By The Spiritual Explorer | Published 8 October, 2016
I remember reading that in spiritual life, one is always at the beginning. And thus, today I find that as I explore bhakti yoga, I realize that it not only speaks to, but also confirms many aspects of myself. I always thought that Hinduism was a wonderful form of spirituality because it offers so many deities and systems from which to choose to dedicate one’s spirit. One need not have to fit a prescribed system.
Bhakti yoga is one of six systems of yoga revered throughout history as paths that can lead you to full awareness of your true nature. Other paths to self-realization are hatha yoga (transformation of the individual consciousness through a practice that begins in the body); jnana yoga (inner knowledge and insight); karma yoga (skill in action); kriya yoga (ritual action); and raja yoga (the eight-limbed path also known as the classical yoga of Patanjali. These paths aren’t mutually exclusive, although, for many, one path will resonate more deeply.
What is bhakti yoga?
In its purest form, bhakti yoga burns as a devotional fire in the heart. It is the result of overwhelming love for a deity, ideal or essence. Many examples of bhakti abound in the Hindu devotional world, particularly of devotees who shun the material world and renounce all pleasures. Their desire is to quiet the mind and know the self.
History of bhakti yoga
Historically, yoga represents a spirit of struggle and solitary pursuit of overcoming the body and mind. Those aspirants towards liberation believed that extreme asceticism and renunciation could lead to their final aspirations. But another idea began to form, an idea emphasizing the importance of channeling love towards God. This was formalized by the authorship of the Bhagavad Gita written somewhere between the third and second century BCI. The Gita is often called a “love song to God” expressing the idea that it’s possible to move towards self-realization by developing a connection to the heart. Thus began the realization of bahkti yoga.
Experience of devotion in bhakti yoga
Suddenly devotion is a legitimate route to enlightenment. The next question is, how does one become a devotee of bhakti yoga? My friend Della who considers herself a bhakti yogini has developed a practice of opening the heart. Every day she sits before Hanuman, a loving deity, who is the personification of an open heart. As Della chants to Hanuman, she also prays that her heart and mind may be cleansed of all impurities so that she may view humanity with love. Della also offers, as puja, to any number of murtis, prasad in the form of an offering of milk, fruit, and confections.
Della’s connection to bhakti yoga
During the day she is on the lookout for instances in which she may be of service to any who ask her for help. She volunteers at a local food kitchen on the weekends. Before her meals, she prays before eating, and thanks God for all her gifts.
The good thing about bhakti yoga is that one can devise one’s own practice. The practice arises out of and is fluid with the yearning of one’s heart. Della attempts to become aware of any criticism or blame towards herself and others. As a result, she is much happier in her life. Free of the negativity that was her constant companion, Della feels that while she always seeks self-realization, in the seeking she misses the boat. Now it feels as if her practice brings her a feeling of comfort, solace and even bliss at times.
Bhakti yoga as gift
Bhakti yoga is a gift unto itself. As with any gift, if one practices it for the mere purpose of attaining another purpose, then the spirit can become lost. I find awareness to be the best antidote to this spiritual malady. It is what I can call returning to the moment because the moment is sufficient unto itself.
If you have a question about “bhakti yoga,” or anything else, you can write me at Ask The Spiritual Explorer.
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