As soon as you hear the word Bhakti, what are your initial thoughts? God, religion, and even fanaticism? Many define Bhakti as momentary madness that can lead to awakening. Maybe, but my experience says otherwise. For me, Bhakti is an acquired skill like meditation. It is something I developed over a while.
A label that people gave me time and again is the rebel. I questioned and challenged everything to the point of irritation to others. For the longest, God was my biggest enemy. I considered God a sadist who dumped me into this faulty world. Today, the story is different. The very name of the Divine brings tears to my eyes. If a “rebel” like me could practice Bhakti, anyone can!
What is Awakening?
Every worthwhile spiritual path leads to awakening. It’s the goal of meditation, and it applies to Bhakti as well. Awakening is a Divine state of mind. In this, we see life for what it is – without conditioning or prejudices. Hence, this world’s realities appear crystal clear. Describing this state, The Buddha said, “So far, I was sleepwalking. Now, it feels like I am awake!”
An awakened person experiences an irrevocable sense of inner peace. That’s because they can observe their thoughts and feelings. So, they don’t get carried away by their emotions. Instead, they pick and choose their responses with mindfulness. Rather than feeling stuck in the jungle of life, they can see this universe’s truth while living in it.
A Path to Awakening
When Bhakti becomes a spiritual path, it is known as Bhakti Yoga. In this, you use your emotions to cause awakening. Yet, you don’t think about hours or metrics like in meditation. All you care about is purifying the mind and showering unconditional love on the Divine and its creation.
Anyone can practice Bhakti, but Bhakti Yoga is a skill. It follows a step-by-step process. Speaking truth and living a disciplined life are non-negotiable prerequisites. If you selflessly serve your family and society, the results will be faster. The timeline entirely depends on you, though. It was a gradual and organic process for me, but it took just a few moments for some great sages!
Initial Steps in Bhakti Yoga
- Establishing a Relationship: To start with, Bhakti isn’t different from any worldly relationship. You may be indifferent, or you believe because everyone around you says so. Still, try to identify a singular form of the Divine that looks acceptable to you. Then, buy an idol of that deity and stay resolved in developing Bhakti.
- Strengthening the Relationship: Rather than venting out your emotions at people or curbing them, show them to your idol. Whether positive or negative, let everything flow but only towards your deity. Treat the Divine like your friend, parent, spouse, or child. If you feel anger, lust, jealousy, or greed, vent it out at the Divine. When you’re happy, sing hymns, chant mantras, or perform worship rituals. These activities may feel ridiculous, but let go and do them. Expressing your emotions will heal you. It will also strengthen your relationship with the Divine.
- Subconscious Doubts: Over time, you will believe in God, but there may be subconscious doubts. Reading the stories of saints who practiced Bhakti can strengthen your faith. If someone we respect has perceived God, we become open to accepting it as real. Also, read, watch, or listen to Puranic tales. Those stories don’t have to be authentic or correct! They may even appear dumb, but those work subtly on you.
Intermediate Steps in Bhakti Yoga
- Persistence: Continue your daily routines with God. Treat your prayer sessions with the same discipline as in meditation. Alternatively, you can chant mantras throughout the day while performing mundane activities.
- Transactional Bhakti: Now, you’ve made a deep connection with your deity. With that comes expectations! You will start transacting with the Divine. Please grant me this desire or give me luck. The typical thoughts are – I pray and serve you, but you don’t do anything for me. During such instances, guide the mind to chant mantras.
- Fanaticism and Proving to Others: At this stage, you’ll notice changes in yourself. Occasionally, you may experience miracles. At this point, the world may even consider you insane. So, you’ll try to prove your ways to others. In Bhakti Yoga, this is a dangerous state that could shift into fanaticism. We must curb the urge to convert others or promote our deity. Plus, it’s critical to brush aside miracles as mere distractions. Further, staying away from socializing helps.
Advanced Steps in Bhakti Yoga
- Non-Transactional Bhakti: This is the most decisive stage in Bhakti Yoga. Here, we have some serious work to do. We must let go of our wishlist. If some fair desire overpowers you, work on it. Still, remind yourself to let go. If you spot a desire, tell yourself – you have the right to duty and worship, but the Divine decides the results. The scriptures call this Avibacharini Bhakti or non-transactional Bhakti.
- Nothing but the Divine: When Bhakti becomes non-transactional, a singular desire remains. We wish to become one with our Divine. We may crave a vision or presence of the Divine. That is a trap as well! As incredible it may be, a desire is still a desire. So, we must remind ourselves that we pray because we love the Divine. There is nothing else to it.
- Everything is Divine: We move to this step when our love for the Divine becomes unconditional. In this, we extend our unconditional love to this world. We try to make compassion our only response in every situation. Quoting the Buddha again, “The way a mother loves her only child, we must love all beings.” Through reinforcement, we train the mind to view others’ negativities differently. Those are merely impurities wrapping a Divine person.
The Effects of Bhakti Yoga
If you practice Bhakti Yoga to its end, you will experience the teachings of Advaita philosophy. That is, all that exists in this universe is the Divine! Everything else is an illusion or play of the Divine. Still, you function in this world with humility and flow in the direction that Nature takes you.
Also, negative emotions feel like drops of dew that vaporize within short durations. You become compassionate yet non-attached. Further, you will perform all your activities in a Divine sentiment. It is subjective, but the Divine within you may even manifest for you. Even so, you will walk around this world with self-esteem and confidence.
Above all, through Bhakti Yoga, you will experience the same state as in meditation. That is the coveted state of awakening. As Swami Vivekananda said, “Bhakti is the easiest and the most natural way to reach the great divine end in view.”