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Bhakti:

From the Shadows to the Light.

 By Yogi Baba Prem

Bhakti, it is not only an important term in Hinduism and yoga, as a concept bhakti (devotion) is found within most, if not all, of the world’s religious traditions; admittedly most other religions will not use the term bhakti to describe their devotion. To define bhakti within the context of this article, it means devotion. As far as a date for the beginning of the practice of bhakti, this is not really known. Relative to Yoga and Hinduism, some scholars prefer to associate the appearance of bhakti more with the medieval period within India. Regrettably, this often leads to a pseudo-assumption that bhakti was not present or recognized in the early history of India, especially in regards to the Vedas. A simple reading of the Vedas reveals a multitude of teachings based on bhakti or devotion. As the wheels of change turn slowly at times within the scholarly world, scholars are re-examining this antiquated view and are recognizing the important role that bhakti has played within the Vedas and early history of India. It is recognized that bhakti is an ancient aspect of Hinduism that has survived largely intact for over 8500 years.
Within most traditions of Hinduism, Bhakti is held in relatively high esteem. Of course, there is a multitude of manifestations or expressions of the term bhakti (devotion) with examples ranging from devotion to the Guru (Guru-Bhakti) to devotion to the devas (Deva Bhakti). As there are numerous expressions of devotion within the traditions of India, it would be correct to say there can be a ritualistic expression of bhakti within yoga/Hinduism which commonly manifests in a mantra, puja, yajna or homas. It is important to note that within yoga/Hinduism Bhakti tends to be much more dynamic than static in terms of expression and practice. Meaning that bhakti is not limited to a moment of singular expression, rather it permeates all aspects of one’s life. Within yoga/Hinduism we see a complex relationship between thought, action, nature and even ethics. While the modern tendency is to compartmentalize all facets of life and religion, one should recognize that these aspects of thought, action, nature and ethics have considerable overlap and are not separated according to the traditional view. This is evidenced by mantras to the earth, wind, sun, etc. commonly found in Hinduism, and within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali the first teachings are the Yamas and Niyamas.  In other words, the practice of bhakti involves engagement within all areas of one’s life, and is not limited exclusively to a temporal ritual or beginning and ending in a ritualistic act relative to time or singular/specific occurrences, rather these events serve as 'markers' within the framework of human consciousness While the timing of a ritual may be important, it is understood that the bhakti practice should continue beyond the physical ritual that occurred at a specific point and time. For this reason, the permeation of bhakti into all areas of life results in bhakti having a rather high status within spiritual/religious humanity.   
Our current age is a period of ‘conflicted bhakti’, meaning that there are numerous expressions of bhakti that are not always clear or easily understood by the casual observer at times; often resulting in an absolute lack of clarity on the part of the observer as to the motivations and rationale behind the actions of some individuals or religious groups. Yoga/Hinduism provides exceptional insight and understanding into the plurality of manifestation about bhakti. To understand the plurality of bhakti, one must begin with the Yoga/Hindu teaching of the gunas. (It is assumed the reader has a basic understanding of gunas.) The gunas are among the first emanations (subject to the variations of specific philosophical systems), from Brahman or Purusha. They are responsible for the shape, color and texture of the manifestations forming all of creation, as well as our ones own mental views and how the mind expresses itself. As such, it is of little surprise that one would also find the expression of bhakti easily influenced by the gunas. Bhakti in its plurality can be confusing to individuals from contrasting or disagreeable views. Coupled with the observation that it is not popular to paint an image of the lower expressions of bhakti, most prefer to not broach the subject of bhakti aside from its highest manifestation. If we are to be seekers of truth, it is important to have a framework and context to understand the events currently occurring in our age.


While most people think of the gunas as three primary manifestations (sattva, rajas, and tamas), there are three additional combinations (sattva/rajas, sattva/tamas, rajas/tamas) which indicate transitional states between the gunas. The combination of gunas indicates the influence where both gunas can be observed, as the gunas can be dynamic and are often not static in their expression within the human mind. Additionally, there are over 15 subgunas that add additional clarity to the form and function of a particular guna. These 15 subgunas can be applied to bhakti as well, providing a greater degree of depth and additional clarity for understanding the various expressions of bhakti that few seldom examine.  While the subgunas are too vast a subject for this article, one can learn about them in our online lecture program and then one can easily apply an understanding of the subgunas to bhakti.  Due to our sociological distaste for the imperfect, society tends to place sattva bhakti in the highest esteem; here one finds the qualities of peace, understanding, clarity and harmony that we all expect in religion/spirituality.  So it is understandable why spirituality would emphasize sattva guna. Regrettably, an understanding of sattva bhakti will only apply to a very small number of individuals. Therefore, to understand the full spectrum of guna expressions of bhakti, one must cultivate the ability/knowledge to identify other expressions of bhakti and perversions of bhakti, while retaining an understanding that sattva bhakti is the goal in which most people are striving to achieve.  


