Badal Suchak’s exploration of the paths of devotion and knowledge brings him to the understanding that, in reality, both the paths are not exclusive of each other
What are you doing here? You are a man from the Bhakti Marg, the path of devotion?” To my surprise, the assistant teacher at the meditation retreat questioned me thus after having interacted with me for a few days. I was a bit stunned at the unexpected remark, as I was enjoying the silent meditation retreat. It came like the blow of a Zen master’s keisaku stick. I heard him out and decided to allow myself time to understand my path.
On another occasion, a cousin had invited me to attend a satsang (spiritual gathering) on Shrimad Bhagavatam. I sat there, silently enjoying the spiritual discourse and joined in singing the chorus of the kirtan (devotional songs). At the end of the satsang, my cousin came up to me and said, “You seemed to be meditating, sitting quietly during the satsang!”
It made me wonder: “When I visit a meditation centre, I am told that I look like I am from the bhakti marg, and when I go for bhakti-based satsang, I am told that I seem to be meditating, following the path of knowledge, the Gyan Marg!
Being a novice on the spiritual path in my early twenties, I’d hear out people’s comments and continue my explorations. I enjoy contemplating in meditative silence and also love joining in the devotional chanting. I wondered, are these two, the path of knowledge and the path of devotion, separate paths? I decided to ask my meditation teacher on my next retreat.
She said, “Choose one path. Don’t mix up both. Practise meditation in the morning and practise bhakti in the evening. Eventually, the practice which is good for you will stay with you and the other one will drop.”
I started practising as per her instructions and gave myself enough time while continuing my spiritual explorations.
Visiting my grandmother was always a lovely experience, imbibing her age-old wisdom and soaking in her gentle love. She had turned almost blind with advancing age. Every morning, after getting ready, I’d notice her sitting quietly on the sofa for half an hour. Curious, I asked her one day what she was doing, sitting in silence every day. Happily, she shared, “Since I am unable to
see clearly now, I cannot light a diya (lamp) and incense at the altar and practise the daily ritual in service of God. So, I have devised my own way to do my daily rituals. In my imagination, I have created a beautiful temple of Radha Krishna. Every morning, while sitting on the sofa, I imagine myself going to this temple with a thali (metal tray) of pooja (ritual worship) offering for Radha and Krishna. Every day I dress up Radha and Krishna in different-coloured ensembles. Then I adorn them with different types of jewellery and offer them prasad (sweet offering) of a variety of sweets. I mentally light a lamp and perform the aarti (ritual worship). This is my daily mental worship.”
What a wonderful combination of wisdom and devotion!
I also came across a devotional hymn, Shiv Manas Pooja, which is a mental worship of Shiva.
I sense that the paths of wisdom and devotion can converge at some point and one can have a practice which blends both in some way. Tulsidasji in Ramcharit Manas sings the glory of Hanumanji, praising him as a Gyani-Bhakt, a wise devotee.
My explorations led me to the schools of thought in Vedanta philosophy. The sutras or aphorisms of Vyasa are the basis of Vedantic philosophy. These sutras have been variously explained by different commentators. From these interpretations have arisen several schools of philosophy, viz., the Kevala Advaita philosophy of Sri Sankaracharya, the philosophy of Qualified Monism or Visishtadvaita of Sri Ramanujacharya, the Dvaita philosophy of Sri Madhvacharya, the Bhedabheda philosophy of Sri Nimbarkacharya, the Suddha Advaita philosophy of Sri Vallabhacharya, the Achintya Bhedabheda philosophy of Sri Chaitanya, and the Siddhanta philosophy of Sri Meykandar.
These are very deep and complex philosophies which I find difficult to grasp, and I am still in the process of understanding them. Sri Nimbarkacharya’s philosophy of Bhedabheda Dvaitadvaita or dualistic non-dualism is what I intuitively connect with as he supports the Path of Devotion leading to Self-surrender and also speaks of salvation that can be attained by gaining true knowledge.
The Divine Bird
Complex teachings can be made simple only by the grace of one’s guru. My guru quoted a couplet in Gujarati by Akha Bhagat, whose seeking led to poetic expression, clearing all my doubts:
“Bhai, Bhakti jehevipankhni, jehne Gyan Vairagya be pankhche,
ChidakashmahetejUde, jehne Sadguru rupi ankh che.”
Akha Bhagat describes bhakti as a bird whose two wings are wisdom and renunciation. This bird flies in the sky of consciousness when she sees with the vision provided by the Sadhguru.
Akha Bhagat was a goldsmith by profession. For me, he is an alchemist who transformed the darkness of my doubts into luminous clarity by showing me the Path of Contemplative Devotion with the analogy of this divine bird.
I’ve concluded that there is no set path to the Divine. Rather, a variety of ways can be employed or even amalgamated to reach the Divine. True bhakti does lead to jnana (spiritual knowledge), and all jnana is incomplete without bhakti. A real devotee can worship at the altar, as well as do deep meditation or contemplation simultaneously.
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