Thinking about bhakti
February 2002. Here I am, yet again sitting in a classroom waiting for words of wisdom from yet another Advaita master. In the front of the room the 'bhakti game' is going on: photos are being dusted and arranged, flower petals are scattered over the altar, tablecloths are straightened, flowers are put into vases, incense is burned, pillows are fluffed up, garlands are arranged, once more, a little bit of fluff here, another one there. One man, four women and not let's not forget the water carrier and the I-sit-here, you-sit-there-part and the covering of bare knees with shawls and skirts. Almost everywhere it is the same ritual,still even in Holland anno 2002.
Question marks and irritated thoughts arise in my mind; untill 'my little-I' steps aside and I cannot help noticing the dedication of the devotees. I feel moved by the innocence of it all and I remember Alexander's words: 'Every object is a glimpse of God.' And: 'There will come a moment that you discover bhakti. Suddenly it will be there like a child starts speaking words. That moment is unpredictable, but it is guaranteed to come. And that is not only true for women '
I wonder whether what I see is bhakti, and why it moves me as much as it puts me off. Come on, stop, arranging flowers has nothing to do with bhakti. Or does it? It's just the way women are, always arranging things... It's the nature of the beast. Does it or does it not have anything to do with jnana? Why does it bother me so much? Are jnana and bhakti two expressions of the same thing? Can you not have one without the other? I should know it after all, it also happened to me, in the past with Osho, and later I bought socks for Alexander and I cleaned his bathroom. Was that bhakti or wasn't it bhakti? What is the difference? Cheek to cheek with Shanti Mayi's I sang the stars out of the sky, and at Jan's I take care of his tea when I get the chance Why do I get so excited about it? Why the heavy reaction? It feels so old fashioned. It gets under my skin. Times have changed and I am only interested in jnana, insight, consciousness or silence. Period. We are alive now in 2002: the time for scattering flowers is over... Or is it?
What did Alexander (Smit) actually say about bhakti? Sometimes he called it 'fantastic', and another time it was: 'Bhakti is just for 'immature seekers'. Depending on who asked the question or who was sitting opposite him. 'Jnana is too abstract for women; bhakti is more suitable for them'. But he also said that bhakti cannot be separated from jnana. And, he loved rituals... In short, that didn't help a bit. And so I simmer a bit more and then I enjoy the direct Advaita arrows coming from Vijai Shankar (More from him in this Amigo).
But naturally there is a little afterthought.
We are devoting an issue of Amigo to 'love', 'Love' or 'True Love' and we don't know what we are talking about. Is love the same as bhakti? Does love end in bhakti? Do Love and bhakti come from the same source? Is Love what we are? Is bhakti what we are? Is bhakti the opposite or the complement of love? Or is bhakti from another dimension? What is the difference between devotion and love or between devotion and insight? Or is devotion an expression of love? Is it true that there comes a moment that bhakti grabs you by the short and curlys? I cannot help thinking about Jan (van Delden) who stole Wolter's heart when he stood up during a discourse and asked: How come I don't know what love is?
It is clear: we don't know either...
Meanwhile we have collected and received much material in our striving for insight and decided to simply pass everything along so that every reader can get out of it what is suitable to them. (By the way Wolter's answer to Jan was: 'Because you cannot seek Love. Love is what you are...')
Alexander Smit (1948-1998) on bhakti
'Bhakti' means doing everything as if you are doing it for your Guru. If you can do everything in his name, then that is bhakti. The word bhakti means devotion, dedication. Whatever you do, wherever you work, in a factory or in an office do it with extreme dedication. Consider all things to be your friends, and all your friends as 'altars' where you can lay everything down. That is devotion. Lay everything that moves your heart on the altar. In Hinduism the puja table is the symbol of dedication. Don't hold anything back. The larger your love the less you hold back. If there is nothing to hold back then you share everything with everybody. That is how simple the bhakti path is. And, the effect is immediate. That is why women are so attracted to it.
