Advanced Yoga Practices
Lesson 112 - Bhakti: Up Close and Personal
Date: Mon Feb 9, 2004 10:17pm
Q: My question is about Bhakti?? It is described as Love for the Divine which could be love for people, nature and all the manifestations. Sometimes it is viewed as a certain practice, such as chanting, or sitting and singing spiritual songs. Bhakti is so highly touted, I am wondering how to really practice it. To Love “God” is abstract. You can love God’s qualities, such as unconditional love, Guidance, Light and therefore yearn to be in God’s presence and think about God, being preoccupied by God. This word “bhakti” is just a word though, what is it?
A: A very good question. Love of God (bhakti) can be very abstract. Nebulous even. There are so many external forms of bhakti, as many as there are ishtas (chosen ideals) and attributes that we can imagine. Unlimited! In the lessons we don’t get into that very much. It is the province of the religious traditions. For those who love to worship in their tradition, that is very good. For those who are not inclined that way, it is not the end of the world. Yoga can progress very well with or without formal modes of worship. Yoga works either way.
The kind of bhakti we talk about in the lessons is the “up close and personal” kind. It is a non-sectarian approach. Here, bhakti is about you, your nervous system, your desires, your practices, and your experiences. When we talk about bhakti as “love of God” here, what we mean is, what is our highest desire? What is the highest ideal we aspire to for ourselves? Maybe so far it is only a question we want to answer, like, “Is there more than this?” If we ask that question in our heart with sincerity and give our emotions to it, we will have some good bhakti going. Real bhakti is very personal. It is about our innermost desire to become something more in our life. It is about wanting to know the truth and using our emotions to move toward it. It can be as simple as the bare wanting — hungry with wanting to know. This is bhakti. Or it can be very involved as a relationship with our chosen ideal, our ishta. This is bhakti too. In whatever way it is occurring, the process is the same — the emotions are harnessed toward an ideal, which moves energy through our nervous system, purifying and opening it.
When longing is strongly expressed deep in our heart, things happen. Answers start coming. Practices come to us. Then we begin to open and want to go higher. Then there will be more opening, more answers, more practices. Like that. Bhakti is like magic as it spirals up. It corresponds with the opening of our nervous system. We have called the nervous system the gateway to the infinite. That goes both ways. We can see out into the infinite through our nervous system as it becomes purified. And God can come in through our nervous system. God comes in as bhakti in our heart. God, the guru, and bhakti inside us are all the same thing. It is the infinite, responding to our inner cry, coming in through the gateway of our nervous system.
You may wish to review the following previous lessons for further detail on the approach we take to bhakti here:
#12 — The essential ingredient — Desire
#67 — Bhakti: The science of devotion
#68 — The relationship of traumatic experiences and bhakti
#88 — The magic of bhakti
#109 — Bhakti, meditation and inner silence
The dynamics of bhakti are woven through many other lessons as well. Spiritual desire comes up naturally as our nervous system opens, and our practices are married to our expanding desire. It is a personal process for each one of us, yet it is quite easy to recognize in its different stages. Not abstract or nebulous at all.
Directed desire is the essential ingredient in all spiritual practices. Not in the actual performance of the practices though. The procedure for each practice we follow according to its particular form, whether it be meditation, pranayama, bandhas, mudras, asanas, etc. It is the bhakti that gets us to our meditation room. Then we easily favor the particular advanced yoga practice we are doing. The practices are designed to open our nervous system steadily each day, month and year. So we do them precisely according to the procedures that have been discussed in the lessons. Then we have a constantly purifying and opening nervous system, growing desire for truth and enlightenment, and we are always hankering to go to the next level of practices. And so it goes, up and up.
The guru is in you.