Misconceptions about Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti Yoga: Will it spoil my career?
by Dr. Mukul Shri Goel
The InfoTech revolution has brought most existing cultures and religious groups into contact with each other. In the context of spirituality, higher connectivity implies that the notions of an individual typing an article on his or her laptop can now influence how a mind sitting next door, or in a far-off state, relates to God. For spiritual aspirants who are undecided in their paths, this improved information exchange, at times, can boost the likelihood of making wrong assumptions. While we have more access to information that was secluded from us by scholars, we also have virtual ‘gurus’ that can unintentionally deflect us from our paths to God through their vibrant imagination.
As we get in touch with more and more people who hold opinions that differ from ours, some of us may be tempted to doubt even an ancient technique like Bhakti Yoga, the path of love and surrender to God, which has had a close to hundred percent success rate. The younger generation is particularly vulnerable to the louder voices, most of which aim at displaying their skill sets in analysis and reasoning rather than the feel that maintains Bhakti Yoga as the top rated path in most world religions. We’ll take a look at some misconceptions about Bhakti and its followers, which are not novel but keep floating around to distract seekers in the making.
Myth 1: Bhakti is old-fashioned, though it may be somewhat appropriate for the elderly.
We, the society, over the ages have developed an exceptional ability to stereotype everyone and everything around us. And we see no reason to exempt spiritual seekers from our thinking processes. Among people approaching God through different tactics, when we hear the term “devotees,” we usually recall a group of passive, timid individuals chanting the Lord’s name, isolated from the world, staring at us with folded hands. How bhakti is unauthentically presented on TV, in movies, and in some luxuriant places of worship around us may play a major role in our linking bhakti with individuals who are aged or less capable of karmic exertion.
As a result of these linkages in our mind, while we may prefer to attend yoga classes and sit with an erect spine for an hour, if someone sings hymns for an hour, it may appear old-fashioned to many members of the newer generation. At times, we may even surface cynicism towards devotees, “Maybe they are veiling their indolent disposition by staring at an idol.” We can easily prevent the formation of such wrong assumptions by developing elementary equanimity: all kinds of yoga, bhakti, karma, jnana and raja, are part of the same tradition and were designed by seers to reach the same destination.
Myth 2: Bhakti is for non-intellectuals.
You can do a small exercise to check the validity of this belief. Collect names of any ten bhakti saints from the internet or your library and observe if their writings appear less intellectual to you than other philosophers.
Love of God has the potential to lead to spiritual knowledge and beyond even in the absence of strong intellectual capabilities. This idea from the scriptures cannot be interpreted as “Bhakti functions without knowledge or brilliance.” It simply implies that reasoning and analytical skills are not an initial requirement for bhakti, just like presence of emotion for God is not a prerequisite for Jnana Yoga, the path of knowledge.
While it is true that jnana yoga is naturally preferred by the introspective and bhakti by the emotional, the bhakti schools may argue that whenever intellect is coupled with love, the path becomes bhakti yoga, which they believe is all-inclusive. Before we take the divergence of these paths too seriously, we should recognize that both paths conclude at infinite knowledge and love. Actually, they conclude at a successful relationship with God, which may be oneness if we prefer the non-dualistic school of thought.
Myth 3: I have tried it already; it does not work.
We are discussing a love affair here – a love affair with God. If you tried it once and left it, it shows you never fell in love in the first place. The success of this yoga cannot be assessed on whether we obtain favorable results in return for what we feel is love. To progress on bhakti, we need a foundation: trust, truth and an earnest aspiration to meet God. With this platform, there is no reason to fail on a path that aims at surrender rather than deeper applications of our own brainpower.
Myth 4: Bhakti will make me submissive.
Once again, check out the list of bhakti saints you made for Myth 2. All of these saints had the soul-force to resist the ills in the society of their times. As a result of their courage and clarity, most devotee-saints accomplished a lot more than their non-devotional counterparts and lived as leaders rather than followers on their surrender-oriented path to God.
