A Daily Bhakti Practice
People have different amounts of time, levels of attention or interest to devote to a Bhakti practice. The daily practice for a working mother with a toddler will differ from that of a retired man without any dependents. A healthy person’s practice will differ from unhealthy persons. And a person who is charmed and captivated by Bhakti will practice differently from someone only curious about it.
That said, the young mother or the person with health challenges aren’t at a disadvantage, nor is the person who is just cautiously interested.
Bhakti meets us where we are and responds to our motives and intentions; our progress isn’t predicated on how much we do, but on how much heart we offer.
You’ll recall that Bhakti practices are meant to culture and awaken divine love in a purified heart. Simultaneously with a purification of the heart, love is cultured. It’s not that first one must become completely pure and then the practices will begin the real work of ushering in divine love as a state of being. Both things are happening simultaneously, and this is another unique feature of the Bhakti yoga path and proof of the power of Bhakti.
The practices of Bhakti are easy and common sense. To develop love for someone we hear about them, speak about them, sing about them, remember them, and so on. The daily practices of Bhakti are simply using our faculties to hear about, chant-sing-speak about, and remember the Supreme Person.
A very dedicated practitioner who is deeply in love will find ways to use every minute of 24 hours in service and Bhakti practices. But none of us start there.
Remember, Bhakti is about a change of consciousness, a change of heart, and this is a state of consciousness, not just a matter of dutifully or ritualistically doing something that is dry and uninteresting.
It’s described that a person suffering from jaundice will find sugar candy bitter, but sugar candy is one of the treatments for the disease. As the disease slackens the candy will begin to taste sweet again.
For one who wants to test the efficacy of Bhakti so they can have a personal experience of what is promised in theory there are a few core practices to do daily, at a minimum. After this list, I’ll explain about each one:
- Private mantra meditation (japa)
- Offering your food to the Supreme Person
- Reading Bhakti texts
- Serving others and giving of your time and money for furthering spiritual knowledge
- Spiritualizing your work
I’ve gone over the details of a private mantra meditation practice in “What is Japa?” Please refer to that article.
In the remainder of this chapter, I have borrowed much from “Bhakti Life,” by Sutapa dasa, who is a Bhakti teacher in the UK. I am using this with his permission. Thank you, Sutapa!
Offering Food to the Supreme Person
Why Do You Offer Food? How Do You Offer Food?
We must eat every day to live. Eating is at the root of our material existence. Eating actually binds us because we must take from the environment to keep the body alive. And taking always incurs a debt, a karmic debt.
But we have no choice. We must eat to live (though unfortunately these days many people live to eat and therefore become overweight and ill.) We can make eating a sacred activity. A Bhakti practice makes eating sacramental. It purifies the heart and spiritualizes the mind-body. It’s a very powerful aspect of a Bhakti practice.
We can be free of the karmic bond by preparing and offering food to the Supreme Person. Any activity done for our Divine Friend will liberate us. If we place the Supreme in the center of all of our activities, we become spiritualized and divine love is gradually cultured.
When we plan our menu, shop at the store and prepare the meal we can thinking of the Supreme Person as a member of our family and look forward to preparing his plate and offering it to a picture in our sacred space in our home.
Food prepared for and offered to the Supreme Person with love and devotion becomes spiritualized. Such food eradicates our karma, purifies our mind, and is called prasadam, or mercy. It nourishes the body and transforms consciousness.
Just as a vaccine can protect us against an illness, eating prasadam protects us from the illusion and inﬂuence of the material world. It also vanquishes past sinful reactions and immunizes us from future material contamination.
Preparing karma-free vegetarian or vegan food is a devotional focal point in Bhakti.
In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna explains, “If one oﬀers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a ﬂower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.”
In essence, this permits only vegetarian or vegan food. All life is sacred, and to kill innocent animals unnecessarily is a gross violation of the Supreme’s laws.
Vegetarianism or veganism is also an essential step toward elevating consciousness and protecting the environment. People who take the time to consider its advantages will be in the company of Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, and Albert Einstein. Vegetarianism makes sense on many levels, including health, ecology, economics, ethics, and spirituality. It’s a natural, healthy, and nonviolent way of life that gives rise to self-discipline and compassion.
By preparing pure, natural vegetarian or vegan food and then oﬀering it to Krishna in a spirit of devotion, we turn a daily chore into an enjoyable, enlightening experience and part of a meditation practice.
When preparing a meal, use fresh, natural and wholesome ingredients. Cleanliness is also important. Wash your hands before you begin and avoid tasting the food while cooking; the meal is for Krishna’s pleasure, so he should taste it first.
It’s best to have a special plate reserved for your offerings. Once everything has been cooked, prepare the plate and place it in front of your Friend’s picture and ask him to accept the offering.
While you eat, try to appreciate the spiritual value of the food. Remember that the real purpose of preparing and offering food to the Lord is to show your devotion and gratitude to him.
Reading Bhakti Texts
Most of us don’t think twice about taking a shower or bath every day. It’s just something we naturally do.
Great sages explain that just as we bathe in water every day to cleanse the body, we should bathe in the words of the sacred texts daily to cleanse our consciousness. That philosophical bath wakes us up to reality, cleans out unhealthy qualities, and ultimately becomes something we enjoy and look forward to. Reading these texts inspire and enliven the mantra practice. It’s absolutely essential for our spiritual health.
When we read Bhakti texts, we’re not alone. The Infallible Person and illustrious saints are right there with us, and as we turn the pages, we become infused with insight, inspiration, and faith. And if we seek their guidance and asked to be shown the meaning of the text, we will receive responses.
