"Let your mind be constantly directed towards me [your Ishvara]; be devoted to me; dedicate all your actions to me; prostrate yourself before me; over and above the claims of all Dharmas (duties) is complete surrender to me and me alone."
This is a transcription of an unscripted audio lecture which you can download for free: audio Practical Spirituality 04 The Yoga of Devotion AUDIO (48.75 MB) . There is also an accompanying PDF: pdf Practical Spirituality 04 The Yoga of Devotion PDF (3.17 MB) .
This course about Yoga is based on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which are the root scriptures of Hatha Yoga , Raja Yoga , and many other traditions. Nowadays, people are not that familiar with The Yoga Sutras, even though Yoga is a household word. People nowadays mistakenly think that Yoga is simply about stretching the body, adopting positions with the body, and mistakenly assume that those postures will somehow make them spiritual. Of course, anyone who studies The Yoga Sutras knows that belief is mistaken. We are giving this course in order to help people understand what real Yoga is, in order to dispel misconceptions and mistaken beliefs, so that people don’t waste their time.
- Karma Yoga : which is related to action
- Jnana Yoga : which is related with the intellect, mind, knowledge
- Bhakti Yoga : which is related with devotion of heart and prayer
- Raja Yoga , Royal Yoga : which is the path of transformation, of Meditation
Strictly speaking, these four ways of looking at Yoga are all the same thing; they cannot be separated from each other. But because of our idiosyncrasies, the complexities that we find ourselves within, we sometimes need to focus on one aspect or another in order to strengthen where we are weakest, until we get those part of ourselves – the mind, the body and the heart – in equilibrium, balance, so that we can then really work with Raja Yoga (the Royal Path). So, in the previous lectures we explained those principles and we discussed how those three parts of Yoga correspond to our three brains: the intellect, the heart, and the body. We have not yet dwelled deeply on the heart, so today we will. We are going to talk about the Yoga of Devotion.
When we use this word Yoga , let us not assume that we are only talking about something that is Hindu or Indian in nature, because it is not. The world Yoga simply means “to unite.” When we study Yoga , we are really studying mysticism or religion. We are studying the union of our Consciousness with something that is fundamentally real, and this is the most striking difference between the misconceptions that people have about Yoga and the reality of Yoga . The misconception of Yoga is that that by stretching your body, or doing some type of postures, that you will somehow some to know God. The mistake is precisely that one cannot know God by adopting a posture. One knows God only through conscious perception. To see that, one has to know how. Changing your physical posture has nothing to do with perception.
One has to know how to perceive accurately, consciously: To see the reality of God – to realize it, to perceive it, not to believe in it, not to have a theory, but to actually experience that — is what Yoga is for. Yoga is that experience: the union of that individual Consciousness (that is perceiving) with its Reality. That is the union that we seek.
This image illustrates a scene from The Mahabharata, and it represents a symbolic form of how that union is explained in the story of Mahabharata, how divinity is revealed to the devotee. The word devotee is used a lot in Hinduism; it means “one who is devoted,” it does not mean one who believes, but someone who has their heart filled with fire. So, this is what we have to understand about Yoga : it is the union of the one who is the state of devotion with the Beloved (and, in this case, we are talking about God). The one that is receiving that devotion is, of course, what we call God, what we call the Being. In Hinduism, the main word used for this is Ishvara.
Ishvara: The Being
This word Ishvara has tremendous significance, but unfortunately it is often misinterpreted (especially in the West). Ishvara literally means “to be capable,” to have capability. It also means:
supreme Consciousness, God, the God of love, Master, king, queen, lord, husband.
Perhaps the most interesting meaning is “creative source.” Ishvara is the source of creation.
The union that the devotee longs for is the union of the Consciousness with Ishvara. That Ishvara is not outside of anything, it is inside of everything. So, when a spiritual person is longing to really experience true and genuine spirituality, they are mistaken when they seek outside of themselves for that, when they look for masters, when they look for schools or temples, when they go to other countries, when they look for someone to follow, or someone to believe in, someone to save them. They are mistaken, because the one who saves is inside of every living thing, not outside.
The true devotee worships Ishvara, which is within themselves. They may use an external form, an external symbol – like a cross, or a statue, or a painting – but the true devotee who really understands religion or Yoga knows that external form is a symbol of the reality inside go them, just as it is in all things.
When we study religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, or Judaism, we see all of the believers and followers who worship Jehovah, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha — all of the different gods. The one who really understands Yoga knows that all of those worshipers are worshiping the same force, Ishvara, it is just that the worshipers do not realize it, because they have not experienced it yet.
“The Veda exclaims from time immemorial: “Ekam sat viprah bahudha vadanti—Existence is one, Sages call it by different names.” (Rig Veda 1, 164-46). God, Brahman, Allah, Ishvara, Jehova, Ahurmazda, etc., are one. I offer my worship to that supreme Being—One Eternal homogeneous essence, indivisible mass of Bliss and Intelligence—whom sages describe in a variety of ways through diversity of intellect.”
