The Yoga Of Love

Sathya Sai Baba - Bhakti Yoga - Yoga Of Love

Sathya Sai Baba - Bhakti Yoga - Yoga Of Love


The Yoga Of Love

Bhakti yoga, it is said, is the most essential of all the yogas.

I was first introduced to the philosophy of bhakti yoga by the late Dr I K Taimni at the “School of the Wisdom” at Adyar in India. Dr Taimni, himself a scientist, occultist and theosophist, constantly wore a happy, smiling expression that is often a sign of a bhakta. It seemed to me that his life was inspired and governed by some living divine Love.

Taimni’s tentative attempt to interest us in bhakti took the form of discussing some of the aphorisms from the classic, Narada Bhakti Sutras. But I, along with most of his other students, I fear was too immersed in the “head” to be interested in the philosophy of the “heart”. I was fascinated by the theosophy of the Absolute, the emanation of the universes, the seven principles of man, and so on. The ancient truths of the East, crystallised in theosophy, seemed to offer all the answers. The studies brought a mental expansion that threw off the old fetters of religious dogma, and led by exciting ways into broader vistas of understanding.

Devotion to a God-with-Form, and the yoga philosophy that goes with it, seemed like an unnecessary intrusion into my new-found theosophic world. I decided that bhakti yoga was certainly not for me.

One of Narada’s Sutras states that divine love, “Is like the experience of joy which a dumb man has when he tastes something sweet”. The man has a strong urge to express what he feels but is unable to do so. Every man is in fact dumb when it comes to describing the inner experience of even ordinary, let alone divine, love, when it bursts the dam of the heart. The ineffable experience came to me the first time I was alone in the presence of Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

This was the beginning of a complete turn-about that changed my attitude to many things, including bhakti yoga. Instead of regarding bhakti, as I had before, as an emotional bath for the mindless, I began to understand what the sages meant when they said that it was the most effective yoga for the vast majority of people in this dark Kali Age.

I learned another lesson too. Philosophising about love and of devotion to God is really of little avail until the Christ-child of Divine Love is born in the individual heart. That child is usually fathered by some Form that spells Divinity. This may be a Self-realized guru, a great saint, a Godman or Avatar of the past, some other chosen Form of God, or, above all, a living Avatar.

There have been great bhaktas of the Christian religion who have found their inspiration in the image of Jesus Christ. Then again, the Forms of Krishna, Rama and others, have opened the hearts of millions in Asia. In practically all religions there are degrees of bhakti directed to some chosen Form of God. You don’t have to meet a living Avatar to be initiated into the Yoga of Devotion, but I believe it is a tremendous advantage if you do. I, myself, probably needed a spiritual bomb to shatter the thick mental shells around my heart. And so I met a Living Divine Form to ignite the necessary explosion.

Bhakti yoga deals in the main with the control and purification of the emotions. The means of purification is devotion to God in an ever-increasing degree. The aids and steps to strengthening and increasing the devotion are elucidated by Narada and the other sages who wrote about the bhakti pathway. Sai Baba confirms, and applies the ancient teachings, and goes beyond them.

One of the acknowledged aids to fostering devotion is satsang, or the meeting together of spiritually-minded people; especially those following the same Shepherd, or chosen Form of the Divine. Such meetings should be used, it is taught, to tell and hear stories about the Beloved One, to talk of his divine attributes and sing of the glories of God. Even when engaged in the ordinary activities of life the devotee should, where possible, sing songs of praise to Divinity.

Followers of Sai Baba in all countries meet regularly to sing bhajans, which are songs of praise to the glories of God in his many Forms and under His many Names. For, as Baba says, the One God fills all Forms and answers to all Names. Sai devotees are taught that they should have family bhajan singing in their homes at least once a week, and should meet regularly with other devotees for group singing.

Bhajans are mainly in Sanskrit, but Baba encourages the composition of such songs in other languages to suit his followers, for the Sai Movement is international. Many bhajans are now sung in English, Chinese and other tongues.

While the company of spiritual people is beneficial, that of great souls, saints or Godmen is of inestimable value for the enhancement of bhakti, Narada tells us. It is not easy to find such elevated Beings in the ordinary walks of life; indeed a searcher would be fortunate to meet one in a lifetime. And that is doubtless an important reason why devotees travel from far countries as often as possible to spend time near Sathya Sai Baba, and thus have their bhakti batteries recharged.

On the other hand, “Evil company must be shunned by all means,” writes Narada. “For it leads to the rousing up of desire, anger, delusion, to loss of memory, to loss of discrimination and to utter ruin in the end”.

