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Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda


'Bhakti Yoga' , 'Para-Bhakti or Supreme Devotion', and 'Addresses on Bhakti-Yoga'
(Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Vol III, IV)

Bhakti Yoga

* Definition of Bhakti

  • Few Narada Bhakti Sutras quoted. Bhakti is its own means and end. Bhakti-Yoga, Jnana-Yoga, and Raja-Yoga take the aspirant finally to the same goal. 'The one great advantage of Bhakti is that it is the easiest and most natural way to reach the great divine end in view; its great disadvantage is that in its lower forms it oftentimes degenerates into hideous fanaticism.' Ideally we should develop our character equally with knowledge, love and yoga.

  • Meditation is constant remembrance of the object of love. 'Worship is constant remembering as may be seen from the essential texts of scriptures. Knowing, which is the same as repeated worship, has been described as constant remembering.' Constant remembrance (memory) of the beloved (God) is as good as direct perception and knowledge; Atman reveals Itself to one who It chooses and It chooses one who is totally devoted and constantly remembering God. Thus with constant memory, one is granted the realisation of Atman. 'This constant remembrance is denoted by the word Bhakti.'

  • 'Bhakti is a series or succession of mental efforts at religious realisation beginning with ordinary worship and ending in a supreme intensity of love for Ishvara.'

* The Philosophy of Ishvara

  • Anirvachaniya Premaswarupah - 'inexpressible Love' is Ishvara; Ishvara is the highest reading of Brahman. Vyasa says a Mukta-Jnani (liberated-seer) can have all the powers of Ishvara except creation, ruling and dissolving universe; Ramanuja's explanation on this also more or less dualistic. Advaita gives best solution to this by allowing dualist to cherish his hope and aspiration of separate existence from God and at the same time establishing the supreme, unchanging, undifferentiated Reality of non-dual Brahman as the basis of soul, nature, and God.

  • Those who have reached the Absolute Self, loose the reality of distinction between soul, nature, and God; but those who can not or will not, retain the differentiation in order to enjoy the bliss of devotion. They are the ones described as 'Prakritileena' by Samkhyas.

  • Conception of Ishvara as anthropomorphic Being is natural for human beings but on that account it can't be said to be unreal because if human body and external world is real then so also this anthropomorphic Ishvara.

* Spiritual Realisation, the Aim of Bhakti-Yoga

  • Bhakti-Yoga - first step is Gauni Bhakti or preparatory devotion and second is Para Bhakti or supreme devotion. Those forms of religion which fanatically deny all ceremonies and rituals as useless, end up being hollow materialists and atheists with a thin masquerading of social reform.

* The Need of Guru

  • We shape our destiny by our thoughts and actions but we can also receive external help in the process; in fact the quickening impulse for spiritual life comes from another living soul and not from books. Reading books can make us intellectual and good speakers on spiritual topics but it won't develop us spiritually unless we act and live according the light we receive through studies.

  • The soul which imparts spiritual impulse is Guru while the one receiving it is disciple; Guru's must be a living seed and disciple's field must be a well ploughed one. If the desire to receive the spiritual light is strong in disciples heart then Guru must and does appear; and on the other hand if we complain that despite our efforts, no spiritual light is coming then we have to clearly look into our hearts and find out if there is real thirst for spiritual light.

  • Some people may delude themselves and other into believing that they are the competent Guru but in their ignorance and vain pride they ruin themselves and followers.

* Qualifications of the Aspirant and the Teacher

  • Qualifications required of a disciple are: purity, thirst after knowledge, and perseverance; as for the Guru, he should know the spirit of the scriptures and not just words, he should be sinless, and totally unselfish in motives.

  • Only when disciple's heart is ready and Guru has arrived for him/her, can religion (spirituality) begin for the aspirant.

* Incarnate Teachers and Incarnation

  • Holy are the teachers who teach true spirituality and greater are Incarnations of God on earth; they are Guru of Gurus. With Incarnation comes a huge tidal wave of spirituality and people feel spirituality almost full in the air.

* The Mantra: Om: Word and Wisdom

  • The normal Siddhas have to impart spiritual knowledge to disciple through mantra. Name and form are the inner and outer expressions of Self - both in microcosm as well as macrocosm; name is mind and form is body (Sphota/Logos and manifested universe).

