by Anne Parsonage
What is a “spiritual person”?
- Is it the one who sits perfectly upright in lotus position … intently practicing yogic breathing exercises (“pranayama”)? or chanting mantras? or practicing consciousness exercises?
- Or is it the one who performs a worship ceremony to God (“puja” in Sanskrit) on a daily basis … offering flowers, incense, fire, and holy water, while singing devotional songs and ringing bells?
- Or is it the one who avoids consuming garlic, beer, and meat?
- Or is it the one who devours esoteric literature, in his desire for knowledge?
Well, a “spiritual person” does not necessarily do all, or any one, of the above-named activities. In fact, a person could do all of those activities for years and years, and still not be any closer to the Spirit. It’s even possible that a person could do all of those activities for years and years, and fall even further away from the Spirit. So then, what is a spiritual person? It’s actually quite simple. A spiritual person is the person who thinks of, and does what’s best for, others before he thinks of himself … a spiritual person is the one with the big heart … a spiritual person is the one who serves the people; and to take that concept even further, the one who serves the entire universe. This is the characteristic of a saint; that is, the forgetting of oneself in order to serve Life.
The only thing that matters in life is how big is one’s heart.
How is it possible to forget about oneself, and serve the rest of the universe instead? There are many actions one can take to help develop this high state of being, this expansive giving attitude of the consciousness which allows for the ability to forget about oneself … to forget about serving one’s own desires (of the “lower self”), but rather to serve all of Life instead … and consequently, to experience the divine bliss of sainthood. For example, one can sincerely perform daily worship, and/or one can contemplatively read scriptures from any of the major religions, and/or one can seek out a kind and wise teacher for guidance, and/or one can objectively observe nature. The possibilities are endless. There is a unique path to this higher state of being for each individual soul. Yes, there are many things one can do, but there is only one thing that one must do, in order to become a truly “spiritual person”.
So what is the one thing that one must do in order to become a spiritual person? Unfortunately it is the most difficult thing for a human being to do (especially for us Westerners, with our extra-large-sized egos). One must give one particular thing to God (to Buddha, to Yahweh, to Brahman the Super-Consciousness, to Allah, to the Higher Self, to the Tao … one can use whichever word one wants, to refer to the higher power which created all things, and which is pure eternal infinite Love and Light and Knowledge and Bliss). Can you guess what it is? … what is it that one must give to God in order to experience the joy of the Spirit?
One must give one’s entire personality to God. This is Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti is the Sanskrit word for religious devotion to the Divine.
Bhakti yoga involves surrender of the personal life (one’s entire personality, one’s “lower self”) out of intense love for God. Serve one’s ego up to Him on a silver platter!
Bhakti yoga is reverential devotion to Life.
Bhakti Yoga is not about renouncing one’s personality, but rather, it is about surrendering one’s personality.
So what remains after the personality is surrendered? What remains is the God that resides inside of you, AS YOU, the way you really are, in your unpolluted, natural state (ie. not influenced by the desires and attachments of the ego, the lower self). This state manifests as truth and purity in acting, speaking, and thinking … it is the Light of God, shining through the physical human body, doing God’s work, and spreading God’s Lovingkindness.
How can one develop this Bhakti? this selflessness? this reverential devotion to Life?
Bhakti can be nurtured.
Following are actions and attitudes which help to nurture Bhakti:
i. Practice sadhana, where 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 commonly 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). Note that it is good to keep the physical body healthy (for example, through practicing yoga asanas) because God lives inside of each of us, so each of our bodies is a temple of God, and so should be treated with utmost respect.
ii. Try to practice mindfulness throughout the day … try not to let the mind run on “automatic pilot” … multi-tasking is the antithesis of mindfulness since it is impossible for the human mind to focus on more than one thing in a moment of time.
iii. Try to be respectful of everything (every person with whom one comes into contact, every sentient being, all the plant life, and every last molecule of existence).
iv. Try to practice humility. This can be facilitated by trying not to pay too much attention to one’s lower level (ie. ego-based) thinking and emotions.
v. Try to engage in some kind of selfless service, where one can forget about oneself for a while (for example, volunteer work to assist people less fortunate than oneself).
vi. 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.
vii. Try to practice discrimination between earthly life and the spiritual life.
Interestingly, Christianity is a big picture of Bhakti Yoga … just devote oneself entirely to serving and loving Jesus Christ … and that’s all that’s required to receive a “place” in heaven, through the grace of God. This is a form of 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. They are inter-related. For example, if one actively nurtures devotion to the Divine (Bhakti yoga), then one will naturally want to work for a higher cause (Karma yoga). Or if one is consciously trying to engage in selfless service activities (Karma yoga), then devotion (Bhakti) and spiritual knowledge (Jnana) naturally develop.
Bhakti is not a human emotion … it is a state of deep perception … it is the heaven within each of us.