The methods of unfolding bhakti

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There are many methods which the aspirant will find out for himself through his own experiences. In the Srimad Bhagavatam nine modes ofunfolding bhakti are given as follows:

1. Shravanam (hearing stories about the divine incarnations such as Rama, Krishna, Christ, Buddha and so forth).

2. Kirtanam (chanting the names of divinity).

3. Smaranam (continual remembrance of divinity in any form),

These three modes of expression - shrava-nam, kirtanam and smaranam - tend to harmonize the mind and remove any mental blockages, helping the mind to become more sattwic. Tension, excessive egoism, etc. all tend to drop away and the aspirant becomes more and more one-pointed. The aspiration to develop divine qualities is unfolded. Smaranam is especially powerful and has been the main spiritual practice (sadhana) of many great bhaktas, such as Kabir. It is continuous japa and continual remembrance. It is the remembrance and feeling that is important. This intensifies awareness and induces one-pointed-ness of mind. This topic of remembrance will be discussed shortly.

4. Padasevanam (service of the guru or service done in the name of the divine). This involves serving one's guru or doing work in the name of the divine. It means doing karma yoga, working earnestly to the best of one's ability. This also reduces the power of the ego and makes the mind one-pointed.

5. Archanam (ritualistic worship and offerings). This mode of expressing bhakti generally follows prescribed rules and formulas. It is a method of unfolding inner potential. These ritualistic forms of worship can be powerful when done with awareness and feeling. This is an integral part of most religions including tantra.

6. Vandanam (mental worship of everyone and everything as being the form of divinity).

This is mental worship of everything. It involves mental prostrations to every being, everything which is really the finite form of the supreme. In the Srimad Bhagavatam it says:

"The sky, the air, the fire, water, earth, stars, planets, all the directions of the compass, trees, rivers, the seas and all living things constitute the body of the supreme." Therefore, the bhakta should mentally bow down and worship everything, knowing that he is worshipping the forms of the supreme.

7. Dasyam (the feeling of being the servant of the divine). One tries to do only the will of the divine with the attitude of being the servant. This helps very much to reduce the stranglehold of egoism.

8. Sakhyam (the attitude of friendship). At this stage the bhakta feels as though he is on personal and intimate terms with the supreme. He treats the supreme as a close friend who is always in his company.

9. Atma nivedanam (total surrender). We have already discussed this under another heading. This leads to perfect union where the lover, loving and the loved become one.

This is a very comprehensive list and includes almost all methods of awakening bhakti. All other forms of yoga also unfold bhakti but these don't seem to be included. Actually they are included but in less obvious ways. Raja yoga and hatha yoga can be grouped with archanam, if you stretch your imagination and accept these forms of yoga as really forms of worship. This applies whether you are a theist or an atheist, for in both cases you are refining your body so that it becomes a perfect instrument. You may be doing hatha yoga (including asanas and pranayama) and raja yoga (including all meditational practices) for reasons of physical and mental health, but you are still worshipping. You are harmonizing your body so that it becomes a perfect part of the whole. Karma yoga is included in the mode of padasevanam, where you serve the guru, etc. It is only jnana yoga that does not easily fit in with any of the groups, yet this path eventually joins the path of bhakti.

A few important aspects of unfolding bhakti are not clearly indicated in the list. Meeting great yogis and saints is an important way of intensifying bhakti2. It is implied if you serve a guru in the mode called padasevanam. This will be discussed shortly. Also important is constant reflection on one's nature and study of the scriptures. This is called swadhyaya. It is part ofjnana yoga, though it is also included in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

There are many sadhanas for awakening bhakti. The sadbana of the great bhakta Ramdas was called mantra upasana (worship through mantra). It includes the following four practices:

1. Continuous mental and verbal chanting of a mantra. In his case it was Sri Ram Jaya Ram JayaJaya Ram.

2. Visualization of the form of the guru in your heart.

3. Identification of every object on which the mind dwells with divinity. Whatever you think of, remember that it is the form of the supreme.

4. Observation of the mind. Take the attitude of watching the processes of the mind. This is awareness.

You will note the great similarity between his sadhana and the list we have given from the Srimad Bhagavatam. His method was a condensed version.

Another great help is to study and think about the infinite events occurring in nature. The sun rises and sets. The moon waxes and wanes. The flowers bloom, each variety almost simultaneously. The birds sing. The clouds float across the sky. Babies are born. An infinite number of magical events are occurring around us. A million pages could be written on this subject. Each event is a miracle. How do they happen? What is the force, the intelligence behind these multitudinous occurrences? Everything is a marvellous miracle. Let these things continually remind you of the wonder of existence. Let these things remind you of the supreme.

Try to do every action as a worship of the supreme. Let every thought be an expression of devotion. Offer your actions and thoughts to your guru or to the incarnation of the supreme that stirs your heart. This is the way to perfection.

Visualize and concentrate on a picture of any great saint, bhakta, yogi, sage, incarnation such as Guru Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya Maha-prabhu, Paramahamsa Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Adi Sai Baba, Sri Aurobindo, Swami Sivananda, Swami Ramdas, Mohammed, any of the Sufi saints, Christ or any of the Christian saints such as St. Francis or St. Teresa, any of the Jewish saints, Buddha, Mahavir, Krishna, Rama, Milarepa and anyone you care to choose. Or you can concentrate on your guru if you have one. The choice is yours, but there must be devotion.

