Archive for the ‘Bhakti Yoga’ Category

Transcending the mind

October 20, 2011

In my experience so far, the hardest challenge in life is to transcend one’s own mind. Mind acts (or rather pretends) as a friend, interpreting every happenings, and everything around me. But I wonder how much can I trust my own mind. As I innocently indulge in that comfort of being served by my mind, it blocks my vision with perceptions, takes me through a roller coaster ride, and blocks me from living the moment Now. I think, it is the very epicenter of great illusion.

Can one transcend the mind? Occasional ‘aha’ moments, as well as state of extreme happiness and despair, points to existence of ‘mind’less existence. What is interesting is the serene charm in such situations.

Refreshing charm of ‘aha’ moments and state of extreme happiness must be obvious for many but is that true for state of extreme despair as well? I think so. As adage goes ‘necessity is the mother of discovery’, my experience is that such states too are good in that it brings forth new solutions. For instance, Gandhiji may have born but may not have such an influential life without colonial rule. Deep within what appears to be an unsurmountable problem lies the seed of a great new future.

In my understanding, it is this challenge of transcending the mind is essence of Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga. Each one helps you transcend mind differently, and choice of method depend on individual’s inclination.

I was caught between two conflicting views in my early attempts in understanding and following Karma Yoga. On one side is ‘worldly’ success which is achieved only through significant and focussed effort. Though one may argue that luck plays a role, nothing is ever achieved without any effort and no effort goes totally unrewarded. On other side is popular invocation to work without expecting results.

What I have learned over years is that true joy is not in achieving but in the process; not in the event of getting what you expect but rather in the act of doing. After all, any achievement is only an event and after that, it is history and one has to move on. I have come to conclude that it is about engaging oneself so much into action that mind has no role to play. Mind gradually disappears, leaving you in absolute unqualified peace.

My philosophical pursuit and my experiments with Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Bhakti Yoga seems to tell me that each of these Yogas are apparently different means to the same end. I said apparently because even the differentiation seems to be blurring.

Karma Yoga is about acknowledging inevitability of action (not futility of action, as it is often made out/appears to be), and performing action can be with full commitment and dedication. In its true form, such an action is not driven by achievement of a desired object, position or relation but the very joy of action. A scientist involved in a scientific research of his interest, a true musician participating in a concert, an artist working on his masterpiece, an athlete in action etc are not so much driven by achievement as much by the joy of action. In its purest form, one transcends mind and its reasoning, through Karma, and starts enjoying the very existence for its own sake.

In Jnana Yoga, one becomes aware of deceptive game of mind and, thus, tends to disconnect from mind. Generally, this happens through disillusionment brought in with hard experiences in life. Contemplations on hard experiences, one realizes that every object of desire, and every relation, tend to give pain just as it does happiness. That is, happiness (or sorrow) does not exist in objects, positions and relation outside of you but rather it is within yourself. With this realization, one would consciously stop listening to the mind, and gradually mind loses its influence.

Bhakti Yoga is about surrendering mind totally to a supreme power, so that it has no influence in daily existence, and living life in control of that supreme power just every other being in the world. Does such a power exist? I think, answer is irrelevant

Pilgrimage to Sabarimala, and Bhakti Yoga

December 16, 2010

Just as I mentioned about pilgrimage to Sabarimala representing Karma Yoga, I find that it represents Bhakti Yoga as well.

By any standards, pilgrimage to Sabarimala is not easy task, especially for people like me who are used to luxuries of modern lifestyle. It is just the ardent devotion that helps a person to commence on arduous journey, year after year. Strength of devotion is the only word that I can think of, for explaining my own personal experience related to pilgrimage. I still marvel as to how could I have travelled, by foot, a distance from Erumeli to Sannidanam, which is reported to be about 60 kms, in about 12 hours time! The fact is, experiences, which might otherwise be perceived as hard, fail to dissuade pilgrims.

In the true format of pilgrimage, it is preceded by 41 days of vrata. This helps to prepare devotee to undertake the pilgrimage in terms of physical health, mind control, and spiritual orientation. During this time, devotees adopt practices of Bhakti Yoga like as part of Sravana, Kirtana, Smarana, Paada Sevana, Archana and Vandana. These help pilgrim to keep his mind focused on devotion, away from its usual digressions. Keeping himself in service of others, it also helps him identify himself as a servant (Daasya) and friend (Sakhya) of others (every living being)

Commencement of is marked by a ritual called ‘kettunira’. During Kettunira, coconut is filled with ghee with utmost devotion. This coconut is now called ‘mudra’, which roughly translate to mean ‘symbol. This coconut is a symbol of self, cleared of its routine digressions and focused on God. This is taken in a bag called Irumudi, along with other things required for worship as well as to undertake the journey

Pilgrimage is undertaken as a team, everyone helping one another and spending time in utmost devotion. Hard uphill journey is made easier with the help of team members, and members from other team who volunteers to help. When it gets so hard that we just cannot continue, yet continues, we experience the power of ‘Aatmanivedana’ through the invisible, all-powerful hands. Reaching Sannidanam above holy 18 steps is a special experience in which ego dissolves in the divine glow of self-realization

Practices of Bhakti Yoga

December 14, 2010

As mentioned earlier, Bhakti Yoga appeals to my heart. Also, I find certain specific practices of Bhakti Yoga helping me practise it more effectively. These practices are described in Puranas

I was introduced to some of these puranas in my pre-teens and early teens. It was customary for elders to read such religious books and devote their life entirely to Bhakti Yoga. But my maternal grand father was not able to read in his old age. I used to fill the void sometimes by reading it out for him.

