All religious traditions sing, pray or chant which is essentially a way of consciously engaging in a personal relationship with God. Singing, praying and chanting are all aspects of devotional practice; they are simply expressed in different ways. These expressions range from being alone in quiet contemplative reverence to being in large and wildly ecstatic groups. Bhakti is the nectar of devotion that pours into and out of the devotee when engaging this Yoga. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the modern day father of Ashtanga Yoga says, 99% practice, 1% theory. Likewise with this devotional approach, Bhakti is only experienced when the practitioner is absorbed in the practice.
9. Atma Nivedanam – Full Self Surrender to God
1. Sravanam – Listening to Spiritual Topics
Hearing the transcendental descriptions of the Lord’s names, forms, qualities, pastimes, and associates from the mouths of advanced devotees.
2. Kirtanam – Singing the Holy Names
Singing (and dancing) alone and with others. Kirtan is the primary practice prescribed for this challenging age we currently live in known as Kali Yuga (the age of quarrel and hypocrisy). Singing and chanting the Holy Names in the beautiful form of mahamantra is the yuga-dharma (practice for this age) is both the means to reach and the final destination of the spiritual journey. In this age Radha and Krishna are manifest as Their Holy Names within Mahamantra:
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare HareKirtan brings about the sublimation of humanities sensual nature that passionately self enjoys music and dance. Bhakti yoga practitioners aim to move away from self enjoyment, and instead aspire to live exclusively for Sri Sri Radha Krishna’s enjoyment. Kirtan when correctly performed is a spontaneous expression of loving affection for the Divine, and is offered with this sentiment for the sole enjoyment of Those whose Names are sung. When we renounce our own selfish pursuits and instead offer our life breath in the service of the Divine, then the quality of happiness experienced renders any temporary happiness derived by sense gratification insignificant.3. Smaranam – Remembering
Remembrance of the Lords Names, Qualities, Form and Pastimes at all times.
Benefits ourselves and others because they also hear the Holy Names.
Whispered slightly moving the lips, only audible to self.
Manasika Japa – (within the mind)
Most beneficial, akin to deep meditation.In the initial stages of developing bhakti, sankirtan (loud singing and chanting) is the best method of all as the mind is restless and it will not remain steady. In almost every situation the mind is not peaceful; it remains restless. Therefore there is only one plan:
jatanurago druta-citta uccaih
‘With a melted heart, loudly sing about the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of Bhagavan.’ When one sincerely chants his favourite name of Bhagavan, then from the tongue that name will enter the mind and then the heart, thereby quieting all of the senses.’
4. Archanam – Worshipping
This includes both external and internal worship. Most often archana is performed using external paraphernalia whilst worshiping the deity form of the Lord. Manasa puja, which is internal visualization and worship is considered more advanced and is generally practiced when the devotee is more developed and the mind has been brought under control.During worship one concentrates ones mind on the Name, form, attributes, and glorious pastimes of the Lord. One also makes different offerings such as food and drink which is later honoured as prasadam (blessed by the touch of the Lord). Offerings need not be elaborate, but we are advised to make offerings sincerely and with love. The Lord only relishes offerings made in this spirit and reciprocates accordingly. Serving the poor and paying obeisance’s to saints is also considered archana.
5. Pada Sevanam – Serving the Lotus FeetWe serve the Lord’s Feet through both deity worship, and recognising the Lord in one and all, and serving God in everyone. Everyone is part and parcel of the Lord and can be served as such. This practice helps to develop humility. Taking shelter of the Lord’s lotus feet, the seva of which is the ultimate refuge and destination for the soul. Wearing tilak is also an aspect of Pada Sevanam. One significance of wearing tilak upon the forehead is that, the sacred dust at the lotus feet of Sri Sri Radha Krsna, being mixed with tears of love whilst prostrating, leaves an indelible transcendental impression in the mind, and tilak is symbolically applied to our foreheads of other body parts to remind us of that.
