Role of Bhakti in Sadhana

The spiritual journey is a song

The whole journey is a song. Words can only convey things up to a certain point. They are prose, not poetry. Poetry is that which is between the words. Words can be defined but even in Vedanta, the attempt is to use your intellect to find out the limitations of the intellect.

The most intelligent person which need not mean most learned, learned can be different from intelligent because there are many people who have learnt a lot, they’re like what the Mundaka Upanishad mentions, pandits who have learnt thinking that they have understood and beginning to guide people. In the words of the Mundaka Upanishad, which of course came many thousand years or hundreds of years before Shakespeare, many people think this quotation is from Shakespeare, ‘The blind leading the blind’, the rishis said such people who have only knowledge, who have acquired knowledge, not what has come from inside, when they begin to guide, it’s like andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ: The blind leading the blind. So, we all go round and round in a circle and fall into a pit. Why? Because the core is not touched and the words cannot touch the core, the descriptions cannot be the reality.

Tower of Babel – the birth of language and words

There is an ancient story in the Old Testament of the Bible, of a king called Nimrod, who wanted to build a tower which was so high that he could go to the top of the terrace and shoot an arrow which would hit God’s footstool. You can imagine the ambition of a person, the hunger for power which makes him think that he can build a tower, go there, shoot an arrow at the footstool of the Lord himself. The tower was built and he walked up to the terrace, took his bow and arrow and fired. Thousands of people must have been there to build the tower. When he shot the arrow, suddenly something happened. All the workers who had come from all parts of the world started talking in a different language, which means till then there was only the language of the mind. Then came the words, they started talking. No one could not understand what the other guy was saying. So, there was a big commotion and a fight and the whole tower collapsed. Words…


And devotion, bhakti is in the heart.

Words cannot describe the Supreme Being, but we like to show our devotion, so we describe to the best of our capacity.

Music is an intrinsic part of bhava and bhakti, and it goes beyond all words. If you listen to Beethoven’s music, there’s something going on inside. That is why from ancient times the great sages, the great teachers introduce music.

The great Kabir said,

Jo ghat prem na sanchaare, jo ghat jaan masaan,
jaise khaal luhaar ki, saans let binu praan

A heart which has no love, no affection, no devotion, no bhav is equal to a smashaan: cremation ground, there is nothing there, it’s all burnt, finished, nothing is left. There is no life out there. He gives an example of saying that it’s like jaise khaal luhaar ki:  the bellows of a blacksmith also breathe because they also go up and down like our lungs but there is no pran, there is no life: saans let binu praan.

Can devotion be taught?

I sometimes wonder if it can even be taught. We can teach all the ways leading to it. Yes, but what it is, it can’t be taught. One day, suddenly the seed sprouts, we don’t know how. There is no single way it comes. However, if someone has experienced the bhakti, bhava in oneself, such a person may be called a siddha, who has attained the siddhi of the mantra which can be any simple mantra, it can be Narayana, Narayana, Hari, Hari, it could be the songs of Rumi in the ‘Masnavi’ or the beautiful Gregorian chants that you hear in the Russian orthodox church, but whoever has touched that. Suddenly something sprouts because it takes time and then the heart opens. There is no explanation for it. We believe that perhaps it comes through the grace of the Supreme only. Also, through the grace of the Teacher.

Inside the mind of the human being is divinity and that treasure when anybody seeks, then he or she becomes a bhakta and therefore to say that I’m going to find the Truth without any bhava or bhakti is absolute nonsense, it cannot be done. You can learn all the Upanishads, you can practise yoga, you can well—my Parampara also happens to be Kriya yoga—you can sit and breathe up and down but if the heart has not melted, nothing can happen.

So, music becomes the bridge from the known to that which is unknown. That which is unknown, who can define the Supreme! The Upanishad itself which is considered to be highest of Gyana Yoga says –

Yan manas ana manute: which even the mind cannot think of or conceive,
yenahur mano matam: because of which the mind has its capacity to be aware,
tedeva brahma tvam viddi: that alone is the Supreme Being,
nedam yadidamupsate: nothing that you worship here, which means we worship the manifestations of divinity.

The true divinity can be known only when the mind becomes pure and divine by itself, then it has realised that it can’t be described logically; it can’t be put in words.

Yad vaacha na abhyutitam: Words cannot describe it.