A student has to be very well established on the path of devotion before he is securely insulated against the effects of bad company. Even an advanced bhakta is in danger of succumbing to the evil influences of those around him, for the sensory urges in his subconscious sleep lightly and can easily be aroused. So it is an important rule that evil company should be shunned at all times.

Even so, the devotee’s greatest enemy is really himself, that is his lower self or ego. Sathya Sai Baba is constantly stressing the need to transcend this ego, this bundle of sense desires, attachments and delusions that has been building-up in each individual for a lifetime. For many lifetimes, Baba says. Self-inquiry and self-examination are important weapons in the battle of the ego. The devotee must keep an eye on his own motivation, detecting any self-interest content, even in thoughts and actions that appear on the surface to be altruistic. He must seek to lower that egocentric content, and increase the element of genuine love and service to God.

When down-pulling emotions, such as anger, pride, possessiveness and the rest of the brood, make an appearance, they should, Narada states, be directed towards the Divine Form that is the object of devotion. It may seem very strange to the novice that he should be taught to turn the barbs of his most shocking thoughts and feelings towards his beloved Guru.

But Sai Baba confirms this ancient teaching. I have heard him say to devotees, “Bring your worst thoughts and emotions and place them at my feet. I will burn them away in the eternal fire.”

Even advanced devotees will at times lapse into detrimental attitudes of the mind. When this happens, they should think of the Divine Name dear to the heart, and offer their errors to Him. This, done with love and surrender will lead to purification.

Another important yoga discipline on the path to emotional purification is given in Narada’s Sutra 74 which states, “Do not enter into controversy about God, or spiritual truths, or about the comparative merits of different devotees.”

It is not difficult to see such controversy can easily lead to feelings of anger, contempt, superiority or inferiority all of which stimulate and enhance the ego.

Besides, as Baba points out, mere reason cannot solve the spiritual mysteries or find the ultimate Truth. There is bound to be a diversity of views on such matters, and the devotee must be tolerant of other people’s religious beliefs. Friendly discussion is in order, but not debate and conflict. As to the comparative merits of devotees, only God Himself can judge such questions truly.

Although, as stated earlier, most people need the great inspiration of a Divine Form for the birth of bhakti, it can be developed and increased by spiritual practices. “Devotion manifests itself in one whosoever it can be when one has made oneself fit for such manifestation by constant sadhana (spiritual disciplines),” says Narada in Sutra 53.

Related to this is the statement by a great Christian bishop who was queried several times by one of his priests on the subject of how to develop Divine Love. The bishop repeatedly answered in the same way: “Love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself.” “I know I should do that,” replied the priest, “but please tell me how to do it.” The bishop finally gave him the only help that can be given in this problem. He said: “You learn to walk by walking, to swim by swimming, to ride by riding; in the same way you must learn to love by loving. Practise loving thoughts, speak lovingly, and perform action of selfless love daily. Through such disciplined actions, love of God and man will grow in you until you become a veritable master in the art of loving.” Knowledge, will, and action can lead, if not to the birth, at least to the development of devotion to God.

Man is not all emotion; he has also a discriminatory intellect and will power. These should be exercised in the yoga of love. Narada certainly indicates this teaching in some of his aphorisms. He states, for instance, that the aspirant should give constant loving service, should give up fruits of his actions and through discrimination, pass beyond the pairs of opposites, such as pleasure and pain. The student must strive to reach that state of constant inner joy which is part of his true nature. He should be unaffected by pleasure and pain, praise and blame, and the other pairs of opposites.

The Sai Bhakti way, while confirming this truth, has a still greater content of Jnana, Karma and Raja yogas than are found in the Narada Sutras.

Although man cannot hope to understand God, or even himself, through his rational mind, he must still try to attain at least some knowledge of God, of his own relationship with God and with the world. In other words, Sathya Sai teaches that man must delve into Sathya or the spiritual truth of Being. Otherwise his Bhakti yoga, on a purely emotional level, will be unstable and floating in a void of ignorance will lead to all kinds of superstitious beliefs and practices.

The basic truth of Being is that man is one with God, but through a veil of ignorance called maya, he sees himself as separated. And so he identifies himself with the transient world of forms that reach him through his distorting senses. Especially he identifies himself with his body, with his children, his possessions, his ambitions. From all this he builds a self-image and ego which is unrelated to his true Self. The true Self is the Divine Self, and when man identifies himself with That, he loses the false concept of separation and returns to at-one-ment with his Creator. This is the aim of all yogas.