"Just as air is formless and at the same time takes the form as of a cyclone, so also the formless Brahman can assume a form. [...] Ishvara or the Lord, though unmanifest Himself, caused this universe to be gradually manifested. [...] The common name of God is Brahman, Paramatman, Bhagavan or Ishvara. [...] Ishvara Himself assumes the forms of Brahma, Vishnu and Rudra through Sattva, Rajas and Tamas and becomes the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe. [...] Anthropomorphic conception of God is that in which man gives human attributes to God. Mohammedan conception of God is anthropomorphic. The impersonal aspect (Nirakara, Nirguna) is called Brahman, or ‘unknowable’ by Herbert Spencer, ‘will’ by Schopenhauer, Absolute Noumenon by some ‘substance’ by Spinoza. The personal aspect (Sakara) of that Being is termed ‘Ishvara’ or Allah, Hari, Jehova, Father in Heaven, Buddha, Siva, etc. Just as vapour or steam is formless, so also God is formless in His unmanifested or transcendental state. He takes a form to please His devotees. He assumes a form for the pious worship of His Bhaktas. He gives Darshan to His devotees in the form in which they meditate. For a devotee who has Prema Nishtha, a form is necessary. When he develops Para Bhakti, the form will vanish away and he will become one with the all-pervading pure Consciousness. Lord Krishna is the Prema aspect of Ishvara or the Lord. Lord Siva is the wisdom aspect of Ishvara. Devi is the Sakti aspect of Ishvara. Virat is the manifested aspect of Ishvara. Hiranyagarbha is the immanent aspect of Ishvara. Hanuman is the Rudra aspect of Lord Siva. Dattatreya is the combined aspect of (Trinity) of Ishvara. Brahma is the creative aspect of Isvara. Vishnu is the preservative aspect of Ishvara. Siva is the destructive aspect of Ishvara. Meditate on any aspect you like, attain union with the Lord and cross this ocean of Samsara." - Swami Sivananda, Self-knowledge
Ishvara is inside of all things. When we study the Tree of Life, when we study Kabbalah, this is illustrated on that map. So, on Tree of Life we see that all manifested things emerge from the Unmanifested. At the very top of the Tree of Life is symbolized the Absolute, the Abstract Space. If we try to imagine that, it is the very space where all things are, not only ourselves, but everything outside of us, all of the people, all of the plants and animals, the whole of the planet, the whole of all the planets, the whole of the galaxy. The whole of every living, breathing, existing thing is suspended in a given entity or non-entity, a space, a fabric – that is the Absolute, yet it is not physical. Rather, it is the potential for things to be.
When that Unmanifested produces a form, it is still the same Unmanifested, but adopting a given appearance. To our perception, we see things, people, places, and we assume that our perception reflects the reality of those things, but in fact it does not. All perceptible things are just ripples on the ocean; they are like waves on an ocean. When you are very close to that water, the waves seem very real, defined, different, and with infinite characteristics — beautiful, threatening, calm, or boisterous — but the further you go upwards into the atmosphere, the more smooth, beautiful, and simple that ocean appears. Further, further and further away, and you perceive that there is not only that ocean, but many other things going on that we could not see when we were very close to those little waves. The Absolute is like that – it is a type of fabric, or a type of potentiality that gives rise to everything, and one can learn to see it, but only with awakened Consciousness. The intellect can only speculate about it.
The Tree of Life represents what exists within us; it represents many levels of the manifestation of that potentiality of the Absolute.
The lowest spheres represent our physical body (Malkuth) and our degenerated mind (Klipoth), the impurity that we are afflicted with. If we learn to awaken our Consciousness, we can learn to perceive through the veils of physicality(Malkuth), energy (Yesod), emotion (Hod), thought (Netzach), will (Tiphereth), Consciousness (Geburah), spirit (Chesed), going deeper and deeper, and more and more subtle, until we can learn to actually perceive with our individual Consciousness that Ishvara, that first expression of the Unmanifested, which is inside of us. The perception of that, the experience of that, is Yoga (union). It is when the individual Consciousness is united with its source – and that produces what we can call “an ecstasy” – a type of experience that is thrilling to the soul, because it is seeing itself, it is seeing its true nature, it is seeing the Reality, it is experiencing freedom, liberation, moksha, being completely liberated from all entanglements, pains, and bondages. That is why spiritual aspirants are always craving Samadhi, to have that experience even for an instant, to feel that liberation, to feel the Truth. All of that is beautifully shown in the Tree of Life.
Ishvara itself, when we talk about God, when we talk about the Being, it is not a person. We foolishly think of God as a person, and people have this different imaginings about their Being, about God the Father as an old man with a beard, or some other form that they adopted from their traditional religion. But the truth is: what is the difference between the wave and the ocean? Nothing, but a brief appearance. Ishvara is an appearance that shows itself to the individual Consciousness in different forms, in order to aid that Consciousness. But, in itself, it is not a thing, a person, an individual; it is far beyond that. To understand that is not easy because of our intellect and our psychology. The key to understand is this: Ishvara is pure capability, free, liberated, not bound by anything. It is the ultimate aspect of what we can call the Innermost, the Being, the Spirit. There are many names for this type of concept that we are trying to explain, but ultimately it is not conceptual. And, unfortunately, over the centuries as people have tried to understand religion, they tried to make Ishvara into something concrete, something that has a tangible form that we can grasp onto and believe in. But it is not like that. The truth of Ishvara is abstract and, truly, much more beautiful than some man up in the clouds (like Zeus throwing thunderbolts at us every once in a while – it is not like that). Ishvara is inside of us, inside of everything.
