Introduction to Essence of Bhakti
The nature of Bhakti is inexpressible. Bhakti can be partially explained but its totality is inconceivable and inexpressible. Just as it is difficult to explain the sweetness of sugar to a person who has not tasted it, so also the nature of Bhakti cannot be explained. Bhakti is indescribable as love or service to God itself is indescribable. An example is to understand the love of devotee to God is that of a dinner served by a mother to her child which is invigorating. Here knowledge of the recipe does not matter, but how lovingly it is served and lovingly partaken forms the essence of the attachment which a mother has to her child and vice-versa.
The essence of Bhakti is the concept of intense attachment to God (or joy of serving, (Seva) based on overcoming of the ego.
Characteristics of Essence of bhakti
The two characteristics or the nature of bhakti is:
1) Attachment to God or love for God
2) Overcoming of ego or annihilation of Ego
1) Attachment to God can be developed only when a bhakta serves the Lord with purity of mind, speech and body. Sage Yagnavalkya opines that true bhakti lies in controlling the mind, turning inwards and enjoying the bliss of communication with the Self which is Absolute and Real. It also means concentrating all the energies or focusing one’s energies towards God and experiencing oneness with the Divine.
All the emotions such as anger, desire, love, greed and hatred of an individual must be directed towards God.
Constant remembering of the name of the Lord, training the mind to concentrate on a single object or meditation are some of the ways of controlling the mind. Through constant remembering of the Lord, bhakta will reach a state where he cannot think of anything other than God. Everything around him will be seen as a manifestation of God. The bhakta is not perturbed by the happenings in the external world. Through regular practice of mediation, the mind of a bhakta will reach a state of objectless consciousness or thoughtless conscious which is called as Samadhi. The mind is in a state of bliss. This state is also known as Para Bhakti. He thinks only about the Supreme Lord who is omnipresent and all pervading. The entire universe is worshipped. Samadhi is of two types, Savikalpa Samadhi and Nirvikalpa Samadhi. In Savikalpa Samadhi, a bhakta thinks that the entire universe is God. Eg The Gopis of Vrindavan perceived everything in the universe as Lord Krishna. At a later stage, Gopis considered themselves as Lord Sri Krishna. This state is known as Nirvikalpa Samadhi where the ego is absent.
The following verse from Sankaracharya’s Sivanada Lahari (Verse 61) explains the kind of attachment which a bhakta should have towards God.
a) When the Ankola fruits fall to the ground, its seeds are separated from the fruit. But the seeds instantly move in the direction of the trunk and stick to the trunk of the mother tree.
b) The needle, attracted by the irresistible force of the magnet flies towards the magnet.
c) A devout and a chaste wife constantly remembers her husband and his service
d) A creeper restlessly searches for a tree to entwine itself: and once it has caught a tree it winds itself around it as it were with great “love and affection”. Even if the creeper is violently pulled away from the tree, the next instance it is released it will go to the tree and entwine itself around it.
e) The river flowing towards the ocean is not affected by all the obstacles in its way and flows ceaselessly till it reaches the ocean.
If the spirit of the mind, reaches for the lotus feet of Pashupathi, and stays there always, then that state is called as devotion.
2) Overcoming of Ego or Annihilation of Ego:
Ego is defined as identification of the body as separate from the self or God. Eg: I am the doer. Mukti or liberation from births and deaths cannot be attained as long as the mind identifies itself with the body, Bhakti Yoga’s ideal just as the ideal of all other Yogas is to root out the ego in an individual and identify one with the Self. When a bhakta surrenders himself to God completely and considers himself as a mere instrument in the hands of the Lord, only then can a man annihilate his ego. This is divine love. He considers himself as a servant to God, who is the master. Sri Krishna says to Uddhava that “the ass, the dog and the chandala are to be saluted”. “Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma” All the universe is indeed Brahman. There is no difference.
A bhakta tries to see God in everything. Upanishads declare that reflection of love for the Self is bhakti. A bhakta who realises the difference between the “I” (his ego) and the Self, (the Absolute, the real) surrenders the “I”, for he knows that real “I” is the self and not the ego. This is the highest form of bhakti.
There are two types of bhaktas namely inferior and higher. In the first category, the bhakta considers everything except himself as God. This is inferior form of bhakti, as the ego is not yet surrendered. The second type of bhakta considers everything as God, including himself. This is higher form of bhakti as he considers himself one with the God, in other words there is no ego. He does not have an independent existence other than god. Eg: Gopis of Vridavan, Gauranga Mahaprabhu etc.
