By James Bean
Copyright March 1998
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), 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)
“When you meet the Sat Guru, he will awaken your heart; he will tell you the secret of love and detachment.” (Songs of Kabir, Rabindranath Tagore, Samuel Weiser Books) The 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 Radhasoami Poetry)
Bhakti is 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 Sants (Saints) 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 (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 good 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 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 said:
In minutes, Satsang will lead to
Jiva-Mukti [the salvation or
liberation of the soul].
The format of Satsang can include: a spiritual discourse, instruction on putting the Path into practice, a video of the Master giving a talk, readings from the writings of the Masters, the reciting or singing of banis, bhajans or kirtans (hymns of worship composed by Sants), 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.
THE POWER OF GOD’S NAME
Repeating a Name (or Names) of 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 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, 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 devotional hymns and poems. India’s Mystics have left behind an immense treasure of devotional literature, the scriptures of Sant Mat. 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 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 Saints each day. For access to a big collection of hymns of the Saints online, see: Sikhs.org. Also, the message archive area of Sant Mat Fellowship has become an online library of Sant Mat classics and literature, providing samples from the writings of many Sants, Sufis and Gnostics – the lovers of the Beloved – the Friends of God, past and present. Sant Mat Fellowship Message Archive
Traditionally in India the Saints and Masters have also used hymns and mystical poetry as a way to COMMUNICATE THEIR TEACHINGS to the people – communicating 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 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 of Bhakti and Shabda Yoga 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)
I’ll leave you with a poem by the 16th century Mystic 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 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.