The 11th Arcanum depicts a very serene women who is holding open the jaws of a lion; this symbol depicts the capability, the power of Ishvara. The lion represents karma; it represents the forces of nature that must answer to the causes that have been produced (in other words, cause and effect). That lion represents that aspect of all things that must respond when a cause happens; an effect always happens. Nevertheless, there is a superior law: that is Ishvara, who has the capability (because Ishvara is not bound) to manage our karma, and therefore can manage our situation. That is represented here. And, in fact, in The Yoga Sutras it says:
In other words, Ishvara is “unbound” by karma.
It is interesting that Ishvara literally means “number 11,” which represents that in the Tarot: how divinity manages karma. Ishvara is superior to karma in the sense of being able to work with the Law. In other words, Ishvara is superior to mechanical cause and effect. Ishvara can manage causes to overcome effects.
This passage in The Yoga Sutras states that Ishvara is a purusha. The word purusha is also very complex; it is used in very subtle ways in different philosophies in India. In this context, it most specifically translates as “particular Consciousness”; some translate it as master or being or god. But, specifically, we need to understand that this is not that God in the sense of some person up in the clouds in heaven.
When you look at this Tarot card, you might think that woman is a person or concrete personality, literally; you might even see that figure in your experiences, in a dream, or in Meditation, and you might misinterpret that figure as being a literal being or person, but the reality is not like that. Ishvara takes forms just as the waves in the ocean take form, in order to engage in activity, in order to manage “the lion.” But, Ishvara itself is not the form it takes, nor is Ishvara affected by these factors:
- kleshas, which means “afflictions”
- karmas, which means “actions”
- vipaka, which means “fruition of actions”
This is really interesting to understand.
When we want liberation, we have to reflect on why. Why do we want liberation? The obvious answer is “because we suffer.” Why do we suffer? We suffer because we are bound. We are caged, conditioned by all of these factors: by afflictions, by our previous actions, by the fruit of those actions, and by bodies (vehicles of different types).
We all like to think that we are quite spiritual and quite sophisticated, but the truth is — if we look at the facts, the hard and incontrovertible facts – none of us truly have power over our bodies, much less liberation from our bodies. We are trapped in these physical bodies, bound by them, conditioned by them.
There are many to claim to be “masters”; nevertheless, they are conditioned by the bodies they inhabit – trapped. A true master is not conditioned by any body, any vehicle; rather she uses them as needed and discards them whenever she wants. In other words, a genuine master is not bound by physicality, energy, emotion, thought, will, Consciousness, even spirit – any of the seven bodies of the being. Ishvara is not bound by any of them, and uses them when it needs to use them – it is not bound by body, but we are.
We are bound in the physical body. We are bound in our emotional body (Astral body). We are bound in our thoughts (the Mental body). We are bound by the afflictions that we have – which are many, not just one, we cannot even count them: anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, resentment, lust. These afflictions are always controlling us, manipulating us, influencing us one way or another. Ishvara is not bound by any of that.
So, you see, that potential for freedom is inside of you – it is Ishvara, your own Ishvara. Your own Being is not bound by any of those limitations, and, therefore, can help you – because Ishvara has the capability to manage all of that. Ishvara is the capability to liberate the individual soul (which is us).
Sarvajna means “Buddha, Arhat, omniscience.” If you reflect on that, it is obvious that in Ishvara, the Being, would be the full and completely developed omniscience. But what is the seed of that? It is you. We are seeds, not yet sprouted. We have in us the potentiality. We are part of that Ishvara, but latent, asleep. A seed needs to be nourished, cultivated, cared for, so it can sprout and grow. In that seed is the potential for the full development of the Being. This is the nature of what we call self-knowledge, self-realization.
I have not encountered this passage translated in the way that I am going to now, but anyone who knows Gnosis probably already sees that this passage in Sanskrit that says “the bijam sarvajna” (seed of sarvajna) can be literally translated as “Buddha seed,” which in Sanskrit is Tathāgatagarbha, “Buddha nature,” in other words. So, you can see that this is also a Buddhist scripture; it is saying exactly the same thing that the Buddha Shakyamuni taught. There is no conflict between real Hinduism and real Buddhism (just as the Buddha himself stated). We have that seed within us, and it can be grown and fully developed, and that is what this passage is showing us. The full potential can only be fully realized through Ishvara, by union with Ishvara.
The Sutra continues:
“That pure Consciousness [Ishvara] – being unconditioned by time – is even the teacher of the ancients.”