Moreover, man’s understanding of the universe about him is wrong. Even if he accepts that a Divine Artist created the universe, he does not normally perceive that the Creator is within his own creation, that in varying degrees the Divine is in all forms, from the saint to the star to the stone. At times man does have a glimmering of this, and calls it Beauty or, as Wordsworth expressed it, “The Light that never was on sea or land.” The yogin by whatever path he travels comes eventually to see God in all things and realizes that there is only One eternal Reality.

But before he reaches such a level of realization, a mental acceptance of the basic spiritual Truth will enlighten his footsteps, and lend support to the wisdom of Love that leads to the great Vision of Truth.

As well as the mind reaching outward for the knowledge it craves, it must, says Sai Baba, reach inward. It must make that inward journey of discovery that we call meditation. While devotional meditation is the type most commonly practiced by his devotees, Baba does teach different varieties to suit individual requirements. But regular practice is prescribed for almost all.

Love, Selfless Love, is the Sai central tower that is being built ever upward towards the divine heights. All structures built around it are support structures, their purpose being to strengthen and facilitate the work on the central Love Tower.

While one of the support structures is right knowledge another is right action. As man has a mind that must be satisfied, so he has hands that must find work to do. The old proverb rightly states that, “The devil finds work for idle hands to do,” so Sai Bhakti does not leave them idle. It teaches that the hands as well as the mind and tongue must work for God, and the best way of doing that is to work for one’s fellow men, without thought of gain. Work must become a form of worship. Says Baba: “Love for God must be manifested as Love for man, and Love must express itself as service.”

The students in the Sathya Sai schools and colleges, for instance, are trained through voluntary work to become true bhaktas in action. Among other things, they help to organise and run medical camps where the poor are given free treatment and help for such things as polio and disease of the eye. These white-clad students also go into the backward villages for big clean-up operations, clearing the dirt from the streets and years of filth from the drains. This is the kind of lowly distasteful work that in India would normally be left to outcasts. But the student-bhaktas do this, as well as their mundane daily chores, as a service to God as an expression of the love felt for the Divine in man. In this way action becomes joy and brings no karma.

All voluntary and social work anywhere should be done in this same spirit of selfless dedication; then it is good yoga, bringing full benefit to both performers and recipients. But if the actions are tainted by worldly desires and motives, yogic benefits to the performer vanish and, because love is lacking, the recipients gain less. This is a Sai teaching.

Bhakti, coming from the Fountain Love in the individual spiritual heart, flows out through all thought, word and action. Sathya Sai urges us to remember whenever we look at our watch, that, as well as it giving the time, its name gives us the message: “Watch your Words; watch your Action; watch your Thoughts; watch your Character; watch your Heart.” In this way all life can become a course in yoga, as indeed it should be for those who are aware that man is on an evolutionary path, and that he can consciously speed his way along it.

Many sages have declared that in this present Kali Yuga the easiest way to union with God is along the Path of Devotion to a Form of God that stirs love in the heart. God is both with form and without, both manifest and unmanifest. But in this Age, soaked in body-consciousness, it is difficult for the ordinary person to take the jnana road directly to the Unmanifested or Formless God. That way is for the few. “The goal of the Unmanifested is very hard for the embodied to reach,” says Krishna in the 12th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita.

It is much easier to worship a Beloved Form and reach the goal that way, as Sri Ramakrishna states – “He in whom Bhakti is surging with fervour has already come to the threshold of Divinity. Know it for certain that he will very soon get into union with God.”

Among the followers of Sri Sathya Sai Baba I have met those in whom bhakti seems to be surging with fervour. “They converse with one another with choking voice, and tearful eyes,” and describe how “Their bodies thrill and their hair seems to stand on end.” These, according to Narada, are manifestations of supreme devotion. He goes on to say that when a devotee reaches the highest levels on this path, and the summit of Bhakti is attained, such a one sanctifies his family, his land, indeed the whole world, and “This earth gets a Saviour.”

The fulfillment of Divine Love brings the bhakta into oneness with God. He knows that there is only the Beloved, and that he and all things are at-one with the Beloved. Such a saint, having no selfish motives will, through all his thoughts and actions, help to save mankind from its life of blindness, bondage, and sorrow.

Bhakti is not only the easiest Way, it is also the joyous Way, for it is accompanied by a constant underlying joy, however adverse the outward circumstances.

Those for whom the Sai Bhakti door has opened know with a bright certainty the goal towards which they are heading. The road towards it has a radiance and profound contentment of its own. True, there are some sharp thorns on this narrow Way, and sometimes dark clouds engulf its radiance. But deep in his heart the traveller knows for sure, in the words of John Masefield, that, “Though the darkness close, even the night shall blossom as the rose.”

Reference:: “The Lights of Home” by Howard Murphet

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