Bhakti is superior to Karma and Jnana. “The Lord dislikes people who are proud but is pleased with the humble”. (verse 27, NBS). A devotee who is humble is the dearest to Lord Krishna. People who are knowledgeable and practitioners of action are proud of their actions due to their ego, while the humble have only devotion to offer to Lord and want only love in return.
Sage Narada gives the example of different people who are in the King’s palace. There are people like courtiers, military men, administrators, palace staff and dependents from general public. While the courtiers, military men, administrators work for a salary, are egoistic due to the knowledge they possess and need not necessarily love the King. It is the dependents from the general public who consider the King as a loving father, depend upon him look, up to him and regard all his gifts as blessings rather than as remuneration. The King also likes this class the most as they are humble.
Lord Chaitanya in Sikshashtaka (3) says the following:
“ One who thinks lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than the tree and who does not expect honour but is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the Holy name of the Lord”. The more one advances spiritually, the more one becomes humble.
With divine grace bhakti will manifest itself in a qualified person. Bhakti is a means by itself to reach God which is the easiest and the surest path. Some examples of prominent bhaktas are Lord Hanuman, Prahalada, Druva, Uddhava, Sri Sankara, Narada etc.
Devotees are classified into two categories:
1) Bhaktas: are the ones who are devoted to God, who have faith and who believe in God. Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (Ch 7, V28), says “It is only those of good deeds whose sins are ended and who are freed from the spell of opposites that run to me with firm determination.”
2) Abhaktas are the ones who are non devotees.
Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (in Ch 18, V67) says “This Gita is not be communicated to one who is not disciplined or who is not a devotee or who has not served the learned or to one who hates Me”
Meaning: Complete surrender is giving up mind, body, intellect, ego and soul to God. Surrender to God must be total, unreserved or unconditional and whole hearted. All actions of the mind, body and speech must be merged with God.
Characteristics of an aspirant striving towards Self Surrender
a) An aspirant should not have any desires or will of his own to be satisfied. God who is all giving, an ocean of mercy and love will give whatever is appropriate at the appropriate time. When an aspirant surrenders even with the desire of His grace, then it is only partial self surrender as, the thought of “I” still exists in a subtle form. This kind of surrender takes the form of a transaction.
b) An aspirant should not complain about God or talk lightly about God if his prayers are not answered or when faced with adverse situations. An aspirant who wants to surrender should overcome the dualities of nature such as pleasure and pain, hot and cold etc. He should be ever calm and should not be perturbed by the happenings in the external world. When faced with adverse situations in the course of self surrender he should realise it is due to the law of Prarabdha Karma which is inevitable for anyone to escape from. He should believe that by giving him grief and sorrow, God is only making him think about Him constantly. Such an aspirant will welcome pain and grief. Eg: Kunti prayed to Lord Krishna and asked him to give her pain so that she could constantly remember Him.
c) He should have supreme faith in the Lord. He should believe that God alone is the doer and he is merely an instrument in the hands of the Lord. If an aspirant has such an attitude, surrender will become easier.
d) Self surrender does not mean retirement into forests or giving up one’s duties. It means surrendering of one’s ego to the Lord while discharging one’s duty. Eg: Prahalada.
Surrendering ego cannot be a planned task. It requires arduous effort as the Rajasic mind pulls the bhakta towards worldly affairs. Constant prayer to the Lord to overcome the ego and practice are sure ways to control the mind and annihilate the ego. All old habits of the mind must be destroyed or overhauled and the sense organs must be directed towards the God. Self surrender and divine grace are directly proportional. A bhakta who has surrendered himself completely to the Lord will enjoy divine grace, bliss and immortality.
e) An aspirant should have a longing for realisation. When there is longing, then realisation will be forced onto the devotee even if he doesn’t want it. Longing for realisation intensely makes the mind melt in devotion.
f) Prayer or devotion to god without the objective of any motive.
Stages in Self Surrender
1) Dispassion [vairagya] is the first stage in Self Surrender. Dispassion must be consciously cultivated by faithful and regular practice. The eagerness of an aspirant to Self surrender must be equal to that of a man kept under water trying to rise up to the surface for his life. Mira abandoned everything. Her kingdom, husband, relatives, friends and property. She could think of Lord Krishna only all day and all night. She cried out of love (prema) for Him. She sang and danced for Him. Her mind was ever absorbed in Lord Krishna that she even gave up eating. Only then did Lord Krishna shower His grace upon her.
