The Age of Bhakti

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

I have had a glimpse of the new millennium. Yoga will go backstage and bhakti will take its place. Bhakti means devotion or love; it is an expression of bhavana, a deep feeling from the heart towards God. Love will become prominent, not as a belief but as a science. After all, you may not know what antibiotics are, but they have been researched and defined. In psychology, research has been done into brainwaves. Similarly, scientists will investigate people like Mirabai. Mirabai was given poison but it did not affect her. How did that happen? What changes took place in her body? What waves were predominant in her brain? Were they beta, alpha, theta, delta or something else? Christ was crucified for three days yet he did not die. How did he remain alive?

I had years and years of believing that God was without name or form. However, those views changed because I have been convinced by my personal experience, aparokshanubhuti.

When I was at Bihar School of Yoga, I always spoke about yoga and carefully avoided God. Most of you must remember this. But now I can no longer talk about yoga, I can only talk about bhakti. Now it is necessary to speak about God and it does not matter whether it is done in a Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Hindu way. Something transcendental has to come as a focus for the mind. God has to be brought forth very systematically and scientifically, not as someone mysterious. I never spoke about God before in my life, but suddenly I am not able to speak of anything else.

The next generation will get scientific proof of bhakti, not religious evidence. What is said in the Ramayana is legendary evidence; it is not scientific. No religious book is scientific evidence. When you say that the moon is so many miles from the earth, there is scientific evidence, objective data, today to prove it. Either my view is right or it is wrong. It can't be both. If I am wrong, then I am crazy, but if I am right, then what am I? You must find out. I am speaking about this very frankly, although you may not understand it.

The new millennium will see the renaissance of dharma and bhakti. If I am still alive, your children and grandchildren will love me! They will say, “Papa, do you know what bhakti is? In school we learned that a great scientist from America says that bhakti has a very important influence on biological matter and that he has measured it with different instruments. So you must love God like you love your family.” You will say, “This boy has gone crazy!” Then he will say, “I am not crazy; I am talking science!” The time is going to come very soon for redefining bhakti as a part of our personal lives and as a means of redemption from pain.

Lumbago is not the only pain that man suffers from, nor is arthritis. It is true that there is pain, but there are many other problems in the human mind, consciousness and psyche. If you were to search for an individual cure for all of these problems, it would take a lifetime. However, there is a common cure for them all in bhakti. Therefore, you must practise kirtan, have satsang and read the lives of great saints, whoever they may be – Mirabai, Ramakrishna, St Francis, Aurobindo, St Teresa of Avila or St John of the Cross. Read the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas, for example, and just try to live like that, but do not make bhakti a religion or a sect. This will take time to develop because the intellectual mind is a very hard nut to crack. Therefore, a devotee should not take recourse in vain discussions. Aurobindo has said, “Reason was the helper and reason is the barrier. Transcend reason.”

The culture of bhakti yoga

The twentieth century was the century of political culture. Politicians were at the forefront of everything. Now people have understood that the political culture will never save humanity, it will never solve social problems, it will never bring an end to war. In the twenty-first century scientists will change their focus. They have been working on the dimension of matter and have developed the technology to prove their hypotheses. In the new millennium, they will investigate feelings, emotions, devotion and bhakti. The research will be streamlined and has already started to happen in many countries.

It was the scientists who proved the superiority of matter. Now they will prove the superiority of mind and emotions over matter. The twenty-first century will see this happen. There are many things which the last century missed that the new century will pick up. If it misses them, then disaster will follow because man has so much technological knowledge that he has the power to destroy himself.

There is only one path; all other paths are stepping stones. Karma yoga, raja yoga and jnana yoga are stepping stones. Bhakti is the path, God is the destiny and you and I are the travellers. This is the only truth. If there is any philosophy other than this, it is illogical. We are born with only one destiny. Man is an experiment, and the outcome of that experiment is the experience of God. Many people in the past have had that experience, but many more will have it in the future.