  • Om is the only possible symbol of this Sphota and as idea and word are inseparable, so is Om inseparable from Logos. Sphota is Nada-Brahman (Sound-Brahman) and Om (pronounced as AUM) particularises Sphota the least and yet expresses most approximately its nature; no other word does this. 'A' is least differentiated sound and is produced at throat, 'U' is the rolling impulse in sound production process between throat and lips, and lastly 'M is the last lip-sound. Thus AUM represents the whole process of sound-production and best representation of divine Sound-Brahman.

  • God and universe appear to a mind as per its tendencies and sound-symbols, which represent this view of God and universe, were discovered by sages in deep meditation. Just as Om represents Absolute aspect of Reality, these other sound symbols represent the particular, manifested aspect of the Reality; they are helpful to the aspirant in meditation and acquisition of true knowledge.

* Worship of Substitutes and Images

  • Pratika - things used in worship as a substitute for God; Pratima - image used in worship to represent God/Brahman. Shankara says mind is internal Pratika and Aakasha is external Pratika. Worshipping Ishvara alone constitutes Bhakti and all other worships like deva, pitri etc. are ritualistic karma; when any deva or Pratika or Pratima is worshipped as a substitute for Brahman and not by itself, then it leads to Bhakti and Mukti but if not thus worshipped, it is only a particular Vidya (science) and only leads to transmigration to some higher sphere.

  • Vedantism, Buddhism, and Christianity uses images and symbols for worship while Mohammedanism and Protestantism do not use them; Protestants therefore have lost almost all spirituality and are mere surface ethical workers not much different than agnostics; as to Mohammedanism, it uses tombs and graves as symbols. As to images and symbols used in Christianity and Islam, superimposition of concept of God is not done on them and as such it is mere ritualistic Karma and hence is real idolatry.

* The Chosen Ideal

  • A Bhakta should know that same Lord is worshipped by different sects, religions under different names and forms; he/she should not hate or criticise founders of other religions. Rare is to find person with intense love as well as broadest sympathy and liberality.

  • "Ishta-Nishtha" (steadfast devotion to the chosen ideal) is the way to develop both width and depth of love. Unlike many other religions, Vedanta offers infinite ways to reach Liberation.

  • While liberalism is important, tender plant of spirituality must be protected from constant change of ideas and ideals; "Ishta-Nishtha" plays great role here and this devotion to one ideal - while understanding that one principle is manifesting as different ideal for different mentalities - helps develops Bhakta-Yogi into mighty spiritual giant.

* The Method and The Means

  • According to Ramanuja method and means to Bhakti-Yoga are: Viveka (discrimination), control of passions, practice, sacrificial work, purity, strength, and suppression of excessive joy.

  • Viveka (discrimination) - according to Ramanuja this involves, apart from other things, food-related viveka; purity of food is important as it increases the sattva element in the aspirant but it should not reach fanatical level and also it is of secondary importance. Shankara interprets food (Ahara) to mean sense-perceptions; if these are without attachment, aversion, and delusion then it is 'pure food' and it helps purification of mind; purified mind keeps the constant memory of real Self. Hence beginner should pay attention to gross food first and then more to subtle food (sense-perceptions).

  • Controlling passions involve gradual sense-control and self-denial; practice involves repeated attempts to always remember God; sacrificial work relates to five great sacrifices enjoined (to gods, sages, manes, guests, and all creatures).

  • Purity is of utmost importance; external purity is easy to achieve but without internal purity it means nothing. Internal purity involves - Satya (truthfulness), Arjava (sincerity), Daya (doing good to others selflessly), Ahimsa (non-injury to others in thought, word, and deed), Anabhidhya (not coveting others' goods, not thinking vain thoughts, and not brooding over injuries received from another), Anavasada (strength - strong and healthy physical body and cheerfulness, relaxed mind), Anuddharsha (avoiding excessive mirth).

  • Ahimsa is particularly important in above list but it should be properly understood and not stretched to extreme; it mainly involves absence of jealousy. 'It is better to have internal purity alone when minute attention to external observances is not practicable.'

