Bhakti Yoga according to the Dictionary of Mysticism is “the yoga of love, the quest of union with the Divine Spirit through Bhakti-marga (the path of love and devotion).” (Frank Gaynor, Philosophical Library) Bhakti is a Sanskrit word for love and devotion, and love is the quintessential truth of all religion, spirituality and mysticism. In the New Testament Saint Paul said that “love is the most excellent way.” The Bhagavad Gita and the other world scriptures say the same thing. The mystic-lovers of history have taught that “God is an infinite Ocean of Love and each soul is a drop from that Ocean.” By approaching simran/zikhr (a spiritual exercise of repeating God’s Name or Names, mantra), prayer, the singing of hymns or meditation with an attitude of love and devotion (prem and bhakti), we elevate our consciousness; the practice of love brings us into harmony with the Supreme Being, our own true nature, and with everyone else. “Even as the sun shines
and fills all space with light, so shines the Lord of Love and fills the hearts of all created beings.” (The Upanishads, Eknath Easwaran) I very much suspect people are drawn to the poetry of Rumi because he may be for some a connection to this rare and lesser-known Eastern mystical approach of divine romance, the Way of the Lover and the Beloved!
Bhakti is an Indian term for the religion of love; it is heart-centered, focused on the cultivation of love between the soul and the Oversoul, between lover and the Beloved. India’s Nirguna Bhakti Saints and devotees (bhaktas) are madly in love with God; their relationship with the Supreme Being is that of divine romance! The 16th century mystic Mira Bai said:
“To the Lord’s abode I will go,
for He alone is my true love.
I’ll gaze upon His charming face
and ever remain enthralled.
In the calm of the night
I will arise and go to him,
and return at dawn.”
Practices of Love and Devotion (Prem-Bhakti) For the Supreme Being
According to Saint Tulsi Das there are several modes of Bhakti practice. One major practice is called Satsang — the society of realized Saints. Satsang means “association with Eternal Truth” as well as “association with God,” and is to some extent comparable to “church” or “temple,” but not in any institutional sense. A saying of Jesus in the New Testament provides a great definition of Satsang: “Where two or three are gathered in My Name, I am there in their midst.” When devotees or initiates of a Saint sit together for instruction, worship and meditation, the Masters teach that there’s a great spiritual energy present, a stronger manifestation of the loving Presence of God and a kind of “communion of Saints,” past and present.
Satsang is also an experience of spiritual community, an opportunity to be uplifted by the collective energy of our brothers and sisters on the Path, for we’re influenced by the company we keep! Devotees make this a time and place of spiritual Remembrance, and this helps to keep us on the Path. Mira Bai has said:
“In minutes, Satsang will lead to
Jiva-Mukti [the salvation or
liberation of the soul].”
The format of Satsang meetings can include: a spiritual discourse, instruction on putting the Path into practice, a Master giving a talk (or recording of such), readings from the writings of various Masters or Mystics, the reciting or singing of banis, bhajans or kirtans (hymns of worship composed by Saints), and silent group meditation. It’s considered the greatest of blessings if it is a Master who conducts the Satsang in person.
The effect of Satsang is that of divine remembrance, thus, with such a spiritual boost, encouragement and support for the spiritual journey, those who go to Satsang are much more likely to stay on the Path and put effort into their own daily spiritual practice at home. Thus will the life of the Bhakta (lover, devotee, disciple) become more and more God-intoxicated by imbibing the spiritual wine, the nectar of divine love.
Simran — The Power of Repeating God’s Name
Repeating a Name (or Names) of God with love and devotion, called in the east “Simran”, “Manas Jap”, or “Zikhr,” is one of the key spiritual exercises used to cultivate love for God and to invoke the Positive Power in our daily lives, making it possible to live a life of love. This is usually done mentally, as a mental repetition of a Name of God done during meditation, this practice is done during available moments throughout the day and night as a way to remember God all the time. Says Sant Tukarama:
“Such is God’s Name
that it heals the disease of the world.