What do we do? Give up! We try hard then we say, “Okay.” That’s called surrender.

The most interesting thing is, if someone who we consider to be the spiritual teacher, has touched it then the presence of that teacher can make the seed grow inside us. Suppose there’s a big magnet, you take an iron piece near it. The closer it goes to the magnet, the more magnetic it becomes. The cleaner it is, the more magnetic it becomes because usually iron has rust on it.

So, sadhana, our devotion, bhakti, bhava is the clearing of all the rust that is on the iron piece. When the rust goes the iron then behaves exactly like a magnet. This is the importance of a teacher, a Guru, a real Saint, a real teacher. When there are real teachers, it happens. The seed is sown and then you hear the music of the bansuri, as Krishna plays it in Brindavan. Then you are not conscious of where you are, what you are. Gopis forgot if they were properly dressed, they just ran towards him!

Analogy of Krishna blowing the flute, which is the mind

Can we persuade Krishna to blow the flute for us? We can!  He’s eager to do it but our flutes are stuffed with so much unnecessary rubbish and muck that even if he blows no music is going to come out.

The most important part of a flute is the hollowness, the bamboo and the seven holes. We also have the seven holes (chakras) in us, but they are usually filled with a lot of muck collected over past births, this birth, anger, conflict, confusion, hatred. When these things are cleaned out then he can blow it, music will come through.

One great teacher said, “Even that is your job, please do it for me, I know I am full of muck” But you have to realise that there is muck, that realisation is humility, that I can do nothing there and then that begins to work and clears you and then you hear the beautiful music, and you are carried away.

So, this is my understanding of what bhakti towards the Supreme Reality.

Since we cannot define the Supreme Reality, whatever words we use can be turned into devotion. Then the seed is sown, the seed sprouts, you have a beautiful tree coming up, it flowers, the garland of skulls is removed and substituted with the white garland of jasmine flowers and then you see the mother in a beautiful form with lovely white flowers on her neck, smiling and then you realise that who you searched for outside has always been sitting inside and never outside but we like to start with outside and then go in and find that which we look for outside is also inside.

Wandering Yogi in Jerusalem

This is why another wandering yogi who lived in Jerusalem 1000 years ago said – Lay treasures in your heart where thieves do not break in and steal. This treasure is the treasure of devotion, of love, of bhakti, no one can steal it from you, it’s in your heart.

Even in a bank there can be a bank robbery, but no robber can get in here (heart). Yes! But one robber can get in there – the one who has devotion can quietly go in and steal it from you. That’s a beautiful stealing. Krishna stole butter, that’s a sweet stealing.

Essence of Devotion

Devotion is a deep bhava feeling that wells up in the heart when one finds one’s limitations and is looking for divinity which is without definitions! Without limitations! It comes in a pure heart which has no hatred, only love. It is speeded up sometimes, even sprouted when one is in the presence of someone in whom this has happened before and there is no particular technique to get it because it is a natural thing which is in every one of us. The mother loves the child, the husband loves the wife, the lovers love each other, it’s all there, when it is directed towards the divine then it becomes bhakti.

That’s why in the bhakti tradition there are several layers of bhakti. Starting with ordinary bhakti, going to the temple; ‘God I need a promotion, please help me’. That’s also bhakti because human beings need things.

The next step is when you want only God. That is the highest form of bhakti where I say, “I want nothing but the feeling, realisation and the presence of the divine, I have no other desire.” When this happens a person is mature and can be called a sadhak and when the seed sprouts and he sees divinity, then you call him a siddha: one who has achieved. Siddha is not one who learns how to walk on water or fly in the air. A real siddha is one whose mind has become mature, whose mind has bhava and devotion, who is one-pointedly fixed on the eternal Supreme Being. That is the siddha, and it is the presence of such great beings that has sustained this world till today and sustained the spiritual search till today.

Therefore, my prayer is – ‘May the supreme being bring about this change, bring about bhakti, bhava, the yearning towards finding the Truth which is Supreme Bliss and Supreme Love in all of us. Those who are here today, those who are not here today.’

Like the ancient Vedic saying –

Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

May the whole world be happy because the real sukha is in the divine.

-Sri M

About The Satsang Foundation

The Satsang Foundation, founded by Sri M, is a meeting point for spiritual seekers of all persuasions. The Satsang Foundation also extends a helping hand to the less privileged of society.