Bhakti Yoga

BHAKTI, or devotion, arises from the appreciation of goodness. There will be no devotional feeling towards what is not good. If some persons were to worship or rather propitiate a dangerous deity it would not be devotion. So devotion implies goodness and is towards goodness. It is a form of love, but essentially love of something or some person who is “good.”
Merchants, who speak of goods, not of mere things or articles, are in this particular excellent psychologists. Goods are things which are good for us, or we might better put it, good to us. We go further as our intelligence or knowledge increases and recognize that some things which are not good to us are good to others. “The farmer prays for rain, the washerman for sun,” says the Japanese proverb. On this basis, everything is seen to be good because everything is good to some being.

When men ask themselves where all these goods come from they easily ascribe them to a goodness which has the nature of a superior mind. They find that the good man is one who positively produces goods of some kind and passes them on to others. Not only the things he produces but he himself is thus a manifestation of goodness. From such thoughts it is easy to pass on to the idea of a deity or deity who is goodness, and, in the height of this idea, is good to all and always, even when the goodness of his gift of the moment is not understood and felt as such. In this way the intellect permits the goodness to be universalized, and prevents the judgment of goodness from being based on one’s own personal pleasure or one’s own material welfare. Thus devotion, which arises at first from the reception of some goods, ends up by declaring that all is good, and this devotion then makes logical a predisposition towards appreciative feelings, even when there is not understanding.

That is true and complete religious devotion, which never questions but always appreciates everything, or judges all things and their Giver as expressions and sources of that goodness. In the West philosophers have said that it is possible to get good out of every experience, so one should “look for the good in everything”; but in India they always went one better than that by saying one should “look for the God in everything,” because in this way the feelings as well as the intellect had their play. In looking for the good in everything there is usually a somewhat antagonistic feeling. This philosopher says he will face all situations boldly and extract some good from them. But in accepting the God in everything there is a glad meeting and full attentiveness and openness of heart. It is a perfectly happy condition, in which the poet could say:

Hither! take me, use me, fill me,
Vein and artery, though ye kill me!

Another way of approaching a knowledge of the heart of the devotee is to ask oneself where the philosopher gets his truth, which is a good. Did he make it? No, he found it. Where did the artist get his beauty? Did he make it? No, he found it. Since it takes the best and greatest men merely to find these goods and present them to others in, at best, an imperfect form, what shall be thought of the original Cause of all the truths and beauties? We naturally bow with great joy before the thought of that Cause.

The bhakta or devotee is satisfied with the joy of the consciousness of the presence of Goodness. But he still has also a touch of philosophy—the thought that his own joyous devotion—imperfect as he knows it to be and rejoiceful as he is that he has even a little of it, and perhaps even then only sometimes—will ultimately increase to fill the whole of his life and then be present at all times. Thus devotion is itself another good, and a source of joy.
It is only one step more to the formation of bhakti-yoga, a method for increasing the bhakti. Religious services are usually a mixture of this with what we shall presently study as the mantra-yoga. They aim at the direction of the feelings, and mix it with ceremonial words and actions. In India there is no collective or congregational worship, but still there are occasional gatherings at which stories are told and songs are sung extolling the exploits of divine Incarnations, or there is singing the names or appellations of Deity. In country places there are often bhajanas in which songs are sung containing mostly the names of the deities, to the accompaniment of drums and music, before a statue or a picture representing the divinity. Individual worship appears in daily prayers and in yoga practice.

Why is a separate or outside God adored, reverenced, worshipped? Because he is regarded as the source of wealth and bounty, considered either as an example, or as a giver of material benefits, or at least of divine “grace.” It is a question whether the rāja-yogÄ« could allow himself this form of devotion, which leans on “goodness.” The goal of his being is upright, strong life, happy and free because it is illuminated as to its own divine nature and that of all the other lives seen around, using other forms. If, then, his goal of life is this happiness, which is the joy of upright, strong life, master of its own small world of body and circumstances, how can he look for help towards that freedom at any stage by what he would call the intoxications or consolations or refuges of religion?

Let a man do his small daily task according to his strength of will, love and thought, and all will be well with him. He can be immensely devoted to all the life around him, regarding his neighbor as himself. His refuge from selfishness and the fear it brings exists, but he will not bring into it the unnatural considerations of another and separate life governing or uplifting his own. To him this devotion is a hatha-yoga, inasmuch as it depends on another “good,” external to himself. Therefore this devotion is often found along with the hatha schools of yoga. It comes in also along with concentration in the various chakras. The Gheranda Sanhitā mentions it as one of the means to samādhi: “Let him meditate in his own heart upon the proper form of his desired deity; let him meditate with the bhakti-yoga, full of the greatest gladness; let him shed tears of happiness.”(Gheranda Sanhitā vii 14-15).

The flow of unrestrained feeling, even if it means self-abandonment before the recognized glory of the divine, also has its dangers if not balanced by thought and knowledge, as insane asylums testify all over the Western world, and a red record of fanaticism and cruelty witnesses in history; though it is a path that may be followed without special guidance, provided the development of intelligence and will in practical life is not neglected. Many churches and other organizations are busy on this line, but for the most part they miss the point of it because they direct attention to God or his representative as something for the weakling to lean upon or as a fountain of blessing for personal gratification, rather than as something so splendid—a Good beyond all goods—that at the mere sight of it one loses personal desires completely, forgets oneself in the contemplation of it, and adds a new form of ecstasy to the permanent treasures of the soul.

From the Hindu point of view there is an error in the Western idea that grace can come down from above in response to devotion, or, still worse, that higher forces can be brought down by it and by ceremonials. Their view is that by grace we are lifted up, not that anything is brought down. It is akin to the doctrine of intuition. If there is intuition, following upon much thought on a given subject, the field of thought is clarified. Yoga, however, aims at the raising of consciousness above the mind into the clarifier. A crude simile may make this clear; a man owns a car, looks after it and drives it along the road to some destination, and because of that the car is both preserved and used. If the car were left to itself it would rot. Or if it were started up and sent off by itself it would soon meet with an accident.

But when it is properly used, the car is still a car; it does not become a man, and the man is still a man and does not become a car. So with the mind. If left to itself it will rot or produce an accident. But what is above mind—the ethical and moral principles—will preserve it and use it well, will harmonize its parts and contents and illumine its path. All are glad of the intuition, but the yogī wants more than that—his consciousness must be raised into the very source of that intuition. One is speaking of the bhakta, who is to be himself raised up, not to have his material nature glorified.