6. Vandanam – Prostrating
Prayer and Prostration to the Lord. One should offer pranams (prostrations) to all beings, considering all to be as they are in their rightful constitution, partial manifestations of the Lord. In order to develop humility, all are considered to be so except oneself. In Sri Siksastakam, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has simply stated “trnad api sunicena” which means that we should cultivate a humble state of mind by considering ourselves to be lower than a blade of grass, if we want to unceasingly remember the Lord. Unless we are humble our focus is usually on ourselves, so being so it becomes impossible to focus on the Lord. As we habitually gravitate toward self-absorption, we naturally lose sight of the Lord. Prostration is a completely surrendered state. The devotee, in a natural state of humility naturally places his or her head at the feet of Guru, God, Goddess, or anything considered to be a manifestation of the Divine.
7. Dasyam – Being the Servant
Dasyam is love of God expressed through the sentiment of a servant. God is the Supreme Master in dasya bhakti. Serving deities, devotees, and those in need are also characteristics of dasyam bhakti. Hanuman in his relationship to Lord Ram is probably the greatest example of a dasya bhakta. Hanuman is always available to serve Lord Ram in whatever capacity required. Total self surrender is the ideal of dasya bhakti. The servant gives everything, though loses nothing of any value. Instead, due to having abandoned self interest, she/he attains the priceless jewel of intimate reciprocal relationship with God and remains in a permanent state of spiritual happiness, far transcending any quality of happiness experienced through self endeavour.
8. Sakhayam – Being the Friend
This is the devotional mood of the friend, as a close associate of the Divine. The sakha treats the Lord as a friend or family member. He or she will do anything for Him although not in the way a servant would, but as one would for a friend or family member who is sweetly loved. This one wants to be with God at all times because he or she sees God is his or her very intimate friend.
9. Atma Nivedanam – Full Self Surrender
All Is Vibration
We become what we focus upon. Everything we say, think and do carries vibration and therefore carries consequences. The human condition is always subject to the Universal law of cause and effect. What we focus on is reflected back to us and becomes the reality we perceive, and therefore what we become.
All religious traditions stress the importance of keeping ‘right company’. Surrounding ourselves, where possible, with those who reflect our highest spiritual aspirations is very important if we are sincere in our intention to make manifest these aspirations. However, whilst we think of our external relationships as the primary company we experience, the truth is our mind is the primary company we keep. When we acknowledge this we might consider whether we rate our own mind as good company. Generally speaking our minds are completely out of control and running the whole show of our life without our conscious permission.
The mind’s true purpose is to serve the Being, not the other way around. For the mind to serve the Being it has to be brought under control, at least to the point where we are able to objectively question the validity of what it comes up with, and therefore to be able to respond to it intelligently, rather than automatically, which results in following through with pre-conditioned unconscious (karma generating) reactions. If we are to find peace within ourselves we are wise to give the mind something constructive to do that supports our natural attraction to the more transcendental states of consciousness such as service, peace, bliss, love and happiness. The mind is a natural worker; it likes to be engaged, so why not give it something useful to do?
The lower mind likes to think and be busy. It likes to fantasize, reminisce, process and work stuff out. For these reasons it makes a lot of sense to use this characteristic to our advantage. Having a mantra repeating over in the mind has its distinct advantages. It creates a vibrational shift in the basic quality of consciousness experienced, and keeps us mindful of our Divine origin, and the purpose of our existence. The mind becomes purified of useless thought and becomes increasingly absorbed in the Divine. The mind becomes stiller and simpler, and life respectively becomes more peaceful and blissful.Mantra is a formula of words infused with the potency of sacred intention. They are a prayer, and usually chanted in ancient languages such as Sanskrit, Aramaic, Arabic etc. Often mantra is an invocation of a deity or divine quality. Mantra is chanted either out loud, under the breath or internally. Some people use beads or a rosary to help keep the mind focused on the mantra. (link to smaranam)
The Divine Names
It is said that the names of the Divine and the Divine itself are one and the same. To chant or sing the names (Krishna, Shiva, Allah, Buddha, Jesus, Divine Mother) means to engage the Divine Being directly and therefore to partake of the blessing force or mercy of this Being. The Golden Avatar of this age, Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu, has declared that simply by repeating the names of God with sincerity and total devotion our progression toward spiritual perfection is ensured. When the individual self becomes lost in devotion, the experience of separation and longing transforms and becomes a form of spiritual ecstasy. The agonizing ecstasy of love in separation is simply the polar aspect of the unparalleled bliss of Divine Union.