Para-Bhakti or Supreme Devotion

* The Preparatory Renunciation

  • In all Yogas the stepping stone is renunciation - the heart of spiritual culture. In Bhakti-Yoga, renunciation is natural and not violent; love of God naturally makes sense-pleasures, intellectual-pleasures pale in insignificance.

  • When love of God becomes Para-Bhakti (supreme devotion) limitations like images, rituals, temples etc. fall off.

* The Bhakta's Renunciation Results From Love

  • The same emotion of love, well-directed or ill-directed, causes good or bad actions. Bhakti-Yoga is the science of higher love; it asks us to love the Highest so that all lower things naturally fall off.

  • All attractions are due to God, even the lowest types; all struggles in the world are manifestations of movement towards Him. When Bhakta reaches the stage of Para-Bhakti, he/she sees Lord in everyone and in everything; such alone have the right to talk about universal brotherhood.

* The Naturalness of Bhakti-Yoga And Its Central Secret

  • Bhagwad Gita chapter 12 initial few verses. It is easy to think that we can live our philosophy but in practical life it is extremely difficult. Danger in Jnana-Yoga is justification of bad actions by quoting scriptures; Bhakti is smooth and gradual and hence in it the falls are not as drastic as that of Jnana-Yoga.

  • The various emotions and passions in heart are not wrong but they need to be controlled and given higher direction until we reach God.

* The Forms of Love-Manifestation

  • Reverence, Priti - pleasure in God, Viraha - intense misery due to absence of the beloved, Tadarthapranasamsthanam - maintaining life only for the beloved, Tadiyata - His-ness; these are the manifestations of love on the path of Bhakti.

* Universal Love and How It Leads to Self-surrender

  • Indian mind always was interested in finding the generalised principle behind all particular. Without loving God - the Samashti (sum total of all) - doing good to others is almost impossible.

  • In the intense state of love of God, all is seen as His manifestation; total self-surrender and Apratikulya (nothing that happens is against us) comes out of such love. Pleasure and pain are equally loved and welcomed; the acquisition of such a state is higher than glory of grand and heroic performances.

  • Death is the one certainty in this evanescent universe; it is better to die for a good cause than a bad one. Selfishness based on 'I am the body' idea is the most debasing thing so Bhakta continuously surrenders the self to God and loves Him wholeheartedly.

* The Higher Knowledge And The Higher Love Are One To The True Lover

  • To a Bhakta, higher knowledge (that of the Self) is same as higher love (that of the God). This higher love or Para-Bhakti comes after attaining attachment to the Lord (Raganuga) and continuous thinking of Him; such a lover breaks the bonds of mind and matter.

  • 'To love because it is the nature of love to love is undeniably the highest and the most unselfish manifestation of love that may be seen in the world.'

* The Triangle of Love

  • 'We may represent love as a triangle ... The first angle of our triangle of love is that love knows no bargaining.' The Bhakta loves because 'He' is lovable and no other motive is required. 'To worship God even for the sake of salvation or any other rewards equally degenerate. Love knows no reward. Love is always for love's sake. The Bhakta loves because he cannot help loving.'

  • 'The second angle of the triangle of love is that love knows no fear. ... Love and fear are incompatible; God is never to be feared by those who love Him.'

  • 'The third angle of the love-triangle is that love knows no rival, for in it is always embodied the lover's highest ideal. ... The highest ideal of every man is called God. Ignorant or wise, saint or sinner, man or woman, educated or uneducated, cultivated or uncultivated, to every human being the highest ideal is God'

  • Human beings always project their own ideals on external world and then worship it. After millions of births, soul realises that it is futile to try to mould inner to outer conditions and then he/she no longer does that but worships ideal itself as ideal from highest standpoint of love.

* The God of Love is His Own Proof

  • Bhakta does not care for magistrate-Gods, his/her God is all love; he/she has risen above all narrow ideas of God, above all external symbols. Bhakta finds God in everything and in everyone.

* Human Representations of the Divine Ideal of Love

  • Human beings can think of divine things only in human way and hence to express the divine, infinite love of Para-Bhakti, Bhaktas make use of common terms associated with common love of humanity in relation to God.

  • Shanta (peaceful gentle aspect) is the lowest form of such love, next higher type is Dasya (servantship), next is Sakhya (friendship). God is playing and we are His playmates.

