Bhakti Yoga

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Bhakti yoga is your personal yoga, something which you can understand for yourself but will find difficult to explain to others. It is my experience and not part of my intellect. I have studied karma yoga, kriya yoga, jnana and raja yoga in books but bhakti yoga is a personal spiritual practice to which I have been clinging right from the beginning of my spiritual career. It is not that I disagree with any other form of yoga because I know that people have different temperaments, but bhakti yoga is the easiest, quickest, safest and best method, not only for self-realization, but for any kind of accomplishments in this material world. Even if you are not interested in spiritual realization but seek some personal idea of truth, it can help you. If you are a person with ambitions and accomplishments pertaining to the external life and materialistic society, bhakti yoga can definitely help you.

To practise bhakti yoga is not difficult, only faith is required. It does not come in the form of belief, but is a firm conviction which your intellect can never pierce. No logic, argument or rationalizing can put down this faith which is the deepest personality of everyone. It is not intellectual in nature. It is a very innocent conviction, perhaps like that of a child who naturally accepts the mother without ever questioning the reality for a moment. When a person has faith, it is not necessary to analyse, define or put it under the X-ray of the intellect.

Ramayana

At the beginning of the great Indian epic, the Ramayana, the story of the life of Rama, whom Hindus respect as the incarnation of the supreme God, the author, a very humble man, writes that faith is the ultimate source of power and realization. A person without faith is a person without devotion. Once you have discovered this faith within yourself you can immediately start practising bhakti yoga. Faith cannot be imported from outside through books or holy associations. It is dormant potential lying within you. Books written by saints, satsang and the practices of bhakti yoga all aim to awaken this faith through which you will have a definite glimpse of God.

Personal God

In jnana yoga the aspirant believes that he is supreme consciousness. In karma yoga he feels that the whole world is a manifestation of God and in raja yoga he thinks that supreme consciousness is God. However, in bhakti yoga a personal concept of God is essential. The God of a bhakta is not an abstract, metaphysical or philosophical God. For the bhakta God is as real as himself and it is said by the great saints and sages of India that God is father, mother, friend, relative or anything at all in life. For a devotee God can come in the form of a voice or a man, such as a guru.

In India there are thousands of stories depicting this personal concept of the supreme. Even in our own lives there are many experiences of God appearing in a manifested state in order to help His devotee. A raja yogi might interpret it as the manifestation of the creative will, but a bhakta neither questions nor analyses where He has come from.

The school inspector

In Munger there was a school inspector who worked for the department of education. He was known as a great bhakta and used to spend his mornings and evenings in worship, prayer and devotion. He also served any swami, saint or religious person who visited Munger. He invited them to his house and gave them as much food and comforts as he could afford on his low wage.

One day, as he was leaving for a compulsory inspection tour of a school in a remote village, some swamis passed by his house. As was his custom, he invited them in and cooked for them. After about three hours, bidding them farewell, he rode on his bicycle to the school which he was supposed to have inspected according to the rules of the government. When he entered the school premises, the watchman came running out in surprise, “Sir, did you forget something? Why have you come back again?” The inspector replied, “But I haven’t been here. I want to see the register, and make an entry.” The watchman said that this had already been done.

When the inspector opened the book, he found his own signature was there, although he had not signed. “Who has come to my rescue?” he asked himself. For a moment he stood there and a vision or inspiration came to him that there is a force, a personal God, who will do anything for the sake of His devotee, in order to relieve him of trouble and support him in this life of affliction.

He never returned to Munger, but went to Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama, where he remained, preaching only one message, “Don’t worry about your life. If you have to have your children educated, if you are in difficulty, just surrender completely – mentally, intellectually, emotionally – and everything will happen at the right time.” Even though he was an ordinary man the people who believed in him had great and good experiences in life.

Nearer than your breath

For a devotee, God is not an abstract reality or concept. He is a helper, nearest to him, nearer than his breath, his own mind and existence. For him He comes in human form.

Why should you depend on people who have their own problems? Scientists, doctors, psychologists and teachers all have their own frustrations. How can they help to relieve your troubles and confusions? It is better to depend on one who can lead you to ultimate freedom. It is this particular faith that sustains the very edifice of bhakti yoga.

Love

It is written in the Sufi scriptures that there are two kinds or expressions of love. One is real or divine love which is transmitted by the spirit, and the other is material love where the mind and senses interplay, and where matter in the form of body and object is involved. This earthly, material love, empirical in nature, is the cause of pain and agony, because it blinds one’s vision.

On the other hand, divine love is far more powerful and an important element in bhakti yoga. In whatever form one practises bhakti, whether ceremonial worship, praying, singing or repeating the Lord’s name, without love it is tasteless. It is fruitless because it is on the surface level of the mind and senses. This is why millions and millions of people who believe in God fail to gain the maximum help and miraculous benefits from this divine source.

Too much love

You are an embodiment of love. Your real nature and deepest personality is love, not hatred. You hate because you are taught to hate. It is a superimposition. There is so much love in human beings, animals and the vegetable kingdom that it becomes difficult to consume or utilize it. You are not able to give to the objects of this world the love that you have in you and which is your real nature. The love which you give to your children, wife, husband or friends is only a tiny part of the infinite love that you are. It is the excess of love that is causing your problems. The surplus emotions in you are the cause of all your frustrations, breakdowns and suicides.

