Note: For the complete lessons,
with additions, see the AYP
Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.
Lesson 339 Your Chosen Ideal
Date: June 18, 2009
New Members: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Traditionally, bhakti is considered to be love of God, which usually places
it in the realm of religion. This is well and good, but there is another side
of bhakti that is not necessarily religious. Bhakti may also be regarded as
spiritual without any religious affiliation.
There are many forms of bhakti, as many as there are chosen ideals and
attributes that we can imagine. Unlimited! Here, we will not get into
well-known traditional expressions of bhakti very much. It is the province
of the religions. For those who love to worship in their religious
tradition, that is very good. For those who are not inclined that way, it is
not the end of bhakti. Yoga and spiritual development can progress very well
with or without traditional modes of worship. It can work either way, or
Directed desire is the essential ingredient in all spiritual practice. It is
bhakti that gets us to our meditation seat each day. Then we easily favor
the procedure of our practice. Daily yoga practices are designed to open us
up steadily over time. Then we have a constantly purifying and opening
nervous system, a growing desire for truth and enlightenment, and we are
always hankering to go to the next level of unfoldment.
Our ever-evolving chosen ideal is what keeps this
process going up and up.
While we know that desire leads to action, we also know that desire left on
its own without the benefit of an underlying vision will be pulling us in
many directions at the same time. Our emotion is a powerful fuel, but if it
is not provided with a reliable channel for its expression through desire,
not much good will come from it. The mind is also involved in this, because
it is our emotions expressing as desires that inform the mind. From there,
it is onward to action. So, it all begins with how we point our emotions. It
is about what we favor with our emotional energy. Desire is always seeking
more, and it is up to us to provide that more in the form of an inspired
vision, our chosen ideal.
We have used the word "vision" to represent the channel for desire leading
to action. This implies that desire can be focused through a fixed lens.
While in theory this is true, especially in worldly endeavors, it is an
over-simplification when we consider the much broader scope of human
spiritual transformation. In that case, we are not seeking a particular
material outcome, but the purification and opening of the human nervous
system so it can express its full potential.
In considering a systematic approach to bhakti, the cultivation of unending
desire for spiritual realization, the concept of "chosen ideal" provides the
necessary flexibility. The Sanskrit word "ishta" means chosen ideal, and
offers the range of expression we need to travel the continuum of bhakti
from where we are today to the highest reaches of devotion, and the
resulting outpouring of divine love coming from within us, leading to
liberation in all aspects of life.
What do we mean by chosen ideal? Our well-meaning religious institutions may
interpret it to be the god or ideal of our religion: Jesus, Krishna, Buddha,
Allah, etc. This may be so if that is what resonates in our heart. But our
chosen ideal can come in other forms also.
It can be a dedicated inquiry, such as, "Who am I, and what am I doing
here?" Or the simple question, "Is there more than this which I am living
It can be an affirmation, such as, "I will know the truth and the truth will
set me free."
It can be an ideal of discrimination, such as, "This is true, and this is
And so on
A chosen ideal is chosen by us, no one else. It is entirely personal. It can
be a blend of ideals, such as the icons and ideals of our religion mixed
with inquiry, affirmation and discrimination. And we will carry these
through life, even as our ideal expands as we undergo the inner purification
and opening associated with the ongoing process of human spiritual
Personality will play a role in ones chosen ideal. Those who are
demonstratively devotional by nature may be inclined toward outer forms of
devotion like worshipful conduct, singing, spiritual dancing, etc. Others
who may be more analytical may be inclined toward introspection in
stillness, self-inquiry and other less visible devotional acts.
Regardless of the choice of ishta, there will be devotion involved as we
become committed to the course we have chosen. As our commitment deepens,
our chosen ideal will evolve and change over time, according to our rising
realization of truth. The more clearly we see what is emerging within us,
the more concrete it will become, and our ideal will continue to evolve
toward progressively more advanced stages.
