Please tell us about your sadhana of the last five years.
I had made a sankalpa to do Panchagni for five years. The sankalpa has to be made for either one year, five years, seven years, twelve years or a lifetime. Panchagni is difficult, it is not easy. It was only due to God's grace that I did not fall ill even for a single day, because the five fires always burn man, whether they are the internal or external fires. Kama (passion), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), mada (arrogance) and moha (attachment) are the five inner fires. They burn the inner being and make him sick mentally and spiritually. They completely squeeze the internal mental and psychic energies.
The external fires dehydrate you physically and cause a lot of difficulties and diseases, but I was not ill for a single day. When I used to sit in the morning, the temperature around me would be 30° centigrade, which is almost like a normal summer temperature. By the time I had completed the first round it would be 50° centigrade, and when I started the second session it was 60° centigrade. I kept a thermometer which was used in the bread oven. One day it struck 90°; the westerly wind was blowing. But the joy and the peace were great.
Panchagni is not done throughout the year. It begins when the sun enters Capricorn and concludes when the sun enters Cancer, that is for six months. During that period you have to be very cautious about everything, about your thoughts and your interactions with people, and, therefore, you are not allowed to interact with anybody. You have to be alert in life to every thought, every action, every movement. Sleeping, eating, bathing, sitting, every interaction, every communication has to be according to the rules. That is why I have had to be very strict about these things.
Five years passed very quietly. There were no problems, either physical or external. This year on the 16th July when the sun entered Cancer, I extinguished the five external fires. Now, for another seven years I will be near the fire outside, but the fire will be internal. It will be cold, not hot. That will be from Capricorn to Cancer, not now. Six months Panchagni, then four months chaaturmaas. Chaaturmaas begins on Ashadha Shukla Ekadasi, some time in July, and ends on Kartik Shukla Ekadasi, some time in October or November. During these four months you remain inside, not outside.
I never observed chaaturmaas during my career. The first mini chaaturmaas which I observed was in Trayambakeshwar in 1989, for two months. Two months is a mini chaaturmaas. Here in Rikhia I observe chaaturmaas for the full four months with all the rules and regulations: mouna, rest, sleep, yoga nidra, relaxation. In the two months from Kartik Shukla Ekadasi to Makar Sankranti I practise pranayama. These are the separate programmes.
However, the most important programme is awareness of the natural, spontaneous breath, and awareness of the mantra with the breath, in a relaxed mood. All the time thinking, Who is God to me and who am I to Him? Who is He and who am I? What is my relationship with Him? Most of us have not discovered this.
We worship God as God, but one thing we forget is that we are related to God. There is a connection. Everyone is connected to God, just as all the bulbs, all the fridges, all the air conditioners, all the machinery plants, everything you see in Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi, are connected to the main powerhouse. It doesn't matter that one gives light, another gives heat, another gives cold and another gives something else. The fridge is connected to the powerhouse, the bulb is connected to the powerhouse and the cooler is connected to the powerhouse, but each relationship is different.
During these five years I have been able to discover that relationship and I am very grateful to God for revealing it. I always used to say, You are my father, you are my mother, you are my brother, you are my friend, you are my everything. I think all of you do the same thing. It is true. But He is something to me and something else to you. Until you discover your relationship with God, you are floundering in darkness.
During these five years I have learned one thing: I am in this physical body; my mind resides in this physical body. My associations, interactions, thinking patterns, aims, objects, karma, dharma, addictions, weaknesses, specialities, gifts and sins are all physical in nature. Deha buddhi (worldly minded) not atma buddhi (spiritually minded). So, a man who is born, lives and survives with his soul in the body should have that relationship.
Radha had a different relationship with God because she did not belong to deha buddhi. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Mirabai and many other saints had a different relationship. For so many years, for fifty or sixty years or more, I was so foolish. I did not even know that I was His servant. I thought, I am a part of God. Maybe all these years I did not even know that I was His reluctant, disobedient, ignorant and foolish servant. I did not know it. Do you understand? I was His foolish servant and I did not know it!
In Rikhia the revelation came. When I think of the past, then I realise that He told me to go to Munger. He told me to leave Munger. He told me to come to Rikhia. It was He who told me. I was thinking that this was the sound, this was the voice, this was the order of my inner mind. No. There is no such thing. Therefore, now the next phase of my spiritual life begins. Prior to that I will meet all of you and tell you, Don't come again unless I call you.
Paramahamsaji, is bhakti karmically confined or defined or can it be developed?