This image is just a variation of the Tree of Life, showing how the Unmanifested appears in different forms in order to teach and guide humanity. This is what Krishna explains in Bhagavad Gita. Krishna says:
“Whenever the Dharma (spiritual teaching) declines, I manifest myself in order to correct it.”
Krishna is not outside of us. Ishvara manifests through us to guide us, if we learn how to listen, to perceive that guidance. This is the difficult part: to really recognize that guidance for what it is. What is important about this passage – it underscores really the fundamental presentation that we adopt in the Gnostic tradition; which is that all religion, all mystical traditions, are expressions of the same thing, they are just variations, different colors; they are all from Ishvara.
This statement is stating that:
“Ishvara – being unconditioned by time — is the teacher of even the ancients.”
Ishvara is the teacher of every religion, the teacher of every scripture, the teacher of every mystical form. What this points at is that we do not need to go to another country to find that. The Ishvara of Krishna taught what Krishna taught, Ishvara of Buddha taught what Buddha taught. We have that same Ishvara in us, with no difference. It is the same wave emerging out of the ocean. All we need is to learn to listen to it, and stop running around from school to school, from book to book, from theory to theory, looking outside. It is not outside – it is inside.
So, how do you do it? How do you actually do that? Well, this is why we are studying the steps of Yoga . In previous lectures we discussed these first three steps:
- Yama: self-restraint
- Niyama: precepts
- Asana: posture or relaxation
We explained in the previous lectures that if you can perfect these three, the rest of Yoga is easy. These three are the hardest, without any exception to that; they are the hardest part of Yoga . Most people think that because they are the first three steps, they must be easiest and we should just skip over them. It is not like that; they are the hardest.
The first three steps require us to be ethical and to be relaxed. From that basis, we can learn the fourth step (pranayama), which is to harness the life force that we have within us. What is that life force? It is Ishvara. Remember that this word (Ishvara) translated literally is “creative source.” Stated simply, our sexual energy is the energy of Ishvara.
By harnessing that energy, not abusing it, not wasting it, we work with Ishvara directly. But that is only effective if we are also accomplishing these first three steps of Yoga : having strong ethics, working constantly to improve them, being relaxed (tension destroys energy, wastes it).
Relaxation is absolutely critical for the rest of the steps of Yoga , there is no getting around that. Asana is usually interpreted as those postures of Hatha Yoga . In the context of Raja Yoga , asana is interpreted to mean how you sit for Meditation, and it has this application, true. But how much of the day do you spend in Meditation? 10 minutes, an hour? What about the rest of the time? How is your asana, your posture? When you are at your desk, when you are in your car, are you perfectly relaxed or are you tense, wasting energy through your movement? This is the meaning of asana.
These steps of Yoga are not just to be applied in the few moments before you sit to meditate and during the Meditation session. They are to be applied all the time, even when your physical body is asleep, transforming the dream state as well. These three cannot be overlooked if we really want to know what Yoga is. Once these first four steps are harnessed, the rest become easy.
- Yama: self-restraint
- Niyama: precepts
- Asana: posture; relaxation
- Pranayama: harnessing of life force
- Pratyahara: suspension of senses
- Dharana: concentration
- Dhyana: Meditation
- Samadhi: super-conscious state, blissfulness, ecstasy
Pratyahara (the suspension of senses) happens on its own, automatically; many attempt to force it, but this is impossible. You know this for yourself, because when you are very relaxed, you have a good asana, you lie down on the couch or on the bed, and are very relaxed, you are able to suspend your senses very easily and fall asleep. You will learn to do the same thing in Meditation. You are going to harness that ability. From that, we simply need to learn to concentrate (dharana). From concentration we enter real Meditation (dhyana), until we finally access trueSamadhi, liberation, even if it is just for a brief instant.
All of these eight stages work together; they feed and nourish each other, and cannot be separated from each other. Most importantly, none of it will happen if we are not working very closely with the first two: Yama and Nyama. Any serious spiritual person is focused on those two above all else. Unfortunately, for most people that is not the case. Most people just want to know, “How do I get quickly to Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi?” “How I quickly reach Samadhi?” We instructors get these questions all the time. Students come in saying, “I want to reach Samadhi right away, how I do it? What’s the fastest way to Samadhi?” This shows that they need to be better educated, that the right way is to follow these stages, and to really master the first two. That is why we are focusing on them so much on this course.
It says in The Yoga Sutras:
“Success [reaching samadhi] is quick [for those] whose Vairagya is intense. Or, by devotion and self-surrender to Ishvara.”
