Practicing Bhakti-part 1

How to cultivate/ develop Bhakti?

Bhakti is training one’s mind and will towards God. It is a discipline through which a bhakta eliminates his ego and develops an intense attachment towards god. The bhakta attains a stage of self realisation where the ego and the Self are the same. He gets the highest knowledge of the Self, the Absolute and realises God as all pervading.

Sri Ramanuja Charya advocated the following eleven basic factors for development of Bhakti:

1) Abhyasa or practice. Abhyasa is a sustained and persistent effort to achieve mastery or gain control over a certain object. The bhakta through persistent effort tries to still his mind by concentrating or focusing all his energies or emotions on the Lord. The bhakta has to direct all his thoughts inward to realise the Self.

2) Viveka or discrimination : Here the bhakta discriminates between the right and the wrong. A bhakta will consider all those thoughts or actions which lead him closer to god as right. All thoughts or actions which make him worldly are considered as wrong. Thus a bhakta will discriminate and engage only in those tasks or thoughts which will help him realise God, by following the path of self righteousness. He abstains himself from such thoughts or deeds which will turn him away from God. Even in food, a bhakta should discriminate between Satvik food, food to be considered and Rajasika or Tamasic food which should be avoided.

3) Vimoka or freedom: Freedom here refers to freedom from the worldly thoughts. The sadhaka or the bhakta in pursuit of the eternal bliss should renounce all the worldly thoughts or desires for material objects and focus his mind or emotions on God alone. A bhakta should introspect on his thoughts and direct them towards attaining God and renounce those thoughts which are a hindrance in his spiritual progress.

4) Satyam or truthfulness: God is truth; therefore a bhakta who is seeking God must himself be a personification of truth. He should speak the truth, think truth and do what is true to one’s conscience.

5) Arjavam or straightforwardness or honesty: Honesty is another prerequisite of a Bhakta. A bhakta should be honest, without any pretences, deceit, and crookedness just like a child. It becomes easy to attain God or know the real nature of God, if one is pure at heart.

6) Kriya or doing good to others: A true devotee sees everything around him as a manifestation of God. Thus a sadhaka should do good and serve others without any discrimination or personal objective. Serving others or helping others in distress will help a sadhaka to know the problems associated with worldly existence. This in turn will make him compassionate to the sufferings of others. Thus the seeds of Vairagya get sown in the bhakta.

7) Kalyana or wishing well being to all: This is another prerequisite of a Bhakta. He should pray for the welfare of others first, pray for the peace and welfare of the world and then pray for his own evolution. The true spirit of a sadhaka is to wish good for others with a pure heart and not hold grudges against anyone.

8) Daya or compassion: As a sadhaka is in pursuit of the God who is all merciful and compassion personified, he should also cultivate a heart as infinite as the Sky filled with love and mercy.

9) Ahimsa or non injury: Ahimsa is a life giving force which a special attribute of the soul. Practice of ahimsa will generate the feeling of universal brotherhood and cosmic love.

10) Dana or charity: The sadhaka should realise that charity done with the intent of alleviating the sufferings of those in distress will purify the heart. The law of nature is that the more one gives, the more one gets. Thus a sadhaka should have a large heart and do charity generously.

11) Anavasada or cheerfulness: This is an essential prerequisite for a Bhaka. A sadhaka should be ever cheerful in his spiritual endeavour. With optimistic zeal and perseverance, a sadhaka should continue his quest for God. There may be several forces which pull him down, but he should not lose hope or be depressed.

According to Narada Bhakti Sutra, the following are the means to cultivate Bhakti.

1) Bhakti can be attained by worshipping the Lord ceaselessly: In order to restrain the mind going hither and thither, a devotee must engage the mind and senses in the Lord. Just like a piece of iron rod in a fire, becomes hotter and hotter and then gets fiery, so also the mind which is constantly engaged in the Lord gets transformed and eventually becomes absorbed in the service of the Lord. Srimad Bhagavatam, recommends uninterrupted devotional service: (1.2.6)

“The supreme occupation for all humanity is that by which one can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendental Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self”.

Lord Krishna in Bhagavat Gita also states “Sraddhavan bhajate yo mam” One who serves Him with devotion and faith is the highest yogi.