As with chanting japa, it’s best to read daily, either a certain number of pages or for a certain amount of time. We can make a thorough study, noting interesting or difficult passages, or we can simply read our way through, confident of our spiritual purification.
You can offer respects to Krishna and his representatives before you begin reading and pray that the words you read will penetrate your heart and transform your character.
Besides reading, you can discuss spiritual topics with others. Speaking or lecturing is actually the best way to assimilate knowledge because it forces us to really understand and internalize what we’ve heard.
Reading books that teach or enhance one’s Bhakti is a form of kirtan and fortifies our daily practice by strengthening our intelligence. This helps fix the mind in yoga.
Giving and serving makes us happy. They are qualities of love and are required for love to be cultured. By giving and serving others in our current environment we’re becoming groomed for the spiritual environment, which is the land of love.
Giving of ourselves for furthering Bhakti in the world benefits us and others spiritually and is a transcendental activity that is beyond the influence of the binding material modes.
The Bhagavad Gita explains that spiritual life is not about stillness and contemplation; meditation and study should give rise to vigorous and practical activities dedicated to our Divine Friend.
Bhakti isn’t an abstract philosophy but an opportunity to practically apply philosophical conclusions.
We can make spiritual use of our talents and abilities. If you’re a DJ, make music about the Supreme Person. If you’re an artist, paint for Krishna. If you’re a writer, then write about your Divine Friend. Pretty much anything can be transformed into devotional service as we direct our consciousness and motivations towards pleasing Krishna and creating spiritual beneﬁt for others.
Some Bhaktas engage in spiritual welfare work where they cook and distribute prasadam (food oﬀered to Krishna) to needy and homeless people.
Such practical devotional activities help us build a personal connection with our Divine Beloved and remind us that real happiness lies in selﬂess service.
The life of a soul is a life of giving, a life of compassion, and a life of sacriﬁce for the upliftment of society. Selﬂess service in consciousness of the Supreme Person is at the very heart of Bhakti.
You can strike up a conversation about what you’re reading or experiencing in your Bhakti practice.
You can organize a spiritual evening at your home and invite family and friends to hear about the teachings of Bhagavad Gita or other Bhakti texts.
Make cookie prasadam (or other treats) and give them out as gifts to friends, family, acquaintances, or colleagues at work. I make a point to bring treats to doctor’s appointments for the staff and medical practitioners and I like to have some prasadam in the car if I come upon someone begging for money.
You can use your talents to promote spirituality through music, writing, art or drama.
Sharing the message of Bhakti is not dull or boring. Through dynamism, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm, we can enrich people’s lives and simultaneously accrue great spiritual merit for our eﬀorts. We ﬁnd ourselves by thinking of others.
A competitive climate, stressful lifestyle, and weighty responsibilities can create frustration and confusion as we pursue our spiritual aspirations. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna proposes to leave the battleﬁeld for the contemplative, secluded life of a monk. Would such renunciation be wise for us? Is it possible to operate in this dog-eat-dog world and still maintain our spirituality? Can one serve the Supreme by one’s worldly profession?
The Bhagavad Gita discusses how we can spiritualize our daily work. Here are some salient points from the Gita to contemplate. How would you bring these into your life?
Perhaps you can focus on developing and implementing one characteristic a week or every two weeks. Gradually the lifestyle shift will be significant and with the shift your stress is calmed and your spirits uplifted.
Righteous – Endeavor to engage in righteous work. Certain occupations and livelihoods are based on exploitation, violence, and dishonesty and generally cause harm and disruption in the world. Such work is neither progressive for the individual nor favorable for society. Although every type of work in today’s world is tainted by some fault or imperfection, the spiritualist should nevertheless strive for a career that promotes harmony, compassion, and upliftment; certainly it shouldn’t be an occupation involved in direct violence to others.
Results – We will dedicate the “fruits” of our work to the Supreme. Such fruits come in the form of remuneration, knowledge, expertise, skills, and inﬂuence in any particular ﬁeld.
Some measure of these things helps us survive in the world, providing the necessities of food, clothing, and shelter, but a certain portion should be reserved for the spiritual cause. By oﬀering charitable contributions towards the worship of Krishna and the spiritual upliftment of others, one also develops detachment and selﬂessness, which are hallmarks of a devotee.
Remembrance – You can cultivate an active spiritual consciousness of Krishna while at work. We know how a boy and girl in love are wrapped in thoughts of each other when separated and otherwise occupied. Eventually, our remembrance of Krishna will be just as natural. In the meantime, we have to make a conscious eﬀort. Keep devotional pictures on your desk, change your computer passwords to Krishna’s names, talk to your colleagues about spirituality, play soft kirtan in the background . . . be creative! We must perform our daily duties with due care and attention, but actively remember that we are ultimately working for Krishna, our true employer and master.
Making small changes in your life is powerful. Isn’t it true that a pilot making a slight adjustment to the longitude and latitude coordinates will navigate the plane to a completely different destination?
Make gradual shifts and see how your true self shines and you become happy.
Making an offering of food takes practically no additional time, you already have to cook and eat. Adding a mantra meditation will require some management of your time to include it, but the practice is not difficult and its free. Reading requires finding some time in the day but can be as little as ten minutes. Or you can get your “reading” in by listening to lectures or audio books while engaged in other activities such as exercise, cooking, shopping, driving, etc. Serving others comes naturally when you change your angle of vision about yourself and your place in the world. You might like to give up some of your watching TV or being focused on a social media stream. And spiritualizing your work doesn’t take additional time, but a different mindset.
As we’ve discussed, a Bhakti practice is intuitive and easy, though extremely powerful is delivering us our treasured goal of remembering our innate brilliance as a spiritual being.