In the Uddhava Gita Krishna instructs his disciple Uddhava: "Having withdrawn the senses (pratyahara) from contact with the surroundings, the devotee should concentrate on my form, especially one part such as my smiling face. Then he should be aware of mv all pervading self which is free like the sky. Leaving that after some time, he should feel as though he is one with me, and stop thinking of all other things. He will see me, the antaryamin (the inner being) in himself, and himself in me like the light that is united with the fire. All doubts about matter, knowledge and action will completely cease."

Use any symbol of the supreme. This will take you beyond the symbol itself, if you have intensity and sincerity. It is difficult for most people to feel love (prem) for something intangible or impersonal. It is for this reason that a concrete form is utilized. Total absorption in the limited form or name will lead to the unlimited.

Ceaseless remembrance

Sleepiness is one main reason for low awareness. During or after yoga practices many people experience a feeling of joy, whether slight or intense. This comes because of the wakefulness, calmness and awareness which the practices give them. But this feeling is quickly lost when one continues on with one's daily duties. One becomes ensnared again in the ups and downs of everyday life, but this need not be the case. Through bhakti and continuous efforts to remember the object of devotion this awareness and joy can be maintained. Remembrance helps to prevent the relapse into automated living patterns and thought.

This ceaseless remembrance is a powerful practice for expanding awareness but it is not easy without devotion. Love and bhakti make a person remember. There has to be a natural attraction to the sweetness of the name (mantra) of one's deity. Bees are automatically attracted to the nectar in a flower.

This remembrance must be spontaneous. A man who is in love with his girlfriend or his wife cannot stop thinking about her. He does not need to try, he automatically thinks of his beloved. He has no choice but to remember. A

bhakta must remember God, his guru, his mantra or whatever with the same intensity. This remembrance must permeate one's whole being twenty-four hours a day. There are many cases of great bhaktas who were unable to stop remembering even when they were killed. It is said that when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated he said only one thing: "Ram, Ram, Ram." His ceaseless remembrance continued even when he was dying. The following story illustrates the same thing.

The Great Indian Mutiny took place in 1857. Indian soldiers revolted against the British Government, which quickly took steps to quell the uprising. When people heard that British troops were advancing, whole villages were deserted in panic. At one place the fleeing villagers saw a sadhu coming their way. They warned him that the soldiers would kill him mercilessly if they saw him. But the sadhu paid no attention and continued on his journey. When the soldiers reached the village, one of them in blind fury bayoneted the sadhu. He was fatally injured. As the soldier withdrew his bayonet, the sadhu whispered with his last dying breath: "And you also are He." Even in the agony of death the sadhu saw his murderer as a form of divinity. Such is the power of continual remembrance.

Many of the great poets have beautifully illustrated this continual remembrance. For them the supreme is a helper, a dearest and nearest friend, nearer than breath, nearer than their own mind. This is beautifully expressed by Lord Tennyson:

Speak to Him, thou, for He heareth And spirit to spirit can speak. Nearer is He than breathing, Closer than hands and feet.

When a person has this intensity of feeling, how is it possible not to remember? And this is the express train to expanded awareness. The great bhakta Ramdas said: "The quickest and easiest way to the supreme is to remember him always by repeating his sweet and powerful name." This name is a mantra. Ifyou chant it verbally or mentally with awareness of its meaning, then it harmonizes the whole mind. One is less influenced by the ups and downs of the tumultuous world. One becomes more aware. The whole mind becomes concentrated and powerful. This continual remembrance will break down the ego, body and mind identification. It will lead to knowledge and fulfilment. The great bhakta Kabir sang:

I declare to the loud beat of a drum, That with every breath that passes, Without remembering the name of the Lord, Thou art losing the chance to conquer the three worlds,

The chance to reach those spiritual heights.

This continual repetition of a mantra is called japa3. Try to repeat the mantra continuously. Try to remember throughout the whole day and night. If you cannot do this then at least remember the name with devotion in the morning when you awake and when you sleep at night. This will saturate the whole mind with positive thoughts and vibrations. With intensity, aspiration and bhakti the remembrance will become natural and spontaneous. You will want to remember, for the name is associated with your prem. It is the focal point of all your emotions and feelings. One becomes intoxicated with the very thought of the ishta devata (personal deity). You must tiy to hear and feel divinity everywhere. This is what the Sufi Hafiz meant when he said:

On the tablet of the universe is no letter save Thy name.

By which name, then shall we invoke Thee. Thine, Thine alone!

You must try to see divinity in every part of the world around you without exception. You must try to feel this in your heart. This is the way to union with the inner world of knowledge.

It is not necessary to read countless numbers of scriptures. You don't need to practise one thousand and one different yogic practices. Only saturate yourself with relentless repetition and remembrance of any holy name of the supreme. Your whole being has to be submerged, soaked and overwhelmed with the continuous repetition of the mantra. There has to be complete surrender. You have to feel divinity everywhere. Love intensifies this remembrance. Love means constant awareness. And this devotion means that there will be unceasing thirst, unforgettable remem brance and unswerving aspiration to unite with one's ishta. This practice should not be done occasionally during prayers, but twenty-four hours a day. You should remember each and every moment, with every heartbeat, with every breath and with every action. This is the path of bhakti yoga.

It is said that when you unceasingly chant the name of the supreme, he will chase you. Kabir sang:

I have regained my pristine condition, It is indescribable. My mind has become crystal clear, like the water of the Ganges. God himself keeps following me and calling 0 Kabir.

Only a person who has merged in the exalted state of samadhi could say this. His main sadhana was continual remembrance, but it seems that when he sang the above song he had left all sadhanas behind. His path of devotion with continual remembrance had launched him into the transcendental realms.

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