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Dear Yoga Mentor, My Question Is…

Sometimes students have written to or asked Swami Veda Bharati, Swami Ritavan Bharati, and other senior teachers in our tradition questions about practice.  This is one such “Question and Answer,” or Q&A.


I was wondering about what constituted bhakti. And is it necessary?


Michael Smith, Stephen Parker (Stoma), Lalita Arya (Ammaji), Swami Ritavan Bharati, Carolyn Hume, and Michael Kissener have answered this question.

From Michael Smith:

Bhagavad Gita 9:26 — “Whoever offers Me a leaf, flower, fruit, or water, with devotion
— that gift of a person of controlled self, offered with devotion, I accept.”

“That which is important is the feeling of devotion.”  Verse 9:26 teaches the aspirant to give or offer whatever he can, according to his capacity. Those who acquire this habit cannot stop giving, and finally they give all that they have as an offering to the Lord. Giving and giving up bring one and the same result.  These two virtues are the highest of all and help the aspirant in self-unfoldment. Any selfless action performed is a devotion to the Lord.” (Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Rama, p. 310)

From Stephen Parker (Stoma):

Sooner or later all the yogas, all the spiritual paths, funnel into “bhakti,” or, in yoga-speak, īśvara-pranidhāna, or in vedānta-speak, ātma-tattva-avalokanam. The term bhakti is perhaps best used for where this path begins, with channeling emotions in a relatively pure direction and offering everything one does to the Divine in whatever form. Gradually this is refined and intensified so that religious devotion, jñāna-yoga, karma-yoga all become exercises in cultivating a continual awareness of Divine presence and a seeking to remain in that presence at all times. In Bhagavad Gītā 4.11 Krishna says, “By whatever path people come to me I strengthen their faith in that direction.”

From Lalita Arya (Ammaji):

Bhakti is one of the rasas - literally means "juice, essence or taste". It connotes an Indian concept in arts & philosophy that evokes an emotion or feeling difficult to be described.

Bhakti is one of those like any other emotion. We can still be bhaktas even if we do not believe in a god...and simply might be interpreted as Devotion.  As a mother is devoted to her child - she doesn't need to develop it, it comes naturally to her. It is also part of the emotion of Love in its widest sense...so asking if it is necessary is like asking "do we need to love"? We cannot experience Devotion without Love and similarly Love without Devotion.

This is a very simple way I think of devotion.

From Swami Ritavan Bharati:

As part of our Shri-Vidya sadhana, The Meditation Center Sangha is currently reciting the Sanskrit verse, and practicing contemplation of the 27th verse of Saundarya-lahari:

“Oh, Supreme Divine Mother,
Whatever action of mine, may it be intended for and dedicated to Your worship:
may my speech become recitation of Your name as prayer (japa),
may all my actions become gestures of Your worship (mudras),
may all my movements become a circumambulation around Your form (pradakshina),
may all my food and drink become offerings to You as oblations to the divine fire (homa),
may all my resting and sleep become prostrations to You (pranam),
may all my worldly pleasures and enjoyments be transformed into acts of devotion to you (seva),
(May "I" become "Thine" and "Thou" become "mine", O Divine Mother)”

...and through that deep contemplation, a glimpse of the Absolute, with the direct experience that Shiva and Shakti as One; then a seeker fully surrenders to Her (ishwara-pranidhana), and maintains that constant awareness (atma-tattva-avalokanam). Everyday actions are an act of worship, because there is no attachment to either the ego (actor), the action or the acts by way of attaching to the objects of desire.

Swami Rama, in Lecture 2 of his Saundarya-lahari seminar, says that you are not praying to somebody who is outside you. Through such a prayer, you learn to be humble, compose yourself and maintain a constant awareness of the source of truth.  "...that 'in-dweller' is the lord of life who gives me light, the truth; gives me power to hear, think, analyze; who gives me power the energy to walk and do things in the external world. From that center of power within me, I draw strength and awaken the source of that strength." He reminds us that with constant awareness you train the ego and make your ego aware of this truth, otherwise, the ego refuses to accept that.  If you want to enjoy life, learn to be humble and for this, you will have to train and change your ego through this path of bhakti-yoga.

From Carolyn Hume:

Individuals have certain propensities and, when they start the study of yoga they are naturally inclined towards those elements that follow those propensities. One might be more scholarly, one might be more devotional, one might be inclined towards service, etc. However, as one continues to practice and to grow, the differences between, for instance, jnana, bhakti, and karma, tend to evaporate and one discovers that they are the same. This would not happen, of course, with the sadhaka who takes pride in his knowledge, his devotion, his service, his offerings; such pride separates him from that with which he is involved and from Self. Pain/pleasure felt in this separation can sometimes serve as a self-correcting mechanism of dissolution.

From Michael Kissener:

On the spiritual path the more refined ego tends to 'own' all spiritual progress made, thus preventing full realization and liberation. The one element in practise preventing from this trap is bhakti, or īśvara-praṇidhāna, lifting us up from ego centered experiencing into recognition of our true nature of being.

Editor’s Note:

Bhakti Yoga: Path of Love and Devotion by Swami Rama can be read by clicking on the title.

Ishvara Pranidhana is one of the niyamas. In The Royal Path, Swami Rama writes, “Ishvara Pranidhana or surrender to the Ultimate Reality is possible only with infinite faith and dedication. Such total surrender is achieved only with time, sincerity and perseverance. The ego has great tenacity and resists such a complete surrender. When the ego is transcended knowledge of one’s true nature is attained.”

The short video Ishvara Pranidhana (5th Niyama, Rung 2) by Swami Rama (YS3#19) can be seen by clicking on title.

Four lectures by Swami Rama on Saundarya-lahari can be seen by clicking here.

If you have a question about spiritual practice, you can use the "Contact the Spiritual Committee" link on the Ahymsin website to ask it.

Previous columns can be read at “Dear Yoga Mentor, My Question Is…



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