Before the openings occur, there can be a tendency toward a more rigid view
of the chosen ideal. This is certainly the case in most of the religions,
where the ideal is often chosen for us rather than by us. And even in the
individual there can be an inflexibility in the relationship with a chosen
ideal. It is the difference between an icon representing a fixed view, or
the same icon facilitating steadily expanding inner experience. Spiritual
practices such as deep meditation and spinal breathing pranayama will unwind
the rigidness that may be occurring in our relationship with a chosen ideal.
Then a gradual shift in our relationship with our ideal can occur, according
to need as inner awareness expands, with more inner silence moving in the
outer expressions of our life.
As inner silence expands, our relationship with our ishta will expand also,
through a constant gentle nudging coming from within. It is like the clothes
we wear as we grow up. The bigger we become the bigger our clothes will
become. Our ishta is like that too infinitely expandable. The more we can
see, the further our vision will reach beyond the limits we have known
before. While we may have begun with an icon we derived from our religion or
elsewhere, filling us from within, in the end, we may see our ishta
encompassing the whole of humanity, and beyond to the entire universe. The
larger our spirit becomes, the more we are filled, and the larger our ishta
becomes, even if it is still represented by the same small icon on the altar
of our devotion, whether it be a physical icon, or a non-physical ishta in
our heart. It can be all of these.
Our ishta does not have to be fixed. In fact, it is good if we allow
ourselves the flexibility to see our ideal as ever-expanding, even if still
represented by a relatively fixed object or idea. The expansion is natural
as we move along on our spiritual path. The expansion of our ishta is
facilitated by a gentle favoring of our chosen ideal and the practices we
will be inspired to undertake, rather than rigid concentration on ishta or
means. We will find the greatest progress in favoring and releasing,
favoring and releasing.
There is a paradox in this, and that is that the path of yoga is ultimately
a path of release, of letting go. The doing we do in yoga is an undoing.
When letting go into the divine flow becomes the ideal, the ideal itself
will dissolve. That is when we have become the thing itself. This is the
stage of abiding inner silence, ecstatic bliss, and outpouring divine love
in unity. This is enlightenment. We arrive in this state through practices
and living a full life over the long term, so there is much doing in this
letting go. It has also been called "active surrender."
Here are some general steps we may notice occurring as our chosen ideal
evolves over time through the process of bhakti and yoga practices:
- Inspiration and questions forming our ideal.
- Redirecting our energies of attraction and aversion.
- Adding practices for purification and opening.
- Expansion of stillness and the rise of ecstasy.
- Refining perception of divine experiences.
- Surrender to the neurobiological transformation (kundalini).
- The inner process itself becoming the ideal.
- The ideal expanding outward to others.
- Service emerging as the ideal outpouring divine love (active
- All as ishta unity stillness in action in the field of Oneness.
These steps may tend to overlap and we may not experience each of them
clearly. The evolution of our chosen ideal is a process resulting from our
inner purification and opening, which will be unique to our nature, and
dependent on our bhakti and the practices we undertake. Nevertheless, the
stages of an evolving ishta will be more or less along the lines given above
beginning with our ideal forming around what inspires us, to increasingly
more palpable experiences arising within and around us over time, which
leave no doubt that great evolutionary forces are at work within us. As we
expand from within, our ideal expands also, even as it becomes more real to
us in every way.
So, an icon that inspires us, or a simple question like "Who am I?" asked
with emotion, can lead to devotion to a high spiritual ideal, to many yoga
practices, to a more peaceful and creative life, and ultimately to direct
perception of the divine flow moving within and around us. It all leads to
the divine seen as our own self in all who we may encounter. Then this
becomes a life of personal self in sacred service to divine Self. It is an
unending divine romance occurring within and all around us!
Our ishta evolves from a simple inspiration and longing for truth to the
full expression of truth realized in daily living. The ideal continues to
expand as we do. Throughout, we can have the same ishta we began with, in
ever-expanding form, corresponding with our never-ending inner expansion. It
is the journey of love and longing from separation to union. Through our
evolution and the expansion of our view, we go beyond the bondage of
orbiting opposites to the union of stillness in action. Then our ishta and
our journey have become One.
The guru is in you.
Note: For detailed
discussion on the role of our chosen ideal on our spiritual path, see the
Bhakti and Karma Yoga book.