Bhakti Marga: The Road of Devotion

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EXCLUSIVENESS is the greatest feature of love. The very idea of recieving exclusive love makes our soul tingle. When love is made exclusive it makes it possible for the lover to love their beloved on the deepest level you can imagine, thus giving the word “love” it’s actual substance. The perfection of all yoga paths is to reach Samadhi; Samadhi means that the mind is always cent-per-cent in concentration on the supreme object of meditation.

Recently, some of my friends came back from Bhakti Fest 2010, which was held in Joshua Tree, CA. I really enjoyed hearing of their experiences. It’s so nice that people are finally coming in contact with many of the spiritual methodologies outlined in the traditional Vedic texts – the same ancient Vedic hymns which shout, “Shanti Shanti Shanti.” It means “Let there be peace for all living beings in the upper, middle, and lower worlds.”

I’m thankful for such an event, which can help lift modern materialistic American culture from the clutches of corporate slavery and the embarrassment of accepting our human existence as nothing more than a soul-less conglomeration of insentient chemicals firing in the brain. This conception we partly gain due to our exposing the same brain to mainstream media outlets and thus gleaning the doctrines of the latest avant-garde atheists of our time.

But, one thing boggles my mind completely!

First of all, it’s well known that Americans as a whole are cursed with the mentality of trying to get satisfaction for the lowest possible price. (Witness the success of fast-food and other similar industries.)

THE REALLY SAD THING TO ME IS….that many of the leaders of our recent bhakti trend teach a very perverted idea of what bhakti-yoga really is.

Unfortunately, because we often carry that same ‘fast-food-America’ mentality into spiritual life, we end up relegating spiritual practice to the category of hobbies and side interests so we can maximize our time for DEVOTION to some very un-spiritual and unnecessary materialistic activities.

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Bhakti-yoga is a science like all other yoga paths. Hatha-yoga, for example, is not some whimsical practice where you can throw on a pair of spandex and act like you’re BKS Iyengar himself.

Some will say that bhakti is what you feel inside, it’s all your own opinion and path; no one can tell you what bhakti is for you; it’s you who have to define it, create it all by yourself, without the help of any dogmatic religious priests, books, or disciplinary guidelines.

Well, to that I say, if that’s your philosophy, then that rule should apply in the real world. Could that mentality fly in the real world of action and reaction? We should understand that Bhakti-yoga is an actual science like all other yoga paths. Hatha-yoga, for example, is not some whimsical practice where you can throw on a pair of spandex and act like you’re BKS Iyengar himself. Furthermore, in most states if you want to teach yoga you FIRST must be CERTIFIED. Is it not so?

What happens when you go to a hatha-yoga teacher who is not certified? You may break your back, pull a hamstring, or even worse.

So, you have to know who is qualified to be a teacher of that science. And bhakti-yoga is no less a science than hatha-yoga. In fact, it’s the most advanced science of all the yoga paths. It’s an ancient art, a spiritual craft in a league of its own. There are universal, time-tested, validated, scientific ways to cultivate that devotion within. But before you get there you have to have a basic road map of some kind.

EXACTLY WHO OR WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE DEVOTED TO WHEN YOU PRACTICE BHAKTI-YOGA, THE YOGA OF DEVOTION?

Is it to Shiva, Kali, Krishna, or none of them? Are they symbolic images, real higher living beings, or just mythological symbols we use to access greater aspects of our own self through meditation?

Well, you can begin to see what I mean.

Again, we should know that there are actually very detailed road maps that show the bhakti path, and there are also universities (ashramas), professors (gurus), and textbooks (ancient Sanskrit manuscripts) to guide us on the way.

But again, if you want cheap fast food instead of the real thing, then unfortunately that is what you’re going to end up with: a cheap, watered-down version of the real thing.

I’m not a fighter, I’m a lover, but I will fight for what I love, and it’s gonna be for the truest and purest definition of love.

Now regardless who your teacher is (your guru), or regardless how you are feeling today, we can all agree on one thing. Bhakti is supposed to be the ultimate expression of love of the soul. IT IS CALLED “THE YOGA OF DIVINE LOVE”. Now, I don’t think too many people will disagree with this interpretation of the Sanskrit word bhakti.

