by Anne Parsonage
- Is it he who sits perfectly upright in lotus position … intently practicing yogic breathing exercises (“pranayama”)? or concentration exercises? or chanting Sanskrit mantras?
- Or is it he who performs worship ceremonies to God daily (“puja” in Sanskrit) … offering flowers, incense, fire, and holy water, while singing devotional songs and ringing bells?
- Or is it he who avoids consuming garlic, eggs, wine, and meat?
- Or is it he who speaks and acts “politically-correctly”?
- Or is it he who devours esoteric literature, in his desire for knowledge?
Well, a “spiritual” person doesn’t necessarily do all or any of these activities. In fact, a person could do all these activities for years, and still not be any closer to the Spirit … he could even be further from the Spirit. So then, what exactly is a spiritual person? A spiritual person is the one who thinks of and does what’s best for the development/expansion of the other person’s consciousness toward the Light (without expectation of personal reward) … a spiritual person is the one with the big heart … a spiritual person is the one who serves the people. To take this concept even further, a spiritual person is the one who serves the entire universe. This is the characteristic of a saint … the forgetting of one’s own self, to serve Life instead.
The only thing that matters in life is how big is your heart.
How is it possible to forget about yourself, and serve the rest of the universe instead? There are many actions you could take to prepare the consciousness for this high state of being, this expansive giving attitude of the soul which enables the forgetting of your own lower desires in order to serve Life instead (and consequently, to experience the divine bliss of sainthood). For example, you could practice consciousness exercises to facilitate an initial recognition of the subjective nature of your own thoughts and emotions, and/or you could respectfully perform daily worship to a Higher Being, and/or you could contemplatively read scriptures from any of the major religions, and/or you could seek out a kind and wise teacher for guidance, and/or you could objectively observe nature, and/or you could volunteer to participate in a project that helps others, and/or you could try to simplify your life and reduce your personal possessions. The possibilities are endless. There is a unique path to this higher state of being for each individual soul. Yes, there are many things you could do, but there is only one thing you MUST do, in order to become a truly spiritual person.
So what is the one thing you must do in order to be a spiritual person? Unfortunately it is the most difficult thing for a human being to do (especially for us modern-day Westerners, with our extra-large-sized egos). You must give one particular thing to God (or to Buddha, or to Yahweh, or to Brahman the Super-Consciousness … or Allah, or the Higher Self, or the Tao … it doesn’t really matter which words you use to refer to the transcendent higher power which created all things, and which is eternal infinite Love and Light and Knowledge and Bliss). Do you know what it is that you must give to God in order to experience the pure joy of the Spirit?
You must give your entire personality to God. That is Bhakti Yoga …the surrender of the ego out of deep religious devotion to the Divine Life. (Bhakti is the Sanskrit word for devotion to the Highest.)
Bhakti yoga means surrender of the personal life (of the ego, the “lower self”) out of intense love for God … serve your ego up to Him on a silver platter.
Bhakti yoga manifests as reverential devotion to Life (ie. to all of God’s creation).
Bhakti Yoga is not about “renouncing” your personality, but rather it is about “surrendering” it.
So what remains after the personality is surrendered? What remains is the God that resides inside of you (the Transcendent “I”, called the Param-aatman in Hindu terminology) … AS YOU, the way you really are, in your natural unpolluted state (ie. not influenced by the desires and attachments of the ego, of the lower self). This state manifests as truth and purity in acting, speaking, and thinking … it is the Light of God, the Transcendent “I”, shining through the human body, doing God’s work, and spreading God’s Lovingkindness.
So how does one develop Bhakti (this selfless state of reverential devotion to Life) in one’s own being? The answer is that one cannot really develop it through one’s own personal efforts, because Bhakti cannot be “achieved”. Rather, the gift of Bhakti is received/granted through the grace of God, via the Holy Spirit.
