Last week was packed with action. I met a lot of people, gave discourses, and enjoyed Kirtan. People poured in every day and sang bhajans for hours while I sat and enjoyed in ecstasy. I was deeply moved to see their devotion and love. Expressions of divine love in the form of tears, laughter, goose-bumps, and trembling, flowed freely as they sang in throaty, husky, and melodious voices accompanied by music that accentuated the joy to rapturous levels.
I am now proceeding to enjoy some company with “solitude” while busying the body and prana in a yogic practice. I would like to elucidate the concept of bhakti, devotional service. The path of bhakti is not as arduous as dhyana, meditation. However, it requires complete surrender if you want to experience the truth with bhakti alone. Combined with the practice of dhyana, bhakti flourishes very quickly and yields amazing results.
The system of nine forms of devotional service (navadha bhakti) is designed so that you can take your mind off all worldly matters and channelize your consciousness. This ultimate stage hardly comes easy though. An unstable mind will make you a victim of its restive tendencies vitiating your peace and quiet required to do devotional service correctly. There are three types of devotees (bhaktas). As follows:
This bhakta is the socialist type. He/She has no desire to serve God or humanity per se. They have mistaken religion for spirituality. Lured by lust and lucre, this bhakta is more worried about building temples, acquiring bigger premises for their religious institution, installing more deities, and holding processions in great fanfare. He will be on some temple committee busying himself with mundane matters. People of a similar mindset regard this individual as a great bhakta, while he believes himself to be the greatest.
Otherwise living a debauched life, they expect a special place at each puja. In reality, these bhaktas have been unable to let go of their vikaras. Their lewd eyes look upon all women as objects of lust. Driven by their ego, they flare up at the slightest friction. Due to the deluded nature of their socio-religious practices, they count themselves among the greatest devotees of all time.
Occasionally, they will entertain themselves and others by singing a bhajan or two. A bhakta of this nature is anything but that. They derive great pleasure in having their feet touched and will lavishly blurt out hollow blessings no less than a Siddha. Very prompt in offering advice, especially spiritual, they work very hard to push their opinion down your throat.
God has never manifested his form in the middle of any procession. He has never emerged out of some idol made from stone. He is in the stone too but the stone is not him. Bhaktas of this category are living in one great illusion. Only some divine intervention, also known as grace, can help them for they listen to no entreaty from anyone.
An overwhelming number of devotees fall under this category. This bhakta has not discovered his/her own truth yet. Their upbringing and second-hand knowledge has shaped them the way they are. He starts out based on a borrowed philosophy, further, he borrows the method of worship, the prayers (stutis), devotional songs (bhajans), the associated practices; everything is borrowed. And unfortunately, they are all handed down from those who have no direct experience themselves.
The preachers either heard it from someone or read in some text belonging to an entirely different era, if not age. Of course, they failed to ascertain the esoteric meaning, instead, accepting it as told.
This bhakta is devout in carrying out his daily practices. He believes that the idol is God! He fails to see his god in a child, in a needy person, in a dog or in a cockroach. He does not feel the pain of others; compassion and mercy are not to be found anywhere. He has come to believe, for reasons unknown to humanity, that his god is greatly pleased by his hollow acts of external worship. He is more worried about cleaning the altar outside than building an exquisite one inside.
Many practitioners of various religions fall under this category. This bhakta will adopt morality at convenience and desert it when needed. Haunted by his desires, rage and ego continue to be his masters.
Better than the first one, this bhakta still has some chance of realization provided morality becomes the foundation of his living and self-purification, that of his life. Innate pure bhava will start to rise from the chambers of his heart elevating him.
A bhakta of this is the highest type and a rarity, you have discovered your own truth. Much like Tulsidas, Meera, Surdasa, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Guru Nanak, you have turned inwards. You still worship your deity’s form outside but with your own bhava. Your acts of inward worship being projected outside are mistaken by onlookers as pure acts of outward worship. This leads to the creation of sects, further confusing seekers.
This bhakta has transcended the traditional rituals of external worship. Due to a highly virtuous life, and even higher righteous conduct, you have completely purified yourself. In essence, you have become the deity yourself. With a child-like innocence and indifference to the ways of the world, you spend your time in solitude. However, in solitude as well you are always in the company of your personal god. And even in the midst of the greatest crowd, you are perfectly alone with your deity.
Desires, therefore, all vikaras, have completely left you, for, how can darkness and light coexist! You are the light, light of love, peace, bliss, and knowledge. Because you have found your God, you develop great dispassion (vairagya) — a natural by-product of self-realization. You are ready to work some miracles and your mere presence will transform bhaktas of the first two types as well as others from different walks of life.
