in the CHAPTER SIXTEEN It has already been explained that all forms of yoga aim at bringing about the state of meditation. The reader should not assume, however, that one type of yoga should be practised to the exclusion of all others. Though they are usually regarded as the different paths of yoga, a more realistic description would be to call yoga the path, and its various forms different lanes of that path. This can be compared to a piece of rope composed of various smaller strands. The different strands have separate identities, yet together they form the rope. In the same way, the different strands of each type of yoga, when performed in conjunction with each other, form the composite whole which takes one to meditation.
Bhakti is the yoga of devotion. It is generally devotion to God or the supreme consciousness in one of its manifestations. These manifestations may be one of numerous avatars, divine incarnations who have existed at various times throughout history, such as Krishna, Rama, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed and so on. It may be one’s guru or anyone or thing that provokes strong emotional feelings. The important point is that the object of the bhakta’s devotion has strong emotional ties for him, so strong in fact, that all his emotional energy is directed to serving his personal form of the supreme consciousness. Instead of directing his attention to an impersonal form of consciousness, as in raja yoga and jnana yoga, he directs
his love to something more tangible and concrete.
All of us are emotional to a greater or lesser degree; it is part of the human constitution. Most people, however, suppress this emotion and this force becomes bottled up inside them. It has to manifest somewhere and it often does so in the form of diseases or mental problems. Other people express their emotional feelings, but do so in so many different directions that it lacks force. This also causes mental disturbances for the many different objects of emotional attention do not hold the devotion of the individual. As such the individual is continually trying to find someone or something to which he can totally direct his emotion and devotion. This search carries on continually throughout an individual’s life. Once we find a worthy object of devotion, then we no longer have emotional problems and we start to live life and not half live it.
How can we find an object that we can devote ourselves to? Actually we don’t find it; it spontaneously reveals itself. Bhakti yoga is almost unique among different types of yoga in that it cannot be consciously developed. The powerful and overwhelming devotion occurs spontaneously. It might be something we have inherited from childhood. But one thing is certain; as one lives the yogic way of life and slowly reduces the mental distractions and disturbances which hold the awareness from perceiving the true directions of one’s destiny, devotion will increase and the object of devotion will definitely manifest itself spontaneously from within.
How does bhakti yoga bring about states of meditation? The answer is that a person who feels devotion automatically concentrates his mind. The degree of concentration depends on the level of devotion. A person who is continually thinking of his object of devotion has a highly concentrated mind. The ups and downs of life are less likely to cause disturbances in his mind, which becomes calm and steady. Also, a person who continually thinks of something else, i.e. his object of devotion, automatically starts to lose awareness of ‘I-ness’. He loses the awareness of his ego. If this process continues for a long enough period of time, the individual essentially loses his personal identity. In this way he will automatically reduce the kleshas and desires which make meditation so difficult. That is, providing that the object of meditation itself is not someone or something which will cause new distractions and pain by instability or fickleness.
Ideally, bhakti yoga alone can be sufficient to induce high states of meditation and even self-realization. No other practice is necessary; raja yoga, karma yoga, etc., are all superfluous. This, however, is only true if, and only if, the individual has total and untiring devotion. Few of us have this capacity. Most of us might be able to devote ourselves for a short time, but tend to be distracted or lose faith in our object of devotion. If this happens, bhakti yoga alone will not take us to meditational states. We must then supplement it with other forms of yoga.
Stages of bhakti
Bhakti yoga is most powerful if the object of devotion is
spontaneously in the mind and one forgets one’s ego. However, there are specific methods by which the devotion can be enhanced and expressed, as has already been explained. The object of bhakti is generally God in any of his traditional manifestations, though this need not always be the case. However, for the sake of argument, we will assume that this is the case so that we can easily explain the different methods of expressing bhakti. These methods are applied in all religions as a means to lift the emotions from the mundane to the transcendental. They include the following:
- Sravana, which includes hearing stories about the glories of God and reading the different scriptures such as the Bible, Koran, Srimad Bhagavatam, which relate stories about personal forms of God.
- Nama sankirtan, continuous repetition of the different names of God in song form.
- Smarana, continuous remembrance of God by performing japa.
- Vandana, prayers to God.
- Archana, which is worship in its ritualistic form. All religions have a large number of rituals of this type.
