By Kimaya Singh
What is Bhakti Yoga and what is the practice of Atma-Nivedana? Bhakti Yoga is a complete system of spiritual practices that harnesses the power of divine love and longing in order to help the Bhakta achieve oneness with the inner resplendent Divine energy. In classical texts, Bhakti Yoga has nine main practices ranging from meditation on the divine form of the beloved to chanting sacred chants. All of the Bhakti Yoga practices are intended to awaken and nourish the Kundalini Shakti energy as she makes her way up through the chakras until she pierces the Crown Chakra.
Atma-Nivedana or Self-Surrender to the Guru principal is considered to be the highest practice of Bhakti Yoga by Valmiki as he explains in his version of the great epic Indian tale, the Ramayana. Valmiki extols the virtue and expediency of surrendering oneself to the divine with complete faith in the wisdom and strength of God’s Grace as manifest as the Guru, teacher or divine beloved. In fact, Valmiki states that Atma-Nivedana is the highest stage and practice of Bhakti Yoga.
There are clearly different opinions and beliefs about Atma-Nivedana, which is considered the most powerful and effective Bhakti Yoga practice. In our Western culture, surrendering oneself to a Guru or spiritual teacher has resulted in both beneficial and deadly consequences for seekers over the last fifty years. Just as a student is tested by his or her teacher, a teacher must also be tested by his or her students. Using the power and wisdom of discrimination in choosing, following and surrendering to a Guru or spiritual teacher is imperative in today’s modern world.
What are the benefits of Atma-Nivedana? A true spiritual path will benefit the devotees more than the Guru. Also, the effect of the Guru on your body and mind should be elucidating, freeing and uplifting. If you find that your heart is sad, you are more constricted emotionally or something just doesn’t seem right, you may want to consider the degree to which you surrender to the particular teacher with whom you are spending time. Ultimately, your Guru’s guidance and teachings should bring you closer to God realization.
When you find a spiritual path and teacher that resonates deeply within you, and you experience beneficial fruits from following the Guru’s teachings and spiritual practices, you may want to consider engaging in the Bhakti Yoga practice of Atma-Nivedana. This practice can be internal and/or external. Internally, the messages and guidance that you receive from your teacher should be weighed, and if appropriate, heeded. Offering seva or selfless service is a great way to simultaneously focus on surrendering externally to the task at hand, while internally taking a surrendered stance in relationship to the lessons that you are learning while performing your seva.
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