Previously we talked aboutVairagya; this means “non-attachment.” Non-attachment sounds like a dry, scholarly word. Really, Vairagya means to be disenchanted with worldly things, external things; to have realized that happiness cannot be found in possessions, jobs, houses, cities, places where we live, or who we know; that we cannot find real contentment in any of those things. When someone really has comprehended the futility of the modern pursuit of happiness, they are starting to find Vairagya. Someone who has understood that there is really no point in chasing after what society is chasing, that person starts to have natural renunciation of those things. The craving goes away. Someone who has that very intensely, realizes that their clothes don’t real matter, they do not need the latest fashion, and that their house does not really matter, they can live simply, humbly. They have a longing, the urgency to understand what God is, what spirituality is. That intense quality can produce quick access to Samadhi, easily, because they are not distracted by anything outside. It is obvious, this is logical, simple. Someone who is constantly chasing after girls or boys does not have this quality. Someone who is absorbed in the need to get married, or have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, or the urgency to have a certain amount of money, or to have fame, or success in something – this type of person does not have Vairagya. They might talk about not being interesting in things, but the truth is in their actions and in the quality of their mind.
Vairagya is a kind of serenity, a kind of disconnection from social demands – when someone has that very intense, Samadhi happens easily, because their energy is not wasted outside. Most of us do not have that. Most of us have intense passions, desires, longings, and cravings. We have sexual desires, longing, and cravings; we have financial ones; we have family and society cravings and longings, very intense needs and wants. Those qualities that afflict us are extremely difficult to work on, but we are not without hope. If it is too difficult for someone to deal with all of those passions directly, too intense, then there is this alternate way that one can access Samadhi: that is to cultivate a lot of devotion towards Ishvara. It is to look at all those cravings and desires and longings, and to turn from them and say: “My inner Being, I put all of my desires into your hands. I have all these qualities that are driving me crazy, but I put them into your hands.” This is what Jesus was praying in the Gospels, when he said,
“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
In that prayer is this devotion and self-surrender. In other words, if we do not have non-attachment in ourselves already, then let us cultivate devotion to our Innermost. That is what we call bhakti.
Bhakti is "devotion, zeal, faithfulness, trust, faith."
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains bhakti clearly:
"Let your mind be constantly directed towards me [your Ishvara]; be devoted to me; dedicate all your actions to me; prostrate yourself before me; over and above the claims of all Dharmas (duties) is complete surrender to me and me alone."
So, bhakti is not just emotional adoration, it is constant awareness. Bhakti is Consciousness of the presence of divinity.
But that awareness is not enough. One must also be pure. That is, one must be practicing good ethics. Krishna [your Ishvara] explains:
"One who is devoid of hatred, who is friendly and compassionate to all living beings, who is devoid of any sense of possessiveness, free of egotism, objective in all circumstances, forgiving, a self-satisfied practitioner of Yoga , selfcontrolled, of strong determination, and whose mind and intelligence is engaged in thinking of Me – that person is My devotee and is thus very dear to Me.
"One who does not cause distress to anyone and who is never distressed by anyone, who is free from happiness, anger, fear and anxiety, is very dear to Me.
"One who is indifferent, pure, expert, dispassionate, free from distress, and who renounces all selfish desires is very dear to Me.
"One who neither rejoices nor envies, who feels neither sorrow nor desire, who rejects both auspiciousness and inauspiciousness – that person has devotion and is very dear to Me.
"One who is equal to both friends and enemies, equipoised in fame and infamy, heat and cold, pleasure and pain, who is detached, equal to insult and praise, of controlled speech, satisfied in all circumstances, who has no attachment to any residence and of steady mind – that person has devotion and is very dear to Me.
"Those who are faithful and who follow this eternal path of dharma that has been described by Me, considering Me to be Supreme – such persons are very dear to Me." - Bhagavad Gita 12
Most religious people have some amount of bhakti (devotion), otherwise they would not be religious; they might not have much, they might just going to church or to temple out of habit, but there is enough sense in them of the reality of Divinity, that flame is still somewhere there, even if it is very small. Most of us have not experienced what full bhakti is, when that fire in the heart consumes us.
"People put a question: "How can we love God whom we have not seen ?"
"Practice of right conduct, Satsanga [time with spiritual companions], Japa [mantra recitation], Smarana [remembrance of the Lord at all times], Kirtan [devotional singing], prayer, worship, service of saints, residence in places of pilgrimage, service of the poor and the sick with divine Bhava [attitude], observance of Varnashrama duties [responsibilities of the stage of your life], offering of all actions and their fruits to the Lord, feeling the presence of the Lord in all beings, prostrations before the image and saints, renunciation of earthly enjoyments and wealth, charity, austerities and vows, practice of Ahimsa, Satyam and Brahmacharya - all these will help you to develop Bhakti." - Swami Sivananda
If you want to read and study the writings of someone who experienced that in a very beautiful way, read Rumi, the Sufi poet. The poems of Rumi are a beautiful illustration of bhakti and his devotion to Ishvara. Rum can stoke that flame of devotion in you, in the same way when you pass your candle to someone and they can light their own; any real master can do that. They can light your heart. That is why we insist on studying scriptures and writings of the real masters. We need that fire in our heart. It is devotion to Ishvara inside of us. It feels intense and even painful, but beautiful.
Another great example of a great bhakti yogi is Jeanne d’Arc, who also was enflamed with this sort of devotion. There are many other saints that we can name, a long list of them. Francis of Assisi is another very beautiful example of devotion.
