Eternal Bhakti

Swami Ahimsadhara Saraswati (Helen Cushing), Satyananda Yoga Centre, Hobart, Australia

Bhakti is timeless. It abolishes time and space. It is a single, unmoving light which may be dim or dazzling, which may expand or contract, but whose centre is fixed. Anything else is not bhakti; it is a mood, or infatuation. But once the light, the flame of bhakti is ignited, that person’s life moves from that pivot point, as if chained to it. The point of illumination rests in the heart. I say ‘rests’, because bhakti is a place of rest, where the being is nourished, fortified, strengthened, healed, cheered and inspired.

Even if the mind rejects the feeling at the intellectual level, the heart never lets go. The heart lets go of moods, the heart lets go of infatuations, the heart even lets go of the feeling that is commonly called love. But the heart never renounces bhakti. Through the light of bhakti, however, all else is renounced, let go.

Why does bhakti abolish time and space? Because in bhakti there is only connection. At the emotional level, time and space exist, because at this level the ego is strong. The emotions are filled with ‘I-ness’ (asmita, ahamkara). If someone we love is in a distant place or is returning late, he or she is desperately missed, or worried about, or desired, or all three. There is insecurity. Mooladhara and swadhisthana are functioning at the level of self-centred feeling. The bhakta who is in connection with but separated from the sacred Beloved will no doubt go through these feelings also, because purification must occur, as conditioning surfaces and lessons are learned from pain, the greater teacher. But in bhakti, the spiritual force of the relationship persists and the pain of separation guides evolution. We see these feelings and this process expressed in the songs of Mirabai, where anguish and longing go hand in hand with absolute faith, joy and focus.

What is pain? Only the ego resisting reality. Only the conditioning, the samskaras fighting for survival. Only the baby hanging on to dependence and vulnerability.

The power of bhakti is seen in the transformation of these difficult emotions. It is a very hard but beautiful path, and the chain binding the bhakta to the loved one must be unbreakable, but light as gossamer. It is not a solid chain, it is a steady glow in the dark cave of anahata. This cave, this space, is the most personal space of all. Here are the secrets of feeling. Your feelings are your own and they are more treacherous than thought. They create thought. So when the heart is purified, the mind, the thoughts are also purified. You can try to have pure thoughts, but if the heart is not in agreement, then we call that person a hypocrite, or shallow; we don’t trust that person’s words or actions. The mind cannot purify the heart, it has to be the other way round. The mind can articulate the feelings and in this way lodge them clearly into the mind/body, but the starting point is the heart.

Bhakti is as important today as it was yesterday. It is as powerful in this age as when Mirabai walked the earth. Her story and her songs are a narrative of transformation through the light of bhakti. Don’t think she was always in a bliss state. Think of the pain and conflict in her life. Imagine a princess, a young woman of privilege and refinement being driven to walk away from the sheltered palace life and into the byways of medieval India! She was driven away by those who should have protected her. The threats from within the palace were greater than the threats outside, so she left, with Krishna as the only companion and protector she needed.

Someone capable of such courage is also capable of the deepest devotional feeling. Someone who can abandon wealth and privilege and position has abandoned attachment to all but her Beloved. This is one-pointedness. This is living in a state of dharana and dhyana – concentration and meditation. In this state, the emotions and therefore the mind, are purified.

Many of her songs are filled with despair and longing for her Beloved Krishna, but she endured the pain of separation, she even loved the pain of separation, because that pain fixed her being on Krishna.

In bhakti, every emotion works in one direction only. You feel all that must be felt in life, but it is felt in relation to the Beloved. If you experience frustration, it is redirected to the Beloved. If you feel sadness or loss, which appear to be related to another person or event, they are felt in relation to the Beloved. If you feel joy and harmony, at the mental level you may see that this is caused by good fortune or bright sunshine, but in the heart of the bhakta, it is always due to the love and connection with the Beloved. All emotion pivots from the Beloved – good and bad, positive and negative. Why? Because it is a relationship. And as such, it must be able to endure and rise above all that our egos impose on relationships. All that our conditioning expects of relationships, we will manifest in the relationship of bhakti.

However, there is a vital difference. The Beloved is pure, the Beloved is fixed, the Beloved is sacred to us and must survive as such. Therefore, all the bad and negative feelings we may go through are soaked up and evaporate when we direct them to Him. The Beloved is only light, and light cannot hold darkness. The Beloved is only sattwa, and in sattwa, tamas is neutralized. Radha experienced vanity and pride. She projected abandonment, she descended into pain and despair at her loss. But the light of connection was burning brightly within her grief and the destructive feelings were transformed. Directed at Krishna as they were, they could not survive. It was her emotions that caused the suffering, her ego which felt abandoned and jealous. Ultimately, the bhakta must surrender the ego, as it is the source of separation, the source of pain, and as this is gradually realized at deeper and deeper levels, as purification proceeds, the light of connection is always felt to be more important than the pain. So the pain is let go of. It is not resolved, it dissolves.

From Mira we learn that the spiritual life is far stronger than material wealth and privilege. We are unlikely to face the need to physically walk away from the security of our world as she did. She was driven to leave after repeated attempts on her life and limits and impositions on her worship. When Mira left the palace, she gave us a powerful example which we can adopt at the symbolic level. She showed us that when we let go of attachment to all in worldly life that distracts us from our spiritual focus, no harm will come, only greater good. It is only fear that keeps us attached and dependent.

Mira showed us that we have nothing to fear if our hearts are strong and the light is burning bright. Radha showed us that our ego brings us down, while our connection saves us from drowning in negative emotions.

A wise woman once said to me, “There is no distance in the heart – yet in the world of illusion, distance is very real.” This is the key to bhakti and its great secret also. Incidentally, that person’s name is Bhaktimurti, symbol of bhakti. As the love of bhakti lives and shines on in the heart, the distance between bhakta and Beloved loses its force and the darkness of illusion fades. This is how eternal bhakti abolishes both time and space, and is no different yesterday, today or tomorrow.