By Suma Varughese June 2004 The search for enlightenment is what drives us, consciously or unconsciously. however, finding the right path is no easy matter for it has to suit our inclination, interest and temperament. while we can’t promise you a custom-made path, we give you the next best alternative—a compilation of 100 paths including 59 formal paths and 41 readers’ experiences to pick and choose from. happy seeking! Bhakti YogaSupreme Love is extolled by Adi Sankara as the highest yoga, for what is knowledge, action, service and meditation, without love? Krishna also says that devotion is dearest to him. Bhakti is devotion, and like Sufi and Christian mystics, yogis also cherish the concept of love as the best means of reaching God. Swami Vivekananda describes this progression from personal love to the final egoless surrender into a universal ideal thus: Vairagya, non-attachment to all things that are not God, evolves out of great attachment to God, Anuraag. Taking physical attachment—with a burning, passionate desire for the beloved—to higher levels of para bhakti is purifying in itself, burning away egoism so that all existence becomes an immersion in the love ideal and every breath is an act of surrender. God too enjoys Love, seeing His own beautiful image reflected in the eyes of the entranced devotee. What option does Krishna have but to embrace in a blissful merging, to forever dwell in the devotee’s heart, playing sweet music on the eternal flute? This may appear to be the easiest path to God-realisation, not involving penances, asceticism or tortures of the body that other systems of yoga may involve; yet the act of surrendering one’s ego and worldly desires is the most difficult to achieve! Radha, Meera and the Gopis of Brindavan merge with Krishna, free from worldly cares and jealousy, in a continuing dance—raaslila—the celebrated path of Love. It channels intense emotion, an upsurge of feeling, offered as adornment to the deity. Women poets like Andal and Akkamahadevi uninhibitedly pray to the Lord as their bridegroom. Ramakrishna’s love for Kali, or the Nayanar saints’ devotion to Shiva is also similar, the worshipper experiencing emotional surrender as a child or woman, yearning for God who is Mother or Lover. Swami Sivananda has enumerated five main bhavas that lend emotional tenor to Supreme Love: Shanta, a peaceful or serene state where the devotee simply overflows with love, without being demonstrative. Dasya, the attainment of pure bliss in service to God, as in Hanuman’s devotion to Rama. Sakhya, friendship on equal terms, like Arjuna or Draupadi with Krishna. Vatsalya, motherly worship, as expressed towards the infant Krishna, through a swell of tender caring. Finally, Madhura, where God is the Lover. This is the enjoyable path where the devotee not only becomes sugar, but asks for a taste of sugar, so that Love, the Lover and the Beloved are One. Japa YogaThis is considered the best path for God-realisation in our Kali Yug, rather than ritual worship, yajna and meditation. Japa is the repetitious invocation of a mantra or nama (Lord’s name), as the means of purification of the four-fold body, as the path to attaining God-realisation. The Universe is made of sound, as subtle vibrations in the ether, or dense forms and shapes in the material world. Cellular forms within the body (and mind) are transformed in harmonious attunement to the divine through sound vibrations, eliminating negativity in thought and emotions and leading to experience of oneness. Concentration, visualisation and devotion are important in the practice of Japa. The underlying principle is that sound and form are one and the same, the deity being present in the invocation itself. Japa ultimately results in dissolution of the separative ego so that sound (or speaking), speaker, and spoken (the ishta or divine) merge into One. The result is bliss. Mantra shastra is the highly developed Vedic science of sound, based on the numerical properties of Sanskrit, deriving from the Sankhya philosophy of Kapilamuni. The definition of mantra is given as mananat trayate iti mantra, that which saves through constant thinking, and mantra is that which helps to cut through the bondage of karma and reincarnation, helping to attain moksha. The mind is the bow and mantra the arrow which, aimed at a particular thought form or ideal, brings realisation. Swami Sivananda refers to a mantra as “divinity encased within a sound structure”. Mantras can be recited aloud, softly, like while humming, or wholly in the mind. Use of the mala or rosary for counting, and the sitting postures are recommended, but not strictly necessary. AUM or the pranava is supposed to represent the Absolute in its manifest vibrational form, considered a powerful mantra in itself. Soham meaning ‘That I Am’ is also a powerful mantra, representing the subtle sound of breath inhalation and exhalation, leading