Teachings on Yoga from Ramacharitamanas - 7

The Glories of Bhakti

Swami Satyadharma Saraswati

In previous articles, we discussed the path of bhakti yoga, and the differences between jnana and bhakti, according to the Ramacharitamanas. Now the question arises: How can we actually experience the Lord? What is the means? So, in Uttarkanda (Doha 119), Kaka Bhusundi gives us some clues. He says: "I am the servant and Lord Rama is my master. Without this relationship, it is impossible to cross the ocean of birth and death. Holding on to this established doctrine, worship the lotus feet of Sri Rama." This verse is very important because it gives us the method to develop bhakti within ourselves, and to experience the meditative stages, the internal stages of communion with God.

Just as different bhavanas, or relationships, are necessary in this world, so in the path of bhakti, we each have to form our own special relationship with the Lord. Without this divine relationship, there can be no bhakti, no devotion to or meditation on the Lord. Each one of us must look within and decide what our relationship with God may be. Although Paramahamsaji has spoken to us at length about the importance of a living relationship with God, this idea is often superseded by other philosophical concepts which appeal greatly to our intellect. However, the truth is that bhakti will only develop in our day-to-day life when we begin to relate with God at a personal level.

This is the dichotomy that we all experience: we would like to travel the path of bhakti, but we do not relate with God. We relate with everything but God. We relate with people, money, status, job, car, clothes, friends, lovers, events and situations, but we do not have the time or inclination to relate with God. Every relationship, whether important or unimportant, close or distant, takes effort and time to cultivate. If we want to develop a relationship with our husband, wife, child, relative, teacher or friend, we will have to spend time with that person. In order to develop a close and intimate relationship, quality time is required. When we are together, we must open ourselves to that person and communicate all of our innermost thoughts and feelings. We must tell what we have been doing, thinking and feeling. Isn't this what friendship means, what marriage means? So, in the same way we have to develop a relationship with the Divine.

Master-servant relationship

There are many different types of relationships, but Kaka Bhusundi has recommended this relationship: "I am the servant and Lord Rama is my Master." He has suggested this because in a sense it is the most realistic. If we think about God, about the Divine, or even about the Guru, the fact is that He is the Master. We are ignorant, under the influence of limitation, while God is unlimited and all knowing. So, the most practical and honest relationship is that of Master and servant. Again, if we look at our life in the ashram and our relationship with the Guru, we can see that this is how the actual relationship between Guru and disciple develops. This is a relationship between Master and servant. So, when We begin to develop this relationship with the Guru, or with the Divine, we have to learn to serve.

Sometimes developing this relationship can be a difficult process because when we are growing up, especially in modern life, we do not learn to serve. We learn to command or demand, but we do not learn to obey. The Master-servant relationship is a very particular relationship; it requires total obedience. The servant has to do one thing only: to obey the Master. He does not have to say what he likes or dislikes. He does not have to offer his grievances or criticisms; that is not necessary. The only thing he has to offer is service. And when the Master requires no further service from him, he is free to lie down and sleep. He has no worries in that sense, because nothing is his. Everything is the Master's responsibility. The servant simply hears and obeys; that is all.

Service is the lesson, the teaching, and also the path in relation to ashram life, sannyasa life and gurukul or student life. This is what we are really learning all the time that we are in the ashram. But for some of us this is the most tiresome part: listening to an order, being told to do something and just doing it without thinking how we might like to do it or how it could be done better, or that we don't like the person who is giving the order and so on. The Master-servant relationship is formed on these three principles: just doing the work, doing it to the best of our ability, and doing it with a feeling of devotion for the Master. This relationship, according to the teachings of Sage Bhusundi, is the best and easiest means to develop the path of bhakti.

Kaka Bhusundi says further in the same doha: "Blessed are the souls that worship Raghunath, who has the power to make the animate inanimate and the inanimate animate." God alone has the power to create, to give life, and again to destroy, to take life away. We do not have that power, and neither do we concern ourselves with that aspect of life. We worship things which limit us, which take away our power. We care for material prosperity, physical relationships, beautiful places and things. But we do not worship that which creates and destroys all these things. Those who worship the source of life, not just the manifest forms, are blessed because in the end they merge into the source and become the source.

The illumined heart

In the following chopai the sage crow goes on to say: "Now hear about the power of bhakti. Devotion to Rama is an effulgent chintamani." The chintamani is a wish-fulfilling gem which has the power to make whatever we think or wish come true. This quality of the chintamani is the quality of anahata chakra when it is fully awakened. In this sense, devotion to Rama brings about the full awakening of anahata chakra and all the divine qualities within the heart. So, he continues: "This chintamani sheds infinite radiance day and night, requiring neither lamp nor ghee nor wick (to light it). He in whose heart this jewel abides is not affected by the poverty of illusion, nor does the blast of desire ever extinguish this light." This is the glory of bhakti. We do not have to worry about the lamp going out.