I can see clearly the great changes taking place in different parts of the world, particularly in the western hemisphere. Wherever there is an excess of worldly pleasure and materialistic aspirations, people have developed a feeling of distaste, dispassion. The twentieth century has only shown us a culture of indulgence and enjoyment, a utilitarian, consumer culture. This culture now plays a dominant role in literature, music, art and drama as well. The twentieth century has given us no path advocating spirituality. Spirituality has only survived the onslaught of stark materialism because great people like Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramatirtha and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa have kept it alive by injecting some inspiration into it.

The age of bhakti is dawning. Bhakti is a force which will influence the civilization, culture and relationships of man. If you study history, you will find that there have been revolutions brought about to promote awareness of bhakti. These were the times when society was going through a transition period and a feeling of instability prevailed everywhere, like today. It happened in India as well as in Europe. Whenever a society passes through a transition period, it experiences a social vacuum and people begin to reject it.

Do you accept what is happening in your society today? Do you accept the way people think, act and behave? Don't you criticize these things? What does all this mean? It means you are not satisfied with the existing state of society. When a society becomes dissatisfied with its own state of affairs, that situation is known as a social vacuum. This has already happened in the developed western societies, but they fail to understand it. Therefore, they are turning towards spirituality. They are adopting bhakti marga, the path that leads to God. This is the only way.

Bhakti comes from the heart

The twenty-first century will be the century of bhakti yoga for everyone. Scientists will start to investigate human emotions because emotions are more powerful than matter. By human emotions I mean feelings. Bhakti is not religious doctrine, it is not a product of intellect. Bhakti is concerned with your inner personal feelings, which come from the heart. It is constant awareness. Just as you have a deep feeling of terror, passion or enmity, in the same way, there is a deep feeling of true love for God. Instead of directing your emotions towards fear, anger and hatred, you have to direct them towards God. You must direct your emotions totally in the right direction.

Bhakti is present in everyone; it is an all pervading essence in all living beings, not only human beings. The feeling for God is bhakti, the feeling for one's enemy is revenge, the feeling for one's beloved is passion, the feeling for money is greed. When your feeling goes towards God, it is called bhakti. The same feeling from a mother for her child is affection, sneha. When it is directed towards a friend it is friendship. So, you do not have to be told how to develop your feelings because they already exist. You only have to be taught how to channel them. Bhakti is natural for everyone.

Only in bhakti yoga can the human mind stabilize itself easily. Give some time to serving God and the mind automatically becomes one-pointed. There has to be balance in life. You have to have as much devotion to God as you have cravings for enjoyment. Enjoy this world as much as you can, but side by side give as much devotion to God as possible.

The most important thing that you have to understand is that God is the centre of the universe. You can only see God through the eyes of your heart. The heart is free from selfishness, it is the source of sacrifice and selflessness. If you want to have any connection or relationship with God, then intellect is the barrier. You can discuss God through the intellect, but you cannot feel Him. You express your feelings through the heart. Love, hatred, passion, sacrifice and anger are feelings. You feel them; you do not see them. Similarly you cannot see God, God has to be felt.

How can bhakti be developed? This is a very important question and a very difficult one. Everyone wants to love and be loved. You don't have to learn how to love, but how to streamline this love from matter to spirit. How can the love that you have for the material world be channelled towards God? You have to discover and forge a relationship with Him. Is God your father, mother, husband, wife, child, boyfriend, girlfriend, friend or master? You have to be very clear about Him. There are two truths: one is that love is natural to everyone, and the other is that everyone is connected with God. So, you do not have to connect yourself with God, you have to discover your relationship with Him.

Important aspects of bhakti

The foremost attributes on the path of bhakti are trust and faith. Bhakti is an emotional quality. Faith and trust belong to your psychological personality. Their effects can be measured in terms of electromagnetic radiations. What is the effect of faith and trust on the blood pressure and metabolism? Faith and trust are personal things. How can I know how much faith and trust you have? Can they be measured if I cannot see them?

We cannot see faith or belief, but I can feel mine and you can feel yours. However, that is not enough. Objective data needs to be produced. Trust and faith are the basis of bhakti and cannot be seen with the eyes. What is that faith? Is it a blood flow or a current of electromagnetic radiation? What is the form of bhavana? Is it a vibration or a flow? It is a feeling and it definitely exists, because when you are angry, you hate. The feeling of anger disturbs the heart and blood pressure. You lose your appetite and the liver function is impaired. In many people worries and anxieties cause the eyesight to become weak.

