By Suma Varughese July 2004 The path of bhakti yoga is the way of the heart. impelled by a powerful love for the lord, the bhakta discards all that is non-god in a single-minded pursuit of his goal. so compelling is this emotional momentum that bhakti yoga is considered to be the surest bet to enlightenment in the kali yug. Bhakti appeals to the heart and arouses inspiration. It also awakens the imagination, which is why most artists would naturally take to this path.Human life is a web of relationships and it is through the path of bhakti that we learn to transform these relationships into oases of love and harmony by learning the secrets of perfect love.Ramakrishna said: “I don’t want to be sugar. I want to taste sugar.” The bhakta does not want to be God, he wants to be with God.Apart from the romantic attitude, devotees assume diverse relationships with God, including that of child, student, subject, servant and friend.Thou art more kind than mother dear, More soothing than the rays of moon Thy love an everflowing tide, Sinks deeper than a common stream I know of none that equals Thee Thou best of all immortal Gods I wave my name above Thy head, And part it at thy holy feet. TukaramWhatever the path, bhakti is the ultimate step. Total surrender to the deity you worship. By removing earthly desires, the devotee makes room for the unlimited love of God to rush in as an exquisitely subtle experience that expands forever. After achieving the boundless love of God, the devotee sees love, hears love, speaks of love and is consumed by the love of God. narada’s bhakti sutras The world of the bhakti yogi is molten with feeling. It is drenched in devotion, ablaze with rapture, abrim with bliss, luminous with love and sick with longing. No Romeo or Majnu can ever match the magnitude of love or anguish at separation that the bhakta feels towards his Divine Beloved. The bhakta, quite simply, can’t live without God. He pants for Him like a desert wanderer for water or an asthmatic for air. God for the bhakta is a dire necessity without whom he will perish. Little wonder then that bhakti yoga is considered to be the shortest and surest cut to enlightenment in these dubious days of Kalyug. Says Dada Vaswani, preceptor of the Sadhu Vaswani Mission, a Pune-based spiritual organisation: “The path of love is the path for today. Sage Narada went to his father, Brahma, and told him: ‘The world has changed completely. People are entangled in materialism, how will they ever attain enlightenment?’ Brahma said: ‘There is the way of love.’ The way of love is easy.” Indeed it is. For it does not require us to practise hard austerity, renounce the ways of the world, decondition our faulty selves or whip our recalcitrant souls into shape. All it asks is for us to be afire with inspiration and aspiration and soar to Godhead on the strength of these. The route uses the available and ample resources of the essential human condition—man’s insatiable desire. By hitching that desire to the highest aim of God-realisation, the bhakta effortlessly propels himself to the top. En route, desire for what is not God drops naturally through his single-minded desire for God. Swami Vivekananda said that the best definition of bhakti yoga was embodied in the following verse: “May that love undying which the non-discriminating have for the fleeting objects of the senses never leave this heart of mine—of me who seeks after thee!” Swami Nikhilananda of the Mylapur branch of the Ramakrishna Mission, reiterates the same point: “Bhakti yoga does not say, ‘Give up.’ It only says: ‘Love; love the highest,’ and anything that is lower will naturally drop away.” It is this palpable sense of love and devotion that endears the bhakta to the rest of us. The jnani, karma yogi and kundalini yogi will earn respect, awe and reverence, but it is at the feet of these God-intoxicated ones, with their humility, selflessness and innocence that we lay our hearts. Whether it is Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Tulsidas, Tukaram, Swami Ramdas, Rumi or St Teresa of Avila, we experience in their ecstatic transports and exquisite poetry and prose the wonder and glory of loving. All the world loves a lover, for all or most of us know what it is to love and we thirst to experience it in its ultimate state as these liberated ones have. We long for their self-forgetfulness and surrender, their total absorption in the other, fervent outpouring of seva, and sense of humility, for we know that these are the marks of true love. And that it is the lack of these qualities that makes our love for our children, family, friends and lovers so faulty and conflict-ridden. Human life is a web of relationships and it is through the path of bhakti that we learn to transform these