Note: For the complete lessons,
with additions, see the AYP
Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.
Lesson 349 – The Convergence of Bhakti and
Date: July 28, 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
In Lesson 335, we
discussed the role of desire in relation to self-inquiry, how our spiritual
desire fuels all of our practices, including our eventual entry into
relational self-inquiry (in abiding stillness). In time, our spiritual
desire merges with stillness itself, becoming divine desire, and expressed
as outpouring divine love coming through us into the world.
Here, we’d like to take a closer look at the mechanism of this refinement in
desire in relation to the intellect, and, in particular, the role of bhakti
within the process of self-inquiry itself.
For most of us, bhakti is pretty easy to understand. We have a feeling, a
longing, a desire for something. When that desire/feeling becomes directed
toward a high ideal of our choosing, and is sustained in thought word and
deed, then that is the expression of devotion, or bhakti. As we have
discussed in recent lessons, the characteristics of bhakti are identifiable,
and so are the results, at least qualitatively they are. We have even gone
so far as to call bhakti the "science of devotion." Some might call that a
stretch, but no one can deny the power of emotional longing when brought
into the spiritual arena, particularly when powerful yoga practices are
systematically applied within the framework of our spiritual desire, where
each feeds the other in ever-expanding waves of longing, mingling with the
rise of abiding inner silence and ecstatic conductivity. Indeed, the
profound results of such an endeavor have given
rise to an over-arching category of practice we call "self-pacing." No more
must practitioners beg for a few crumbs of spiritual experience. Now it can
pour out of us at rates requiring ongoing regulation of practices to
preserve reasonable stability of our unfoldment on the path.
This is all well and good, but what of the role of self-inquiry?
At first glance, it is not nearly as
comprehendible as bhakti. This is owing largely to the entrenched assumption
that self-inquiry is an intellectual pursuit – using the mind to conquer the
mind. It is a wrong assumption. If it does not lead to trouble sooner in the
form of top-heavy intellectualizations, it can weigh us down later by
distracting us from our practices that really do work with a lot of
unnecessary progress assessment and self-judgment. This is also sometimes
referred to as "psyching ourselves out." Neither has anything to do with
Self-inquiry is a practice that is entirely dependent on the degree of
abiding inner silence (witness) we have available at any point in time. With
a sound daily practice of deep meditation in use, inner silence will be
steadily on the rise, and, with it, our ability for effective self-inquiry.
This has been discussed in detail in recent lessons. Self-inquiry, and it’s
very nature at any point in time, is a continuum that weaves it way through
the five stages of mind discussed in Lesson 327, from
pre-witnessing, to witnessing, to discrimination, to dispassion, to unity.
It is this "moving target" aspect of self-inquiry that makes it
difficult to prescribe a particular style of
practice that can be applied with equal
effectiveness at all times.
Many have asked what the AYP procedure for self-inquiry is, and the answer
has always been that it will vary depending on
where the practitioner is in their process of purification and opening and
the rise of abiding inner silence. In pre-witnessing stage, very little
self-inquiry is recommended. Just meditate and go out and live fully. In
witnessing stage, we begin to see our thoughts and their resulting feelings
as objects separate from our stillness, and can
question the truth of them and release or transform them to improve the
quality of our life. This style of self-inquiry has been popularized by
Byron Katie, Lester Levenson, and others. As with all forms of self-inquiry,
it relies on the emerging presence of the abiding witness for its
As the duality between witnessing and the objects of perception becomes more
pronounced, we naturally enter the discrimination stage. We may continue
with the form of (or informal) inquiry we have
adopted during witnessing stage, but will find ourselves refining our view
to a more intuitive perception of inner and outer objects as we become
experientially convinced that our true Self is outside the field of
perception of objects altogether. We may resort to affirmations on this (I
am That). But, ultimately, discrimination is about the negation of
the reality of all objects of perception that are bound
by time and space. For those who come to this kind of discrimination
prematurely, it may be viewed as a negation of life, which is entirely
untrue. When the temporal is released in stillness (relationally), the
eternal is revealed, which is all life, all love, and all existence. At its
appropriate time, discrimination leads naturally to loving dispassion with
regard to all that is temporal, and that lands us finally in the stage of
eternal unity and outpouring divine love.
In the end, it isn’t about "objects" at all, but about abiding in the
ever-blissful and unknowable Self, which is no-thing at all, yet,
contains within it everything that appears to be
manifest. At that stage the simple question, "Who am I?" asked with
deep feeling in relation to any object of
perception is more than enough. The answer is not to be found anywhere in
the mind, but in release into the condition that the question inspires. And
this becomes our permanent condition, even as our body/mind and outpouring
divine love continue to function normally in the world. The later stage
methods of self-inquiry are represented in the teachings of Ramana Maharshi
and Nisargadatta Maharaj, and by the many who have followed in their
footsteps with varying degrees of effectiveness in relation to their
From a teaching standpoint (particularly in modern times), what often gets
lost in the shuffle in all of this is the bhakti that keeps us moving
through the various stages of mind, and continues as the radiant loving
quality of our Self. Without a doubt, we can say that without bhakti
there could be no effective self-inquiry or enlightenment. In fact,
effective self-inquiry is pure bhakti. They are one and the same. We
long to know who and what we are, and it is that longing that is the
question, "Who am I?" We begin with that and we end with that. Along the
way, we learn the methods that are necessary for our longing to fulfill
its convergence with knowing. Since we cannot know
the unknowable Self, bhakti and self-inquiry merge and we consciously
become the Self.
Some will say, "You always have been the Self.
There was never anything to become!" True. But it is a truth spoken in
untruth, because for each of us perception is 100% of our reality. While the
truth is that we are the eternal Self, the
perception must be changed for that truth to be experienced in fullness.
That change is a process, a journey that each of us will take as we are
inspired to do so. It begins and ends with our
sincere longing, and our willingness to act at every step
along the way.
The guru is in you.
Note: For detailed discussion on the merging of bhakti
and self-inquiry, see the
and the Liberation book.
For detailed discussion on the
merging of bhakti with all aspects of practice as we progress on our path, see the
Bhakti and Karma Yoga book.