In modern times, there are many traditions that strongly encourage the devotional aspect of the spiritual teachings. In the west, for example, we have the modern Pentecostals, who encouraged people to cry out and pray and express emotion very exuberantly in church; and they become quite emotional. We find the same approach in many traditions; in Hinduism, for example, there are quite a few schools and traditions that strongly emphasize this Bhakti approach to Yoga – they sing songs, and they do all night prayers, very intense sorts of rituals in order to stimulate the heart. This is all wonderful; but, unfortunately, most of the people that follow those types of traditions do not follow any of the other steps of Yoga . They may be very devotional, but they do not have ethics, right conduct.
"Good conduct which is in accordance with perfect moral law is an auxiliary to pure Bhakti and it follows the true Bhakta wherever he goes. One cannot develop true devotion to God if he is crooked in his heart, if he has got objects of love in this world, if he is tempted by charming worldly things, if he wishes to take care of his wife, children and relatives, if he wishes to feed his body well, if he wishes to earn a great name in the world, if he wants to establish a permanent fame on earth, if he does not like to part with the alluring contents of the world. Perfect detachment from all objects is a preliminary to real devotion. Vairagya is the product of real love for God. One who has love for the world cannot have love for God. Where there is Kama [sensual desire], there cannot be Rama [the Lord, the Being] and where there is Rama there cannot be Kama. Love for the world and love for God are diametrically opposite things. One has to be renounced for the attainment of the other." - Swami Sivananda
“No development of bhakti is possible without sadachara (right conduct).” - Swami Sivananda
We may feel intense love for Jesus or Krishna, but if we are a fornicator, a liar, an adulterer, then we do not have real bhakti. There are many people like that, who really seem to love God, but they lie for living, they steal for living. We need to correct that in ourselves; we need to be a true bhakti, which is a person with very strong ethics (Yama and Niyama).
Why are Yama and Niyama so important? Our daily reflection should be on these qualities in ourselves, and improving them. A true Yogi or Yogini [someone who practices Yoga ] who is able to reach Samadhi does so to improve their Yama and Niyama. That is, for them, Samadhi is for improving their ethics. Sadly, most people want Samadhi for other reasons.
The very first aspect of Yama, the first limb of Yoga , is the one that sets the tone and starts the whole movement of Yoga , is Ahimsa: compassion, to be a loving, kind person; to not harm anyone in any way. This does not mean only in our outer, visible actions, but also those that are not visible, those that occur in our own mind.
"What truly counts in these studies is the manner in which human beings behave internally and invisibly with one another." - Samael Aun Weor
When we are driving our car and someone does something stupid and we feel profanity and curses emerging in our minds, we have to change that, we have to convert that anger into patience and understanding, to understand that other people are suffering and they act poorly. We should not lower ourselves to that level. Instead, we have to train ourselves to rise above in every case, to transform every situation, to become better; that is Ahimsa.
The person who is learning Ahimsa shows it not only in their outer actions, but in their very thoughts they are always expressing love to others.
Why is that important? If we want union with Ishvara, we have to be like Ishvara, we have to become like Ishvara. Ishvara, the Being, does not hate, does not harm, is not cruel, does not curse or blame. Ishvara is an expression of love. So, to unite with that, to have Yoga with that in us, we need to become love; it is simple.
We need Satyam, to be truthful in everything, at all times, without exception, with ourselves and with others. To be truthful…
We also need to have Asteya, which means “to not steal.” Some people do not steal possessions, but they steal energy, time, attention. Some people steal the identities of others: when you criticize someone, you “steal” their reputation. You “steal” their good name, or their chance at a job, or other benefit. When you criticize a religion, you “steal” from the souls that benefit from that religion.
Many schools of Yoga study these precepts in detail, and they explain them in a beautiful way. The one that is most often skipped or avoided is Brahmacharya. We have met many devotees of many traditions who love God, who love religion, but they always give themselves this exception. They say, “I will do all of this, except Brahmacharya.” They think that they can get away with this modification. It is really sad, because they cannot do that. Without Brahmacharya, there cannot be Yoga . If you do not have Brahmacharya (Chastity; sexual purity), you will never have Yoga – it is simply impossible.
When you are practicing Brahmacharya, you are respecting Ishvara, because Ishvara is that sexual power – remember, Ishvara literally means “creative power”, “creative potential”, “capability.” What is the most powerful creative force we have? It is the ability to create life through sex. That power is the power of God in us. It is not a plaything, it is not a toy. But, of course, as you know, our society has converted sexuality into a sport and into a way to simply indulge in sensations at our leisure – and we are completely ignorant of the effects that it has upon us, especially spiritually. A real yogi, a real yogini, is made so by their Brahmacharya, not by anything else. If one does not have sexual purity, Chastity, one does not have anything.
This word Brahmacharya has different meanings in Hinduism. To be explicit, when we talk about Brahmacharya, we are talking about its base meaning, which is simple: to not have the orgasm, to not waste the sexual energy through lust. That means that one might have the sexual act or might not — that part is depending on the circumstances of the person. The critical part is the restraint of that energy, the respect of it, the cultivation of it, the offering of that energy back to God, so that God can use it for the upright purpose – which is to create and elaborate the soul, to perfect the soul. The subject of Brahmacharya is huge, and is why we have so many books and lectures about it; we won’t spend more time on it today.