All I know is that when I looked up a particular famous Kirtan singer’s webpage and read what his philosophy of life is and what he taught his fans, it clearly said that it is the path of bhakti-yoga. Okay, fair enough. So, when I looked up this one main headliner at the BHAKTI FEST, it stated that though he teaches bhakti-yoga he is also initiated into a sect of Buddhism in India. Furthermore, he claims that his teacher appointed him as the leader of a temple of the Hindu Goddess Durga, and moreover he quotes the Bhagavad-gita, a book containing the teachings of Sri Krishna, in such a way that you would assume he fully abides by it.

Now once again, I don’t hate, but I have a brain and an intellect, and they tell me that many things are amiss in this picture. Let’s see if you agree.

First of all, Orthodox Buddhism teaches “anatma,” which is a philosophy that says we don’t have a soul and that we’re just a mind reincarnating. The goal of this path is to end one’s personal existence by stopping all thought and merging into what is called Nirvana — the big, black, empty void. This is a doctrine completely different from that of Durga worship, which is rooted in the Advaita school of thought. This school teaches that we’re not matter but spirit and that this spirit is undivided, although it appears to be divided into individual persons, whom we see as each other in this world. Then there is the Bhagavad-gita philosophy, which clearly teaches that the Supreme Truth is a Personal God, Krishna, who is the origin of all things material and spiritual, and that the perfection of all yoga systems is to constantly remember Him in devotion through bhakti-yoga. To follow this path properly one should, as Krishna says, “give up all other dharmas, or methods of worship, and take exclusive shelter of Me in devotion.”

The Bhagavad-gita is the main text of the bhakti school, which teaches that God is an individual person, as are we, but that He is in the supreme position as the controller and origin of all that be. In other words, it wouldn’t make sense for someone who truly accepts the Gita’s teachings to take a break from this path and worship Durga or any other god or goddess or object. If you truly accept what the Gita is saying – that Krishna is the origin of all things and that all things are emanating from Him and contained within Him – what would be the point of worshiping any other person or object?

So if you do sometimes worship someone or something else, that proves that underneath all your external public display of heartfelt “bhakti” you don’t really think that Krishna is the supreme goal of meditation. In other words, you don’t really accept as true Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad-gita. Right?

How can a person follow all three extremely contradictory spiritual paths simultaneously? This unfortunately sounds to me like a most bogus kind of “bhakti”. It’s like a guy offering “respect” to a priest by touching his foot with one hand while beating him over the head with a shoe held in the other hand! Following the teachings of a voidist path like Buddhism or an impersonal path like advaitism while trying to cultivate devotion to a personal Supreme Truth through a theistic path like bhakti is like trying to start a fire while simultaneously pouring water on it. It just doesn’t work. In other words, there can be no real bhakti potency in such chanting of mantras. It must be a farce.

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“If you are married to a person and you tell that person “I love you. My love is completely devoted to you” and then you are constantly calling another person, talking about them, singing to them, how do you think your spouse is going to feel?”

Maybe you think that one who is advanced spiritually can see the divine in all things. But then again, what is your position: is there a soul, or isn’t there one? Do you devote your being to Durga, or do you actually worship Krishna/Vishnu? Which is it? Shouldn’t we want to know?

What is the meaning of a guru’s giving you a name such as Govinda Das if you regularly chant the name of Durga or Kali? It’s as if I’m married to a woman named Patty but I’m always calling Sherry on the phone. Are you really devoted to the person whose name you’re calling out repeatedly? Or do you do so solely for entertainment purposes and recognition?!

Someone may argue that if you love God then do you not love everything and everyone? Sure, but what would be the point of bhakti-yoga practice unless you’re trying to direct all your love and action to watering the root? Unless you’re trying to give it all back to God, the place where it all comes from? And if we can chant any name, then why do I have to go to a yoga studio and try to bend up like a pretzel and look all spiritual, when I can just chant my girlfriend’s name in the back of my Cadillac on Mount Solidad and make profuse amounts of “love” and call it “divine bhakti.”

