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Eleven Points for Development of Bhakti

by Swami Sivananda

It would be a gross mistake if you consider Bhakti as merely a state of emotionalism, while it is actually a thorough discipline and training of one's will and the mind, a sure means to intuitive realisation of God Almighty through intense love and affection for Him. It is a means to thorough apprehension of the true knowledge of the Reality, beginning from the ordinary form of idol-worship right upto the highest form of cosmic realisation of your oneness with Him. You can achieve this by following the eleven fundamental factors which Sri Ramanuja had prescribed. They areAbhyasa or practice of continuous thinking of God, Viveka or discrimination, Vimoka or freedom from everything else and longing for God, Satyam or truthfulness, Arjavam or straightforwardness, Kriya or doing good to others, Kalyana or wishing well-being to all, Daya or compassion, Ahimsa or non-injury, Dana or charity and Anavasada or cheerfulness and optimism.

Abhyasa or practice is a sustained and persistent effort to achieve mastery over a certain thing. Through continued practice the Sadhaka tries to secure the steadiness of his mind, to restrain all its external Vrittis, thereby convulging them upon his one objectthe Lord. Through persistent Abhyasa he checks the outgoing tendencies of his mind and directing them inward he constantly dwells and meditates upon the Lord.

Viveka or discrimination enables him to choose between the right and the wrong: to follow and to adhere to what is right i.e., what should be done, and to abstain from what is wrong i.e., what should not be done. How does he discriminate between the right and the wrong? That which elevates and takes him nearer to Godhis Idealthat which brings him good, joy and peace, he considers as right and adheres to and acts in accordance with it. That which brings him depression, pain and restlessness, that which pricks his true conscience, that which drags him down from goodness and takes him away from God he considers as wrong and abstains from it in toto and guards himself against its influence. As regards his diet, he discriminates between Sattvic food, i.e., what should be taken, and Rajasic or Tamasic food, i.e., what should not be taken. Thus he discriminates between the right and the wrong, follows the directions of the wise, respects their warnings and obeys their admonitions and commandments. Thus he perseveres and strives to reach his goal, following the path of righteousness.

Vimoka is longing for God alone, renouncing everything else that does not accelerate his progress. Obviously one has to renounce what is earthly if he wishes to attain what is eternal, permanent and infinite. The Sadhaka has to renounce all his desires and cravings for the material objects: he has to renounce the evil Vrittis of the mind through introspection and right exertion. Only then can he develop true longing for God, only then can he proceed Godwards. You cannot drink two things at a time in the same cup. If you wish to progress Godwards, then, necessarily, you have to renounce all else that are not conducive to your progress. This is the secret. To want nothing is the greatest and most efficacious way to attain the keenest longing for God.

Satyam or truthfulness is surely the prime postulate in Sadhana. God is Truth: to realise Him, therefore, you must need become the very embodiment of Truth. You have to live the Truth: you should have to think of truth alone, speak the truth alone and do what is right and true to your conscience.

Arjavam is straightforwardness or honesty. There is no place for deceit, crookedness or falsehood in the quest for God. God neither wants your riches nor your intellect, but he wants only a pure truthful heart altogether shorn of deceit, shallowness and hypocrisy. There is nothing to hide from Him, for He is the all-knowing, all-pervading Spirit. Your heart must be as pure as the white snow and as clear as crystal. Just as you cannot see a clear and correct reflection in a corrugated, dust-coated mirror, even so, if your heart is cobwebbed by selfish desires and dishonesty, and corrugated by hypocrisy and crookedness, you can hardly know the real nature of God. The Sadhaka must cultivate a heart like that of a child.

Kriya or doing good to others comes next. As a true devotee, you should behold Him in all for He is the manifest form in whatever you perceive. The Sadhaka's foremost duty is to do good and serve others, irrespective of any distinction or personal consideration. Serving and helping those in distress open your eyes to the sorrows of human life. You begin to understand the painful nature of the worldly existence. The stony selfish heart learns to feel for others. Then compassion, mercy and love nurture in your heart. Your heart becomes purified and Vairagya dawns in you.

Kalyana or wishing well to others is another necessary qualification for devotee. With a pure loving heart, you should pray to the Lord for the good and well-being of others. First pray for others, for the peace and welfare of the world, and then for your evolution. You should not entertain any grudge or ill-feeling towards your opponents but you should wish for all that is good and auspicious. This is the true spirit of a devotee.

Daya or compassion comes next. God is Love. He is all-merciful and compassion personified; and as you seek to realise Him, you must need become a veritable ocean of mercy and love. You must cultivate a heart as broad as the infinite sky.

All the divine virtues that are necessary for one's evolution have their origin in Ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa is a life-giving force. Ill-will, hatred, anger and malice cannot stand before its mighty potency. It is a special attribute of the soul. Practice of Ahimsa culminates eventually in the realisation of unity and oneness of life. It generates the feeling of universal brotherhood and cosmic love.

Next is Dana or charity. 'Charity covereth multitude of sins,' proclaimed Jesus Christ. Abundant, spontaneous charity with a pure heart for relieving the suffering of the distressed is a potent means to elevate the heart and to destroy its shallowness and impurities. You must have a large heart. The more you give, the more will come to you. This is the law of nature.

Anvasada is cheerfulness and hope. This is an essential virtue for a devotee. There is no room for depression in the spiritual path. You must be optimistic, zealous, persevering. There are many active forces that will oppose your progress and actually assail and pull you down. But you must not lose your hope or be depressed. You have to brave the storm and proceed in spite of the difficulties and adverse conditions that try to cow down to push you off from the path of Sadhana. With cheerful perseverance and optimistic zeal, relying on the inner self you should proceed with Sadhana and ultimately the success will be yours.


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