Bhakti Philosophy : An Introduction
The Teachings of Bhakti
The bhakti philosophy brings into perspective a joyful way of living by shedding light on the nature of the self and its relationship with the rest of Reality.
The following is a brief summary overview of the nature of Reality from a Bhakti lens:
- There are two categories of existence: spirit and matter.
- Spirit is cognizant; matter is inert.
- There are spiritual forms and spiritual planes of existence.
- There are material forms and material planes of existence.
- Spiritual beings and places have no beginning, no end, exist ever the same, and are independent of time and space.
- Material things and places have a beginning and an end, are always in flux, and are controlled by time and space.
- Spiritual beings and places are constituted of pure spiritual energy.
- Material things and places are constituted of material energy.
- There are no material beings only spiritual beings who temporarily inhabit a material form and think themselves of the nature of changing, temporary matter.
- Spiritual entities are full of excellent wondrous qualities and exist in the spiritual world. Both the spiritual beings, their qualities, thoughts, and feelings, and the world of spirit are of the nature of pure spirit.
- There are two categories of such excellent spiritual entities. There is the one Infinite and there are unlimited, finite souls. The Infinite, who is the source and ground of finite souls, is all-powerful. The finite souls are of the character of the Infinite but they are small and can be overpowered by the material energy.
- The pure souls who are in the material world have forgotten their identity and nature. Their material bodies have beginnings and ends. This type of temporal existence is designed as material due to illusion and ignorance.
The pure spiritual being becomes contaminated by the illusory potency of the material energy and thus becomes imprisoned. As long as the pure spiritual being remains captivated by the illusory glare of the material energy the brilliance of his innate nature remains covered. But the soul can realize his innate spiritual identity in proportion to the arising of his brilliant nature through a Bhakti yoga practice.
Other yogas are unable to help the soul in this endeavor just as dirt cannot be removed from the body by scrubbing it with more dirt.
Karma, material desire and action, is the dirt that binds us so how can it clean the soul?
Jnana, which is a negative reaction to material existence that wants to renounce the world and nullify the soul’s existence, is like fire. When that fire is applied to purifying the dirt it burns the dirt but also the soul it is supposed to clean. How can this bestow happiness?
Raja, desire for subtle material power through control of the mind and body, is like a dense fog. One cannot see that the dirt still remains when the vision is obstructed by blinding fog.
The possibility to free ourselves arises when we ask probing questions about who we are and what our real nature is.
We have a sense that we are more than what we see in the mirror. It’s a powerful intuition and universal inner nagging that is meant to lead us into an inquiry about our existence. This is the reason why these questions are prevalent the world over.
Why am I? Why does the world exist?
Eastern thinkers answered these perennial questions from a perspective that viewed spirit as primary, much more important than inert matter. Why? Because spirit is consciousness, or that which is self-aware and self-reflective.
What do you think? What’s more important – consciousness or matter?
Does a sentient being – a human being or an animal – have more importance than an inert thing, say a chair or a car?
Would matter matter if we – consciousness – didn’t posit meaning on it?
The seers considered that consciousness was most important and deserved all their attention. Their experience (which can be ours if we do the experiment) proved that consciousness is the ground of being. It is the foundation upon which Reality stands.
Sages dove deep into the nature of consciousness and with a first-hand experience of spirit and the nature of Reality came back to say, “You exist for a reason! The world exists for a reason. There is meaning and we have a purpose.”
By Reality with a capital R I don’t mean our common notion of reality: the nitty gritty of our daily life. I refer, instead, to that which is unchanging and underlies all existence. The spiritual dimension of our lives.
In our own bodies, consciousness is the unchanging element. “I,” a finite unit of consciousness, remember what I did as a child, an adolescent, and a young adult. At every stage of the development of my ever-changing mind-body, I have remained the same. I am the root and basis of the body and mind.
In the same way, the root and basis of the large body of all existence, or Reality, is infinite Consciousness, the Supreme Conscious Person.
Why Does the World Exist? Why Am I?
We all have an everyday understanding of the world. Though we may not verbally articulate our views, our actions convey our convictions:
I exist to be happy; the world exists to make me happy.
Our everyday perspective is based on the following premises:
- I am the mind-body.
- The world exists for me.
- Things in this world can make me happy.
- I must take from the environment and others to be happy.
- ignores the existence, nature, and needs of the real self
- erroneously believes that temporary things, places, and pleasures can give happiness to the self, a unit of eternal consciousness
- has not acknowledged that the world of matter is a foreign environment for spirit and is a place of suffering
- ignores the interdependence of all of life
- promotes meanness and selfishness
- doesn’t acknowledge that we are not self-created or self-sustained, but we are dependent on a power greater than ourselves
The Bhakti texts explain that our hunt for happiness is natural and, encouragingly, that enduring happiness is attainable. But we’ve incorrectly identified what is real love and happiness, where they are to be found, and how we’re to go about fulfilling our desires.
Our happiness project fails because we haven’t identified the true self and our relationship with the world, greater Reality, and our Source, who is our friend.
The Experienced Sages Say
You exist to love; the world exists to teach you how to love purely and wholly.
This perspective is based on the premises:
- You are a spiritual being, not the mind-body, full of extraordinary qualities.
- The world exists for everyone and is an invitation to culture pure love. Ultimately, the creation is a love affair.
- You are not the center, but a part of the Whole.
- You cannot find happiness in a temporary place; the world is a place of suffering.
- By giving and serving others and your Source you will become happy.
The world exists to give you an opportunity to become free of the suffering caused by the bondage of time, space, and the merciless laws of nature and become reinstated in your normal free, spiritual position beyond matter. We’re invited to culture love until it matures and thickens into divine love.
When we gain insights into the nature of our existence and the reason the world exists, a whole new perspective on the world opens to us, and a fresh beginning to our lives can unfold.
And what is our spiritual prospect by taking up a spiritual path?