Bhakti is the Path

Swami Satyananda Saraswati. From satsangs at Rikhia in 1997.

The path of bhakti is the greatest of all paths, especially for those who want to have darshan of God, the vision of reality. There is divinity within every being. God is nearer to you than your own prana, nearer than your own breath, nearer than your own thoughts. If this is the case, then why can’t you feel Him and see Him?

Bhakti relates not to the mind, but to the heart and emotions. You hate or love through emotion. The heart, that deep feeling of emotion, expresses itself as bhakti. I always had great difficulty in practising bhakti. I used to sing, pray and do japa, but I did it all through the mind. I wanted my heart to be involved in bhakti, but I did not know how to involve it, because it was a very untrained heart. I had never practised affection for anyone, never directed my heart, never given my heart to anyone. Even if I worked for yoga, it was not with the heart but with the mind. I met people, I laughed and conversed with them all through the mind, so my heart remained untrained.

When I wanted to bring my heart into operation, it was just quiet and said, “I don’t know.” So I decided I must develop some sort of relationship with God. I came to the conclusion that I am God’s servant, which is dasya bhava. Before that I thought I was a bhakta, a devotee of God. Before that I thought I was a jignasu sadhaka, a spiritual seeker, and before that, a moksha sadhaka, a seeker of liberation. But I found out how wrong I had been all along. Once you discover your relationship with God, your spiritual life will progress by itself.

Our first glimpse of bhakti was from our mother, then from our family in the form of attachment, affection and friendship. Then we found it in the form of a romantic relationship. All love and attachment is a form of bhakti, but it is not pure love. True love is not associated with the body, mind or soul. The basic cause of true love is bhavana, intense feeling. Therefore, look for the relationship with God in which your feelings will stick firmly to Him. Find out what is most special about your attitude towards God.

First, you have to find out what your inner nature is, then what your bhavana is, then what the manifest form of that bhavana is. Some people have affection, some romantic love, some gentleness, some enmity. Your relationship with God may revolve around any intense feeling that your mentality and personality can accept. Find your relationship with God according to your inner feeling. Think that whatever you are doing is serving God. This is what your bhavana should be. God is everywhere. Keep reflecting on God. Always sing God’s name.

Training the emotions

Only when you train your emotions in the right direction can they be transformed and converted into bhakti. Otherwise most people are totally dissipated. The untrained senses, mind and emotions all have to be channelled properly. How? Helping other people is a good method. The best thing you can do to help people is to love them from your heart. As far as helping people mentally is concerned, there is no better panacea than love. Love is the real healing principle. True love is loving someone even if they speak negatively about you and harm you. True love is loving a person despite his hatred of you. This love is not just emotional, it has to be concrete. If you don’t like me, I don’t care, but I will still help you. True love has no conditions at all.

The love which is an expression of compassion for all beings is most difficult to practise. Love means sacrifice. True love is giving, not taking or receiving. It is an act of unconditional giving and giving and giving. Very few people know how to love. It is most difficult to love your neighbour, because he may be the one who is always creating problems for you. Love is not being emotional and passionate; it is an expression of purity that manifests when you become very strong within your own heart.

You prepare yourself for love by helping others in little ways, by small acts of kindness, by doing good turns to others. This is the elementary training in love. When you help others, you do not create karma. If there is only selfless affection, there can be no emotional disturbance, and non-attachment flourishes. Whenever you serve others selflessly, whenever you do good to others without any ulterior motive, you do not get caught in the cycle of karma.

Selfless service will be the social philosophy of the twenty-first century, where everybody will think about others. Good karma is feeding the hungry, helping a poor person, making somebody happy. It is any act that helps somebody physically, mentally, spiritually, monetarily or in any other way. I always think of others positively because it helps me. If I think about anyone negatively, it creates bad karma which changes the chemical secretions in my physical body, and I do not want that. Good or positive thinking about others helps them and ultimately helps you.

Bhakti in the 21st century

The keynote of the twenty-first century will be bhakti. The bhakti movement will take us by storm. Yoga was responsible for weaning people from the material to the transcendental world. The yoga movement ushered in the spiritual awakening at large. Had yoga not been revived, humanity would never have turned to spirituality. Yoga has completed its mission successfully. Hatha yoga, asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha and other yogic practices proved extremely useful in bringing humanity to the path of bhakti. Yoga has become the pretext, the most practical excuse.

But the twenty-first century belongs to kirtan and bhakti. It will be full of sankirtan. The sound of sankirtan soirees will ring in the atmosphere. Renowned singers and musicians will step into kirtan singing, because the joy and ecstasy derived from devotional music cannot be found elsewhere. Two objectives will automatically be served in this way. First, the standard of music will improve. Second, those who find the spiritual path very difficult will find it easy through bhakti. Therefore, those of you who can sing and who have a family must sing kirtan. Dance, music and sankirtan will dominate this century. There will be metropolitan sankirtan, cruise sankirtan, forest sankirtan, mountain sankirtan and, of course, temple sankirtan.

Sing God’s name, hear His name, write His name, draw His picture, talk about Him, live with people who talk about God. This will not only make you free from tension, high blood pressure and so on, it will make you immensely happy, a kind of happiness that you cannot imagine, which cannot come from anything else in this world. The point of singing God’s name is divine intoxication, divine ecstasy.

Empty your heart

Bhakti is a science. It brings about a transformation in awareness, like a chemical change. Bhakti causes a metamorphosis in a person’s thoughts, actions and mind, as well as in their reactions, responses and lifestyle. These changes can be seen and experienced. All those who have reached the ultimate stage of bhakti, like Mirabai, Kabir and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, have told us one common truth – that bhakti is divine energy, transcendental love. It is not the ordinary emotion of love, it is supreme love. When your mind is fully and unconditionally merged in something, it becomes one with that object of love. When you turn your love towards God, the mind begins to lose itself. It slowly becomes one with God and the chasm between the devotee and God begins to narrow down.

Bhakti is the only sadhana path that is free of obstacles. Bhakti is inspired and sustained by God Himself. It is attained only by the grace of God. Therefore, when bhakti is God’s gift, His wish, how can there be an obstacle? This is my own personal experience and the teachings of all the sages, great souls, scriptures and holy books. Bhakti is the only sadhana that is simple, easy, without hazards, side effects, risks or any chance of going astray.

Bhakti is a ninefold path, but what I mean by bhakti is just attaching your mind to God. When your mind is attached to a man or woman, it is passion. When it is attached to money, it is greed. But when you attach your mind to God, it is bhakti. I suggest you turn all your feelings and attachments that are now flowing in different directions towards one focus – God. Gather your emotions together from all other relationships and direct them to God. Leave everything behind and empty your heart.

Remember that if you want to know what is beyond name and form, beyond the senses and intellect, the simplest and easiest path is to think about others. If you help your fellow beings, even a little, God will most certainly shower His grace upon you, because to worship others is to worship God.