In other words, what is the actual substance of bhakti that makes it bhakti? We should understand this science and investigate ALL of these different philosophical doctrines. We should continue to go deeper and deeper in the ocean of knowledge of life and reject obvious contradictions and misinterpretations of those doctrines. We should not follow anything blindly. Question Everything; Know for yourself.

Anyways, it’s clear to me that spiritual prostitution exists. And it’s a fact that there are these modern kirtan gurus popping up who will prostitute themselves philosophically to gain access to a greater demographic of consumers, and you should know that they are alive and doing well, very well.
 

FINAL THOUGHT:

If you are married to a person and you tell that person “I love you. My love is completely devoted to you.” and then you are constantly calling another person, talking about them, singing to them, how do you think your spouse is going to feel?

In conclusion, real love is exclusive. “Love” that is not exclusive is prostitution — it’s not love at all. This kind of “love” is self-serving and cannot truly satisfy the self. If you think that sex with multiple partners is an advanced form of bhakti-yoga, then you’re not even on the spiritual path at all, because the spiritual path means knowing that you are not the body made of flesh and blood but that we should actually endeavor to realize and nourish the eternal spirit within. This is not a criticism of the search for genuine love; it’s just a criticism of the modern materialistic mindset of making the most valuable things in life cheap and simulated.

May all those sincere seekers who wish to experience the true depth of the heart of the bhakti-yoga science find such guidance and shelter in the teachings of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who taught the complete science of bhakti and wrote it all down in numerous books, especially The Nectar of Devotion. (See www.nectarofdevotion.com)
 

OM TAT SAT

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Giriraja is a regular contributor to “16ROUNDS to Samadhi” and a co-conspirator of the "Krishna Lounge". He is working artist at his company Star Family, aspires for success on the path of bhakti-yoga, and would like to contribute to making the world a (somewhat) better place.

4 Comments

  • Reply October 28, 2010

    Roy

    I have mixed feeling about the article frankly. I was hesistant to say so. I understand the point and for that end point it is good, since so much bogus “bhakti” , misconceptions out there.
    I’m a Bhakti path follower at heart, and specifically the teachings and books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and line of Gurus extending from the teachings of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Krishna.These include the “Bhagavad-Gita AS IT IS” translation, “Teachings of Lord Caitanya” and other related texts like “Nectar of Devotion” (same author).I also learned and practiced these teaching in the ashrama of your Guru, so my understanding is not all theoretical.

    Personaly I agree one should not be divided in or as you say ‘prostitute’ one’s devotions. That is my understanding of what I learned.But I would like the public to know what exactly Bhakti-Yoga actually is, and specifics, why you make accusations but your article does not provide enough specifics.
    Also I don’t find overall the article very positive.Bhakti is always full of positivity but here I see mostly negativity, with due respect to your opinions.

    I see problems in several areas;
    1. The accusation you make about the Kirtan singer yogi, is third person, and form what I understand of the article you were not at the Bhaktifest yet you sort of accuse on the basis of heresay, you have no quotes of his agenda to defeat by logic or scripture, just implication from his website your vague opinion of what he is about..
    2. You talk of the Bhagavad-gita but have no quote. Which version?Now I know you, so I know you use the Bhagavad-Gita AS IT IS but not everyone has the AS IT IS. Their translation might be unclear.
    To that end I don’t like the accusation thing. You imply someone is at fault, yet you present no direct evidence. Better to have left them out,. Or if you want to accuse than do so bravely, quote them, and defeat with authority of your texts / Guru’s line of teachings backing you up.

    I know how it is to write articles, so I hope you don’t get discouraged. I agree with the main point of the article, just not the whole package.
    ..Offered as constructive criticism.

    • Reply January 23, 2011

      fd

      Roy, in your comment you say that the article lacks specific references, but I was able to recognize clear and brief summary of three philosophies, and how they are different and non-interchangeable. For example: “Then there is the Bhagavad-gita philosophy, which clearly teaches that the Supreme Truth is a Personal God, Krishna, who is the origin of all things material and spiritual, and that the perfection of all yoga systems is to constantly remember Him in devotion through bhakti-yoga. To follow this path properly one should, as Krishna says, “give up all other dharmas, or methods of worship, and take exclusive shelter of Me in devotion.”

