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Note: For the complete lessons,
with additions, see the AYP
Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.
Lesson 67 - Bhakti The science of devotion
Date: Sun Jan 4, 2004 3:24pm
New Members: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Devotion is the most commonly practiced yoga technique around the world, though it is
rarely called "yoga." Devotion, the continuous focus of desire on a particular
spiritual ideal, is so common that the world's great religions are called "belief
systems" or "faiths," as if nothing else but that exists in spiritual
practice. What is this thing called devotion? Why is it so important?
The importance of desire was discussed early in these lessons, and has been mentioned
often ever since. At first we looked at the purely logical aspects of devotion. If we have
an idea about something, a vision of it, and an ongoing desire to attain it, then we have
a mental and emotional vehicle that will enable us to act in order to get there.
Considering a trip to a beautiful place called California was given as an example. If we
never were able to imagine the place, had no knowledge of it, how could we ever decide to
go there? So, first comes an image. Then desire merges into that image. Then action. Or
maybe we have desire surging up first, undirected. We don't know for what. For something
more. It latches on to one thing, then another, and then another. Finally it latches on to
something big, a big idea: "Enlightenment." Then we set out for that, knowing it
is the most we can attain. Desire is always looking for more. Desire is always looking for
the biggest, the best, the most. All the desires that come up in us are divine in their
origin, and seeking the greatest possible thing in life. Desire is the primordial form of
the guru. Obviously, desire alone is not enough to get us there. It must be aimed in
Devotion is more than the simple psychological mechanism of placing an ideal in the heart
and mind which we can then strive for. There is much more to it than that. Directed
emotional energy, desire, has great power. The act of devotion, the act of desiring the
highest ideal we can imagine, is a transforming power itself. It creates changes deep in
our nervous system. If we have devotion for a high ideal, this alone will be changing us
inside before we ever sit to do any pranayama or meditation, or any of the rest of the
advanced practices. Devotion is the first yoga practice, the main yoga practice, and the
fire that lights everything on the path. Without it, everything else we do is just going
through the motions. Devotion to our highest ideal is the guru in action in us.
Like all of the other abilities we have discussed here, devotion is a natural
manifestation in our nervous system. It is the one that is most obvious, coming up in
everyone in one way or another. Yoga methods work to stimulate and open up the natural
abilities in us to full functioning. There is a branch of yoga called, "Bhakti"
that is concerned with optimizing desire and devotion to the highest level of spiritual
effectiveness. Having a basic knowledge of the methods of bhakti yoga, and applying them,
can have a huge effect on the course of our spiritual life.
Bhakti means, "love of God." If "God" is not the right word for you,
use a phrase like, "love of highest ideal" or "love of highest truth."
Whatever represents the greatest attainment you can imagine. Whatever it is, loving it
will change you, and inspire you to do all that you can to merge with that. We all know
that love changes us. When we care about something or someone more than our own self, we
are being changed. As the Beatles sung, "All you need is love." Ah, if it were
only that simple, the earth would be paradise by now and every religion would be producing
saints by the millions. We are not there yet, but we are on the way. Love was the right
start then, and it is the right start now. That is not love of anything and everything
scattered all around with no particular focus. That kind of universal love comes
later, as the natural outflow of pure bliss consciousness and divine ecstasy come up. The
kind of love that drives human spiritual transformation and all the yoga that brings it up
is love of your highest ideal.
What is the highest ideal? Who decides what it is? Your guru? Your priest? Your rabbi?
Your mullah? There will be plenty of suggestions. Everyone wants you to love their ideal.
That's okay. It is a game that we humans have played for thousands of years. Love my
ideal, will you please? Or else!
But only you can choose. Only you know what burns brightest in your heart. That is your
highest ideal, that which burns like a beacon in your heart. Maybe it is Jesus. Maybe
Krishna. Maybe Allah. Maybe your guru. Maybe the light inside you. It can be anything.
Only you can know. Whoever or whatever it is, it is yours. It is personal. You will know
it when you see it because it will burn like a beacon in you. It will be all goodness, all
progress, projecting no harm toward anyone. It is that which leads you home to pure bliss
consciousness and divine ecstasy.
In the language of bhakti, it is called "ishta," which means, "chosen
ideal." You choose it. If nothing comes up burning bright like that, it is okay.
Guess what? You are reading these words, and therefore you are moving toward your highest
ideal, your ishta. Your highest ideal is in your movement to study, and perhaps an
inclination to practice yoga methods. Your ishta is in you somewhere. Your desire is
leading you to something. This is as much ishta as having a clear vision in your heart.
Your journey is your ishta.
Bhakti begins with that very first question: "Is there something more?"
The amazing thing about the process of bhakti is how it clarifies over time. At first,
there is some fuzzy notion. Some desires coming up. A sense of mystery. That opening alone
brings knowledge in. Who knows from where it will come? Then we grab on and start doing
something. Some practices. Then some inner experiences start, some blissful silence, and
then there is some clarity. Then we read the scriptures, and words that were just words
before come alive with radiant meaning. After a while, our ishta becomes clearer. We find
ourselves in a relationship with what is happening inside. All the while the bhakti is
getting stronger, and we are falling deeper into the divine game.