  • The next form of love is Vatsalya (loving God as our child); this detaches the idea of power from God and hence awe does not come in between love. This idea of God as a child comes to religions which believe in incarnation of God; Mohammedans can not have this idea.

  • The highest of all forms of representation of love is Madhura (sweet; between man and woman). God is our husband or wife and all love is directed towards Him. 'God is the one goal of all our passions and emotions.' Higher than the love between husband and wife is the illegitimate love, since in this, the obstacles to love only increase the passion more! Desire and love can not co-exist.

* Conclusion

  • Love for love's sake is highest enjoyment for a Bhakta and he does not even care for Liberation.

  • All have to begin at first as dualists, God is separate and distant; later love comes, various human relationships are projected on this love and the separation from God is reduced. Finally we merge into the object of love, infinite God; love, lover, beloved become One.

Addresses on Bhakti-Yoga

* The Preparation

  • Just as worldly men strongly cling to sense-objects, a Bhakta wants to cling to God. Human beings have natural love and attachment for sense-objects as they seem to be the only reality; when this is turned towards higher reality namely God, it is called Bhakti.

  • Food eaten gets converted to body and mind hence Viveka about what to eat is important. Bhaktas should avoid all meat, onion, garlic, and other exciting, evil-smelling, stale food items. Also food touched by evil minded people and dining in their company should be avoided. Dirt and dust should not be there in food; food left by others should not be eaten. This discrimination is as per Ramanuja.

  • As per Shankara, to be unattached to senses and being constantly attached to God along with lack of jealousy and delusion is 'taking in pure food'(Ahara). Since most people are easily acted upon by matter, it is important to first follow Ramanuja's advice related to food and drink and also take care of mental food.

  • Vimoka - freedom from desires; this world is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Abhyasa - practice; think of God alone always and not of sense-objects; practice to achieve this, music is great help in this. Kriya - for purification of heart doing good to others, poor and suffering people, and being unselfish.

  • Kalyana - purity i.e. truthfulness; Arjava - straightforwardness, no crookedness, no double dealing; Daya - pity, compassion; Ahimsa - non-injury; Dana - charity; Anavasada - not desponding, cheerfulness; fanatics with long faces have no love in heart. Uddharsh (excessive merriment) is to be avoided, it indicated fickle mind. Be cheerful but calm.

* The First Steps

  • Oriental idea of human being: soul having a body; occidental idea: body having a soul; hence in West, enjoyment here and hereafter is the goal of life and God is to be worshipped for giving this. In East, God is the goal of life and sense enjoyments are just something through which we are passing now.

  • Each will realise in time that sense-enjoyments, here or hereafter, are nothing great rather there are higher things to aspire for. Human love is merely animal love; it is nothing compared to pure love of a true Bhakta towards God; 'All the love of the world is hypocrisy and hollowness'; little loves of the world are mere stages towards true love, which is God.

  • To think that infinite God - the true man/woman - is born only for few sense-pleasures is horrible. Be done with the child's play of world as soon as you can and then feel the necessity of God. If we feel that we can not live without God, then we may become Bhaktas!

  • First have intense desire for God; ask yourself daily if you want God. The body and world are not ends but means to an end. We may not succeed in attaining true love of God but we can try and move as much towards it as possible.

* The Teacher of Spirituality

  • Our thoughts make our past, present, and future but we can get a quickening spiritual impulse from someone outside. Books can develop us intellectually but not spiritually. That soul from whom the quickening impulse comes is called Guru.

  • The disciple must have real yearning for truth and must not mistake passing phase of mind for the real thirst; there also should be purity and perseverance. Those who are still immersed in ignorance but consider themselves Guru are of no use, they can not help. True spirituality is not that easy, it requires continuous struggle with our nature and it does not come merely by reading books or hearing talks. We must patiently wait and struggle for it, it may come immediately or it may take many lifetimes.

  • The teacher must know the spirit of scriptures, must be sinless, must have love as the only motive and should have realised God. Great Incarnation of God like Buddha, Christ, Ramakrishna are God in human form and they are Teachers of teachers. Speaking about high intellectual ideas, about Omnipotence, Omnipresense, Rationality etc means little; so long as human being has a form he/she must worship God in human form.

