Bhakti Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Can love and fear coexist?

Love and fear coexist just as sun and shadow coexist, like the play of night and day. If someone expresses a quality of love, whether sublime or mundane, the fear that is the outcome of that love will also be expressed. There will always be love and fear as long as human beings hold on to the present definition of love as a form of attachment. When you love somebody or something there is a close association that will bring with it a form of attachment, a form of desire, and the attraction becomes stronger and stronger. Attachments are bound to be created and fear is the natural outcome.

Love and desire

If you want to be free from the fear associated with love, then the definition of love has to change. People do not know how to love because the consciousness is stuck at the level of mooladhara. Although love exists, it is coloured and tainted by the influence of mooladhara, which is the desire for stability and security. When you transcend mooladhara and come to swadhisthana, love takes another colour. When you come to manipura, the colour of love will change again, becoming more aggressive and dynamic. As long as the expression of love is at the level of mooladhara, swadhisthana and manipura, there is also bound to be fear.

Real change is felt only when the consciousness comes to the level of anahata and you connect with the positive expression of love. Love is a quality, not a desire; it is the inherent nature of a human being. Just as each element has an inherent quality, a nature that it expresses optimally, so love also has a quality. At the level of anahata love expresses itself differently; it becomes a nature, not a desire.

At present we want love out of desire, whether biological or sexual, to fill an emotional vacuum, out of insecurity, or a desire for comfort and safety. That love is mental, emotional, psychological and sensual, and is defined as gross love. The most basic form of love is when we seek to fulfil a need or vacuum in our life. When love simply becomes our nature and a part of our life without thinking about it, then the concept of love has taken on a different meaning, because it is not coloured by desire. This is the love that the masters have said one must try to attain. The greater the influence of desire on love, the more one is subject to the influence of guilt and fear. This can only change when the desire for personal fulfilment and satisfaction at gross levels changes to the experience of pure love.

A higher quality of love

Sthitaprajna is a different form of love where wisdom prevails over the needs and desires. In that love one experiences peace and bliss. It flows through the senses, becomes energy and radiates out. This love can make people forget their own instinctive nature. There are stories that in ashrams in ancient India, tigers and sheep would forget their natural animosity and drink together from the same water hole. All the natural fears would be dropped in an environment of pure love.

Bhakti yoga aims at making love pure, transcendental and focused, by getting rid of fear and guilt and providing a focus and direction for the emotions. When love is said to emanate from the higher self it becomes fulfilling. We belong to the world because our associations and identifications are with the world. You may give your wisdom to someone, the best that you can, but what you receive will depend on the other person's level of consciousness, which may be lower or higher. When you identify with the love you receive from someone, then your own consciousness will move up or down to the same level as theirs. Love is not simply an act of giving, it is also an act of receiving. When you give love, you receive love and when you receive love, your mind adjusts to the nature of love being received. But the exchange happens at a very superficial level.

Bhakti yoga

In bhakti yoga a focus is given to the channelling of emotions and an effort is made to make love into a spontaneous expression of the self while inter-relating with the manifest world. Paramahamsaji has said that emotions are pure, like a crystal ball. A crystal ball has no colour of its own, it is transparent, and when placed on a coloured cloth, it will reflect the colours of the cloth. In the same manner, when our emotions come into contact with different people and objects, they take on the colours of that person or object.

If your emotions attach themselves to money, that emotion will be identified as greed. If your emotions become attached to the opposite sex, that emotion will be passion. If attached to your enemy, that emotion will be animosity or hatred. If attached to somebody near and dear to you, that will be known as affection. And if your emotions attach themselves to higher consciousness, then that emotion will be known as bhakti, and it will manifest as pure love, shuddha prem.

Bhakti yoga is a very powerful tool for the generation and expression of love without boundaries – universal love. But the process of bhakti yoga, although it sounds simple, is very complex, because you have to recondition the existing human nature and rechannel all the forces that flow out to converge at a single point of focus. That point can be called God, the force of creation; it can be called guru, the energy which removes ignorance and darkness; it can be called love, prem. The literal meaning of the word prem is to appreciate and be identified with something intensely and silently. In that identification there is absolute peace. There is not even the birth of a desire. It is a state of contentment, wholeness and fulfilment. But to come to this point, basic changes have to take place in attitude, beliefs and the expression of love, in order to purify oneself. All these areas are covered in bhakti yoga.

The process of bhakti yoga is simple, just as the processes in hatha yoga, raja yoga or kriya yoga are simple, but the aim is quite different from the process. The aim of hatha yoga is purification and harmony of the body. The concept of harmony of the body is quite complex, but the process is simple – asana, shatkarma, etc. The aim of raja yoga is self-management; the process is yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. The purpose of kundalini yoga is to awaken the dormant potential; the process is chakras, mantras, yantras, and so on.