Just like a student no longer has any use of the textbooks from the class he has already graduated from; you have grown out of rituals and textual practices. For, who has found God by following such practices anyway?
Bhakti is an act of devotional service, not demented rituals. It is okay to start with a borrowed bhava. With ever-increasing purity and commitment imbued in your life and living, you will discover your true bhava before long. The hallmark of a great bhakta is unremitting vairagya and an even state of mind under most, if not all, circumstances. When you relinquish your desires effortlessly and they do not come back to you, a vision of your lord is imminent.
You can eulogize feverishly or apologize fulsomely, if you are playing a beggar, you will only collect pennies. Become a worthy recipient and whatever, not whoever, it is that you want will land in your lap; thankfully, not literally.
Bhakti when done with purity, surrender, and vairagya, severs all fetters. It can not deliver you from your ripe karma (prarabdha) however. It will make you imperturbable though. There is no escape from the law of karma. Upon the realization of your own bhava, you will gradually move to the ultimate stage – para bhakti. I will write on it some other time.
So, should you kill your desires and chant the holy names all the time, perhaps even renounce the material world? If you have come to that conclusion, either I could not have conveyed myself any worse or you could not have misunderstood any better. How can you kill the air? You can not curb or kill the desires, lest you erupt like a volcano. Continue to enjoy what life has to offer you within the bounds of morality.
Work ceaselessly towards self-purification. Along with this, start bhakti if you believe in God and only if you can exercise surrender. Bhakti is rarely comparable to love-at-first-sight. It is more like a relationship where your love and bond with your deity grows over time. If you cannot surrender, bhakti is not for you. In that case, you can start the practice of meditation and be prepared to bear the rigors of such practice. Only a strenuous effort is going to bring noticeable results.
Do not even attempt to curb your desires without understanding their intrinsic nature first. They will go away automatically in due course with either pure bhakti or right meditation; a combination of both will set you free in no time.
Do not abandon external worship until you discover the inner one. Let the truth unfold steadily. When you continue to tread the path with grace, resolve, and reverence, never foregoing truth, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion, you will certainly come to grace. I have no doubts about that.
Between slog and sloth, equidistant from indulgence and immolation, there lies the wondrous path of devotional service.
In my next post, I will cover the subject of desires. If you are able to get a handle on that, you will experience a radical and sweeping change in you. Stay tuned. The next post is going to be in the first week of October. I am going for my next sadhana that will not finish before September end.
I am going to grab a bite now, and on that note:
Life is like a thali meal. You are very hungry, that’s why you ordered it in the first place or perhaps it seemed economical or maybe it was the variety that lured you. Much like in life, you give yourself a series of reasons or excuses before you arrive at a decision. The thali comes before you. Wow!
There is a bit of everything, more than half of which you least care about. Some dishes you have to suck on, others require chewing, some you drink, and yet there are others you simply leave untouched. It is bedecked with mostly savory items, and a dessert if you got that deluxe thali.
You go through the first few bites very quickly, each morsel one luxurious bite, before the law of diminishing returns kicks in. The subsequent bites fail to yield as much fulfillment as the previous ones. You no longer adorn each bite as lavishly with multiple curries as at the beginning. The charm is fast eloping.
You are now engaged in a conversation, generally with yourself or your bite-buddy if you have company: Ah! Why do these guys fry paneer! They should know it becomes hard and not as succulent. I should have ordered the extra chapattis instead of the rice. Look at this mixed veg, a huge piece of potato with just two pieces of cauliflower. This dal is a shocker etc.
You saved the dessert for last but now you are feeling full. You still have some of it, because you have paid for it you feel. You have been conditioned to not let it go. Hands somewhat smudged in oil, if not smeared in curry, you lift that glass of water to quench your thirst. The residual oil in each bowl of curry gives you an unhealthy feeling. You wonder if you made the right choice. But it is all done now. What is noteworthy is that in every likelihood you are going to order the same thali next time too.
Similarly, life is all about choices. At first, the illusory and elusive pleasures of the world draw your attention like the variety in your thali. Eventually, you get tired — not tired of enjoying them but tired of your inability to sustain such enjoyment, a subtle feeling of non-fulfillment does not leave you.
You are unsure of what to keep versus what to get rid of. Much like analyzing the thali, you keep analyzing the choices you make in life and you keep your engagement alive in wishful thinking on matters of the past and future. You save the best for the last, but when the “last” comes, you no longer have the appetite for it. Cravings of the tongue give way to the reality of digestion. At last, what quenches your thirst is that glass of pure water. It has no nutritional value, neither a price tag nor any refill conditions. It is Nature’s offering and its purity is the primary factor in giving you that feeling of fulfillment.
Go on, enjoy! Order a thali. How about one for the soul too?