relationships into oases of love and harmony by learning the secrets of perfect love. When we set out to love God fully and unconditionally, we learn to love all creation with that same love. Because love is such an innate part of our human life, the bhakti path cuts across all sects and spiritual traditions. It is the most common route to enlightenment, as much a part of Christianity, Sufism or Sikhism as it is of Hinduism. In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James quotes a Persian philosopher and theologian, Al-Ghazzali, on Sufism: “The first condition for a Sufi is to purge his heart entirely of all that is not God. The next key of the contemplative life consists in the humble prayers that escape from the fervent soul, and in the meditations on God in which the heart is swallowed up entirely. But in reality this is only the beginning of Sufi life, the end of Sufism being total absorption in God.” The ecstatic poetry of Rumi, which has captured the world imagination currently, is proof of the great love that the Sufi experiences in his progressive path towards God. I will tell you what love is; it is to fall into a goldmine. What may that gold be? The lover is the king of kings; it means becoming secure from death and not caring for the golden crown. Christianity is virtually synonymous with the path of love. For Christ, the sum and substance of the faith rests in two commandments: “Love the Lord your God, with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Mathew 22: 36-40) Writes Ethan Walker in his book, The Mystic Christ: “According to Jesus, the practice of love is the most important aspect of our spiritual path: love for God and love for others. This is the road to true and lasting happiness. In love there is peace, and in peace there is love. Love is the light of the world. Where there is no love, darkness prevails and there can be no peace.” Because of the great awareness of the goal of self-realisation in the Hindu philosophy, the bhakti path not only flourishes all over India, but it is regulated through various progressive practices to form a freeway all the way to God.Being a populist path, it is a bit of a catchall, accommodating the most elementary acts of worship such as the practice of rites and rituals, the performance of aarti and puja, chanting the name of God, participation in bhajans and kirtans and going all the way to the lofty stage of perfect surrender where the devotee dissolves his will into that of the Beloved One. There is room on this path for everyone from the novice to the dedicated seeker. But first we might want to know why we should love God. Why go to the trouble? Answers Swami Vivekananda: “God is the goal of life; there is nothing beyond God, and the sense-enjoyments are simply something through which we are passing now.” Having dispensed with that, the first step, he says, for those who wish to walk this path is to want God. He says: “Let us ask ourselves this question every day: do we want God? We have slowly to work through the world and the senses to reach God.” According to Ramanujacharya, the great advocate of Vishishtadvaita or qualified non-dualism, the following are the requirements of bhakti yoga. Viveka: Discrimination. Here, Viveka is interpreted to mean discrimination in the use of food, though the advaitists interpret it to mean discrimination between the real and the unreal. Thus one must safeguard against the intake of exciting foods (onions, garlic, non-vegetarian food, etc.), ensure that the wrong person does not touch it, and that it is hygienically prepared. Vimoka: The freedom from desires through the exclusive desire for God. Observes Swami Vivekananda: “We always forget that this world is a means to an end and not an end itself. If this were the end we should be immortal here in our physical body; we should never die.” Abhyasa: Practice. The mind should continuously think of God. Says Swami Vivekananda: “What we are now is the result of our past. Again practice makes us what we shall be…so practice the other way.” Adds Dada Vaswani: “Engage yourself in loving and intimate conversation with God. When in love, we look for opportunities to come into contact with the beloved. We are now in love with God and we should fearlessly and freely declare our love as often as we can.” Musical practices such as bhajans, kirtans, chanting and playing instruments are part of this aspect. Kriya: This refers to working for the welfare of all. There are five sorts of work. • Study of something good and holy. • Worship of God, angels and saints. • Duty to our forefathers. • Duty to other human beings, such as feeding the poor and needy every day. • Duty to lower animals such as feeding t
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