Somewhere along the way we will find the techniques of bhakti, and falling into the divine
accelerates. Maybe we will read about the techniques. Or maybe we discover them naturally.
So what are the techniques of bhakti? Well, there is really only one. It manifests in a
thousand ways. It is not a practice we do while in our daily sessions of pranayama and
meditation. It is something that gradually rises in our daily activity.
There are always desires coming. We want this. We want that. We want money. We want food.
We want a lover. We want a new car. Even anger and frustration are desires desires
that have hit a wall, so the energy goes haywire in our nervous system. So many desires
are flying all over the place, sending us hither and yon, crashing into each other. You
name it. The technique of bhakti is in redirecting our
desires, harnessing them. Some people naturally find this ability. For others, it comes up
over time, as there is more silence in the mind and heart from meditation. The inner
silence cultivated in meditation is underneath the desires bubbling up, so we can see them
like moving objects. We are a bit detached from the emotional energy in us. Then we can
nudge it toward our highest ideal. Just a very easy nudging. No forcing. No big campaign.
It is just an easy favoring of our ideal when we notice some emotional energy surging up.
It does not matter if it is positive or negative energy.
For example, suppose we are stuck at a traffic light and getting frustrated because we are
late for an appointment. A lot of emotional energy is there getting frittered away. So we
are frustrated. Take that frustration and redirect it. With your attention you can easily
let the red light go as the object of the frustration simmering there. Easily bring in
your highest ideal as the object. It is much like meditation. You easily favor one thought
object over another. So now you are frustrated about your highest ideal. "God damned
ishta! Why am I not merged with you yet? I am very frustrated!" Now you have a real
motivation not to miss your daily meditation. Not only that, your emotional energy
directed in that way produces spiritual changes inside your nervous system. It opens your
nervous system to your ideal. It is ironic that we can't change a red light with our
emotions, but we can open our nervous system to the divine with them. It seems like a
worthwhile thing to do, doesn't it?
This kind of procedure can be done with every emotion, positive or negative with
our feelings about everything we do. Does it mean we stop doing the things we are doing
and run off to meditate instead? No. We meditate when it is time to meditate, and in
activity we do the things we have chosen to do in our life. Redirecting emotional energy
to our highest ideal will animate our actions, whatever they may be, and it will
turbo-charge our practices whenever we sit to do them. When in practices, we do the
procedures of the practices, not the bhakti procedure. To the extent bhakti is simmering
in us from the redirection of desires during the day, our practices will be enhanced. What
we want is to quietly cultivate a habit of bhakti in life. We will look the same outside,
but inside the wheels of bhakti will always be turning. We will experience a rise in our
spiritual intensity. It is called "tapas." Tapas is bhakti that is a habit and
never stops, like an endless flame burning in us. With that kind of bhakti, all of life
becomes spiritual practice.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta said she saw Jesus in the eyes of every disadvantaged child she
helped. That is bhakti.
It won't always work for us like that. It isn't supposed to. Don't judge yourself on
whether or not you were able to transfer your frustration at the red light into a
frustration for getting enlightened. Just remember this procedure from time to time as you
go through your daily life, especially if you catch yourself in a whirlpool of emotional
energy. That is prime time for bhakti. Just an awareness of this principle of bhakti will
set things in motion inside when emotions flare up.
The great nineteenth-century Indian saint, Ramakrishna, was a master at creating huge
outpourings of bhakti. He would writhe around on the floor at the base of the statue of
Mother Divine he worshipped, sobbing and sobbing for the slightest touch from her inside.
The more upset he got the more he would direct it toward his ishta, the statue. He seemed
like a crazy man. All the while his bhakti was working like a laser beam, slicing through
every obstruction in his nervous system. By bhakti alone he became the divine.
The extremes of bhakti are not necessarily what we are aiming for here in these lessons,
though it is up to you. Even a little bhakti goes a very long way. There is great power in
it. So much so that we have to remind ourselves that intense bhakti can have a big effect
on the rise of our kundalini, both directly through the emotional energy, and in the
turbo-charging effect that bhakti brings into all of our practices. As with all yoga
practices, we can overdo bhakti, so we must be mindful about that. Our experience is the
best measure of whether or not we are overdoing it. Everyone has their own time line,
their own pace for the spiritual purification process. Let your experience be your guide.
Because the method of bhakti produces predictable results over and over again, we can say
that it is a systematic application of knowledge. Bhakti is the science of devotion -- a
powerful science indeed.
Let's go back to kundalini now and talk more about some of the symptoms that come up, and
what to do if things seem to be a little out of balance.
The guru is in you.
Note: For detailed instructions on Bhakti, see the
AYP Bhakti and Karma Yoga book.
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