2) Giving up sense gratification and mundane association: Narada exhorts us to give up both self indulgence as well as sense gratification. He uses Sanga tyaga, meaning one who has refrained from associating with the sense objects even within the mind and heart.

3) Hearing and chanting about the Supreme Lord’s special qualities even while engaged in mundane tasks. According to Padma Purana, the Lord says that “I do not dwell in Vaikunta or in the hearts of the Yogi, but wherever My devotees sing My glories”.

The Lord says that chanting His name in the Kali Yuga is the Yuga Dharma, the religion of the age.

“In the age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord. There is no other way, no other way. There is no other way.” (Brihan- naradiya Purana) (Adi 17.21)

4) Mercy of great souls or by small drop of Lord’s mercy.

A devotee should practice under the guidance of a spiritual guru for advancement in devotional service. Just like how a child grows under the guidance of its parents, so also a Bhakta should be guided by a spiritual master in his endeavour to reach the ultimate goal.

5) The association of great souls is rarely obtained, difficult to understand and infallible

Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita says: (ch 7.3)

“Out of many thousands of men, one may endeavour for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in Truth”. Thus even those who have attained Brahman realisation, fall short of knowledge in Supreme personality of Godhead. A devotee should not be misled about a “great soul” and think that the “guru” may deliver him from material engagement.

The association of a great soul is indeed very rare, yet it is available to a sincere seeker. If the seeker is fortunate to get a guru and his blessings, then he will be infallibly benefitted.

6) Association with great souls by Lord’s Mercy: With the mercy of the Lord, a true seeker will come in contact with a spiritual master. The Supreme Personality Godhead is present in everybody’s heart and as soon as the Lord understands the seriousness of the seeker, He will send His representative to guide the seeker. Eg: Dhruva Maharaj who was insulted by his step mother went to a forest seeking God, on advice from his mother. Dhruva wandered in the forests asking animals “Where is God?” Are you God?” and then Narada Muni appeared before him and was blessed with divine insight.

One can attain Bhakti by association with the Lord’s pure devotees or directly with the Lord’s mercy, because the Lord and his Pure devotees are no different. The seed of devotion is planted in the hearts of the receptive conditioned souls, thus the Mercy of the Lord and His loving Servants have the same effect.

7) Strive, Strive for the association of pure devotees: Narada Muni emphasizes the association with pure devotees by using the word ‘Strive’ twice. When the Lord and His devotees see the sincerity in the efforts of a seeker, he will always be helped. The association with great souls can be attained only by the mercy of the Lord.

8) Giving up all kinds of degrading association: Associating with the pure devotees of the Lord is equivalent to associating with the Lord Himself. Thus Chaitanya Mahaprabhu defined a Vaishnava as someone who shuns Stri sanga, those who loosely associate with women, he should also shun Krishna abhakthas- nondevotees of Lord Krishna.

Material association is the cause of lust, greed, anger, confusion, forgetfulness, loss of intelligence, and total calamity.

Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita says: (ch 2.62-63)

“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them and from such attachment lust develops and from lust develops anger. From anger complete delusion arises and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost and when intelligence is lost, one falls down again into the material pool.”

9) Renouncing material attachments, associating with great souls and becoming free of possessiveness. Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita states: (ch, 7,14)

“This divine energy of mine, consisting of three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered Unto Me can easily cross beyond it.”

A bhakta can cross the ocean of illusion called Maya by staying in a secluded place, cut off his root of attachment to mundane society, becomes free from three modes of nature (sattava, Rajas, Tamas) and give up hankering for material gain and security.

A bhakta can cross the ocean of Maya by renouncing material duties and their profits, thus transcending duality. A devotee who dedicates all his duties to the Lord becomes free from Karmic reactions. A devotee performs his duties for the sake of doing the duty. There is no ownership or attachment to the act. As long as the devotee is under the influence of the modes of nature, he is bound to experience duality- good and bad, hot and cold, pleasure and pain, poor and rich etc. As Lord Krishna states in Bhagvada Gita, (ch, 7, 27)

“O Scion of Bharata, O conqueror of foes, all living entities are born into delusion, bewildered by dualities arisen from desire and hate”.

A bhakta who renounces even the Vedas obtains exclusive and uninterrupted attraction for God: Here renouncing Vedas means renouncing sacrifices recommended in Vedas. As knowing the Lord is the ultimate goal of a Bhakta, attaching oneself to the rituals will not help him reach the transcendental goal. The rituals will eventually help attain the ultimate goal.

