Devotion


Devotion

The Worst Thing We Ever Did 

The worst thing we ever did

was put God in the sky

out of reach

pulling the divinity

from the leaf,

sifting out the holy from our bones,

insisting God isn’t bursting dazzlement

through everything we’ve made

a hard commitment to see as ordinary,

stripping the sacred from everywhere

to put in a cloud man elsewhere,

prying closeness from your heart.

The worst thing we ever did

was take the dance and the song

out of prayer

made it sit up straight

and cross its legs

removed it of rejoicing

wiped clean its hip sway,

its questions,

its ecstatic yowl,

its tears.

The worst thing we ever did is pretend

God isn’t the easiest thing

in this Universe

available to every soul

in every breath.

~ Chelan Harkin

As we have talked about so much before yoga is a unique framework for the human mind. Most of our mental and physical efforts are devoted towards grasping and pushing away (pravrtti and nivrtti prayatna respectively). So the yogic framework of jivana prayatna -effort for the sake of life, effort for the jiva is indeed special. But how do we frame our mind towards this aim of non-grasping and non-aversion but rather acceptance, compassion and peace of mind? Patanjali offers many suggestions (7 in particular) of which one is often seated at the forefront- pranidhana or devotion.

When you hear the word devotion what do you think of? Images of idols? Folded hands in prayer? Prostration? Faith? Love? Judgement? Many things can pop up on the mental screen and so it’s helpful to first understand what devotion is in relation to yoga. This is Bhakti yoga- the yoga of devotion. Bhakti is not mere prostration and prayers to get what we want (pravrtti) or to avoid what we don’t (nivrtti). There are those who pray for material wealth, those who pray for a release from sorrow, those who pray for knowledge and those who pray for status…the list goes on. But the wise ones pray only to merge with the Lord- to recognize the divine within all. The Yoga Yajnavalkya represents this by defining yoga (yujir yoge) as the merging of the individual soul (jivatman) with the Lord (paramatman). The Bhagavad Gita chapter 12 defines bhakti yoga as the prefered path of yoga for those who have the capability to situate the mind in the divine. As Ramaswami says those with “bhakti DNA” can take the fast route to nirodhah as defined in the yoga sutra as isvara pranidhana or by samyama (full meditation) on Isvara the unique purusa/stand alone principle. 

For many, Isvara pranidhana is meditation on a form of the divine. Eventually this form (like our own) falls away. When the Buddhi is completely clear and connected to the eternal we see that which has no form and therefore never dies. In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna describes this as

But those who worship the formless aspect of the Absolute Truth—the imperishable, the indefinable, the unmanifest, the all-pervading, the unthinkable, the unchanging, the eternal, and the immoveable—by restraining their senses and being even-minded everywhere, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all beings, also attain Me.

Defining Isvara as indefinable and unthinkable might be confusing when we consider that jnana yoga– the path of knowledge- is also described in this text. However these two paths are not contradictory. Through Jñana yoga we are refining the mind, typically bound by the manifest and limited forces of nature, to perceive that which is beyond the typical reasoning capacity of the intellect. This requires pristine discernment known as viveka khyatih – a fully mature and unwavering conviction that comes from direct experience. For the jnana yogi this is cultivated through the pursuit of knowledge to go beyond mere information. For the bhakti yogi this vivekakhyatih is solidified through faith and contemplation of the divine from form to beyond form. The Dhyana becomes Bhagavat Dhyana- placing one’s mind in the Lord.

My worship is of a very strange kind.

In this, Ganga water is not required.

No special utensils are necessary.

Even flowers are redundant.

In this puja all gods have disappeared.

And emptiness has emerged with euphoria.

~Lahiri Mahasya

Of course pranidhana is not the only means to self realization. Worshipping the lord is not cumpulsory in the Gita. Krishna merely guides Arjuna compassionately through the routes of Karma, Jnana, Raja, Hatha, Bhakti yoga. The path is to suit the individual. Krishna asks Arjuna to use his own mind to consistently think along these lines and then do as he likes. As Patanjali describes Isvara so is the Lord, having the unique quality (visesa) of non proximity to prakriti. Krishna is therefore not bound or egoic in the exchange. Like the highest of gurus Krishna’s aim is purely compassionate- to offer the truth up for those who choose to partake. So Arjuna is free to stay along the course of dharma or to move through and beyond dharma to kaivalya by whatever means he connects with. Devotion is the surest route but not the only one. Karma yoga and Jnana yoga are also highly esteemed and lead to the same ocean. Much like the breath is a friend to the mind, devotion is a friend of karma yoga, jnana yoga, hatha yoga and raja yoga. So for those concerned about the path to take up don’t worry. Do your practice, study the shastras, contemplate the meaning and the experiences. Let the nadis clear and the new paths connect. Practice with proper bhava and study these texts…first learning by heart, then gathering the general meaning and then refining our learning of each word etc. For those with “bhakti DNA” you may also use your practice as an offering to the divine in all. Therefore even the most basic actions become an offering. How we treat others, how we treat ourselves, how we practice asana, how we breathe, how we sit.  For others let the knowledge of the eternal reveal itself through these heart focused endeavors. It’s all a labor of love eventually to become effortless. tapas, svadhyaya, yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, samyama, bhakti, nirodhah…

The following description of Krishnamacharya written by Ramaswami helps. No practice exists in a vacuum…


Sri Krishnamacharya was a great Hatayogi

He synthesized hundreds of

Breath oriented vinyasas

Scores of intricate asanas

A variety of pranyamas

And healthful mudras

Into a system of Vinyasakrama

Hata Yoga

He was a Raja Yogi

Regularly meditated

Brought the Intricate yoga sutras

of the great Patanjali

Accessible to ordinary

yoga practitioners like us.

He was a jnana yogi

He was a scholar of the darsanas

Had diplomas in samkhya, yoga

Nyaya, mimamsa, vedanta

Vedic chanting

Taught many of the 

Upanishad Vidyas and other

darsanas 

To his interested students

He was a vedic scholar

He chanted beautifully

Was great being his student

But above all

Deep in his heart

He was a bhakti Yogi

He loved the Lord

He worshipped the Lord

All his life, He

Surrendered to the Lord

A true Bhakti Yogi

Srivatsa Ramaswami
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