Bhakti and the other yogic paths

We have discussed bhakti yoga integrated with karma yoga. Now we will briefly discuss the other paths in relation to bhakti yoga.

Firstly we want to emphasize one more time that all the paths of yoga lead to the same experience. The realization is the same; it is only the means that are different. All the paths of yoga aim at reducing and eventually eliminating the compulsive grip of the mind-born ego. Bhakti does this by identifying and relegating all one's impulses towards an outside object of bhakti. Eventually one surrenders the ego to the guru, the supreme or whatever. This is not easy, but this is the aim. Jnana yoga on the other hand, attains the same result by intuitive realization that the ego is not the totality of our being. This automatically reduces the hold of the ego and eventually dissolves it2. Karma yoga attains the same end when one ceases to be the doer. Raja yoga reduces the power of the ego by exploring the mind. This leads to understanding of the vast underlying substratum of each human being and every manifested object. The ego automatically drops away when one starts to know the nature of the mind.

.All the paths merge with each other, for they are like different petals on the same Jnana (revelatory knowledge) leads to bhakti and bhakti leads to jnana. Karma yoga leads to bhakti and vice versa. In the beginning however, the aspirant must tread that path (or paths) that suits his or her temperament. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says: "I welcome all men, no matter how they approach me. Men pursue me from every direction, 0 Partha." (4:2)

Some people say that bhakti yoga is the quickest and the best path. Well, this may be true if you are devotionally inclined, but if you are not, then it is not the quickest path. If you are more inclined to actions or to thought, then other paths are probably more suitable at present. Bhakti is powerful, no doubt, but only if you automatically and naturally feel devotion. Eventually, bhakti will arise, for it is inherent in everyone. Each path is powerful if practised and if it suits the personality of the aspirant.

Deeper knowledge of existence does not arise separately from bhakti or devotion. They arise simultaneously. As one gains more knowledge, so bhakti increases. As both knowledge and bhakti increase, so actions become more incisive, powerful and efficient. This is karma yoga. Also as these other attributes arise, so one is more able to explore and know the mind (raja yoga). These are all interrelated. As all these things increase, so does the experience of beatitude; one becomes enveloped in a cloud of intoxicating bliss. This is the wine of the tantras and the soma of the Vedas. It is the nectar . . . the amrit . . . the divine fragrance. Therefore, remember these paths are not rigidly separated, they are all intimately connected.

They show that bhakti (devotion) and jnana knowledge) are not really very different; various sages have cleverly defined them. For example, in the Viveka Chudamani by Shankar-acharya it says: "Among things conducive to liberation, bhakti is most important. Seeking after one's real nature is one definition of bhakti yoga. Enquiry into the truth of one's being is devotion . . ." (verses 31, 32)

The focal point of devotion You can devote yourself to anything. But it must be something for which you spontaneously feel bhakti, love or devotion. The flowfer.ect is a means to an end. The object should not be imposed on your character. It should not be foreign or unnatural to your personality. It should be something for which devotion arises spontaneously. This is so important; but it can be anything. In the Uddhava Gita, a section of the SrimadBhagavatam, it says: "The Supreme can be worshipped in whatever image or medium for which the worshipper feels reverence and devotion, for being the soul of the universe, I (Krishna) dwell in all things."

You can choose anything, for whatever you worship is a form of the supreme. In the case of devotees of Krishna, he represents, symbolizes and is everything. He is the essence of all things. Though he is usually depicted in human form, playing a flute and with a peacock feather in his hair, be can actually be represented by any form, any object. The well known form of Krishna is highly venerated by large numbers of people in India. Many people feel overwhelming bhakti for this human form of Krishna. He captivates their hearts and all their aspirations. And this is wonderful, for it can easily lead to higher experience and expanded awareness. But Krishna is not restricted to this form. He can be anything. It is the focus of attention that is important. If you feel devotion for one particular form then use it as a means of expressing bhakti.