Nine stages of bhakti

The aim of bhakti yoga is to identify with the pure nature of emotions, love and spirit. The process is through kirtan, mantra, adoration, contemplation, prayer and so forth. But these transformations have to take place in an area of our personality that has not yet been mapped or charted. So, there are nine stages to bhakti yoga and one should be able to attain each stage, experience it and live it.

  1. Encounter with truth
    The first form of bhakti is encounter with the inherent truth. Although that statement sounds simple, what does it really mean? We all wear different kinds of masks which we put for self-identity. Each mask projects us as a particular type of person at different times, hiding our true nature. The discovery of truth is learning to live without a mask so you can discover who you are, what your real nature is, after dropping all the masks. This is the first attainment of bhakti.
  2. Identification with the godly qualities
    Identifying with the positive and the uplifting qualities of godhood is the second form of bhakti. In the Indian tradition, people have defined the qualities that must exist in a yogi, a saint or a realized being. For example, Jainism has very clear definitions of how to know when a person has become arahant, enlightened, what conditions need to be fulfilled. After all, if people tell us that God is within and can be realized, then upon realization that would make us identify with the godly nature and we would have the same potential as God at a microcosmic, not a macrocosmic, level. So in the second form of bhakti, we identify with the qualities of the godly nature and they take a place in our life.
    In order to impress somebody, even the most crooked person can behave in a very diplomatic and refined manner. In the same way, in order to experience the transcendental nature that same person can adjust and adapt to express a divine quality. Through identification with that quality there will be identification with and understanding of the nature of God and a transformation of the whole personality can take place.
  3. Adherence to the teachings
    The third form of bhakti is adhering to the teachings given by the guru, the enlightened master, with innocence and simplicity, following in his footsteps sincerely without superimposing your own ideas and beliefs upon the teachings you have received. When you try to adjust and accommodate the teachings to suit your own needs, then the teachings become irrelevant. But when the teaching is taken in the spirit of learning, in order to improve the quality of life, then it becomes a relevant personal philosophy, a way of life.
  4. Acceptance of reality
    The fourth form of bhakti is being aware of the miracle of the glory of God without manipulation or deviousness. In this form of bhakti, we learn to accept reality as it exists. Our normal tendency is to try to adjust reality to suit ourselves. In summer we try to make our environment cool; in winter we try to make it warm, even though suffering a little heat in summer and cold in winter makes the body strong. So be aware of the glory of reality and learn to accept it as an ongoing process. Every step of life is some kind of miracle.
    St John of the Cross said, “I swear by God, I die every night.” That is one miracle, and the fact that you wake up in the morning is another. The fact that you can analyze things is another miracle, and that you can be aware of every moment as it goes by is another. We do not live just in a mechanical clockwork world. There is also a way to respond directly to the miraculous expressions of every dimension of life. We learn about them and we live being guided by them, and accept that reality.
  5. Remembrance of God with faith through mantra
    The fifth form of bhakti is remembrance of God's name, God's nature and God's wisdom, with absolute faith. Faith is the natural outcome of acceptance. Once there is faith, then remembrance will follow, which is the key to opening your connection with the cosmic self. Gold is taken out of the earth, refined and made into a necklace, which you wear. Although the original appearance has changed, the essence is still gold. If that necklace falls into the lavatory, you value it enough to put your hand in to retrieve it, wash it and wear it again. In the same manner, you have to value the remembrance of God and be ready to retrieve that remembrance from any pit into which it falls.
    Faith comes in bhakti and with faith comes remembrance. Remembrance is a link between the lower self and the higher self in the form of a mantra. Mantra is that force which liberates the mind, without identifying with it – mananat trayate iti mantrah. Normally there is some association with every word. If somebody says you are good, you associate with the word 'good' and feel happy. If somebody says you are bad, you associate with the word 'bad' and feel bad. The self-image and self-esteem are affected because we tend to see ourselves through the eyes of others and do not know our real nature.
    Mantras are vibrations that do not have a literal meaning or association. Rather they are sounds produced from vibrations with particular frequencies that activate a part of the brain, the energy and chakras, and the consciousness. The body is full of vibrations and identification with the inherent vibrations leads one to realization of the godly nature. Knowledge of vibration has existed in the past: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God,” it says in the Bible. In the Upanishads it is said, Om iti, yad ahsharam vidam – Om existed, exists and will exist. Om is the primordial, cosmic sound.
