The Transforming Power of
Devotion for God
(Excerpts from BHAKTI YOGA By Brother Mokshananda)
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The Art of Loving God
Spiritualizing the Feelings
Some people are a bit suspicious of this approach to God. They fear that if they become too devotional they might "go off the deep end." In the West, particularly, we have tended to be a little skeptical of feeling as a way to knowledge. In our veneration of science, we have put intellect and reason on a pedestal. We think of feeling as a subjective state of consciousness, in contrast to the objective, scientific view of things we suppose is provided by our reason and intellect.
Because of this attitude, many seekers on the spiritual path fail to take advantage of the great power of devotion, which adds life and beauty, joy and energy to the search for the Divine. They do not realize what a rich spiritual life they can have in love for God.
Feelings directed outward to the objects of the senses give rise to emotions—attraction or aversion, love or hatred, admiration or resentment. But that same powerful force, when channeled inward toward God, becomes spiritualized into devotion. Pure feeling, just as surely as discriminative wisdom, yields direct realization of Truth. Jesus referred to this when he said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Bhakti Yoga is the path of using spiritual feeling to take our consciousness toward the Divine.
The Need for a Balanced Approach
The scientific meditation techniques of Raja Yoga [the techniques of meditation taught in Self-Realization Fellowship] combined with the great energizing power of devotion constitute the easiest and most natural way to attain divine realization. Unconditional devotion by itself is capable of taking the sincere seeker all the way to God, but individuals who come into this world with that kind of purity are very rare. Some persons of emotional temperament may think they are bhaktas; they say that they already have a deep feeling for God, so why make the effort to practice meditation techniques? Often such individuals make only slow progress, at best, or remain in the nonprogressive status quo of an overly emotional or sentimental approach to religion.
For most people it is very difficult to purify human feelings into real bhakti without practice of meditation. We cannot feel love for a God we do not know. Through meditation we contact God's peace within; we begin to feel the joy of divine consciousness. If we meditate deeply, scientifically, regularly, our relationship with God changes from a mere concept or source of emotional stimulation into direct perception of a living Presence. Meditation is that lever which pries up the cover of consciousness and releases the fount of realization. To drink from that joyous fountain of truth is to know what God is; and, as Paramahansa Yogananda has said:
To know God is to love Him.
Devotion That Touches God
However, techniques by themselves may also be insufficient. Some people mistake the means for the end, forgetting that the purpose of meditation is to awaken love for God by providing direct experience of Him. Paramahansa Yogananda explained that yoga meditation techniques will take you to the doorway of the Infinite. But to convince God to open the door to divine union with Him, you have to coax Him with unconditional love.
Yoga practice will concentrate the mind and make us able to apprehend the Divine; but devotion, love, is the great magnet that draws the Infinite into our range of perception. God is the owner of everything in the universe; He has all wisdom, all power, all riches. What proud achievements of ours could possibly impress Him? What could we offer Him that He doesn't already have? Only our love. That is the one thing God does not possess unless we choose to give it. It is the sole offering that will coax Him to reveal Himself to us.
In order for a person to find God, Paramahansa Yogananda said, the heart must be pure, like gold from which encrustations of mud have been removed.
It takes effort to attain that purity of heart. If we do not feel devotion, we have to cultivate it — not only in the beginning of our search, but also whenever we go through a "dry" period during which God seems far away. If one is on the floor, he has to use his muscles to lift himself up. Bhakti Yoga offers many ways of lifting our consciousness into the spirit of devotion. I would like to discuss five of them:
practising the presence of God, and
performing our work as an offering to Him.
Most people seldom pray until they get into trouble. Then they begin begging of God: "O Lord, give me this." "O Lord, heal my husband." "O Lord, find me a new home." "O Lord, remove this pain from me." This type of prayer may be very sincere, but there is a much more effective way to receive divine assistance in fulfilling our needs.
The attitude of begging something from God limits our consciousness. When we think of God as some remote Omnipotent Being who may or may not listen to our little prayer, we create a sense of alienation, and we are not as receptive to His response. Through the practice of meditation, that consciousness of separation between the little self and the Infinite Self begins to melt away, and we discover that we are eternally linked with the Divine. That is the inspiration in the concept of Self-realization: the assurance that the soul itself can never be compromised nor damned. The soul may be covered with the darkness of ignorance, but as soon as we remove that darkness, we see that the Self is and always has been the unqualified image of God. Yoga is not a matter of acquiring anything; it is realizing what is already there.
So to make prayer truly effective, we should first meditate to reclaim our kinship with God. When we realize through divine attunement that we are His children, we will not have to beg; we can lovingly demand what we need as our inherent birthright. We should go to God in prayer with the sincerity, simplicity, and tenderness of a child approaching his parents, whom he loves and trusts implicitly. With such faith, we open ourselves fully to the abundance of God that is rightfully ours.
We should exercise discrimination in deciding what to pray for. Some people want wealth. Some want health or companionship. Others yearn for the fulfillment of this or that desire. These may be legitimate requests; but when granted, each is followed by another "need." The foremost desire and demand should be for God Himself. Having Him, we will have all other things. ["Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you"—Matthew 6:33.] The demand for God to reveal Himself to us, and the imbuing of that demand with a love the Lord cannot refuse, is thus the wise prayer of the bhakta.