to liberation. Gayatri, the powerful mantra invocation of Divine Light, is considered the Mother of all Vedas. Mantras are also known to result in beneficial effects on the health and well-being of the sadhak. On the other hand, just repetition of the divine name, nama Japa, is strongly recommended by many as a more direct and modest alternative to complicated mantras. The benefit of nama Japa is its very simplicity, lending itself beautifully to the vagaries of modern living, since there are few rules and regulations. Nama Japa can be mentally repeated while commuting or even while doing routine chores, bringing similar results as formal mantras, if practised with full devotion. Contact: www.sivanandadlshq.org/teachings/japayoga.htm www.yoga-age.com/amrita/japa.html PrayerIn various spiritual paths and religions down the ages, prayer has been practised as a means for communion with the Divine. Whether in times of suffering, with hands folded and head bowed, or during festivals and joyous occasions, with much singing and dancing, it is in prayer that some of the deepest emotions and experiences of humankind have been accessed and expressed. Monotheistic religions like Islam, Judaism and Christianity institutionalised prayer as a form of adoration of God into daily practice. Times were fixed, and strictures laid down as to the proper ways and environs to pray in. Yet the act of praying, and the powerful experiences it seems to lead to in so many people, seems to be above and beyond this. The best way to pray still remains the spontaneous one, in which one’s entire being becomes absorbed in the prayer, such that a point comes when dualities of self and God fade away and a state of transcendental union is entered into. Though the words of the prayer may be initially important, ultimately they tend to fade away as the one praying achieves a state of absorption and deep connection. Prayers may be vocal, in which fixed formulae or spontaneous outpourings are uttered, or mental, in which devotion and emotion predominate. Contemplative prayer is the simple awareness of the Divine devoid of prayers and concepts, as in the ‘prayer of quiet’ taught by St. Teresa of Avila. The need to live in constant awareness of the presence of God may also be seen as the stimulus behind the Islamic call for praying five times a day. The vast canvas of prayer marked over by humankind can be tentatively divided into the following categories—adorations (prayers of devotion, surrender, love, praise and offering); celebrations (prayers of thanksgiving, initiation, affirmation and blessing); invocations (prayers of petition, supplication, calling forth and healing); and meditations kerning (prayers of reflection, contemplation, being and teaching). Ultimately, whether one prays ritually or spontaneously, it is the state of immersion and connectedness that one is able to achieve that has the potential for triggering self-transformation, and is profound at the personal level. Sai Baba of ShirdiThe story of Sai Baba is about the miracle of love that is India. He first appeared in Shirdi, a small village near Nashik in Maharashtra, as a radiant fakir of about 19 years, who sat under a neem tree in a yogic asana. He disappeared for a few years, and returned in 1858 to live there until his death in 1918. He dressed as a Muslim fakir, wearing a kafni and a bandana knotted on one side. Sai is a respectful address reserved for God or a venerated person in Sindhi language. Baba stayed in an abandoned, dilapidated mosque, and constantly recited Allah’s name. His ears were pierced, and there was no sign of circumcision on his body. He lit the dhuni in the mosque and freely offered udi or sacred ash to people to relieve them of all kinds of suffering. He begged at noon around the village and shared the alms with dogs who were his companions in the mosque, and later, with devotees also. ‘Allah Malik’ was his constant refrain. Yet he was well-versed in Sanskrit scriptures and practised yoga. He was able to bring devotees from any religion to realisation according to their own path. Eventually, the mosque came to be known as Dwarkamai, meaning the kingdom of Lord Krishna, a mother’s abode! Many gave up their chosen calling and came to live in Shirdi, men and women alike, irrespective of caste, class or creed. The chief mission of Sai Baba seems to have been to demonstrate within his own person the harmony of all religions, and that the Supreme Being did not treat his creations on different terms. “Sabka Malik Ek,” he would say. Sai Baba performed many miracles as a means to bring people to acceptance of faith in God. Amazingly, the miracles have continued down the years. Even non-devotees have received the grace of his blessings in unexpected situations. The path of Sai Baba is the path of Kabir, synthesising the best of Islam a
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