When singing mantra, the combination of the potency of the Divine Name and the sonic waves vibrating within the body creates a shift in consciousness that has a purifying healing effect on the whole being.
(the eight stages of development in devotional practise)
There is a natural process of evolution that takes place once one begins on the path of Bhakti Yoga
Shraddha – Faith.
This refers to faith in Sri Guru, the statements of the scriptures, and in God. This faith is awakened after accumulating pious devotional activities (sukrti) over many births. Such faith is aroused and fed in the association of saintly persons and is the external manifestation of the beginning stages devotional activity in the heart where the seed of the creeper of bhakti is watered and begins to germinate.
In bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu Srila Rupa Goswami specifically defines Sadhu Sangha to be association with devotees who are significantly more advanced than ourselves, who are soft-hearted, and who are established in the mood of service to Krsna for which we aspire. This is the first development of the creeper of bhakti after its initial inception in the form of sraddha. Without taking the shelter of association of those who can support our spiritual journey, due to their own direct knowledge or realization, and advanced experience of the path and its many pitfalls and cunningly disguised distractions, we simply do not have sufficient strength to discern correctly and overcome our false ego. Due to this we therefore cannot make significant spiritual progress due to personal weakness, as is our nature as tatashta jivas (influensible living entities) when facing up to the challenges on the path.
It is spoken in scripture that although we have Divine origin, we do not have Divine strength available to us. We have most of the qualities of the Divine in potential, but we do not have them in quantity, so in essence as the drop of water has the same constitution as the ocean, its strength is virtually insignificant in compare to the ocean, until it gives up its independent will and re-aligns with Divine Will, at which time it becomes invincible..
The elimination of unwanted material desires that have become resident in the heart, such a desire for prestige, wealth, power, to be attractive, special, respected, admired etc. This is the third stage in the development of bhakti, and it occurs by the influence of sadhu sanghaand bhajana kriya (deeply absorbed devotional practice), and cannot be achieved by force of our own will alone. Knowledge of this fact helps us to become humble which is the foundation of devotion.
In Srimad Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krsna reminds his devotee and friend Arjun, that He, Krsna alone is the doer, and that without Divine sanction nothing can be achieved. Nonetheless Arjun is instructed to endeavor devoting all of his actions in the service of fulfill Krsna’s supreme desire. In this way we can understand that by our endeavor toward perfection we attract the Lord’s mercy, which in turn purifies our hearts of all self-centeredness.
Nistha – Firm faith.
Steadiness in one’s devotional practices. This is the fourth stage in the development of the creeper of bhakti. It occurs after the elimination of a significant portion of ones anarthas, or those things that we carry in our hearts that keep us established in our lower natures, such as tama guna (ignorance, inertia, self indulgence) and raja guna (passion, desire, greed and competition). Nishta means that our faith and spiritual convictions are unshakable, and that no matter what is going on around us in our external situation, our internal reference point is always our relationship to Sri Krsna, God and our priority is always to serve God and to become a pleasing instrument of His Love in the world we live in.
The awakening of taste for hearing, chanting and other such devotional practices means that one has greater taste for these activities than to any type of material activities. At this stage one’s attraction to spiritual matters exceeds one’s attraction to material things. This is the fifth stage of development of the creeper of bhakti, and occurs after one has acquired steadiness in bhajana (absorption in the bliss arising from devotional practice) and life is no longer centered around our chasing our personal likes and avoiding our dislikes, or in other words being self centered, but rather our world revolves around God and what He likes, and thus we become God centered.