This means that the effect of bhavana or feeling on the human body is tangible. Although you cannot see faith or trust, the effects can be felt on the body. Therefore, you can know the cause through the effect. Bhakti yoga will be the next topic of scientific research. Until now scientists have only carried out research into matter. They won't investigate the soul, the spirit, atma, because they say it does not exist, but they can certainly research feelings, faith and trust.

Forms of God

God has two forms, the transcendental and the immanent. God is beyond everything, beyond time, space and matter, and God is present in all beings. We have to accept both concepts of God. God exists in many forms, from the microbe to the towering tree, from the limited mind to the universal mind. God is the person who needs your help, God is in the animal that needs your protection. A complete idea of bhakti has to emerge in such a way that society will be regenerated, then people will enjoy life.

One can worship God in any form one likes. In this Kali yuga, sankirtan, the singing of God's name, is a divine path. The other path is helping others. If every single person were to light one candle for another, how many candles would be lit? With this chain reaction every house would be lit with a candle. The last century did not support bhakti, it supported politics, materialism and the fulfilment of petty desires. International peace can only be achieved if every human being is peaceful.

The times are changing. The winter of materialism is going and the spring of bhakti is coming. People are really frustrated and disappointed with this culture. Wouldn't you prefer a simple life with peace of mind? For achieving mental peace two things are necessary: one is acceptance of one's situation in life and the other is bhakti, love for God. Where there is bhakti there is peace of mind, no worries, likes, dislikes, love, hatred, anger or lust. Peace means acceptance.

Inspiring others to lead a divine life

The preliminary groundwork will have to be done by a number of people who have realized this divinity in their own lives. That will be the first step. The twentieth century did not have such people with the capacity to inspire others to lead a divine life. There were many preachers who spoke about God, but unless God is in you and works through you, that is not enough.

The second point is that in the new century people will be as scientifically-minded as they were in the last century. Scientists will work, not only in education, but on many other fronts. God-realized saints on one side and scientists on the other will have to work together. Bhakti is not only a philosophy or a religion. Bhakti is a science which can transform the individual and change his thinking pattern. The generation of the 21st century will belong to the bhakti yoga culture because mankind has developed its feelings and emotions during the present era and these expressed feelings have to be redirected or streamlined.

It is necessary to lead the future generation onto the path of bhakti. Try to inspire your children to take a new direction. You do not have to tell them to eat or to get married because these are natural drives. You have to teach them how to devote more time to God, how to be spiritual, how to make some time in the morning and evening for remembering God, for singing kirtan. The yoga of the next generation will be sankirtan because people everywhere are crazy about music. People all over the world, irrespective of nationality, culture, colour and creed, will enjoy singing God's name on a family or community basis.

The future of science

In the twenty-first century scientists will turn their attention towards bhakti and they will conduct research into the human psyche in the same way that they did research on matter, electronics, nuclear physics, computers and satellites in the twentieth century. Technology was the outcome of science in the last century. Bhakti will be the outcome of science in the new millennium.

Scientists will discover the impact of bhakti on the human mind, behaviour and constitution, and its effect on society and civilization. How does bhakti effect the electromagnetic waves of the human brain? How does it influence the enzymes? How does bhakti improve the cardiovascular system? What is the effect of bhakti on universal consciousness? It is clear that the scientists of the twenty-first century will have to work very hard. Spiritual discipline then will not be known as religion or faith, but as a science of life. Just as we have been able to deal with space communication through electronic mediums, similarly we will have to deal with the idiosyncrasies of humanity, with its complicated mind and its strange behaviour, which I do not think science is able to control.

Nobody has control over the human mind and behaviour today. This should develop when scientists realize that things are going wrong. Once they start to think about it, there will be a revival of religion. But which religion should be revived? The religion which is based on logic and reasoning and which has a pragmatic approach. So, scientists will give up experiments on matter and they will work on the influence of devotion to God and its effects on the chemistry, behaviour and experience of the human body and mind. It will be a wonderful thing and it will happen. This is the inevitable destiny of mankind in the new millennium.