By Amruta Kulkarni, CYT 500
Bhakti Yoga is a devotional path of oneness or union with the Divine. According to Kashmir Shaivite scholars, the ultimate expression of Bhakti Yoga is service to God, Guru and other individuals, both inside and outside of the community of seekers. Some of the more well-known practices of Bhakti Yoga include spending time close to an enlightened being, chanting the divine names or mantras and ritual acts of worship, such as singing an evening arati or prayer while waving lit candles in honor of a divine being. It may appear at first that the ultimate expression of Bhakti Yoga is to chant beautifully or meditate for hours on the form of one’s Guru. However, scholars of spiritual texts and spiritual teachers repeatedly tell us that the ultimate expression of Bhakti Yoga is service to God and Guru, with the highest expression of Bhakti Yoga being service to other individuals.
When a yogi or yogini begins to walk the path of Bhakti Yoga, he or she may have a deep longing for knowledge and oneness with the Divine. A seeker who is of a devotional temperament may begin his or her sadhana by meditating, reading the scriptures and spending time in prayer and contemplation. These practices may be performed while living at home, in a Buddhist monastery, an ashram or even in a Christian monastic setting.
Initially, the Bhakta may feel inspired to serve God by serving the ritual needs of the institution. Some of these ways of serving may be to place flowers on the altar, paint beautiful tankas or clean the altar clothes. These are all aspects of serving God, the Guru and the community of aspirants. This kind of service is also very uplifting because it keeps the awareness of the Divine ever present in the devotee’s consciousness.
However, spiritual teachers, scriptural texts and many living saints tell us repeatedly that the ultimate expression of this love for God is the service of others. Many spiritual paths also include service to the earth in this category. For example, an individual like Mother Teresa who serves the needs of the destitute and outcast would be considered to be emulating the highest expression of Bhakti.
Recently, a dedicated Yogic scholar and practitioner shared with a group of us that what makes him the happiest now is to serve other people, not reading the classical Indian scriptures or chanting divine names. We could all feel his love. This is the highest expression of Bhakti Yoga and is fueled by the love and compassion that is generated by traditional devotional practices.
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