Asakti – Attachment.
This refers to attachment to the Lord and His eternal associates. Asakti occurs when one’s affection for bhajana leads to a direct and deep attachment for the Divine Person who is the object of that bhajana (i.e. Sri Sri Radha Krishna). This sixth stage in the development of the creeper of bhakti is awakened upon the maturing of one’s ruci for bhajana.
A deep mood of spiritual sentiment, associated with the devotee’s unique personal mood of Krsna bhakti, such as dasya, sakha, vatsalya or madhurya. The devotee enters deeply into the mood of their own unique personal relationship to the Lord, and is completely absorbed in that to the exclusion of all else.
Pure love for Sri Sri Radha Krishna that is exclusively focused, extremely concentrated and indestructible by nature.
Sri Hanuman ji
In the pastimes of Lord Rama (a manifestation of the Supreme Lord) Hanuman demonstrated dasya rasa (devotion with the sentiment of a servant) at a profound and matchless level. He served Lord Rama with his entire being and nothing had value to him unless it was associated with his beloved Lord Rama. Toward the completion of Ramayana (the epic scripture which reveals the pastimes of Lord Rama, His eternal beloved Sita Devi, His brother Lakshman and His faithful servant Hanuman), Sita Devi presented Hanuman with an invaluable pearl necklace to show Her gratitude for his courage and devotion whilst helping rescue Her from the demon Ravana. Hanuman, having received the necklace, began to inspect it. He looked at it from every angle, studying every detail. Clearly dissatisfied, Hanuman started to bite the pearls, and break them, and inspect the pieces whilst all looked on horrified, thinking what has happened to this monkey, has he gone crazy? Sita Devi asked Hanuman what was the matter, did he not like this invaluable gift? Hanuman responded that he was simply trying to find the value, and that without Lord Rama what value could it hold, so he was looking everywhere for the value, hence he broke the pearls to see if Lord Rama was present inside.
Sri Radha is the eternal beloved of Sri Krishna. She is His non-different internal potency, hladini shakti, and His external manifestation. She is the personification of Pure Love itself. She is completely spiritual, She is pure mahabhava, the highest expression of devotional sentiment, total absorption in Krishna prema, (undivided, invincible, and utterly unconditional Love for Her beloved Krishna).
Sri Radha demonstrates the perfection of love for Krishna and the ultimate example of madurya rasa (the sweetness of conjugal love). By Her sweet mercy alone can we come to know anything about this love, and for anybody serious about attaining prema bhakti taking shelter of Sri Radha’s lotus feet is essential.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu
So astonishing is Sri Radha’s love for Sri Krishna, that even He, being the object of Her love, who is the Supreme Lord Himself, could not remotely understand it. In order to do so Sri Krishna took birth in this kali yuga as the Golden Avatar, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. With the benediction of Sri Radha, Krishna Himself took birth as a devotee of the Lord, covered by the sentiments of Sri Radha’s ecstatic moods of love. In some ways it could be said the Mahaprabhu is a combination of both Radha and Krishna. Due to this unique combination of the topmost transcendental personalities, the degree of love experienced by Mahaprabhu even exceeded Sri Radha’s perfect love.
One of the glorious aspects of Mahaprabhu’s position as a devotee of the Lord, was that He was not only able to demonstrate to the masses the means to attain the goal or prayojan, but He was also able to bestow Krishna prema itself on anybody, which He did to many. So profound was His Divine benediction, that even simply seeing Him could transmit the exhalted experience of Krsna prema. Through direct transmission He was able to empower some of His close associates to write huge volumes of devotional literature clearly delineating the means to attain the goal (abhidheya) and through His relationships to these associates He lived an exemplary life as to how the perfect devotee should live.