The next ethic is Aparigraha, which is renunciation, and it is related to that dispassion that we discussed (Vairagya). Ultimately, what it means is that we have to become free from our desires and work on them, not being manipulated by them – see them for what they are, analyze them and understandd them. “Why do I want this thing so bad?” “Why is this thing calling my attention all the time, this person, this object, this situation that I am always craving?” “If I get it what will happen?” “If I do not get it what will happen?” We go through this sort of analysis, to understand them; and we compare them. “Last year I went through the same feeling; I had this intense desire and I wanted this thing and then I suffered and suffered for months, finally I got it and then still I was unhappy.” Isn’t it the case? We have to apply that type of analytical approach in order to understand that these desires that afflict us are illusions. Comprehending that, we naturally develop the sense of renunciation.
In Niyama we have Saucha, which is purity, cleanliness, not just externally, but mentally and emotionally.
Santosha is to be contentment with what we have; to be satisfy and joyful.
Tapas is to accept our difficulties without complaining.
Svadhyaya is to study the religious books and work with mantras.
The final one is Ishvara-Pranidhana, which is to remember the Self, to remember our Ishvara. When you look at all of this steps, they are all that, all of them. All of these aspects of Yama and Niyama boil down to this: Self-remembering, awareness of Ishvara; to be aware of the presence of Divinity within, at all times. When you have that, it is much easier to have renunciation.
Self-remembering is Devotion
When you are aware that your Being is within you and it is completely aware of everything that you are thinking and feeling and doing, is much easier to realize: “Here comes that desire, but my Being is here too – so, I cannot indulge in that desire, because my Being is watching me. My Ishvara is here; how can I possible entertain that thought?” We do not think that way, do we? A desire emerges, and we get caught up in the desire, and we think according to the desire, we have feelings according to the desire, we may even act on that desire.
Every once in a while we get a little urge in our heart: “What about religion? What about God? What about Yoga ? What about your practice? Are you spiritual?” But the desire is so strong: “No, no, no, no, no, I need this [insert desire here]. I want this.” But if you are really remembering your Ishvara, really cognizant of the moment, really present, being aware that your Being is inside of you right now, then, when those desires emerges to tempt you, it is much easier to say: “I do not need that. Why do I need to fulfill that desire when I have my Being already, when I can feel the presence of my Divine Mother, when I know that that Ishvara is that heart enflamed by that heat? Why should I become angry with this person? Why should I become resentful? Why should I gossip? Why should I say these harmful things that are only gone to hurt others? I can restrain my tongue instead and be serene, be kind.” Awareness of the presence of Divinity, of Ishvara, empowers all of this.
So, you see, when you look at these factors from that perspective, they do not seem that hard, isn’t it true?
You know, when you first start to look at all of the ethics, you start to feel overwhelmed, like “I cannot possibly do these things, it is too much.” Then, when you reflect on it, “Well, if I am remembering my Being, these are easy; they are not hard – if I remember.” That is the hard part – to remember. Fortunately, The Yoga Sutra gives us help:
“The sacred world that designates [your Ishvara] is OM.”
Everyone knows the mantra OM. It is in every religion, every tradition, just in different forms. Amen is OM.
OM written in Sanskrit is very beautiful.
OM represents Ishvara.
We have heard many interpretations of OM. People in the west have talked about OM for a long time, and in India for much longer. There are a lot of theories, discussions, debates, philosophies, and whole books written about OM. Some people go to conferences and spend thousands of dollars to learn about OM. But Om is not complicated.
OM is the name of your Being. OM is like when you are a child and you say “Mom!” “Dad!” With “OM” you are calling your Being. That is all it is. Om is simple. Om is much more than that too, but the most immediate and important aspect is that.
OM has a lot of significance philosophically, spiritually. We can go on and on talking about OM and all the symbols hidden in it, what it means and how it relates to scriptures and time and the Tree of Life and different levels of God and all that – but so what? We do not need theories and symbols. What we need is to understand OM practically, and how OM can transform our situation, transform our lives. The Yoga Sutras explain:
“Its repetition and its Meditation with meaning (should be practiced).
“Thence comes the cognition of the individual Consciousness and also removal of obstacles.”
Let us talk about this short passage. “Its repetition and its Meditation with meaning (should be practiced).” In Sanskrit this is: “Tat japah tat artha bhavanam.” It is beautiful in Sanskrit; it expresses more than you can say in English. I am not a scholar, but I want to point out is this word “japah” – Japa – that word is interesting, so we are going to talk about that in a moment. Here it is translated simply as “repetition.”
“…and its Meditation” is bhavanam.