In higher stages of bhakti yoga, the bhakta feels as though he is the servant of God and totally surrenders himself to the will of God. Even still, however, this love is a projection of the ego, a highly spiritualized and purified projection, but nevertheless still of the ego. The bhakta loves because he has an inherent need to love, in a way that a brother would love a sister or a lover would love his
beloved. It is still a relationship based on the individual and something else. There is still a gap between the devotee and the object of devotion. This gap, this seemingly uncrossable separation, must be overcome if the bhakta is to attain self-realization.
When the bhakta attains self-realization he becomes the oneness, he becomes God and can utter from the depths of his being Aham Brahma Asmi (I am God). He can say, “My Father and I are one”, as did Christ. Through his devotion the bhakta reaches the stage before the ultimate goal. To attain the final goal this very devotion has to be transcended. At this point the bhakta has expanded his love so much that the love no longer exists in the normal sense of the word, which by definition implies love between two things. He has become one and so he becomes love itself. At this point he has reached the same realization as a raja yogi, jnana yogi or any other person who attains supreme enlightenment. The path of love takes one to ultimate knowledge.
The spiritual aspirant is aiming for meditational experiences and should realize that bhakti or devotion is one of the most powerful means. Devotion brings about a state of mind in which meditation naturally manifests itself. If you do not know your object of devotion, your ishta, wait for it to show itself, for it surely will as you do yoga and slowly evolve. It will surely show itself one day, probably at a time when you least expect it.
Karma yoga is not merely work. Karma yoga is doing
work with complete awareness, but without attachment to the fruits or outcome of the work. The work is the end in itself, not the means to attaining some reward, payment, etc. It is selfless work. It is work in which one loses identity with one’s ego. One merely becomes an instrument. Of course karma yoga in its early stages is only work, for the individual still possesses his strong sense of ego, and consciously or unconsciously he longs for the fruits of his efforts, or at least recognition of his work in the form of praise or respect. By constantly losing oneself in work and by mental effort one will gradually but surely bring about a continuous dissociation from one’s personality and consciousness of the ego.
In karma yoga, the individual aims at becoming the perfect instrument of the supreme consciousness in the manifested universe in which we live. This manifestation is usually obstructed in its perfect fulfilment by the whims and ego of the individual. When the individual no longer considers himself the doer but merely as the instrument, the work becomes spiritualized. The individual becomes very efficient and expert in his actions. The individual develops equanimity of mind under all circumstances, for how can he be upset or angry when he is only an instrument? It is only from desire and egocentricity that one reacts adversely towards other people.
One of the greatest examples of a karma yogi in this century was Mahatma Gandhi, who lived up to all the ideals of karma yoga. He performed actions in life and yet he was unaffected by likes and dislikes, personal fancies and so on. He saw that every action he did was nothing but
a role in the divine process of the universe in accordance with the will of the supreme consciousness. He was only an instrument, a mere witness of his actions. He offered all the fruits of his actions to the service of humanity and to God.
How does karma yoga relate to meditation? In its lower stages it is a most powerful way of removing one’s identification with the ego. The desires and mental problems automatically disappear. Likes and dislikes gradually melt away. All these are obstacles to meditation and so their removal or even their reduction allows the individual to progressively attain higher states of meditation. Mental problems cannot be removed by doing nothing or living in seclusion. They only tend to fester or lie dormant in the deeper recesses of the mind. Activity in the form of karma yoga is the means to expose all these inner conflicts. Interaction with people during karma yoga is the sure way to show up any personality problems. When they are exposed, the individual can take active steps to remove them through introspective awareness and positive use of autosuggestion.
Another important point is that the constant practice of karma yoga develops the faculty of concentration. The ability to concentrate is essential before one can meditate in all forms of yoga. Therefore, the development of concentration during karma yoga can automatically lead to meditation. The cultivation of the powers of concentration is of indispensable value if one wishes to attain transcendence through raja or kundalini yoga. In the higher stages of karma yoga, the very performance of
actions becomes a form of meditation in itself. In a sense the actor, the objects which are acted upon by the karma yogi and the performed actions become one and the same thing. In this state of mind the karma yogi is truly meditating.
Another aspect of karma yoga which is often missed is that it develops the will. The importance of the will is often overlooked by most people. Briefly, the will can be defined as the ability to harmonize, motivate and mobilize all one’s abilities and actions to achieve a definite aim. In karma yoga a man sets out to achieve results through his work in a most efficient manner. This develops the power of an individual’s will, and it is through the will that an individual experiences and expresses his unique nature. In fact it is the capacity of an individual to express his will that identifies his personal existence. The more his will harmonizes with his nature, the nearer he will move to identification with the centre of his existence, the self.