In my view, these puranas encapsulate great philosophical wisdom, presented in the form of story telling. It also embeds, at specific points, certain practices which may be adopted in daily life. That is, it appeals as a simple story on one side. At the same time, it holds gems of philosophical wisdom, as well as specific practices which could be used to adopt these in daily life for a discerning reader.

Of these practices, I have found practices of Bhakti as particularly interesting and effective.

i) Sravana

This is listening stories, songs etc which enhance devotion and devotional experiences. I have personally found these to have a special effect on the mind, instilling confidence

ii) Kīrtana

This is singing in praise of God. It could be as an individual or a group. I have found this helping to break out of inhibitions and stay focused

iii) Smaraṇa

This is thinking about God.

I believe there is only one God, all powerful, ominipotent and all pervasive. I believe that, true to Advaita philosophy, God is within me and in oneness with me. Yet, I find it difficult to think about God without a specific form and characteristics. I think this is where concept of personal God comes in; some form which we can easily connect with

iv) Paada sevana

This is about rendering service. What service? Service of mankind; helping anyone who is in need and whom you can help. The spirit is, Naraseva is Naraayanaseva. That is, serving man is serving God

Many perceive Bhakti Yoga as devotion to the exclusion of everything else. In my view, it is not necessarily so. Prahlada, who is considered to be an epitome of Bhakti, is believed to have lived king, fulfilling his duties in its full earnestness. That is, Bhakti does not call for negation of Karma. Rather it just means devotion to God and a complete surrender to his will.

v) Archana

This is worshiping God. It is generally done with an image of God, or any symbol that represents God. It is done according to some pre-defined rituals

vi) Vandana

This is about paying homage to God. It is also done, in general, to a personal God yet it involve God beyond all confines. That is, God is perceived to be Avyakta (without any form or shape) yet at the same time Vyaktaroopa (with specific form and shape, depending on the personal God)

vii) Daasya

This is about submission in service of God.

Is there difference between Paadasevana and Daasya? In my view, the difference is in the mind. Paadasevana is only an act while Daasya is an attitude. In other words, Paadasevana is an act that is performed and ego might still exist when rendering service. But, in case of Daasya, one declares himself as servant of God and indicates conscious effort to

viii) Sakhya

This is about considering God as a friend.

In this case, one considers everyone is friend, God in everyone and, thus, God is a friend

ix) Aatmanivedana

This is a complete surrender of the self.

This is a stage of experiencing oneness with God whether distinction vanishes, and Bhakti is beyond definitions and relations.

I can perceive what this stage could be but, honestly, I have not reached a stage where I could practice this

Bhakti Yoga vs Karma Yoga

December 13, 2010

Sometimes, Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga are discussed as mutually exclusive practices, as if it is choice between one or the other. In my view, practice of one does not necessarily mean exclusion of the other. Indeed, both can be practised together, though I am personally biased more towards Bhakti Yoga. I think, this bias may be due to my bringing up, or my inherent nature.

It is not absence of waves that makes an ocean. Vast surface of ocean is bound to be shaken by the winds yet it is quiet in its depth. Equally, my experiences in everyday life do shake me up. Ocean may not look great without waves and life may not be a great experience without these emotional experiences.

It is my experimentations with Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga that help me transcend these turmoil into depth of tranquility. But my preference is to Bhakti Yoga. My mind and intellect is in a continuous effort to comprehend and control the incomprehensible but my heart is willing to accept its limitations and surrender to the will of higher power, in realization that it is nothing but myself

I prefer to live, and to be known for living, as a simple human being with all related limitations; limitations imposed by mental perceptions and the related emotional turmoil, rather than as a super human who has risen above all this. That makes me more inclined towards Bhakti Yoga as it appeals to the human heart rather than to its intellect.

Essence of Bhakti yoga

December 11, 2010

Karma yoga presents a way of practical living.

It might look apparently straight forward and simple. Yet adopting it is very hard in day to day life. In my experience, key challenges in living by Karma yoga is that setting the right goal, having the strong conviction, retaining the self-belief in hard times and working towards the goal set. It is easier said than done in the face of conflicts of interest that we deal with in everyday life.

In comparison, adoption of Bhakti yoga is much easier. Bhakti is sanskrit word standing for devotion, generally to a specific form of God. Spiritual practice of this devotion is Bhakti yoga. I think, it is best explained by famous words from Bhagavat Gita Sarvaan Dharmaan Parityajya Maam Ekam Saram Vraja. These words are spoken by Lord Krishna. It is a promise from God that you can forget everything else and just come to me. That surrender includes distinction between happiness and sorrow, love and hatred, … even right and wrong

Bhakti yoga, for me, is living with a total trust in God, and total surrender to the will of God.