Monday, January 27, 2020

Bhakti and Why It is Important


In this post let us look at the question of what is Bhakti and why it is important in spiritual growth.


bhakti and why it is important

What is Bhakti?

In the Indian spiritual tradition Bhakti means devotion – to God primarily but also to a guru or a master.

Bhakti relates to the heart as against the mind. In Bhakti the devotee’s heart melts and merges with the one devoted to.

The another most important aspect of Bhakti is love – divine, unconditional and desire less love for God.


First of the Four Paths to Salvation

The Hindu school of spirituality lays down four paths to salvation – liberation from the eternal cycle of birth and death.

Bhakti is the first of the four. The four paths are:

  1. Bhakti - Devotion
  2. Karma – Righteous Action
  3. Yoga – Various techniques including breath control and meditation
  4. Jnana – Wisdom – reaching the Ultimate Truth through introspection, discrimination – essentially through an intellectual means


 God cannot be attained through Any Path without Bhakti

Even though four distinct paths to salvation have been given a practitioner cannot attain God without Bhakti.

Being of an intellectual type and following the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi’s Jnana Marga, initially, I totally rejected Bhakti. I used to think that Jnana was superior to all other paths. I also thought that there is no need for Bhakti on the path of wisdom. Of course, I was ignorant. Ramana Maharshi himself was a great devotee of Lord Shiva and composed many beautiful poems on Him.

So is the case with Adi Shankara. Though he was the tallest proponent of Vedanta and Jnana marga, he invariably exhorted the seekers to approach God through Bhakti. The song, “Bhaja Govindam…” he composed is a perfect example. In that song, he addresses people as, “Moodha Mate”, meaning, “Oh Ignorant” and strongly and even harshly advises to seek God instead of going after mere knowledge for a livelihood.


In Karma or the path of Action the seeker should surrender all the fruits at the feet of the Lord and carry on the duties with total devotion in His name and as His instrument. Therefore Bhakti is an integral part of Karma Yoga. Swami Vivekananda an outstanding example of Karma Yoga was a great devotee of the Divine Mother Kali.

In the Yoga path too, Parama Hansa Yogananda in his famous book, “The Auto Biography of a Yogi”, narrates how one of his masters reminds him as follows:

“You go often into the silence, but have you developed anubhava?” He was reminding me to love God more than meditation. “Do not mistake the technique for the Goal.”


All these examples clearly prove that there is no substitute for Bhakti or devotion.

The Nine Limbs of Bhakti

The Bhagavata Puranam the ultimate text on Bhakti prescribes the following nine limbs of the Bhakti Yoga:

  1. Sravana – listening to stories and songs praising God
  2. Kirtanam – Singing the glories of God
  3. Smaranam – Remembering or Chanting the Lord’s Name
  4. Pada Sevanam – Doing service to the lotus feet of the Lord. We can see Sri Maha Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu, massaging the feet of Lord Vishnu.
  5. Archana – Worship or doing Pooja with flowers or Kum-kum.
  6. Vadanam – Saluting the Lord with folded hands.
  7. Dasyam – Be the servant or slave to God – Lord Hanuman, the great devotee of Sri Rama, calls himself a Dasa or servant of the Lord.
  8. Sakhayam – Making God your friend.
  9. Atma Nivedana – Complete sacrifice or surrender.

bhakti and why it is important
Source of the picture is http://devotioninformation.blogspot.com/2009/02/navadha-bhakti.html and the credit is hereby duly acknowledged


Today, in the modern and fast-paced world, elaborate poojas and rituals are difficult. Making God your friend or as a slight variation, your parent is the simplest and effective. While chanting, I visualize myself as a six-month infant, completely naked and chewing the thumb at Divine Mother’s lotus feet. I also see her lifting me up high and kissing me on my cheeks, putting me to sleep in Her lap, etc. Tears invariably roll down my cheeks in emotion.


At the end of my brief post I repeat that Bhakti is the easiest and direct path to God. Any other path, on its own, without Bhakti cannot lead us to the Lord.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

How does One Start a Meditation Habit?


