Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bhakti Yoga

Essay By Dr. K. Sadananda

[Dr. K. Sadananda ( is a research scientist specialized in material science. He worked with the USA Naval Labs until his recent retirement. Starting from a VisishTadvaita environment, he shifted to J. Krishanmurti and later moved on to traditional Advaita under the tutelage of Swami Chinmayananda. He has been teaching Vedanta for over two decades and has been conferred with the title of “Acharya” by the Chinmaya Mission. His easy style of narration laced with wit and unerring focus on the essence of Vedanta earned him a large following on and off the internet.

I am deeply obliged to Dr. Sadananda for readily consenting to post the following interesting write up by him on Devotion.  -- ramesam]

On Bhakti Yoga

By Dr. K. Sadananda

Krishna talks of only two paths in Bhagavad-Gita (Ch. III-3) – one is karma yoga for those whose mind is set in yoga of action and the other is jnaana yoga for those whose mind is in yoga of knowledge. Bhakti yoga is not specifically mentioned. The reason is very simple – both have common theme and that is yoga. Yoga means one’s mind is yoked to the higher nature of reality. That demands commitment towards the higher, that is Bhakti or unwavering devotion towards the goal. Hence karma yoga is Bhakti through action and jnaana yoga is Bhakti through knowledge. Thus, Lord Krishna does not consider Bhakti as a separate yoga since it is the bottom line for both karma and jnaana. Nevertheless, Bhakti is emphasized throughout Gita. For example,

samoham sarva bhuuteShu na me dveShyosti na priyaH|
ye bhajantitu maam bhaktyaa mayi te teShu caapyahaM||

“I maintain equanimity to all – I do not favor or disfavor anybody. However, those who worship me with devotion, they are in me and I am in them” -- BG. IX-29.

Karma yoga involves Iswaraarpita buddhi that is offering action as the prayer to the Lord. When action itself becomes a prayer, then we have to make sure what we offer is the best that we can; therefore, dexterity in action is essential for a karma yogi – yogaH karmasu koushalam -says Krishna.

The whole of 12th chapter is called Bhaktiyoga with the emphasis on –

etu sarvaaNi karmaani mayi sanyasya matparaaH|
ananye naiva yogena maam dhyaayhanta upaasate||
teShaamaham samudharthaa mRityusamsaara saagaraat|
bhavaami na ciraatpArthaa mayyaaveshita cetasaam|

“Those who surrender all their actions in me, and meditate on me without any other thoughts, and those who have surrendered everything and whose minds are fully abiding in me, I shall ere long uplift them from the thralldom of the cycle of birth and deaths.”

Shankara defines Bhakti in VivekachuudaamaNi as –

moksha kaaraNa samaargryaam bhaktiH eva gareeyasii|
swaswaruupanusandhaanam bhaktirtyabhidIyate|
swaatmatatvaanusandhaanam bhaktirityaparE jaguH||

“Of all the paths for liberation Bhakti is the supreme. Bhakti is continuous contemplation on one’s own essential nature. Others say that continuous contemplation of the truth of one’s own Atma is Bhakti.”

Atma jnaana vicaara is therefore supreme Bhakti as per Shankara. Krishna classifies devotees into four groups as ArthaH (who thinks of me when in despair), arthaarthii (who prays for prosperity, artha), jignaasu (who desires to know Me) and jnaani (who knows Me), and says jnaani is the highest bhakta since “he loves me the most and I love him the most.”

Hence Bhakti is not a choice here but is the essence in all saadhanas. We shall examine what is involved in Bhakti or devotion in order to understand how a karma yogi perceives bhakti in relation to jnaana yogi, and why Krishna says jnaani is the highest Bhakta.

There is a difference between devotion and love (a word used in common parlance). Love towards a higher is devotion. Love towards lower is actually lust but mistakenly called love. Hence one rises in devotion while one falls in love!

Now what is higher and what is lower? Higher is that wherein the mind becomes calm, quiet and dissolves itself. Dissolving implies all mental agitations are sublimated at the altar of love. This is also called prapatti – a term which has a special significance in VishiShTaadvaita. In Gita we find that until Arjuna surrendered, Krishna did not start teaching – shiShyatvoham saadhimaam tvam prapannam – I am your disciple (prapanna) and I am ready to subject myself to your discipline. That should be the attitude of a student as Krishna himself enumerates that one should approach a teacher with that attitude of surrender – tat viddhi praNipaatena praripraShNena sevayaa – That is devotion towards the teacher and the teaching is essential for knowledge– Only in that attitude of devotion the mind becomes free from agitations and ready to learn. In contrast, lower is that wherein the mind gets more and more agitated – one cannot sleep or eat or do anything constructively since mind is always pre-occupied – that is what happens when one is falling in love.

