Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bhakti, The Path of Devotion

There are many styles of yoga, although the different types known to most people in the west are all variations of Hatha yoga, concerned largely with asanas, or postures. The asanas are practiced to bring the body to a place where the mind can enter into meditation.

Georg Feuerstein likens the diversity of yoga styles to spokes on a wheel, each spoke a different form of yoga, all leading to the same hub, the ecstatic experience wherein the yoga practitioner transcends their own limited consciousness to experience transcendent Reality itself.

One of the spokes on the wheel of yoga is known as Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion. Bhakti practice can include listening to the many names of the Divine, chanting these names, with or without music, ceremonial worship, or other forms of devotion to God. The essential feature of Bhakti practice is that self-transcendence occurs when the heart opens in love.

About fifteen years ago, long before I had ever heard of Bhakti yoga, I went to an academic conference entitled "Teaching from Within." In one of the workshop sessions, the leader showed us how to get "within" by repeating a mantra. I had never done anything like that before, but the mantra stuck in my mind, like a catchy jingle on the radio. I got up the next morning and wrote the poem that I've copied below.

Even though I didn't understand much about the power of chant at the time I learned that first mantra, the chant taught me everything I needed to know. As Krishna Das, a master Bhakti teacher explains, you really don't need to understand chant to get the benefits. All you really need to do is chant.

The Sufi poet taught us to pray.
Chant, he said.
Chant this: All I want from you
Is forever to remember me as loving you.

So, I chanted: All I want from You
Is forever to remember me as loving You.
And again: All I want from You
Is forever to remember me as loving You.

I rise,
Climb out the window,
Hold tight to the rope.
It is important I hold fast
Since none will catch me if I fall.
        All I want from You…

I rise,
Write my pages,
Hold tight to the lines.
It is important I write
Since none will know me if I stop.
        All I want from You…

I rise,
Practice yoga,
Hold tight to the pose.
It is important I move
Since none will know I’m alive unless I do.

Round and round, the mantra of devotion revolves
I hold tight to the song
Tight to the line, the pose, the rope.
I hold tight. And after a hundred chants
A thousand chants
A million
We switched places, the chant and I.

And now the chant is singing me.

Each morning I rise
And sing the song,
Hold tight to the mantra.
It is important I chant
So that I will remember: I am the beloved
And you—You—are the Song.


  1. Love -- pun sort of intended -- that you're writing about bhakti yoga and not only because, as you point out, most people think of asanas/postures when the word "yoga" appears.

    While it may (and has in the past) freaked some people to read/hear this, the yoga of devotion can be seen in the Christian context in practices such as Eucharistic Adoration, novenas to the Sacred Heart, etc.

    Alas, too many of us can barely behave as sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus, so I realize acknowledging coherence of spiritual practices in Eastern traditions is crazy talk!

  2. Well, I guess we're both crazy-talkers, then, Meredith! The object of our devotion is the same God, after all, no matter what name we use or prayers we say or sing. That's my humble monotheistic opinion, anyway.

    Love, love, and more love to you!

  3. I totally agree with you Raima, if we all followed this simple truth, we would surely feel that we are bothers and sisters no matter which teacher we are following and the world would be such an amazing place. But what do we know.... only love matters, nothing else.

    Lotus Rainbw