      Yes, it would be nice to mention the edition, and chapter/verse number. Now, when you say that “Bhakti is always full of positivity”, I don’t see that you offered any quotes to back up your beliefs. You should follow the same standard you demand from others. Also, you haven’t defined what “positivity” is. If physicians gave you bitter medicines that saved your life, are they any less “positive”? When a licensed surgeon uses knife to cut a patient open and remove a tumor, will anyone call the police for such a lack of “positivity”? “Bhakti” should not be seen as synonymous to “sentimentality”, or “intuitive opinion”, and that was pointed out in the article.

      When we understand that different results are obtained by following different paths, and that Bhakti is an exact science with rules, we should be comfortable to point out the pitfalls of cheap McYoga, McKirtan trends, without fear that our “positivity” will be questioned. This article is in harmony with what our teachers taught us. Pure Bhakti can’t be learned from philosophically promiscuous entertainers, even if they make you “feel good” about yourself; whatever “self” means to them…

      • Reply January 23, 2011

        Mahat

        “Philosophically promiscuous entertainers” – such an accurate description. You might want to consider writing occasionally for the 16Rounds magazine.

  • Reply November 9, 2010

    Giriraj Gopal Dasa

    I’m not at all trying to imply fault, if you think that then you have misunderstood my article and I am willing to accept some responsibly for my inability to communicate. It’s a work in progress. 🙂

    There is a mirage in the desert of water, and there is real oasis of water. I am pointing to that oasis of real water, and trying to steer people who are serious about achieving the perfection of bhakti-yoga to the real source of water. That’s all.

    Bhakti-yoga is based on revealed Vedic knowledge and the direction of the genuine spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession. Though, I do not quote the direct Sanskrit verses in the article. I beg you to pull up any points in my article and I can show you where I have received the ideas and taken direction from bonifide Vedic scriptures regarding the bhakti-yoga process.

    People don’t know that the version of bhakti being propagated in the mainstream today is some kind of bhakti, but this bhakti is watered down so heavily and so I give the comparison to fast food. Everyone knows that fast food can fill the belly for some momentary satisfaction, but we all no there is no real nutrition value.

    My point is simple those who want bhakti with substance, I am directing them to the lotus feet of Rupa Gosvami. Without knowing Rupa Gosvami of Vrndavan Dhama I highly doubt that anyone on this planet will achieve even a glimpse of the reality of unlimited spiritual happiness that results from serious attainment of bhakti samadhi. This is my realization. Take it as you will, because its not going to change.

    Not only does this person I refer to indirectly give a watered down, sub-standard version of bhakti, but he does a lot of damage simply by himself being in ignorance of various truth of transcendental subject matters regarding the bhakti-yoga process.

    Being sincere is good, but it is a lower platform of devotion to perform bhakti-yoga without scriptural knowledge, Vedic knowledge in particular.

    You say I refer to Bhagavad Gita As It Is as if that is my personal version.

    Well there is only ONE version of Bhagavad Gita and that is Krishna’s version, that says abondon all other paths and surrender to ME.

    I am doing people a great favor by telling them to accept the Bhagavad Gita without any extraneous interpretations of unauthorized and unscrupulous commentaries by person who are envious of the very personality of Krishna. They don’t want Krishna to be Krishna. They say worship anything and everything as Krishna except Krishna as Krishna. This is foolish. I have no malice towards anyone, but this is an expression of my devotion towards the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna who speaks about Himself in the Bhagavad Gita.

    Liberality is good, but then you have to apply that to me as well or your so-called liberality becomes a fascism in disguise.

    Divine service is good, but without knowledge your someones so-called divine service becomes a source of misery for others.

    Please read this article to understand further my points.

    http://www.16rounds.com/2010/11/the-disservice-of-divine-love/

    OM TAT SAT

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