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The Convergence of Bhakti and
July 28, 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
we discussed the role of desire in relation to self-inquiry, how our
spiritual desire fuels all of our practices, including our eventual entry
into relational self-inquiry (in abiding stillness). In time, our spiritual
desire merges with stillness itself, becoming divine desire, and expressed
as outpouring divine love coming through us into the world.
Here, we'd like to take a closer look at the mechanism of this refinement in
desire in relation to the intellect, and, in particular, the role of bhakti
within the process of self-inquiry itself.
For most of us, bhakti is pretty easy to understand. We have a feeling, a
longing, a desire for something. When that desire/feeling becomes directed
toward a high ideal of our choosing, and is sustained in thought word and
deed, then that is the expression of devotion, or bhakti. As we have
discussed in recent lessons, the characteristics of bhakti are identifiable,
and so are the results, at least qualitatively they are. We have even gone
so far as to call bhakti the "science of devotion." Some might call that a
stretch, but no one can deny the power of emotional longing when brought
into the spiritual arena, particularly when powerful yoga practices are
systematically applied within the framework of our spiritual desire, where
each feeds the other in ever-expanding waves of longing, mingling with the
rise of abiding inner silence and ecstatic conductivity. Indeed, the
profound results of such an endeavor have given
rise to an over-arching category of practice we call "self-pacing." No more
must practitioners beg for a few crumbs of spiritual experience. Now it can
pour out of us at rates requiring ongoing regulation of practices to
preserve reasonable stability of our unfoldment on the path.
This is all well and good, but what of the role of self-inquiry?
first glance, it
is not nearly as comprehendible as bhakti. This is owing largely to the
entrenched assumption that self-inquiry is an intellectual pursuit using the
mind to conquer the mind. It is a wrong assumption. If it does not lead to
trouble sooner in the form of top-heavy intellectualizations, it can weigh
us down later by distracting us from our practices that really do work with
a lot of unnecessary progress assessment and self-judgment. This is also
sometimes referred to as "psyching ourselves out." Neither has anything to
do with self-inquiry.
Self-inquiry is a practice that is entirely dependent on the degree of
abiding inner silence (witness) we have available at any point in time. With
a sound daily practice of deep meditation in use, inner silence will be
steadily on the rise, and, with it, our ability for effective self-inquiry.
This has been discussed in detail in recent lessons. Self-inquiry, and its
very nature at any point in time, is a continuum that weaves it way through
the five stages of mind discussed in Lesson
from pre-witnessing, to witnessing, to discrimination, to dispassion, to
unity. It is this "moving target" aspect of self-inquiry that makes it difficult to
prescribe a particular style of practice that
can be applied with equal effectiveness at all times.
Many have asked what the AYP procedure for self-inquiry is, and the answer
has always been that it
will vary depending on where the practitioner is in their process of
purification and opening and the rise of abiding inner silence. In
pre-witnessing stage, very little self-inquiry is recommended. Just meditate
and go out and live fully. In witnessing stage, we begin to see our thoughts
and their resulting feelings as objects separate
from our stillness, and
can question the truth of them and release or transform them to improve the
quality of our life. This style of self-inquiry has been popularized by
Byron Katie, Lester Levenson, and others. As with all forms of self-inquiry,
it relies on the emerging presence of the abiding witness for its
As the duality between witnessing and the objects of perception becomes more
pronounced, we naturally enter the discrimination stage. We may continue
with the or
informal inquiry we have adopted during witnessing stage, but will find
ourselves refining our view to a more intuitive perception of inner and
outer objects as we become experientially convinced that our true Self is
outside the field of perception of objects altogether. We may resort to
affirmations on this (I am That).
But, ultimately, discrimination is about the negation of the reality of all
objects of perception that
are bound by time and space.
For those who come to this kind of discrimination prematurely, it may be
viewed as a negation of life, which is entirely untrue. When the temporal is
released in stillness (relationally), the eternal is revealed, which is all
life, all love, and all existence. At its appropriate time, discrimination
leads naturally to loving dispassion with regard to all that is temporal,
and that lands us finally in the stage of eternal unity and outpouring
In the end, it isn't about "objects" at all, but about abiding in the
ever-blissful and unknowable Self,
which is no-thing at all, yet, contains within
that appears to be manifest. At that stage the simple question, "Who am I?"
asked with deep feeling
in relation to any object of perception is more than enough. The answer is
not to be found anywhere in the mind, but in release into the condition that
the question inspires. And this becomes our permanent condition, even as our
body/mind and outpouring divine love continue to function normally in the
world. The later stage methods of self-inquiry are represented in the
teachings of Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj, and by the many who
have followed in their footsteps with varying degrees of effectiveness in
relation to their students.
From a teaching standpoint (particularly in modern times), what often gets
lost in the shuffle in all of this is the bhakti that keeps us moving
through the various stages of mind, and continues as the radiant loving
quality of our Self.
Without a doubt, we can say that without bhakti there could be no effective
self-inquiry or enlightenment. In fact, effective self-inquiry is pure
bhakti. They are one and the same. We long to know who and what we are, and
it is that longing that is the question, "Who am I?" We begin with that and
we end with that. Along the way, we learn the methods that are necessary for
our longing to fulfill its convergence
with knowing. Since we cannot know the unknowable Self,
bhakti and self-inquiry merge and we consciously become the Self.
Some will say, "You always have been the Self. There
was never anything to become!" True. But it is a truth spoken in untruth,
because for each of us perception is 100% of our reality. While the truth is
that we are the eternal Self,
the perception must be changed for that truth to be experienced in fullness.
That change is a process, a journey that each of us will take as we are
inspired to do so. It begins and ends with our sincere
and our willingness to act at every step along the way.
The guru is in you.
Bhakti Related Lessons Topic Path
Self-Inquiry Related Lessons Topic Path
Discuss this Lesson in the AYP Plus Support Forum
detailed discussion on the merging of bhakti
and self-inquiry, see the
and the Liberation book.
For detailed discussion on the
merging of bhakti with all aspects of practice as we progress on our path, see the
Bhakti and Karma Yoga book.