2) Once an aspirant develops a strong vairagya to worldly objects, then a firm resolve to surrender oneself to God or Guru is the second stage. When an aspirant decides to engage himself in the service of God or Guru, then the seed of vairagya germinates.
3) The third stage is where he serves God or Guru with love. He does not have the sense of doer ship. As he advances with an attitude of “I am thine”, his surrender becomes more and more perfect and complete. Self realisation leads him to Jnana which is, the realisation that Self is the real Atma or God existing in everybody and that God is all pervading. Once an aspirant reaches a stage of self surrender, actions do not bind him or create bondage.
Paths to Self Surrender:
According to Ramana Maharishi, the path to Self Surrender is twofold:
1) Holding on to the ego until it dissolves or merges with the Self.
2) All responsibilities for one’s life are surrendered to God or Self. An individual must reach a stage where he thinks that he does not have an existence independent of God.
The first method is self inquiry. As long as the aspirant holds on to the thought of “I”, i.e I am the doer or “I want to eat” etc, he cannot realise the Self or God. Here the ‘I” is separate from the Self and therefore there is a sense of ownership or doer ship while discharging one’s duties. This sense of doer ship creates bondage. An enquiry must be made to overcome this bondage. There must be a realisation that there is higher power or God who will carry out everything in the world. When an aspirant gets this realisation that he is a mere instrument in His hands, the ego will die down. In the initial stages, letting go of the “I” may seem like an impossible goal.
In Bhagavad Gita(ch 2, V 71) ‘The man who shed all longing and moves without concern, free from the sense of “I” and “mine”, he attains peace’ (2:71).
Thus Ramana suggests preliminary exercises which would help an aspirant cultivate devotion and control the mind. Some of the exercises involved are, thinking of God constantly, meditating on God or Guru, and chanting His name often with love and devotion. Such exercises will enable the mind to be absorbed in the object of meditation. Once the mind is able to channelize all its energies on God, then Surrender becomes easier. Regular and Constant meditation or chanting the name of the God enhances the awareness of God. This will lead to the conviction that God alone exists and thus the ego is weakened. At this stage, there is higher Self awareness and there is flow of divine energy or bliss.
Constant meditation on the Self, will merge the “I” with the Self. Thus total surrender is possible as only Self exists. Meditation or Dhyana is the precursor to Self realization. Self is the beginning and end of Realization.
Just as a river loses its identity when it merges with an ocean, similarly the ego will lose its identity when merged with the Self or the Supreme Infinite Consciousness through constant meditation.
In the second method, an aspirant considers himself as helpless and believes that God is all powerful. He will surrender his body, mind and soul to the Lord and seek His help in discharging his duties. He has nothing to call his own. He does not crave for sensual pleasures. He is not affected by the dualities of nature such as likes or dislikes, pleasure and pain, sorrow and joy etc. He treats everything as gift from the Lord. He has no independent existence. He becomes part and parcel of God. An aspirant who has surrendered himself completely to the God does not take care of his body also. He thinks that God will take care if He wants the body for His service. He has no ego. He has no will of his own. It is only the will of the Lord which is at play. God’s grace will descend on such a bhakta and make the surrender complete.
Both the paths lead to the same goal, Self realisation or Jnana or liberation. Jnana or knowledge is the realisation that there is nothing but God or Self exists and that “I” or mine doesn’t exist.
Sri Krishna advises Arjuna and through him all the spiritual aspirants that the only sure way of realising God is through total self- surrender to God. Surrendering to the Divine is the only way for spiritual advancement (Yoga). In Katha Upanishad (1.2.23) “The Self is not attained through discourse, nor through intellect and nor through learning. It is gained only by him who is accepted by the Self. To such a one the Self reveals its true nature”.
According to Bhagavad Gita(Ch 18, 65- 66)
V 65: “Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend”.
V 66: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.”
In Chandogya Upanishad “There is a small shrine in the form of lotus flower and within can be found a small space. We should find who dwells there and we should want to know Him. And if anyone asks “Who is he who lives in a small shrine in the form of a lotus flower in the centre of Brahman”? The answer is “The little space within the heart is as great as the universe. The heaven and earth are there; the Sun, the moon, the stars; fire and lightening and winds… For the whole universe is in Him and He dwells within our hearts.”