  • When we worship Incarnations of God and think of them they make us like unto them. Christ's miracles were for vulgar minds, they are secondary but his character and love which transformed souls is primary.

* The Need of Symbols

  • Two types of Bhakti: Vaidhi (formal, ceremonial) and Mukhya (supreme); all types of Bhakti is regulated by love. Religion is realisation and not intellectual assent or empty rituals, books, pilgrimages, spiritualism etc.

  • Religion is a long, slow process; people have to move slowly from concrete to subtle, abstract; vaidhi Bhakti provides the necessary concrete things and rituals to move ahead. Let there be as many religions as there are human beings; each moving ahead as per his/her temperament. The goal is same for all. 'The choosing of one's own road is called in the language of Bhakti, Ishta, the chosen way.'

  • Words and symbols are manifestations of thought and hence using them externally in worship also gives rise to corresponding thoughts within mind. Bhaktas never pray for anything material or mental, they pray for true love of God. Desires make man miserable and fearful; desire for heaven too is misery.

* The Chief Symbols

  • Images of saints, various symbols, departed spirits, gods, angels etc. are Pratikas - steps taking us near God but these can not lead us to salvation, it can only give some Vidya. We must not cling to these Pratikas but after gaining maturity through their help, move higher towards God.

  • Book worship is another form of strong Pratika; it can be a hindrance to spiritual progress and make fanatics out of people but it is also a great concrete symbol which preserves religion.

  • Pratima (image) worship in various forms is also a stage but people think their image is all-right but images of others are idolatry! Pay all the reverence to ancient teachers and all books but discover light for yourself independently. So long as we are human beings, worship of images is quite natural; better worship great teachers like Christ, Buddha.

  • Mind can be used as a Pratika. We must see God in any Pratika and not Pratika itself as God. 'God in the picture is right, but the picture as God is wrong'.

  • Namashakti - power of Word, Shabdabrahma; the theory of 'Word' and Incarnation came to Alexandria from India and thus it came in Christianity. Srishti (projection), God projects the world out of Himself and then again takes it back within Himself. Body is idea of mind externalised and concretised, matter and mind are not two separate things. 'Form is the grosser and name the finer state of a single manifesting power called thought.' If universe is built on same plan then finest 'thought' behind world is 'God', 'name' behind world is 'Word (shabdabrahma)' and 'form' is world, just as there is 'soul', 'particular name', and 'particular body' in microcosm.

  • Om is the 'Word' behind universe i.e. the Word of God; it is a stage between world and God and it represents both. The universe can be perceived from different perspective based on different senses, so it will have different form, name and thought behind these perspectives - these names are Pratikas and are used in Bhakti-yoga. These powerful names, capable to take one to perfection if repeated continuously with devotion, come to disciple from competent Guru who in turn had received it from his/her Guru.

* The Ishta

  • The ideal of all religions & sects is attainment of liberty and cessation of misery; though goal is same, paths to reach it are different based on different temperaments. We can follow our own path - as per our inherited tendencies and which is our 'chosen way" (Ishta) - but to say that is the only path, is fanaticism and stupidity.

  • Absolute truth is one but relative truths depend on standpoint; we need not fight about relative views but need to reach the absolute truth. We can not teach others, especially spirituality, they manifest that from within themselves; we can only help in giving suggestion and helping the expression of thought. Hence there is no congregational spirituality as such, only theoretical portion of spirituality can be made public and congregational, but higher spirituality is strictly personal and secret.

  • The Ishta is sacred but not secret in the sense of 'secret societies' - which are diabolic and demoralising in nature; Ishta is secret in the sense that it is holy and good for me but it may be or may not be so for you. Mystery mongering should be strictly avoided; 'Be common, everyday, nice people'.

  • Instinct, reason, and inspiration - these are the stages of mind but instinct and inspiration appear similar from outside; that is the difficulty. Inspiration can not contradict reason, it is the development of reason; also it should be for good of one and all, unselfish and not for name and fame, or personal gain. Go for God of love and purity and not for mysteries, ghosts, hobgoblins etc. which only weaken the mind. God alone is real, all else is vanity.

( Readers can go through the book fully by downloading the Vol III and IV of Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda III and IV )

----------- Om Tat Sat -----------