Whosoever repeats the Lord’s Name
while engaged in earthly duties,
remains ever in a blissful state of divine communion.
One absorbed in the Lord’s Name, O Tuka,
has truly attained liberation while living.”
This spiritual exercise of repeating God’s Name helps to uplift our day, to bring some of the heaven and bliss of meditation into our down-to-earth daily experience, and is a way to remember in a world of forgetfulness, to remain awake in a world of spiritual slumber, to abide in Truth, no longer dominated by the forces of illusion. Be who you really are wherever you go!
Most of the great Saints and Mystics of history have also been poets or composers of hymns, psalms, odes, banis, bhajans — mystic songs of love and devotion.
Closely related to the chanting of divine names (mantra, manas jappa, simran or zikhr) is the practice of reciting or singing kirtanas, shabds and banis (hymns). India’s Saints of Love for thousands of years now have composed their own vanis, padavali, devotional hymns and poems. India’s Mystics have left behind — and continue to compose — an immense treasure of devotional literature, the scriptures of the Saints and Masters of the East. If Westerners aren’t able to sing these hymns in their original languages, reading translations of them is in itself a spiritual exercise of great benefit, for these beautiful words carry a loving spiritual charge that helps to keep one mindful of the spiritual Path, as well as it helps to prepare one for daily meditation practice. Babuji Maharaj of Agra used to advise his followers to recite several hymns a day, prescribing certain hymns of Swami Ji Maharaj and Huzur Maharaj Rai Saligram (his spiritual Master) “to be
chanted in the morning, before meals, and before going to bed at night.” Each tradition has a similar practice of daily prayers and hymns. To be sure, it is indeed extremely helpful to read a couple of hymns or poems of the Saints each day.
Traditionally in India the Saints and Masters have also used hymns and mystical poetry as a way to communicate their teachings to the people by sharing the truths of the Saints directly to the hearts of those who listen. “Govinda [God] says, ‘I go wherever devotees sing my praise.’” (Sant Garab Das) That quote from Garab Das very much reminds me of a passage from the Hebrew Book of Psalms: “God inhabits the praises of His people.”
This is a translation of a hymn (shabd) by the 19th century Mystic Param Sant Tulsi Sahib of Hathras titled, “Shabd surat jin ki mili.”
“Whose soul is attached to the Word,
revels ever in cosmic flight;
Revels ever in cosmic flight,
and realizing the Lord,
plays with Him.
The mystery of the Inaccessible
and the secret of the scriptures he unravels:
He reaches his Home within and its Essence
he comes to know;
In the lotus feet of the Beloved
he sees his true destination.
The happily married woman
rejoices with her Spouse every moment, O Tulsi,
For her soul is attached to the Word,
and revels ever in cosmic flight.”
The compositions of Param Sant Tulsi Sahib are bhakti (devotional) in tone, and at the same time allude to the mystical experiences of the soul achieving cosmic flight by becoming attached to the Word — hearing the Celestial Music of the Spheres during meditation. Through the divine Word the mystery of the Inaccessible Plane (called by some Mystics "Agam Lok") is made accessible. Sant Tulsi described his experience of the Beloved Lord as a marriage consummated in mystical union. This merger of lover and Beloved is the final destination of lovers. Sant Dadu Dayal, a Master in the Kabir lineage said of this oneness:
“The lover is converted into the Beloved.
That indeed is called true love.
Forgetting his own ego, he remains
absorbed in the One.”
In their hymns, the Masters and Mystics sing of the power that the Spirit of Love has to transport souls back to the original Home of all souls — the Ocean of Love and Compassion. By approaching spiritual practice with love, we will be elevated in spirit to places beyond our wildest dreams! And for those who are skeptical of their own ability to experience the Way of the Saints, Swami Ji Maharaj said in one of his hymns:
“It does not matter if your bhakti is imperfect.
Perform bhakti! Radhasoami [the Lord of the Soul]
graciously declares that you should perform bhakti
in whichever way you can. Fear not. He will grant
you the Treasure of Love. You will be a recipient
of the Gift of Love.”