As stated earlier, very few members of the congregation of humanity are in a sattvic expression of bhakti. The vast majority is in a rajasic bhakti state, and a smaller number are within a tamasic expression of bhakti. To examine this let’s begin with the lower expression of bhakti which is the tamasic expression. The tamasic expression is based upon ignorance (avidya) at best, and at worst is based upon violence. It would be correct to say that violent groups such as ISIS and others would be an expression of tamasic bhakti. These are militaristic groups. Any means to fulfill the end result are acceptable, as the end result is all that matters and violence is a justifiable modus operandi. This is not to imply that tamasic bhakti is limited to such larger groups, in reality, it is found in expression among individuals that are not part of such a large organized group, and one must concede that such groups are in reality comprised of individuals that embrace the values of tamasic bhakti.


Tamasic Bhakti may often belong to or find expression deep within the inner group mind of a religious organization. This can also manifest among the representatives of religious institutions such as the pedophilia epidemic in the Catholic Church. Tamasic Bhakti can occur not only among the individual or large organization; it can quickly manifest even in smaller groups. Tamasic Bhakti can manifest as extreme punishments culminating in prayer or some form of redemption; it can even manifest as family violence and violence against women. In reality, no religion, no spirituality is immune as this is not based on the teachings, teacher or philosophy; rather it is a manifestation of the consciousness/karma of the individual and guna. An example of larger group tamasic mentality would be the violent medieval age of the Christian church. Globally and as a world force, tamasic bhakti does appear to wax and wane, rising suddenly within some geographic regions moving with the speed and efficiency akin to the Ebola virus, other times it is quite weak or brewing beneath the surface of an individual, group or culture.


The rajasic manifestation of bhakti currently carries the most strength within the congregation of humanity. This often appears as emotion; not the extremely violent emotion of the tamasic bhakti, rather it is an emotion that is quite passionate which can occasionally manifest as a milder form of violence. This passionate bhakti can manifest as the zealot. And it should be noted that the rajasic zealot can move back into a tamasic bhakti of violence on occasion. While there can be a level of aggression, this tends to manifest more as verbal aggression and group aggression. This can manifest as forms of anger, overly passionate emotions or unbalanced emotional states as well as failure to see different sides of an issue. This commonly manifests among dualistic groups. As an example, I recall once being told by a bhakta or practitioner of Bhakti Yoga that I was so ill-informed that Krishna had cursed me and he had received a boon (a boon is a special blessing from a deva) for pointing out my ignorance. This is a rajasic form of bhakti and is commonly found within groups, especially dualistic groups (dvaita). Of course, the rajasic bhakta (practitioner of bhakti) can use the practice of rajasic bhakti to cultivate and move toward sattvic bhakti over time, which is the goal of conscious understanding and practice. The rajasic Bhakta will often engage in personal love as opposed to the sattvic Bhakta who is concerned with universal love. The more developed rajasic Bhakta will be truthful most of the time and will have achieved partial peace of mind. Of course, there will be several intermediary steps to transitioning to the sattva bhakti. During the transitional steps, tremendous growth and understanding occur, effectively preparing the bhakta for the entry levels of sattva bhakti.
While these examples are somewhat simplistic, they can aid in the cultivation of a foundation of understanding bhakti from the shadows (tamas) to the light (sattva). It is important to recognize that the journey of spiritual realization encompasses traversing all gunas, or subgunas, as they have or will express themselves within the consciousness of eachindividual within this or another lifetime(s).


In my opinion, the path of wisdom is to understand where one is within the gunas and to begin a systematic cultivation toward sattva bhakti. In fact, we should cultivate sattva in all areas of one’s life, as this is the true state of the mind and is conducive toward removing obstacles to spiritual understanding and realization. But we must temper our understanding of the goal with the understanding that not everyone is at a  place to step into sattva bhakti. Though we can acknowledge that they are on their way, as far the journey is concerned. Through an understanding of the gunas and bhakti, one can have clarity of the various stages humanity currently occupies.

If you need to learn about gunas, enjoy our online lecture.

To learn about the subgunas, enjoy our online lecture.

If you would like to more deeply understand your gunas on a personal level, and to create a plan for growth with the gunas schedule a consultation today.

 To learn more about Vedic concepts, we recommend:

Ushas: The Divine Dawn by Yogi Baba Prem

From Earth to Heaven: Secrets of Yoga, Goddess and Spirituality by Yogi Baba Prem

Yogic Secrets of the Vedas by Yogi Baba Prem

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Yogi Baba Prem

  • Yogi Baba Prem has two books published in India, and has written numerous other books published by Universal Yoga. 

 

  • His articles have appeared in several traditional magazines and a variety of e-magazines.