It is true that bhakti involves submission, but this submission is to God, not to individual fellow beings. Earnest remembrance of the Divine increases mental awareness and detaches us from all uncertainties. When all rubbish in the mind such as stresses, attachment to profits, fear of the workplace, competition from colleagues, and pressure from family and peers is cleansed away, can the holder of such a mindset be fearful and sluggish? In fact, one would be evermore determined and focused. The inverse correlation between desires and memory in Hindu thought tells us that intellectual usage increases as the mind gets filled with God remembrance, which completely deserts all desires. The slightest amount of love in the heart fills every action with enthusiasm and joy to enhance our chances to excel.
Myth 5: It takes a lot of time. If I engage in it, I’ll be late for work.
For beginners on any spiritual path, problems may be inescapable, but we must try to analyze where they originate. If you say that you missed the train to work as a result of remembering or loving God, it may not be a wise explanation. Such a situation is possible if you schedule your prayers at an inappropriate point of time or start applying for the initial connection to God while your mind is busy figuring out if your proposal would be accepted at the workplace. We should remember that we have the freedom to manage our time on every path.
Unfortunately, we may observe a lot of people near us wasting time in the name of spirituality. But we should prevent this observation from labeling bhakti as an antagonist of time or exertion in worldly matters. Many of the individuals we survey may not be ethically disposed in spite of their listening to discourses and participating in kirtans and satsang.
For advanced seekers, the presence of God in their mind, through activation of higher consciousness, may actually alert them to the extent that they may perform all their activities at the right moments without even having to glance at the clock. A higher awareness aims at remembering everything without the pocket planner, not at delaying action. If bhakti hinders your organization skills and punctuality, you may wish to consult your mentor.
Myth 6: Reduced amounts of riches with the Bhakti saints prove that they were less productive. Bhakti will spoil my professional resume too.
A paradigm shift accompanies all great souls, which prompts the society to make wrong assessments about their productivity in the material world. First of all, their higher focus in life makes it difficult for saints to accumulate stuff made from material nature and secondly, their modest savings are flushed towards the deprived as a result of their vast compassion. For that reason, to say that Kabirdas and Raidas did not work hard in their vocations of weaving and leather-working, respectively, as a result of bhakti would be untrue. Their ‘problem’ was that they had renounced money – the social measure of professional accomplishment. In such a situation, any effort in the material world is likely to go unnoticed. Folklore tells us that God has, at times, miraculously offered money to a lot of saints to raise their standard of material life (and test them). But saints, as expected, turned down every material favor, even from the Divine, to demonstrate their perfect adherence to non-possessiveness.
Remembrance of God cannot block our professional life until we voluntarily renounce it. If we have a temperament to engage in professional endeavors, we cannot, all of a sudden, change our aptitude towards profession. Bhakti influences our mindset, but very gradually. Without withholding profession rise, it slowly raises our sphere of thinking through selfless karma. Bhakti may transform our interests and may prepare us for an early retirement plan, once our responsibilities are over, so that we can contribute to righteousness on a universal plane.
However, if accumulating money forever and obtaining higher and higher designations through a manipulative methodology is what “professional life” means to you, there is no need to be afraid of bhakti – it cannot block your material rise, for it has yet to install itself within you. To exist in the heart, love requires a permanent erasure of all human inclinations towards scheming and passion in the mind.
Remembrance of God plus faith can do wonders through mechanisms that are unknown to us. Only in the final stages of surrender, when all desires have left, may we choose to give up professional pursuits to experience the highest love. But we do not have to think so ahead of time about becoming a saint or receiving instructions from God. Evolution to that final stage may take us anywhere from a few decades to a few lifetimes. Bhakti is such a superior phenomenon that we, the spectators, always face suffering in comprehending it. Even after saints leave the world, they are recognized by us only for their material contributions like writings or compositions, which later form university curriculum. Their actual spiritual contribution – the divine environment that they create for everyone – is never noticed by most of us.