We talked a lot about bhava in recent lectures. This word is super important in Hinduism and Buddhism, and it is interesting that it is used here. The word “bhava” means “being”, “beingness”, “becoming”, “the potential to become.” Bhava means a state, or the current state (the way something is). But it is translated as “Meditation,” and that is a very compelling translation; it tells us that Meditation is not a posture, it is not a mantra, it is a state of being, a state of perception. So, this passage is pointing out how to use OM. It is stating that with mediation with meaning, a state of being with comprehension, with cognizance, with understanding, brings the cognition of the individual Consciousness.
That word “cognition” is a little bit weird in English – some people may not know what that means. It does not mean “thinking,” instead it means comprehension, understanding. It means the functioning, awakening, where the individual Consciousness becomes, perceives, awakens — it works, it sees, it understands.
Isn’t that what we want? We want to awaken, we want to see the Reality, we want the obstacles moved out of the way so we can experience union ( Yoga ). OM provides a way to do that – so this is what is explained in scripture, in simple words.
There are three ways that one learns to use a mantra, to repeat prayers or sounds. They are quite simple: aloud, quietly, or silently.
- Vaikhari Japa: verbal, loud
- Upamshu Japa: whispered or hummed
- Manasika Japa: mental, silent, without moving
So, generally, when someone enters into a Yoga tradition or any type of religion, they learn prayers. Usually you learn to say your prayers aloud, to help you remember them, to help you learn them, to stimulate you; but also so that you do not become distracted. When you say something aloud, you tend to be more aware of what you are doing. It takes more concentration to use a prayer quietly, and even more concentration to use the prayer silently.
When we were children, we all learned this way. We starting learning to recite the letters of the alphabet and to recite the words of our language, until, little by little, we start to learn to read the books, but we started by reading the books aloud. We read page after page, slowly, aloud, “Jack and Jill went up on the hill.” That is how children read. Later, they start to read quietly, and then later, mentally. The same approach is used with mantras.
Our attention, our concentration, is weak, and we need to strengthen it to advance through the stages of Yoga . Working with mantras is a very powerful way to do that.
This technique of using OM unites all of the factors or stages of Yoga — brings them together. If you know how to do it, it is an effective way to concentrate; that is why we teach always in retreats and classes how to work with mantras, how to meditate with mantras, because they have great power.
But there should be understood that there are stages to that work. Sivananda explained that:
“The fruits of whispered japa are a thousand times more powerful than the verbal japa, and the fruits of the silent, mental japa are hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than the verbal japa. Mental japa can even be kept up while at work.” – Sivananda
We explain this on retreats.
Vocalizing mantras aloud is wonderful, it is powerful, it is effective, but it is not as powerful as doing mantras quietly; quiet recitation takes more concentration than loud recitation; it also allows the conscious to sink deeper within and leave the physical world behind.
The mental work with mantras is one hundred thousand times more powerful, according to Sivananda.
When your concentration is strong enough that you can work mentally, silently, with a mantra, and not forget that you are doing so, you are reaching the point where you will be able to completely abandon your physicality, to go out of the body. To succeed in that, first you need to not be distracted by anything external. This is what we want, we want liberation; we want to be free of our afflictions. So, working with OM or any mantra can give us that ability.
This picture is of a mala, a rosary, beads used to count how many times one has repeated a mantra. Sadly, nowadays it is just a fashion accessory. The real use of a mala is that one counts each time one does the mantra consciously. A traditional practitioner would never show these beads to anyone; they would not wear them exposed, out of their clothes, or wear several of them, because they only need one to do their practice. People now wear a whole range of different rosary beads – that is fine, but in real use, traditionally in Yoga , one keeps their beads in a bag and never take them out; instead you put a hand inside the bag in order to count the mantras. The beads would never come out of the bag, never showed to anyone, out of respect. It is just a traditional approach, I am not saying that any of you should do that; I am just pointing out that our spiritual practice is not for showing off to others.
Step four: Enflame your heart.
Daily exercise: Repeatedly remember your Being by using the mantra OM. Dedicate time each day to meditate on OM, the sacred word of your Being.
We should be working to really remember our Ishvara from moment to moment, all the time, without any pause, without any break. While doing that, chant the mantra OM – it can be aloud, it can be as a whisper, or it can be mentally, silent – depending on our own level of concentration and how well are we able to remember it.
If you are able to really be serious, you will discover many new things about yourself and about your Being, if you carry with you, psychologically, consciously, the mantra OM at all times.
If you also do this in conjunction with the use of the spiritual diary that we recommended previously, you will learn even more.
Dedicate time every day to meditate with that sound OM. Stop external activity, take a very comfortable position, close your eyes and disassociate your senses from everything external, and chant that mantra. If you do it aloud, that is fine, if you do it as a whisper, that is fine too; if you do it mentally, that is also good. Concentrate on OM for whatever period you are able to do it: ten minutes, half an hour, an hour, whatever that is. During that time, dive into that sound, learn about it, enflame your heart with it. Do not think of other things, or be distracted. Focus your attention on OM.
All of that together will empower your spiritual practice in a very dramatic way, if you are serious.
To sum up, I give you this quote that I love from Samael Aun Weor:
“The Gnostic places all of his longings in the hands of his Innermost.” - The Major Mysteries