Love or devotion can be classified into three types: 1) Means Love 2) End-Love and 3) Self-Love. Means love is love of the means to achieve some goal in mind – that is the path to reach the goal. Some are so obsessed with the means that they forget the goal and fanatically fight for the means. We can remind ourselves the story in Gulliver’s travels where the two Lilliputian countries fight among themselves – the issue is how to break the egg – One country says Egg should be broken from the fat end while the other insists on breaking from the thin end. The Means became more important than the end. Religions try to survive by arguing that theirs is the only means to reach the goal and declaring that all other means will lead to eternal hell. Some are ready to kill others in support of their cause to save life of the unborn babies. Since I love the end or the goal so much that I tend to love the means too. That is one kind of love. But some love the means only to get to the goal they want. Once the goal is reached there is no more love for the means since the mission is accomplished. I love my uncle so much since I like to have the wealth that he has; but once I got that wealth, uncle is of no importance; in fact he is considered a nuisance.

How is this related to Bhakti? For the most of the people, God’s love is only a means-love. That is God is considered as a means to achieve some goal in mind. What I love is actually the goal that I want, and means is only a way to get what I want. Everybody has lots of desires – for self and also for family (spouse, children, grand children, etc.) and ‘this’ includes health, wealth, position, power, etc. which are projected as the goals of life. I want to be on the good side of God, since I have learned that He is the one who is the giver. Hence I go from temple to temple, one holy place to another, of course with a big list of what I want from Him. I will make sure I do not forget to prostrate to all the gods in the temple (nowadays there are many in each temple) to make sure that I am not blacklisted by any one of the Gods there.

Whenever we go to a temple, the priest asks during sankalpa that involves informing the God who we are and why we are praying the Lord, - our gotram and our star, etc, so that when God sends the goodies he has the right address. Pujari has a standard wish list for all; he repeats it for everybody without even asking what we really want. Thank God, Krishna lists us also as one of his Bhaktas under the category of artha arthiis – that is all those who are always with begging bowls, however much he has already given. That is called Means-Love.

The second one is called End-Love, not end of love. God itself is the end not the goodies that he gives. I do not care for the goodies, what I love is God. This kind of love is rather rare and is what is really emphasized in most of the devotional paths. The nine modes of Love are the modes of expressing this love towards God. He is the master and I am the servant is the one that is mostly emphasized in VishiShTAdviata. The service according to them involves serving the forms of God – through daily puja and idol worship etc. This Bhakti is exemplified by the twelve Alwars in the vishiShTAdviata tradition. Their Bhakti includes not only serving God but also serving the Bhaktas of the Lord. It is easier to serve the Lord than serve the bhakta of the Lord. In Mukundamaala Kulashekhara Alwar says – tat bRitya bRitya paricaaraka bRitya bRityasya iti maam – I am the servant of the servant of the servant.. .

There is an interesting communication between an advaitin and vishiShTaadvaita. Advaitin signed his letter as so2ham meaning He is me – the mahaavaakya. Obviously the vishiShTaadvaitin did not like that. He put da- in front making it as daaso2ham (I am (His) servant). When advaitin saw the letter he put another –sa- in front making it sadaa so2ham – (eternal identity of He and ‘me’). Of course the vishiShTaadvaitin put another da in front of it making it daasa daaso2ham – servant of the servant. The extended communication is still going on!

The third type of love is the Self-love that Shankara emphasized in the above quoted sloka from VivekacUDAmaNi. This is considered as the supreme love. How can Self love be the supreme love? Yajnavalkya says to his wife Maitreyi in Br. Up. – aatmanastu kaamaaya sarvam priyam bhavati – essentially we love everything or anything else only because we love our selves. I love this – this can be anything (means-love) or even God (end-love) – not for the sake of this but for my sake. I love ‘this’ only because ‘this’ that I love gives me happiness. Hence whether it is means-love or end-love the real love is only self-love. What I love is actually the happiness that I hope to get more than the thing itself. Hence even God lovers do not love God for God’s sake. What they really love is self-contentment or fulfillment. They want to be complete without any inadequacies since full and contented mind is a happy mind. Shree Vidyaaranya says in pancadasi – the love for oneself is the supreme and expresses as – maanabhuuvamhibhuuyaasam – Let me not cease to exist or Let Me Be All the Time. I love myself so much that I want to live eternally. Lakshmiidhara Kavi also makes the same statement in Advaita Makaranda – ahamasmi sadaabhaami kadaachinnaahapariyaH – I am not only existent and conscious but also ananda swaruupa since never I dislike myself.

