ishta Devata who is some aspect of God that you feel connected to, like Jesus, Buddha, Rama, Krishna and the Divine Mother etc.
2. Ask your Guru to initiate you with the mantra pertaining to that Chosen Ideal.
3. Have a statue or photograph of that Chosen Ideal. Make sure that the symbol of that ideal is a pleasant one. For example, if you choose Jesus, do not use Jesus on the cross but rather Jesus as a Yogi in meditation.
4. Have a separate room in your house for meditation and set up a simple altar. On the altar place the statue, photograph or symbol of your Chosen Ideal.
5. Have a photograph of your Guru, a candle and flowers. In other words make your altar very pleasant but not distracting.
6. This room or space will be treated as sacred. You will only do sadhana in this room such as puja, yoga, meditation, kirtan etc. You will find that the vibration that you establish will be very peaceful and whenever you enter this room you will feel that peace. Do not desecrate it by bringing friends and animals in this room.
7. Before beginning meditation, do kirtan, chanting, pranayama or trataka. Invoke the blessings of Ganesha to remove obstacles, your Guru to guide you in your sadhana and Saraswati to enlighten your intellect with divine wisdom. Then begin your meditation with japa (constant repetition of your mantra) with a mala (108 bead necklace). Every time you sit for meditation you only meditate with your mantra even though at other times you may chant other mantras to keep the mind in a sattvic state.
8. A modified form of puja can be done everyday and the full version can be done occasionally when it is convenient.
9. Do daily reading of the scriptures, especially that pertaining to the life and teachings of your Ishta Devata.
10. Listen to and sing bhajans or kirtan glorifying God, especially in the aspect of your Chosen Ideal.
11. In order to develop unbroken remembrance of your God, do japa every time you have an opportunity.
12. Seek out the company of saints, yogis or devotees of God. Cultivate reverence and humility in their presence. Develop association with them. Go to your Guru’s ashram, the temple or church as often as you can and cultivate this habit instead of thinking of nightclubs and restaurants.
14. Do not try to impose your beliefs on others. Encourage them in their own faith and beliefs. Teach those who approach you with a sincere desire to learn.
15. Always keep in mind that life is short and is meant for doing sadhana to reach the goal of perfection or God realization. Every opportunity you get and all your resources should be used for this purpose.
16. The devotee’s relation to sadhana should be; “How can I live my life so that I have more time for sadhana?” and not “How can I do sadhana to function better in the world?”
17. Monitor your progress continuously by observing how your lower nature is diminishing and your divine nature is improving. Ask yourself, “Am I becoming more patient, selfless, giving, loving and charitable?” Do I feel more expansive? Is there more clarity in my understanding of spirituality and the goal of life? Do I feel the presence of the Divine more often in all of creation? Do I have more love and gratitude for my parents, Guru and loved ones? Are my delusions being dispelled more and more?”
Two Examples of Perfect Bhaktas or Devotees
Hanuman is a devotee of Rama. He is one of the principal characters in the Ramayana. He represents the ideal devotee and is a symbol of humility and purity. He possesses immense power that is used totally for the service of his lord. Nothing is impossible for Hanuman: he can lift a mountain and make the biggest stone float on the sea. His mind is completely purified. Therefore, he is in the constant awareness of God.
The story of princess Meera is illustrative of an ideal Bhakta. Meera was a sixteenth century Rajput princess. One day when a wedding procession passed by the palace, she asked her mother what was happening. Her mother explained it was a bridegroom going for his bride. The young girl asked when her bridegroom would come for her. Then her mother took her to the temple and showed her a statue of Krishna, declaring that he was her bridegroom. From then on, Meera worshipped Krishna as her beloved. Following tradition, when she came of age, she married a prince. She told him she was already married to Krishna, but would fulfill her earthly duties as his wife.
Meera’s in-laws were worshippers of Siva, so they built her a temple outside the courtyard where she could install her Krishna Murti. Everyday she would go to the temple and blissfully sing to her Lord in the company of yogis, saints and devotees. As singing and dancing with common folk was not befitting of a princess, the prince’s family eventually became dissatisfied with her behavior. But Meera loved the association of God-intoxicated devotees and would not be dissuaded. The disgrace to the prince’s family became so great that they decided to kill her. They tried by sending her a cobra in a basket, telling her it was a garland for Krishna. She offered the basket to Krishna and when she opened it, the cobra had become a garland! Then they tried with arsenic dissolved in milk. She offered the beverage first to Krishna and then drank it. The poison had become nectar.
When she became aware that the prince’s family was trying to kill her, she decided to jump off a cliff. As she neared the precipice, the hand of Krishna reached out and held her back. He said that her relationship with her husband and family was over; now she was free. Then she went wandering all over India, singing her Beloved’s name in ecstasy. Her devotion was so powerful that hundreds of songs poured from her spontaneously. These songs are known as Meera Bhajans. They are sung all over India to this day.
At last she came to Vrindavan, the childhood place of Krishna. Many people, including her former husband, were so taken by her devotion that they traveled from all over India to become her disciples. One morning the villagers heard such divine singing that they rushed into the temple. By the time they arrived, all they could see was the last piece of her sari merging into the statue of Krishna: she and her beloved had become one.
Bansuree: Symbol of the Purified Individual
Bansuree is the name of a flute made from the hollow bamboo reed. Although it is very simple, it produces divine, charming music. Bansuree is also the name of Krishna’s flute. It represents the Jiva, purified from the gross ego through sadhana, who has become a fit instrument through whom God can play His divine music.
* Listen to Bansuree from the album the C.D. Cosmic Chants
The Scriptures declare, “God is Love.” This whole universe has been created by Love, it is sustained by Love, and it will be dissolved by Love. One whose mind is purified can perceive and experience this love of God in all aspects of life.
To progress in that direction, japa, chanting with devotion, reading the scriptures about your Ishta Devata and satsanga are the best tools. They help to remove the blockages of the mind and fill it with the Divine presence. As we have seen through the examples of Hanuman and Meera, a perfect Bhakta is always in a state of devotion, service and love. There is no more distraction or vacillation in his mind. Such a stabilized mind has reached its ultimate degree of purity. The individual consciousness has merged into the Supreme Consciousness. This state is actually our true nature, yet we are like fish in the ocean asking; “Where is the water?” In the same way, we are always in the presence of God. We become aware of it to the extent that our mind becomes purified. Then we reach the state of Hanuman, or Meera, one who is always in the awareness of God.
In our day and age, Shri Ramakrishna, Swami Ramdas and Swami Sivananda have been notable Bhaktas. Study their lives and teachings.
I will tell you a story.
One day a poor Sadhu left his cave to get alms. As you know, Sadhus have renounced all material possessions. They beg for food and eat whatever is given to them. If they don’t receive anything, they consider that it is the will of God because everything and everyone is God for them. This day, the Sadhu received some bread and butter from a nice lady. He went back to his cave, cut the bread and as he reached to get the butter, a dog grabbed the bread and ran away with it. The Sadhu didn’t see a dog, but a being so hungry that he could not wait for the butter. That is why he ran after him, shouting: “My Lord! My Lord! Please wait! You forgot the butter.”
Quite likely the villagers thought, “There goes that crazy man again!” It is because to worldly people, the actions of a God-Man appear like that of a mad person.