20. Way of love – Bhakti Yoga
The path of bhakti yoga is comparatively easier than that of dhyana yoga, because while meditating on the Absolute Being, the dhyana yogi can draw upon only his own spiritual and moral resources. Unless the process of catharsis has reached perfection, his effort may well be endless. But the devotee surrenders to the Supreme with all his weaknesses and imperfections, and finds that he is pulled out even from the lowest. – Gandhiji
In the chapter on ‘power of faith’ we have learnt that faith in God is a preliminary requirement for success in life. In the chapter on ‘power of love’ we have learnt the importance of loving and serving human beings. In the chapter on ‘maya’ we have learnt that Bhakti Yoga is one of the four paths to transcend maya and reach Bramhan.
Our human minds are finite and limited while God, Brahman is Infinite and Indescribable. Hence no human can claim to know fully about Brahman. But in Sanathana Dharma there are two ways to worship Him, as Nirguna Brahman and Saguna Brahman.
Nirguna Brahman is without gunas or attributes (nameless and formless) while Saguna Brahman is with gunas (attributes such as names and forms).
In Saguna Upasana God’s creative aspect can be called ‘Bramha’, sustaining power as ‘Vishnu’ and destructive power as ‘Shiva’. Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge required for creation, Lakshmi goddess of wealth needed for sustaining and Parvati goddess of power needed for destruction. Brahman in feminine form is called ‘Shakti’.
Sanathana Dharma allows simultaneous worship of multiple deities such as panchayutana puja in which Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Surya and an Ishta devata (desired deity) are worshipped. Vishnu is worshipped in His multiple avatars, such as Lord Narasimha, Rama and Krishna, taken to reestablish dharma. In Shrimad Bhagavata (7.5:23-24) Prahlada tells his father, Hiranyakashipu, about the nine forms of bhakti. They are as under.
- Sharavanam: ‘Listening’ to God’s glories, forms, qualities, divine plays, miracles and so on. Shravanam can be cultivated through regular satsanghs, by listening to guru and also reading the scriptures. Doing so purifies a devotee’s mind of bad qualities such as lust, anger, greed, envy and cultivates good qualities.
2. Keertanam: ‘Singing’ the glories of God with heartfelt devotion. Kabir, Meerabai, Sant Thukaram, Chaitanya Prabhu and so on followed this method. It is said that seekers in Kaliyuga are not capable of doing tough practices and hence the easiest way to reach God is to chant His name. He has infinite names and hence can be called Allah or Sri Rama or Jehovah. Gandhiji’s favourite song used to be ‘Raghupathi Raghava Rajaram’, in which he says Eashwar and Allah are the other names of Sri Rama.
Sri Ramadasu – Allah song
3. Smaranam: Constant ‘remembrance’ of God, revelling in His glories. Prahlada constantly remembers God’s name and could show Him emerging out from a pillar.
4. Paada Sevanam: Serving God by ‘honouring’ His feet. Bharatha ruled kingdom as a representative of Rama keeping Rama’s sandals on throne.
5. Archanam: Ritualistic worship and ‘offering’ something to God or to other living beings. Krishna tells Arjuna ‘if one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I will accept it.’ Sabari was a tribal woman who tasted the fruits first and then offered only the tastiest of them to Rama.
6. Vandanam: Devotional gesture of ‘prostration’ expressing gratitude, as done by Akrura to Krishna.
7. Daasyam: ‘Serving’ God with no sense of inferiority, but as a dutiful royal guard
8. Sakhyam: Devotee considers himself to be ‘friend’ of God. Friendship between Krishna and Arjuna is the best example.
9. Aatma Nivedanam: ‘Complete surrender’ to the will of God, with no traces of ego whatsoever left in the devotee’s heart, where the devotee and God becomes one. Example: Vamana avatar and Emperor Bali.
In bhakti yoga a complete surrender-ship to God is essential. We must surrender to Him and abide by His will whether He appears or vanishes. If we tell Him to do as we please, it is not surrender but command to Him. We cannot have Him obey us and yet think that we have surrendered. He knows what is best and when and how to do it. We must leave everything entirely to Him. His is the burden; we have no longer any cares. All our cares are His. That is surrender and bhakti.
The devotee holds on to his Ishta Devata or beloved God. To feel God’s presence at all times is a devotee’s happiness, in which he finally loses his lower self or ego. What remains is love and hence ‘God is Love’. A devotee’s mind is no longer ‘mind’ but has become ‘Love’, which is Sat-chit-ananda or Eternal-Consciousness-Bliss.