Bhakti and Bhakta

From Conversations on the Science of Yoga — Bhakti Yoga Book 5, A Bhakta's Joy and Discipline

What is the advice given by the scriptures to bhaktas?

Swami Niranjanananda: Bhakti can be attained through the right conditions in life, rather than through structured sadhana. By cultivating discipline and order in life, bhakti develops. The effort in bhakti yoga is to be alert and aware of one's character and behaviour, and develop excellence in thought, feeling and action by nurturing the sattwic, creative, positive nature.

Bhakti will be realized when the attempt is made to eradicate the negativity, cunning and deception from one's life and mind. If the mind and emotions can be fine-tuned, there is no need to sit with the eyes closed in front of a statue of God. If one can make the mind and heart sensitive and connect them to the positive, uplifting, creative qualities and traits, then that is bhakti.

The scriptures say: Shraddhaya satyamapyate — 'Truth can be attained through faith. In other words, bhakti can be attained through faith. It is said in the Rig Veda: Shraddhe shraddhapayeha nah 'Mother Shraddha! Make my heart your abode'. According to the Rig Veda, one should first invoke shraddha or faith, then practise satsang. Satsang means keeping the company of a person who is generous, pure, without fault, discriminating, thoughtful and wise. If an ordinary piece of wood is kept with a piece of sandalwood, after a period of time the ordinary piece of wood will take on the fragrance of sandalwood. This is the effect of keeping good company.

The Rig Veda further states that there should not be any ill-will towards anybody. The Shukla Yajur Veda says: Mitrasyaham chakshusha sarvani bhootani samikshe — 'I am benevolent, looking at all creatures with a loving gaze. There is no trace of hostility or ill-will towards anyone. My sight is benevolent and loving to wards all. This is the mental and psychological attitude of goodwill'.

To do good to all beings according to one's capacity is bhakti. The Atharva Veda says: Shatahasta samahara, sahastrahasta sankira — 'Gather wealth and gold with the enthusiasm and effort of a hundred hands and distribute with a thousand hands. Take with a hundred hands and give with a thousand hands is the rule of bhakti'. Without generosity and a giving, charitable nature, one cannot perfect bhakti. People have been ringing bells and doing japa for a thousand years, yet has anyone actually experienced bhakti? People confine their bhakti to the four walls of the temple; they do not practise it as a lifestyle, as a condition of their life. When bhakti becomes a lifestyle, the behaviour and interactions are full of bhakti. It is only when all interactions are full of bhakti that one is uplifted. The Rig Veda says: Madhvirgavo bhavantu nah — 'There should always be restraint in life. May no unbalanced, indiscriminating act happen through me. May there always be restraint in life. The yoga texts say that in order to practise restraint, there must be awareness. One must meditate, and become a witness of one's thoughts and the master and director of one's actions'.

What are the three attitudes a bhakta has to cultivate in life?

Swami Niranjanananda: Three attitudes have been given for a bhakta to identify with: Satyam,that which is truthful; Shivam, that which is always auspicious; and Sundaram, that which is always beautiful. By cultivating these three attitudes in the mind one will become a bhakta. In order to cultivate these three conditions of mind, one has 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, to the normal and making the effort to experience it. The change of one's thought process begins with satsang and until and unless there is satsang there is no change of thought process. Books do not give satsang. Satsang gives an understanding of something beyond the conditioned perception, to make one aware of another possibility, and when one becomes aware of the other possibility and makes the effort to connect to it, then satsang becomes the first step into attaining this change and transformation.

The second attitude is to have always a positive attitude and a pious and happy disposition in life. I have made a Niranjan Challenge, which is: 'Can you remain happy for one day without getting any blue mood?' To be happy from morning to night, from the time one wakes up until the time one goes to bed is the challenge. To maintain one state of happiness, to avoid and shun disagreements, aggressions, envies and jealousies, to hold onto one feeling of happiness even when screaming at somebody is the challenge. One is screaming with a smile, not really frowning, for the moment one frowns the mood changes. Who can be angry in a state of happiness? Who can be efficient in the state of happiness? Who can be pleasant by maintaining that state of happiness?

The third attitude is channelling the emotion away from the experiences of hatred, anger, arrogance, jealousy, passion and infatuation. It is leading the emotion away from those attitudes and towards the peace and luminosity within. The connection with the negative or the association with the world lessens, and positive association develops. That is bhakti yoga. In Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna defines bhakti yoga not as devotion but as a state where there is no duality. There is a feeling of oneness, adveshta sarvabhootanaam. There is no feeling of being a stranger; one is a friend to everyone.

One who is compassionate, like Christ, and one who lives that compassion. One who is always happy and joyous and never frowns. In this manner a person who is endowed with the lightest and luminous qualities in life is the real bhakta, one who has perfected bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is the discovery of the pure self inside.