Once anahata is awakened, once devotion to God arises within, the heart will be ever illumined. This inner illumination becomes so constant and bright that it can never be diminished or extinguished. The chopai continues, "The overpowering gloom of ignorance is dispelled by this jewel of bhakti, and the swarms of moths (of ego, pride and vanity) keep away, being utterly overcome. Negative propensities like lust, anger and greed dare not approach one in whose heart the gem of bhakti abides."

The bhakta, whose heart is suffused with divine love, is not affected by darkness, delusion or ignorance because wherever the light shines, darkness disappears. Darkness cannot abide in the light, nor can the blast of sensuality or negativity ever extinguish this light. When negative thoughts and feelings arise, they have no influence. So the chopai continues: "For him, poison is changed to nectar and enemies to friends. He is never affected by the terrible mental distress from which all people suffer."

For one who awakens devotion in the heart, the poison of darkness and negativity is changed to nectar and enemies become friends. Let us look at this for a moment. In yoga, when we are able to awaken a particular chakra or psychic centre, then the next centre also opens. So, when we are able to fully illumine anahata, then the energy moves upward of its own accord and opens the next centre, which is vishuddhi. The word Vish means 'poison' and Shuddhi means 'to purify'. In vishuddhi the poison is changed to nectar and enemies become friends, because all the sattwic and divine qualities which awaken in anahata such as love, kindness and compassion are expressed through vishuddhi. As we begin to convey these qualities in our life, it will naturally happen that our enemies will leave aside their animosities and quickly become our friends.

This is what happens when the energy of anahata moves upward; vishuddhi awakens and the poison changes to nectar. This nectar is also a very powerful force. It rejuvenates the body and brain, and makes us long lived. It removes all our diseases and makes the whole world our friend. When everybody is our friend, life becomes a very happy affair. ,It is only when we go about making enemies that we feel unhappy. But when everywhere we look we see our friends smiling, life becomes a happy affair.

The jewel of bhakti

So, Kaka Bhusundi says: "Without this jewel of bhakti, no one can find happiness." We all suffer from mental distress because we focus on the negative qualities, aspects or limitations of our self. That negativity may reflect from outside, but the source of it is within. When bhakti awakens, the negativity is dispersed and mental distress is removed. The chopai continues: "He never suffers the least affliction, even in a dream, in whose heart abides the jewel of devotion to Rama. Therefore, they are the wisest of the wise in this world who spare no pains to secure the jewel of bhakti. Although this jewel is manifest in the world, no one can find it without the grace of Rama."

Without the grace of Guru or God, the path of bhakti is not easily discovered. This is why we need to have a relationship with the Guru and with the Divine. We need to have that connection through whom the grace can flow. Without a Guru, without a living connection, it is very difficult to connect with the subtle, with the supreme reality, and receive grace. But through the relationship with the Guru or with the Lord, the grace comes. Kaka Bhusundi says further: "There are easy ways to attain this grace, but luckless souls contemptuously reject them and search for more complex and difficult means." The easy ways to attain grace and to develop bhakti are given in the nine modes of bhakti, the nine ways to develop devotion.

According to the Ramacharitamanas, the nine ways to attain bhakti are as follows: (i) Satsang, (ii) listening to stories about the Divine, (iii) hearing about the qualities of God, (iv) developing vairagya, or non-attachment, for all the worldly roles and associations, (v) becoming attached to Guru, God or the Divine, (vi) becoming selfless, (vii) repeating God's name and remembering God at all times, (viii) imbibing spiritual qualities, (ix) feeling the presence of God everywhere and in everything. When we try to feel the presence of God within us, and to identify our self with those unconditional qualities which are not limited to our ego and individual roles in life, it is easier to find our own path or dharma, whatever that path may be. It becomes easier to see God in that path and to feel ourselves moving towards God through that path.

Then we begin to see the positive nature, the divinity and the essence of God in all beings and things, not just the negative or the limiting aspects. To see the Divine in everyone, to perceive the good and the positive in whatever anyone is trying to do, to be content with whatever we have, with whatever comes our way, without finding fault with it, and finally to surrender the self, the sense of individuality, to God - these are the different ways in which grace comes. With grace, the path of bhakti opens and the divine form, divine qualities and divine powers become one's own. In this way, the bhakta is transformed into the very object of his devotion; the Master and the servant become one. Therefore, Kaka Bhusundi said: "I have in my heart this conviction, that the servant of Rama is greater than Rama himself."