(Sar Bachan Poetry, Vol. II, Agra, India)
The Ideal Vision For Living A Spiritual Life On Earth
I’ll leave you with a poem by the 16th century Mystic Sant Dadu Dayal of Rajasthan who outlined his vision of the spiritual life to be pursued during our time here on planet Earth:
“Recognize the Path to your Beloved, O travelers
and take the route of the anguished lover in separation.
Keep the Master’s grace in your thoughts,
and reflect on his pure teachings.
Develop love and devotion with endearment,
and keep the thought of the Creator always before you.
Try to merge yourself into God like water in water.
Fix your mind within by following the Path of the Sound Current.
A yearning will arise; make then an intense and anguished call.
Recognise the Path to Your Beloved-Come Sail Away-Mystic Love Poems
Sound in the Sky
Recognise the Path to Your Beloved
A quote from the 16th century Indian Master Dadu, who outlined the Sant Mat vision of the spiritual life to be pursued during our time here on planet Earth:
Recognize the Path to your Beloved, O travelers and take the route of the anguished lover in separation. Keep the Master's grace in your thoughts, and reflect upon his pure teachings. Develop love and devotion with endearment, and keep the thought of the Creator always before you. Try to merge yourself into God like water and water. Fix your mind within by following the Path of the Sound Current. A yearning will arise; make then an intense and anguished call. Repeat the Name of your Beloved, day and night, again and again. With care in thought, word and deed, you will cross to the other shore. (Sant Dadu Sahib)
The Drop Becomes the Ocean
Come Sail Away! Hymn of Tulsi Sahib, Saint of Hathras
Whose soul is attached to the Word, revels ever in cosmic flight Whose soul is attached to the Word, revels ever in cosmic flight; Revels ever in cosmic flight, and realizing the Lord, plays with Him. The mystery of the Inaccessible and the secret of the scriptures he unravels: He reaches his Home within and its Essence he comes to know; In the lotus feet of the Beloved he sees his true destination. The happily married woman rejoices with her Spouse every moment, O Tulsi, For her soul is attached to the Word, and revels ever in cosmic flight. (Sant Tulsi Sahib)
Param Sant Tulsi Sahib, Saint of Hathras, India
Dadu's Classic Sant Mat Gospel
So priceless is the birth, O brother, That in it, the Supreme Lord can be met. The human body is the Door to salvation. The One who has made this temple of our hearts, He alone dwells in this temple. None else but our Beloved is in our hearts. With thee is thy Friend. Let thyself recognize Him. Look not at a distance. Know Him as thy reflection, O Dadu. God is within all beings. He accompanies all and is close by. Musk is in the musk deer, and yet it goes around smelling grass. The self knows not God, although God is with the self. Being deaf to the Holy Sound of the Master, sadly does he wander. He for whom thou searchest in the world dwells within thyself. Thou knowest Him not, because the veil of 'mine' and 'thine' is there. He dwells within all beings, yet rarely anyone knows Him. He alone who is a devotee of God will know Him. By rendering service within the heart, See thou the One who is indestructible and boundless, Having no limit either on this end or on that end, sayeth Dadu. After entering within, let one, O Dadu, bolt the doors of the house. Let one, O Dadu, serve the Lord at the Door of Eternity. God is within the self, His worship alone is to be done. Search thou for the Beloved close to the place Wherefrom the Sound emerges, and thou shalt find Him, sayeth Dadu. There is solitude there, and there is luster of Light. One who, turning the attention inward, Brings it within the self, And fixes it on the Radiant Form of the Master, Is indeed wise, O Dadu. Where the self is, there is God; all is filled with Him. Fix thine attention within, O valiant servant. So does Dadu proclaim. Fix thine attention within, and sing always within the self. This mind then dances with ecstasy, and beats with pleasure the rhythm. God is within the self; He is close to the worshipper. But leaving Him aside, men serve external constructions, lameteth Dadu. This is the true mosque, this is the true temple. So hath the Master shown. The service and worship are performed within. (Sant Dadu Sahib)
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