Bhakti does not need to be cultivated or defined. Bhakti is present in everyone. It is an all-pervading essence in all living beings, not only in human beings.
Bhakti has to do with feeling. The feeling for God is bhakti. The feeling for one's enemy is revenge. The feeling for a girl is passion. The feeling for money is greed. They are all feelings. When your feeling goes towards God, it is called bhakti. The same feeling which goes towards a mother or child is affection or sneha. When it goes towards a friend, it is friendship, whether paternal, maternal or fraternal. They are all feelings.
You don't have to be told how to develop your feelings. You have only to be taught how to direct your feelings. It is only the channelisation of feeling which is required. Bhakti is just natural! It is absolutely natural for everyone! What you have to do is just change the direction or flow. The same feeling which was running towards jealousy, anger, greed and passion has to be redirected a little bit to become bhakti.
Throughout history we have seen many people who were wretched, very passionate and horribly debauched. Something happened to them and within a second, within the twinkling of an eye, they became great bhaktas. They didn't have to develop that love, because it was already in them. It was only misplaced, misdirected or misguided.
You must know the story of Saint Tulsidas (the poet saint who wrote the Ramayana). What was the intensity of his emotions? He crossed a river, riding on a dead body in the middle of the night and amidst heavy rains, just to meet his wife. When he finally reached her, she treated him harshly. Her harsh comments completely transformed his life. Devotion was already there inside him and her words released its flow, which had previously been obstructed. In an instant the shock that his wife gave him pushed him onto another path. She was just the medium.
The Lord Himself has said in the Ramacharitamanas, Collect the threads of attachment to parents, children, wife, relatives, body, wealth, property and family. Twist them together to make a firm rope and mentally tie that rope to my feet!
The pandas (temple worshippers) perform pooja in the temples but is their heart, their feeling, in it? No. On the other hand, although a mother does not chant the names of her family while she is cooking their food, she is always conscious of them. The feeling is there that she is cooking for her son or husband, that they will like it this way or that way. That remembrance is constantly at the back of her mind. This has to be your attitude towards God while performing all your worldly duties and acts.
Bhakti is a feeling. It is not the religious act which you perform in the church or temple, although that is necessary. I am not criticising that, but it is a ritual. It is a physical action which may be necessary for some reason or another but that is not the definition of bhakti. It is the feeling the mother has for the child. It is the feeling the lover has for the beloved. It is the feeling of one enemy for another. You hate him so much that you are obsessed by him! You can't forget him! While eating or sleeping in the night you are always obsessed by him.
The same intensity of feeling is experienced in bhakti, and when there is intensity of bhakti it is called para bhakti, or transcendental devotion. Para bhakti and jnana (knowledge) are one. Para bhakti means super-devotion, when there is intensity. What kind of intensity? It is not lukewarm love, it is intense.
Does this depend on karma or destiny?
No, it does not depend on karma. It does not depend on horoscopes. It does not depend on anyone, but Him. If He wants to, He will give you that intense love. Bhakti can only be gained by the grace of God, not from the scriptures and not by any practice. No! There exists no method of attaining para bhakti.
If you go on pilgrimages, visit temples, fast, have satsang with your guru, and perform worship, you might experience some lukewarm devotion and feel better, but it will not be para bhakti. Para bhakti is not merely ordinary love. It is the divine love which Mirabai, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and many others realised. Twenty-four hours of the day, while eating, drinking, rising, sitting, sleeping or waking, they felt nothing but feverish devotion for the Divine. The state is obtained by God's grace only, there is no other means.
So, all you can do is live in the company of saints, work hard and find a genuine guru to surrender to and serve. Constantly remember the Lord's name. These are the only prescribed methods. But in para bhakti the devotee merges himself totally and completely into the Divine. He becomes one with Him and forgets himself. He does not even consider himself to be a devotee. His mind is so immersed in God that he feels himself to be God.
Merging the three aspects of worship, worshipper and worshipped, one should go on developing continuous devotion to God with the attitude of a servant or a slave. Those devotees who are ever-attached to God are the best. When they talk about God their throats become choked with emotion, their whole body trembles in ecstasy and tears flow from their eyes.
If anyone were to ask me how to achieve this supreme devotion, my reply to them would be that I do not know. And never mind me, no one knows! Even as the chatak bird always keeps his beak open, waiting for the raindrops of swati nakshatra (one of the 27 constellations in a year) to fall into it, you must keep your heart forever open. Maybe the drops of God's grace will one day descend upon you.