A bhakta who follows the above means is sure to cross the ocean of Maya.

According to Valmiki Ramayana, Naradha Bhakti Sutra, Srimad Bhagvatam, there are nine ways of developing Bhakti, also known as Navavidha Bhakti. The path to devotion is easy to follow. Bhakti is the means for the seeker. That which is natural or accomplished for the bhakta should be followed. One or more of the following activities would lead the devotee in the path of Bhakti.

a) Shravanam- Listening to God’s Lilas

b) Kirtanam- Singing His Glories

c) Chanting His Name leads to Moksha

d) Smaranam- Remembrance of the Lord

e) Pada Sevam and Serving his Feet

f) Archanam- Worship by doing Puja Rituals

g) Worship through Name, Form and Symbol

h) Offerings to God

i) Vandanam- Prayer and Prostration

j) Dasyam- Servitude

k) Sakhyam- Friendship

l) Atma Nivedhana- Self Surrender

a) Shravanam: The seeker enjoys listening to the glories of the Lord’s virtues, sports and stories connected with His Divine Name and Form. The more the devotee hears about the Lord, the more will be his thirst to know about the Lord. Each step is a progress in the path of self perfection. Listening to the divine Lilas at all times, not only when one is in the company of spiritually accomplished souls, or reading spiritual books, but also while doing mundane tasks is Shravanam. Satsang etc purify the mind and create deep love and faith in the devotee.

b) Kirtanam: The seeker expresses his love to the Lord by way of singing his glories and dancing for the Lord.

c) Smaranam: Here the seeker chants or intones the name of the Lord in his every action. This alone will bring peace and poise to the seeker.

d) Pada- Sevanam: The seeker expresses his love by serving His feet or remembering Him in all his actions.

e) Archanam: The seeker performs Puja and offerings to the Lord.

f) Vandanam: The seeker sees God in the Self of all and thus prostrates to all His beings. The seeker does not differentiate between a human being and an animal. He considers all as different manifestation of the Supreme Lord.

g) Dasyam: The Seeker practises servitude to one and all.

h) Sakhyam: The Seeker considers Lord as his friend and develops an intimate relationship with the God.

i) Atma- Nivedanam: The Seeker surrenders his will and wish to the Lord. The seeker accepts whatever is done as an action of the Almighty.

According to Bhagavad Gita, Bhakti can be developed in the following ways:

In Bhagavad Gita, (Ch 11, v 53-55), after exhibiting His cosmic form, “It is not possible to see me as you have done through the study of the Vedas or by austerities or gifts or by sacrifice; it is only by one-pointed devotion (Bhakti) to me and me alone that you thus see and know me as I am in reality and ultimately reach me. It is he alone who dedicates all his notions and actions to me with a knowledge of my superiority, my devotee with no attachment and who has no enmity to any living being that can reach me”. Bhakti therefore, is the only way to the true knowledge of God and the surest way to reach Him

(Ch 12, v 6-7), Lord Krishna says, “Those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Partha, for them I am a swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death”

In Ch 18, v 65-66, Lord Krishna says “ Let your mind be constantly directed towards Me; dedicate all your actions to Me, prostrate yourself before Me; over and above the claims of all Dharmas (duties) is complete surrender to Me and Me alone”.

Thus Bhakti according to Gita is the love for God which is reinforced by a true knowledge of the glory of God. The love is constant and is centred on God and God alone.

According to Kaivalya Upanishad “Neither by action nor by progeny nor by riches, but by renunciation alone, immortality is attained”.

According to Madhvacharya, Bhakti is Nirantara Prem to the Lord. Bhakti is not a means but an end in itself. In his commentary on Brahma Sutras, he observes that a soul’s essential nature can become fully manifested with Bhakti alone. Bhakti and Jnana are synonymous.

According to Shankaracharya, Bhakti can be developed by the removal of avidya. Avidya is ignorance or identifying oneself with the ego and complete self surrender to the Lord. He emphasised on the knowledge or Jnana as the most rational method for highest intuitive universal realisation.

Sankara, himself was a Bhakta. He composed several hymns/ Shlokas such as Bhaja Govindam, Saundarya Lahari, Sivananda Lahari, Khadga Mala etc to foster the sense of devotion in the common man.