Everything that you love becomes holy. When you play the violin, the violin becomes holy. You care for your instrument, you polish it so that it shines and is clean and is a pleasure for the eye. There is love, dedication, and devotion. When that love is not there things are abandoned: your heart isn't in it anymore, you become indifferent. Real devotion is all-inclusive, not exclusive includes everything and everyone. Your dedication has to embrace everything. You have to embrace everything from your Heart. Everything. Your dedication has to open your Heart to all living creatures. That is the true meaning of bhakti. If it does not concern everything and everyone it is not bhakti. Then it is sectarian, 'holier than thou' and all that kind of nonsense.
jnana and bhakti come from the same source. jnana, the path of discrimination (what is real and what is not real) ends in bhakti and bhakti ends in jnana. They complement each other and finally they merge in each other. Devotion is the best way to lose your (psychological) self, because we try to control things too much. We want to steer. But in realization there is absolutely no more control. There is nothing more to steer! But women can allow that better than men. That is why women feel more connected to bhakti. It fits them better. But, I am extremely delighted when they choose the jnana path. You could naturally ask why I give jnana teachings to women when bhakti fits them better. I do that because I know that ultimately they will devote themselves to the Real, which is what they are, the Self, Adman, the Consciousness itself.
(Fragment from a tape dating from June 1990)
Vivekananda (1862-1906) on Bhakti
Bhakti is a real, genuine search after God, a search beginning, continuing and ending in Love. One single moment of the madness of extreme love to God brings us eternal freedom. When a man gets it, he loves all, hates none; he becomes satisfied for ever. [.] The one great advantage of Bhakti is that it is the easiest and the most natural way to reach the great divine end in view; its great disadvantage is that in its lower forms it oftentimes degenerates into hideous fanaticism. [.] All the weak and undeveloped minds in every religion or country have only one way of loving their own ideal, i.e. by hating every other ideal. Herein is the explanation of why the same man who is so lovingly attached to his own ideal of God, so devoted to his own ideal of religion, becomes a howling fanatic as soon as he sees or hears anything of any other ideal. [.]
There is Bhakti within you, only a veil of lust and wealth covers it, and as soon as that is removed Bhakti will manifest by itself. [.] Bhakti differs from your Western idea of religion in that Bhakti admits no elements of fear, no Being to be appeased or propitiated. There are even Bhakta's who worship God as their own child, so that there may remain no feeling even of awe or reverence. There can be no fear in true love, and so long as there is the least fear, Bhakti cannot even begin. In Bhakti there is also no place for begging or bargaining with God. The idea of asking God for anything is sacrilege to a Bhakta. He will not pray for health or wealth or even to go to heaven. [.] Philosophy says, 'Check everything.' Devotion says,'Give up all to the stream, have eternal self-surrender.' It is a longer way, but easier and happier. [.]
[From: Teachings of Swami Vivekananda; Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, India - 1948]
Words of a bhakta:
Sahajo, an enlightened woman from Rajasthan, India, 18th century.
No duality, no enmity.
Sahajo says: One is without desire.
In a state of contentment and purity,
There is no dependence on the other.
When asleep, one is in the empty sky of the divine;
When awake, one remembers the divine.
Whatever one says are divine words.
One practices desireless devotion.
One is ever-drenched with love,
Intoxicated in one's own being.
Sahajo says: One sees without discriminating,
No one is a beggar or a king.
The sage is alone, no need for company,
Her only companion is her own being.
She lives in the bliss of awakening,
She drinks the juice of her own self-nature.
The dead are unhappy, the living are unhappy,
The hungry are unhappy, the well-fed are unhappy.
Sahajo says: the sage alone is blissful,
She has found the eternal joy.
(From a beautiful Osho book titled Showering Without clouds Reflections on the Poetry of an enlightened woman, Sahajo.
The Rebel Publishing House Pvt. Ltd., 50 Koreagon Park, Poona 411001 MS, India)
Osho talked only in Hindi about Sahajo because he found the beauty of her words could not be expressed in English. The book was finally published in an English translation in 1998 so that we could still enjoy it. .