So although you cannot achieve Bhakti through your own personal efforts, nevertheless you can take actions, and develop life style habits, and nurture attitudes which attract the Spirit to approach your individual soul, and which prepare your consciousness to receive the grace of Bhakti when the time is ripe. For example, you could:
i. Practice sadhana (sadhana is the Sanskrit word for the activities one consciously performs in order to expand the consciousness toward unity with the Supreme Being). Sadhana is usually practiced on a daily basis, and in a repetitive and rhythmical manner … that is, the same exercises each day (repetition), and performed at approximately the same time each day (rhythm). Some examples of sadhana practice are yoga asanas, consciousness exercises, contemplative reading of spiritually-inspired writings, mantra chanting, God worshiping ceremonies (either alone, or with a group … for example, attending church on Sundays … or in the Muslim tradition, praying five times per day at designated times).
ii. Try to keep the physical body healthy (for example, through eating a clean diet, practicing yoga asanas, and establishing rhythm in eating, sleeping, and working habits) because God lives inside of each of us, so each of our bodies is like a temple, to be treated with utmost respect.
iii. Try to practice mindfulness (of your own thinking, speaking, feeling, and acting) throughout the day … try not to let the mind run on “automatic pilot” … avoid trying to “multi-task” as it is not possible for the human mind to focus on more than one thing at the same time.
iv. Try to practice attentiveness (of what’s happening outside of yourself, in your environment) throughout the day. This helps to develop sensitivity, as well as a sense for the inter-connectedness of all things.
v. Try to nurture respect/reverence for nature … for all of God’s Creation (for every sentient being … for all the plant life … for every molecule of existence) … it’s all a manifestation of the Divine.
vi. Try to live a life of service (this helps to fulfill the true need of the human soul, which is to share, and to open up one’s heart to others) … for example, while inter-relating with another person, constantly think about how to best serve his/her needs, on all levels of his/her being. Try to engage in work that makes a contribution to the Whole, not work which is limited to narrow personal pursuits.
vii. Try to recognize and let go of old dysfunctional thought patterns and emotional attachments which prevent one from moving forward in the development of the consciousness. For example, opt-out of power games and co-dependent relationships.
viii. Try to practice discrimination between earthly life and the spiritual life.
Interestingly, Christianity is a big picture of Bhakti yoga, because Bhakti is the path of redemption (according to spiritual teacher Heinz Grill, it is a mystery which penetrated the earth when Jesus Christ’s body returned to dust). Just devote oneself entirely to loving and worshipping Jesus Christ (like Mary Magdalena, who really did offer up her personality to the Lord) … and that’s all that’s required to receive the heavenly bliss of Cosmic Love in this lifetime, before death. Jesus said to Mary “Your sins are forgiven.”, and “Your faith has saved you.”. So Mary went from sinner to saint, without renunciation … it was possible through deep devotion to Jesus Christ. This is Bhakti yoga.
Bhakti yoga (devotion), Karma yoga (selfless service), and Jnana yoga (spiritual knowledge) form the three pillars of yoga. They are not separate disciplines, but rather they feed and support each other in the development of the human soul toward the Divine Life … and ultimately they become united in the Self (this is the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita, “Song of the Lord”, that ancient scripture spoken by Lord Krishna … the true source book for yoga). For example, if the aspirant actively nurtures devotion to the Divine (Bhakti yoga), then he naturally experiences fulfillment through working for a higher cause (Karma yoga). Or if he is consciously trying to engage in selfless activities (Karma yoga), then the light of spiritual knowledge (Jnana) approaches him … and his heart opens to receive the heavenly gift of pure devotion (Bhakti). According to spiritual teacher Heinz Grill, there is a tendency toward this synthesis of Bhakti, Karma, and Jnana in the human heart, because the true nature/wish of the heart is to seek out the bliss of pure devotion, of selfless service, and of spiritual knowledge. Note that in these modern times, with the human soul so deeply entrenched in the material body consciousness, the most essential posture of yoga is Bhakti.
The spirit of Bhakti Yoga is encapsulated in the following verse of the Bhagavad Gita (ch. 18, v. 65) spoken by Bhagwan Lord Krishna: “Fix thy mind on Me … be my lover and adorer, be a sacrificer to Me, bow thyself to Me … then thou shalt come to Me. This is my pledge/promise to thee, for thou art dear to me.”
Bhakti is not a human emotion … it is a state of deep perception … it is the heaven within you.