Bhakti Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Bhakti yoga is the only yoga in which you transcend the last barrier of your life which separates you from your God. That barrier is ahamkara, self-identity. Just as hatha yoga is good for body and prana, raja yoga is good for the mind and mental expressions, bhakti yoga is a yoga which softens the ego. The ego is hard in everybody, like a hard potato. When a potato is hard, when ego is hard, nothing much can be done. You boil the potato, you make it soft. The more you boil, the softer it becomes, and the softer it is, the tastier it becomes. The hard potato can become potato mash, with some nice butter and everything thrown into it.

How can this potato be made soft? Only by boiling in water, not by putting it in the sun, not by putting it in the microwave. To make a potato soft, there is only one way — boiling water. To make the ego soft there is only one way — bhakti. The softer your ego becomes, the more natural, the more spontaneous you become in life, you become less hypocritical and put on less masks on a day-to-day basis, and that is the power of bhakti. People associate bhakti with emotion, but remember that emotions are expressions of your ego.

Your birth

Visualize this story: You are not yet born. In the depth of space, somewhere in the universe, somebody calls you and says, 'Listen you have to pack and go. You have to go to Earth and take birth there, so you pack your luggage'. So in the remote corner of space, in the dark, you go and find your bag, put your basic necessities in your bag, and you come to God and say, I'm ready to travel. God says, 'Okay, take this fight. This shuttle will go to the womb of that person. You get off there and that is your station.' So you take the cosmic shuttle, the shuttle drops you in the womb of somebody, with your baggage, and you take a physical birth.

When you are born, what is born with you? Body is born with you, senses come with you as part of the body, mind and spirit come in. Five senses, one mind — they are the companions of spirit. They are the agents of spirit through which spirit functions in this world, and therefore it is said that karmas come back.

It is not the spirit which brings them. It is the mind, the individual mind, the ego, which brings the individual karmas. If it is only spirit coming into this life then there is no karma, but when mind comes in with spirit, there is a karma of the past which continues in this life. When mind comes in, it comes with certain six habits: kama, passion, self-gratification; krodha, anger, self-abuse; lobha, greed, wanting to possess and acquire for oneself; moha, self-identification, infatuation; mada, arrogance, and matsarya, jealousies and envies.

Becoming humble

In hatha yoga, in asana and pranayama, you master your body, but that does not change anything qualitatively in your life. In raja yoga you find a little bit of peace and balance and de-stress yourself, and you are a better person to deal with your life situations, but nothing more than that.

To bring out the power of the positive qualities, you have to follow the path of bhakti yoga, because bhakti yoga becomes the antidote to crush Hydra, who has six heads: kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada, matsarya. Once the Hydra is killed, the ego becomes humble, and with humility, the positive aspects of life flower. That is bhakti. The flowering of the positive qualities of life is bhakti.

Devotion is one aspect of bhakti. Just as an arm is one part of your body, it is not your body, the eyes are only part of your body, they don't represent your whole body. In the same way, devotion is only one aspect of bhakti, it is not the whole bhakti. The goal of bhakti is to attain humility by overcoming the negative traits of our nature and cultivating the positive. One practice of bhakti yoga is the cultivation of the positive understanding, awareness and attitude through pratipaksha bhavana.

The understanding of this pratipaksha bhavana comes with the first stage of bhakti, which is satsang. The first stage of bhakti is thinking about the unusual thing. You think about usual things at home, so what can be unusual? Something which is not your usual way of thinking. The unusual way of thinking is different to the social, familial, professional and personal, and you move beyond anything that is yours into a selfless area. When you are able to leave your selfish boundaries, at first you may not even cross your line but you can put your head over the line, even that is enough in bhakti. You don't have to cross the line, you can just put your head over the line. The moment you put your head over the line you will become humble. The ego is finished.

Triggers of emotion

The ego is the cause giving birth to detrimental behaviour in life. When there is detrimental behaviour in life, bhakti cannot be perfected. It is not that you say, 'I am practising bhakti and I am positive, clear and proper,' and then as you leave your room you start fighting with somebody. No. It is an awareness which you have to hold.

My guru Sri Swami Satyananda used to tell us that just as a crystal ball has no colour and reflects those colours on which it is placed, similarly our emotions don't have any colour. They take on a colour according to situations, events and circumstances. If you see a child, there is a natural feeling of affection. If you see a bag of money lying on the ground there is a natural feeling of greed. If you see your lover there is a natural feeling of passion and desire. If you see your adversary there is a natural feeling of adversity.

Emotions are triggered when your senses come in contact with a sense object. However, if there is pratyahara, then where will the emotions be triggered from? Not through the senses. At that time, the condition of your emotion is going to be unadulterated, pure, and that emotion has to be now focused on a positive idea, thought or belief, which uplifts and elevates you, and which brings joy, peace and contentment.

Need for satsang

Three points have been given to identify bhakti. Satyam — that which is always truthful. Shivam — that which is always auspicious. Sundaram — that which is always beautiful. Cultivate these three attitudes in your mind and you will become a bhakta.

In order to cultivate these three conditions of mind, you have to move through the nine stages of bhakti yoga, in which the first is satsang. Satsang means what is happening now: becoming aware of something different to the usual, the normal, and making the effort to experience it. The change of thought process begins with satsang and until and unless there is satsang there is no change of thought process.

Books do not give satsang. You have read about yoga in books, but when you come here you find that many of the understandings and opinions presented are different to what is written in the books. That is satsang. It gives an understanding of something beyond the conditioned perception. It makes you aware of another possibility. And when you become aware of the other possibility and you make the effort, then satsang has become the first step in attaining this transformation in yourself.

Become a happy friend to all

The second quality is to always have a positive and pious attitude and a happy disposition in life. The Niranjan Challenge is, 'Can you remain happy for one day without getting any blue mood?' Just try to be happy from morning to night, from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed. Maintain one state of happiness. Avoid and shun all disagreements, aggressions, envies and jealousies. Just hold onto one feeling of happiness.

Even if you scream at somebody, be happy inside. Even when you are screaming at somebody, you are smiling and not really frowning, for the moment you frown you change your mood. Can you be angry in a state of happiness? Can you be efficient in the state of happiness? Can you be pleasant by maintaining that state of happiness? If you can do it for one day, you win the Niranjan Challenge.

It is the channelling of emotion away from the experiences and expressions of hatred, anger, arrogance, jealousy, passion and infatuation that leads to finding peace and luminosity within. The disconnection of the emotions from the world is bhakti yoga. When the negative association of emotions with the world lessens and positive association develops — that is bhakti yoga.

In the Bhagavad Gita (12:13), Sri Krishna defines bhakti yoga not as devotion, but as a state where is no duality. There is the feeling of oneness, adveshtaa sarvabhootaanaam. There is no feeling of others being strangers; you are a friend to everyone — this was the statement of Sri Krishna.

17 August 2014, Ganga Darshan, Munger