The Realm of Bhakti

From Conversations on the Science of Yoga – Bhakti Yoga Book 1: Experience of the Heart

What is the common factor between bhakti and Vedanta?

Swami Niranjanananda: Traditionally, it is believed that God is one and that God directs everything in life, in creation and so forth. This concept is all right when one is able to experience Advaita, when one’s consciousness has evolved to that level where one can actually experience the oneness of creation and oneself with God.

Advaita is not an intellectual philosophy, for the moment the intellect comes in one is not able to experience the unifying aspect of life. Therefore unfortunately, many times people become confused as to what God and the role of God is in their lives. These are eternal questions which people have been asking throughout the ages.

Let us consider this concept from two different angles, the world and the person. Bhakti is very much a personal affair. Bhakti cannot be taught to other people. Singing kirtan is not bhakti. Repeating a mantra is not bhakti. According to many they may be external forms of bhakti, but real bhakti is a personal experience of oneness with the divine nature. However, the world representing maya on the other hand is also a powerful force. The role of bhakti is to move away from the attractions and repulsions of maya, the world. The manifest world represents the changing reality and the spiritual dimension represents the eternal existence. Therefore, how does one combine the changing reality with eternal existence?

Reality changes. Different people seeing a chameleon at different times of the day will describe it as having different colours. One person will see it in the morning and say, “I saw a funny brown animal at this spot in the forest.” Another person will say, “No, I have also seen that same animal, but it was not brown, it was green.” Yet another will say, “No, I have also seen it, but it was neither green nor brown; it was grey.”

What each one failed to realize was that they were describing the same chameleon which keeps on changing colour. What is the actual colour of a chameleon? Those three people did not know. What is the actual nature of the manifest world? No one knows. What is the underlying reality of this world? No one knows. People identify with realities that keep on changing according to different environments and conditions.

Eternal existence is the realm of bhakti. It is movement from the world to the experience of eternal existence which is the eventual aim of bhakti in the form of Advaita, awareness of one principle everywhere and the principle of divinity. This divinity can be given different names at different times, whether one sees that aspect of divinity in a sakara, manifest form, or a nirakara, unmanifest form. Hence, devotion always relates to moving away from the influences of the senses, the mind, the attractions and repulsions of the world, to another level where one experiences the nature of harmony, bliss, peace, the eternal experience within oneself.

Human consciousness has both potentials. Consciousness has the power to interact with the manifest dimension, with the unmanifest dimension and with the transcendental dimension. Consciousness has the power to become omniscient and omnipotent. If consciousness is seen in the form of a scale, then each individual is on one side where they are experiencing changing realities. They are not able to experience the fullness of consciousness where they eventually be gin to experience the states of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence.

In bhakti one moves along this scale from beginning to end and as one does so a transformation of the mind occurs. This enables one to experience the pure nature of the individual in relation to the cosmos. There is a poem by William Blake:

To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

These are the symptoms of one who is a bhakta. So, what is bhakti? Bhakti is being able to experience the macrocosmic consciousness in a microcosmic state. Maya is being overawed by the microcosmic environment. Moving from maya to bhakti is just a progression from one end of the scale to the other. Bhakti means realizing the nature which one holds dear in one’s life. That is the meaning of bhakti.