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Lesson 342 - Bhakti and Your Yoga Practices

From: Yogani
Date: June 26, 2009

New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"

The role of bhakti in the implementation of our yoga practices is pervasive and essential. In finding the inspiration to consider beginning a daily practice, and then continuing with the evolution of a full scope of yoga practices, we will first have bhakti, a desire to fulfill our highest potential. Moved by expanding bhakti stimulated by practices we undertake, we will work our way through building a daily routine step-by-step according to our particular needs. In the end, we will fly on the wings of bhakti as we share our love and ever-expanding spiritual influence with all, near and far, who we increasingly see as expressions of our divine Self.

Throughout this process, our bhakti will be expanding due to the onward march of purification and opening within us. The growth of our spiritual desire is none other than the growth of stillness within us and the divine flow coming through us. Bhakti and the emerging spiritual reality are one and the same. It is the divine flow of life that is always seeking the union of the absolute stillness of pure bliss consciousness with the energetic expressions of life within and around us. These two (stillness and energetic ecstasy), fully integrated and lived in Oneness, constitute the wholeness of life in the enlightened condition.

Bhakti shows up clearly in the language of the limbs of yoga in Niyama, the observances, as spiritual intensity (tapas) and active surrender to the divine (ishvara pranidhana).

The intensity of our surrender to our chosen ideal, our hunger and thirst for the divine, is an essential dynamic of bhakti leading to all spiritual progress, including undertaking daily practices such as deep meditation, spinal breathing pranayama, physical methods such as asanas, mudras and bandhas, the preservation and cultivation of sexual energy (brahmacharya-tantra), and an ongoing inquiry into the nature of our Self in relation to the world. 

All of the limbs of yoga are naturally interconnected within the human nervous system. Each practice we undertake influences the effectiveness of all other practices. This is true of bhakti as well. Bhakti increases the effectiveness of deep meditation and spinal breathing pranayama, and these practices increase the effectiveness of bhakti. If we cultivate our bhakti and are meditating daily, we naturally become more inclined toward spiritual study and other activities related to our awakening. It is like that with the interconnectedness of all yoga practices. The whole of yoga is much greater than the sum of its parts, just as the whole human nervous system is much greater than the collection of its individual parts. Yoga and the spiritual capabilities of the human being are one and the same. Yoga is derived directly from the higher functioning our nervous system, not invented somehow apart from it. Bhakti in the overall functioning of yoga fuels the expanding spiral of desire, action in practices, purification and opening, more desire, more action in practices, more purification and opening, and so on

Where does it all lead? To a permanent state of abiding inner silence, ecstatic bliss, outpouring divine love, and the unification of limited personal self with unlimited divine Self. And then bhakti goes on as we continue to express in the world in ways that are unifying for all who we may touch, visibly and invisibly. It is the power of love operating through everyone, everywhere, dissolving the illusion of separation.

An essential aspect of bhakti is found in our willingness to act upon our surging divine desire in practical ways. Engaging in daily sitting practices is the epitome of this, because effective practices, undertaken consistently over the long term, will do more than any other kind of action to accelerate our bhakti and our overall progress toward enlightenment. Engaging in practices in combination with our bhakti is so effective that we will find ourselves in the luxurious position of having to slow down at times. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. So we self-pace our practices and bhakti as necessary, as discussed in the previous lesson. Self-pacing is an aspect of practices that is discussed throughout the AYP writings.

At times, the question may arise, "I don't feel intense spiritual desire, and am doing yoga practices anyway. So where is my bhakti?"

If we have found the commitment to do our daily yoga practices, forming and sustaining the habit, then bhakti is there. It may not always be in the form of intense hunger and thirst for the divine, or gushing spiritual emotions. In fact, a quiet resolve on our path is equal or greater bhakti than the kind that is demonstrating itself dramatically all the time. At the heart of our spiritual development is the rise of inner silence. This is cultivated in daily deep meditation, but can also be resident in us to a degree prior to consciously stepping onto our spiritual path. Stillness is bhakti and bhakti is stillness. 

Bhakti is also energy, just as stillness underlies and animates all energy. Emotion is the movement of energy within us, moving to fulfill desires deep in our heart. In time, the energetic side of bhakti is experienced as whole body ecstatic conductivity and radiance, which is the awakening of kundalini, the vast latent evolutionary energy residing within us. This gives rise to the introversion of sensory perception (pratyahara, a limb of yoga), and a more intimate relationship with the divine flowing within and around us. The experience of ecstasy rising is very noticeable, and sometimes overwhelming, consuming us in a vast inner column of fiery luminous energy, inevitably radiating outward from us. Our bhakti plays a key role in the advancement of inner energy flow, and is also influenced by the events occurring inside us. Our chosen ideal (ishta) expands accordingly, always reaching beyond current experiences, no matter how dramatic they may be. A true ishta will never rest on its laurels for long. It always seeks the highest in us. 

So, the range of experiences we can have with bhakti is diverse and profound from the dispassion of abiding inner silence (the witness) to the intense emotions of direct perception of the divine flow occurring everywhere. Later in our journey, bhakti leads us intorelational self-inquiry (in stillness), and the direct experience of living and serving in a perpetually liberated non-dual (advaita)condition. All of this is based in our desire for opening, for union, and unfolded through the means we are inspired to employ to promote the process of human spiritual transformation.

All action in practices that we undertake as a result of our bhakti is in the field of karma yoga, the realm of causes and effects. Action is essential. Practices, and how we integrate them, constitute an optimization of causes and effects for the purpose of our spiritual unfoldment. Because this is building a relationship of actions and reactions within us that is predictable and repeatable by anyone on their path, we can say that it is a scientific approach to human spiritual transformation.

Karma yoga also looks beyond our structured spiritual practices to our conduct in every aspect of daily life. This is the most common way karma yoga is viewed, as service without expectations. But when viewed as beginning with sitting practices, karma yoga takes on a new dimension. Just as rising spiritual desire is a good launching platform for entry into practices, so too are practices a good launching platform for naturally elevating our conduct in daily living. In short, the longing for fulfillment in our heart (our bhakti) is a direct route to the meditation seat, and the meditation seat is a direct route to increasingly evolutionary action in the world the emergence of stillness in action, which is Unity. This is an effective approach for automatically unraveling the mystery of our karma, and for spontaneously undertaking service for the benefit of all. We will be taking a closer look at this in upcoming lessons.

The guru is in you.

Note: For detailed discussion on the relationship of bhakti to our daily practice routine, see the Bhakti and Karma Yoga book.  For detailed instructions on building a balanced daily practice routine with self-pacing, see the Eight Limbs of Yoga Book. Also see AYP Plus.

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