In the last two posts I began hinting at my understanding of the nature of bhakti as a path to the divine and some of why it’ll likely never be my main source of connection. The goal of this post is to further detail why, for me, bhakti can never be more than supplemental in its nature. As with the two posts in this series, please allow me to re-iterate that my attempt is neither to bash any one method of aspiring toward the Divine nor anyone using the method of bhakti. Beyond that, I’ll try to stay as focused as possible and make quick work of this.
A few weeks ago, shortly after posting the Rig Veda quote on Facebook (which I mentioned in prior posts and will revisit below), I began polling people of different backgrounds on their definition of the word devotion (bhakti). Without exception, even if round-about-ly, all indicated that devotion is commitment, plus emotion or intensity. Usually, in my questioning, the deeper I prodded the more similar the various answers became. All, independently, agreed that devotion is more than mere commitment. I found this encouraging, actually, as it made my research easier and simpler to sort. In my poll, I asked white Hindus, ethnic Hindus, Athiests, Agnostics and Christians.
Below are some points that, for me, indicate that devotion can’t be my main path back to Godhead/Source/Brahman.
1) The Rig Veda states, “Give prominence to intellect over emotion.” I feel like this is pretty cut and dry. We inherit the Vedas, eternal Truth on The Eternal Reality, from the rishis. Those guys knew more than a little about the nature of the Supreme Reality. They also understood the human existence and all that comes with it. Humans are emotional creatures. Animals possess mostly instinct, with varying degrees of emotional capacity. Humans go one better: our instincts have atrophied some in favor of greater emotional capacity and an intellectual capacity that is greater still than that of our emotions. Emotions are not meant to be neglected, but they are meant to be controlled. It’s precisely when a person acts based on emotion that additional karma is generated. Only through well-reasoned (and thereby balanced) action can a human hope to progressively develop vairagya (detachment, renunciation) and hold hope of attaining moksha when, at last, all karmas are exhausted.
2) “In most cases the disciple becomes too attached to the Guru’s external form and forgets the Guru’s all-pervasive nature. Attachment to the Guru’s form with a firm awareness of his omniscience and all-pervasive nature is the perfect attitude. If there is attachment without proper awareness of the Guru’s infinite nature, the disciple can fall an easy victim to all kinds of negative tendencies. Devotion to the Guru backed with the understanding of his higher nature is real devotion.” This is a quote from one of the objects of my own devotion, Mata Amritanandamayi Ma. I understand this to mean that bhakti isn’t meant to be self-standing. She details, briefly, an instance of bhakti gone awry and some of the potential results. She concludes that bhakti is only real when upheld by a strongly developed jnana (proper awareness and understanding of the higher nature).
3) Although the Bhagavad Gita is often cited as a scripture that promotes bhakti as a supreme means for reaching God, I find throughout the work that jnana is invaluable to the aspirant regardless of bhakti. After all, in the overall dialogue of the text the context is that Arjuna is mentally and emotionally shaken – to the point of utter despondency. Krishna never once said, “Let’s chant the Hare Krishna Mahamantra and dance ecstatically. Then you’ll see and experience Truth. That’s how we’ll fix your insecurity and impart Self-Realization.” He did, however, consistently refer to jnanic means of realization and living life. Even when speaking of devotion and its different aspects, God often speaks in terms of that devotion being governed by qualities of jnana.
4) In the book, “Shuddha Bhakti,” by Swami B.V. Tirtha Maharaja, one finds an admission that is not only typical and true of organized bhakti, but that I find very discouraging. Swami states that bhakti is entirely about relationship. And by definition, it truly is. In his own words, Swami goes on to explain that bhakti is about the worshipful relationship between the effect and its Cause and concludes (literally) that an effect and its Cause can never be the same, implying that duality is inherent in bhakti. My abstract understanding of this (trying not to take his words too literally) is that true moksha isn’t possible through bhakti alone. Bhakti can enable someone along their way in karma yoga, raja yoga, jnana yoga – or any other yoga. However, by definition of the word itself, you can’t express or experience bhakti and union together. The closest approximation to that would be Self-Realization, at which point bhakti would become mute. Bhakti can be a wonderful and efficient means of expressing one’s experience of union, but it would seem that so long as bhakti is the focus of one’s path to the divine, unless bhakti is transcended by Self-Realization, it will essentially remain self-defeating – like continuously reaching for salvation while maintaining that you and God are distinctly separate. As long as little old me keeps adoring magnificent God “in Heaven,” we’ll remain separate precisely because of the nature of my focus (bhakti).
5) Following #4, two quotes from the revered sage Swami Vivekananda seem very instructive. The first quote is, “Everyone is but a manifestation of the Impersonal, the basis of all being, and misery consists in thinking of ourselves as different from this Infinite Impersonal Being; and liberation consists in knowing our unity with this wonderful Impersonality.” (My personal interpretation of his words after the last semi colon is the real definition of Jnana Yoga: not simply the knowing OF our unity, but knowing that unity in an experiential way. Self-Realization is the culmination of Jnana Yoga) The second quote is, “What is the object of Jnana Yoga? Freedom. Freedom from what? Freedom from our imperfections, freedom from the suffering of life. Why are we unhappy? We are unhappy because we are enslaved. And what are we enslaved by? The enslavement of nature. Who enslaves us? We do, ourselves.” As harsh as it might sound, if bhakti is dependent upon a relationship of duality (worshipper/Worshipped), I find it to be terribly enslaving, not unlike the doctrines of the Abrahamic Faiths. In my own, admittedly limited, understanding of bhakti, I couldn’t in good conscience allow that to become my own whole path. I don’t want to celebrate (through worship) my (falsely-identified) separation from Source, thereby perpetuating that very separation.
I feel like I could probably go on and on about the different reasons why bhakti isn’t a fit for me, but I’m not sure that would be productive. For one, in the instance of continuing, I’d probably want to dedicate a fourth or fifth post to the topic, and I’m not sure my own attention span could suffer that, let alone that of you dear readers. Further, if I haven’t already pissed some people off or offended, surely to continue would result in suchery – something I have no desire for.
My single hope intended for this post and the two before it is two-fold. First I hope that you understand me a little better. I won’t hope for more than that, but a little would be something. Secondly, I hope you understand yourself much more than a little better. What matters is not why Dhrishti does or doesn’t follow one path or another. What matters is that you not only follow your path fully, but that you know exactly why your path is yours – indeed, following one’s swadharma without such knowledge is entirely impossible.
Post Script: It’s possible that in the near(ish) future I might have interest in showing you the other side of the Dhrishti coin. Often it’s easier to say what you’re not than what you are, but I think I’d like to try and I hope you’ll still be reading by then.