A jnaani is the one who loves himself – since he revels by himself in himself – atmanyeva aatmanaa tuShTaH, and he has no desire for anything else including God since he has discovered that the God he loves is nothing but his own essence. I am in everyone’s heart; and heart in Vedanta means the very core of one’s individuality. Hence Krishna says jnaani is he who realizes - sarva bhuutastam aatmaanam sarva bhuutaanicha aatmani –that he is the self in all and all are in himself – he is jnaani and that jnaani is the one Krishna says is the supreme bhakta. The self realization is also God realization as Krishna himself in the very next sloka says– yo maam pasyati sarvatra sarvan ca mayi pasyati – those who see Me everywhere and everything in Me.

Hence pure Bhakti should culminate in jnaanam. Therefore, Self-love is God-love – not a God separate from him – it is the culmination of Bhakti where lover and loved have become one - that is advaita. In advaita, Bhakti reaches its pinnacle – and that is moksha or liberation. That is the culmination of Bhakti yoga – same as culmination of jnaana yoga. Hence, Shankara’s definition of Bhakti – swaswaruupa anusandhaanam bhaktirityabhidiiyate.

(The above write up is inspired by a talk given by Swami Paramarthanandaji).


By Rupert Spira

My nephew Dr. Chandra alerted me about a short write up by Rupert on Devotion. Rupert kindly permitted me to reproduce it here.

Question: Is there a place for bhakti or devotion in this [Advaita] approach?

Rupert: To be truly devoted means to give our whole self to the object of our devotion at all times. Therefore, the only object worthy or even available for such devotion or love must be something that is always present, for we cannot give ourselves completely to something that is intermittent.

There are no true objects of devotion because all objects are intermittent. Only Consciousness is ever-present and therefore, only Consciousness merits true devotion. And what could give Consciousness this devotion? Obviously an intermittent object such as a body or a mind cannot render devotion to something that is present when it is not. Therefore only Consciousness is able to impart this devotion to itself.

So, it is only Consciousness that can be truly loved and it is only Consciousness that can truly love. However, Consciousness does not love and is not loved. It is love.

So, the highest form of love or devotion is simply to abide as Consciousness, knowingly.

Any other sort of devotion would be the devotion of any imagined entity towards an imagined object.

However, the imagined entity that looks for a direction in which to turn and for something to turn towards, does not realise that the ‘attention’ it is ‘using’ for this purpose is already the Consciousness that it seeks. It is like a current of water searching the ocean for water.

Every object or direction which appears as a possible recipient of the mind’s devotion is an object that it has created within itself and cannot therefore be the true object of its devotion. Any object is simply more mind.

As the mind searches for a direction in which to turn, it is, without knowing it to begin with, tracing itself back to its source.

Finally, having explored all directions, it comes to a dead end. It comes to the knowledge that there is no known direction in which it can turn nor is there an object worthy of true devotion. In short, the mind cannot know what devotion is.

With this understanding the mind falls silent, which means it dissolves and what is revealed is devotion.

Devotion is what we are, not something we do.
* * *
The investigation within the mind for the true object of devotion is sometimes known as self-enquiry or higher reasoning. It is a concession to the mind that thinks it has the capacity to direct its attention at will towards an object.

However, this is not a process of the mind going towards its source, although it may appear to be so to begin with. It is rather, the dissolution of the apparent mind in its source.

[Note: Only something that is not the source could dissolve in its source, so the idea of the dissolution of the mind in its source is part and parcel of the mind’s belief that it is something other than its source. In other words, the idea of a source from which something emerges is a dualitic idea which itself ‘dissolves’ upon understanding that there is no independent entity, mind or object.]

How could a mind go towards Consciousness? In what direction would it go?

It is rather the source itself, Consciousness, that gradually reclaims the mind.

In taking the shape of mind, Consciousness seems to become something other than itself. It seems to become separate, other and outside. At the end of every perception, Consciousness folds the mind back up within Itself and, as a result, ceases to seemingly veil itself with its own creativity.

However, even that formulation is not quite right: the mind has no other substance other than Consciousness so there is nothing there to be dissolved.

When an image that seems to veil the [TV] screen fades, leaving only the screen in view, did the image really dissolve?

The image was only made of screen. However, by seeming to become something other than itself (the landscape on the screen) the screen seemed to become hidden by taking the shape of the landscape and the subsequent fading of the image seemed to reveal the screen.

Likewise, the mind is an appearance within Consciousness, made only of Consciousness, but has the capacity to seem to veil the Consciousness out of which it is made.

In self-enquiry or higher reasoning the mind fades like the image on the screen, leaving only the background of Consciousness in plain view.

It is not the mind that undertakes this process, any more than it is the image in the landscape that is responsible for its own dissolution. The mind does nothing. The mind is not an independent entity with the capacity to do or not to do anything.

In fact, it was always only Consciousness that was in plain view, simultaneously the background and the foreground.

[Note: One of our esteemed members of this Blog, Cathy has a different take on "Devotion" at her Blog .]

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