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How to Cultivate Bhakti
would be a gross mistake if you consider Bhakti as merely a stage of emotionalism,
while it is actually a thorough discipline and training of one's will and
the mind, a sure means to intuitive realization of God Almighty through
intense love and affection for Him. It is a means to thorough apprehension
of the true knowledge of Reality, beginning from the ordinary form of idol
worship right upto the highest form of cosmic realisation of your oneness
with Him. You can achieve this by following the eleven fundamental factors
which Sri Ramanuja had prescribed. They are Abhyasa or practice of continuous
thinking of God; Viveka or discrimination; Vimoka or freedom from everything
else and longing for God; Satyam or truthfulness; Arjavam or straightforwardness;
Kriya or doing good to others; Kalyana or wishing well-being to all; Daya
or compassion; Ahimsa or non-injury; Dana or charity; and Anavasada or cheerfulness
People put a question: "How can we love God whom we have not seen ?"
Live in the company of saints. Hear the Lilas of God. Study the sacred scriptures. Worship Him first in His several forms as manifested in the world. Worship any image or picture of the Lord or the Guru. Recite His Name. Sing His glories. Stay for one year in Ayodhya or Brindavan, Chirakut or Pandhapur, Benares or Ananda Kutir. You will develop love for God.
Every act must be done that awakens the emotion of Bhakti. Keep the Puja (worship) room clean. Decorate the room. Burn incense. Light a lamp. Keep a clean seat. Bathe. Wear clean clothes. Apply Vibhuti (sacred ash) or Bhasma, and Kumkum on the forehead. Wear Rudraksha or Tulsi Mala. All these produce a benign influence on the mind and elevate the mind. They generate piety. They help to create the necessary Bhava or feeling to invoke the Deity that you want to worship. The mind will be easily concentrated.
Practice of right conduct, Satsanga, Japa, Smarana, Kirtan, prayer, worship, service of saints, residence in places of pilgrimage, service of the poor and the sick with divine Bhava, observance of Varnashrama duties, 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.
Bhavas in Bhakti
When the devotee grows in devotion there is absolute self-forgetfulness. This is called Bhava. Bhava establishes a true relationship between the devotee and the Lord. Bhava then grows into Maha-Bhava wherein the devotee lives, moves and has his being in the Lord. This is Parama-Prema, the consummation of love or Supreme Love.
There are five kinds of Bhava in Bhakti. They are Shanta, Dasya, Sakhya, Vatsalya and Madhurya Bhavas. These Bhavas or feelings are natural to human beings and so these are easy to practice. Practice whichever Bhava suits your temperament.
In Shanta Bhava, the devotee is Shanta or peaceful. He does not jump and dance. He is not highly emotional. His heart is filled with love and joy. Bhishma was a Shanta Bhakta.
Sri Hanuman was a Dasya Bhakta. He had Dasya Bhava, servant attitude. He served Lord Rama whole-heartedly. He pleased his Master in all possible ways. He found joy and bliss in the service of his Master.
In Sakhya Bhava, God is a friend of the devotee. Arjuna had this Bhava towards Lord Krishna. The devotee moves with the Lord on equal terms. Arjuna and Krishna used to sit, eat, talk and walk together as intimate friends.
In Vatsalya Bhava, the devotee looks upon God as his child. Yasoda had this Bhava with Lord Krishna. There is no fear in this Bhava, because God is your pet child. The devotee serves, feeds, and looks upon God as a mother does in the case of her child.
The last is Madhurya Bhava or Kanta Bhava. This is the highest form of Bhakti. The devotee regards the Lord as his Lover. This was the relation between Radha and Krishna. This is Atma-Samarpana. The lover and the beloved become one. The devotee and God feel one with each other and still maintain a separateness in order to enjoy the bliss of the play of love between them. This is oneness in separation and separation in oneness. Lord Gauranga, Jayadeva, Mira and Andal had this Bhava.
A Caution: Madhurya Bhava is absolutely different from conjugality of earthly experience. One should not be mistaken for the other. Earthly conjugality is purely selfish and is undertaken only because it gives pleasure to one's own self. But in love for God it is because it gives pleasure to God and not for the sake of the devotee. Divine love is not selfish. It is born of sattva. But earthly lust is born of attachment to bodies. Earthly conjugality is the outcome of egoisitc self-regarding egoistic feeling, while divine communion is the outcome of other-regarding feeling devoid of egoism. Strong selfishness is the root of worldly passion; divine love is the product of loss of egoism. This is the greatest difference between lust (kama) and divine love (prema). The two are related as darkness is related to light. No development of earthly affection, however perfect it may be, can lead one to supreme joy of divine communion. Lust lurks in the heart due to the passion that burns in the core of things. Divine love is unknown to the man of the world, however religious he may be. The secret of divine love cannot be understood, so long as man is only a man and woman only a woman. The austere transformation of the human into the divine is the beginning of true love for God.
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