    Matter is nothing but compressed energy. If we were able to look into the molecular structure of any object, we would find atoms, electrons, protons and neutrons all moving in a pre-determined way. In the centre we would find the nucleus vibrating. Wherever there is vibration and movement, there is bound to be a frequency and, therefore, sound. Mantras represent that vibration, that frequency, that sound. So the fifth form of bhakti is using mantras to go deep inside one's mind and consciousness, without any identification with the intellectual mind or the inner experience, and remaining connected with faith.
  6. Restrained and graceful action
    The sixth form of bhakti is modesty and gracefulness, which is an outer expression in life where you are living and expressing your human dharma. Yoga is known as restrained expression. When we are not restrained, it means that our actions are not clearly guided and do not really have a purpose. In yoga the idea of restraint does not mean to hold back but to give purpose, direction, motivation and clarity to whatever we do. Knowledgeable, considered action is where you restrain the usual tendencies of the mind, focus upon one thing and fulfil it.
    Dharma is generally defined in English as duty, commitment or obligation, but the real meaning of dharma is an attitude, a mentality, a lifestyle which you are able to maintain and which helps to uplift your life. There are three major components of dharma: appropriate thinking, appropriate behaviour and appropriate action. Dharma means doing what is appropriate, guided by wisdom. So the sixth form of bhakti is giving yourself a focus and fulfilling your human dharma by performing the appropriate action in a graceful manner.
  7. Seeing divinity in everything
    The seventh form of bhakti is the ability to see divinity in everything by realizing that the divine spark exists in every aspect of creation. The life in this body is an expression of God. The motion of the mind is an expression of God. The greenness in a leaf or a blade of grass, the liquidity of water, the warmth of fire are all expressions of God. Insects, inanimate objects, the elements, everything has its function and is fulfilling its role in the scheme of creation, which is being guided by the cosmic will. Realizing that the entire creation is an expression of the divine will and being able to perceive the transcendental nature in everything is the seventh aspect of bhakti.
  8. Contentment
    Contentment is the eighth form of bhakti. The same concept is the second niyama in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. When you are content, you are fulfilled and do not see the faults or mistakes of others. When contentment becomes the dominant quality in one's life, the nature is pure, complete, and needs nothing further added to it. When you are content, there is an inner stability, no desire for gain, no fear of loss; you are just being yourself.
    The desire for gain comes when there is arrogance. Depression comes with loss when you are not self-willed and lack self-confidence. When you are the natural you, then at that time there is contentment. Externally, you are centred and balanced in both victory and defeat. At the psychological level the mind is properly harmonized and there is no ill will towards anyone or anything. You don't see the shortcomings or the negativity. Everyone is expressing according to their level of education. In a school the children behave and act according to the class they are in. It is the same in the world. Each one of us is in a different class and our maturity is according to the class we are in. Finding a balance in the expressions of the mind, generating a feeling of inner contentment and experiencing completeness is the eighth form of bhakti.
  9. Let thy will be done
    The ninth form of bhakti is 'Let thy will be done', the final letting go of individuality, where you become an instrument that God plays upon. You have to become empty. Radha once asked Krishna, “Why do you love your flute more than me?” Krishna replied, “The whole world knows that I love you. Why do you ask?” “Because you hold the flute to your lips all the time,” said Radha. “That,” replied Krishna, “is because the bamboo of the flute is totally hollow inside, and when people empty themselves then I love them very dearly.” So just allow yourself to become hollow inside, without any conflict, problems or difficulties; let go and become totally free. When you become free from self-created barriers, then you become the darling of God – and then you live according to the divine will and the feeling that comes is “Make me an instrument of thy love.”

One with God

These are the nine stages of bhakti in which transformations take place in the realm of consciousness and in the realm of mind, attitude and behaviour. The processes to attain these are said to be kirtan, mantra, chanting, contemplation, prayer and meditation. The aim of bhakti is to go through these nine steps one by one and to become established in the state of pure love where you are free from fear. Then you become one with God.

There are examples of people who have become one with God. There is the story of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. History says that at the time of his death he was dancing in front of Lord Jagannath, and the two became one. When the saint Kabir Das died, both the Muslims and the Hindus claimed him as their patron saint. But when they removed the shroud, they found only flowers. Another example is Mira Bai, the poet saint. At the time of her death, her body became light and it merged with the statue of Krishna.

These are recorded events in history, such things do happen. In more recent times, when St Theresa of Avila went into ecstasy, the signs of the stigmata would appear on her hands and feet. When she came out of this state of ecstasy, the signs would disappear. That means the level of identification is so deep that even the body can change because it is simply compressed energy. When that energy is freed, it becomes one with the divine energy. This is the miracle of understanding and living the belief of 'Let thy will be done'.

Ganga Darshan, January 1, 2002