How much love can you give your children and family? There is nothing in the world which can consume your overwhelming emotions, because you love others through your mind and that love has barriers and limitations. Because of its selfish nature the moment you give love to others it comes back with a rebound. It is reactive and not consumed. Neither your husband, wife, friends, children nor anybody else can consume the emotions that are within you. Just as the rain that falls in the monsoon season cannot be contained in a tank without overflowing and causing disaster, in the same way, when you project your emotions onto other human beings they are not able to absorb the entire stock, so they overflow within you.

Divine love

How can you love a God without form? How can you love a God you don’t even know or who is so great and cosmic that you cannot relate to Him? It is very important also from the psychological point of view to have a personal God to whom you can give your love and emotions. It is true that He is the ocean of love and can accept and contain all the love which flows from you. He can definitely give a place to your emotions, which have not been amply rewarded by the people whom you love.

Divine love is a very peculiar love. According to the Indian system of bhakti yoga, you can love God as you love your husband or wife, son or father, friend or master. These are the different emotional attitudes through which you can project love.

Mira

Mira was a great and renowned saint in India, whose songs are sung all over the country by rich and poor, the educated and illiterate. She was the princess of one of the most powerful states of India during the 16th century. When she was about eight years old, a swami came to her and presented her with a small idol of Krishna, the cowherd boy, considered to be a perfect incarnation of the supreme being. Mira started worshipping the idol of Krishna as her own husband. When the time came for her to marry, she said, “How can I marry another man when I am already married to my Lord Krishna?”

People could not understand her great and innocent emotions. She was married to a powerful king in the western part of India, but he was not a very pious man. She went to live in her husband’s home, where she was expected to behave like a queen. Yet she was so intoxicated with her love for Krishna that the palace could not contain her. Every evening she used to leave the palace, go to the temple of her Lord and partake in devotional singing of His name. Sometimes in sheer ecstasy she would dance with joy and fall into blissful trances.

The orthodox society of her time could not understand how a queen of such a powerful state and respectable family could behave in this way. Her mother-in-law and husband became angry and finally decided to kill her. They prepared a poisonous mixture and sent it to her through the maidservant. In her own poems Mira writes how she drank the cup of poison sent by the king and laughed at it. As it became a question of prestige for the whole state and royal family, the mother-in-law again tried to finish her off. She put some cobras in a gift box and sent it to Mira. However, when Mira opened the box she found only an idol of Lord Krishna. One night when she was worshipping in her room, the suspicious maids and maidservants sent news to the king that the queen was talking to someone in her room. The king became furious and, with sword in hand, went and listened outside her door. Definitely she was talking to someone. He broke open the door but found Mira alone. “With whom are you talking?” he asked her. She said, “I am talking to my beloved, Krishna. I can see him, but how will you see him when you don’t love him?”

God vision

Without love, God cannot be seen, but with love it is possible to see Him. It is a kind of puzzle. You cannot say, “Let me see Him once, then I will believe.” First you must develop love for Him, only then can you see Him, because the moment you love, the eyes become blinded. It is a different eye that sees, often known as the third eye. When love reaches the brim of life, becomes spontaneous and over­whelming, then the eyes that see the material object no longer function. At this time, a different vision is open known as God vision. With the opening of the third eye, you can see God.

Bhakti is such an overwhelming topic of life, especially in this world where millions and millions of people question the existence of God. Philosophers and other great thinkers write about God in a manner most people can never understand. They write about God, fight about Him but they don’t realize how simple God really is. He is without complications and any need for intellectual attainments. It is not through the intellect, affluence, reading scriptures or through countless prayers that one will reach God. The most illiterate person who knows nothing of this modern world can have darshan, the vision of God.

Once this path is open your whole life will become clear. It is like a green signal. You go to work in the morning, bring some money for your wife and children, drive your car, eat your food and participate in all the other daily activities of a normal working person. Any problem that arises, let it come and know that it will not trouble you, because God will help you through all of life’s situations. It is not necessary to say prayers, at least not those which are worded by poets. Prayer is internal. It is not in the words, but in the feeling. How do you express love? It is a feeling, and that feeling is prayer.

Japa

The next most important item is japa, repeating His name or mantra. The mantra should be repeated morning and night or whenever you are free. Do it in the morning as soon as you awake before leaving your bed. Just close the eyes and with mala in hand repeat the mantra or the name of your ishta devata, chosen deity. While repeating it you must feel, “Though I don’t see God, I know He is here.”

When your intellect starts to interrupt the flow you must contradict it, because the intellect never tells the truth. It is the greatest liar you will ever experience in life. It is the greatest cause of confusion, and you cannot rely on it. Intellect is necessary to earn money and run the family, business, education and politics, but it has no place where devotion to the Lord is concerned.

At the end of your japa, just say one thing, “I want my devotion for You to increase like the waxing moon that becomes full.” This should be your only sankalpa or resolution, and your only prayer day after day, every morning and every night. “Let my love, attachment and faith for You be more than it was yesterday. Let me feel Your presence in the conscious, subconscious and unconscious life. Wherever I am let me feel Your divine being.”

It is like a man with a beautiful new girlfriend; no matter what he does, even whilst working she is always before him. He may not see her, say her name or think of her on a conscious level, but he is aware of her all the time on the subconscious plane of the mind. It is this kind of awareness of God that one must have in life.

Every night before you go to sleep you should again repeat your mantra and sankalpa. In this way day by day the feeling of bhakti will arise from deep within you. Like the saints and sages of the past who sang and wrote about the glory of the supreme in their devotional music and poetry, you will also experience bhakti in every part of your life and every sphere of your existence, and you will know the feeling of unity.

—Lecture given in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1971