Years Ago - in 1978 (Australia)

Paramahamsa Satyananda

Once upon a time, a young girl was going to meet her boyfriend. She was deeply engrossed in the awareness of him. In the lane through which she was passing, a Muslim had spread his mat and was repeating his prayers. Muslims pray five times a day, anywhere and everywhere, even in the middle of the road. They are very strict about their prayer time. So he had spread his mat and was saying his prayers, "Allah, Allah, Allah".

However, the girl was so engrossed in thoughts of her lover that she walked right over the mat and kept going. The gentleman who was praying could not control himself. He got up and shouted at her, "Arrogant, shameless, uncivilised." But the girl continued walking and did not respond. The man became furious and ran after her, calling, "Hey, hey!" And again she gave no reply. Then he blocked her way and demanded, "Why did you walk over my mat?"

The girl was taken aback and she said, "What mat? What do you mean?" The man said, "You unholy wretch I was praying and you walked over my mat." The girl paused for a moment, and then gave a very revealing reply, "I was so engrossed in thoughts of my lover that I did not see you or your mat. How is it that you could have seen me walk over your mat, if you were praying to God?"

Therefore, the object which you select for concentration should be like the beloved of the girl, not the beloved of the man. That is where most of us have been making a great mistake. All of the saints, from the vedic rishis to Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, right down to the present day, have been stressing the same note, Bhakti Yoga. Your object of concentration should be related to you through your heart, not through your intellect. The mantra and the deity, which are the basis for consolidation of dissipated energy, should be a matter of heart more than head.

Is Bhakti Yoga necessary?

What is heart? It is spontaneity of feeling, selection and choice. When you want to get off the mental plane, you have to use a greater force.

A little bit of practice with a dry mantra here and a dry deity there will not do.

One of the great saints of India was Mira Bai. She was a princess and a queen, then she became a swami, a sannyasin. She left her kingdom and devoted her whole life to the spiritual quest until she reached the final destination. Every Indian knows her songs. Mira Bai says that when there is infinite love, there is no further practice. "My beloved is in me, and therefore I do not have to go anywhere."

This spontaneity of devotion, this Bhakti Yoga, is the culmination point which everyone should remember. When one wants to evolve in spiritual life, dry Raja Yoga will not do; full, exciting Kundalini Yoga will not do. I have absolute respect for all these, because I teach them. I am not criticising them. I am only pointing out their limitations. You have to awaken the devotional aspect in yourself, and do not say that you do not have it. If you did not have this stuff in you, how could you love, how could you hate, how could you be happy?

Emotion, passion, attachment, the knowledge and feelings of pleasure and pain, are based on, or are the offspring of this stuff called bhava or attitude, bhakti or devotion. It is a very important point that we have to ponder in our lives. We have been living the life of a Christian, devoted to Christ and God and Church. Or we have been living the life of a Hindu, devoted to Hindu dharma, the temple, Rama and Krishna, and so forth.

In the course of time, all of these religious formalities have followed a tradition of decadence. There is nothing wrong with them, but everything has degenerated and decayed. Our Gurus, in Hinduism as well as in Christianity, have failed to explain how bhakti is intimately connected with the emotions and passions of our lives. Just as a passionate man loves a woman, or vice versa, so we must approach our deity with the same force, attitude and spontaneity. Do you have to make an effort when you love somebody? No! It is not difficult. Maybe sometimes you even have to control yourself!

How can we develop bhakti?

There is a certain technique by which bhakti will become spontaneous, by which this dormant substance, this latent quality of bhakti will become a reality in your life.

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was once travelling with a disciple in a small boat. The disciple said, "Paramahamsaji, please tell me how to feel the spontaneity of love for God." Ramakrishna at once became angry and said, "What nonsense you are speaking!" He promptly threw him into the river and told the boatman to row on.

Now, the disciple did not know how to swim and he was struggling and gasping for breath; he was pining for life. Finally, the boatman went back and rescued him. After some time, when the man had recovered from his dunking, Ramakrishna asked, "How did you find the experience?" The disciple replied, "Only one thing was in my mind how to survive, how to live."

This is the way we should think and feel when we sit for meditation. There should be nothing in our minds but Guru, nothing but our faithful deity. But it is not there! Why? Because we have been practising dhyana yoga without developing our love to the full extent. We have been practising Rajneesh meditation, we have been practising ajapa japa meditation, without fully developing, without fully manifesting, without fully exposing the bhakti aspect of our lives.

We have been squandering our bhakti. Where has our bhakti gone? To the pictures, to the television, from one man u another man, from one girl to another girl, from 'or type of dress to another type of dress. We have been squandering this great, priceless gem, this gift of eternal reality which every animal, vegetable and human being possesses, which everything has. This bhakti has to be developed.

The one who ignites the dormant bhakti in your personality, the Guru, comes first in spiritual life. Once the bhakti is accomplished, dhyana yoga becomes spontaneous. You close your eyes and things start opening. For the awakening of this bhakti, Guru is first, the second is kirtan, and the third is satsang.

Importance of satsang

Satsang is association, congregation, conference, sitting with the people who discuss and talk about things pertaining to spiritual life - not politics, sociology, finances, romance, weather, fashion or food, the spiritual life. This congregation, where we are sitting at this moment, is a satsang. Sang means 'coming together' and sat means 'truth, reality, spirit'. Satsang is very important. Someone must tell the stories of those great saints who had the vision the supreme.

Longfellow, the poet, said that we have to read the lives of the great saints to make our own lives sublime. Throughout history, these saints have led a unique type of life. They have experimented with a new system of life, a new conduct, a new way of thinking. They were revolutionaries of their time. I have read practically all of them, the Hindu saints, the Christian saints, the Sufi saints, the Muslim saints the Hebrew saints and the Greek saints. If you go through their lives, they will inspire you. Their inspiration will awaken the bhakti. This is how we have to plod on with our spiritual consciousness.