Monday, December 24, 2007

The Yoga of Devotion

Bhakti Yoga for the Kali Yuga
Sri Ramakrishna, in his teachings, tells us that Bhakti Yoga, or the yoga of devotion, is the path of discovery best suited to the Kali Yuga, or the Iron Age. That meditation on and devotion to the purity and goodness of God (in the universal rather than the sectarian sense) through chanting, song or other arts, is the surest way to self-realization amid the distractions and pitfalls of the modern world.

Swami Mukundananda
During my time at the ashram near Bangalore, I met Swami Mukundanda, a Bhakti Yogi who is apparently of considerable fame in India. One morning, sitting on crag atop the dramatic mound of Durga Hill, Swami-ji put his arm around me and said "Yuri, this path [the path of yoga asana, or physical practice] is not for you, you are a Bhakti in your heart."

Now this does not mean that I am about to drop the practice of asana, but it did start me pondering where the practice of devotion is in my life.

I have written previously about my feeling sitting in my parents' church as a child, feeling at one with a community while singing hymns with abandon. Those, of course, were battle hymns of the evangelizing Christian machine:

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to War
With the cross of Jesus, marching on before

The other morning, sitting at the Bhajan at Upa House, here in Tiruvanamallai, I felt again that feeling of community - singing and chanting with abandon and ananda (bliss). But this time it was not crusade anthems, but chants of devotion to the concept of a pure God and his many incarnations in the form of the great prophets of history - and in each of us seated in that room, swaying, eyes closed, hand-in-hand:

Saraswati, Ma Lakshmi, Durga Devi, Ramana

Being truly in that moment, singing without a hint of self-consciousness, smiling a smile that expressed a true state of BEING.

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Ram, Hare Ram, Ram Ram, Hare Hare

Ironically, these were moments that embody what I am looking for on this trip, and were moments that, while not being indicative of the general tenor of my mind thus far in my life, have been repeated often in my experiences - generally when I am in song, but also in the company of family and truly close friends, of the people that I love and in the places that I love.

So I am not looking for something new herein India or at this point in my life, but am trying to foster a feeling I know well and have it flourish in every living moment; to have it burst forth self-illuminated and self-sustained instead of being dependent on another person or another place - or even on a song springing from my lips.

So I am a Bhakti!
I need to don white robes, join an ashram of the Bhakti persuasion and chant morn til eve! Well, not exactly. But I do need to find the rhythm that I know is in me, but never seems to translate into smooth moves on a dance floor, a tuneful rendition in song or any more than trepidatious tap tapping on a drum.

Four Paths of Yoga
In the bigger picture, there are four paths of yoga that all lead to enlightenment - or self realization. Bhakti is one amoung these four, and I am at different points on all:
  • Bhakti - the path of devotion: I know I have a love of song and find joy and moments of pure self-realization in the ecstasy of song. So, I need to sing, dance and make music with abandon to bring that ananda to my heart and to help ignite it in the hearts of those around me;
  • Karma - the path of service: I hope that giving my love, friendship and support to those I know and cherish and those I encounter in the travels and travails of daily life counts as selfless service to others. Beyond this, the charities - individual and institutional - that I choose to support are my karma yoga;
  • Jnana - the path of knowledge: This path I have followed most days thus far in my life, studying literature and inquiring to learn from the people I encounter. I will continue on this path, with perhaps slight adjustments in focus;
  • Raja - the path of physical and mental control: I set out on this trip 6 months ago to foster my practice of this path, and feel no need to judge the level of "success" I have met with thus far - that will be seen in the course of my lief rather than the days or mere months that pass. I have taken steps...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Barsana Dham is the place for you here in U.S. It is the ashram of the supreme archarya of this age, Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj. The atmosphere there is saturated in Bhakti and the bhajans which are sung are revealed by Shree Maharajji himself. They are imbued with love and bliss. Check it out at They also have a place to stay.