by James Bean
Copyright July 2004
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 (mantra, a spiritual exercise of repeating God’s Name or Names), 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 all souls in creation.
“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)
“When you meet the Satguru, he will awaken your heart; he will tell you the secret of love and detachment.” (Songs of Kabir, Rabindranath Tagore, Samuel Weiser Books)
The great 19th century Master Shiv Dayal Singh (Swami Ji Maharaj) described the highest heaven as an infinite Reservoir of Love and the way to reach there is also by love:
Such is the peculiar efficacy of the Path of Love and Devotion that if you adopt it, it will transport you to the Reservoir of Ambrosia. In the Source or Fountain, i.e., in Radhaswami Dham [the Eighth Heaven], there is absolutely no trace of maya [illusion]. There it is all love and love alone. It is an immense Reservoir of Love, having no beginning and no end. (Sar Bachan Poetry, Volume One, Agra)
Bhakti is the Path 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 Sants (Saints) are madly in love with the Supreme Being, the Ocean of Love. Their relationship with the Supreme Being is that of divine romance. The 16th century mystic Mira Bai said in one of her compositions:
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.
Transforming Life into a Prayer: The Remembrance of the Name
Repeating a Name (or Names) of Raam (God) with love and devotion, called in the east “Simran” 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, is a mental repetition of a Name of God done during meditation, AS WELL AS this practice is done during available moments throughout the day and night as a way to remember God all the time. Says Tukaram:
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
This spiritual exercise of repeating God’s Name and remembering God (Simran) helps to…
- uplift our day,
- to bring some of the heaven and bliss
- of meditation into the world around us,
- is a way to remember in a world of forgetfulness,
- to remain awake in a world of spiritual slumber,
- to abide in Truth,
- to no longer be dominated by illusion,
- to be who we really are wherever we go, within, and without.
IIIAAAOOO, Yeshua Be Merciful, Ahura, Allah-HOO,
Govinda, Vitthala, Hari, Raam, Sat Naam, Radhaswami.
Of this practice of repeating God’s Name(s) Master Darshan Singh once wrote in a verse of Urdu poetry:
He bears a thousand Names, call on Him by any;
summon Him to the assembly of your thoughts and
adore Him. Suffuse your life-blood with His Name,
and fix Him in your soul. You surely will meet
Him, just let your soul soar, He is close to you,
just call for Him.
Teaching Through the Right Side of the Brain: The Music and Poetry of the Mystics
Most of the great Saints, Sufis and Mystics of history have also been poets or composers of hymns, psalms, odes, banis, bhajans – mystic songs of love and devotion.
India’s Saints of Love for thousands of years now have composed their own devotional hymns and poems. India’s Mystics have left behind an immense treasure of devotional literature, the banis and bhajans of the Saints. If Westerners aren’t able to sing these psalms 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 Rai Saligram (his Master) “to be chanted in the morning, before meals, and before going to bed at night.” To be sure, it is indeed extremely helpful to read a couple of hymns or poems of the mystics each day.
Traditionally in India the Saints and mystics have also used hymns and mystical poetry as a way to COMMUNICATE THEIR TEACHINGS to the people – revealing the truths of the Saints directly to the hearts of those who listen. “Govinda [God] says, ‘I go wherever devotees sing my praise.'” (Garab Das) That quote from Sant 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 Tulsi Sahib 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 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 mystics “Agam Lok”) is made accessible. Shri 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. Dadu, a Master in the Guru 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 spiritual hymns of love and devotion (prem and bhakti) mystic-devotees 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 (Anurag Sagar). 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 Radhasoami Poetry, Vol. II, Agra, India)
Here’s a poem by the 16th century mystic Dadu who outlined his vision of the spiritual life to be pursued during our time on 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. 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 Dayal, Encyclopaedia of Saints Series, Bakshi
and Mittra, Criterion Publications, New Delhi India)