Eleven Points for Development of Bhakti

It would be a gross mistake to consider bhakti merely as a state of emotionalism. It is actually a thorough discipline and training of one’s will and mind. It is a means to apprehend the true knowledge of Reality. Bhakti may begin at ordinary idol worship but culminates in the highest form of realization – the individual soul’s oneness with the Supreme Spirit.

What is necessary to ascend to the state of bhakti, therefore, is all-round spiritual discipline. This may be achieved by following the eleven fundamental factors which Sri Ramanuja had prescribed. They are: abhyasa or practice of continuous thinking of God; viveka or discrimination; vimoka or freedom from all else except the longing for God; satyam or truthfulness; arjavam or straightforwardness; kriya or doing good to others; kalyana or wishing well to all; daya or compassion; ahimsa or non-injury; daan or giving and anavasada or cheerfulness and optimism.

1. Abhyasa or practice is sustained and persistent effort to achieve mastery over a certain thing. Through continued practice the aspirant tries to secure the steadiness of mind, to restrain all its external vrittis, thereby converging them on only one object, the Lord. Through persistent abhyasa, he checks the outgoing tendencies of the mind and directs them inward, constantly dwelling in and meditating on the higher reality.

2. Viveka or discrimination enables him to choose between right and wrong, and to follow and adhere to what is right. How does he discriminate between the right and the wrong? That which elevates and takes him nearer to his ideal, that which brings him joy and peace, he considers as right and acts in accordance with. That which pricks his conscience, brings him depression, pain and restlessness, that which drags him down from goodness and takes him away from the divine source he considers as wrong, abstains from and guards himself against its influence. He also discriminates between sattwic food and rajasic and tamasic food. Thus he perseveres and strives to reach his goal, following the path of righteousness.

3. Vimoka is longing for God alone and renunciation of everything that does not accelerate progress on the path. One must renounce what is earthly if one wishes to attain that which is eternal, permanent and infinite. The aspirant must renounce all his desires and cravings for material objects; he must renounce the negative patterns of the mind through introspection and correct exertion. Only then can he develop true longing for God, only then can he proceed Godwards. You cannot drink two things at the same time in the same cup. If you wish to progress on the spiritual journey, then it is necessary to give up all that is not conducive to the progress. This is the secret. To want nothing is the greatest and most efficacious way to attain the keenest longing for God.

4. Satyam or truthfulness is surely the prime requirement in sadhana. God is truth. Therefore, to realize Him, you must become the very embodiment of truth. You have to live the truth, you should think of truth alone, you should speak truth alone, do what is right and be true to your conscience.

5. Arjavam is straightforwardness or honesty. There is no place for deceit, crookedness or falsehood in the quest for God. God neither wants your riches nor your intellect, but only a pure, truthful heart shorn of deceit, shallowness and hypocrisy. There is nothing to hide from Him, for He is the all-knowing, all-pervading Spirit. Your heart must be as pure as white snow and as clear as crystal. Just as you cannot see a reflection in a corrugated, dust-coated mirror, even so if your heart is cobwebbed by selfish desires and dishonesty, and corrugated by hypocrisy and crookedness, you can hardly know the real nature of God. The sadhaka must cultivate a heart like that of a child.

6. Kriya or doing good to others comes next. As a true devotee you should behold Him in all, for He is the manifest form in whatever you perceive. The sadhaka’s foremost duty is to do good and serve others, irrespective of any distinction or personal consideration. Serving and helping those in distress open your eyes to the sorrow of human life. You begin to understand the painful nature of the worldly existence. The stony, selfish heart learns to feel for others. Then compassion, mercy and love nurture in your heart. Your heart becomes purified and vairagya dawns.

7. Kalyana or wishing well to others is another necessary qualification of a devotee. With a pure, loving heart, pray for the good and well-being of others. You should not entertain any grudge or ill feeling even towards your opponents, but wish them all that is good and auspicious. This is the true spirit of a devotee.

8. Daya or compassion comes next. God is love. He is all-merciful and compassion personified, and as you seek to realize Him, you need to become a veritable ocean of love and mercy. You must cultivate a heart as broad as the infinite sky.

9. All the divine virtues that are necessary for one’s evolution have their origin in ahimsa or non-injury. Ahimsa is a life-giving force. Ill-will, hatred, anger and malice cannot stand before its mighty potency. It is a special attribute of the soul. Practice of ahimsa eventually culminates in the realization of unity and oneness of life. It generates the feeling of universal brotherhood and cosmic love.

10. Next is daan or giving. Abundant, spontaneous generosity with a pure heart for relieving the suffering of the distressed is a potent means to elevate the heart and to destroy its shallowness and impurities. You must have a large heart. The more you give, the more will come to you. This is the law of nature.

11. Anvasada is cheerfulness and hope. This is an essential quality that a devotee must try to cultivate. There is no room for depression on the spiritual path. You must be optimistic, zealous and persevering. There are many active forces that will oppose your progress and actually assail and pull you down. But you must not lose your hope or be depressed. You have to brave the storms and proceed in spite of the difficulties and adverse conditions that try to cow you down and push you off the path of sadhana. With cheerful perseverance and optimistic zeal, relying on the inner self, you should proceed with sadhana. Ultimately, success will be yours.