Man doesn’t start anything without a benefit. It is natural, nothing wrong with it. So how does one start a meditation habit?

how does one start a meditation habit


In my experience people look to meditation for two goals as follows:

  • Health Benefits
  • Attaining God

Again, in my opinion, about 90% or more of the people are interested in the health benefits of meditation. Very few are really interested in God. These are not my words. Bhagawan Krishna, Himself said so. Whatever may be the inspiration ultimately meditation is beneficial. That is good enough. Let us first understand the benefits of meditation before we get into the nuts and bolts of starting the meditation habit.

Pranayama or breath control is a sister practice of meditation. Pranayama is performed either before or as a part of a meditation session. Therefore in this article wherever I mention meditation it means the twin practice of pranayama and meditation.

Health Benefits of Meditation Habit


  • Peace of mind and calmness
  • A Clarity in thinking, riddance of confusion and more focus
  • Increased creativity; out of the box thinking; problem-solving
  • All the systems of the body slow down
  • You will be anger less
  • Practice over long periods will keep hypertension under check

Meditation Gives Immediate Results


By now you would be familiar with the standard promotional language of hair growth oils. They invariably promise excellent results after 30 to 45 days’ use. Not so in the case of meditation. You will feel good immediately after a meditation session. You will experience calmness and peace immediately. This is for sure. The other health benefits will follow on regular practice. Now let us see how we can develop the meditation habit.

How to develop a Meditation Habit?


Developing any new habit requires three essential ingredients as follows:

  • Strong motivation
  • Do the act repeatedly without break for a certain number of days
  • Keeping track

Let us look at these elements in detail.


Motivation

For forming any habit whether good or bad a strong enthusiasm is needed. It means a strong need or wish that drives one to action. Following examples will make the idea clear:

Need/ Desire
Actions
Looking Good
Exercises, yoga
A desire for money
Striving for education, hard work in the job/ business.
Kick
Smoking/ Drinking/ Use of drugs
Good Health
Exercises, yoga, meditation
Attaining God
Yoga, meditation, devotion, the study of scriptures, etc.

When people start a new habit but give up on the way it means that motivation is not strong enough. As an illustration, let us talk about quitting smoking. If you ask a smoker he will admit that he had quit smoking several times in the past only to fall back into the habit. However, if he is diagnosed with a serious illness and the doctor warns him that he will certainly die unless he quits smoking he is quite likely to quit. Here the strong desire to live motivates the person to give up the bad habit.


Doing it till the New Habit becomes Automatic

Staring the Meditation Habit requires discipline like following the Yama and Niyama in the Ashtanga Yoga. Once the new habit is taken up it should be followed consistently without a break for a certain number of days. What is this duration? Many people quote many numbers like 21 days, 45 days, 90 days and so on.

However as per Philippa Lally’s research on an average, it takes 66 days to make a new habit automatic. It depends on person-to-person, nature and difficulty of the habit, etc. In fact, it could be as short as 18 days and as long as 254 days or eight and a half months.


Monitoring or Keeping a Watch


One important behavioural principle is that what you monitor will improve. If you keep track of your personal finance diligently your financial conditions will improve. This is not simply because you may cut down on wasteful expenses, you may even start getting more income. The reasons behind this are many and quite complex. Some relate to the physical body-mind domain and some to transcendental causes.

Besides the intricate principle described above keeping a watch on the activity on a regular basis motivates you to keep it up. You will not like to break the good track record.

I have been using a spiritual app called BlackLotus developed by Om Swami of Badrika Ashram for about a year or so. Besides several features it automatically keeps a record of the user’s spiritual activities on three counts as follows:

  • Chanting
  • Meditation
  • Kind Acts
    The main statistics it keeps is:
     
             1.  Total Days
      2.  Longest Streak – the number of days the practice was carried our without a break
      3.  Total Time

             4.  Longest Session – longest duration of a single session
    In the following picture I show my statistics for meditation since I started using this app.


black lotus app picture



Believe me now I don’t want to break my current streak – that is, break the practice – at any cost. I travel a lot catching flights at odd hours. Still, I don’t break my habit of chanting and meditation every day. I do these while in a flight or in a car on the highway. Even in the worst of the cases (these are very rare and maybe once or twice a month) I try to meditate for at least for a minute to keep my streak intact.


To end this discussion, the secret to forming the meditation habit is to have a strong drive, doing it without interruption and finally keeping a record.

Om Shanti!

Best Regards,

Anand


Bhakti and Why It is Important

In this post let us look at the question of what is Bhakti and why it is important in spiritual growth. What is...