In Christianity, the focal point of bhakti is Christ or the Virgin Mary. These can also lead to transcendence if the bhakti is great enough. In fact, this is the method that many great Christian saints have utilized in order to know the unspeakable. Saints like St. Bernard, St. Teresa, St. Francis and so forth were all bhaktas. They all used their love of Christ as a means to deeper understanding of existence. In this way, they harmonized their whole being. From this arose cosmic understanding and bhakti.

In tantra, there are vast numbers of forms of Shakti, the cosmic mother. They all represent the various aspects of existence. They all represent the absolute. It does not matter whether it is Kali, Durga, Chhinnamasta, Tripurasundari, Saraswati, Dumavati, Sho-dashi, Bhuvaneshwari, Annapurna, or any of the hundreds of other traditional forms of Shakti. If you feel bhakti to one of these forms, and many people do in India, then you should direct your emotional and mental energy towards it. This will channelize all the forces of your being.

Incidentally this is why the spiritual climate of India is so extraordinary. There are countless numbers of different deities, all of which are perfectly acceptable as a focal point of bhakti. Such is the tolerance and freedom of worship. The worship of the supreme can be directed towards anything. Why not? All these different images act as a centre through which one can expand awareness. But there must be compelling devotion. There must be attraction towards a particular form. Without this, there cannot be bhakti.

Even certain systems of Buddhism utilize deities as a means to higher awareness. Actually, Buddha was against the use of deities, for he knew that they could so easily lead to superstition, ignorance and dogma. This is partly true, and was certainly the case in Buddha's time when religion had totally degenerated into mere ritual without meaning, purpose and understanding. But this will not occur if one keeps in mind the purpose of bhakti and is tolerant of other forms of worship. Bhakti can lead to expanded awareness. Many Buddhists after the death of Buddha realized that there was justification for the use of deities. Because of this, many deities were introduced into such sects as Tibetan Buddhism - Amogh Siddhi, Tara, Avaloketeshwara and others. These represent different aspects of existence and states of awareness. They can be used as objects of bhakti. They can invoke power well beyond their material form.

In Islam, Mohammed discouraged the worship of images of the supreme for the same reason as Buddha, because among superstitious people it can so easily lead to mere idolatry. This again was certainly true when Mohammed was alive. People worshipped idols in a blind fashion. Rituals were performed in mere lip language without any real feeling, which led to ignorance, exactly the opposite purpose of worship and bhakti. There has to be an attitude of understanding.

Islam, however, is a bhakti religion. The bhakti is directed towards Allah, the all embracing Lord. He is worshipped as an abstraction.

What we have said about Islam also applies to Judaism: the bhakti is directed to a nebulous or formless form of the supreme. So, you can use a specific form as a focus of devotion, or you can use an abstraction. It does not really matter. The important thing if you feel some type of bhakti is that you express it and channel it in one direction towards the form, or nonform of the supreme.

You can express bhakti towards anything . . . Krishna, Christ, Rama . . . anything that spontaneously creates a feeling of devotion from your heart. You can use a symbol such as Aum or the cross. You can use a mantra; in fact this is an excellent method, especially if you are attracted by the specific sound of a mantra and that which it represents. You can express bhakti towards a great saint, or yogi or a sage, and best of all towards a guru. A guru will not only act as a focal point of bhakti, he will also inspire you in your practices and give direct guidance. This is the personal grace of the guru.

The object of devotion should be something that attracts you as a lamp attracts moths. It should be something that you cannot stop thinking about. It should be something that you can relate to, identify with. The aim is that the object of bhakti overwhelms your whole attention. If there is something or someone who acts as a magnet for your bhakti, then adopt this as your object of devotion.

This bhakti towards a particular form leads to other things which transcend the external nature of the object. With experience, your bhakti will transform itself so that it encompasses more and more. Eventually, there is no need to confine oneself to devotion of a limited figure, because a feeling of devotion or veneration for everything develops. But this must arise spontaneously; there is no nee d to cultivate any feelings. It should arise naturally from the very depths of your being.

Yoga For Beginners

Yoga For Beginners

Yoga is an important part of many lives today. Although it is considered a type of exercise, it has the potential to affect the emotional and psychological health of the individual, not just the physical state.

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